Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Reason for the Season

so this is Christmas... i love it! i'm all about the incarnation. i get rather patristic here and prefer Christmas over Good Friday in my theology. In the Eastern Orthodox churches, it is the incarnation where everything changes, not Good Friday. many of us would do well to hold these two in balance as it centers more on the LIFE of Christ rather than the death. As SVS stated so eloquently "the death is meaningless unless the life was one worth noting." or something similar to that.. i'm sure he'll correct me ;-)

Anywho, i was just reflecting on the many claims of Christians that some how "happy holidays" is an attack on Christmas. It even inspired "Advent Conspiracy" which is all about less consuming and more worshiping, after all "Jesus is the reason for the season."

i would contest that.

Jesus isn't the reason for the season, MARKETING Jesus is the reason for the season. Biblically, the time when shepards watch over their flocks by night would be when there are little lambs running around, which would be in the spring. so technically, Easter and Christmas would be a few weeks apart. but this idea also ignores another reason for the season... blending in and subverting.

Pagans had their own holidays going on during this time, and Christians wanted to blend it so to avoid persecution and yet they made it their own... taking the symbols of the season, like the Yule Log, Evergreen Tree, and feasting and making them their own. instilling them with new meaning.

i like this idea. i like that the reason for the season has multiple layers for the church. for me it shows that the church is not an enclave of refugees from the world; it is the sacrament of God's presence in the world by the Mystery of the incarnation. It's not supposed to look as little like the world as possible but as much like the world as it can manage. Otherwise, the world will never be able to recognize anything that the church is doing. it is both fully secular and fully sacred and therefore we are unable to make any distinction between the two.

how cool is that?!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May it be filled with blessing, good conversation, and warm connections within your family and community.

oh.. and i really LOVE Advent Conspiracy, check out all the cool things it's doing:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What I Learned in CPE Part III

I find it hard to evaluate the program. It is like viewing a dinosaur up close... I can tell you a little bit of what I see, but not the whole beast. It will require some distance before I can articulate the full extent of what I have seen and experienced. Odds are it will take the rest of my life to figure out all the wonderful things i've experienced. i am VERY enthusiastic and positive about the whole experience. I wish everyone at seminary was required to take CPE. I feel that the team here at LGH is top notch in the development of the program and are honest about the pluses and minuses of the process. This honesty is hard to find as most institutions

I’ve encountered want to claim their system is flawless and thus it is something wrong with the individual who doesn't think this way. I find that this openness is the most helpful thing in my learning process as it helped me fully step in and learn and risk.

At this point in time, I feel completely affirmed in my call as it has been affirmed in group and supervision. Knowing that I am outside of the Deutero-Pauline-Augustinian tradition, I felt heard and affirmed in the group and on the floor during visits. I contributed my own interpretation of what it means to be a Christian and how I interpret the Bible and yet learned other ways of being Christian and other interpretations and awareness of stories. The philosopher Žižek speaks to this as he asks us to resist judging the other for a moment and allow the other to judge us and that has happened more times than i care to think about.

My theology stands as one of unity, incarnation, and grace of God given by and present through the life of Jesus Christ. This theology is ecumenical, pragmatic, and post-modern and recognizes the reason for religion isn't reason. It is an embodied, empowerment model that can only come from my denomination and the cross-pollination between the Congregationalists and Reformed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What I Learned in CPE Part II

Second Goal: Stretch limits of feeling “spent”

Why this Goal?

After the few pastoral visits I did in a previous parish internship, I was drained after doing just a few visits per day. I haven't always been too aware of my feeling spent or not. With school work, reading, CPE, parenting, and various other activities, I'm realizing that I have just a little bit on my plate. Usually I would keep at it, grinding the work out, but in this line of work, I really can't do that. One must be very conscious of their boundaries in the pastoral care setting. I will have to learn how to trust a group to accomplish a goal and have patience in the process. I can’t do everything nor should I.

I was surprised to learn that maybe I don’t need to learn how to stretch my limits, but honor them. I don’t need to do 8 to 10 visits a night but to do a few really good visits where I am fully present. People are not goals; they are not items to be checked off a list. Pastors get so focused on trying to do God’s work and be everywhere at once they don’t delegate and they burn out. During this program I’ve learned to trust my team, my wife, and my fellow seminarians. I can’t do all the visits and there are 5 other interns, 4 other residents, and many other associate and staff chaplains who will get to the visits. Kate is a capable mother and wife and will ask for help when she needs it and I can do the same for her. I was part of a worship team here at the seminary and normally I have the whole worship planned and just plug people in. This time, I had to let the group plan and process and develop the liturgy all on their own as I simply didn’t have the time or the focus. With this goal, I realized how non-democratic I can be and this provided a course correction.

The edge is staying here. I need to still be willing to give others a “piece of the pie” and trust that their insight will be valuable. Good leaders know when to delegate and when to over-ride. Like a sailboat team, each one working at their post, putting up the sails and rigging and plotting the course. But when the storm comes, sometimes the captain has to order the sails down, start the engine and put the ship to port. Knowing when to do this will help make me a better, more balanced congregational leader and team member.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I've Learned in CPE Part I

CPE has ended and I'm reflecting on what I have learned. We had to have learning goals, so I'll write about those on here in two posts and end with a big ol' overview of the entire process.

LEARNING GOAL #1: How to put theoretical knowledge into a practical theology

Why this Goal?

I did an internship at a local church and some feedback that came my way was that I sometimes spoke too complex for people to understand. In Bible studies I would leave people behind with the concepts and vocabulary that I employed. It was my fear that I would do the same on my visits. It was also a fear that I would try to be a problem solver and in this role and in doing so I would offend and miss the real problem that was bothering the patient.

This learning goal had many aspects to it. First and foremost is developing reflective listening skills which I feel I have made much progress with. The second would be to learn how to boil down complex theories, concepts, and vocabulary into accessible and clear statements, which when I did speak, would be understood with little room for misinterpretation. I really felt that I harkened back to my advertising background. I re-learned how to present myself, simply, clearly, and yet still hint that there is still more to me than what is being presented. Likewise, I learned how to locate the patient, meet them where they are, and yet still realize there is more to their story as well.

All this to say that I found that I tend to lead with my head but it is informed by my heart. This is the type of “heart religion” Jonathan Edwards spoke about. What Phillip Otterbien called “a scholarly pietism.” These pillars of my tradition state that you can think things that are cognitive, but if you don’t feel it then it’s worthless. I feel that this goal has helped me realize how I act and respond. I am able to use my seminary training to recognize religious and theological frameworks that are presented by patients and explore them. I am able to match up how the patient’s theoretical theology matches up with what they are feeling in the moment. If the theory and the feeling match, I don’t mess, but if they don’t, I am able to offer alternatives that are both cognitively and emotionally comprehended.

The growing edge with this goal and the progress made is not falling back into a purely cognitive style of working. I doubt this will happen, but I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned here and this new awareness of self. I don’t want to lose this vulnerability and risk and take a defensive stance. I always state that the best theology is one based on questions not answers, and it seems I’m finally taking my own words to heart.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What is Worship?

Julia and I had a great conversation about the worship my group planned for last week in chapel. At LTS, the model goes "Students preach Tuesday, Faculty and Staff on Wednesday." The worship services can contain anything that the particular group of students plans it to be. Our group was a fab. gathering of really creative people and we really risked and went off the deep end in a lot of ways.

Our fundamental premise was to treat the worship as directed at the gathered community of LTS, not some hypothetical church. The two worships planned could not be transplanted anywhere else, but directed and speaking specifically to those who fill our pews in Santee Chapel.

Tuesday was built to be really uncomfortable... I wanted people so uncomfortable that they were puking in the pews. This didn't quite happen, but it did generate a lot of conversation. Namely "What is Worship?"  The problem with this approach, as Julia rightly pointed out, is that it wasn't very careful in drawing people in. We just hit people over the head right away and defenses went right up. She then asked "What is the difference between Worship and a performance?"

Great question!

To show my modernist leanings, let's take a look at the given definitions thanks to

Main Entry: per·for·mance

Pronunciation: \pə(r)-ˈfȯr-mən(t)s\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century

1 a : the execution of an action b : something accomplished : deed, feat

2 : the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request : implementation

3 a : the action of representing a character in a play b : a public presentation or exhibition

4 a : the ability to perform : efficiency b : the manner in which a mechanism performs

5 : the manner of reacting to stimuli : behavior

6 : the linguistic behavior of an individual : parole; also : the ability to speak a certain language — compare

Main Entry: wor·ship

Pronunciation: \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English worshipe worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being, from Old English weorthscipe worthiness, respect, from weorth worthy, worth + -scipe -ship
Date: before 12th century

1 chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)

2 : reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence

3 : a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

4 : extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

After looking at these two definition my question is "Is there a difference?" At first glance, I don't think there is. There is some nuance to it, but a worship ceremony is a performance that is meant to teach, inform, and generate feeling within the worshiper. How is this different from a play, concert, or another live-action event? I don't think that this is a bad thing. Worship becomes an idol if we think it does anything to God as it is my view that worship services is for the people and is meant to change us, not the divine.

My worship teacher Donna Allen stated that worship is "an intentional encounter with the divine." i like that idea, and i'll build off of it.

My definition of worship is "A Social Articulation that is Horizontal and Vertical."

The rationale behind this is the idea of a structured performance bent on generating both thought and feelings. I could do more with this definition like adding a particular structure, but that doesn’t work as there are a varty of worship styles. I could add in a phrase like “A planned Divine/human encounter” which is a really great worship definition, but sometimes worship can be longing for the divine... like in the season of Advent or Lent. Plus it is my assumption about life is to “pray without ceasing” and be in constant conversation with God, and not all of that is planned. I was going to add about people being gathered, but I’ve found that the most profound things happen when I stop and pray on purpose. ‘Two or Three are gathered’ almost guarantees worship, but some of the most profound things happened in private worship.

What I did find was that my definition works for me. It fits with my idea of God. I think that rarely do we see God operating in the present, we usually see God in hindsight. Like Jacob’s words, “God was in this place and I wasn’t aware of it.” Like Exodus 33:23, “…you will see where I just was.” We need to stop and recognize that God was in our midst and is still in our midst. Worship gives us that stop, that articulation, not only to find out what’s going on in our lives, but where God is active and working.

then i see this video by Brian McLaren:

so maybe it's not a performance... per se.. but a "corporate reaching for truth." where a gathered community (Ekklēsía if you will) tries to name a part of their reality. it utilizes elements of performance to try to name what is happening "on the ground" and yet name the transcendent reality.. the meaning as well. Christians try to use the framework of what was presented through the gospels, namely the framework and view of God as presented by Jesus of Nazareth. Like Paul stated in Romans 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Maybe worship could best be defined like this, a testing? Or maybe as Eric Elnes puts it "I regularly meet my God, my neighbor, and myself through “the Jesus of history” or “the Christ of faith”" Check out his post "Who is Jesus For Me?" Could that be a definition?
I am no longer certain of where the line is between worship and performance? Is there one? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Start Where You Are: Sermon on Luke 3:7-18

Sermon given 12-8-09, in Santee Chapel at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

I’m here to confess. I am here to stop being a member of John’s “Brood Of Vipers.” I hope you, my colleagues and professors of Lancaster Seminary will accept my confession… here it goes…

I have a name of my study where I type all my papers. I call it “The Death Star.”

I named it after I learned about the theological world of the sinner. I wanted to blow it up like Darth Vader did to the planet Alderaan. Like John I wanted to lay an ax to its root and throw it in the fire because no good fruit can come of this world.

Here I am thinking I’m Mr Diversity. I’ve received diversity training from my under-grad and in my work experience. I’ve had customers who were from all parts of the world thanks to Washington D.C.’s diverse population. I’m on the committee on diversity here and claim friends from all sides of the political and theological lines… But John is calling me out here… You see, growing up , I was taught to read judgment passages like John not as being about some fictional “them” like the Pharasees or Roman soldiers, but addressed directly to me. How am I like a viper?

Here in this academic setting, we’re forced to operate a little differently from how we would in a church. Here I’m more apt to jump and challenge any logical inconsistencies I find in others theology. I lay in wait, just like a snake, and strike when something stupid hits my ears. I am called to defend my point of view, logically and with evidence. I use this method quite often but it can turn into a defensive stance, guarding my position. I could do this easily with John and his words from the gospel.

He doesn’t challenge the existing social order. John doesn’t tell the tax collectors to end their relations with the occupying power but just take what they should. To solders, not to give up their jobs and live a life of peace, but not to be bullies and to be content with their pay. John seems to never even consider the possibility of there being an unjust wage! I have a ton of problems with this… well.. I would have a ton of problems if it weren’t for my time at Lancaster General Hospital this fall, working as a hospital chaplain.

In the hospital, you can’t be a viper. You can’t lie in wait and jump all over the theology of patients and show how your theology is superior. That would be abuse and Lancaster General wouldn’t have you as a chaplain for long. I find that I keep coming back to a phrase I’ve learned from a book by Pema Chodron that I’ve used a lot while in CPE. This phrase is the core of what I think John is talking about in today’s scripture.

Start where you are.

4 simple words that are loaded with possibility. This means to know where you have been; in my case single mother upbringing in Appalachia Ohio, 12 years of catholic school, and my experiences in school and in D.C. That sense of history has helped me locate where I am now and what I’m feeling. Here’s an example of what I mean:

One of my firsts requests was for pastoral support up on the 5th floor of the hospital. I enter to find a woman in her mid-40s who immediately asks if I’m ‘born again and saved.’ This is one of my buttons and I feel my anxiety rise. My first visit and it’s someone who is from the sinner world. I feel my judgment welling up and my mind goes into battle mode… but my seminary training kicks in, esp. thanks to the MS sequence, and I turn judgment into curiosity.

I ask why she would like to know. We then spend the next half hour in one of the coolest conversations I’ve had in a long while. I find out she’s has heart trouble because she’s overweight but she’s also joined a small group in her church to help deal with this, a Weight Watchers support group. She tells me she’s a new Christian, having being born again April 17th, 2009.

After awhile, she requests for prayer and I pray and immediately afterwards she starts giving me pointers on how the prayer could have been improved. Her criticism made me very angry. I said to myself “how dare she teach me a lesson about prayer! For years she has lived a carefree life and that’s what’s landed her artery clogged hiney here in the hospital! Meanwhile, I’ve been steeped in prayer my whole life and I can honestly say there is not one day I haven’t prayed. Now she’s converted, she is trying to tell ME, ME THE SEMINARIAN, THE HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN, THE FUTURE PULIZER PRIZE WINNER? how to behave?! Does she know my GPA?”

I offer up a silent prayer… not to John the Baptist… but to the one who neither John nor I am fit to touch the sandals of. I thought “Jesus… help me out here. I don’t want to chase this newly found sheep from your flock, but I’m greatly tempted. This is exactly the type of follower of yours that drives me nuts and gives me second thoughts for pursing this call you gave me.”

Jesus said “Trust. Have faith. You have nothing to defend here…You know how to start where you are…but can you start where she is?” I know how to start where I am… can I start where she is?

That’s when I felt a strange warming of the heart. Right there I felt what John was talking about, this wasn’t a baptism by water that john offers… this is beyond that. This is a baptism by fire. I found compassion for this woman.

I ask her to pray for me. She offered a much different prayer than I offered, ladened with Father language and that dreaded HE pronoun that I despise. But she blessed me. I got past my issues; I stopped listening to content and went after the meaning. Afterwards I asked questions where the meaning wasn’t clear to me. The conversation was great! We had a great time! She told me as I was saying goodbye that I was “covered in the blood of the lamb.”

Normally I would run screaming from the room and straight to a shower to try to get the blood off. But that woman was paying me the highest compliment she knew how to articulate.

I am honored to have received her blessing. It is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life and one I hope to honor.

Every time I feel my complaints start to rise, things like “Why aren’t they seeing me? I’ve worked so long, did so much, and have so much wisdom to offer and this person isn’t listening! They haven’t even considered my point of view! Why do they not thank me, invite me, honor me etc?” I remember to start where I am. I’ve been there; I’ve already traveled those roads. I’m centered and I’m now able to look for intersections where I can meet the other person. I am able to stop the self-perpetuating and counterproductive cycle of complaint and self-rejection and I’m able to embrace the other person. Right where they are. Right at the cross roads where our stories meet.

What this style does is follow in exactly the type of religious experience John is pointing to. John is talking about a religion that is beyond our control. Because it arises from a responsiveness to what God is doing among us, such experience cannot be channeled or domesticated to our tastes. There is mystery, God acts in ways that defy explanation or institutionalization. God calls for genuine repentance and a commitment to the life-style of a covenanted people. Our experience of God is always as Spirit and Fire. Moving and burning.

This baptism of fire gives you a molten heart. The grace of God, presented and offered by Christ Jesus melts all divisions. When others come with the nay-saying, it is our love, our concept of baptism of a fiery grace melts any and all divisions. You wanna divide on denominational lines, sorry, grace covers it all. Gender, race, sexual orientation, political preferences? In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, Democrat or Republican, Straight or Gay, White or Black or Asian or Hispanic, we are something else. You can’t even divided on Christians and Non as we are all mud and flame, created by God. You can’t divide along theological worlds anymore for all are incarnate within you! I’m now finding myself in the bizarre situation of embracing and being taught by the world of the sinner.

When we lay down our need to be affirmed, to defend our closely guarded positions, this leaves us vulnerable to this grace. Being vulnerable is key here whether you’re a scholar teaching these strange students. Or student in a learning situation with these strange sounding scholars. Or a staff member surrounded by excited and self-focused students and scholars? Starting where you are and looking to meet the other is wonderful testament to absolute grace. It says, "It’s done." It doesn’t say, after this if you do something, then you’ll be OK. It says, "You’re saved now," not because you did something or thought something or figured something out, but you’re saved now because Jesus says so. It isn’t religion that makes you OK with God, its God who does it. The sacraments are not religion. They do not cause something to happen. You don’t change the wine in the Eucharist into the blood of Christ, the presence of Christ. You just put up a sign in which you say, he is present in this sign as he is present in all things, including us. When we hold up the bread and wine before communion and say, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." That means that the whole world is changed, changed by Christ.

So now when I’m asked in the hospital, “are you born again? Are you saved?” I say “Yes. And it happened almost 2,000 years ago when a babe was born in a manger.” This advent, I ask you to consider, how would you answer that question?

Monday, December 07, 2009


CPE rounds on Saturday brought me into contact with a sweet little ol' Mennonite woman. she kept insisting that I was Luke "Creamcheese."* I kept correcting her but after a while I let her ramble along about my supposed lineage and how my "ancestors" came to own the farm they do about 40 minutes from Lancaster.

It was a good visit although it was a social one.

Tonight, I am called to the ER for a trauma. I work with the family and lo and behold who is the patient's emergency contact? Luke "Creamcheese."

as always, this reminds me of a song, and the fact that life is a 'strange condition' with all sorts of intersections and crossings and Constant Small Epiphanies.

*last name, of course, isn't creamcheese. real name protected.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Theological Review of Yours Truly

I have to write my ordination paper soon. This is hard because I tend to take a Taoist stance and roll with what comes along. Deal with existence as it presents itself, not through a rigid system of absolutes found through theoretical case studies. Real life is much more fluid than that so therefore so must my thinking. That isn't to say I don't have some absolutes or that i'm totally ungrounded. I am open to being wrong and to be transformed either through reason, experience, or scripture. I can't tell you how often i've been changed by one or the other.. or all of the above!

My doctrine prof, Dr Peter Schmiechen wrote a great letter to me when my daughter was born. Dr Schmiechen is a genius theologian as well as a kind and gentle soul. he is an artisan who works with wood and i have a small Iona community cross that he made that i pray with often. anyway.. here is what he wrote as reference for those out there who are trying hard to understand where i'm coming from. it's also written as a reminder of who i'm percieved to be as i attempt to put on paper my fluid theology.

(this was written to my daughter just days after her birth, he dropped off slippers his wife knitted. the book came in May, after the Doctrine class was over.)

Dear Eve,

We met when you were but a few days old: sleeping calmly under the watchful eyes of your parents. Perhaps I will come to know you better but for now I wish to speak of your father. He is a good man. His life is made of many conflicting experiences, held in tension, waiting to be resolved. Some of that resolution appears to be taking place.

His family life was divided, his religious experience fractured several times, his interests were and still are quite varied. As you will discover, he is very bright and good with words, able to fire the imagination. He says he does not like duality or division, but he is constantly thinking in terms of either/or. He claims the inclusive tradition of medieval theology, where everything finds its proper place in an ordered universe, but he thinks about things more in terms of storm and stress, with bold images tied to tradition only by thin lines. But those lines make all the difference in the world.

He wants a church set free from dogma, absolutism, moralism, and arrogance, free to proclaim Christ the word of grace. He makes it sound like he is starting all over again but then drops hints of incarnation, cross, resurrection and real presence. He likes writers who ridicule abstract theories because Christ is a real word of grace, but leaves us wondering how this grace actually appears. The record shows it has be co-opted, controlled, abused and misused by nearly everyone, and that it would be helpful (Paul's helpful) to have some guidelines, but not a Sears' Manuel. At times he sounds like those who want to get back to the simples teachings of Jesus (which few have actually agreed on), only to surprise us that he really does think, believe and experience the mystery of grace incarnate in person and presence. He likes to set things at odds and in tension, but then the day is saved by simple affirmations of grace.

Maybe experience does triumph over dogma, tensions softened by love, old conflicts resolved by grace. Without knowing it, you were born into all of this: the child of your parents named for the mother of us all. Your father once recoiled at the thought of that mysterious story of Adam and Eve, but it appears he has mellowed, no doubt through the influence of your mother and now you.

It is fitting that he should be in the process of finding a faith home at the moment he and your mother are creating a home for you. So begins a process of mutual care among the three of you, an image of a larger grace.

Talk about a once in a life time letter... because Peter is a once in a lifetime guy. Check out his books on amazon: like Saving Power and esp.  Christ the Reconciler: A Theology of Opposites, Differences, and Enemies which this letter came with. If you want to understand where i'm coming from.. if i do as well... this book is part of it. always looking for the third way.. the transcendent way.. not really always compromising.. sometimes this way pisses everyone off.. sometimes this way gets you killed.

hope this letter was some light.. as it was for me. peace!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Am I Wry? No.

Time spent here in the hospital is making me an atheist.

Not in the classic "there is no God or gods just as there is no pink unicorns" sense but in the fact that I don't believe in religion. I read a lot of Robert Capon last summer and found this quote:

"Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even of the best of all religions. ...If the cross is the sign of anything, it's the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world's problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing" (The Mystery of Christ ... and Why We Don't Get It, p. 62)

I'm frustrated that more and more people i meet are lamenting "why did this happen to me? I'm a believer!" I don't think bullets, cars, or clogging arteries stop to ask whether one is Christian or not. It's a matter of physics, health and genetics, and spacial location, not a matter of theology. I believe in God and I believe in grace. I also believe in the incarnation of that God of Grace that is with us always... and esp. when we spread the "good news." But we'd sooner accept a God that we are fed to than a God we are fed by. The God presented by Jesus is one that feeds us. That is the God of Christianity. A God that doesn't punish, impeade our free-will, or one that doesn't shame us. I spend a lot of time talking with patients on these three subjects.

Now, sure there are religious elements to the Christian faith. There are some rituals and practices that help us in our daily decernments. They in no way change God, they are not some magic ritual to do when you want to get your way like some petulent child. You shouldn't pray for God to give you that Flatscreen TV, that Mac notebook, or ho-ho-ho, that video gaming system. God isn't your cosmic bellhop. Prayer changes the person who prays. it lets you know that you swim in grace, every second of every day. we are awash in something we can't fully see or comprehend... like fish in water. Like Jason recently stated, "Spirituality is intangible. Religion tries to make it tangible – the expression of the intangible."

So the 3,000 plus dividing Protestant denominations are false boundaries. They only demarcate a focus, an emphasis on social justice, or healing, or sacrament, or organ vs. folk vs praise music, whatever. We can't continue to let that divide us. I'm getting sick of those who do. I can't believe in a religion that divides people. so maybe I'm not an atheist, just really frustrated with people's crap. Really tired of hearing the "why me God?" because that's the wrong question to ask. God is always there, grace ever flowing. God doesn't fit our power-dynamic though. Love is more powerful than anything, it's much harder to do as you have to work at it, keep the relationships going and be honest. It's easier to lie and go to war.

I'm looking forward to 12-15. I've gotten a lot out of the CPE experience. I'm clearer now on how I operate as a pastor and how I think. I'm clear now that I need to serve a parish as I crave that long term relationship and ability to follow up. it's been a fantastic and practical experience. i'm just feeling overwhelmed here at the last few weeks. but i know i'll find the energy to carry on.

headline taken from this song by Mew:

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Metaphor and then a metaphor put to music.

My buddy Jim recently said

We go little nova every so often. Matter coalesces on the surface of a star, the matter blocks the radiance of the star, the star blows off the dark matter, it shines beautifully, but slowly the dark matter comes back to obscure that beauty -- rinse and repeat. God is the beautiful pure star, Jesus is what blows off the dark matter, the dark matter is our shit we try to place on God and humanity in our selfish desires.

and i thought that was pretty cool. i think i've just gone through one of those moments when all my dark matter has been blown off... not saying i've lost faith in everything... i'm just say'n Mercy Me.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I never asked to be alive... and yet here i am. I'm very thankful for it! That's what today is about, right? Not about football or over-eating or a bunch of ppl with buckles in strange places landing on a rock... it's about giving thanks. A recent bottom line article stated that scientifically, thankful people live longer. that's pretty cool.

but all this thanksgiving has got me thinking of my ethics paper. i posted these questions over at Jason's site and they keep popping back up for me cause they're prettty hard.

what is alive? are our bodies just vehicles for our consciousness? we understand the mechanics yet can’t understand where personality resides, is this evidence for a soul? how genetically and biologically pre-determined are we?
whatever alive is, whatever consciousness is, i'm thankful i have it. i'm thankful for those that i know in real time and online. thanks for being a part of this. have a great turkey-day! (which btw, is a UCC holiday ;-))

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Autonomy and Covenant

Theologically, I don’t think I can separate the two. Autonomy is defined by identity in relationship with others. A covenant is defined through a relationship between two autonomous partners. In a sense, autonomy and covenant defines where one stops and another begins yet focuses on where they connect. I will first focus on autonomy.

Autonomy comes from the Greek “from auto "self" + nomos, "law": one who gives oneself his/her own law” ( Autonomy means having good boundaries. Boundaries allow us to know who we are in relation to others around us. The Hazelden Foundation identifies “the need for boundaries physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.” The Foundation states that “Boundaries ensure that our behavior is appropriate and keep us from offending others. When we have healthy boundaries, we also know when we are being abused. A person without boundaries will not know when someone is physically, emotionally, or intellectually violating them” (1).

In Eric Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development eight stages are laid out that shows how a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood. The second stage is “Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (2 to 3 years)” In this stage the child begins to answer what is and is not under their control and where they stop and others begin (Erikson 24). If parents encourage self-sufficient behavior, toddlers develop a sense of autonomy; a sense of being able to handle many problems on their own. But if parents demand too much too soon and refuse to let children perform tasks of which they are capable, or shame the child at early attempts at self-sufficiency, children may instead develop doubt about their ability to handle problems (Erickson 32).

Taking these two concepts and smushing them together, I can see how many pastors can shame their congregations; or how those higher up the chain can shame a local pastor. So the UCC is right to seek autonomy. But it is good to note that no one is completely free. We are all bound by our family systems, context, socio-economic status, culture, assumptions, and so on. We are not islands unto themselves, but interconnected beings. I prefer the term “inter-vidual” versus individual. A balance must be struck between the inter-vidual and the larger group that he or she is a part of. I think The UCC Constitution and Bylaws hold this autonomy in balance with the need for covenant.

Covenant is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement” and it comes from the Middle English, from Anglo-French, from present participle of covenir to be fitting. Covenant therefore means “a fitting agreement between two or more autonomous entities.”

When the four streams came together, they each had a particular identity and tradition. They were able to agree upon similarities and yet keep various ID markers in place for local congregations if they wanted it. For example, not every church is high church, or congregational, but each is free to choose what works, or what is fitting, given their context and history. This balances out the autonomy as it helps prevent spiritual abuse that can stem from a rigid system that has itself convinced of perfection, apostolic descent, and over controlling tendencies that result. Covenant also helps to remind the local church that they are not alone.

I think this is an excellent model. It allows for self-expression yet keeps this expression from harming others. It allows for creativity within reason. Speaking as an artist, I like this model because if one has complete freedom the canvas remains blank. Given some boundaries, some theme, some restriction, the artist then can paint within or rejecting what has been defined.


Erikson, Erik H. Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: International Universities Press, 1959.

Hazeldon Foundation. “What are Boundaries” CPE Handout. Copyright 1988. “Autonomy” and “Covenant” searches

United Church of Christ. The Constitution and Bylaws, 2005 Edition. Pilgrim Press, 2005.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Drastic Re-Write

Thank you to all who have helped in the crafting of this statement. I knew the old one wasn't where i needed to go... but after my advisor gave some tips, i have come up with the following. First a few words on the statement from my advisor:
When you go to write your statement, remember who your audience is: a search committee or employer. And remember that you are writing to try to express your own personal understanding of ministry and your calling to it. Some of us believe that pastors are shepherds who guide a flock (from behind or before, but either way- pastors lead). Some of us focus on empowerment of laity and believe we are teachers primarily. Some of us believe the church is primarily about: worship, evangelism, good stewardship, social justice, biblical interpreting, building community etc and so on. Although "the church" may be about all of those things and many more, your personal ministry should have some kind of vision and although you may try to "do it all", you probably are more passionate about some things more than others. If you care about bringing people to a life of faith- then emphasize Evangelism in your statement and explain what that might look like if you were to work with a group of people.
and now:

Ministry for me is about intentionally stepping in and caring for others and something larger than yourself. This means ministering TO as well as being ministered BY others. This is the core of the theology put forth by Jesus, namely that life, at its best, is a feedback loop, and relationships are key. Even though relationships can get messy, the only way to know one’s self is to be in relationship with others. I hope to be a minister who empowers and guides others to fully enter into relationship with others and become a people of covenant and autonomy.

To do this, my ministry will focus on five goals, listed below. These are not my only goals, but the ones about which I feel most passionately.

• To bring all religions into a mutually enriching dialogue. When we seek to understand other denominations and even other faith-traditions, we have a sharper focus on our own beliefs. We also respect those people who differ from us, and this respect emphasizes humanity over doctrine. I believe this is a good step toward the UCC’s motto, “That they may all be one.”

• To refuse to make “church-goers” out of my congregants but rather “disciples.” Christianity gets tarnished when its followers parrot beliefs without thinking for themselves. A true follower not only knows what he or she believes but also why.

• To bring a sense of play to the pulpit along with the idea that there is no such thing as secular. We must live in this world. The church, then, becomes the meeting point between this world and the divine. It is both fully secular and fully sacred. I would be mindful of the worldly concerns of the people who attend my church and show the interplay of ever-transmitting divine. Coincidence, after all, is just God choosing to remain anonymous.

• To reach out to people ages 18-30. We’re missing a large segment of the population in our pews. Some may contend that this age group just does not go to church, but my wife and I did, and look where I ended up—in seminary! I would make a push to connect to this neglected age group.

• In my ministry I hope to be welcoming and ready to walk alongside others. I want to meet people where they are and help guide them to where and who they are called to be. I want to create an authentic community that expands, stretches, and moves people in all kinds of ways.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walking Contradictions

imagine you've traveled back in time and you're face to face with a medieval Christian serf. you're able to communicate with him through some form or another (hey, worked in Timeline, it can work in your imagination too!). after the usual chit chat about the weather you ask him about his goals in life. how was he bettering his lot in life? what impact was he making on his children? what type of world did he want to leave for his kids?

all of these questions would be met with a blank face.

the Christian view of history which dominated Europe at this time percieved life as just preparation for the next. The greek concept of Cycles were abandoned but one aspect was retained, mainly that history is a decaying process. History has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Creation, redemption, and last judgment. many still have this view.

this is the Pauline, Augustinian view of the world. It also embraces the idea of Entropy. there is no room for the individual, just duties and obligations, not freedoms and rights, that defined life in the larger community.

in 1750, Jacque Turgot walked into his class room in Sorbonne. He rejected both the cycles of the Greeks and the concept of continued degradation of Christianity. He argued that history proceeds in a straight line and that each succeeding stage of history represents an advance over the preceding one. this is our prevailing view, largely, of history. and in the Enlightenment, we have the advance of the individual over and against the group as the sole unit of society.

but now we have a problem. our mindset is that the world is getting better and yet our theology and even some of our science is medieval. Just think of Genesis and biology and physcis for a second. our theology states that the world has fallen and will only get worse until Christ comes again. Biology states that every living thing will one day die and Physics that order breaks down into chaos. these are vast oversimplifications but you get the gist.

so what if our theology and science were brought up to meet our mindset? is it possible?

i think it is. what if Genesis was viewed as more of a 'maturing' like i've discussed in the past in a few posts like this one and this one too. So we can affirm Turgot but note that he didn't have it all right either... he didn't deal with entropy. So while the individual dies, the group lives on. and maybe the group will one day desolve into nothing as well, but maybe not.

i'm now suggesting that despite entropy and the fact that every one has a 100% mortality rate, maybe there is one thing in the universe that doesn't exhibit entropy, namely life. i wrote about this idea in this post from October.

why am i thinking all of this?

well i was discussing on another blog with my new friend Sabio, when it hit me. we as humans aren't really harnassing the power of mythos. the Modernist mindset is througly set on factual truth and operates on the assumption that "knowledge is certain, objective and good," followed by the belief that knowledge is "accessible to the human mind." Because knowledge is assumed to be good, rational, objective, and dispassionate, science is viewed as the savior that will rescue humanity from the ills of society as well as its vulnerability to nature. The future is, therefore, viewed as optimistic, things getting better thanks to our buddy Turgot. The Modern mind considered as suspect views that would "curtail autonomy" and individual freedom and those that seem to be based on some external authority other than reason and scientific [factual] experience.

But as science failed to cure all the ills of society and to free us of our vulnerability to nature and as societies the world over did not get better and better, empirical thought and individual autonomy began to slip as the formula for fulfillment. And by the 1970's, certainly—though the seeds of deconstruction were sprouting long before what was to be labeled "postmodern" would begin to disassemble the formula approach—a new view would begin to emerge.

In real life experience Modern individualism, autonomy and personal freedom had too often produced isolation, loneliness, estrangement, and the disintegration of community. we need a new model. one that harnesses the power of myth, community, and yet avoids the static labels and need for control that Modernists have yet doesn't fall into the superstitious rituals of our pre-modern Medieval peasant fore-bears. we still look for the gifts of the individual but in terms of the larger community. the individual is still the sole unit of society yet is placed in context and the connections are viewed as vital, not holding back or curtailing autonomy.

we become a people of covenant and autonomy.

what would that community look like?

is it possible?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

HELP! Statement on Ministry

hey y'all.. i'm writing my statement on ministry and was wondering if i can get some help here. this statement is to show what i think my ministry is supposed to be and do.

let me know what you think:

Ministers are dangerous prophets of immanence and transcendence. This means that ministers are:

Prophetic: Ministers speak out against social and systematic evil. Ministers are committed to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. In the words of Jesus, they seek to live by the Great Commandment: loving God and loving their neighbors – including those who might be considered “the least of these” or enemies. They comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Immanent: Ministers are relevant and aware of what is going on around them. They are able to creatively engage the present with elements of their tradition. Ministers affirm the historic Christian faith and the biblical injunction to love one another even when we disagree. Ministers embrace many historic spiritual practices, including prayer, meditation, contemplation, study, art and music, solitude, silence, service, and fellowship, believing that healthy theology cannot be separated from healthy spirituality.

Transcendent: Ministers look for the activity of God in the world and the greater meaning in everyday life. Ministers then spread the Good News of God’s presence to others and this fires the communal imagination. People are then able to maximizing their unique gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experiences in a meaningful place of service through the church to the wider community and from the community to the world.

This then makes Ministers and those around them like Jesus, namely; Dangerous: The record of the church and ministry has shown how the Good News has been co-opted, abused, misused, and controlled by nearly everyone. The life and teachings of Christ gives us more questions than answers. The more questions raised the better and deeper dialogue and thus a better chance at building true, loving relationships. This method is much organic, inclusive, and uncontrolled. It is counter to the systems we build that inherently block this truth in the name of controlling and measuring. The last thing we need is another system as we’ve had the answer in each other all along.

Ministers point to a religious experience and way of living that is beyond our control. Because it arises from responsiveness to what God is doing among us, such experience cannot be channeled or domesticated to our tastes or political ideologies. There is mystery in our existence, God acts in ways that defy explanation or institutionalization. God calls for genuine repentance and a commitment to the life-style of a covenanted people.

Ministers call others to join in the activity of God in the world. In the process, the world can be healed and changed, and so can we.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fiction as Truth: Ward Lecture

I attended the Ward Lecture here at LTS on 10/22 to hear Dr. Carol Hess present “Fiction as Truth: Novels as a source for (Paradoxical) Theology. It was a decent lecture and Dr. Hess articulated many things that i've been trying to say for a while now...

She began with Picasso’s quote “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” She then talked about how novels ought to be read alongside theory as novels do certain things that theory can’t. Novels make readers participators in lives of others different from themselves and make them sympathetic to characters they don’t interact with in their day to day lives. I completely agree with this. I couldn’t see racism through the theory, but through the history and reading novels with Black characters is how I started to understand.

I couldn't help but think of the difference between Gallielo's narrative presentation of his theories vs. Newton's mechanical and formulaic presentation. Gal is a hoot to read, and fun! Newton... not so much

Dr Hess then jumped to what makes good fiction and good theology and how they overlap. She stated that fiction and theology is set in time and place, it is provisional, it is paradoxical, ironic, and revelatory. I wish she would have spent more time here because I feel this is the core of the argument. We’re seeing this in our churches today with the “established” voice versus a more emergent model. This is not the usual Conservative versus Liberal theology that we have seen but something else due to the study of post-modern thought.
Many people ask me for my systematic theology and I state that I can’t fully give them one, and usually give them something close to this model. They then state that this couldn’t possibly be a theology that does any good and that even novels have a structure and plot devices. The problem with systems is they sanitize and simplify an ambiguous and complex world. No system ever contains the full picture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spaghetti is Pretty Accurate

14 deaths. it's grusome i keep count. 14.

it's just a number but i remember all of them. not the names (although some) but the faces and the grief and the hope and support and love showed by the family members to one another.

recently another fear of mine came true. dude came in, left arm amputated at the shoulder. arm was in a red cooler marked "soda" and the guy was awake and talking. family came in, lots of family. i saw them bandage up the arm for shipping. i saw them take the muck and chords that used to be connected to something and bandage that up. i intially thought that i'd do what i do when i see this stuff on TV (discovery health and horror flicks are in the same catagory for me). namely i'd gag and puke and be an embarrasment to the staff. i wasn't. thinking about it, the spaghetti and sauce that some B movies in the 50s used to show gore is actually pretty accurate.

i'm amazed at how concern for someone else binds you to them. even if it's just a surface "gee i hope that guy is okay" is enough. it's about risking relationship even though this guy is suffering and missing an arm. our tendancy is to shy away from suffering and "leave the family to their grief." this is crap. go towards it, now more than ever is when the suffering person and their family needs others.

 i didn't gag because i can tell it's a person... not an image or gimick. i feel the family's concern. i gather the things of the gentlemen because it's a concern he has that he can manage. i package them up the way he wants it and even have the family member of his choice sign off on it. things he can control while he waits for the chopper to come and his left arm is across the room and on ice. these things matter. they aren't theory although it helps to articulate it. it's best not to be all feeling during these situations either. balance between the two.

i love CPE. hard, challenging, promotes growth.

even when i come across people with some VERY crazy beliefs. on the same night a crazy dude was talking about David's sperm and some strange adoptionist heretical view of the trinity. i enjoyed spending time with that twisted-logic, maybe-demented old guy who's obsessed with sperm. there are worse things... like eugenics, neo-liberal globalization, genocide, and religious fundamentalism. all this guy worried about was whether he had "produced enough fruit to be adopted by the Father at judgement." fair enough. that's a concern i can live with. it's honest and true (despite the trappings of CRAZY!). as much as i wanted to attack his beliefs, i didn't. he was a lonely guy, scared to be in the hospital and in the twilight of his life. he was excited to talk religion with someone who represented the field and i'm happy that i could provide that presence.

this is making me a better pastor, husband, father, and human. i'm enjoying the program and feel i have authority to claim, a presence to provide, and a listening ear when ppl need it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What I Know About Faith

i don't know if many of you know, but i am working as a hospital chaplain in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). yesterday we had 5 trauma's in 2 hours. this has caused me to reflect on what faith means, esp. since the claim in here by many of you is that faith is a little lower than dirt and isn't true, and does no good.

i've spoken to people from all walks of life. Every Race, and alot of faiths like Amish, Agnostic, Atheist, Christian (fundie to liberal to WTF?!), Wiccan, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. this program is helping me meet people where they are and explore a different perspective than my own. i've been so honored to see how others view the world through their faith, family, and cultural lens.

last night, in two of the trauma's the family system was a mess and people hadn't talked to each other in years. there was bitterness and resentment. but as soon as i walked into the room, they started to come together. they started talking about their hopes and what meaning they are finding in these tragedies. they asked for prayer and were comforted and one family even broke down and cried. i've seen this so many times, rarely have i seen faith during these moments divide. ppl are more accepting of their views and seem to gain some greater perspective.

when you're in the midst of suffering, it is my theory that it helps to triangulate. you know, the mathematical formula to help you find where you are. i think health faith-beliefs do this. provide perspective and look at the larger picture and let the small resentments and grudges fall away.

this isn't to say that things will remain like that.

to say that faith doesn't equal truth is short-sighted. it is one method of finding truth and hope in a situation that is hopeless. i've seen the scientific method and medical knowledge due the same for agnostics/atheists as well, to help them triangulate. both have worked and found hope and truth in their tragedy. to say one is inherently better reeks of egotism and priviledge.

start where they are, test whether their beliefs are toxic or helpful and go from there. this is a great way to COEXIST.

a new blog i've been chatting on, Triangulations has written an atheist's perspective on faith that I think is really helpful and eye-opening. In Sabio Lantz's opinion, here is what "My Favorite Type of Christian" protrayed in through a variety of Christian beliefs and the direction where Sabio and I would prefer them to move:

Christology: Inerrant –> Errant

View of Scripture: High –> Low

Soteriology: Exclusivist –> Inclusivist –> Pluralist –> Universalist

Science: Anti-science –> Pro-science

Women: Misogynist –> Equal Rights & Respect

Homosexuality: Anti-Gay –> Gay-tolerant –> Gay-friendly

Resurrection & Other Miracles: Literalists –> Figurativists

Cosmology: Young Earth Creationist –>Gap Creationist –> Old Earth Creationists–> Evolutionist

Ecclesiology: Top down rule –> Local rule

Missionology: Salvation First –> Service First

Eschatology: Zionist –> Pro-Israel –> Israel-Neutral
I must say that this is where i am and where CPE has taken me. i used to think i was open-minded, but at seminary sometimes we're too used to attacking one another's beliefs than affirming what works. i think this stand is the best way to meet others where they are. that's not to say that all boundaries should drop and hold nothing serious... but to hold loosely, but don't let go... that reminds of a song... RAWK!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My View of the Bible and Authority

I had written a letter to the editor in my local paper... and i got a response! You can check out the first post under "Making Trouble Locally"

Bible always true
Regarding the letter by Luke (Oct. 18):

Pastor Cornell is, I am sure, much more concerned with speaking the truth as revealed in the Bible, which could be called speaking for God, than in speaking for other people. Some people claim to be Christians, but do not know or wish to know the Bible. Of course such a person would not want a Bible-believing Christian speaking for him.

The Bible is always true, but is not always comfortable. One cannot obtain or hold to the truth by allowing cultural norms or political correctness to determine beliefs and morality. What's popular isn't always right, and what's right isn't always popular.

So, read the Bible for yourself (I suggest starting with the book of John). Be patient, consider what it says; ask God to help you.

-John P.
i have a lot of questions for John P. like what does "always true and not always comfortable mean"? like does that mean we should kill cananites like Joshua commands even though it's uncomfortable? you may think i'm mocking but i've heard that a time or two, esp. from Zionist Christians who want to bring about the rapture. or is it true that cananites shouldn't be killed, after all Josh didn't finish the job and left a lot of loose ends. this would make the Bible still "true" but not everything is a good example to be followed to the letter. Form Criticism would be a helpful tool in determining what is a good idea and what is bad.

what pains me is the assumptions here. that "Some people claim to be Christians, but do not know or wish to know the Bible." assumes i don't know the bible and that I am not a bible-believing Christian. i wonder how he would define the two terms. anywho, i can honestly say that i spend a LOT of time with the bible and that my life has been transformed by it. and no, it wasn't comfortable. reading the bible never is.

we are confronted by views from another culture, another time, and a whole alien set of customs and beliefs. to top matters off, there is divine revelation lurking in each verse. what i mean to say is, the bible ISN'T THE word of God but contains it. The bible is not a God's Eye View of Humanity but a human eye view of God. this means cultural assumptions and such are wrapped up yet beyond it all is God in, around, and through it all.

it is only THROUGH reading the Bible that i came to be an Ally. a few passages stand out, namely God is the creator of all and all peoples, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we are a particular people and who knows where the Spirit moves or where it is going. Peter and Cornelius the centurion immediately spring to mind and the moral of that story is "HOLY CRAP! The Holy Spirit is here TOO?!?!"

Christianity is about breaking down barriers that separate us. the pure from the inpure. Jew and Gentile. Pharisee and leper. the rational and the demon-possessed (our world would say 'crazy'), the God-fearer and the atheist, and that also means all races, classes, political pursuasions, genders, and EVEN sexual orientation.

so ultimately i can affirm what John P was asking me to do. everytime i pick up the bible i look for guidance. and that is where my authority lies... not by hiding behind what I THINK the scripture says, but praying intentionally about it and being open to being lead. and trust me... it would be easier as a Christian to hate the LGBTQ community because that's what it seems the majority is doing. it's much harder to stand outside and say "no!" i find myself in a particular place with strange company. not with Christians mostly, but with atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, wiccans, Buddhists, UU's, and every color of the Pride Flag. oy! i don't like where the Spirit takes me. it's painful!!! painful because i am being grown and stretched beyond the limits i would rather keep.

but that's where I get my authority. so no, i'm not a "bible believing Christian" i am a LIVING GOD believing Christian. why work with a book when you can talk with the inspiration directly?! so when i get myself into tight spots, i talk, i pray without ceasing, and i remember to ask where would Jesus stand? with the religious authorities of his day? or out with the outcasts? i think you know the answer i get from my Still Speaking God.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thus Far: The Middle of the CPE Program

I am in an extended unit of CPE. Here is my first post on the subject as a refresher. When I came into the program, I was very nervous and unsure of what to expect. The hospital culture seemed very foreign to me. Everything had its place and life was regulated and if I messed up, a whole slew of legal issues would come down on me. Coming off of a parish internship, I felt that I was too theoretical and too apt to preach. Now I think the hospital is a great place. It provides a window to the community that it resides in. It is also the place where faiths sustain people or break apart under the weight of the situation. For a person to fully heal there must be a physical as well as a spiritual healing. I feel more like a pastor now more than ever. I am blessed to hear the stories of those I meet and to walk with them a while on their journeys.

I am learning that I pick up on theories and frameworks naturally. I feel like this is my gift. I am able to sit with people and listen to the system they are using. What are they holding? What frames are they using to interpret life? Once I figure this out I then see how they feel about these frames. If it is working, I don't bother messing with it no matter how I personally feel about it. If they are Wiccan, Gnostic, Fundamentalist Christian or what have you, I’ll use what they give me and go from there. If they are having trouble, I introduce a new idea and see what they do with it. This role of "idea-planter" gives the patient to openly consider and articulate things they are already feeling as well as permission to fully explore these feelings and ideas. I am learning how to translate theory into practice in ways that people can hear without getting overwhelmed. Philosophers are able to take something simple and make it complex, I’m becoming more an artist which takes complex things and make them simple. What I’m learning is invaluable and feel like I’m not leaving near as many people confused as I did at my internship.

I have also learned that I haven't always been too aware of my feeling spent or not. With school work, reading, CPE, parenting, and various other activities, I'm realizing that I have just a little bit on my plate. Usually I would keep at it, grinding the work out, but in this line of work, I really can't do that. One must be very conscious of their boundaries in the pastoral care setting. I will have to learn how to trust a group to accomplish a goal and have patience in the process. I can’t do everything nor should I.

All in all, there has been great growth for me at CPE. I absolutely love it although it is a GIANT time consumer... makes me miss my wife and daughter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived?

in my facebook COEXIST forum, this question was asked and i responded:

i think the guys from Weezer are. after all, they have the song with the title of this thread. however, it's on their red album and it sucked and that discounts that.

I'd go with Jesus.

and what about women? who is the great woman who ever lived? my money is on Catherine of Sienna or Gloria Steinem.
which a response came that:
I hate to vote against Jesus (I do not wish to be insulting to those who hold him in high regard), but as a man I would say he accomplished nothing, and as a god, the term underachiever comes to mind.

Paul was much more influential than Jesus. His writings and those of his followers Mark and Luke comprise a great part, perhaps the majority of the New Testement and transform the biblically recorded works of Jesus from insignificant to not only miraculous but the path to eternal life.

I don't know about the greatest but given Christianity's affects on western civilization, Paul certainly has to be nominated as the most influential person ever.
aside from the fact that this person views Christ as a failure (aren't there scriptures that speak to this? ;-)) there is a good point in the fact that Paul is oft quoted more than Christ in many of our churches. It is my opinion that the more conservative the church, the more you hear Paul. this has been my experience and i could be way off here...

i've been thinking about this question for a while and wonder at the rubric we're using. and since Jason got me reading a certain philosopher again, i had to ask "are we using what Nietzsche called "The master morality" or the "slave morality"?"

Slave morality: the morality created by oppressed people in order to overturn the prevailing values of those in power. Nietzche raises up the example of the early Christians and their new way of thinking that opposed the morality of their Roman masters.

According to Nietzche, morality has never been created through reason, or appeals to civility, or practicality or any other traditional method described by philosophers. instead those in power decide what's good. this is esp. true in the earlies moralities where aristocrats and kings held all the real power in society and dictated what was important in life.

"It was 'the good' themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and est. themselves and their actions as good, that is of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common, and plebeian."

Master Morality: include power, beauty, strength, and fame, in other words WORLDLY attributes and partly because the attributes enabled them to stay in power. like Homer's Iliad claims Achilles is the best because he's the most powerful and strongest. In Greek Society, it was the heroes that were the best.

so for me then, the greatest men and women who live are those who resist and follow a slave morality. Gandhi, MLK Jr, Jesus, Paul, St Teresa, Rosa Parks, and many others. those are who we need to hold up as ppl to follow vs. what advertising, government, and yes, even some religious leaders tell us.

to all those in the resistence: inform, infect, do what is unexpected: we are winning:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making Trouble Locally

i saw this article written in the local paper and felt the need to respond. here is what i wrote:

to the Editor,

In my years of working with youth, I see that they aren't morally ambivalent but that the church isn't speaking to what they are concerned about. In the question of "Do you people care about gay marriage?" the answer is yes and that they don't agree with Pastor Cornell.

That is bad news for Cornell as the youth are over it and he doesn’t speak for all Christians, but there is hope. With 25 years of pastoral experience, I'm sure that there are other issues where he can be a lamp unto the feet of the youth. However, he can only be a light if he stops, listens, and hears the concerns of the youth instead of pushing his own conservative agenda.
I don't mean for this response to be snarky, but instead affirm that this pastor does have some experience. he do have a wealth of knowledge that young people would love to explore, but he is dead wrong on this issue. his being obsessed with it doesn't help.

Working with Leadership NOW kids, I can help but view that they are incredibly moral and good people. if you need proof, just check out Agent Smith's guest post or Cody's Blog, or Alyssa's Blog. They are largely over the "gay" issue but are polite enough not to hoot and hollar at someone like Pastor Cornell. They are able to include Cornell and hear what he has to say without shame'n or judge'n. i am greatly inspired by this and am learning it myself. of course this is coming from my liberal christian side, i'm unsure if kids from the conservative side feel the same way. i have some exposure to them, not much, and have generally gotten the same feel.

there is an excellent discussion going on in the LancasterOnline Forums. check out Reverend Alobar on post #3. complete and utter deconstruction of the argument and i love it! just don't have the time to do it myself.

i pray, as Jesus prayed, that we all may be one some day in the body of Christ. that we are able to affirm one another yet maintain our own identity with integrity.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ethics 101

In ethics there are three parts to look at: the agent, action, and outcome.

then comes schools of thought which focus on each. here is a super-sloppy and quick intro to each:

the agent: Virtue Ethics like those proposed by Thomas Aquinas and others focus on the person as the source. this then becomes a discussion on the inherent nature of humanity being good or bad? Christians have always been divide on this but Augustinian thought seems to dominate and Calvin and Luther have picked up on the Bad part and run rampant with it. but some secular humanist and other faiths study this way too. like the Dali Lama and Tibetan Buddhism is largely concerned with the private transformation and buddha-like nature of the person.

the action: deontology is the idea that only moral means can make moral ends. you can't steal or kill at all. this can lead to some harsh laws like those followed by Javert in pursuing Jean ValJean and no room for transformation. one proponent of this style is Immanuel Kant. check out this video, it does a decent job, although not altogether accurate introduction (much like this one!):

the outcome: teleology is the idea that the ends justify the means. so one can steal bread to end starvation or murder for self-defense... however, this can also lead to apologetic measures like bombing for peace or conversion by the sword that Mulsim and Christians are particularly guilty of. it's a little more open to transformation and takes into account circumstances and context.

here's Eve explaining Teleology:

what do y'all think? which do you subscribe to?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fireproof Movie Review

so i watched Fireproof... and i was surprised! i liked it! but i feel there is an itch that i gotta scratch and i can't figure out what it is.

Fireproof is a small budget movie that looks like it's made-for-TV, but it does have some good writing and decent acting. It stars Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea as a couple whose marriage is on the verge of implosion. now i was very hesitant because of Kirk's fundie theology and his "Way of the Master" website. but since Anglican Gurl asked, and it seems to be a very popular movie in some Christian circles, i figured i should check it out.

since this is a low-budget movie, some characters are 2D (like the mom and the wife) while others are stereotypes (like the black nurses and their "mmmmm hhhmmmm"). but overall it's a good story without getting too preachy. it's a movie that affirms marriage, and i gotta think that there are many out there that will benefit from seeing this movie.

i wonder at the born-again message and whether divorce can ever be justified. the one dude who did go through a divorce was only married a year and "it was before i was a Christian." so what about those ppl who struggle years through a marriage, attend church every day, and STILL get divorced? it seems that incompatability is not part of God's plan.

maybe that's what i need to scratch. this movie is throughly middle-class materialistic. Kirk is after a boat that he wants and looks at internet porn. there is no struggle to put food on the table, no addictions, no abuse, just apathy in the relationship. it is hard feeling for this childless couple in their huge, well-decorated house, driving their brand new cars. of course, material possessions need to be questioned and Kirk does give up his boat... only to buy MORE expensive (albeit needed) stuff for his wife's parents. so the importance of material goods are never questioned. in fact, it's the STUFF that ultimately reunites the couple, no transcendence or spirituality needed.

so i wonder what this movie would have looked like if you introduce poverty, abuse, adultery, addiction, children, unstable and unsupportive family systems, or if the couple were already church goers... but that's not how the story goes, so i guess it's a moot point. but it does make me wonder whether or not there is room for those things in this movie's theological framework.

one thing i really did like was that it was Kirk that had to change. in many of the failed relationships that i know, the woman is the first (and sometimes only) one to seek change and reconciliation, often to the detriment of her needs. she tries to give the husband what he asks for, and when she does, the husband just wants more. i think of my own mom and grandmother here and how they sought change and reconciliation. but the change didn't need to come from them and any demands they strove to meet weren't the problem in the first place. it was the man who needed to change and reconcile. i really liked that part and hopefully this movie will drive that same point home to men that if they want to see change in their marriage, they must sometimes BE the change (to paraphrase Gandhi).

i also love how Kirk learns how self-sacrificial love is. and how it solves a lot of problems, that sort of servant-leadership and self-sacrificing love which is all over the Gospels and well used by the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, as well as many others.that was pretty tight.

the theology framework in the movie is pretty solid. the dad is probably the weakest actor, but delivers all the theological lines, which were mostly the evangelical "thou aren't doing right, thou shalt be smited" by the angry God. there is a holistic reconciliation with the family. first Kirk reconciles with his wife and then with his mother who he has treated like crap the whole movie. it was pretty touching and inclusive, and i really enjoyed that and think it was a brilliant addition to the film.

this is a good film, albeit a light one. i know there are those out there who can really benefit from this film. and while i enjoyed it, i feel it just reinforced what we're doing already in our relationship. i really liked the idea that "when a man dates a woman, he studies her and gets to know her interests. when they marry, he usually stops. he should continue on. think of your dating as earning your high school degree. you should continue on and get an associate's, bachelor's, master's, all the way up to a PhD." this is a great metaphor.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Guest Sermon by Agent Smith

I met Agent Smith through LTS's Leadership NOW program for young adults. Agent Smith traveled this summer to Thailand with Leadership NOW. This is a sermon he gave to his congregation about his trip (i added the pretty pictures!) I am always amazed by the profound wisdom I encounter with Leadership NOW and you'll find this sermon particularly enlighted.

also a message to pastors: WAKE UP! LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR PEWS! LET THEM HAVE A VOICE! thank you.

and now without further delay, I present Agent Smith:

This week, as a part of the seasons of creation, we are talking about mountains… Mountains that are offer “mountain top experiences”.

The idea of using mountains as a metaphor was a challenge for me.

It was hard to know which way to go with it...In some ways, a mountain is a good thing…being on a mountain can be inspiring…energizing...refreshing…and relaxing all at the same time. The Bible is full of stories of people having visions while up in the mountains.

But, trying to climb a mountain can be exhausting and discouraging and maybe even dangerous.

And then again, being on a mountain gives you a different vantage point…your place on the mountain impacts your view on the world. And that’s the first thing I wanted to talk about.

In Thailand, we had some of those experiences; most of them were related to the hospitality of the Thai people. Thai people have always been known for their respect and hospitality, and the reason for that is because it used to be a law.

Now that they have realized that there are some people who have bad days and have a hard time being nice to every Westerner they see, the laws are no longer in place but this way of thinking is still very much a part of their culture. The laws were known as the “Sakdina System” a system with points.

Just imagine a pyramid, no wait, how about a mountain? Ok, well on this mountain there are different levels, and on each level there is a group of people, like farmers, beggars monks and elephant trainers. The number of points you have depends on your occupation, who you are related to, and who you work for.

Down in the valley of the mountain are the beggars, and peasants with 1-5 points, and at the base of the mountain you can find the farmers with maybe 10 points. Ok, so move up the mountain, you can see merchants and gas station owners with 50-100 points. And about half way up the mountain you see elephant trainers with 300 points, and then you see the king’s elephant trainers with 600 points.

Now you look up and see the royal family with maybe 1000 points. The king on the other hand is even further up, he has infinity points, but he is still not at the very top… up in the clouds above the peak are the monks and novice monks. But there is one group I left out… the “Farangs.” (tourists like you or me.)

To Thai people, we Farangs are nothing but selfish pigs with money to spend. People who come just to take what they want and leave... Although these Farangs are looked at like this, they have a lot of points so they are treated with a lot of respect. We westerners the Farangs, have 800 points on the “Sakdina system”, only because we help to support the Thai economy.

It is hard to have the, well let’s call it the Thai mentality, when here in America, the way to get respect, is to dress to impress, or have a lot of money, or a big house… all of those big _physical things_. Comparing the two ways of thinking is something that is hard to wrap my mind around.

The difference really jumped out at me recently. I’ve been doing some research about how people “do church” So, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been snooping around at a local mega church. The American way of getting respect was demonstrated when the minister opened his sermon like this. …

This young, hip guy walked onto the stage all decked out in 3 huge diamond rings and a silver necklace, then the first thing he said was, “Ok, so everyone, I want you to check out these awesome kicks, these are probably the coolest shoes ever worn by a minister, these are the coolest things out, are they not?” This statement, for some reason, bothered me for the rest of the night. Especially because one of topics of his sermon was about not caring what other people think about you. He talked about people who have eating disorders, people who self harm, and all of these other things people might do to try to impress other people. I’m not exactly sure why it bothered me so much, but it did. I seriously almost raised my hand to tell him about a story from Thailand. A story about a monk, a monk who told us about his pair of shoes.

One day this monk found that his shoes were old ripped and torn (not just out of style) so he decided that he should invest in a new pair of inexpensive shoes. So, the next week a man selling shoes walked by and the monk pounced! He bargained, and bargained and bargained, until the monk could actually afford the shoes.

The price for his new pair of shoes 100 baht, not 100 dollars but a little over three dollars; this was still a high price for the monk, because monks do not have paying jobs. So the monk went back to his temple wearing his semi-shiny new shoes and as the tradition there, he left them outside the temple for the night.

So the next morning he got up, and went to the front of his temple, and could not find his shoes, he looked and looked and looked, and could not find them anywhere! He assumed that someone must have stolen them, and he has yet to have seen those shoes again. The way he looked at that situation was surprising. He saw it as him donating money to the poor shoe salesman, and that the person who stole the shoes, might have needed them more than he did.

I have to wonder if the minister at the mega church would look at it that way if someone stole his expensive Italian leather shoes. I doubt it.

I wish that I could look at things like that, the next time Josh wants to play the x-box while I’m playing… I’ll just pretend he does not have hours upon hours that he can play, and I will think, wow, he might never have a chance to play x-box again… Well, I don’t know about that, but one thing I do know for certain is that Thai people deserve respect, respect that they will not accept because they feel like we deserve more respect, just because we are Farangs.

Whenever we went to market, we always saw Farangs with their wallet in hand, ready pay their way through the city of Chang Mai to get the best experiences that money can buy … climbing that mountain of fun experiences.But they were turning their backs to the valleys…the valleys full of blind people sitting down in the middle of the street, singing into an old beat up amp with traditional Thai music playing along, Or turning their backs to all of the Thai children that are different in some way, turning their back on those valleys and pretending they are not there, the valleys located at the bottom of their mountain, valleys filled with poverty and despair.

While in Chaing Mai we heard stories about children, different children, children with Down’s syndrome. These kids are usually hidden away into their parent’s house so that no one knows about this child.There are some cases like that still here in America, but it’s rare, but in Thailand, it happens, and it happens often. Children with Down’s syndrome are often hidden from society, with hopes that their family will not have to explain to their friends and family what is “wrong” with their child.

We went to a place called the Healing Family Foundation, which run by people who have family members with Down’s Syndrome and similar conditions. It is a place for children and adults with this type of special need to go during the day. While they are there, they learn work skills so can make a little bit of money and have fun group activities for exercise. In my eyes, that place, is a mountain within a valley. It is a place where they are loved and cared for and learn to climb their own personal mountains.

I’ll tell you about another valley that people want to ignore that I experienced in Thailand. Our group was headed up a mountain and we came upon some people selling paintings. I stopped for a quick moment…because one thing you don’t want to do in a valley is to get separated from your group….I saw a couple of paintings that I thought Joshua might like, so I bought them. We weren’t in a major touristy area so they weren’t overpriced. I turned around and about a half dozen other people who had paintings literally started running after me…While they were saying “You buy Cheap” They were also saying “My children have nothing to eat. My children need to eat. You buy. You buy.”

People want to ignore the valley of severe poverty and the huge differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” that is growing bigger all the time.

But, back to my trip with the group up the mountain…I rejoined the group and we went to a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain. We were given the opportunity to be blessed by a monk. A lot of people have seen that picture and some were confused by it. I wasn’t praying to the monk or to Buddha or anything like that, I was opening myself up to receive the blessing that he had to offer. Even though we couldn’t understand each other with words and, even though he is a Buddhist and I am a Christian, I had a real mountain-top experience in that moment. I could feel that he cared for me. That he wanted the best for me and he gave that blessing without expecting anything in return. I will never forget that moment. Under normal circumstances… in when I’m not trying to write a sermon, When I think of mountains, I think of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe it’s because of going to the church retreats every year. Maybe it’s because of our many trips to EB Fox’s campground near Boone. Maybe it’s because of fly fishing for trout in Valley Crusis. Maybe it’s because of our annual trip to find our Christmas tree. While I like the real mountains, I’m not too crazy about some of the metaphoric mountains that I face and I’m sure you face, too.

You know how I mentioned that trying to climb a mountain can be exhausting and discouraging and maybe even dangerous?? As a teenager, I have Algebra mountains, I have Spanish mountains. I have acne mountains. I have “trying to understand the female mind” mountains. I have relationship mountains. As an adult, you might have employment mountains or health mountains or trying-to-do-too-much mountains.

I have to admit it. Sometimes it gets depressing. You’re struggling to climb one of those mountains and, just when you think you’ve made it to the top, you realize there is more to climb or you slide back down the hill or somebody who’s further up the mountain knocks the rocks loose and, here comes an avalanche.

One of the things I learned in Thailand is that the Buddhist monks are expert metaphoric mountain climbers. How is that? They are always learning…always in training. They spend a lot of time praying, too. And, they live in community with others…They are ready to help whoever needs help and they are ready to accept help, too.

I think that’s how they deal with their mountains.

Now, there are certainly differences between Buddhism and Christianity but I think that, we as Christians, can learn some things from the Buddhists.

We can be Seekers, always looking to learn more and be better at what we do

We can be Prayers, always asking God for strength and wisdom

We can be family to one another, always ready to give and willing to receive

We can be grateful for our blessings, & realize that the journey is part of the reward

We can be responsible, because we share ownership of this world and need to take care of it

We can be confident we know we are not alone as we struggle up that hill.

Instead of complaining to God about how big our mountains are, we can boldly tell our mountains how big our God is.

Instead of complaining about how far we’ve got to climb to get to the top of the mountain, we can concentrate on what we’ll be able to see when we get there.

Instead of trying to reach the top on our own, we can tie ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ so, when they slip we can help them and, when we slip, they can help us.

How we look at a mountain is our choice. How we respond to the mountain is our choice. How we look at a valley is our choice. How we respond to a valley is our choice.

Let us pray…
Gracious God. Help us to see the mountains for what they are. Help us to see the valleys for what they are. Help us to think, to act and to be according to your will.