Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Special Announcement

Reformation Week will run June 1st to the 5th! Check back each day for posts!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

“The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached”

This is the greatest sermon ever preached. Seriously, this is the greatest sermon you will ever hear. And if you don’t believe me, well; you’re just a bunch of doubters. You bunch of Doubting Thomases. Doesn’t this story say “Don’t Doubt!?”

Are you ashamed or justified in your doubting? Maybe being a Doubting Thomas is a good thing. Being critical is just a part of life, we question and discern all the time. By looking at the Gospel of John, we will see that Thomas wasn’t doubting, but more critical of what his friends were saying.

I’m not sure why Thomas gets the label “doubter.” Just a glance at the Gospels and you can see the disciples doubting all over the place. While Jesus was alive, they doubted he could feed the multitude, doubted they would survive the storm on the sea of Galilee. Doubted that they would ever deny that they even knew Jesus. Then Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried.

Almost immediately, Mary Magdalene took up the doubt. She went to the tomb, not because she was going to greet the risen Lord, as Jesus told his disciples more than once that he would come again, but to prepare Jesus’ body for death. She was shocked to find the empty tomb and even more shocked to see the risen Jesus.

She ran and told the disciples. The Gospel doesn’t say what the disciples said to Mary… but their actions speak for themselves. They immediately run to the tomb to verify the story, doubting Mary’s story and Jesus’ promise to come back.
Then Jesus shows up in the upper room and the author makes sure to note that Thomas wasn’t there. When Thomas gets word of Jesus’ resurrection, he does what everyone else has been doing the whole time. He doubts.

But his doubt is a little different than the others’. This is more than a playful challenge we give to our friends like “Hey, I won front row tickets to the Coldplay concert at Hershey” which the natural response would be “No way, really? Nah… How?!” This goes deeper. This goes to the level of interested investigation.

Thomas is searching for details, facts, and he leads a careful examination. He has a lot at stake here. Are his friends trying to pull some first century practical joke? Are they getting his hopes up just to crush them? But Thomas stays with the disciples because he’s interested. I mean we’re talking about the teacher who expanded Thomas’ faith beyond the limits he thought possible. This is the person who was unlike anyone he had ever met, teaching others how to love God and love their neighbors as themselves. This Son of God who taught him that people are people, in spite of the fact that they are lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes, or just plan sinners.

Thomas sticks with his interested investigation for a week. I wonder what went on in that week. Did the other disciples plead their case with Thomas? Did they each take turns giving personal testimonies? Did they talk about how Jesus looked, what he said to them, how they knew it was Christ? Were these conversations calm or shouting matches? The Gospel does not give us these details.

Thomas gives the disciples an obstinate challenge. It can be viewed as demanding, defiant, or spiritually ambitious. The challenge is a familiar one in the Greek-speaking world. What is recorded in the story is “I will never believe” but the full quote is “If I don’t examine, I will never believe.”

Only Jesus can provide the answer to Thomas’ challenge. Jesus appears and offers to give Thomas exactly what he asked for. Thomas just answers “My Lord and My God.”

“My Lord and My God.” This phrase can be uttered so many ways. I often hear it uttered at seminary in a variety of ways, mostly in the negative way. Seminary is a hard place. Seminarians are asked to lead their own interested investigations of faith. Many have come into seminary believing certain things and they are uncomfortable with the examination part.

“My Lord and My God, I have to examine that?!”

I’ve heard it uttered many times by my classmates that they sometimes feels like they are losing Jesus more than they’re finding him.

Then I come to Trinity. It seems to be the stereotype that Christian churches don’t challenge their members or try to teach them new things… like those very things the minister learned in seminary. NOT HERE. Instead of trying to spare you the pain, I think Nancy wants you to join her. She asks those in the Bible studies and also those in worship, through her sermons to consider things way outside our personal experience.

Trinity is also a diverse group of people, all who grew up in various denominations. We have ex-Catholics sitting next to ex-Methodists, who sit next to ex-Charismatic Pentacostals who are next to ex-Brethren. In talking with one another, we hear things that are light years beyond our traditions and personal theologies. We speak with our fellow members whose own style of Christianity can be so vastly different from our own. We wrestle, we read, we discuss and most of all we ask, and we ask and we ask. And our questions are met with more questions.

But there are times.

In the midst of reading, in the midst of wrestling, in the midst of these strange conversations with our friends and church family… there are times.
During the sermon, preached by someone who has dedicated their lives to the study of the gospel, to the study of the Old Testament, to the study of preaching both… there are times.

Even in our strongly held opinions, even in our demanding, defiant, or spiritually ambitious challenges to God… there are times.

There are times when the curtain is pulled back. There are times when our interested investigations end and all we can do is echo Thomas’ words… “My Lord and My God.” Words best said in a voice filled with wonder and awe. We are getting these glimpses of the divine all the time, and it’s not through the answers we have, it’s through the questions we carry!

At the end of the story, Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas. There is no attempt to shame him for his challenge. Jesus gives him what he needs to believe. In Thomas’ wonder and awe Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We can pick up on these revelations if we stick to our interested investigations. We will only see Jesus if we get out into the world and are engaged by it. We will only see Jesus if we challenge and continue to be challenged by his example! So make a joyful noise unto the Lord, read your bible, pray at home with your door shut, and pray at your local food banks and soup kitchens! Attend a Bible study, or enter into conversation about the sermon with a friend or pew-mate. When two or three are gathered, Jesus is in our midst, and the Holy Spirit is always with us. Through our interested investigations we might just be able to see Jesus in our world around us.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Times They Are A Change'n

I've spoken at times about postmodernism and how i fancy myself as part of this group. I'm reading a book right now that is really touching on some great themes and lays out our current context quite nicely. The book is Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy by Barry Taylor.

Taylor is concerned with three interwoven ideas: (1) the implosion of modernity and the rise of the postmodern/postsecular, (2) the spiritual condition of popular culture that signifies a return to God, and (3) a vision for Christianity in this current milieu and for the future.

We have largely been living in a world where Christianity hasn't wielded the power it once did, churches are in decline, more and more people are biblically and theologically illiterate, and the rise of "Secularism" have been cried about by many-a theologian (both conservative and liberal). Taylor, on the other hand, sees this as a good thing! it's like the chinese saying "With great challenge comes great opportunity."

Taylor sees that the western culture has largely taken the modernist pill, thinking everything can be rationalized and explained. Max Weber wrote about the "disenchantment of the world" saying that magic and mystery had been driven from the world by the dominance of bueraucracy. These are "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved."

however, with the popularity of Harry Potter, Fight Club, The Celestine Prophecy, The Sixth Sense, Donnie Darko, and (my fav.) THE MATRIX shows that these have become the primary means of continuing the study of one's spiritual interested in the age of the democratization of the spirit. The Church has been left behind and the culture is fashioning its own form of spirituality and God-talk that Christianity must take seriously.

Rather than being cool, Christianity must be relevant, something i've been scream'n for a while on this blog. The main ways in which it can be so will be through an identity shift, a new typology for missional theology, and a new encoding of the Christian message, all of are in desperate need of imagination. The instillation of creativity from the pew and a higher rate of participation and congregational input.

Taylor writes, “The shift in times demands a new reiteration of the message, one that is a pertinent and timely iteration of the timeless Christ story for our cultural context.” Thankfully this iteration can come from both inside and outside the church as he asserts that “theology is no longer a specialized field to be left to those deemed qualified.” There is much encouragement for artists and lovers of art to get involved.

I'm totally into this book. Esp. how the new religious permutations "will lead to the emergence and advance of post-Newtonian chaotic-observer aware science." He also cites this Radiohead video as a metaphor for the reenchantment of the West, and i think this dude is right on!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Five Minute Manifesto

There are no civilians. No neutral position. All action or inaction is for or against. There is a war going on for your mind.. if you are thinking, you are winning. Resist labels, deconstruct concepts, get to the praxis and groundings of every theory. If there is theory without practice, it is meaningless, if there is practice without theory, it is thoughtless. There is no race but the human race, no them; only us. Divisions are made by us into we into I. the individual can no longer stand as the sole unit of society, but how the individual fits into the larger whole.. for it is not who we are that defines us, but what we can do for others.

All free minds to the front, all free minds to the front! We are building a new society, you’re welcomed to share your gifts in building it. We need every man, woman, and child.

We’re taking back the world now… thanks. COEXIST.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Truth and Fact?

a recent discussion as well as some coincidental readings (some of which come from Barry Taylor's Entertainment Theology) have caused me to think about the nature and relationship of "truth" and "fact." many would argue that these and synonyms meaning the same thing. i don't think they are.

in his work Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim A. Sorokin (founder of Dept. of Sociology at Harvard) developed a complex theory of cultural change that have important implications for this discussion. Sorokin is Russian and his life was largely marked by upheaval brought about by the communist revolution. the traditional "folk" truth was uprooted by the "objective, cold-reasoning of the state."

He states that there is a marked difference between how truth is dealt with between west and east. Russia has both verisons in conflict. there is the cultural conflict of the Sensate and the Ideational.

The Sensate mode is one in which material values dominate. Its focus is on mattters of efficiency and bureacracy. The Ideational is the opposite. Rather than being predominantly sensorially focused, it is more artistically inclined, understanding reality as super sensory. The Greek civilization, for instance, would fall into the ideational mode, given its focus on beauty, transcendent truth, and philosophy. the Roman Empire would by contrast be squarely Sensate, given it's commitment to dominance and its gift of organization and construction.

so in Roman language, descriptions would be based in the "hard facts" because engineers need exact figures to build aqueducts and forts and such. Greek language, there is more metaphor, allegory, and a tendency to exagreate to drive points home.

take a Western, Sensate mode of describe'n a BBQ: "i had a big party, 15 people showed up, there were 5 cars in my 3 car-capacity driveway, we cooked 3 full chickens and emptied 4 quarts of mashed potatoes, and it took 45 minutes to do the dishes which normally takes 15.” this is a western “Just the Facts Please” way of telling the story.

now consider an Eastern, Ideational way of conveying the same event: “i had HUGE party.. there had to have been 100 people there, cars were lined up and down the block, we ate a whole flock of chickens and ate enough mash potatoes that Idaho is now having to replant, and i used every dish in the house which took like 3 days to clean!” this way is loose with the “facts” but i’d argue you’d remember this story longer.

so we have the western "factual" model which would best be summed up by Thomas Aquinas' quote "Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus ("Truth is the equation [or adequation] of thing and intellect").

then we have the eastern "metaphoric" model, best articulated by Michael Lynch in a series of articles and in his 2009 book Truth as One and Many argues that we should see truth as a functional property capable of being multiply manifested in distinct properties like correspondence or coherence. truth then is culturally understood to convey "another meaning than the facts or story presented."

another way to put it is through my advertising background. as a marketer, i studied demographics and found that it's a fact that the American Family is white, has 3.6 members, 2.4 pets, lives in the suburbs, has 2.4 vehicles, and has an median income of 50 to $75,000." (information from Hey Whipple Squeeze This) these are the facts but it doesn't hold the truth of the American family and one wouldn't be able to find this factual family no matter how long you searched for it.

so what i'm saying is that the modernist notions of reality are coming to an end. the east is meeting west and "Poetry will reach a superior dignity, it will become in the end what it was in the beginning-- the teacher of humanity." -Friedrich Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Summer Reading

Reason, Faith and Revolution,” by Terry Eagleton that just had an excellent review here at the NY Times blog.

When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of “the telescope and the microscope” religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important,” Eagleton replies, “But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”

Eagleton likes this turn of speech, and he has recourse to it often when making the same point: “[B]elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.” Running for a bus is a focused empirical act and the steps you take are instrumental to its end. The positions one assumes in ballet have no such end; they are after something else, and that something doesn’t yield to the usual forms of measurement. Religion, Eagleton is saying, is like ballet (and Chekhov); it’s after something else.

plus i'm also going to read Entertainment Theology, some Kierkegaard, Robert Capon, some preaching texts, as well as Heidi Neumark's Breathing Space. lots of great books, hope to mainly be posting pictures of Eve and book reviews this summer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Five Thoughts

#1. a leaf is not green, it only choose to display that color from the variety of possibilities from the spectrum.

#2. the problem with humans is that we're charged with naming and defining things then we forget this and go to war with other humans (who are charged with naming things as well) over these names and definitions in God's name. God gave us the charge, God never said if God agreed with the names or not.

#3. we are like a river. we flow. we have boundaries and banks, and largely we go the path of least resistence. we can dry up and we can also rage and flood. rivers are intertwined with other rivers, they meet and form new rivers. all rivers eventually reach the ocean. however, what do we call a river that's stopped? it's damned.

#4. Find the two points furthest away from one another, then live in between them. Find the middle path.

#5. Why would one become ordained? can't anyone celebrate the sacraments and preach? you know, priesthood of all believers? well, it's like getting your oil changed. anyone can do it, but only a certified mechanic is trained to look for trouble spots and take precautions where a novice wouldn't think to look.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Crisis (Elevator Version)

i used to think people were inherently capable of more good than they are. some recent experiences brought this to mind. i no longer believe in altruism. i think at some level, it all comes from a sense of self... some selfish notion is at play.

this isn't inherently evil nor is it inherently good. however, it usually leads to bad and if unchecked, even the seemingly good acts are bad.

does this come from original sin? no. it's how we're built. for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. so if God created and claimed creation was good, then there was an opposite reaction which was evil. or think of it this way, a big light casts a big shadow. same with humans, we are beings of light and shadow, it's just easier to cultivate the shadow side.

i think a big mistake would be to deny the inherent evil that exists in humans but it's also another mistake to say the inherent good is not there either. people put bullets into other humans and they also jump in front of bullets for one another too. to say that this is because someone ate a fruit or talked to a snake is craziness. it's a mistake to think about why there is evil in the world or that there ever was a perfect earth. there is and has always been suffering. it's how you respond to it that counts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Existential Crisis

originally written before the birth of Eve.. updated today, but i think it still serves... read and comment please!

the definition: Existential Crisis: a perceived sense of harsh confrontation experienced when a human confronts questions of existence and a change in one’s subjective perception their relation to their world.

the history: When i came into seminary i largely held a Palagian view of humanity.. mainly that had capacity to do good through reason and logic. when confronted with the truth, a person would adjust and change accordingly.

the opposite view of this is Augustine, who's view christianity has largely adopted, which is: argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses.

Pelagius argued that Augustine's doctrine that humans went to hell for doing what they could not avoid (sin) was tantamount to the Manichean belief in fatalism and predestination, and took away all of mankind's free will. Pelagius and his followers saw remnants of this fatalistic belief in Augustine's teachings on the Fall of Adam, which was not a settled doctrine at the time the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began. Their view that mankind can avoid sinning, and that we can freely choose to obey God's commandments.

the problem:: recent events have shown me that people are happy to be stuck in their situation... some people won't choose to get out of the situtation when the evidence is presented to them as they are comfortable with the pain. sort of like "the devil i know is better than the one i don't" sort of deal. this is highly frustrating. my high view of humanity has taken a large hit.. reason and logic won't always win the day.

it was pointed out to me by two great friends that i'm largely thinking of this because i'm bringing a child into the world. i'm pondering what sort of world this is. what is the core nature of humanity?

where I'm at now: I think a balance needs to be struck. Humans are limited and sin is a very real and universal state of humankind. I can see why one would believe the doctrine of original sin but I feel that this invites too many illogical support systems that need to happen. First a semi-literal interpretation of scripture is needed and belief in a shalomic state of being was intended. There had to have been a “garden” in which to fall from. This is inconsistent with science and serves no purpose. All it does is try to fit God into a human notion of good.

However, I’m not as confident as Pelagius was in human freedom and capacity to do good. I think humans do good when it serves their self-interests or interests of their group. This is not inherently sinful as Augustine would have insisted, but it does need some work. We need to see how we are connected to everything! We are entangled in relationships with other humans as well as our environment and animals that exist in that ecosystem. We are quantum entangled on a molecular level as well.

Quantum entanglement is a possible property of a quantum mechanical state of a system of two or more objects in which the quantum states of the constituting objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart — even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. This interconnection leads to non-classical correlations between observable physical properties of remote systems, often referred to as nonlocal correlations.

In short, we need to take our biological response for self and group-preservation and widen it to incorporate those who do not look or act like us.

Can Original Sin serve today? I don’t see how it can; there are too many additions one must add onto this doctrine to make it scientifically viable. It simply doesn’t fit with biology or physics. It makes for a good story and a great logical set up for the need for Jesus in a closed model, but once science enters into the picture, the story falls apart.

more research must be done... but i cannot hold that Eve is just as sinful as me... i mean doesn't my experience count for nothing?! i got 27 years on the kid! she's no more sinful than a snowflake. she will be living in a world where it's easy to learn this behavior.... so what i guess it boils down to is Freedom is a Pain in the Ass.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Lay Committe Evaluation

written by a really smart lady on my lay committe.

Evaluative comments I or others have made about the work of this student include:

Luke needs to slow down when giving a sermon. He should read the scripture verses the night before so he remembers which ones he is making reference to. He should refrain from drinking on Saturday nights so he isn't too hung over on Sunday morning. Some like it because the service is over quicker.

The strengths and/or improvements of the student are:

Luke is good with the youth. He taught them how to cheat at Texas Hold'em and how to fool a cop if you get stopped while intoxicated. When he took the youth on a field trip and the bus driver lost his keys, Luke showed the kids how to hot wire the engine. He told them it was a trick he learned in prison. Almost all the kids made it back and the other ones will be out of the hopsital real soon.

He is good at getting the attention of the congregation when he moons them. He is very knowledgeable; every week we learn something new, for instance I didn't know that it is legal for pastors to smoke marijuana. And I found out that Easter is when Jesus comes out of the tomb and if he sees his shadown we have six more weeks of winter.

He is innovative, for instance serving pizza and beer for communion was real popular.

The older people didn't care for his foul language so they left the church which helps because now there are more places to sit on Sunday.

The weaknesses and/or areas for futher growth for this student are:

It would be good if he showed up on time once in a while. I know he is busy but I'm sure he will get around to reading the Bible someday. But he probably shouldn't refer to the Trinity as "Daddio, Laddio, and the Spook."

I believe that this student is well qualified at this time to perform the following tasks required in the practice of ministry:

Youth pastor or Janitor.

(I think it's a good sign when a congregant thinks this much of you to write something this creative and funny. how blessed i've been to have found TRUCC and people like this author!!!! RAWK!)