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.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thinking about Christian History In America

Corporate or Colonial

The Movement is unstoppable…
Future Markets, Holy Wars
Been tried ten thousand times before
If you think that God is keeping score, Hooray!
–Clairaudients (kill or be killed) by Bright Eyes

It’s hard for me to find a whole lot to affirm in the Christian History in America. While there are small pockets of Christian behavior, the lot of it is a story of genocide, greed, and colonial expansion. But such is the history of man. When wasn’t this the case?

With the decimation of the Native Americans and the history of slavery, I struggle to see the good. I take some comfort that Noll is aware of this. He writes that American was a place “where Christian heroism, Christian exploitation, and the quite realities of day-to-day Christian life were all defined by the experiences, the assumptions, and the values of the European Churches” (Noll 8). I am still unsure how to hold this with integrity.

Olaudah Equiano asks the “polished and haughty European recollect, that his ancestors were once… uncivilized and even barbarous?” When I read this question, I was hit by a ton of bricks. This question is directed at me! Here I am feeling polished and so much more enlightened than those Christians who were first exploring this land. Don’t I fail to see that I too am just as limited by my own cultural and individual biases? Maybe ten, twenty years from now I’ll read my own writing and be appalled? And even my children or grandchildren could be embarrassed by the assumptions I make here and now. Just like my Christian ancestors who came to this land, I am living out my faith in the best way I know how, with the interpretation I have, and in the context I find myself in. My intention is to do good and be light to the world, but my actions have unintended consequences.

I recently heard a seminarian state that they are tired of politics. Well, they had better drop out of seminary now, because there is politics everywhere! Especially in church! Most of the time, we get it wrong. Take the English Reformation, it was spawned by the King’s motivation to produce a male heir. In the process, the crown was able to seize the funds of the Catholic churches and monasteries and expand its own corporate wealth. The human need of security and profit oft times lead to sin. The English crown saw a market and went for it in the name of Christ; future market and a holy war in tandem, like the Bright Eyes song quoted above. Seeing this, the Puritans headed for a new land away from the politics of England. Their intention was noble, but it ultimately failed as they still couldn’t fully escape the influence of England. I do find the Puritans noble in the suffering they went through to pursue their beliefs. I felt relieved when I read about spiritually sensitive Christians like Jean de Brebeuf and his Jesuit colleagues. The majority, however; were not like the Jesuits and Christian history in the Americas is awash in the blood of the innocent.

I could despair at this fact if it weren’t for my view of history. To put it simply, when we know better, we do better. Meaning when we see the evil committed and the human toll it takes, we work to correct. We end slavery, we stop the genocide. However, this also works in the opposite way. We are incredibly good at war and killing large amounts people efficiently. My view though is that things are getting better, not worse. For Christians such as myself looking at history, we see the effects of the past and we work not to repeat them in the future. We acknowledge the mistakes and we don’t get apologetic about it. We ask forgiveness and work to end our own versions of slavery (i.e. sex slavery, sweat shops, racial tensions, etc), genocides, and war. We are working to get post-race/colonial/sexist/heterosexist/anti-semetic etc. towards a peaceful coexistence were oppression is minimized and justice prevails.

I, like my Puritan ancestors, hope to create a new society based on God’s kingdom as envisioned by Jesus Christ. At the same time, I seek to be as spiritually sensitive as Brebeuf in my interactions with those of other faiths and cultures.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. “Traditional Ibo Religion and Culture.” Pages 13-19. African American Religious History; A Documentary Witness. Second Edition. Ed. Milton C. Sernett. Duke University Press: 1999.

Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI: 1992.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Where does Evolution Leave God?

from a discussion from the facebook COEXIST forum, a dude posted this:

The Wall Street Journal asked Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist) and Karen Armstrong (Christian apologist) the question "Where does evolution leave God?" I thought folks in this group might find their replies interesting:

My own take is that Armstrong concedes so much ground to evolution that she unintentionally describes the same god as Dawkins does: a god with nothing to do, and one that does not, technically, exist. Somehow Armstrong still derives value and meaning from such a concept.
my response:

Holmes Rolston III in his epic volume "Genes, Genesis and God: Values and their origins in Natural and Human History" takes the reader on a journey from creation of the universe to the rise of homosapiens and our development of culture, ethics, and religions. Stepping back to appreciate the grandeur of it all, Rolston asks "Where is God in this evolutionary saga?"

Nothing that the universe demonstrates entropy (constantly decreasing measure of energy and order leading to its death), Rolston proposes that one entity which is moving in a negentropic direction (increasing in energy and order): life. he states "Nature and energy have been creative, making more out of less." Rolston declares that the information and memory in herent in DNA is needed in such amounts that it could not have floated in from nowhere. therefore: "Over evolutionary history, some thing is going on 'over the heads' of any and all of the local, individual organisms. More comes from less, again and again. A more plausible explanation is taht, complimenting the self-organizing, there is a ground of information, or ambience of information, otherwise known as God."

in Rolston's model, the providence of God, or in imitation of God, provides a negentropic drive against hte unremitting death throes of the universe. God's providence intersects with human and natural history within and around us. i think this is so... but the question still remains of HOW exactly such a God intersects with humans and creation. is this God thinking (like traditional theology states) "Don't sweat it, i got it all under control." or is God thinking (like more progressive/liberation theologies state) "Stop sitting on your hands, get up and do something with yourself and i'll provide the energy and guidance in your work."?

i'm still on the fence but leaning towards progressive, although both are plausible in certain contexts.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Good History

I've said it before, and i'll say it again. I'm tired of being a "Christian, but". I'm a Christian but I affirm other traditions, like the LGBTQ, believe in evolution, drink alcohol, don't believe in a sacred/secular split, etc. In my studies this semester, i'm taking "United Church of Christ: History, Polity, and Doctrine" and i'm loving it! I'm learning with each class that the UCC is definately my spiritual and historical home.

The UCC has been many things and it's hard to sum up. In short it comes from 4 denominations that merged in the 1950s. Those "4 Streams" are the Congregationalists, Reformed, Christian, and Evangelical churches. We affirm all four of those histories, some extending all the way back to the reformation, while others were home-grown American Revolutions.

UCC has poked fun of itself calling themselves:
  • a heady and exasperating mix
  • unitarians considering christ
  • utterly confused christians
  • universalists christ crazed
  • un-tied christians
and yet stand as a church that wants to be:
  • united and uniting
  • reformed and reforming
  • unity with variety
  • unity in diversity
  • looking for the living God
  • affirming that God is still speaking
  • believing "In essentials unity, in nonessentials freedom, in all things charity" (Eden Seminary's motto)
here's a brief overview of what each "Stream" brings to the UCC.

The Congregationalists: the Puritan and separatists were part of this tradition. intially it was called "The Way" and didn't want to be labeled anything as the prime beliefs being the autonomy of the individual church and the freedom to follow Christ in context and as the sole head of the church.

they were Calvinists and believed int he elect, primacy of scripture, and that all works are a responce to the freely given grace of God. they believe that creeds and confessions weren't all that important and cared more for conversation and education. the motif's in play were a sense of flexibility and adaptability, social awareness, realistic and practical, and great missional zeal.

some notables: Johnathan Edwards (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), John Wise (natural rights such as democracy, autonomy, and covenant is consistent with faith which lead to Congregationalist support of the American Revolution), and Washington Gladden (father of the social gospel: Christians must stand against injustice, rabid and selfish individualism, and economic exploitation).

The Reformed Church: has roots in Germany and names Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin as sources. Liked Calvin's simple worship and struck a balance between Luther and Zwingli in communion: not going as far as Luther but yet refraining from calling it "just a symbol" as Zwingli. Unlike the Congregationalists, this stream was confessional with a lot of creeds, the foremost being the Heidelberg Catechism. They focused that a highly structured church is a good thing and found freedom in the order as it provided helpful boundaries and easy identity.

Lancaster Theological Seminary where I attend was the only historical Reformed Seminary and also where Mercersburg Theology popped up. some notables include the hiding of the Liberty Bell during the revolutionary war, Philip Schaff, and John Williamson Nevin.

The Evangelical Church: didn't have a lot of money or members. They largely affirmed three things.
  1. Pietism that sits between orthodoxy and rationalism
  2. no creed but Christ crucified
  3. in essentials unity... that phrase listed above.
H. Richard Niebuhr and his brother Reinhold Niebuhr both came out of this tradition.

The Christian Church: was largely absorbed by the Congregationalists. they were largely a small confederacy, loosely affliated with one another, that was based on Enlightenment Principles and affirmed: Law, unity, passion with no trained clergy. they wanted warm hearted leaders with a keen moral sense.

so there are the 4 Streams in a nutshell. each brings their own story and contributes in a unique way. there is also a UBER-PROGRESSIVE history behind each of these as the UCC was the first to ordain a woman, african-american, and openly gay ministers. started the first integrated anti-slavery society, wrote the 'Serenity Prayer', argued to uphold the treaties made with the First Nations Tribes, as well as many other firsts. Read more about these firsts here! Plus it would stand to mention that President Obama was UCC in Chicago; NOT MUSLIM. but since Rev. Wright, he's stuck to the National Cathedral, which is okay, Darth Vader is on the outside of the church, so it can't be all bad, right?

Needless to say it's great to know that i'm part of a progressive strain that has been at the forefront of the issues. many want to call Christians closed-minded, stiff-necked, and out-dated, but here is a whole history that says otherwise. they affirm a generous orthodoxy and have been exempt from a lot of charges now leveled at many Christians today.  i can't help but want to work to keep this proud history going! RAWK!