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.