Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can we avoid the 'Political' ?

Today was a great day. My friend Malone got invited to join the Faith and Order committee of the Rhode Island Council of Churches and they were looking for another Baptist, so he invited me. (thanks pal!) Anyway, I prepared by reviewing the document they were finishing which attempted a theological approach to the 'immigration' issue. This is why I am excited, we get to really dig in and discuss theologically the social issue that face our state and nation.

Today was mostly a 'getting-to-know-you' meeting, but we did begin to discuss the parameters of the next project, which is 'Poverty'. And interesting and in my opinion time limited discussion followed. Part of this discussion lead some members of the committee to express their discomfort with getting too 'political' in terms of offering a theological critique of economic systems which allow or even cause poverty. But can we avoid politics?

Many churches say that they want the pastor to avoid politics, but in my understanding of the gospels, politics is inherent. Many NT scholars including NT Wright and Warren Carter, to just name two, make the point that the divide between political and religious is a modern phenomenon, and not something that Jesus or the gospel writers would have been familiar with. I recently read an essay by a scholar by the name of Clapp who noted that the very word 'gospel' was a term used in the political propaganda of the Roman Empire. The Good News would be proclaimed when the Caesar produced an heir ensuring the continuance of the empire, or when a battle had been won, or another country and people conquered. Mark's very use of the term 'gospel' to name his story about the life of Jesus would have automatically had political overtones to those who heard it read. Or take the phrase many of us pray every sunday liturgically, 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' Kingdom is a political word. The Kingdom of God , as NT Wright explains so often was not the reward after death for the righteous, but a very real, very earthly, very political action on the part of God to free Israel from oppression. When we pray this, we are saying that the politics, the social organization that God has established in 'heaven' would become real on earth. That is political.

I think what concerned some present at the meeting was that we might get political in the sense of Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. That kind of politics I have no interest in. Having said that, I don't think that we can avoid the politics or the social organization of the gospel. It is what we try to establish, teach and pass on to our children, in the church. Everything we do has political implication if by politics we mean, how the life of the people is organized. We have an economy of sharing and generosity, we deal with conflict through dialogue, confession and forgiveness, we speak truthfully and honestly, our 'borders' are open to all who will follow Christ, so we have a very unique way of dealing with strangers and outsiders. This is all political, not in the terms of embracing or supporting political parties or in attempting to have our faith legislated. But we cannot, I think deny, that the way that we organize the life of the people of God is meant to be an example to the wider world and we pray every sunday that we would be an example that would day lead to the coming of God's Kingdom on earth.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

San Miguel School in Providence

This morning I went to visit the San Miguel School in Providence, with two friends. Just have to share how impressed I was with all the young men (grades 5-8) that I met. Two took us on a tour of the school. Then we attended their opening exercises which included a time for prayer and anyone who wanted could share a prayer request, a word of the week (philanthropist) which they spelled, discussed the etymology of and then talked about philanthropists they have heard of. One young man recited a Langston Hughes poem from memory. Announcements were made for various events such as soccer, dance and other extra-curricular activities. THe announcements were made by the students themselves. Then they had a team of young men come up from the soccer team and nominate five other boys for a 'good sportsmenship' award which was given not just for succeeding, but for trying and not giving up. The school focuses on not only scholastic achievement but also peacemaking and character development. I think I shook the hand of every young man there... they just walk up and shake your hand and welcome you and say hello... no one has to remind them or prompt them. amazing!

We are hoping to get ABCORI and a number of local churches to begin to lend financial support so that more young men can attend the school.

Check out their website http://sanmiguelprov.org

I think you'll be impressed. Oh, its private, but the families only have to pay 5% of the tuition, which amounts to about $8,000 a year. Supporting this great school would be a wonderful way to promote peace and fight poverty in our state.

one more bit... they are need of adult mentors for the young men... If you live in RI, think about it, I am...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Worship is Important

So last night I posted on a couple of things, including an article in which worship was described is not the most important thing we do as church or Christians. Here is why I feel that is not true. Aside from the theological reason, Christ is present in worship, I think that regular communal time together is vital to our mission or outreach, because it is in worship that we learn how to be the community. Together through the liturgy, we learn how it is that the church serves the community and creates community in the shape of Christ. We confess our sins in our times of prayer and then pass the peace. This teaches us the basic shape of peace-making, which the world is in need of, both locally and internationally. Confession and prayer teach us how to be honest with one another, so that we are a truthful witness in a world where honesty and authenticity are lacking. We offer tithes and share communion, both of which teach us how to share our lives, our belongings and our wealth. We hear the word of God which shows us where to direct our missional actions, to the poor, the ignored and the 'other'. Baptism shows us how to make a community out of diverse ethnic groups, gender identities and socio-economic backgrounds. Without this foundation of worship, the church is doing nothing but copying other social service agencies which probably do a better job than we do assisting others. Not to mention the fact that the church is equipped to do something that agencies cannot do. We can befriend those we aid. We do not need to keep a professional distance. We, as the body of christ, join with them in suffering and in challenge. Their lives are joined to ours in a way that secular agencies cannot reproduce.

Is the church created only to serve? Service is important and vital. But our service is part of a larger mission, which is to show the world what the Kingdom of God looks like. Perhaps we can only do this in part. Definately we cannot create the Kingdom on our own. But we are not called to create the kingdom, which I think the idea that the church is called to serve and not worship leads too, the fallacious idea that we can create the kingdom (fix the worlds problems) through our actions. we can't do that. We show the world a better way and wait faithfully for Christ to return and recreate the world.

A church that serves without worship exists to serve the world alone. A church that serves and worships exists to serve and follow christ.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Church Attendance Declining; What should we Do?

So, I've been participating in this 'Missional Church' project through ABCUSA National Ministries for the past two years... me and some folks from my church, along with other churches in the state. Two weeks ago we had our last meeting and we started with a discussion of a 'church' in Florida. Well, the question was, is this a church. There were a number of different social events sponsored by an umbrella non-profit. They rented space in a high drug, low income area and offered a number of services, from counseling to theater group productions to bible studies. The question was... is this a 'missional church' or a church at all. I was skeptical. I just don't see calling theater production and stand-up comedy groups church. It may be great for the community, but it just isn't church.

Then I ran across this lovely little article at ethicsdaily.com

Notice, when you read that one of his points is that sunday morning worship is not the most important thing we should be doing.

What does it mean to be church? This is the question that all this 'missional church'
talk has raised for me. On the one hand I'm all for an expanded understanding of church which now includes service in the community. But for me that service is part of the church's evangelism and its witness as well as its discipleship. We feed the hungry because this is where we are told that we will find Jesus. We actively collect money and use it to help others to show the world God's economy as explained in Acts 2. The service or mission is an extension of our worship and not an alternative to worship, or a better use of our time. My point is that we engage in social action and service in unique ways that are rooted in our worship. The practice of communion leads to our unique economic practice. Baptism teaches us how to be hospitable. Without the worship our service will look just like everyone elses... and our service is meant to look like Christ. How will we reflect the image of Christ if we do not make time to experience the presence of Christ in and through worship?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Michael Sandel's Leith Lectures

The vast number of you who are fans of my blog will recall that this past week, while at the Chautauqua Institute, I heard Michael Sandel lecture. I enjoyed his lecture immensely and so did some googling and found the link to the audio of his Leith Lectures. It is a series of four lectures. Scroll down to begin with the first which is entitled Markets and Morals. This is an expansion upon the lecture that I heard at Chautauqua. You can also follow the next link in this post which will direct you to the transcript of Markets and Morals. The second lecture is entitled Morality in Politics and this is a link to its transcript. Genetics and Morality is the third lecture and this is the link to its transcript. Finally, A New Politics of the Common Good and this is the link to the transcript. to avoid confusion, the audio is found at the link 'Leith Lectures' above.
I highly recommend this lectures and hope you listen and enjoy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Novak on Friday at Chautauqua

Michael Novak was the morning lecturer. I couldn't decide whether to go or not. He was advertized as a 'theologian' here at Chautauqua; but I dispute that. He does refer to and write in a style that utilizes theology and philosophy, but I think that he is more interested in espousing and defending capitalist ideology. He is cofounder with the now deceased Neuhaus of First Things. Most recently he caused quite a furor on the blogosphere with his critique of the Pope Benedicts latest encyclical. One can often learn a lot through disagreeing and so I thought that the challenge of Novak might help me clarify my own thought. But, I didn't really want to hear another pep rally for unfettered capitalism, especially with Bible quotes. I went shopping instead to get the obligatory souvenirs for the family... which I quite enjoy really. The boys get Chautauqua caps and t-shirts, Roberta a roomy, fluffy pink Chautauqua hoody, and I gave myself a chautauqua pen and baseball hat.
Anyway, I wandered back and Novak was delivering his lecture. Luckily (for me I suppose) he didn't seem to have a clear point or objective in mind. Instead he seemed to be thinking outloud, wandering a bit cognitively searching for a thread or stream of an cogent idea... and not discovering it frankly. I was a bit disappointed on one hand, because I thought a theological defense of capitalism would be a useful foil for sharpening my own thoughts... and a bit relieved that I could go do something else. Which is what I did... Novak wasn't making any sense so Malone and I wandered off.
Finishing a sermon instead of attending the afternoon lecture. It is thundering and raining and so I'd have to stand in the rain to hear the lecture anyway.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paul Rauschenbusch at Chautauqua

Paul, Rauschenbusch, great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, delivered this afternoon lecture on Ethics and Capitalism. In my humble opinion, Rev. Rauschenbusch brought to this weeks program what had been sorely missing; a clear, concise, Christian critique of Capitalism. While Michael Sadler did approach a critique of Capitalism, the other lecturers that I heard, Niskanen and Friedman specifically, simply espoused the glories of Capitalism.

Rauschenbusch entitled his lecture 'Yoking Freedom to Love'.

Rauschenbusch began by talking about how 'encompassing' Capitalism is, and anyone who had heard Sadler would recognize his point. Rauschenbusch went on to suggest that those who lived in a Capitalist society needed to practice attentiveness and engagement in capitalism as opposed to passive participation.

Rauschenbusch made some bold claims such as 'Economy should have a purpose' and the suggestion was that it should have a purpose other than simply profit, and his own suggestion was that the purpose of a capitalist economy could be creativity. In this idea Rauschenbusch's thoughts on capitalism merge and agree with Catholic thought as expressed by Cavanaugh... human being are created to be creative, which Genesis ch. 2 highlights. Rauschenbusch also connects with Friedman (and Sacks) by suggesting that Capitalism has the potential for creative good.

Rauschenbusch then criticizes the practice of Capitalism that allows the majority of profit, property and therefore power to collect in the possession of a few. Again Rauschenbusch reminded me of Cavanaugh by highlighting that this consequence (the majority left wanting of wealth, resource, or even just enough to live) diminishes their freedom... that which capitalism proposes to protect most ardently. (I was also reminded of Marx's criticism that Capitalism leads to alienation, but Rauschenbusch didn't go there, and I understand that decision)

Rauschenbusch suggests that we reclaim a theological term 'sinful' to describe the a system that alienates humans from each other and distributes power to the hands of the few. But then he suggests that Christian's can also help to move us toward a 'Morally Mature Capitalism' that values or has the purpose of connection, community and commitment.

His final movement is to suggest 1 Cor 13 as our scriptural and theological guide... to allow love to guide our economic decisions and shape our practice of capitalism.

finally rauschenbusch gave us all something to do... look for companies who practice love in their business ventures; paying living wages to workers, taking care of the environment, among other virtues. by supporting these companies and boycotting companies who do not practice love we shape the Free Market Economy with our own love.

I found Rauschenbusch's lecture to be insightful. he did not shy away from being critical, but did so constructively. I found his talk to be quite prophetic, cutting through what was ideological defense of Capitalism, with gospel truth and in a way that pointed to a resurrection after so much loss.

He was also very gracious at the booksigning and I enjoyed talking with with.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vincent Miller and Frederic Jameson; Postmodernism and consumerism

I took a break from lectures at Chautauqua. The topic of the week has to do with Ethics and Capitalism and I was hoping that we would hear a bit about the ethical weakness in current American free markets and how we might address them. But, Dionne, Niskanen and Friedman were making the case for the ethics OF Capitalism... how capitalism is ethical in and of itself (that is friedman and dionne more than niskanen) Anyway... I've been reading Vincent Millers' Consuming Religion and so I'm just putting up his summation of Frederic Jameson

The scintillating cascade of cultural symbols and practices is driven by the voaracious appetite of capitalist production, not by the dynamisms of the traditions from which they are drawn. Commodities and cultural objects are best suited to their task when their conditions of orgin are masked. Traditional resonances are welcomed only insofar as they deepen their aura of desirability. commodification drives both the postmodern circulation of cultural wares and their evisceration. It demands ever more and ever shallower things....
We consume so many things that we simply do not have the mental energy to consider their origins. this abstraction has effects that go far beyond providing 'moral insulation' for the gluttonous postmodern consumer. This abstraction of the commodity from its production simultaneously sunders consumption from production, futher reinforcing alienated passivity.'

Frederic jameson; Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism

Word for the day: Simulacrum; 1. a slight, unreal or superficial likeness. 2. an effigy, image or representation

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Benjamin Friedman

Today's afternoon lecture at Chatauqua was given by Harvard Prof. Benjamin Friedman and was a summation of his book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. Dr. Friedman's main these is that in order for there to be 'moral' progress in a particular society, say development in the areas of tolerance or fairness, there must be economic growth and development. He cites an historical time-line in America where economic growth preceded 'moral' progress and where economic decline preceded 'moral' decline. He called the potential for grow and therefore moral progress 'Good News' and stated that he chose that phrase specifically.
His argument reminded me of Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty in which Sachs highlighted some of the social benefits of economic growth. For instance, and this is my example, many young women in Thailand, who do not have the benefits of education or opportunity for work, are forced into prostitution so as to provide financially for their families. Economic growth would provide alternatives to this situation. Friedman doesn't make this specific example, but I think that Friedman does make a good point; economic growth and security is important, very important, for the moral lives of humanity. We see this same point in the Genesis and Exodus narratives where God leads Abraham and later Moses and Israel toward the prosperity of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. God wants Israel to live as Brueggeman has summarized in his commentary on Genesis, in 'Safety, Security and Status' (at least I think those were the three 's' words that he used)
However, in Exodus and in the retelling of the Exodus events in Deuteronomy there is also a warning, that if Israel focused only on its material wealth and failed to live within an economy of trust which in practice is an economy of living with enough and sharing generously with others, this safety and security would be lost to them.
From my perspective, this is where Friedman's argument looses some momentum. For he fails to deal with the underside of the story. for instance the economic growth in early American History that went along-side slavery. Or the way in which immigrant populations or even child-labor was utilized in factories during the industrial revolution. This does not completely undermine his theory, but I would have liked to hear him address these issues. And this is what was seriously lacking. One may not want to launch into a Marxist rejection of Capitalism, but neither can one completely buy into this idea that moral progress depends of economic growth... there are also instances where such growth was concurrent with moral lapse... even in our own current economic downturn... which was preceded by much growth.
What I did find hopeful, although Friedman said little about this point, was that he at least mentioned something Niskanen avoided; that there was a societal obligation toward those who cannot avail themselves of growth in increase of living standards. Friedman called this 'Labor Market Luck' and he seemed to suggest that in times of economic growth, it is inevitable that not everyone will recieve the benefit of growth, but that the moral development should address this lack of economic luck in a responsible manner.
Deuteronomy builds this into the fabric of the story of security. It is the Jubilee practice that maintains a certain social responsibility for the unlucky. I am not so certain that a Free Market Economy automatically or consistently encourages this 'altruism'. Niskanen didn't think so... Friedman seemed to hint it might. However, what Friedman said suggested to me that Capitalism at least didn't shut the door to social resposibility and that it just might have some space to allow for charity.

William Niskanen on Capitalism

This mornings post-worship lecture on the ethics of Capitalism was delivered by William Niskanen, senior economist of the Cato Institute. The title of his lecture was, 'The Undemanding Ethics of Capitalism' and it became immediatly obvious that Niskanen studied under Milton Friedman in his full throated defense of Capitalism. Niskanen was skeptical of suggestions post economic crisis that corporations should be more socially responsible. He correctly in my view saw that there were practices in the housing, particularly the mortgaging area that were major causes of the economic downturn, but offered little by way of an answer to those problems. Self-interest is assumed and even lauded, but when self-interest adversely affects the broader society, say the selling of an inadequate or even dangerous product, Niskanen didn't have much to say accept that this should be illegal. This was the major weakness I thought of his lecture. He was skeptical of Corporate ability or interest in social responsibility, but didn't address practices which endangered the public.

He was skeptical of Pope Benedicts latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate and although I have not yet read this, Niskanen seemed most skeptical of the place of charity in the macro-economic system. In this way Niskanen seems most influenced by Adam Smith who doubted that humanity could be motivated by altruism (charity) and that empirically humanity had proven itself to be motivated by self-interest. This is most likely true, but from a Christian pespective, at least THIS Christian's perspective, part of Jesus' ministry was meant to teach and encourage disciples to broaden their perspective on 'the neighbor.' Or, take the story of Zacchaeus. Was not the lesson that Zacchaues' life previous to encountering Jesus was lived with self-interest, and that his 'salvation' was his altruism? his concern for his poor neighbor, not based on self-interest? The same could be said for the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Perhaps Capitalism and the Free Market Economy cannot be any more than undemanding in its ethics. Regardless of Niskanen's reaction, the church is called to practice charity. How then do we live in and work in an economic system which has little to no space for the most cherished of our virtues? How do we learn to live in a moral geography that is so different from the one we are taught in the gospels, for in free market economics based on Adam Smith, humanity cannot be expected to be 'caring' or to invest time or effort into a worthwhile project without the added value of financial reward, much less our own fianancial investment without the promise of gain. But our faith suggests that we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, give to all who ask, and the story of Zacchaeus suggests that like him, we find salvation when we practice financial self-sacrifice for the good of our community. Do we create pockets of our own micro-economies, (As Cavanaugh has suggested) in which we can embody charity? Is the practice of tithing meant to teach us how it is that we live in this economic world of self-interest, but live not of this same world?

I ran across this quote from Vincent Miller quite by accident which offers a critique of much that Niskanen assumes. this is from his book 'Consuming Religion' pp 50-51

'The social isolation of the single-family home corresponds to narrowed practical and moral concerns. Although late-twentieth century free-market conservatism arose from a complex of historical factors, its blindness concerning the common good and its suspicion of public investment and social safety nets correspond well to the narrow concerns encouraged by the single-family home.... This results in a trucation of Aquina's ordo caritatis. We may rightly have a greater moral obligation to our immediate family members than to those less directly related to us, but this social arrangement threatens to transform that gradation of obligation into a stark distinction. Social isolation and the burdens of maintain a family in this system make it unlikely that other people's needs will ever present themselves. If and when we do encounter them, we are likely to be so preoccupied with the tasks of maintaining our immediate families that we will have little time and resources to offer'

Monday, July 20, 2009

Michael Sandel Lecture

I just returned from a lecture by Michael Sandel at Chautauqua. Sandel is a Political Philosopher at Harvard. The premise of the lecture was that the United States, over the past thirty years has slowly and without question, consideration or debate, shifted from utilizing a Free Market Economy to becoming a Free Market Society.

Sandel marks the beginning of this transformation with the Reagan/Thatcher era in which Gov't was the problem and the free market was the solution. Sandel is not, however, making a partisan stand with Democrats, for he then suggests that Clinton/Blair, while perhaps making some modifications, really followed this same assumption.

The key question for Sandel is 'Should market values be applied to all questions of the Common Good?' Should we answer 'Of course not!' Sandel then highlights a number of areas in our society where Market Values are applied to Common Good questions, such as; Immigration, Health Care (for profit Hospitals), War (where in Iraq the number of private contract and therefore, for profit participants outnumber military participants) Law Enforcement (where Sandel noted the vast increase in private security compared to public law enforcement.) Education (for profit schools) and Prisons.

Sandel's major point is not necessarily that market values are always bad or wrong, but simply that we have begun to apply them to all areas of moral reasoning without considering the consequences. Market Values do not always fix the problem according to Sandel and he illustrates this basically in an instance where a pre-school was experiencing a high rate of parents being tardy in picking up their children at the close of the day. So they applied a financial fine to those who were late, which in effect is appling a market incentive to correct a negative behavior. After the fine was imposed, the phenomena of late arrival by parents increased instead of decreasing, as so many parent apparently assumed that now they were simply paying for an increase in service.

Some practices (bearing children or reading for instance) have a good that is implicite. Applying and market value, a sum of money to those practices changes not only the practice but also the way that we think about the practice itself according to Sandel. He highlights another example, which was quite controversial, about surrogate mothering. His suggestion was that applying market value to the bond between mother and child, or the use of a womb, implicitely changed the way we think about family, parenting, and even the human body (at least, this is what I heard him suggesting.) He specifically highlighted the booming industry of surrogate mothering in India, (an instance of out-sourcing, since women provide cheaper 'labor' through the renting of their wombs, in India than in the west. I will blog more later... but I have to go buy a Sandel book and have him sign it... oh, and I have to eat lunch.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What does 'Being Saved' mean?

‘Baptists also should revisit their understanding of conversion as an experience with Christ, rather than the popular 20th-century transactional acceptance of a set of beliefs about Christ’

This quote comes from an on-line article at Associated Baptist Press by Robert Dilday and Ken Camp. The article summarizes a talk given by Bill Leonard, who is a Baptist Historian. Leonard describes the changes in the American landscape both around and within Baptist churches and how these changes affect the Baptist Church. Notably in his talk Leonard focused on the declining numbers of young families in Baptist churches and how it is that Baptist churches should proceed in an age when being Baptist is not as influential as it once was, when being a part of a church is no longer considered important.

I found the quote above very interesting, even though it doesn’t sound all that radical. At its heart, in its earliest inceptions, as I understand it, Baptist faith grew out of the idea that the conversion of a person involved a connection between the beliefs and practices of the believer. It was not enough to simply recite a creed and accept a certain constellation of ideas, but one also had to practice faith. On a certain level, Baptists were originally intended to be a small group of Christians who decided that they needed to gather together to show ‘the Church’ and the wider world, what life with Christ should look like… This involved an assumption that ‘the Church’ had failed to hold people accountable to following Christ, simply being satisfied if the creed or ideas were accepted. So the Baptist church was meant to be a witness to the Church and to the world of how belief should shape, influence and yes change (hence the term conversion) the practices and actions of the believer.
Which I think is an important point for us to consider as Baptists today. We tend to focus so much on ‘Soul Liberty’ the idea that each individual is free to read and interpret the bible as s/he sees fit, that our faith becomes very individual centered, or as Leonard says, focused on a ‘set of beliefs’. So that the highest ideal is that we are free to construct our own ideas about who Jesus is and what Jesus did. While soul liberty is important it is not an end or a value in and of itself. It is connected to the witness that the free individuals gathered and covenanted together, offer church and world. In other words, it is not enough to think about Christ, or ‘believe’ but a Christian will ‘follow’ or practice the life of Christ. This is how I understand Leonard’s phrase, ‘an experience with Christ’. It assumes that to know, one must have a relationship with the one known. It also assumes that if we know and are known by Christ, we will be changed. Finally it assumes that there will be something distinctive about the way Christians ‘live’ in the world. That is what I am interested in exploring… what is different or distinct about the way Baptist Christians live in the world… what looks odd or unique about our thinking and living?

the Existence of God

My friend over at theological snob recently posted on the existence of God. You will find his post below...

I recently received an e-mail from one of the college students I worked with in my previous position. Without giving out all of the details, she asked me about the "epistemology" of the existence of God, i.e. how do we know that God exists. Here is a portion of my reply:

In truth, it is just as difficult to prove the existence of God as it is to disprove the existence of God. This is a basic epistemological problem for everyone - believers and non. When I took my little walk on the AT I struggled with the existence of God, accepting the very real problem that I cannot prove God exists. I ended up at the point where I recognized that I need God to exist and have to settle with that. It is not a comfortable place, but it is where I stand at this point. On the other hand those who do not believe have to decide that God does not exist - it is a choice that must be made and at that point epistemology is moot. There are some much smarter people who have contributed to this conversation - Kierkegaard is good - try the Philosophical Fragments and Either Or. Fear and Trembling is good, but focuses more on ethics. I would start with that. Ironically, I think Nietzsche is good, but I don't know enough to recommend a book. Bonhoeffer's Sanctorum Communio, especially the first chapter, makes a case for the difference between believing in God and not.As I stated, the difficultly is that we cannot prove God exists and there will always be a gap which one must jump. Either we could engage in a "reductio ad absurdium" by asking again and again "and then what," or, "what was before that," or we can find a stopping point and name it God. There are proofs for the existence of God: Aquinas - Cosmological Proof, Anselm - Ontological Proof, but they actually demonstrate the existence of God, or the nature of God.

Here is my response....more in the traditional baptist area of testimony. Believing in the existence of God, for me is ecclesiology. I believe that there is a God who loves humanity because of the church that raised me. I don't mean that they told me God existed and I've never questioned it. I mean through their acts of kindness and compassion for my family as I grew up... because of the caring and the sacrifice they showed in caring for us through difficult times of personal loss and economic struggle. I never doubted that God cared for me, because this group of people who prayed to God and sang to God cared for us. I know that isn't a foolproof argument. Churches don't always maintain this witness and they do not do so consistently. This same home church was very much against homosexuality and were I gay, I'm sure my testimony would be very different. It seems terribly irrational and illogical that the existence of God is proven through such a diverse, contradictory, and often inconsistent means as the church, but there it is... and that seems to be what the Bible says, from God's call of Israel to be a priesthood, to Christ's promise to be present with the one or two who would gather in his name, to Paul calling the church the 'body of Christ' the gathered community is the 'proof' for whatever that may be worth.

Theosnob asked what weight this 'proof' would have with 'non-believers', an excellent question
Again my response;

I think my answer to the existence of God is the only way to engage with 'non-believers'. Let's face it... you can quote all the Augustine, Aquinas or anybody else you want... but that will ahve little to no meaning to most non-believers. You can try the unmoved mover is you want to (Aristotle I believe) but I don't think that will have much weight. the only thing we really have to share with non-believers is our experience. It is not an intellectual proof, but emotional I know... but I believe in the existence of God because of a loving community that believes in God. You too non-believer, can experience that presence in my community. In my opinion, most intellectual questions of the existence of God stem from emotional issues of hurt, abandonment, disappointment, or loss. 9 times out of 10 an intellectual answer will mean very little... the promise of a loving community offers hope in a way that intellectualizing cannot. The only way to show God is to show a community that lives in the way of Christ. What more do we really have to offer?

I really appreciate Theosnob engaging me in this question, especially because it gives me something to post on my own blog.

This entire discussion really connects with something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately; what is the church (specifically the baptist church) meant to be showing the world or teaching the world through our worship, liturgy, and faith practices? I am beginning to think of church through the lense of witness. Instead of gathering to worship to have our own individual needs met... we gather to worship so that the world can see 'the way' of Christ in action, and therefore come to know this Christ and more than know, to experience life with and relationship with Christ. The connection is that our purpose in gathering for worship and discipleship is to bear witness to the existence of God. From our liturgical events, such as baptism and communion, to our practices, such as prayer and forgiveness and tithing, to the simplest supportive phone call to a sick friend... we are proclaiming the existence of God. Others will come to believe in God through the experience of God's love as ennacted by God's disciples, the gathered church.

Which leads to my word for the day: Empiricism: A theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from experience... One of several competing views about how we know... a branch of philosophy called epistemology.

And speaking of epistemology... check out this link, flyingfarther.wordpress.com, D. Stephen Long on.... you guessed it... EPISTEMOLOGY!!!! What do you think of this?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home Again

We just returned from our weeks vacation at Papoose Pond in Maine.

I completed 'Ecologies of Grace' and will be blogging about that, as well as Kavanaugh's 'Following Christ in a Consumer Society.' I started Marx's 'the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,' but did not finish it. I completed the Strain and Dead as a Doornail, for my fun reading.
So Now I'm into 'Consuming Religion' by Vincent Miller and 'Power and Money' by Jacques Ellul.

Onto a few picture of our camping fun.

This is 'ice cream sunday night'...

Fun in the pool... I know, they look nervous there, but they are really having fun...

The boys rode their bikes all over the campground. They had a great time and we have already reserved our site for next year.

Friday, July 03, 2009


We vacation at Papoose Pond in the great state of Maine starting on the 4th. We went last year and on the second day the boys were having so much fun they asked if we could come back every summer for the rest of their lives!!! so, we're going back.

Will return on the 11th to post many pictures and thoughts on all the reading I'm going to catch up on!!!


The Annual July 4th Post

I regularly visit the Religionblog of the Dallas Morning News. Its tough to find papers covering matters of faith. There is Articles of Faith from the Boston Globe but that ranges as you will see if you check it out, from 'All Catholic News All the Time' to a rediculous video of someone playing Michael Jackson tunes on a church organ in an Episcopalian Church. (Just when I thought I might try to recover some connection with the Anglican Tradition, from which Baptists separated, they go and do this and I thank God for Smyth and Helwys!!!!)

Anyway this link is from Religionblog and its about Believers and the Fourth of July. As you can read the blog asks the question of the relation of religious and national allegiance and how the two interact. You will note that most of the panel of responders essentially say the same thing... that we can celebrate the blessing of the freedoms afforded us by our nation, but must always remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God and his Kingdom. Sounds good doesn't it? But here is my problem with their response and this comes from being influenced by Yoder and Hauerwas; Essentially each panelist speaks to the good that Christians and their faith can do for the Nation. In other words, our faith serves the constitution and the values of our nation. But none of them truly address what Christian's should do when faced with cultural and societal norms and customs that do subvert the basic values of our faith. They do make a few anemic nods toward the 'prophetic' nature of church, but no one ever fleshes out issues like abortion, war, capital punishment, consumerism, the history of racism and slavery. My fear is that in focusing so much on how good Christians make our nation better these panelist are implicitely doing what they say Christians should not do, which is forget our ultimate allegiance. While I am not suggesting violent uprising or even protest, as Christians, I believe, and Yoder strongly suggests that there is a peaceful revolutionary aspect of worship. We are to present an alternative which is a peaceful critique of the American Culture in which we live. Even the assumption that we are fortunate that our country affords us freedom to worship is questionable theologically. What do we mean by freedom? How does our culture define freedom and how does the Bible define freedom? Where does freedom come from and lead to according to our faith?
In seminary I did a paper on including the American Flag in worship. I studied and recorded all of the symbolism of the flag; the colors, the striped, etc. But then I suggested that in addition to the traditioning meaning of the various colors (say red for the blood of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom) that same red also symbolized the blood of African Slaves, Native Americans, Chinese Immigrants used in the builiding of the railroad, etc, etc. My point was not that my interpretation of the symbolism of the flag was the 'real' meaning of the flag... all its symbolism is at play at once. But the symbolism of slavery and the massacre of native americans should also then be ackowledged, so that our celebration of the constructive aspects of the flags symbolism must be held in humble tension with the destructive elements. Prayers then must offered not only of thanksgiving and blessing, but also of repentance and forgiveness and redemption.
Hauerwas is definately against all forms of worship that celebrate the fourth... I agree, but in order to be both pastoral and prophetic believe that in worship we can both celebrate and critique and bind the two together in honest preaching and in confession and pardon.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Vacation Reading and More Cavanaugh

Word of the Day
Instantiate: to represent (an abstraction) by a concrete instance.

Vacation Reading:
The Sookie Stackhouse aka Southern Vampire Series # 5 Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

I haven't read the first four... this was the only one in the local library, which is why I really son't get into libraries. Anway, I'm a big fan of Trueblood and so I'm reading this for fun

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labyrinth and HellboyII and the anxiously awaited Hobbit. Co-written by Chuck Hogan. Another vampire book. You can figure out why I read so many vampire books, I'm afraid to consider it in depth.

Ecologies of Grace; I've mentioned this on an earlier post
Karl Marx; Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture by Vincent J. Miller

I know those last two sound like work... but reading theology and philosophy relaxes me.

Cavanaugh Quote for the Day:
'Many people do not see their work as meaningful only a means to a paycheck. One's labor itself has become a commodity, a thing to be sold to the employer in exchange for the money needed to buy things...Our work was meant to be an outlet for creativity, a vocation to make our impress on the material world...Being more human means, at the same time, participating in the creative activity of God. 'The word of God's revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator.' This is the true meaning of the call in Genesis to 'fill' and 'subdue' the earth, and to have 'dominion' over it (Gen 1:28).' [quoting Pope John Paul II, On Human Work; pg 39 in Cavanaugh's 'Being Consumed']

I think this will influence a sermon I'm working on about tithing. Instead of approaching tithing from a utilitarian pespective (paying the bills) or even a spiritual direction (tithing is a spiritual practice that is good for us) I am thinking about Tithing as a practice of the church meant to teach the world about the Love of God and to instantiate the Kingdom. This all inspired by the work of Yoder. Follow Cavanaugh and the Pope (sorry mom) we tithe as an action that give purpose to our work that is greater than simply earning and consuming. Tithing makes our work creative and allows us to participate in serving and protecting all of creation even if we are not working in career's normally considered 'ministry'. Through tithing, collecting garbage, accounting, computer engineering, etc are gathering into the creative work of the Kingdom of God and are a facet of our own discipleship.

just a thought

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cavanaugh and von Balthasar on Eucharist and Consumerism

Word for the Day: Kenosis : a Greek word for emptiness, which is used as a theological term. The ancient Greek word κένωσις kénōsis means an "emptying", from κενός kenós "empty". The word is mainly used, however, in a Christian theological context, for example Philippians 2:7, "Jesus made himself nothing (ἐκένωσε ekénōse) ..." (NIV) or "...he emptied himself..." (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω kenóō "to empty".

In chapter 3 of Cavanaugh's 'Being Consumed' Catholic Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is engaged to illustrate how Christians (specifically Roman Catholic) view consumption differently from the conspicuous consumption of our culture. Cavanaugh writes; 'If in consuming the Eucharist we become the body of Christ, then we are called, in turn, to offer ourselves to be comsumed by the world. The Eucharist is wholly kenotic in its form. To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in whcih the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.... the Eucharist is not a mere sign that points to Christ; this particular piece of bread is the body of Christ. (pg 84)

I believe that one of Cavanaugh's criticism's of consumerism ( and postmodernism to an extent?) is that consumerism effectively transforms everything into a symbol to be bought and sold. We are so separated from the products that we buy... we do not know the process of their creation or assembly... sometimes not even their ingredients (what is in our suntan lotion or the processes that bring them to existence(how are the cattle that will one day be our steak actually treated while alive?)... that marketers do not present the thing itself in advertising (perhaps because we will not actually need it) but a package of symbols; love, power, success for the consumer to associate with the product. We are in a constant state of manipulation by market forces, seeking satisfaction of some sort, but never given the 'life' we are promised. For Cavanaugh, Eucharist provides an alternative to this process, for in consuming, we are consumed, ushered into a life that lasts, and connection with the God does offer safety, security and satisfaction to those who exist with 'Him'. Part of this is because the Eucharist IS Christ.

But Baptists see communion very differently and in my experience of my heritage... we proudly proclaim that the bread and cup are a symbol... which Cavanaugh would, I assume, find problematic... because the bread and cup aren't anything... they are just symbols... which can be marketed and therefore manipulated.

So I am wondering if the Baptist understanding of Communion ultimately participates with Consumerism in its 'symbolism'... if their is an alternative understanding of communion in the Baptist tradition that would combat consumerism... or is their some other Baptist Believe/Practice/Ordinance that offers a liturgical alternative to consumerism?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cavanaugh and Consumerism

Word of the Day - Deracinate; 1. to pull up by the roots; uproot; extirpate; eradicate. 2. to isolate or alienate (a person) from a native or customary culture or environment.

I'm reading 'Being Consumed; Economics and Christian Desire' by William T. Cavanaugh.
Here is a quote that explains his work in the first chapter entitle 'Freedom and Unfreedom'

'In the ideology of the free market, freedom is conceived as the absence of interference from others. There are no common ends to which our desires are directed. In the absence of such ends, all that remains is the sheer arbitrary power of one will against another. Freedom thus gives way to the aggrandizement of power and the manipulation of will and desire by the greater power. The liberation of desire from ends, on the one hand, and the domination of impersonal power on the other, are two sides of the same coin.
If this is the case, then true freedom requires an account of the end (telos) of human life and the destination of creation.'

I am planning a two up-coming sermon series, one that will focus on Christian Practices, such as forgiveness, generosity, peacemaking connected to acts such as communion, baptism and other traditional Christian practices. The second series will focus on a Baptist response to Consumerism, and so I am reading the book quoted above (among others) to prepare for these sermons.

Recently I have begun to think about tithing not as fund-raising, duty, or even a spiritual matter, but as a practice of the church intended to teach the world how to think about and use money. We do not tithe then simply for the institutional church or for our own spiritual well being, but as a practice which is meant to be a witness to the world of what it is meant to do and be in regards to both wealth and property.

Most churches avoid the topic of money. When they do most sound dogmatic about obeying God's command or propose that tithing is good for the soul. I am interested in the ethical implications of tithing. How does the practice of tithing protect me from being influenced by consumerism and what is it meant to teach a consumer culture about the purpose of wealth as God intended.

Anyone have other reading suggestions?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Random thoughts; poetry, words, constantinianism

Poem for Today; this poem accompanied sunday's sermon. I heard the idea that God's hardest work is done when we think the story is finished, that God can do no more.

Wendell Berry

What hard travail God does in death!
He strives in sleep, in our despair,
And all flesh shudders underneath
The nightmare of His sepulcher.

The earth shakes, grinding its deep stone;
All night the cold wind heaves and pries;
Creation strains sinew and bone
Against the dark door where He lies.

The stem bent, pent in see, grows straight
And stands. Pain breaks in song. Surprising
The merely dead, graves fill with light
Like opened eyes. He rests in rising.

From; A Timbered Choir; The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

Word for the day: Terminus; a final goal; a finishing point

Thought/Quote that insterests me:

The influx into the membership of the Christian church of larger numbers of persons for whom that new affiliation is not the expression of a strong personal faith experience or commitment means that there will be a need to adjust the expectations of ethical teachers with regard to how insightful and how unselfish we can ask people to be. The conversionist ethic of a minority under pressure can expect of its members a 'heroic' level of devotion: a church of the multitudes must on the other hand be satisfied with a run-of-the-mill level of understanding and devotion.

John Howard Yoder in an essay entitled 'The Kingdom as Social Ethic' in a volume of his essays; The Priestly Kingdom.

I go to visit and consult with other American Baptist churches in the state. These churches are often experiencing the shock of declining numbers, aging membership and few families and/or children, and a financial decline as well. Often I hear a lament that 'people' that is our society or culture, are just not interested in church anymore (and sometimes this is quite a bitter expression on the part of the church). Well-intention folks, very few to be sure, want to push the church to do things to be 'more popular' or 'more relevant.' I have heard many churches saddened by the fact that 'people just don't come to church anymore.' For earlier generations, church attendance was simply a matter of good citizenship and social expectation. While many in the church pine those bygone days, I hear Yoder telling us to celebrate and be glad that the 'run-of-the-mill' level of devotion is rapidly disappearing, for this implicite popularity of the church, in the end, watered down its ethic. We sought to be popular instead of seeking to be faithful. I actually find myself both frightened by this and exhilerated. While the financial support of the institutional church is shrinking and I don't know how long many smaller churches, even my own which is generous in giving compared to many, will last. I am also hopeful in the smaller number of folks who join now, not because it is expected, but because they have seen the futility of a life without faith in our culture and who want to be a part of a community of love and generosity. Which means the small local church will continue exist, but it may have to change its structure. Already the phenomena of house church seems to be rising in popularity in some places as well as bi-vocational pastors. some seem to see this as a failure or defeat somehow. But Paul was bi-vocational too if I remember correctly.
Yoder's words suggest to me that while the shape of church may have to radically change in my generation... perhaps the shape I inherited was not not terribly effective and a radical change may be just what we need.

A New Blog Announcement

Bowing to the incredible pressure applied by my pal at theologicalsnob I have created another blog for sermons. I haven't felt this kind of peer pressure since Jr. High. So, for theologican snob and for my mom, who are the only one's who really want to read my sermons anyway.... here is a new link


Hope you enjoy

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gospel of John, Ecotheology and Word of the Day

Just finished this book; Tom Thatcher's Greater Than Caesr; Christology and Empire in the Fourth Gospel. Most of my studies have focused on the Synoptics so I'm trying to do some studies in John. Thatcher's basic thesis is that the Christology of the Gospel is written through 'countermemory' in which the gospel writer re-interprets key events in Jesus' career so that they do not reflect the power of Rome, but instead the power of Christ. Think specifically of the extended dialogue with Pilate.

Thatcher see's Rome's Empire in three key character's in the gospel; Caiaphas, Pilate and the Cross.

I'm still very new to Johnanine scholarship, but I thought his argument was interesting and would recommend the read.

Currently I am reading this book; Ecologies of Grace. Quite technical and I am enjoying the mental exercise. Jenkins begins with an overview of secular environmental ethics and then begins to survey Christian environmental ethics. Will write more as I go along as he raises a number of interesting questions.

For now I will offer a quote from Larry Rasmussen that Jenkings includes;
'fidelity to earth is an imitation of God' from; Earth Community, Earth Ethics.

Word of the day; paideutic: The science or art of teaching.

Special thanks to my friend Jonathan Malone for helping me to define this word. I had a difficult time finding a definition on-line so called malone. He didn't know exactly, but offered a really close educated guest and we finally found a definition on-line. Quite a brain on this guy!!! check out his blog and you can find sermons here... look in the upper right corner of the page.

finally a new website I found in the Providence Journal today. If you'd like to know how the products you buy affect your health, or the companies environmental policies and ethical record... go to this website. GoodGuide.com For instance, the Journal article explains that the site's creator investigated and discovered that the sunscreen he used on his kids contain carcinogens. Its a new site, so they might not have complete info on the product you are curious about, but it also offers connections to other websites and their info... so check it out.

a new member to our family.... Lidl... We wentto the pet store to buy filters for the fish tank and came home with her!

Oh, and I almost forgot... Oldest son completed his first triathlon

Monday, June 08, 2009

Domination and Preservation

Another Environmental Sermon
Same warnings as before... some abrupt jumps and endings that I just planned in my head, didn't write down and don't now recall. As before, I didn't make copious note of where I got all my info... but i did try to attribute sources a bit more carefully.

Environmental Sermon Series
Sermon 1: Domination or Preservation?
Gen 1:26; ' Then God said, ' Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'
Gen 1:28; ' Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over he fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'
Gen 9:2-3; 'The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands... Everything that lives and moves will be food for you.'

Gen 2:5b; '...no plant of the field had yet sprung up... there was no [human] to work the ground.'

Gen 2:15; 'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.'

One of the basic assumptions that humanity has developed and operated under and which shapes our relationship to nature is summarized in the first chapter of Genesis... the natural world is in place to be 'ruled over.' We were placed here to have 'dominion over' In King James language all of nature. At the close of the story of Noah and the ark the human relationship to nature is phrased in even more shocking language; 'fear and dread'... nature will have fear and dread because of our dominion, our God given right to dominate.

An example of this assumption which comes from our own history is found in a letter from then President Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson... informing Jackson that he must advise the Native Americans to sell their 'useless' forests and become farmers. Notice the assumption that Jefferson is operating with... the forests are useless or valueless,until farmers add value by transforming them into fields. (I believe that, philosophically, comes from Locke) Jackson later wrote, after a mission of 'advisement' which was a polite and sophisticated term for 'slaughter,' “In their places [the dead Indians] a new generation will arise who will know their duties better... the wilderness which now withers in sterility and seems to mourn the desolation which overspreads it, will blossom as a rose and become the nursery of the arts.' (Takaki, A Different Mirror pp 84, 86) A sermon on the treatment of Native Americans will have to wait for another day. For now I would suggest we focus on Jackson's assumptions. The forest withers away for lack of production. It groans in anticipation of salvation from 'the ignorant savages' and will now be reborn under the grace of farmers of European descent. Indians were not adding value to the forest and so the forests were wasted and languishing, awaiting a savior to give them value.

This assumption, one that we are perhaps, not even conscious of, shapes our modern economic system and its philosophy. Herman Daly, a former professor of Economics at LSU and former senior economist for the World Bank says; 'Human beings add utility to matter/energy. This is what we mean by production... Useful structure is added to matter/ energy by the agency of labor and capital stocks. The value of this useful structure imparted by labor and capital is what economists call 'value added.' In other words matter and energy has no value until we add value to it. Daly goes on to say 'modern economists have remarkably little to say bout that to which value is added. It is just' matter' and its properties are not very interesting (Daly in Ethics of Consumptions pp.21-22) In short, it is our dominion over nature that give nature value... Water, trees, natural gas, sunlight, fish, have no value until we, through production give it value.

This particular view of human relationship to nature has not always served us well.

One obvious example is the Dust-bowl era of the 1930's in the plains states. In the 1920's technological advances in agricultural equipment; the development of the tractor, combine, plow and truck lead to what some have called 'the great plow up.' These technological advances and the theories of leading agronomists that suggested that continued plowing of fields would lead to greater water absorption were intended to increase productivity. The amount of value that farmers could both give then receive from the land would increase. And it worked for a few years. Until a strange confluence of heavy rains and drought lead to the great dust-storms. The ecological equilibrium was disrupted by continual plowing and the anomalies in the weather patterns, which probably could have been mitigated previous to the great plowing, were left unchecked. Only 15% of land designated for crop production at that point, could actually produce anything. This lead to poverty among the people living in the plains states and a mass migration to California. Special hospitals had to be opened up to treat 'dust-pneumonia' as great numbers of people contracted respiratory diseases due to inhaling vast amounts of dust particles.

A couple of months ago I shared a story of an American billionaire, who decided to add value to the Brazilian rain forest by stripping almost 9 million acres of native flora in the Amazon to both plant new trees which could be developed for a wood pulp business and also to create an agricultural project to produce beef and rice among other crops. He imported trees better suited for pulp production from Africa and planted them on a half a million acres. Since the trees were growing outside their own ecosystem they were vulnerable to diseases that they were not accustomed too and the project failed completely. (Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor; pp 91-92).

Now, I'm not saying that production and development is evil. I am not saying that this value adding is bad. I am well aware of the fact that without this production I would be in the state of Adam and Eve in the garden. From socks and shoes to suit and skivvies, my clothing is value-added to natural resource. Without production I wouldn't have a roof over my head or heat for my apartment. But I do believe that these stories strongly suggest that our view, our assumption that nature is valueless until dominated by us, has weaknesses. Weaknesses that can have serious and dangerous consequences not only to the natural world, but to the people who live on, in, with and depend upon the natural world for home, food, health and safety. Perhaps we should be a bit more humble about our relationship to the natural world. Perhaps we should be more aware that we always have a relationship with the natural world. (need more)

The Bible does give us an alternate view, a different model for thinking about our relationship to nature. It too is found in Genesis. In Genesis 2:5 we find a hint of a new way of living with the earth. Genesis 2:5 tells us that there was no man to work/till the ground. And in Genesis 2:15 we read that the Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden to work and care for it. Literal translations of the original Hebrew make this alternate view more clear. The word that we often read as work or till is more literally translated... serve. And the word that we often read as 'care for' is more literally translated as guard or protect. The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden to serve and protect it...

We don't necessarily hear a lot in the Bible about human relationships to the rest of Creation. We do find it again in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In Exodus and Deuteronomy God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses and one of them is to observe Sabbath. Take a rest, God says to the people of Israel. Specifically in Deuteronomy God ties Sabbath to the Exodus... You observe Sabbath to be reminded that unlike the Egyptians, I value you not for what you develop or produce for me... but just because you are. Israel was treated like matter/energy without value until the Egyptians added value to them by using them for development, building, production. But to God, Israel's value was inherent... they were valuable just because of their existence. And that Sabbath applied also to... livestock, animals, they too were to have the benefit of Sabbath... they were valuable to God beyond productivity... They were valuable because they too, were created by God. In Leviticus Sabbath is expanded even to the land. Every 7 years give your crop-land a rest... God said.

This could just be good land management which would ensure good crop return in the future. But it wasn't a practical suggestion, it was a commandment. God commands you to observe Sabbath, you, your livestock and even your land... all are valuable to God.

In other words, awareness of the environment and care of the environment is a matter of faith. It is a moral as well as ethical matter commanded by God. Care of Creation, through the sabbath, becomes a spiritual practice like prayer, devotion, Bible study, and worship... When Rhonda drives her hybrid car that is a spiritual practice, caring for the earth. When people bring clothes to the clothes closet and we redistribute them, that is spiritual practice that benefits the natural world as cotton is one of the most damaging crops to the soil that grows it. When Bob and Missy support the American Chestnut fund, that is a spiritual practice... they are caring for the earth not because scientists have told them too, or politicians... not because they will receive benefit from it... but because they care about the American Chestnut for its own worth. It may not be a constant theme in the bible, it may simply be a minority report, but still, these verses make it clear... we were placed here not simply to dominate, but to guard and care for, to preserve the rest of creation. Sabbath makes it clear that care and keeping of the natural world has a spiritual dimension... when we care for the earth we are connected to God... when we ignore the earth... we are separated from God. This matter of how we interact with the earth, utilize its natural resources, clearly is a practice of connecting to God. To ignore this earth and the warning-signs of its suffering due to our domination, is to ignore God.

The earth is the Lord's, we gabbled
and the fullness thereof --
while we looted and pillaged, claiming indemnity:
the fullness thereof
given over to us, to our use--
while we preened ourselves sure of our power,
willful or ignorant, through the centuries.

Miswritten, misread, that charge:
subdue was the false, the misplaced word in the story
Surely we were to have been
earth's mind, mirror, reflective source.
Surely our task
was to have been
to love the earth,
to dress and keep it like Eden's garden.

That would have been our dominion....

Glacier and Grace

I'm gonna post the polar bear sermon, but until then, I'm posting a couple of other environmental sermons for those of you who may be interested.
this is a draft as I often don't tie everything together or type up everything I plan to say to how to end... so it may seem to jump from point to point or to end abruptly, that is because I add that stuff on the fly... but I think you'll get the point. the poem at the end is not mine, but I don't recall now where it came from.

Sunday April 6, 2008
Environmental Sermon Series
Sermon 2: The Big Bang, Exploding Stars, Glaciers and Grace
Texts: Gen 1:
Ephesians 1:3-10

The Big Bang and Exploding Stars

In the beginning God created, earth and sky, trees and birds, land and sea,
and it was good.

Steven hawking explains the beginning, the good beginning,
with these words...

If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by
even one part in a hundred, thousand, million million, the universe would
have re-collapsed before it ever reached its present size. If, on the other hand,
the expansion had been a little greater, one part in a million, there would
not be enough density for the formations of stars and planets and hence, life.

The numbers that Hawking uses are more than I can even comprehend. How infinitesimally minute the variables were that kept the birthing universe in balance at the point of its inception, I can hardly imagine. But what seems plain to me, is the wonder of that moment, so perfectly tuned, that started the process that lead eventually to the milky way, our sun, mars, jupiter, venus, earth, and the skies, plants, waters, amoeba, amphibians, birds, mammals and you and I, that Genesis describes as...

If that does not evoke a sense of awe and wonder in you consider:

If the weak nuclear force had not held its level all hydrogen would have
turned to helium...the newly forming stars would dissolve and without
Hydrogen, life as we know it on this earth would not be possible.

If the strong nuclear force had risen by simply 1% carbon would never
have formed in the stars. Without Carbon, DNA, which stores the basic
information for the formation of life, would not have ever appeared.

If the electromagnetic force were just a little higher, the stars would turn cold.
They would not be able to explode as supernovas and such explosions would
not thereby give rise to the formation of planets, neither would the formation
of other elements be possible, elements such as nitrogen, or phosphorus,
which are crucial for the production and reproduction of life.

To ponder the fact that all the elements that make us up as we sit here right now, were formed in that initial big bang and scattered by cosmic explosions and nurtured by such finely tuned balances, with just the slightest of shifts causing them to no longer exist and hence, you and I to no longer exist... well, to me, it is just breath-taking to imagine the precision of such an event.


Because it is so well known, it is easy for us to brush quickly through Genesis 1. It seems like a laundry list, a repetitive litany that we can skim quickly. God speaks and creates sky, land and sea and calls them good. Plants and trees and all vegetation and calls them good. Sun, moon ans stars all named good. Sea creatures and birds, livestock and wild animals and all creatures that crawl on the ground are called good. We usually just want to skip to the 'good' part for us, where, humans are created in God's image.
But pause again to consider the research of James Lovelock a physician and biologist
who discovered that
CO2 makes up 96.5 % of the atmosphere of Venus and 98% of the atmosphere
of Mars but only 300 ppm (and climbing) of our own atmosphere here on earth.
Oxygen is completely missing from both Mars and Venus. Nitrogen, which
nourishes living organisms is only 3.5% of the atmosphere and biosphere
of Venus and 2.7% on Mars, but 79% on earth.

Mars and Venus, roughly the same size as earth, created by the same supernovas, nourished by the same sun...yet devoid of the conditions that nurture life.

Lovelock was doing this research for NASA, so as to discover models for space exploration seeking the possibility of life in space. But what he discovered... That there is a delicate balance of factors and forces that allowed life to begin on Earth and to continue on earth... lead him to focus his research not on other planets, but on this fragile and powerful system called Earth. A system dependent on
High levels of oxygen released billions of years ago by photosynthesizing bacteria
in the oceans. A system dependent on the Low levels of carbon created by the photo- synthesizing of bacteria, algae and plants. This research discovered the vast and complex connections and interactions that started life on earth and the interplay of forms of life that created an environment conducive to yet more life. 'Lovelock drew attention to how the
conditions of all those elements useful for life are maintained under relatively
steady conditions. This balance if fashioned by by the planet wide life-system itself.'

As I said before, we tend to fast forward through Genesis 1 to get to 'God created humans in his own image.' But Lovelock shows us that all those other verses aren't just a laundry list of things for us to use or abuse... seas, plants, earth and sky.. these were God's process for getting to Humans in his own image... these were to tools that in turn created the forces that God chose to utilize to get to Adam and Eve and you and I.


Now, stay with me as we make a jump here from science and Genesis to the letter of Ephesians.
The churches of Ephesus were afraid. They were afraid of the universe, the cosmos.
A group of Christians called gnostics followed Paul to Ephesus and taught these new Christians there that all things physical... all created things were bad, evil, and weak... and that God only loved and cared for the spiritual. The forces of the universe were considered evil and only the spirit was good.
This is very foreign to our way of thinking and perhaps hard to identify with so let me put it this way...
When you are watching the news or reading the paper and you hear about another shooting at a school, or a teenager killed in a drunken car crash, or a child abducted or major lay-offs in a huge company that will effect thousands... perhaps you, like me, experience a sinking feeling in your stomach, that there are just forces out there that you can't control or contend with. Which can lead to despair; how will I keep my kids safe, how will I pay my own bills, how can I hope to have a truly good life with so many forces out there that seem to explode unexpectedly to keep me from my good life? Have you felt that way? Then you know how the people in Ephesus felt. They perhaps understood the cosmic forces differently than we do... They really felt that the universe as they knew it, was against them... but the result was the same... there are forces out there that I can't control which cause trauma and pain.

To which Paul replies in the opening verses of his letter, with a great hymn of the the cosmic force of God and the cosmic plan of God. The Heavenly realms are a blessing, Paul says to us, not a curse and not against us... the cosmos is for us because God has created it. To tie it with the science that Hawking and Lovelock have described, The weak and strong nuclear forces, the electromagnet forces, gravity are created by God to be a blessing to us... they are a part of the plan of God. Photosynthesis and the myriad other biological processes that surround us... are a blessing from God and a part of God's plan.

And then Paul calls all of these cosmic forces that are not against us, but for us... 'grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. ' These cosmic forces that The Ephesian Christians feared, which you and I now, through science can begin to understand, are not evil, and they are not chance, they are the visible signs of God's grace.

Now to those of us raised in church, grace is a spiritual gift that God sent through Jesus, that forgives us of our sins and connects us to salvation and eternal life. And I am not arguing that this is no longer our understanding. What I am suggesting is that we have missed something. Grace is not limited to a spiritual force or a spiritual transaction. Paul is telling us here that grace is imparted through Jesus, who was present at and in the creation, and also imparted through the cosmic forces and the natural world that surrounds us... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Christ.

The plan, Paul says, was that God would provide all that we would need for a full life, for our salvation... we know salvation through Christ...who then brings all the other forces of grace together. Paul is expanding our understanding of what grace is... and giving us, in the natural world, in the creation, visible, verifiable proof of God's love and the power of God to give us life. The natural world is one aspect, a concrete facet of God's grace.

This may sound like a bit of a stretch to those of us raised in church... Because I'm not suggesting that nature is like grace... I'm saying that nature IS grace, not in full, but in part, a neglected part.
But if we look to the rest of the Bible, we see the same theme, that grace is understood and seen in and through the natural world...

Deuteronomy 33: 13-16, Moses is offering a blessing to Israel, letting them know that God will love and care for them in this new promised land, and that they will see this love this grace bursting forth in the natural world around them;

May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above
and with the deep waters that lie below
with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield
with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains
and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
and the favor of him who dwelt in the the burning bush...

the favor of God, love, grace, made known in the dew and sea, the sun and the fields...

In Psalm 136 we find another hymn to God's love and grace

to him who alone does great wonders, his love endures forever
who by his understanding made the heavens
who spread out the earth upon the waters
who made the great lights
the sun to govern the day
the moon and stars to govern the night
who gives food to every creature
Give thanks to the God of heaven his love endures forever

A song that says Israel would have proof of God's steadfast love when they looked at the sun, moon and stars...

And in Joel 2
Israel has failed... as all humans do
they have failed to stay faithful to God
they have failed to care for the poor and the impoverished
they have loved more the things they produced with their own hands
their own comfort and profit are more important than God or other people...
And God is angry
Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming
a day of darkness and gloom
a day of clouds and blackness.

But then God says,
return to me with all your heart

and if you return to me here will be the proof that I have forgiven you and still love you

Be not afraid, O land;be glad and rejoice.
Be not afraid wild animals, for the open pastures are becoming green.
The trees are bearing fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches
Be glad of people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness
he sends you abundant showers
both autumn and spring rains as before.
The threshing floors will be filled with grain
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

You will have plenty to eat until you are full

then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other
never again will my people be shamed.

We are the benefactors of 15 billions years of grace...
Cosmic explosions and blazing supernovas which laid the chemical foundation for life
We have received grace on this planet for the life that formed interacted
with the chemical environment changing and forming it to be
conducive to yet more life... eventually to our life...
the conditions for which; air to breath, water to drink
soil to grow food, and on and on...gracefully and patiently
held together in Christ says Ephesians...waiting for us...this is grace.

The thing about grace is that Jesus expected us to not only accept it, but to create it.
Judge not lest ye be judged
forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Love one another as I have loved you

Monday, June 01, 2009


My youngest and I went and bought new fishing poles, hooks and worms and went fishing in the mill-pond today. Well, he did the fishing, I was busy worming his hook, helping him cast, and rescuing the sunfish that he caught. He had a blast and Miss Roberta took pictures. This afternoon, while they were on the Wii for their aloted hour, I snuck back down to do a little fishing of my own. Which made me remember why I never used worms. You spend more time putting the little suckers on the hook than you do fishing, and with one or two hits, your bait is gone and you start all over again. gotta find better bait.

The coolest part of the whole day was that when I reel in after casting, it lights up in bright blues and oranges, like kids sneakers. I think the guy was trying to sell it to my five year old... but he got me with it. Miss Roberta's response. Is that your pimp fishing pole?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church in Rhode Island II

So here is the update on Westboro Baptist Church's appearance in RI.
I attempted to get some American Baptist Clergy to attend one or two of their 'protests'.

Let me explain that. I wasn't aiming for a 'counter-protest' as it is apparent to me that one cannot engage in a well-reasoned and respectful dialogue with this hate group. However, I thought an American Baptist presence at their protests would be an act of service to our Jewish sistes and brothers. Instead of leaving them to bear the brunt of this hate on their own, we as Baptist clergy could stand in solidarity with the jewish community and as a silent, peaceful, barrier to the hate of Westboro. I also felt that many in this state mis-understand the baptist denomination and will mistake Westboro's form of being 'baptist' for all 'baptist's'.

Not many seemed interested and leaders at the state lever, Catholic Bishop, Episcopalian Bishop, Executive of ABOCORI and a number of Rabbi's decided that ignoring Westboro's protests, responding in the following week with an ecumenical letter condemning their hate speech would be most appropriate.

I was concerned about this also. With all due respect, I feel it was a bit easy for the Catholic and Episcopalian responce to be; 'ignore them' They call themselves baptists after all and the majority of RI's are terribly ignorant of what Baptist means to begin with. There is no danger for the Catholic or Episcopalians to ignore Westboro, no one will associate their hate with those churches. But most people hear 'Baptist' and think we, like the Catholic church, all espouse the same theology. Still, I respected the decision and cancelled any further discussion of a peace barrier.

Article have filled the papers; the Rhode Island Catholic had an article as did the Providence Journal and despite the hopes of our states religious leaders, the Westboro folks were NOT ignored by the press; see ABC 6 and WPRI.

So we ignored them, but East Providence High did not, nor did others. So is the religious community conspicuous in its absence? Apart from some 'letters to the editor' of various papers, no Baptist Clergy had any skin in the game.

But given the tenor of the 'counter-protest' I'm not sure I would have wanted to be there. The Projo reports that at one point the counter-protesters errupted into obscenities. One young man is quoted as saying that 'It's anybody's right to do what they want.' Now, while I am can support one man loving another, or woman, and even support their marrying, this quote above is an example of the liberal idea of an autonomous individual that not even the most skeptical or atheistic of ethicists could support. According to the ProJo, at Brown some signs quoted the Bible back at Westboro, but the very idea of the Bible being used as a weapon is disgusting, turning it around to return fire at Westboro is no less distasteful to me.

In the end, I fear the largely hate was met with hate, where Jesus taught us to love our enemies and offer prayers for them. I don't think anyone was praying for Westboro, which would have been the point of the action I wanted to propose.

I wasn't happy to remain silent in the face of this rhetoric, but in the end, perhaps silence was the best response.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church in Rhode Island

Matt 5:21-22

21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool !' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

This week a hate group that markets itself as a Baptist church, ‘Westboro Baptist Church’ will be appearing in the state of RI at various sites including the State House, the Naval War College, Brown University, The Jewish Community Center and a couple of Temples in the state. You can find more information about this hate group at their website www.godhatesfags.com and the name of the website probably tells you all that you need to know about these folks. I thought for a moment I might quote them in this statement, but their words are so disgusting and evil that I couldn’t bring myself to even ‘cut and paste’ them.
Westboro Baptist Church first came to national consciousness as far as I know by picketing Matthew Shepherd’s funeral and then placing on their website a picture of Matthew Shepherd’s face bouncing on flames (suggesting his place in hell). The picket with a number of absurd and filthy signs such as; God Hates Fags, You’re Going to Hell, Fags Die God Laughs, Thank God for IED’s, Thank God for Dead Soldiers, etc. I think it is obvious, but still needs to be said, that these people do not speak with any authority on the Bible, the Christian faith, or for Baptists.

My first concern is primarily the people who will come into contact with these people and who are target of their hateful rhetoric. I am also concerned with the fact that they call themselves a Baptist church. In a state like RI, which is predominantly catholic, many of our neighbors do not understand the Baptist tradition. Many times I have had to explain to well-intentioned but uneducated Catholic neighbors that Baptists DO worship God, Do believe in Jesus, and are in fact the same religion as they are. Westoboro Baptist Church does not represent the Baptist tradition in any way shape or form. We believe in a God of love and that God made ‘himself’ known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose words in Matthew I quoted above. Jesus expected that the first mark of a Christian community would be speech that is loving and patient. People would know that we follow Jesus just by listening to us talk to one another, for our words and tone would be honest and true, but loving and intended to lift up. The members of Westoboro Baptist Church, in all of their Bible quoting, have read right past the essential building block of being Christ’s body on earth, speak with honesty and love. According to what Matthew wrote, in speaking this way, they are condemning themselves through their own condemnation. The Hell that they threaten is the Hell they themselves will receive through their own hurtful, hateful speech.

Let us be in prayer that God will protect all those who are attacked by these people, and use this opportunity to explain to our RI neighbors that Baptists, specifically Berean Baptist is a place where we talk about God’s love for all humanity.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sermon

The End (Period) THIS IS THE END (Question Mark ) And Then (Comma)

I don't much care for tv shows or movies that end...
leaving you wondering what the end actually is...
Some of you who were fans of the HBO show Soprano's know what I mean
The last episode after what six, seven seasons... goes dark with the possibility of the main character Tony Soprano getting
whacked in the restaraunt...
or maybe not...
but that is the end
maybe... maybe not....I don't care for that....
artsy movies that show the characters driving off into the sunset with no resolve to the story.
Give me thelma and louise... they drive off a cliff... at least you know what the end is... I'm not glad it was a cliff by the way but at least there was some closure...
And I find season finale's particularly frustrating Do you remember the 'Who shot JR' uproar in the 80's? My mother was a devoted fan of Dallas and that summer waiting to find out who shot JR
it was all anybody could talk about!

And that is kind of how I feel about Easter Morning stories in the gospel... What exactly IS... the end of the story?

In Mark (if you read the original ending) you get... Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
We've talked about this before if you recall in the original greek it is even more disturbing and unsatisfying because the last words are 'they said nothing to no one!' Now what are we supposed to do with that!

Luke doesn't like that ending so he finds some other versions of the story of Easter Morning...It goes like thisLuke 24:13-24
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
19 "What things?" he asked.
"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

Now, I like this a little better... Jesus appears But notice that the ending is still up in the air for most of this story. Cleopas and his friend are wandering on the road... perhaps feeling the way I feel... This can't be the end.... Jesus was supposed to be the one to redeem us... but we saw him die and even though Jesus is right there with them... they can't see him.... What are we supposed to do with an Easter morning story where JEsus is there... risen... but the people don't see him and just wander back to life the way it was before Jesus?

And John. Well I read John...some of John... it has two or three endings I suppose. Peter and the disciples have all gone back to fishing And in Johns version Jesus appears and they see him
but they still head back to life the way it was before Jesus..
nothing had changed...
And so Jesus chases after them and challenges Peter
Follow Me! All of the Gospels (except Matthew) have this same theme
the disciples, afraid, doubting, disappointed...
wander back to life the way it was...
and Jesus appears (or in mark an angel appears)
and the message is... follow me!
In John, Jesus even seems a bit put out by Peter and the others for going back to life the way it was... don't you love me more than this? he asks When Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus challenges him then follow me!

And I want to ask Jesus… What did you expect? You showed them miraculous power and promised them authority. But your life ended with arrest, with abuse, with surrender, with meakness and humiliation. No wonder they went back to their fishing career. It didn’t offer the benefit of changing the world by joining the Jesus cause. But neither did it offer the disappointment of watching all your hopes and dreams for a better life for you and your family and your people ripped from your hands by a cruel empire. The most disappointment of fishing is a slow day, a torn net, low prices for your catch. No wonder they went back to what they new.
Your Follow me started with fireworks and lazer light shows and voices from heaven. But follow me ended with silence and moaning, weeping and defeat.

The first time that Jesus said to his disciples ‘Follow Me’ he took them to the synagogue to preach and a scraggly bearded, wild haired, twitching, moaning and yelling at the empty air possessed man walked up to him and Jesus threw the demon out like smelly old sneakers. The man was finally right, finally what God intended.
At the beginning of Jesus saying, ‘follow me’ to the disciples, he was teaching on a mountain, and as he strolled down through the crowds of admirers who yelled for a word from him, or grasped at his robe for a handshake or a touch, a man, pale white almost the color of death approached him; fingers missing, sores weeping, clothes tattered, ragged, stinking; saying can you heal me, no one else can, can you end this misery?And Jesus reaches out, I imagine it in a movie scene, slowly the two hands, one clean and flesh-colored and strong, the other pale and stumped and scabbed slowly meeting. And when they touch, the one, hardly a hand at all, grasps, pink and new the hand of Jesus. That was the beginning of ‘Follow Me.’
At the beginning of Jesus command to ‘Follow Me’ he and the disciples were on a boat ride crossing the lake. Jesus slept, he had a nap in the back of the boat. And the wind whipped up all of a sudden from across the mountains surrounding. Clouds rolled in and brought rain that fell in sheets and stung the face like stones. The boat tossed and bobbed and weaved and the best of the sailors among them grasped the side of the boat for dear life. And then jesus awoke and said ‘peace be still’ And there was. That was the beginning of ‘Follow Me’
But toward the end of Follow when Jesus gave the disciples the task of tossing a demon out of a man they could not do it. Toward the end of Follow me, Jesus began to explain that his ministry would end in death
toward the end of Follow Me Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Toward the end of ‘Follow Me’ Peter saw Jesus betrayed by Judas for better salary.He heard himself say that he would die for and with Jesus, but when the soldiers came to arrest him he and the other disciples ran and hid in the garden. At the end, Follow Me, meant flogging, being spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, pierced with a sword and left to die.

The End of Jesus command, ‘Follow Me’ was very different from the beginning of ‘Follow me.’ The beginning was of healing, of eating, of sharing, of feeling connected to people and giving them home. The End of Jesus command ‘follow me’ was the danger of cold dark cells and chains, of swords and spears and pain. The beginning of follow me meant the hope of make a whole new world. The end felt hopeless, it was about loneliness and rejection and betrayal. The end of Jesus command to follow me was very different from the beginning.

Do you see what I mean by the ending... the gospels end... the screen goes blank and we are left wondering... what will the disciples do?
what has Jesus death and resurrection actually accomplished?

Instead of a nice clean close to the story a clear resolution... THE END PERIOD
We get... THIS IS THE END (QUESTION MARK)Perhaps the disciples are struggling with this same issue... Where is the end? Jesus, you were suppose to be the end, the period... no the exclamation point at the end of this story and all we got was a question mark. This is the end?
The story ends the way it began with questions... the same question...
Will you Follow Me? Let me say that again...
The Gospels end with the same question that opened them... Will you Follow Me?

and then the apostle Paul comes roaring in... Not into the gospels... but into our thoughts this morning.
Rom 6:3-123 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death and united with him in his resurrection...

And suddenly it became very clear to me That Jesus life and death and resurrection wasn't meant to be the end period...
or even the exclamation point...We are united with him in resurrection, new life It was meant to assure us that there would never be an end period... but instead

And THEN comma

We, like the disciples, often go right up to the edge of Easter sunday glory... but not all the way...
the message of Jesus sounds too hard seems to cost too much Forgive and it will be forgiven you Turn the other cheek, Pray for your enemies
Do unto others as you would have them do to you You cannot worship God and money Sell your possessions and give to the poor Loose your life and find it
Take up your cross daily.Like the disciples we grow afraid and run away or wander with lots of questions to Emmaus where nothing ever gets done or even worse... after Easter Morning
like Peter we find we have better things to do , we are just too busy
like head back to fishing...
with nothing about us changed at all.

Like the disciple we wonder, if we give ourselves totally and fully and completely to that way of life it could mean our end... period
the end of life as we know it as we are comfortable with it... period
and it couldn't possibly work could it... to forgive to choose peace to let go of the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed and live more generously.... question mark

On Easter morning the question is answered once and for all
This Easter Morning God turned what seemed to be the period of Jesus death the question mark... how could this be... into a comma... Jesus death on the cross was merely a comma and Jesus resurrection the beginning of a whole new story... And then...

which is why Jesus has a question of his own for us this morning. NOW will you follow?

With God all ending are new beginnings With God sorrow becomes hope
anger becomes peace
disappointment becomes resolve
With God there is no more period... end of story
Only a comma, And then,

a new beginning... for those who answer Jesus call Follow Me....

Comma And Then.... the rest fo the sentence

is up to you...