Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lenten Discipline Update 5

"Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is 'unceasing.' Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts?'

These words of Henri Nouwens came to mind as I became aware of the racing of my mind just a few minutes ago. A list of things going on in my mind included; I want a cigarette, the carpets needs vacuuming, I really don't like my sermon for tomorrow, I forgot to write out my work-schedule to post for next week, my oldest son is starting little league in a couple of weeks and he is going to struggle, which reminded me of how much I struggled with little league and I don't want it to be the negative experience for him that it was for me, I wish i had spent more time researching Paul for next weeks Bible study, I watched more tv than I wanted to today, I'm sick of eating chicken for dinner, I wish I could preach like Rob Bell, I really want a cigarette now...
I was spinning. I didn't even realize that I was spinning. I am grateful that my wife notices my body language and picked up right away on the fact that my mind was spinning based on my movements and facial expression. As I sit to reflect on this I notice how negative most of this is. I noticed that I'm not in the moment, and that causes me to pause and reflect on the fact without realizing it I can spin out of the sermon writing moment, spending time with the kids or my wife moment, listening to a church member during a visit moment. I don't mean to do this. I want to be present in the moment and be still in my thoughts. No wonder I forget things some times...

Nouwen goes on to say; 'Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God who is the source of all love.'

i appreciate what nouwen doing. Instead adding to the unceasing thoughts the added thought that we shouldn't be thinking so much, which just makes us think more. Trying not to think about something just makes you think about it more. Don't think about a pink elephant. See? you can't not think of it now can you. Nouwen encourages us to use this as the material of prayer for in denying it, we actually compound the problem, but in accepting these thoughts, and using them as prayer, they actually drift away and stillness can come. Writing helps too. or blogging in this case. Can blogging be a form of prayer?

Lenten Discipline Update 4

Praying the Divine Office is a bit more of a challenge that one might expect. As I previously posted, I have added to the Divine Office short readings from C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. I am finding the Nouwen readings especially fulfilling, as he reflects on prayer. It's still the time factor. as I've said before, the prayers of the Office seem to go by too quickly. But its not really the Office, its me. It is a struggle to slow the mind, (insert here any 'isn't your mind already slow enough' jokes). Seeking silence and time for contemplation takes planning and requires making choices. I have to choose not to do other things in order to take the time to pray and reflect. But there are so many other things to be done, that I have found myself charging through the Office to get back to doing other things.

I am reminded of the work of a good friend, mentor and colleague Kirk Jones and his pastoral theological work on this issue which resulted in two books, 'Rest in the Storm and Addicted to Hurry.'

It is, no doubt, important to get things done, regardless of our careers, vocations or callings. But especially as disciples of Christ in a complex society, it is also important to etch out moments of reflection so as to clearly discern exactly what it is that must be done so as to best serve Christ and bring Glory to God. I may very well be repeating myself with this post. But this is apparently what I must learn, this lent, to slow down and listen.

this morning I read this from Nouwen's work entitled 'Prayer Embraces the World'; 'To pray is to unite ourselves with Jesus and lift up the whole world through him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and mercy. TO pray, therefore, is to connect whatever human struggle or pain we encounter - whether starvation , torture, displacement of peoples, or any form of physical or mental anguish -- with the gentle and humble heart of Jesus.'

I suppose this encapsulates my hesitation about the very popular 'Missional Church' movements and some of its proponents who suggest that worship is less important than active service. This point of view seems to be falling into our cultures desire for hurry, action, busyness. While a faith that remains inactive and cerebral is certainly offensive to the Christ who called us to take up a cross, I fear that the action of the 'church' will be in vain if it is not rooted in worship, prayer, study and discernment.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Transgendered Paul

Wednesday I finished reading a new book, well new to me anyway, 'Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul's Mission' by Davina C. Lopez. Interesting read. Lopez begins by describing her intention, which is reinterpret the term 'ethne' or nations, which is found throughout Paul's work, specifically in this book in Galatians. In Lopez's reading of scholarship, 'ethne' is a term used to describe 'gentiles,' and therefore refers to the theological separation between Jews and Gentiles. Paul's work is purely a theological work. Lopez position's herself clearly in the 'Empire-critical' school of reading Paul;

In this mode of interpretation, Paul turns away from his previous life in Judaism and becomes a different kind of zealot, a politically oriented Jewish person encouraging religio-political resistance to the Roman Empire through declaring a crucified Christ as savior from the evil age. This opposition mainly manifests itself, according to Richard Horsley and similar proponents, against the Roman imperial cult, the primary religio-political system operative in Paul's context. Here the emperor was worshiped as god and called lord, benefactor, and savior. Positioning the God of Israel as the only and most powerful god, the best benefactor and law-giver, who guaranteed certain destruction of Roman-configured peace and security, constitutes the political view of Paul. Such a view positions salvation as not concerning individuals from the law or Judaism, but the whole of humanity from Caesar's world.

The first part of Lopez's project is to suggest and then prove that 'ethne' was not simply a term used by Jews to refer to Gentiles, but a term used by Romans to refer to all others. If this is true, and I find her argument compelling, then Jews, too, are 'ethne' for 'ethne' refers to all the nations that are subjigated to roman imperial power. This would suggest a significant shift in understanding Paul, for his mission would cease to be a purely theological one to gentiles, and become a political one, to all oppressed nations. So Lopez's first point is that scholarship that view's 'ethne' as purely a theological term used by Jews, has missed the larger or wider social meaning of the term.

Where Lopez seeks to explore new territory in this Empire-critical stance is in the area of sexuality and gender. Lopez goes to great lengths in the book to re-create for the reader the context in which to understand what the signifier 'ethne' would mean. She draws upon sculpture, coinage and other artwork in which the nations that have fallen under roman rule are represented and explains in detail the theology at work in showing Rome's superiority to the nations. She also draws upon literature of that same time, such as the Aeneid, to make the same point. This is where gender comes into play, because the defeated nations are described in artwork and in literature are feminized. Nations are represented as women in positions of weakness, about to be raped and/or killed. This representation continues in literature. The reason why the nations are attacked and brought under Roman rule is because of their femininity. They are weaker and lesser, and Roman rule, therefore is a gift to them.

Lopez's final point is to highlight those places where Paul feminizes himself;
Gal 4:19
19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,

Ge 1:1 - 1 Th 2:7
7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.

1 Co 3:1-2
3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.

Lopez writes, 'I aim here... to begin to re-connect Paul's appearance as a woman and (single!) mother with the transformed consciousness and downward mobility among the defeated nations in the context of Roman imperial ideology. The weakness and brokenness characterizing the Paul of just a few verses earlier in Galatians is here manipulated into an act of creation. But this creation does not appear to happen the proper or natural way, that is, with a man. It is a creation out of nothing, form the bottom, by a seemingly defeated woman.' (p 142)

Lopez's point, as I see it, is that Paul uses the language of Roman Imperialism in feminizing the 'ethne' the nations, but he does so with a particular eye to the prophets who also see Jerusalem as a woman, particularly Isaiah, who see sees Jerusalem as a barren woman who will give birth and sing. But it is also in Isaiah that we read that Israel will be a house for all nations. Paul takes the Roman language of the weak, oppressed feminine and combines it with the feminine language in the prophetic tradition so as to undermine Roman political theology. Rome's way of gathering the nations is oppression and violence. God's way of gathering the nations brings life. so Paul is undermining Rome's theological and political claims. Paul is also calling the nations to a new way of living, which, under God, leaves behind the ROman way of life which is violent and oppressive. Paul calls them to join together peacefully to anticipate the world that God will create, a world of peace and not violence and oppression.

I'm still thinking about my responses to this work. A small criticism I have is that I wish Lopez has devoted as much time to carrying through on exegesis as she did setting the historical context through art and literature. Still, having read it I think that I will find her reading of Paul very interesting as I work on issues of modern slavery and human trafficking. The idea that Paul feminizes himself, becomes one of the 'raped women' that is the nations oppressed by Rome, holds a lot of potential for biblical application to the issue of slavery and sex trafficking. I am also intrigued by the potential to see Paul as a pacifist, again, become one of the oppressed instead of fighting back against rome. Paul is certainly responding, but not in a violent way.

Lopez offers a unique reading of Paul, certainly one that I have never encountered before. but I think this might be a useful new reading that especially puts a new perspective on those who find Paul misogynistic. And it also opens up new areas of current ethics in which Paul can be looked to for guidance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenten Disciplines 3

Quick update today. Lot's to do.

Yesterday I mentioned the fact that the Divine Office seemed to go by too quickly.
So this morning I slowed down, sang the responses to the readings. At the end of the morning, noon and afternoon office are two prayers, one the prayer for the week and one the closing prayer. In between the two I inserted brief devotional readings. I found a daily devotional book on the writings of C.S.Lewis, so I read that. I also have a book of various brief excepts of the writings of Henri Nouwen. I think I will carry that around with the Divine Office and insert a brief reading in my practice throughout the day. They are not long, but Nouwen is always good. This morning's excerpt was about prayer. 'If we live a prayerful life, then there is a growing desire to spend more time with God and God alone... the desire to pray and to spend time with God and god alone is always growing.'

Which reminds me that my work is not just labor for a paycheck, but prayer in and of itself. The studying and writing, planning, listening, study and preparing I do, are all forms of prayer. Launching into work without a time of silence and contemplation leads me to just see this as labor. Beginning with prayer reminds me that it is all a form of prayer. Perhaps I won't way this well, but instead of rushing to an end result for my labors; a sermon, a lesson, a plan, I can slowly savor these things as prayerful connection to God.

read this Nouwen quote for the noon prayers and thought I'd share; ' Spiritual disciplines are not ways to eradicate all our desires but ways to order them so that they can serve one another and together serve God. --Bread for the Journey

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lenten Practices Update 2

So, for Lent I am cutting back on tv viewing, praying The Divine Office
The weekend wasn't so bad. I'm finding I don't miss television all that much. It's just second nature to turn it on, so after I turn it on without thinking, I turn it off and read. I joked with my friend theobilly on the phone today that I gave up television for lent, but am spending more time on the internet. He replied that this was like giving up beer for lent only to start drinking wine.

Somewhat more seriously, praying the hours has been more challenging than I expected. It seems a bit anti-climactic to stop what I am doing to go through these very brief prayers. it seems like there should be more. I just settle my racing mind into the moment and it is over, the prayers are said and I don't feel like I was present for the moment. I think I am reading them, and I tend to read fast. So i started singing the prayers as Phyllis Tickle suggests in her brief introduction. At first it feels funny, but I do slow down. some. I find myself singing too quickly too. and this is perhaps the lesson I am meant to learn... to slow down.Or the practice I meant to begin, slowing down, my reading, my thinking, my doing. I was just extolling the virtues of contemplation and discernment to a church member the other day, who did not feel effective or active enough.

It is a tough lesson to learn, that sometimes we serve God and others best not by a knee-jerk action, but by quietly listening, thinking, praying and learning so that when we act we act effectively and for the glory of God. Guess I need to learn it better myself. If we learn anything from the recent news about the mid-west baptists involvement in haiti it is that acting without learning leads to more harm than good

I am reminded of a line from Tolkien, 'Not all those who wander are lost.' I suppose I fear that i am loosing time for important actions if I wander in prayer. Wandering might not be such a bad thing though.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Lent Discipline Update

Quick review of my Lenten disciplines:

Discipline One: Cut back on TV. Not bad. Bit of a challenge with the Olympics on. I received some new books in the mail yesterday and so they distracted me.
1. Apostle to the Conquered: Reimaging Paul's Mission by Davina C. Lopez
2. Postmodernism, or, the Logic of Late Capitalism by Fredric Jameson
3. Up to our Steeples in Politics by Will Campbell
4. Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We are with What we Buy by Tom Beaudoin

I'm starting a thursday night bible study on Paul soon and so I dove right into the Lopez work. Already she has provided much to consider. Lopez does her theology and exegesis from the margins of feminist, queer and post-colonial theory. So I am learning much about those perspectives. So far she has spent a great deal of time discussing the coins, statues, and other various works of art of the ROman period and its political and theological implications. Her point, in the end, is to go back to Paul's use of the self-descriptive phrase 'apostle to the nations' to argue that when Paul used that word 'nations' or 'ethne' his context was wider that simply 'non-jewish' which traditional exegesis and scholarship has assumed. Instead, 'ethne' was a political term to all who were less than the Romans. Should be interesting.

Back to Practices. So I found myself very at peace having no television, or very little yesterday, just a few moments at lunch and after dinner. Amazing how little there really is on. I turned it on before starting this post, and began my usual flip through the channels, then, amazing, just gave it up as a waste of time.

Praying the Hours has been rushed at some points. Attended a lecture in Cambridge by Luis CdeBaca on 'the Fight to Abolish Modern Day Slavery'
Two interesting points, at least for me, in the lecture. One, Ambassador CdeBaca suggested some ways in which everyone could combat modern slavery; by buying cotton shirts not assembled in sweatshops, buying food not harvested by slave labor and... this was the best... buying free trade chocolate. I've dropped the chocolate line as a way to combat slavery in two recent sermons, so to hear the Ambassador mention it was affirming. Second point. Ambassador CdeBaca was asked what efforts his office was putting into combatting the sex trade in South Africa due to the upcoming World Cup Events, he replied that he was enlisting the power of the pulpit, connecting to churches and clergy in South Africa to combat the demand side of prostitution and slavery.
The lecture was interesting, but it came right at the time when I needed to be doing the vespers prayers. I did them before the lecture, in a crowded and noisy room which was not ideal. Friday's prayers were always a bit behind because I spent the day visiting the saints of the church. But I got them all in and they kept me focused all day.

Memorizing the 63rd Psalm is going ok. I've got the first three verses pretty firmly ensconced for now. It takes repetition. The phrase of the psalm, earnestly I seek you, is a constant prayer for me throughout the day. How can I seek God in the minims, the details, the normal events of my life.

Now, it is time to pray

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent, Ashes, and Figure Skating

Last night was the annual Ash Wednesday service at the church. I've tried some non-traditional things in this service, like have people come forward to plant seeds, in the hopes of symbolizing the new growth that lenten practices of prayer, study and sacrifice can bring. Last night we went fairly traditional with the imposition of ashes and partaking in communion.

I'm trying a couple of things for lenten practice, because personal discipline, as in structure, is not my strong suit. For instance, while some must finish a book that they have started before they move on, I get a little bored and move on... so that right now I think I have 5 books going. Sticking through on a plan isn't my strongest suit. So lent has always been a challenge because adding a practice or taking away a habit for 40 days really requires sticking to your plan.

So here is my plan... we'll see how it goes.
My Lenten sermon series is entitle 'God at the Center' and the first thing I will ask the congregation to do is make a map of their life patterns by answering questions about their priorities(which will lead to a discussion about who our gods really are you see); what can't they live without, what do they look forward to most, where do they spend the most time, money, energy. I did this mapping myself and was ashamed at how much time I spent in front of the TV. So I'm giving myself 1 hr of tv time a day. I think. Yeah, 1 hr. see, I'm wavering already. I'll watch TV just for the sake of watching TV. I'll watch a fishing show, and I have no interest in fishing shows, before I'll turn it off. terrible habit.

Second, I've had in my possession Phyllis Tickles 'The Divine Hours' a prayerbook for praying the Divine Hours, for years. I've used it now and again, on and off, occasionally. So for lent I am going to carry the sprintime volume with me wherever I go and follow its prayers throughout the day.

Finally I am going to work on memorizing scripture. My mom taught me to do this when I was little. I'm teaching my boys now. My Dad and I were watching the Olympics the other night, figure skating, which I don't think is a sport really, but that is a post for another time. Anyway, he remarked at how amazing it was that the skaters could remember such intricate routines. I replied that memory is like a muscle, the more you use is the stronger it gets, the less the weaker. The hypocrisy of my statement hit me. I'm not exercising my memory. Those of you who know me know that exercise isn't my favorite thing anyway. So I'm memorizing Ps 63 right now.

There you have it; cut down on TV, pray the hours, memorize Ps 63.
What are you going to do for Lent?
If you are hesitant to do anything, PLEASE read this post over at Talk With the Preacher. I met this pastor while at St. Charles Ave. Baptist Church in NOLA and this Ash Wednesday reflection is one of the most beautiful pieces I have read. I wish I'd written it and know you will enjoy. My only complaint about her blog is that she doesn't write more.
Wishing a Blessed Lent to my two faithful readers!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tithing Resets the Center of our Lives

I'm considering a special note in each monthly newsletter at the church which would accomplish three things: The readers would be able to identify the spiritual purpose of tithing, the ethical/theological purpose of tithing and the practical purpose of tithing. Below is the first note, which is largely spiritual, but also kind of ethical I guess. anyway, would you my 2 dedicated readers look this over and tell me what you think?

Tithing Sets the Center
‘The patterns in our lives form about the deep and usually unarticulated attitudes we hold toward ourselves, the world, and others. ‘ Luke Timothy Johnson

I’ve decided that instead of waiting for the fall to unload a big stewardship and tithing sermon on Berean, I’m going to write a note every month about tithing for the rest of the year. And the theme for this month is, Tithing Sets the Pattern. North American Christians live in a notoriously consumeristic culture in which we are bombarded with two confusing messages. One message tells us that the stuff we buy is of the ultimate importance. We can buy pthat ills will save our love life and our marriage. We can purchase cures for baldness that will make our careers more successful and improve our prospects for dating. We can buy a car that will make us a better parent and cause us to be admired by neighbors. We can charge some new clothes which makes us feel better. Advertisers promise that the pursuit and purchase of consumer goods will bring us the happiness, peace and satisfaction we desire.
But the competing message that we may not be conscious of, but still, I think sense, is that all this stuff is replaceable and easily discarded. As soon as you get a PC, cell-phone, ipod, and get it home, it is obsolete. A newer version has come out which is new and improved, making your version ‘old’ and ‘out of style.’ Of course I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. New styles of clothing and shoes have come out as soon as the Macy’s bag with new purchases has settled in the back seat of the car outside the mall. Have you ever noticed how rare it is to get things repaired? Why bother to get the TV repaired, just replace it. Do you know if there is anyone in Rhode Island who can repair worn out shoes? It is easier to discard, producing more waste, and replace with something new, than to treasure and care for the old we already have. So the stuff we buy is of great importance for our satisfaction and well being, BUT it is easily replaceable and quickly discarded. It doesn’t last, isn’t meant too, and made to cast away. So we are caught in a cycle of pursuing, possessing, momentary satisfaction, then casting away so as to pursue again.
Is it any wonder our society suffers from anxiety and depression? We are caught in a system or a pattern, if you will, where we are promised happiness, satisfaction and safety in consumer good, but they never last and so we must constantly pursue these goods and the satisfaction they promise but can’t quite deliver. We buy it, use it, discard it and must chase it once again. No wonder our culture largely feels dissatisfied. This pattern keeps us always wanting more and trains us to place a high value on created things. Over-valuing created things is Paul’s definition of idolatry and according to Paul in Romans, is the cause of sin, the root of sin. Instead of seeking and abiding in the presence of the Creator, we spend our time seeking and abiding with created things.
This is why we tithe. One reason anyway, the spiritual reason for the tithe, because the pattern of our lives in this culture is based on putting our hopes in created things. Tithing resets our pattern. In sitting down to plan our budgets so that we offer thanksgiving to God for all God’s gifts, we are re-setting our pattern. Through the tithe we are putting our finances and the material goods they provide at the service of God first. Finance and Material Goods are brought into proper perspective through tithing, for they will be used to serve God and not as a replacement for God. Tithing reminds us that we value differently than the world around us. Well, we should value differently than the world around us. But the lack of tithing in American Churches and the conspicuous consumption that American Christians engage in makes us look just like everybody else.
Lent is a time to reset our patterns, to release practices that take us aware from centering on God and picking up practices that focus us on God as our center. Lent is a great time to reassess tithing.

Consumerism and Economics: Witherington, Luke Timothy Johnson and Esther

Shouldn't Christians dress for success, strive for excellence, show the world how God has blessed them with bling??? In a word--- no, when it comes to the first and third of these things. Christians should have a conscience about how their choices affect other people in this world, particularly those who live in poverty. They need to de-enculturate themselves from the lifestyles of conspicuous consumption that are so prevalent in American culture.

I ran across this Ben Witherington quote this morning, as I meandered about the web unable to sleep at about 4 am. I don't usually follow bogs on so I missed this. Witherington posts a series of blogs based on a new book entitle 'Jesus and Money:A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis'
I haven't read it, but I will say I like the post based on the quote alone.

Witherington's post reminds me of book I'm already reading 'Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith,' by Luke Timothy Johnson. In it he says; ' The way we use, own, acquire and disperse material things symbolizes and expresses our attitudes and responses to ourselves, the world around us, other people, and, most of all, God. And since there is reciprocity here, as we.., the disposition of material possessions not only expresses but effects our response to the world,other people, and God... The real mystery concerning possessions is how they relate to our sense of identity and worth as human beings. the real sin related to possessions has to do with the willful confusion of being and having. (pg. 40)

I am doing a study on the book of Esther. The opening chapter of this gem of a book narrates what both Witherington and Johnson describe. King Xerxes (or Ahasueras)sponsors an extravagant party for his political and military supporters and puts his wealth on display. When he attempts to put his wife the queen on display, and she refuses, Xerxes begins the search for a new queen. A system that gathers women from all throughout the kingdom, and filters them through the kings chambers for one night begins to grind people into objects. I wish I'd thought of this story months ago.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The National Anthem Controversy

I ran across this interesting post at Jesus Radical It is centered around the recent decision at Goshen College an historically mennonite school at which the national anthem was not played, to now include the National Anthem before school sporting events.

Leads me think about these things. I have found recently that I do not say the pledge of allegiance at my boys school events. I will stand as a sign of respect, but don't say the pledge. The same said for the national anthem. I stand, but don't sing or place my hand over my heart or anything. Not that such symbolic actions matter much to others... but I've recently found them to violate the idea that upon my baptism I was pledging my allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

The American Flag still flies in the sanctuary at my church. I remove it for Advent and Lent, but have never encouraged a dialogue as to its appropriateness or inappropriateness in the worship space, cuz I don't want to start a fight. So I couldn't sign the on-line petition challenging Goshen to go back to no National Anthem, because I'm not sure I'd want that fight either.

By the way, are we violating the third commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain when we say the pledge? sing the anthem?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

In Defense of Irrelevant Preaching

I've been thinking about preaching some since returning from NOLA. I delivered a sermon there and then also heard Kirk Jones Preach again. To see Kirk preach is to be reminded of the joy in the gospel and the joy in preaching it. He preaches with his whole body and thoroughly savors being immersed in the Word. that is something I'd like to get back to that I think I've forgotten about lately... the joy of preaching.

But I'm also thinking about relevance. Most churches that I know of place 'relevant preaching at the top of their priority list. Every once in a while I get some feedback that a recent sermon or sermon series 'isn't speaking to me.' I take that to mean that the sermon/series hasn't addressed an issue that the person deems relevant, or has not contained information that the listener finds useful. This post isn't meant to be a response to criticism by the way. I'm not offended where I hear that criticism and I don't take it personally. Kirk Jones once told me that one of the secrets to good preaching is careful listening... so I am listening carefully and thinking about what I'm hearing.

I have some concerns about what people expect of the sermonic event and I wonder if there aren't some assumptions at play.

First, the bible text cannot be comprehended in its original context and then applied to a completely different context in the normal New England 15-20 minute time limit. I don't care what anybody says, the Bible was not created to be quickly and easily digested. It takes time to understand and apply it. I fear that when we apply time limits to the sermon we are leaving preachers in the position of speaking in bumper-sticker phrases and empty platitudes. Politicians speak in sound-bites and we are very accustomed to receiving slickly packaged information in brief commercials on tv and radio. But the Bible isn't a Swanson Hungry Man Dinner. It isn't meant to be quick easy.

Second I'm concerned about our priorities here. I wonder if those who sometimes say 'its not speaking to me' are without thinking it through placing priority in the wrong direction. The Bible wasn't created to serve us, offer us tidbits of advice. IT is a record of amazing encounters with a living God that transformed people. When God called Abraham to leave behind his homeland and follow him, that wasn't to offer Abraham support or encouragement, but a challenge. THe same could be said of the call of Moses and the Call of Jeremiah. The word of God was delivered to them to change them, inspire them and challenge them. The word of God does not serve our needs, but instead should challenge and instruct us in serving God.

So I think that sometimes the sermon must be irrelevant. We might not consider the modern phenomena of slavery or abuse of the environment relevant to our lives, but I am convinced that the Bible tells us these things are relevant to God and we had best pay attention. OR, we might find a sermon on forgiveness or generosity to be more challenging than we are ready for. It isn't that it doesn't speak to us, but it just isn't the message we wanted to hear. (a preacher should hear a message that is challenging and offensive and experience it that way, before preaching it, by the way.) OR, we may not find a sermon on the Trinity terribly relevant, but theology of the trinity stand behind much of our church practice, such as forgiveness, unity in our diversity, the cooperative efforts of a group with different gifts of the Spirit. This may not be easily applied to every-day life, but nonetheless it is vital to a life of faith.

That is the main concern I have I guess. Who is serving whom here? Is the sermon meant to serve the listener, or, is the listener meant to serve God through hearing the sermon?

This isn't to say that the preacher should go out of his way to be irrelevant, preaching in highly technical language that is difficult for the average lay person to understand, speaking about strange and arcane topics. And of course a preacher should always strive to connect even the most challenging topic, like Trinity for instance, with illustrations that help the listener understand the relevance of the concept. But I think perhaps there needs to be some dialogue in churches about sermons in general. or perhaps a return to the baptist tradition which engages the entire gathered community in the construction of the sermon.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lord We Are Able: or Thank You SCABC

My wife and I spent this past weekend in New Orleans LA. The occasion was the installation (or coronation) of my best friend as the 18th pastor of St. Charles Ave. Baptist Church. I was invited to preach at the morning worship. SCABC is a church with a progressive history and a pulpit that has welcomed the likes of Gardner Taylor and Barbara Brown Taylor and for the installation service itself Kirk Byron Jones. So I was a little intimidated.
I have been overwhelmed by the positive and affirming response. People had interesting and insightful questions after worship. the Dialogue with them was truly something to savor. I've gotten e-mails and facebook messages of appreciation. So i want to say thank you to all the folk at SCABC. It was an honor.

The point of my sermon was to inspire the church to both continue and strive to reach greater potential as the body of Christ. The refrain for the sermon was 'Lord We Are Able.' But I think I was more blessed than they in the end, for their response reminded me that I, too, am able. Not that I didn't think I was exactly. But the energy of their response has re-energized me. It takes a church to follow Christ, I'm convinced of that. The cross is too much for me to bear alone, I need a community. And I have a wonderful community at the church I serve Berean Baptist, kind, compassionate, fun and funny, and supportive, generous, tireless, I could go on with kind words for my little church. But I am truly blessed because my sense of church community has expanded and I will never forget the chance to preach at SCABC and the powerful affirmation they have offered me.

so thank you Berean Baptist for calling me... and St. Charles Ave for affirming me... together, We Are Able.

oh yeah, and .... Who Dat!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Who Dat sayin dey American Baptists?

Why, oh Why did they have to be Baptists? I am of course referring to the group of Baptists from the United States who are now incarcerated in Haiti on charges of kidnapping and child-smuggling. Why did they have to be Baptists? And of course they are referred to on the television as American Baptists as a way of explaining their country of origin and not their denominational affiliation. If you do a web search of the word Baptists... you get this story. If you web search American Baptists... you get this story. One headline read, 'American Baptists defend Actions in Haiti.' (cbs4 in miami.) they aren't American Baptist as in the denomination, they are simply Baptist from the United States. I think the whole thing signals that we should change the name of our denomination. My friend Travis likes Crazy-Ass Baptist. That is my vote. instead of being a part of ABCORI (American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island) we would be CABORI (Crazy-Ass Baptists of Rhode Island). Or instead of being a part of ABC-USA (American Baptist Churches USA) we would be a part of CABUSA (Crazy-Ass Baptist's USA.) and we would have a pronunciation guide since no one know how to say ABCUSA (is that AB-KYEW-SA or AB-KOO-SA. NOPE. CABUSA. pronounced like Caboose, as in the last car on a train OR a slang term for somebodies hind end!)

We're not THAT kind of Baptist. I get tired of saying that. I feel like I say it all the time. But if we were officially Crazy-Ass Baptists, it would be fun. Are you the baptist's who hate on gays and lesbians? NO Sir... we're crazy-ass baptist and we love our gay and lesbian friends. Are you the baptist's who just got arrested in haiti? Not me! I'm a crazy-ass baptist and we don't kidnap children!

Anyway. My church is currently working on a plan which would involve creating a relationship with a city or town, in a nation that we have not yet decided, but like Haiti or El Salvador, so that we could establish a mission relationship. the purpose is for our mission involvement to go beyond sending the occasional check and also beyond the feel-good one time visit. But part of the plan, the major part of the plan is the research. Researching a town that has an association with an American Baptist missionary. (American Baptist the denomination) Creating a relationship with that missionary and learning about not only the needs of the people in that area, but what a safe and effective aid effort on our part would include. Rushing to haiti now to provide aid is like deciding to practice medicine immediately after witnessing a car accident. You do not have the skill or the knowledge to be of aid at this time, so stay out of the way!

I am currently doing some reading on Human Trafficking. From what little I know about that issue, it is no wonder Haiti's government has responded in such a manner to this debacle. Who is to say that this wasn't an effort to traffic in children and teens? I'd hate to think so... but with 1.8 million women and children trafficked yearly around the world 600,000 for the prostitution, Haiti can't take any chances and I don't blame them for the abundance of caution.

How is that for a light-hearted post after such a long absence