Monthly Archives: September 2010

Seeking a Middle Way

I am a former, and I gladly say former, resident of Washington DC, and also a sometime follower of politics.  I used to love the idea of politics, it excited me to see how our country was actually run.  I had certain issues that I was keenly interested in, and others that took secondary importance.  During the last Presidential Election I was in the minority in the way that I was going to vote, especially in my social-religious group.

Lately I have become very disillusioned with the state of politics, and especially political debate if we can even call it that.  I was having a conversation this morning with a colleague here at the church and we talked a little bit about church politics, more specifically the United Methodist Church’s politics. We talked a specific issue that will not be discussed now, but possibly at a later time.  The theme of generational differences came up on this particular issue, and something interesting was said.  The claim was that the younger generations are not so concerned by differences, but are more concerned with doing ministry, with serving those whom we are called to serve.

Now on any issue there will always be at least two sides, often there are many, many more sides that never see the light of day thanks to our obsession with dualism.  We like things black and white, we do not do well with uncertainty, although we give lip service to it, we do NOT like surprises.  We like our lives to fit neatly into little boxes, and to be easily planned and contained.  Don’t get me wrong, planning is important and we don’t do anything to the fullest unless we’ve planned, but we do not want to have no idea what’s going on. Trust me, I am as guilty as the next guy on this front.

If we use our political system as an example of this we see that you have Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other.  The chief job of these groups is to scream louder than the other, so they win supporters or political points.  It is very rare that you see pragmatism and an actual working together happen in our political system.  Very rarely do we actually see successful attempts or actual success at “reaching across the aisle,” this is disturbing to me.  It was once again proved a while back when legislation was put together in a bi-partisan manner in Washington, until the vote when party lines decided the outcome of the legislation.

So what is the middle way, especially for a church that is supposed to be separate from the political apparatus of our nation, city, or state? I think we may need to actually enforce a separation of our church and our state.  Instead of dividing the body of Christ into constituent red and blue pieces shouldn’t we worry a lot more about the purpose of our faith?  I encourage us to stop thinking about politics in our church, as Jack said in LOST “Live together, die alone.”  There is no more apt phrase for this debate.  We will never all agree, I promise that the first century church did not all agree on every point, but they saw that the point was not for us to be divided against one another, but to unite for the mission and integrity of the faith that we claim.

So if you are politically motivated, informed, or just interested let us try to think this week about how we can remove the fetters of our society and the things that are encouraged by others and get down to ministry.  We will not all agree on doctrine or theology, but we can all agree that there are people in are world that are hurting and have been hurt by Christian’s.  Let us try to work to heal not only the wounds caused by our disagreements, but the pain and injustice we see from day to day around us.


Climbing and Descending…

“28 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God. 29 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18: 28-19 NRSV

This morning was an amazing morning for weather, the temperatures were in the 60’s and the sun was shining.  I rode my bicycle to work, there were no fires when I got to my office, I even got to sit down and have some quality quiet time.  Today is exceptional so far.  Even the music played by Pandora let me get into a worshipful state of mind as I began to write this post.  It seems things are going right this morning.

I read these words, which come at the end of the parable of “The Rich Young Ruler,” which admittedly is a difficult one for me.  But these words sound such a hopeful note after the “doom and gloom” of the early passage.  This young man, seeking to justify himself and come away with a pat on the back instead gets a gut check about his wealth.  We who live in the United States are so blessed to have more than enough of everything, even when we feel we don’t have enough.  We, as the Rich Young Ruler, are often blinded to all the blessings we have, because we see other around us who have so much more.  I am so guilty some days of wanting to keep up with others, when I am so incredibly blessed.

But what are the nature of blessings? Are blessing only material or monetary? Or do our blessings include our health, happiness, and the sunshine that is so abundant on a day like today?  I love riding my bicycles as I’ve written before, and my commute from my house to the church includes several large hills.  By the time I get to the top of these hills I don’t like riding my bike, especially when I’m loaded down with all of my stuff for the day.  But when I go home the sides of the hills that were so tough are long descents, and the feeling of flying down a long hill is like no other.

Sometimes we have to struggle to really understand our blessings, and for me riding a bike is an awesome example of this.  Because I am the size I am the climbing up a hill is not so fun, but when I fly down the other side it’s always a thrill.  We have good times and bad times and life, and often the bad times help us to appreciate all of the good things in our life. Let us remember our many blessings this week…

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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Bicycles, Life, Point of View


Out Live Your Life

I wrote a little bit last time about something that struck me from this new book by Max Lucado, and promised an upcoming review.  Well I finished the book, so here is my review of this book.

Out Live Your Life is one of the most refreshing books that I have read in a long time, and I have read quite a few books in the last few years.  A good number of books I have read have been academic tomes, often talking about some of the same issues Max did, but this book is so approachable.  While in Seminary I read quite a few hefty books from Theology to Educational Philosophy, but that is where these books miss ability to be more widely read.

I had previously not read much of Max Lucado’s writing, despite his being the best selling Christian author of our generation, but I think this book has converted me.  From how we can truly interact and change the lives of others, to the fact that we don’t have to move to Africa to make a difference this book speaks clearly and succinctly about the life that Christians should be living. The chapter on letting God unshell us is one of the most creative and disarmiing, yet arresting chapter.  Max writes about tough subjects but has a knack for making them not seem quite so daunting. This is a book I will be revisiting and using with my Youth for many years to come.

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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


Caring for Orphans and Widows

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 NLT

I read these words a few days ago in a book I am currently reading to review here on this blog, and I have to say that these words struck a serious chord in my heart and mind.  This scripture was found in Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life, of which there will be a review on here soon.  The title of that chapter is “Stand Up for the Have-nots” and is all about how we are to help those whom we can.

“Pure and Genuine religion” should be the goal of all of us these days.  I have written a great deal about the idea of “authentic faith” on this blog, and my goal in all that I do is to live a life seen as authentic. The idea of caring for Widows and Orphans is one that Jesus talks about a great deal, and the conversation continues among the apostles and the early church.  Widows had literally no social standing in first century Palestine, their economic and material well-being was tied to the male portions of their families.  As Max Lucado points out, many families would disown those who had converted to Christianity, so the widows of the church were often the lowest of the low.

Orphans are those who literally had no family, therefore had no system to tie into, either economically or materially.  From the food in their bellies to the clothes on their backs they were dependent upon others for everything.  So what is this scripture calling the church, and followers of Christ to? I think that this passage is calling us to be a family for those who have none.  The church is to literally provide economic and material support to those who were unable to do so on their own.

Would you not help family? I think this is the idea that Jesus is getting at in his sermons, one that we miss out on a little bit today.  We miss out not because of any mental miss, but because the culture of the time was so different from ours today.  If we look at those who we see on the sidewalk as our brother and sisters, not merely as the person who is in between me and my car, how will we see them differently? So much of our lives involves putting on our blinders, how do we take the scales from our eyes and open them to the world around us?

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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in Uncategorized


Why Service?

This week marks our second month, in what I hope to create as a tradition in the UMYF program here at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church.  This is our “Third Sunday Service” projects.  We are doing projects for several different groups within our church, but also looking towards doing more things in our community.  So to me this begs the question “Why Service?” and I aim to explain a little bit of the Theology of Service in our denomination.

One of my favorite John Wesley quotes is, “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”  This quote from the founder of the Methodist church points towards service as a man part of the ideas of the church.  This is often called “Social Justice,” which has become a term for Glenn Beck to deride churches whom he considers “progressive.”  Well also from the words of Wesley we are to be moving towards perfection, that is something “Progressive” I can get behind.

All commentary aside though, why do we serve others? Why do we some the people who have been made the “other?” I will be very open about my reasoning and theology for service, and it may well take several posts to really cover it all.  But here is the most basic part of my idea of service.  Jesus came to save not the popular or the people you think he would, the good Jews, he brought the good news to all people and especially the least.  Jesus came as a servant, while at the Last Supper Jesus does something completely menial.  He gets down on his hands and knees and washes the nasty, dirty, smelly feet of the disciples.

The story of the Good Samaritan was a cultural reversal of gigantic proportions in Jesus culture.  No self-respecting Jew would have be seen with a Samaritan, yet the Samaritan becomes our example to follow.  So Jesus example of service and love for the person who has been the “other” in our society should inform our idea of how to run the church.  So for me the theology of service comes simply from attempting to follow the example of Jesus. The biggest problem for many of us is the fact that this is not comfortable or easy, it is in fact dangerous.  Church is so easy and tame, we can control the type of music we sing the type of preaching we hear, but as is written “faith without works is dead.”

So this Sunday marks the second time we are attempting in some concrete way to put our faith into works. And saying the “Theology of Service” can sound daunting to some people, but really we can file this under attempting to follow Jesus example.


The Uncertainty of Life

Have you ever made plans? Have you ever had those plans come crashing down around you? I have, and let me tell you, this can be one of the most frustrating things that you will ever experience.  We had been planning to go to my hometown to visit my Dad who just came home from the hospital today, I went to the office went to the meeting I had, and then went home to help line us up for our trip.  As soon as I get there Quin (our 17 month old) begins walking around the house crying. This is to say the least out of character for our little guy so we were worried.

So long story short Quin is sick and our best laid plans for the day are now shot all to pieces.  But it really got me thinking as I was driving back to the office about how we often plan our lives down to the second.  How often are we just rushing from one place to another, one appointment to the next, and never have time to slow down.  Now I have talked about my ideas on sabbath and rest before, but this time I’m really speaking about living into uncertainty.

The idea of living with uncertainty is as old as our faith itself.  Jesus told his disciples to not even carry an extra shirt when he sent them out, told them to not even carry money for food.  Now that would not fly at my house today, I don’t even really see how it worked in Jesus time.  So much of a person in that time period was spent on finding or growing food that it was nearly all consuming.  But that was the way that Jesus told these men to go into the world, with nothing, to walk headlong into the uncertainty that is life.

Compared to the first century our uncertainties are mostly temporal, most of us do not worry about what we will eat for dinner, we merely worry about college, grades, who will we marry, things that matter deeply to us today.  I think that we have lost something of understanding the kingdom of God that we are called to live into, and we miss that because of the stability in our American culture.  There are still many places in the world where the daily struggles are very similar to the ones of first century Palestine.

This week I want to focus more on how do I embrace the uncertainty in life and cease to get so irritated when things don’t go as planned.  I challenge us all to look at our days and see where we can see the “holy interruptions” that often are irritants in our path. So go into the rest of this day seeing where the uncertain is actually the divine.

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Posted by on September 13, 2010 in Uncategorized


Our Reactionary Society

There has been an outcry over the last few days from people of faith who are opposed to a display of hate.  There have been a flurry of activity from all sides, many against, but still some for.  I personally find this pastor to be a morally repugnant person, and like many other people of faith believe that this pastor is in fact not a Christian.  As the bible says in 1 John 4:8, if we do not know love we do not know God.  Here is an interview with Terry Jones who is the Pastor of the church that is burning the Quran.

Interview of Pastor Whose Church Will Burn the Quran

Later this Pastor went out and made a public statement that his church is planning to continue in their event to burn the holy book of Islam.  I have to admit that I had a horrible association as soon as I heard about this event.  The biggest thing that came to my mind was the Nazi’s in Germany burning books.  Now they did not burn specifically religious texts, but they did in fact censor the church and make it conform to their political and social agenda.  The church in Germany still has scars today from living through the Nazi regime.

I am in no way or form calling Pastor Jones a Nazi, I am merely calling attention to a correlation that I see between certain actions.  Why do I see this action as morally repugnant, and why do I think that Pastor Jones actions are counter to my ideas of faith? I think that when we fail to show respect, tolerance, and live in a way that allows for our disagreement we set a bad precedent.  When we claim that another persons religion is “evil” or “of Satan” we push people towards extremes.  Extremism in any form is not a healthy situation whether it is extreme conservatism, liberalism, or any other extreme points to something out of equilibrium.

Christianity, as well as Islam, have long and bloody histories of wars and fighting.  It is a fact that more people have been killed in the name of God than any other.  Pastor Jones will indeed incite new extremes in the battles of faith, but that is what all extreme movements are, reactions.  We live in a reactionary world, every thing we see is a reaction to something, there is a line of causation that stretches the totality of history.  Like Thomas Aquinas our world was set in motion by an “unmoved mover,” God the Creator set our world in motion and everything sense has been a reaction to some motion or movement.

I do not question Pastor Jones freedom to burn the books, I do wish that he and his followers would not, but they are unquestionably free to hold this event.  I do find the action to be morally repugnant, but all of us (as God’s children) do things that are sinful and counter to our beliefs.  I do think that this event will serve to create more radical enemies of our country and my faith.  But this is my reaction, when I see extreme behaviors I call out all the louder for living the Gospel of Peace.  I hope the next reaction we see in our religious landscape is not more violent or hateful actions, but a movement towards an attitude of peace for all people of faith.