The Gated Church Community

I watched the video again of author Bill Bishop on The Daily Show, and I wanted to extrapolate part of the conversation.  Bishop talks about how we live in neighborhoods and move to neighborhoods where the similarity isn't always race or economic status, but political beliefs.  Here's a quote that struck me:

(3:30) Jon Stewart: Was it always this way?  Wasn't this country founded on this ghettoification of groups would come over and find their own kind and stay there, and slowly like molecules assimilate into the community.
(3:43) Bill Bishop:That's what is different now.  The separation is due to lifestyle, and it is increasing.  Over the past 30 years, communities are becoming increasingly Republican and increasingly Democratic.
So instead of the typical immigrant communities that create Chinatown or the Italian district and then spread out into society, people are moving backwards and ghettoizing into more and more homogeneous units and neighborhoods.  We aren't talking gated communities, we are talking typical neighborhoods.  For instance, from his book, the following statistic:
In 1976, less than a quarter of the American people lived in so-called "landslide counties" – that is, counties in which the spread between the two major presidential candidates was 20 percentage points or more. By 2004, nearly half of us lived in this kind of politically tilted territory.
Wow.  This is the situation that I began writing Hacking Christianity about.  But it is worse than I thought. 

What can the church do about this?  Should we continue to claim diversity in the face of a uniform neighborhood surrounding the church square?  Or do we, like our politicians, play to these individualist and like-minded sensibilities.  Bishop, one last time:
(5:05) Bill Bishop: We live with mirrors in front, and that's what the campaigns are doing is putting a big mirror in front of you and saying "Vote for You."
Thoughts?  Have you ran into these difficulties in your community or street or neighborhood?  What do successful churches do to provide a space for dislike-minded people to worship together while they live alongside like-minded neighbors?


Hacking the Apostle's Creed : Born of the Virgin Mary

This summer I'm doing a sermon series on the Apostle's Creed, drawing from Justo L. Gonzalez's book The Apostles' Creed for Today, in an attempt to help the Creed make sense to our contemporary views.  Some parts will be reconciled, some parts may have to be left out.  But hopefully you'll never read the Apostle's Creed the same way again!

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son our Lord.
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 

Born of the Virgin Mary

When we talk about the Birth of Jesus, we can't help but talk about how it was a virgin birth. Now some Christians don't find it necessary to believe in the Virgin Birth. That's just a story. That's someone's idea of how Jesus might have been born. There were other pagan deities who were born to virgins around the time of Jesus. The Gospel writers were making Jesus seem important.

To others, a virgin birth is essential. How else could Jesus be a divine person, coming from God? It makes perfect sense: the God who opened Sarah's barren womb so she could bear Isaac, Rebekah's miraculous birth of Jacob, Rachel's miraculous birth of Joseph...this God who empowers barren women proves that their children are the result of God's involvement. This God must have been involved in the birth of Jesus. The virgin birth must be true.

But to the writers of the Creed, it's not about the virgin birth.  Stay with me.
It is true that the Creedal writers were affirming the Virgin Birth by calling Mary the Virgin Mary. But their belief that it happened mattered much less than that it happened to one particular person. It's identifying that Jesus was born of this Mary, this woman, Mary the Virgin.

The reason why requires some Christianity CSI, some putting together the clues.
Last wee, we talked about how "God the Maker of Heaven and Earth" was written against people who said the God of the Old Testament was a different God than the God of Jesus.
This week it is a similar problem.  Marcion of Sinope's contemporaries, the Gnostics, said that Jesus could not have been born of a woman.
In the gnostic Gospel of James, it reads that when Mary was in the manger, there was a bright flash of light, and Jesus appeared next to her. Really.

Why? These heretics couldn't stand the idea that Jesus was born of a woman.
Birth, it's a messy time. Blood and water, pain and joy.
The real messiness of human life begins in the messiness of birth.
And for the Gnostics, with their soul/body dualism, birth was too messy a way for a dignified son of God to come into the world.  There's no way Jesus, son of God, could be born of a woman.
Jesus must have just appeared, wrapped in white cloths next to Mary, already potty-trained and never woke up crying at 4am.

To which the Creed says otherwise.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son, our Lord.
It doesn't matter if the virgin birth was real or an allegory.
It only matters that Jesus was born of a woman, in the fully human way, mess and all.
Jesus was fully human and fully divine. But most importantly, Jesus was fully human.

Today, we still struggle with this messiness.
We still struggle with the idea that this Jesus that we believe in was fully human.
That would mean Jesus was involved in the messiness of life.
We know from Scripture that Jesus forgave sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, religious authorities.
But today we rarely preach that Jesus would welcome an illegal immigrant, would forgive a murderer, would forgive Osama bin Laden, would forgive me, you.
Jesus is too concerned with other things, and demands my purity.
I can't let Jesus get dirty. Jesus is God, Jesus is pure and clean.

But in reality, Jesus is found in the messiness of life.
In the Scriptures, Zaccheus was probably the biggest train wreck in town and Jesus picked him. This is the Jesus who leaves the 99 to find the one. He reminds us that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. He makes wine for party goers who have already had too much to drink.
Jesus is messy when it comes to following the rules and engaging the lost and lonely. Perhaps he is too messy for most religious people and certainly for the disgruntled religious crowds mentioned in the Scripture today.

This text of Zaccheus and the Apostle's Creed are reminding us that the fully human Jesus reaches out to messy fully human people.
There's a challenge for us today. If we don’t have any relationships with the messy marginalized, the misunderstood, the outcasts, the sinners of this community, perhaps we’re part of the country club Christianity crowd.
If we’re to follow the messy Jesus and not the clean, sterilized Jesus, we will choose to:
  • We go against conventional wisdom
  • We eat with the wrong crowd
  • We drink with the wrong crowd
  • We love the wrong crowd
  • We assist the wrong crowd
  • We advocate for the wrong crowd
  • We heal the wrong crowd
The hardest thing for Christians to do is be a little messy
in the interest of loving those who have lost their way.
But Jesus was scandalous first,
and we only need to follow his example.
Jesus is looking for disciples who don’t always follow social customs, follow all the rules, and who are always neat and proper.

We need help to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
To the gnostics, Jesus was clean and pious.
But the birth of Jesus Christ was messy.
Our faith today has become clean and pious.
But Jesus reached out to a man named Zaccheus who was a mess, and transformed his life.
Who are the messy people whose lives you will be reach out to today?


Humor for Breakfast [pic]

A shoutout to my vegetarian friends.  Don't say that the world is biased against you!


Scripture for Breakfast: Samuel's Starfish Church

I love it when I run across a Scripture that I haven't really noticed before. Check out 1 Samuel 8:10-18:

Samuel told all the words of the LORD
to the people who were asking him for a king. He said,

"This is what the king who will reign over you will do:
He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties,
and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest,
and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves
and give them to his attendants.
He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage
and give it to his officials and attendants.
Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys
he will take for his own use.
He will take a tenth of your flocks,
and you yourselves will become his slaves.

When that day comes, you will cry out 
for relief from the king you have chosen,
and the LORD will not answer you."
Leaving aside the violence and the slavery aspects, this passage has a starfish church ring to it.  For most of human history, we have insisted on obeying the will of a king, lord, or worldly leader.  Likewise, for most of Christian history, we have appealed to a hierarchical church.  We have insisted on power-over relationships and consolidated authority.  Thus, we cry out to God to change the church, but since we have created the church's structure ourselves, God "will not respond" in the way we expect God to. 

It is up to us to listen to the Spirit to find creative ways to live in community. Starfish churches have a lot to go against when you consider the ingrained need for hierarchy and order.  But to those who willingly throw their hierarchy and patriarchal privilege off their backs, God will listen to and respond.


Bill Bishop: Housing and the Echo Chamber

In moments of hubris, I like to think that is a new way of looking at things, of breaking through the echo chamber that we live our lives in.

Then, as always, something comes along and destroys that ego. Last night The Daily Show had Bill Bishop, author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart." Check it out:

Read on for thoughts on Christian missions and narrative-building...

Here's a quote from his website:

We've built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show — most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this way-of-life segregation.
Supporting his research is a year-old report that talks about housing (How much will you pay to live near people like you?) and how people pay more to live by people that look like them (hat tip Andrew Sullivan):
Specifically, while all households prefer to live in higher-income neighborhoods, college-educated households are willing to pay $58 more per month than those without a college degree to live in a neighborhood that has 10 percent more college-educated households. In fact, the researchers find that households without a college degree would actually need compensating to live in a neighborhood with 10 percent more college-educated neighbors.
Similarly, blacks are willing to pay $98 more per month to live in a neighborhood that has 10 percent more black households, compared to a negative willingness to pay on the part of white households to live in a similar neighborhood. Perhaps unsurprisingly, increases in household income and education also lead to a greater willingness to pay for better schools.
The way how we self-segregate ourselves in housing and lifestyles is reinforced by the echo chamber that we choose in the virtual world of media.

So here's the challenge: if people live and get their news from the echo chamber, does Christian missions have to replicate those lifestyles to break through?  If the narrative is mono and structured to always be mono, then how can we bring other voices into those lifestyles? Do we need SUV-driving materialistic suburban whites to get into the grooves of "those" people, or do we do the "wait until they get the itch to come to us" approach?

I once heard a pastor say that he was gifted with suburban churches.  I thought up until now that that was a ploy to not have to serve rural churches, but now I wonder if he was up to something...

What do you think?

Zemanta Pixie


Spreeder through the Gospel!

Spreeder is an online service that allows you to paste chunks of text, then it will display the words at 300 words per minute. Sound intimidating?  There are plenty of variables to set if you need them, like to linger on certain words and to pause after sentences and paragraphs.  I'm a very fast skimmer, so I thought I would try it out.

To test it, I plugged in a random few bible verses that I don't know by heart and then I wrote what I remembered immediately after "spreeding" it.

Test run: Micah 1:1-8 (New International was a quick choice!)

The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah--the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. Hear, O peoples, all of you, listen, O earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. Look! The Lord is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth. The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. All this is because of Jacob's transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel. What is Jacob's transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah's high place? Is it not Jerusalem? "Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. Since she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes, as the wages of prostitutes they will again be used."
My recall:

Hear the word of God, which will roll down the mountains and fill the valleys with judgment and condemnation, because Judah worshipped idols which will be burned up, and Judah was like a prostitute.
Eh, kinda OK. I got the gist without any actual specifics other than idol worship and hills/valleys.

Try it out.  Lemme know what you think.


We need some EPIC worship [worship.hack]

I've been reading through Wikiklesia and thoroughly enjoying the various articles found within. What's the newest nugget? I'm glad you asked! 

In Wikiklesia, Greg Glatz writes about the consumeristic nature of Church worship when it comes to technology.

Mega-church sanctuaries are an embarrassment of riches compared to the gyms and auditoriums of public schools in North America...the Church needs to adopt a creative rather than consumptive approach to technology.
"The Perfect Mix" page 109
To that end, instead of buying technology for the sake of technology, perhaps churches should reconsider what function technology serves in worship.  He suggests a model called EPIC.  From the same article:
The creative interweaving of theology and technology needs to be EPIC: Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, and Connective.  In other words, the church should draw from theology and technology to create experiences which invite participation around images that build connections.
"The Perfect Mix" page 110
That's an interesting concept that I'm trying out with my church leadership today: how do we create experiences which invite participation around images that build connections?

Thoughts on this model?  Is it just too ambiguous to be helpful, or is it a neat starting point that can help us better rationale (a) what forms our worship take and (b) what role does technology play in worship?

I'll let you know what my church thinks if you let me know your thoughts too!


Interfaith Musings: Charity Competitions

YANGON, BURMA - MAY 10:  Burmese children wait...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeAt the Gospel for Asia (GFA) annual conference, a missionary spoke about Myanmar missions were bearing fruit (via Ray Fowler):

More than 1.6 million homes were destroyed and 1.3 million acres of fertile crop land were damaged as the cyclone swept across an area known as “the rice bowl of Myanmar.”

Then GFA missionaries and volunteers showed up with emergency food and supplies. The missionary leader himself was on the crew of volunteers who helped serve food to survivors who took refuge at the GFA Bible College in Yangon (Rangoon). He, and every other missionary who served with him, were letting their lives preach the sermons during those days.
To an extent, this is what I was struggling with on a previous post (Hacking the Apostle's Creed).  I think there are times to celebrate missions over conversions. 

I remember a story of the first supply plane that landed after a terrible storm in Africa, and the people who were without food or water gathered around the plane.  The suppliers opened boxes and started handing out....bibles.  Whoops.

So, kudos to the missionaries for appropriate action.  However, there is still a comparative aspect to the action that bothers me:
The people in this majority Buddhist country were stunned at the love these Christians showed to them. Two families who went without food for seven days after the storm articulated their thoughts about Jesus to the missionaries who brought them food.
Buddha did nothing while we were suffering. But your Jesus loves us,” the missionary reported. “Now every Sunday they are coming to church and worshipping the Lord.”
I'm unsure how I feel about criticizing the humane ethic of other religions and turning charity into a competition.  While I know the missionary is recounting the words of another, emphasizing the "superior" help of Christianity over Buddhism is not very nice, nor accurate.  While the numbers may say that Christians help more people than Buddhists, that doesn't mean that Christians are "better" than Buddhists.

In short, charity shouldn't be a competition between faiths, or even between churches or groups within the same faith.  We all do what we can, and be thankful for the opportunity to help.


Zemanta Pixie


Prayers for Tennessee Valley UUA in Knoxville

An Advent candle burning on the fourth day of ...Image via Wikipedia
One of the great things about the Internet is that prayers can go straight to the recipients almost as fast as they go to God.

To that end, there's a blog set up where you can where you can express your condolences to the Unitarian Universalist congregation that suffered the shooting on Sunday.

Supporting Our Friends in Knoxville

If you don't know anything about the tragedy, I would suggest Philocrites.  Scroll down to Sunday, then start reading up. 

Details are starting to trickle in.  While I have plenty to say about this extreme case of an echo-chamber in which the man was living (judging by his reading list)...that can happen later.

If you feel moved, I'm sure this UUA would appreciate your kind words or a lit candle in solidarity with them during this difficult time.
Zemanta Pixie


Prayers are Private, not Publishable

This seems very simple: a personal prayer is a private communication between you and God. Right?  Except when you are a public figure: then there is no shame or common decency.

See what happened when Senator Barack Obama went to Jerusalem:

At the Western Wall, Obama was greeted by a crowd of curious onlookers and photographers. He donned a white skullcap, listened to a rabbi read a prayer, and inserted a folded white piece of paper between the stones.
That's unmistakably a private prayer in the tradition of the Western Wall.  And what do people do?  A student TOOK IT FROM THE WALL and PUBLISHED IT.
The paper's decision to make the note public drew fire. The rabbi in charge of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitz, said publishing the note intruded in Obama's relationship with God.
"The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them," he told Army Radio. The publication "damages the Western Wall and damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves," he said.
Click the link above if you want to read it. I'm not gonna repeat it or offer a value judgment on it.  It wasn't meant to be read by me or you.  Yet people are evaluating it and offering judgments on its content.

I wrote a month or so back that we drove our future President from Church. Are we now so shameless that we would interfere with a communication between Obama and God...and offer JUDGMENTS on it?

Sigh.  OK, it's Friday night.  Now I can relax.  Thanks for reading. Thoughts?

Zemanta Pixie


The Death Star was an Inside Job [video]

Hilarious parody of the 9/11 Truth Movement. (hat tip: Michael Kruse)

I would love to see someone shoot a video that takes the Jesus story and turns it into a conspiracy against the Roman Empire that would create a spiritual kin-dom without borders or boundaries.

.....wait a minute....


Following the Living God in Society

A world map showing the Provinces of the Angli...Image via Wikipedia
Following up on the previous entry on the "Living God" where we talked about the biblical justification for an understanding of God that allows for continuing growth on what we believe God desires from us, here's a story that is painful to hear and even more painful to oppose. 

As a caveat, it is hard from a position of privilege to respond to the following story.  Here I am, middle-class educated American where it is at least against the law to kill those who are sexual minorities...and I'm commenting on the opinion of a lower-class African bishop from a war-torn country where it is socially acceptable to kill Christians!  I am aware of the inequality of ability to respond and of my privilege.

That all said, the Anglican bishop of Juba (who is also the primate of the church in Sudan), represents some of the most persecuted Christian minorities in the world.  And given his flock's persecution, he is opposing any leeway on gay clergy or marriage equality in the Anglican Communion on the basis that it would put Christians further into the "infidel" camp and make them riper targets to be killed.

In other words, by accepting (or at least not condemning) gay clergy and marriage equality, Christians will die.

The quote is reported in two forms.  Here's one form:

In a separate written statement to his fellow Lambeth attendees, the Archbishop wrote, "We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church's witness in Africa and elsewhere [sic], opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment."

Virtue Online asked Archbishop Bul about the relationship of Anglicans in Africa to Muslims on account of sexual politics. The Archbishop replied, "That's why I'm here, because we are called infidels when they hear the Christian world" affirming homosexuality, adding, "It will give them an upper hand to kill our people."
The slightly edited (but easier to read) version is here:

Because of the actions of the American church, “we are called infidels in the Islamic world when they hear of the same-sex blessings,” he said. “It will give [Islamist militants] reason to kill” Sudanese Christians he said.
Further coverage can be found here.

I believe that to some people, if you aren't with us, you are against us.  To those of the fundamentalist fringe of any religion (Islam and Christianity included), it really doesn't matter what the other side believes because they are the "others" whom are irreconcilable.  Accepting the basic human rights of those who are really won't change the mainline's status with the fundamentalist fringe.

Will it give them another weapon, another accusation?  Yes, and that's what the Bishop fears.  But at the risk of sounding dismissive, there will always be something to accuse Christians of and there always has been.  If you believe in God's call to ministry and in God's call to equality, then shouldn't you follow God, even to the ends of the earth, even to higher persecution?  Shouldn't it be better to live in fidelity to God's call than to not because it will give others reason to persecute you?

Again, I realize I'm writing without fear of dying or persecution, and with that comes blinders to the very real predicament of persons on the cutting edge of Christianity.  But when it comes to a prophetic stance against injustice, shouldn't we choose justice over our own livelihood?

Of course, to those in opposition to gay clergy or marriage equality, it's not "justice" they are choosing!  But even then, if the Spirit is evident and it is shown to be moving through people who are kept at the margins, even if it goes against our every being...couldn't it be from God demanding that we respond?

ultraguy asked on the last post the following hard question:
It raises the question of what forms and through what avenues the Holy Spirit may travel to reveal truth, and the proper processes for discernment of divine truth when scripture and alleged movements of the Holy Spirit appear to be in conflict. Hard questions!
Using that as a starting point, I guess the question is "Should the possibility of further persecution be part of the "proper process" for discernment?"  Is it a consideration when seeking the Holy Spirit?

This is a continuation of what the Living God conversation started, and one that is fascinating to see its elements reflected through our Anglican brothers and sisters Lambeth conference this past week.


Zemanta Pixie


Hacking the Apostle's Creed : Maker of Heaven and Earth

This summer I'm doing a sermon series on the Apostle's Creed, drawing from Justo L. Gonzalez's book The Apostles' Creed for Today, in an attempt to help the Creed make sense to our contemporary views.  Some parts will be reconciled, some parts may have to be left out.  But hopefully you'll never read the Apostle's Creed the same way again!

 Maker of Heaven and Earth

 Often we repeat the Creed saying things that sound so simple.
Of course we believe in God, maker of heaven and earth.
But during the time of the creed, that very phrase was hotly debated.
Do we really believe in the God who made heaven and earth?

You see, there was a very influential cleric named Marcion.
Marcion of Sinope was a second-century Christian theologian who was excommunicated by the Church. Why? Amongst other reasons, Marcion rejected the Hebrew Bible. Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms..all were someone else's bible, not the Christian church's bible.

So, why is this relevant? Why would we be talking about Marcion when we are talking about the phrase "We believe in God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth?"
  • Where is the story where God creates the heaven and the earth that we read today?
  • Where is the lineage of Jesus, Jesus' ancestors found?
  • Where is the definition of the Messiah found, the Messiah whom Jesus would become?
By claiming God was the Maker of Heaven and Earth, we are rejecting attempts to divorce Christianity from our Jewish brothers and sisters. In reality, and when we say the Creed, we are affirming our Jewish heritage. This is very important for us, but it was moreso important for those during the second century when the creed was written. With all the theories by Marcion and others, the church needed a compass to guide them through the storm. The Creed became that, and by affirming "God, Maker of Heaven and Earth" they were affirming their Jewish roots.

But the Creed is saying something else, something eternal, something that we still struggle with to this day.

Marcion claimed that God of Jesus was different than God of the Hebrew Bible. Marcion was influenced by gnostic writers who were his contemporaries, who said that all things material were bad and all things spiritual were good. Thus if the Hebrew Bible God created this world in which we are trapped, then the God of Jesus came to free us from enslavement. The one who traps us in the material prison can't be the one who breaks us out! They must be different gods! The God of Jesus saves us from our earthly deaths....You see how both of them claimed that the material world could never be reconciled with God.

By saying God created both heaven and earth, the creed can be a safeguard against spiritualism, which means only the spiritual world is God's concern and love. By saying God created both the heavens and the earth, they are saying all of creation is God's concern.

But today, spiritualism is alive and well.

When a former pastor of mine was asked why the church turned a predominantly missions trip into an evangelism trip, he said these words:
"When we make the planet better, it is temporary.
When we save souls to Christ, it is eternal."
To this day, I struggle with that statement. I'm sure some of you are shaking your head disagreeing that evangelism is better than missions. I'm sure some of you are nodding that evangelism is better than missions. But both of them, either valuing spiritual returns (spiritualism) or material returns (one understanding of materialism) over the other, are what the Creed is trying to change. If God is maker of heaven and earth, then anytime you care for the spiritual or material needs of people, you are doing the work of God.

What is most important is that we help people and care for Creation. In Genesis 1, we are given dominion over Creation. What we should do is match our gifts with the mission God is putting in front of us.
  • If your gifts are with building and giving people a better quality of life, you are caring for Creation
  • If your gifts are with sharing the Gospel, you are caring for Creation
  • If your gifts are with prayer, praying for people even when you are not physically able to be with them, you are caring for Creation.
  • If your gifts are with giving money, donating your gifts to make things happen, you are caring for Creation.
  • If your gifts are with children, teaching and empowering them, then you are caring for Creation.
It doesn't matter how you do it. What matters is if in that moment the recipient of your care feels the love of God. It doesn't matter how they get there, it matters that one of their needs (material or spiritual) is being met. By helping others, we are caring for Creation.

Every action that cares for others is caring for God's creation, and it is that holistic mission that God calls us to today.
Thoughts?  This series is more in sermon form (even though I cut out a lot!) than the other series, but hopefully that won't dissuade you from interacting with it!

Zemanta Pixie


Interfaith Musings: Charts

A blog I just found has a chart comparing some religions.  There may be a flaw in it, but it can be useful when comparing Christianity to other religions. 

Here's one of the charts:  Pay attention to the side categories (see how in Christianity that God is Uncreated and Unseen, with angels as created and unseen, while humans are created and seen).   Got it?  OK, compare it to the right side's Buddhism and Hinduism.

(click on them to enlarge them)
Essentially, what the author is saying is that comparing the Judeo-Christian God to the gods in Buddhism and Hinduism is a bad comparison.   From the blog post:

Hopefully this makes it clearer why it is NOT legitimate to compare Pagan, Buddhist and Hindu gods to the creator God we Christians worship, how such comparisons involve a category confusion and how, amongst other things, such gods and goddesses are more meaningfully compared to angels. In you want to understand how the Christian God compares to other non-Abrahamic paths, it is more meaningful to explore concepts like karma and mu.
Simplistic, but helpful.  And as the author explains further on his blog post, he doesn't mean to ascribe value by making them upper-middle-lower.

Thoughts on these charts?  Are they helpful for interfaith dialogue and comparison, or are they trying to ascribe a common paradigm to religions that are structurally just...different!

On a goofy endnote, if you apply the categories above to Star Wars, here's what you get:

For those of you sadly unaware of midiclorians
they came about in the prequels. Sad, I know.
As you can see, like most things in Star Wars, it correlates more to Eastern religions than Judeo-Christian ones.

I'm a nerd.

Zemanta Pixie


Seeking the Living God in the Bible

Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese ...Image via Wikipedia
This past week, our Anglican brothers and sisters have gathered together to determine the path forward and how to be the inclusive Church in a diverse world.

One of the points of contention being thrown around is what constitutes biblical fidelity (following the bible's teachings directly) and biblical idolatry (holding the words in the bible above the continuing revelation of God).  While most of us can imagine what biblical fidelity is, I found this letter to the editor by Bishop Gene Robinson outlining biblical idolatry in layperson terms to be very succinct and powerful.  An excerpt: (inclusive language is in brackets, emphasis mine)
Jesus says a remarkable thing to his disciples at his last supper with them: "There is more that I would teach you, but you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth." Could it be that God revealed in Jesus Christ everything possible in a first-century Palestine setting to a ragtag band of fishermen and working men? Could it have been God's plan all along to reveal more and more of [God's]self and [God's] will as the church grew and matured?

God, of course, was not and is not changing - but our ability to apprehend and comprehend God's will for us is. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus' calling it adultery).

And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God's children who happen to be gay.

This is the God I know in my life - who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God's truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church - not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as [God] loves us.
Thoughts?  I'll write more on this in coming weeks, but thought this would be a good kick-start to it.

Zemanta Pixie


World of World of Warcraft

'Warcraft' Sequel Lets Gamers Play A Character Playing 'Warcraft'

Hilarious.  But an interesting commentary on how when we spend more time on our virtual lives than our real-life lives, are we really gaining a sense of our own humanity?

Too deep a thought to be inspired by the Onion, isn't it?  Sorry.

Zemanta Pixie


Daily Read 07/20/2008

  • tags: no_tag

    • Ironically, as we try to deal with this problem immediately, we may well drive up the cost of food, as food is re-directed to those most in need. But that is the price we must, I, and everyone else. Too feed those in desperate need, we will have to tighten our own belts.

      Of all issues, food is central. If we fight over oil, imagine what we will do over food. Any and all of the successes of globalization (there are many) will vanish in the twinkling of an eye if we do not meet this problem directly and honestly.

  • tags: no_tag
    • interesting take on the global nature of the tragedy of the commons. But if we stratify our diversity, then game theory fails, right? - post by umjeremy

    • A team has been using "game theory" - where mathematics is used to capture how people deal with each other - to show that a classic problem that undermines the ability of individuals to cooperate can be overcome, if people are diverse enough, as is the case when it comes to the 6.5 billion citizens of planet Earth.
      Working together for the common good is crucial for progress in any society - not least for effectively addressing big issues such as recycling and tackling climate change. But there is a basic problem with how to make the public share responsibility for common problems, such as climate change.

  • tags: no_tag
    • Great useful compilation of bookmarklets! - post by umjeremy

    • Bookmarklets are useful tools. Simply put, they’re bookmarked links you keep in your browser toolbar that perform a useful function when you click on them. There are about half a million of the things out there—far too many to fit in any bookmark toolbar! Let’s take a look at twenty of the most useful bookmarklets out there.

      To “install” a bookmarklet, drag the link presented on the bookmarklet’s Web site to your bookmarks toolbar, and you’re done.

  • tags: no_tag
    • Wow....loooong exegesis of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. But very good. - post by umjeremy

    • The parable of Lazarus and the rich man has been the foundation for many of the erroneous beliefs about "hell" within traditional Christianity. Some have viewed it not as a parable, but as a true story Christ told to give details about the punishment of sinners in hell. Yet a thorough, unbiased examination of this story will show that the generally accepted interpretations of this passage of Scripture are fallacious and misleading. In this article, we will go through the parable verse by verse to determine what Christ was truly teaching.

    • i’m not afraid to say, i think churches should be cultivating advocates instead of building buildings.


Battered Women are just too Uppity [classy.hack]

Several understandings of Christianity and Christian traditions place the authority of the church and the family in the man's hands.  But what happens when men take too much authority and beat their spouses with those hands?

According to a Southern Baptist Convention professor, much of the blame is in the man's hands...but the blame is also put into women who do not accept their authority.

From EthicsDaily:

One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband's God-given authority, a Southern Baptist scholar said Sunday in a Texas church.
This merits a new category at's call it a classy.hack: blaming the victim.   It's probably a subcategory of a bad.hack.
Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said women desire to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands because of sin.

"And husbands on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged--or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches," Ware said from the pulpit of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.
Violence in intimate relationships is never acceptable and is never justified.  I accept that Ware is not justifying men's actions so much as seeking out the root of the problem.  However, I don't think blaming the victims (often wives and spouses) for being too uppity is the way to go.

Thoughts?  Do battered women challenge a "God-given" authority in ways that lead men to abuse them? Or is this just classy?

I want to clarify I'm not picking on the SBC, but I am picking on public statements and theological points presented that I do not think are reflective of a helpful and empowering Christian ethic.
Zemanta Pixie


New Testament Word Clouds

Following up on the Social Principles Word Cloud where we took the United Methodist Social Principles and made them into a word cloud, yipeng huang of Marked By Faith took the New Testament books one by one and inserted them into Wordle. 

For instance, here's the Gospel of Luke.

And as a neat one, here's 1 John (lots of beloved, love, and abides!)

Click "read more" at the bottom for the last books.

My only criticism?  It's the ESV version which is not as inclusive language as the NRSV.  But it's freer than the NRSV to copy and paste, I'm sure!

Thanks yipeng!


The Overheard Gospel

There's a book called "Overheard in New York" which details overheard everyday conversations.  Most of it is salty language, but there's some gems in it. From the website:

20-something tall black bellhop: I challenge you, right now, to a salsa dance-off.
70-year-old short Latino bellhop: Go get a radio.

Father to little daughter: You are the most beautiful girl in this photo... and I'm not biased. (daughter smiles)
: Do you know what "biased" means?

Daughter (rolling her eyes): Yes, it means that you like both boys and girls.

Little tourist boy: Mommy! Look, that lady is a Nazi!
Frazzled tourist mom: What? Oh... Honey, that nice lady is hailing a cab, not Hitler.
The voyeuristic pleasure we get from these conversations is not only their hilarity, but the fact that they were situational, meant to flitter away like bubbles in the park.  The participants never expected anyone to write them down and immortalize them on the Internets.

This started me thinking on the overheard Gospel.   Often at coffeeshops (where I used to write my seminary papers), my ears would perk up whenever I heard a theological conversation.  I listened to marital counseling, anti-mormon tirades, and agnostic ponderings.  Occasionally I joined in. I wouldn't have written down the conversations, and the discussants never intended to either.

Until the internet came.  C. Scott Andreas expounds:

Unlike conversations over coffee that pass into the air, dialogue in the blogosphere can be searched and referenced by others in the future.
"A Networked E-cclesia" in Wikiklesia: Volume One
The ripple effect of our words and our proclamation of the Gospel is much wider than before.  What is said locally on the streets of New York becomes a global-selling book.  What we say on one blog can be referenced by another blog on the other side of the globe.  Indeed, before a person is told of the Good News of Christ...chances are that she has overheard the Gospel already! 

The lesson here?  We must act in Christlike ways at all times.  In all our actions, we are to speak the truth in appropriate ways.  When I was struggling with this blog with a pastor colleague, my colleague said to me "Whenever I post, I make certain that I would be comfortable saying this publicly to anyone."  And it is good advice: because ANYONE can READ THE BLOG!

While we laugh when a risque photo causes a supermodel to lose her crown, or when John McCain hates bloggers, or over the conversations of New Yorkers...we must remember that the Overheard Gospel is just as immortalized on the internets.  Google indexes everything.  Even your blog posts.  I read my old ones from 6 years ago and am aghast at how I worded things...I was really mean!

  • There's the quote "You may be the only Bible the person you meet today ever reads."  
  • I think there's an internet-age addendum: "You may be the only Bible the person you don't meet today ever reads."  
So in all things, allow peaceful language and powerful encouragement to fall from your fingers onto the screen.  A random google search may bring someone to them in a time of need, and what you say may forever impact them.  What possibility in such few words!

Thoughts?  How has the much longer lasting ripples of the internet affected the way you do ministry or talk about God/politics/hamsters?


Feist on Sesame Street for Breakfast [video]

This is excellent! Kids version of her 1,2,3,4 song!


Is Methodism Really Protestant?

Is Methodism Protestant?

This seems like a ridiculous question for a United Methodist clergyperson to ask the Internets, but someone asked and my answer was insufficient for them.  I ask now because I've always considered Methodism to not really be from the Protestant branch but closer to the Anglican Church, which does not consider itself to be Protestant.


  • John Wesley lived and died an Anglican clergyperson.
  • John Wesley started a revival within the Anglican church which then became the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The "Episcopal" moniker acknowledged its heritage with the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Church. 
  • The First General Conference defined the Methodist Church to be "an Episcopal Church."
  • Our Liturgy is closely patterned after the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Why is this important?  The Anglican Church doesn't consider itself to be Protestant! From Wikipedia:
The question often arises as to whether the Anglican Communion should be identified as a Protestant or Catholic church, or perhaps as a distinct branch of Christianity altogether. The official position of the Anglican Communion is that, like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, it is a full and distinct branch of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," created by Christ.
Although it had deep roots in the Pietist traditions that came out of the European Reformation, Methodism, it should not be forgotten, arose directly out of Anglicanism and expanded into those parts of the world where Anglicans and English speakers migrated.
page 204

Opposing considerations
  • Theologically, John Wesley was influenced heavily by Arminianism, which identifies itself from the Protestant Reformation
  • Through our mergers (especially with the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Protestant Church) we have much tradition in the Protestant Church in today's church.
  • While there is great diversity in United Methodist worship, the Protestant worship style and format is predominant in the South and the Midwest.
Your turn:

Forgive me if this is stupid, but it's a question of identifying between Protestant practices and Anglican DNA.
  • If the Anglican Communion considers itself a separate branch of Christianity from Protestantism, does Methodism do the same?  
  • Or does Protestant polity and practice outweigh its Anglican DNA?
  • Protestantism defined as "any non-Catholic church" is probably not helpful.  Why? From Wikipedia:
While the faiths and churches born directly or indirectly of the Protestant Reformation constitute Protestantism, in common usage, the term is often used in contradistinction to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.[3] This usage is imprecise, however, as there are non-Roman Catholic and non-Eastern Orthodox traditions that predate the Reformation (notably Oriental Orthodoxy). The Anglican tradition, although historically influenced by the Protestant Reformation in what is called the English Reformation, differs from many Reformation principles and understands itself to be a middle path—a via media—between Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines. Other groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, reject traditional Protestantism as another deviation from true Christianity, while perceiving themselves to be restorationists.

Zemanta Pixie


Humor for Breakfast [video]

The two ladies at the end make the video.


Worst.Hack.Ever [bad.hack]

This is a short, simple hack anyone can do.

Don't Give Away Guns 
To Get People 
to Come to Church

Like Windsor Hills Baptist Church (I used to know people there!) in Oklahoma City, to get people to come to their youth rally (last year, by the way, they had a shooting competition).

I don't need to explain it.  Just don't do it.

Zemanta Pixie


Hacking the Apostle's Creed : God the Father

This summer I'm doing a sermon series on the Apostle's Creed, drawing from Justo L. Gonzalez's book The Apostles' Creed for Today, in an attempt to help the Creed make sense to our contemporary views.  Some parts will be reconciled, some parts may have to be left out.  But hopefully you'll never read the Apostle's Creed the same way again!

I believe in God the Father Almighty...

In both the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer, they begin with similar words:
  • I believe in God the Father,
  • Our Father, who art in heaven.
In both these prayers, they both right out of the gate affirm God as father.

For some of us, this is a comforting image, God as a nurturing parent, who is strong and willing to save God's children. But for others, a patriarchal God whose gender represents violence and authoritarianism...this is a troubling image indeed.

Today, many do not recite that section of the creed like we skip the parts in Methodist hymns that we don't acting like we are coughing when reciting blood language or military hymns. The image of God as male is too broken, too hurtful: the male God has legitimized man as the head of families and has neglected the talents of women in the parish.

Is this first line of the Apostle's Creed reconcilable?  We must see why it was written that way to find out.

We think of Fathers as loving and close to us. My lay leader a few weeks ago preached about fathers who are dedicated to their families. The example was Joseph, who even though his young bride was pregnant with a child not his own, he stayed with her. We think of Fathers, at least stereotypically, as loving and close to us.

This would be a foreign concept to the writers of the Creed.

In the Roman Empire, the father was the paterfamilias, the master and distant figure to his children. Children and slaves alike were not "close" to their paterfamilias. It was more like a kingdom where the father rules all, all children bow to him, he could kill his own children or offer them the reins of the family. The paterfamilias ruled all.  In fact, fathers did not touch their children, give them hugs, but would only touch them to render punishment, or to pass on the family on their deathbed to their successor.

So the image of father was not loving, but of power and authority.  When they spoke of God as Father, the image is not one of love and closeness, but of power and authority.  God the Father is the paterfamilias more powerful than all other paterfamiliases. "He" is the pater-paterfamilias, the father above all other fathers, with more earthly authority than the highest of other families.

In feminist theology, we subvert the image of God as Father. To show aspects of God as mother.  But we see here that the image of God as father was already subversive and counter-cultural.  By the naming of God as Father, early Christians affirmed the power of God and limited the power and authority of earthly fathers.

Matt 23:9, and call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father -- the one in heaven.
By using the Creed in this way, the people were saying good news to those who suffer under paterfamiliasesPaterfamiliases no longer held total power over you, you unloved son, you daughter soon to be sold as property, you slave, you spouse. There is a stronger father to whom you are a child. And this father has authority over all the earth!

This was subversive and dangerous! If a Christian said this in the Roman Empire, they would be effectively saying "I now belong to another household" which may lead to earthly wrath!  Jesus says as much in the Gospel of Matthew. He says he has come to set son against father, daughter against mother. If a son becomes Christian in a pagan household, there would be wrath, punishment, even death at the hands of the family's very father!

We can now see this Creedal section in a new light.  Perhaps the Creed isn't endorsing God to be male, but is saying this: you can be part of a new family that isn't part of a bloodline. You who suffer under a paterfamilias can become part of God's family.  In short, by declaring God to be Father, the Creed was subverting Fatherhood as it was then understood...claimed a higher father than the bloodline of the paterfamilias.  Creedal compilers used the term "God the Father" to empower and embolden the underprivileged to draw closer to God, even if it meant they were cast out of their earthly families.

So, what are we to do with this image?  Certainly Feminist theology can accept an originally subversive father God, right?

  • God's power is depicted as analogous to the power-over structure that paterfamiliases enjoy.  This type of hierarchical power does not sit well with feminist and especially process viewpoints of God.
  • In worship.hacks, we are sensitive to language and images of God.  Even if the Father language for God was meant to subvert and to challenge, it is still gendered language for God without a proper balance.  No matter the intent and the history, the effect is always to present God as male.  Which is problematic.
These concerns, even against the possible intent of the writers of the Creed, render it a difficult line to manage in the context of Worship.

What's the worship.hack?  Perhaps the hack here is to do what the Creed compilers did: affirm an image of God that fills the hole in your life.   "God the Father" was placed in juxtaposition to the powerful paterfamiliases.  Perhaps then we can replace "God the Father" with "God the Mother" who tenderly cares for you even when your own mother has failed you.  Or "God the Creator" who makes all things for the good...even you.  Or "God the Coach" who affirms your contributions even from the bench.

If you feel comfortable, while in the worship service, say a different role in place of "Father" if that's what empowers you.  That's what the Creedal writers did, and it's OK for you to do so as well. People may yell at you and say by changing the words of the Creed you aren't really reciting it.  Just tell them you are "hacking Christianity" and they will understand.  Maybe. :-)

The hack here is to re-claim the original intent behind the Creed and translate it for today, not to throw it out completely. That's what we're gonna be doing in this sporadic summer series, and I hope you enjoy the next several ones too.

Thoughts?  Comments are welcome and first-time visitors are welcome too!


Chess-Boxing: Best Sport Ever?

Noble chess players, Germany, c.Image via WikipediaThere's something balanced about Chess-Boxing.  Yin and Yang.  Smarts and Brute Force.  Delicate finger movements and hard punches.  Nerds and Testosterone.

Check out how it works:

The matches work like this: competitors alternate between three-minute rounds of boxing and four-minute rounds of speed chess with one-minute breaks in between to get the gloves off and hunker down at the chess table. The winner is determined by knockout, checkmate, or referee decision.
Hilarious.  I've never heard of it until recently, but the more I read about it, the more convinced I am this is the best biathlon I've ever seen. 

Any chess-boxing fans on here?  Can this become part of the World's Strongest Man tourney, which my friend Mike introduced me to in a bar in Boston?

Only time will tell.Zemanta Pixie


Quote: Virtual Church

The convergence of the local and virtual church is destabilizing, but need not be feared.  [The internet] has no more power to destroy the church than Caeser...Indeed, the church does not disappear in her virtual incarnations but takes on a new form that compliments the physical counterpart.
C. Scott Andreas, "A Networked E-cclesia"
in Wikiklesia Volume One
Following up on our lively discussion on "The Incarnation in a Virtual World," I found this very approrpiate.


Star Wars Mashups for Breakfast

One of the greatest "hacks" that youtube has encouraged is mashups: where you make trailer-sized versions of movies set to a contemporary song.  One of the best for nerds proficient at this thing, of course, is Star Wars.  Their mix of action and tender droid-lovin' makes for good music videos!

Here's my seven favorites (two before the jump, five after):

(1) Anakin: The Man in Black (set to Hurt by Johnny Cash, covering the original NIN song).  It's just perfect. 

(2) Bring Me To Life (set to the song of the same name by Evanescence).

(3) The Unforgiven (set to the song by the same name by Metallica).  Won't let me embed it, click the link.  Long and drawn out...but since it's Metallica, you knew that already.

(4) It's My Life (set to the song by the same name by Bon Jovi). I could watch the first 45 seconds all day.

(5) How to Save a Life (set to the song of the same name by the Fray)

(6) Star Wars of a Down (set to Chop Suey by System of a Down) Kinda repetitive scenes, but the way he syncs

(7) I walk alone (set to Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day and some Oasis song). It won't let me embed it, but it was really creative


From Spider to Starfish Churches [4of4]

This series is focused on The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. Come check it out every Wednesday in June!

For our last section on this series, let's apply this directly to the problem of leadership in churches. Jeremy Pryor, at From Eden to Zion, offers this scenario:
Perhaps pastors should imagine that they are going to have three more years in their parish as pastor—and that there will be no replacement for them when they leave.
*blink* whoa.  Powerful scenario.  In essence, it is asking what if you had to turn a spider church (a hierarchical church) into a starfish church or else it would dieHmm...what would this mean?
If they acted as if this were going to happen, they would put the highest priority on selecting, motivating, and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible of the mission of the parish after they left. The results of three sustained years of such an approach would be quite significant. Even revolutionary.”
Absolutely.  This form of ministry focus gels nicely with our Starfish churches discussion on leadership.  By empowering the laity and removing hierarchical leadership, a revolution will certainly occur in the church.

Greg Ogden also has the above scenario in his 2003 book Transforming Discipleship. However, he embraces a leadership system that simply refines the spider church.

Better to give one year or so to one or two men [sic] who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going.
I'm definitely not with this approach to concentrate knowledge and leadership on a few disciples.  I know that's the way JC went, but a mass appeal is stronger for decentralized churches (which is what you'd end up with) rather than replacing the pastor with a few pastors, who would be stuck in the same power-over system.

That said, you do need catalytic leadership, and perhaps that's what Ogden is getting at.  You do need a few people who can turn the tables upside down in a structured way, and then let them step aside.  Finding that sweet spot of leadership is tricky, but necessary in the Brave New World we are in.

Initiatives like bootstrap networks map out here the steps for catalytic leaders to amass renewal within their organizations.

Your turn: if you had only three years left in your parish, either as pastor or knowing your pastor will be gone, what would you do?

Thanks for considering the question, and welcome to our visitors!

Zemanta Pixie


Comment via FriendConnect

Favorite Sites

Latest from the Methoblog

Search the Methodist World

Want to see more United Methodist responses to a topic? Enter the topic into this search engine and search ONLY methodist blogs and sites!

UMJeremy's shared items

Disclaimer: all original content reflects the personal opinions of Rev. Jeremy Smith, not the doctrinal positions or statements of the United Methodist Church local and global.
all linked or quoted content represent the source's opinions, not Jeremy or the United Methodist Church.

  Blogger Template © 2008

Back to TOP