Thursday, June 30, 2005

all in the (blogging) family?

In John's weekly profile of Methodist bloggers for Locusts and Honey, one of the questions he always asks is: Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've changed your mind?I responded saying that most of my views on issues have changed at least somewhat over time, been nuanced differently, matured in ways. I think all of us probably change and grow, sometimes for better, sometimes in less positive ways.

I began thinking: what makes us change? What influences us to take a step in a new direction? For example, I used to think vegetarians were silly. Then I became one. And now I'm a vegan. My prostletizing-vegan brother was one big influence in that decision, and other things led to this decision as well - many factors, to make a gradual shift in my thinking.

Then I think about the conversations that go on in blogs in the comments section. I love blogging, and I love reading the blogs of others of all different viewpoints. Some of my favorite blogs are those with views who are most different than my own - I'm drawn by intelligent and/or hilariously witting writing. And readers of my own blog often comment that they don't agree with much I say, but still enjoy my blog. In my mind, this is one of the most valuable parts of blogging - bringing together of people who otherwise aren't usually together.

Where I turn less appreciate of blog conversations is when it seems like we're all saying the same things all the time. Talking, posting, commenting at each other instead of with each other. I hold myself part of this group, of course. Recently I've been joining in (a little) and following (a lot) a post Shane made at Wesleyblog, since, as a board member, my ears always perk up for GBCS-related posts. My comments and the comments of others are interesting, but the same, it seems, as the comments and posts we make about other related things. If Jim Winkler says something, some will have one (predictable) reaction and others will have a different (predictable) one. If George Bush says something, I'll have one (predictable) reaction and others will have a different (predictable) one.

This is when I get frustrated. Do we have anything new to say? Can even blogs be a channel of growth and change instead of a channel for having the same conversations over and over again?

What makes you change your views on things? How have others opened your eyes to a different way of thinking? Maybe blogs don't need to be agents of change, but it'd be cool if they could be...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Locusts & Honey: Methodist Blogger Profile: Beth Quick

John from Locusts and Honey profiled me here in his series of Methodist Blogger Profiles. Turns out too that John and I went to college together, overlapping for a little bit of our respective college careers. Amazingly small world.

Monday, June 27, 2005

unconverting

I'm 'unconverting' from Haloscan for comments back to blogger. No trackback, but I like the commenting feature for blogger better than haloscan. the blogger comments from before are back, but the week or so of haloscan comments are gone...

ecclesiastes 3:1-2

a time for everything...
In my community, several area pastors take a week at a time rotation at our local hospital to serve as chaplains. We are called in whenever there is a "code blue", a death, or a baby born in distress. The hospital is fairly small, and has bigger hospitals on to the East and West where bigger emergencies get sent, so usually a week of being on call results in 2 or 3 trips to the hospital.
I was called in once this week, in the early morning. I live quite close to the hospital, so I arrived before any family did, and while the nursing staff was still working on the code blue patient. I watched as they performed CPR on him, and watched as he eventually died, and watched as they declared his time of death. It was all very non-"ER" - the health care workers did what they needed to do, then moved on to the next things. The wife of the 90 year-old man came in and was a little teary, but talked about life, and how this is just what happens, and how she was expecting to soon join her husband due to her own health concerns. I said a prayer for her husband, and she went back home.
I was just struck by the persistence of life, of the world, to keep going, keep happening, even in the midst of the end of one life, one season of grief. This same week, I celebrated graduation with many of our high-school students - as they stand poised at that new juncture of life, so much just around the corner for them...
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;"

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

numbers in the UMC

Dean at Untied Methodist has a great post here about the membership and worship attendance reports that are rolling out of UMC annual conference sessions, with great analysis and questions of what the figures mean. I too had noticed that numbers are down not just in the Northeast or in the West, but also in the Southeastern and Southcentral Jurisdictions (in some conferences) which surprised me.

Numbers are tricky - and sometimes I think we worry about them too much - but we want the church to grow for more than just our own selfish reasons (I hope) - we want people to experience Christ, experience grace, and be a part of a community of faith. How do we help make that happen?

Lions free kidnapped girl

Check out this story fromCNN.com, which reports a girl kidnapped in Ethiopia who was saved from her attackers by lions! A different take on Daniel in the lion's den maybe, eh? Animals are so amazing - we think we have their behaviors pinned down, explained, and they do things so surprising to us...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

more on detainees from A Religious Liberal Blog

Found here at A Religious Liberal Blog is this list from Amensty of alleged practices used on or authorized for use detainees:

Abduction
Barbed wire, forced to walk barefoot on
Blindfolding
"Burking" – hand over detainee’s mouth/nose to prevent breathing
Cell extraction, brutal/punitive use of
Chemical/pepper spray, misuse of
Cigarette burns
Claustrophia-inducing techniques, e.g. tied headfirst in sleeping bag, shut in lockers
Death threats
Dietary manipulation
Dogs used to threaten and intimidate
Dousing in cold water
Electric shocks, threats of electric shocks
Exposure to weather and temperature extremes, especially via air-conditioning
Flags, wrapped in Israeli or US flags during or prior to interrogation
Food and water deprivation
Forced shaving, ie of head, body or facial hair
Forcible injections, including with unidentified substances
Ground, forced to lie on bare ground while agents stand on back or back of legs
Hooding
Hostage-taking, i.e. individuals detained to force surrender of relatives
Humiliation, eg forced crawling, forced to make animal noises, being urinated upon.
Immersion in water to induce perception of drowning
Incommunicado detention
Induced perception of suffocation or asyphxiation
Light deprivation
Loud music, noise, yelling
Mock execution
Photography and videoing as humiliation
Physical assault, eg punching, kicking, beatings with hands, hose, batons, guns, etc
Physical exercise to the point of exhaustion, e.g. "ups and downs", carrying rocks
Piling, i.e. detainee is sat on or jumped on by one or more people ("dog/pig pile")
Prolonged interrogations, eg 20 hours
Racial and religious taunts, humiliation
Relatives, denial of access to, excessive censorship of communications with
Religious intolerance, eg disrespect for Koran, religious rituals
Secret detention
Secret transfer
Sensory deprivation
Sexual humiliation
Sexual assault
Shackles and handcuffs, excessive and cruel use of. Includes "short shackling"
Sleep adjustment
Sleep deprivation
Solitary confinement for prolonged periods, eg months or more than a year
Stress positions, eg prolonged forced kneeling and standing
Stripping, nudity, excessive or humiliating use of
Strip searches, excessive or humiliating use of
Strobe lighting
Suspension, with use of handcuffs/shackles
Threat of rape
Threats of reprisals against relatives
Threat of transfer to third country to inspire fear of torture or death
Threat of transfer to Guantánamo
Threats of torture or ill-treatment
Twenty-four hour bright lighting
Withdrawal of "comfort items", including religious items
Withholding of information, e.g. not telling detainee where he is
Withholding of medication
Withholding of toilet facilities, leading to defecation and urination in clothing

Friday, June 17, 2005

Preaching Peace has a blog

The folks at Preaching Peace, who write very excellent lectionary notes, reflections, study, etc., have started a blog here. Check it out!

Women's Division letter takes up rights for detainees

This article from the United Methodist News Service reports the Women's Division's plans to address human rights issue for the detainees, and other related issues, such as those immigrants facing deportation to Pakistan because of change in laws since September 11th, 2001. The article sites instances where men were deported to Pakistan who lacked certain paperwork and were not even allowed to notify their spouses and children living in the US. Check it out for some other specific stories.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

from faithforward: religious participation and diversity

happened across this really interesting post over at faithforward: apparently, according to this USNews article, an economist found that religious participation in communities is highest where there is a high density of people sharing the same religious preference - ie, a community of prednominately Catholic members. In these communities, other good benefits seem to exist too - income levels, education, marriage/divorce rates, etc. But, these "positive effects of living around a lot of people who share your religion are offset if most of those people belong to the same ethnic group. In other words, Italian Catholics go to church more often and do better economically if they live in an area where there are not just Italians but other ethnic groups—Poles or Irish, say—that share the Catholic faith."

Hm. Like the body of Christ, maybe? Many parts, many gifts, one body?

via jockeystreet: detainees

my brother has a post here re: the detainees at guantanamo bay. It is an issue i've been meaning to write about, but I never know where to start, because it all seems so overwhelming to me. Do the ends (information about terrorism, etc.) justify the means (forced urination, sleep deprivation, harassment based on one's religion)? Does good prison food equal human rights and while forcing a person to urinate in his pants does not equal a lack of them? I'm not so naive as to think that everything is going to be great and perfect inside the prison. But where is a line crossed? How will we be aware of crossing it? When is enough enough? Anyway, my brother's post sums up a lot of my own thoughts, though, as always, more bluntly and less theologically stated!

Monday, June 13, 2005

2005 Annual Conference Reports

Take some time, UMC friends, and other interested folks, to read reports from Annual Conference sessions around the connection here. It is interesting 1) to see the time spent personally at AC wrapped up in a one page summary 2) to see what's going on and how things are done in other ACs.

comments and trackback

I've just converted to using Haloscan for comments and trackbacks, since blogger doesn't have a trackback feature. Unfortunately, this means all my old comments from people have been deleted. Guess you'll all have to leave me some new comments!

Relevant Magazine: Interview with Moby

I've been meaning to post about an interview with Moby published in the May/June 2005 issue of Relevant magazine. I found it an extremely refreshing read - a celebrity who seems very thoughtful - honest about his own shortcomings, up front about his beliefs, conscious of making ethical decisions.
Here's some excerpts from the interview:

Moby says, "As a Christian, I feel very shut out from a lot of contemporary Christianity. My understanding in what it means to be a Christian is to, in our own subjective way, recognize Christ as being God, and recognize our shortcomings and our failings, and try and live according to the teachings of Christ as best we can. And what I find so strange is I look at the behavior of so many Christians, and I don't see any aspect of the teachings of Christ represented there. But [I remember] the quote about taking the log out of your own eye before you can see the speck in someone else's eye, so I don't want to get in the position of judging other Christians. I fully admit that a lot of my actions and a lot of things that are still in my life are inconsistent with my beliefs as a Christian. I'm very secular."
and
"[My friends say,] 'Well, you know with Janet Jackson and the Super Bowl, I think people are more offended with the direction our culture has taken.' And I'm like, 'Well, why not be offended by the Super Bowl? Why not be offended by the crass commercialism—that buying a new car is going to provide you with happiness and salvation? Why not be offended by the notion that grown men who beat the sh-t out of each other get paid $15 million a year, while schoolteachers in the inner-city get paid $24,000 a year?' That's offensive. If we're going to start talking about things that are offensive, a bare breast is at the bottom of the list."
and
"In the Gospels, the only people who are subject to God's wrath are self-satisfied religious leaders, and if I had to characterize mainstream Christianity in the United States, I would say it's self-satisfied."
and
"In a perfect world, what would happen is that we would apply a litmus test to contemporary Christianity," he suggests. "[Ask ourselves] what is the scriptural foundation for the priorities and the teachings of most contemporary Christians? And basically say, if you can't justify your beliefs and your actions and your ideologies - if you can't find justification for them in the Gospels, in the teachings of Christ, then you really have to examine them."

There are many musicians and actors/actresses that I admire for their art, their skills, but not many I admire for their character and their beliefs and their ethics, so it's nice to read about someone who seems not-your-usual-'celebrity'.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Nevada church offers spiritual backing to theater company

I just ran across this article from United Methodist News Service: "Nevada church offers spiritual backing to theater company" - The story describes how a local church became involved in supporting the Nevada Shakespeare Company in Reno.

It caught my eye because of my own love for theatre - I minored in theatre in college, and worked at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ while in seminary. My youngest brother is now in one of the touring companies for STNJ, and actually on a path where he might have steady work as an actor! (If you are near NJ this summer, check out their touring schedule and catch a free performance of London Assurance or Coriolanus.)

I remember during my senior year of college, I was taking a class in theatre theory - and the professor, then-department chair Dr. Bo Rabby, was asking about our plans post-college. I mentioned how I "wasn't going into theatre" but into the ministry. His response, "oh yes, you're going into theatre." He too actually had some background in faith-related theatre programs, so he knew how much theatre and ministry could complement one another. Indeed, I've probably mentioned before how much my own love of Jesus Christ Superstar shaped my faith experiences in junior high.

Here's an excerpt from the article about how the pastors' of the church came to support the theatre:

"The relationship between the church and the theater company began when Auer and his wife, Julie, took a group to see the company's production of "King Lear" and met the cast afterward. "We learned they were outgrowing that theater space and looking for another," Auer said. "We invited them to consider the church."

It was a collaboration that made sense for the Auers, who met through the theater department at Indiana University and served inner-city congregations for 20 years in Chicago before transferring to the denomination's California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference.

"Our passion for theater always has informed our planning for worship, Sunday and vacation Bible school, and our own lives and works," Auer explained. "We love the use of 'street theater' to make creative points about public events.""

Monday, June 06, 2005

Annual Conference Reflections: Wrap Up

Another Annual Conference has come and gone!

Yesterday morning Bishop Dan Solomon shared another message with us. This time he preached on Luke 10:25-37, The Good Samaritan text. His message was titled "by-pass" or "pass by," and he opened with an account of a woman who was asking the surgeon about the medical health of her family member by asking, "did that pass by thingy work?" Passing by, the bishop said, wouldn't work - only a by-pass had the healing capability. "The difference between pass by and and by-pass is the difference between death and life."
Solomon gave us 3 "road signs" on the road to Jericho.
1) God is on this road. A dangerous road sometimes, a road of pain and risk, but God is on the road with us.
2) God uses the people plan. God had/has any means available to communicate with us, the bishop reminded us. God could just write us messages in the stars, spell it out, anything. But God chooses the people plan to have relationship with us because "there are some pains only a person can help."
3) God paid it all. "Whatever it takes, I'll pay it," was the message of the Samaritan to the inn-keeper, and it is also God's message to us - what ever it takes, God will pay the price for us.

What have I left out? I am our NCNY Conference Youth Coordinator, and on Saturday our CCYM led worship. The youth that I work with always do a spectacular job with worship. My only real role in that time is to introduce them, and they do the rest - choose scripture, lead prayer, give messages and reflections, and select and give a gift to our Bishop (who loves the youth, and the youth really connect with her.) Sometimes I find youth ministry frustrating and stressful. I won't pretend that I love it all the time. But these youth - they are really quite a bunch. Of just the small group that was there to lead worship on Saturday, we had 2 who have served as assistants to the secretary at Annual Conference, 5 who have been on or will be going on the NEJ Mission of Peace trip, 1 who is already a certified lay speaker, 2 who are already doing The Christian as Minister as the beginning of their process to become pastors, more than I can count who are on staff at Aldersgate or Casowasco, our two conference camp/retreat centers. Our CCYM chair even missed a major class-related school event to be at the worship. I just hope people in the Annual Conference don't overlook and undervalue these young people. They have so much to give, right now, and for years to come.

Anyway, I'm already looking foward to next year, when I hope to be ordained as an elder, but a lot of paperwork currently stands between me and that day! :)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Annual Conference Reflections, Part 2

still here at Annual Conference.

This morning for worship our guest preacher was retired Bishop Dan Solomon. I heard him preach most recently at the 2004 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, and he was excellent, and his time with us this morning at AC proved no less inspiring.
Bishop Solomon preached on 1 Peter 3:13-15, "The Reason for Our Hope." He gave us three 'handles':
1) Respond to the awesomeness of God. He asked, "are you more occupied with the weakness of the church than you are with the greatness of God?" He said that we tend to do plenty of blaming, but he asked, "is God able? God is able. If God is able, I am willing."
2) Redefine our being. Solomon said our personhood is redefined by Jesus Christ, and we are to be representatives of Christ in the world. He told a story about a church member who went on and on about how excited he was about the mission statement his church had spent a year creating. Solomon told us, "I've never seen a mission statement that comes with batteries included." Jesus' mission statement was simple and clear: found in Luke 4:18.
3) Reclaim a mission passion. Solomon preached that churches do not spontaneously spring up - they are born of mission. Jesus taught that we must lose our life to save it, and save it to lose it. Churches aren't losing, Solomon said, they are hoarding. "Surprise for a Christian is faithlessness."
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed his style and his message. Luckily, he's preaching again tomorrow morning at closing worship!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Annual Conference Reflections, Part 1

I'm about 1/2 way through our annual conference session here in Liverpool, NY. Yesterday was our clergy session, and today was opening day of regular business.
Yesterday, my DS Carl Johnson (see also my post from earlier today) gave the message at clergy session, titled, "The Word Made Flesh," based on Ezekiel 37 and John 1. One thing he shared was something I didn't know: when communion tables in churches are dressed with two candles, one on either side of the cross, they have a specific meaning: the one on the right means "Jesus Christ, Son of God," and the one on the left means, "Jesus Christ, Son of Man" - humanity and divinity. Johnson wanted to focus on the humanity of Christ, the body, incarnation, fleshiness of Christ. One way he talked about Jesus' embodiedness was in terms of the sacrament of Holy Communion. He shared a story of a woman who had always been the communion steward at her church, and so never got to really experience communion herself. When she was in a place to "be in" communion, she experienced God's grace, saying, "I became an expression of Jesus Christ, full of God's grace and truth for the benefit of the world."

Yesterday we also approved for commissioning as a probationary elder a young woman who is nine days younger than I am - I will now be only the second youngest clergy person in our conference!

This morning, at full session, Bishop Violet Fisher gave her episcopal address. She always teases herself because she gives more of an episcopal sermon than an address, but she is an excellent preacher, so no one minds! Her message was based on 1 Corinthians 12. One of her main points: "How can we call anyone or anything that God has made unclean?" She quoted William Sloane Coffin: "God's love does not seek value, God's love creates value."

The most moving message came from my colleague, Rev. Betsye Mowry, who is the pastor at the other church in Oneida, 1st UMC. She gave the message at the Memorial Service, and she was just so honest and open and loving in her words that I couldn't help but shed some tears myself, though I did not personally know any of the clergy members who had died this past year. Her thesis, based on Romans 12: "We draw our meaning from being part of the body [of Christ] and not the other way around." She spoke about the fact that joys in one part of the body bring joy to all, and sins in the body affect all, like a cold makes our whole selves feel miserable. I wish I could get it all down here for you.

As for the business of conference, things so far are going smoothly - a lot of ministries to celebrate, despite a lot of work to be done in our churches. I'll post more tomorrow or Sunday.

Reflections on John 5:1-17 - "Do you want to be well?"

In preparation for this weekend's Annual Conference, our bishop met with clergy in each district in the weeks leading up to this one. At our district meeting, my DS, Rev. Carl Johnson, gave a most excellent message that I've been meaning to comment on. I emailed him to see if he had a written sermon, but unlike myself, he makes no written copy of his text. So he emailed me a little summary, and I'll try to convey his message to you!
Rev. Johnson preached on John 5:1-17. This is the story of a paralytic who has been waiting by the pool at Bethesda to be healed for 38 years. Johnson's key question was Jesus' question to the man: "Do you want to be well?"Johnson writes, "The man by the pool had 38 years of care. His response to the question [that he can't get into the healing pool fast enough] was designed to keep him at the pool. Jesus, however, cut to the heart of the matter, i.e. [the man's] taking advantage and abusing the situation. This is not primarily a miracle healing as much as it is a challenge to embrace life...not go to the temple for follow-up care. This man is a consumer not a contributor! His anger toward Jesus displays his true purpose!"
My DS looked at this text in a whole new way, I thought. Instead of seeing this as a healing miracle, he paints this as a man who is like many of us in the church, maybe like the church itself. Do we want to be well? Jesus comes to the man and takes away all of his excuses for inaction. Christ active in our lives does the same for all of us, for the church - our excuses for staying in the same place, doing the same thing, claiming inability to do what God calls us to do are removed from us. How will we respond?
Thanks to Rev. Johnson for sharing this message!