Monday, January 30, 2006

Reflections: GBCS Young Adult Clergy Gathering

I'm currently in Washington DC attending GBCS's Young Adult Clergy Gathering. (Check out our blog, here.) The weekend is a gathering of under-40 clergy, with a purpose of introducing the work of the Board, talking about justice issues, and resourcing/idea sharing to take back to our own communities. Being a board member, I'm obviously already very familiar with the work of GBCS, but I wanted to come just to actually see other young clergy people! There are 90ish of us here from all over the connection, and it is great to NOT be the youngest clergy person in the room for once. (To be fair, one of the newest pastors in my annual conference is nine days younger than me - I'm now only the second youngest clergy person in the AC.)

A couple of thoughts from today that stuck with me:
Clayton Childers shared thoughts about how we define justice, and suggested something like, "Justice is when all people have the ability to flourish." He emphasized that this doesn't guarantee that all will flourish, but that the opportunity/ability exists for all people to thrive in a just world.

Clayton also talked about the mission of the church. In the Book of Discipline, the stated mission of the church is "to make disciples of Jesus Christ." Clayton talked about the mission as "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," adding the phrase that has been emphasized by the General Board of Discipleship and the Council of Bishops. He talked about the language change between the Gospels and Acts from 'disciples' to 'apostles' - from being students to being sent out. He talked about churches that spend a lot of time on nurturing, but less time on going back out again, reaching outside of our walls, outside of our comfort zones."

How do you define justice?
What do you say is the mission of the church? How do we live out our mission?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Review: Kingsolver's Homeland and Other Stories

I wrote some time back about one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. I've read most of her fiction, working on some of her non-fiction, and have now just completed a book of her short stories as #2 in my 52-books-goal: (#3 and 4 are almost complete, really.) Homeland and Other Stories.

The book - the stories - were fabulous. A dozen stories in all, about 20 pages each, which make them nice reads. If you aren't ready to tackle a whole book of hers yet, maybe the short stories are a place to start. My favorites: "Islands on the Moon," "Why I Am a Danger to the Public," and "Rose-Johnny," but really, they're all great. Kingsolver, with her background in biology, seems knowledgeable on such a wide range of topics, and her stories benefit from her intelligence.

A couple quotes:
from "Covered Bridges,": "And to think I nearly didn't. A person could spend most of a lifetime in retrospective terror, thinking of all the things one nearly didn't do." (pg. 46)

And the best, from "Islands on the Moon," a conversation between mother and daughter:
"'I don't know', Magda says. 'Seems like that's just how it is with you and me. We're like islands on the moon.'
'There's no water on the moon,' says Annemarie.
'That's what I mean. A person could walk from one to the other if they just decided to do it.'" (pg. 146)

Monday, January 23, 2006

"God, Religion . . . Whatever"

Last week this article was circulating around youth leaders and other interested parties in our area, written by Ed Vitagliano, news editor for the AFA's Journal, an article from their January 2006 edition. Vitagliano mostly only provides a summary of ideas from the study/book listed below, which I guess is why I found myself agreeing with the article, since I gather otherwise Ed and I wouldn't have many similar views on things.

Anyway - this article talks about conclusions drawn from a study - the National Study of Youth and Religion. I don't know much about the study or the accuracy of it or any of those details, but the conclusions ring pretty true to me.

The main premise, forwarded by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, is that for many youth, their faith can be summed up as Moralist Therapeutic Deism." I'd like to read the full book, but Vitagliano's article seems to highlight some compelling ideas.

Quotes from the article:
Moralistic: "First, they explained, the religious beliefs of many teens are moralistic because they see faith as being essentially related to mere human goodness. In other words, kids believe "that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one's health, and doing one's best to be successful."
And that's where religion fits in. "Most U.S. teens think that one of religion's primary functions is to help people be good," said Soul Searching."

Therapeutic: "In their interviews, the researchers logged the number of teens who mentioned certain key phrases . . . For example, only 47 mentioned "personally sinning or being a sinner," and the numbers trailed off dramatically after that. Next on the list: Only 13 mentioned "obeying God or the church." Concepts such as "the kingdom of God" or "the grace of God" were even less frequently mentioned by only five teens and three teens, respectively.
On the other hand, 112 teens spoke about "personally feeling, being, getting, or being made happy" because of religion. And that was simply the number of teens who mentioned such words in connection to religion. Teens used the specific phrase "feel happy" more than 2,000 times!"

Deism: "It is "about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs -- especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance. He is often described by teens as 'watching over everything from above.'"
In fact, most teenagers' beliefs about God and their own religious faith were so vague as to be almost incomprehensible. Smith and Denton found "the vast majority of [teens] to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives." Consider the response in one interview . . . this 13-year-old Catholic girl: "I'm not sure, not sure, I can't remember what I believe. Oh, mm-mm, yeah, like Jesus and God and them guys. That he is alive and watching over us.""


Smith and Denton insist that this sample response is typical, not unusual, in the findings.

I certainly know many young people who can articulate their faith in fantastic ways. But I'll admit that I work primarily with our Conference Youth - youth who are more involved and active than the average teenager already. But in my own congregation, I have witnessed something like this Moralistic Therapeuticc Deism. I would describe it as the Classic Children's Sermon Responses: God, Jesus, Go to Church - carried over and never developed in older youth. Indeed, on occasions when my older youth have come up for children's time as a joke, they basically give the same answers as the 5-year-olds give.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Book of Daniel - from the creator

I happened on this "blog entry" from The Book of Daniel creator Jack Kenny. It's a good read - he shares in a somewhat sarcastic, sad, and angry way his thoughts about the controversy over his show, and what's behind his creation, giving some of his own religious background.

I finally watched Daniel myself last night - it was OK. No Lost, my secret addiction, but not bad. As a pastor and a person of faith, I certainly wasn't insulted or offended. And with the AFA doing things like getting Geico to pull out advertising, I have to admit I'm only more likely to watch it.

Anyway, check out the article.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Prayer Stations

Here and there I've mentioned that this fall my congregation started a second worship service on Saturday evenings. We've had attendance of about 15-20 each week, and growing into it. We have some folks who are new to the church, some who were members but hadn't been coming to worship, some who come now to both services.

It is more 'contemporary' than our Sunday service, in that we use The Faith We Sing, I preach from an outline instead of manuscript (eek!), and we use guitars and piano instead of organ. But the intent was mostly just to offer a second worship time. The different tone is just by default (or the Holy Spirit!) But it has a more meditative, contemplative quality because of the smaller size. I really enjoy it - the spirit and atmosphere.

So, the setting makes it a prime arena to try some new things with worship. We had a blessing of the animals service this year, a covenant renewal service, etc. Now I've been looking into a "choose your own" prayer station model. I've looked around online, and gotten some - inspirations. I particularly love the images/thoughts here at pomomusings.

But, most of my congregation has never experienced worship in this way (your typical central new york congregation) - thoughts on easing in? Ideas about prayer stations? Suggestions? What would you have at prayer stations? How would you help people feel less uncomfortable at a first-time experience like this?

Update: Jamison shared this great link with me with complete descriptions of several prayer station, on Wes's Crosspoint Fellowship site/blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I Won!

I won a coveted Bloggy Award, courtesy of BroGreg:

Blogger most likely to track down John the Methodist and body slam him

You know you're jealous...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

martin luther king jr. day

Tomorrow we have a national holiday celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. I just finished reading Bishop Woodie White's annual letter to Martin, here. This year it is a letter filled with pain and grief, at the loss of Rosa Parks, and the memories her loss stirs up.

In my congregation this year, in conjunction with Human Relations Sunday, we celebrated in our Saturday worship service the work of Dr. King. I read excerpts from his "I have a dream" speech, and a favorite of mine, the "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

In the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," addressed particularly to Martin's fellow clergy, he addresses many criticisms of the movement, and takes to task particularly the church and its leadership.

Excerpts:
On the timing and tactics used - "One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" . . . My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily . . . We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

On being called an extremist - "But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. "

On the response of the churches - "I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular . . . So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
. . . But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?"
(emphasis mine)

MLK was certainly human. If you've read good biographies of his life, you will know that Martin was a man and not a saint. To me, that is more compelling a reason to admire him and be challenged by him. If we could write MLK off as a saint, then we could say we were not able to act as he acted. But since he was a person - a sinner like the rest of us - we have no excuse for not working as hard as he did for justice.

Today, reading the stories of call in the lectionary, I was reminded that God rarely in the scriptures called someone because of their goodness. But our work is blessed because we respond to God's call. There's hope in remembering that, and a challenge. Our excuses are taken away.

Happy Birthday, MLK!

blonde joke

Just when I thought they were out of style, I find John at Locusts and Honey has pointed us to the best blonde joke ever.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Review: Joshua - The Homecoming

Like my brother, I decided to follow blogger Rox Populi and try to read 52 books this year. I'm not sure I'll make it, but so far, so good. I definitely have 52 or more books on my list of "want-to-read." I just finished my first one: Joshua: The Homecoming, by Joseph F. Girzone.

Girzone, a retired Catholic priest, has written several in the Joshua series, where Jesus visits earth as laid-back wanderer Joshua, talking and living with people and trying to teach, heal, and change lives as he did in the gospels. I read some of these earlier books in the series when I was in junior high - Joshua, Joshua and the Children, and Joshua in the Holy Land. I remember enjoying them very much. I've always envied those who lived with Jesus as he was present and heard him "first-hand." These books seem(ed) to toy with that idea and imagine what it would be like. Theologically simple, the books always focused on God's love, God's seeking the best for us, etc., probing why people are so hurt, so angry, so ready to shove God away.

Joshua: The Homecoming just wasn't the same to me. I'm not sure if it is a change in me over the years or a change in the writing style. I found this book to have similar themes, but less of the heart, somehow. This book focuses on peoples' fears preceding the year 2000 and Joshua trying to persuade people not to worry about a violent and sudden end to the earth.

On the one hand, I mostly agreed with Girzone's thoughts about the "end times." He, through his book, urges us to consider our personal ending in death as the ending with which we ought be most concerned. But I found Joshua in this visit to earth to be suddenly very Catholic - talking, unusually, about apostolic succession, the election of a new pope, and purgatory. I know Girzone is Catholic, but previously his Joshua seemed a little less worried about such issues.

Anyway, this books is a quick, easy read if you are looking for something short and not too mind boggling. But I'd recommend the earlier books for something a little more moving.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Review: Brokeback Mountain

Yesterday I finally went to see Brokeback Mountain. It only just opened Friday at a theatre close enough to me to reasonably see. I went to a Saturday matinee, and the theatre was packed. It actually made me a little teary just to walk in and look around at all the people there. All ages, all types of people.

The movie was great. I can't even think of a good way to review it. The movie is both a simple love story and an extremely complicated look at how everyone involved is affected by the relationship of two men who, for many reasons, are not willing to make their relationship public. I think the film gives a fair look at how the relationship between Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) touches everyone - especially their wives and children - while also showing the the passion of the relationship between the men and their desire to be together and the impossibility of things working out as they would hope.

Ennis, Ledger's character, is really the main focus of the film - the conflict is mostly his. He is a man who feels completely trapped - trapped by his feelings, trapped by the marriage he has, trapped by the relationship he wants but can't have, trapped by society, and trapped by his own feelings of guilt, doubt, fear. At one point he says: "If you can't fix it, you have to stand it." That is his attitude about life - he has to withstand life - and it is a heartbreaking way to spend life, just trying to "stand it."

Storyline aside, the set is gorgeous. The story is meant to take place on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, but was filmed in Canada. Beautiful.

Acting was superb. I'm a big fan of both Ledger and Gyllenhaal, but I was impressed that they were totally lost into the characters they were portraying. They really seemed to live into the roles. Michelle Williams was especially excellent in her supporting role as Ennis' wife, and Kate Mara, in a small role as Ennis' daughter, was also stand-out.

I wish I could write a better review. But I definitely recommend the movie.

Friday, January 06, 2006

baptism and renewing baptismal vows - what to do?

This Sunday we, like many congregations, will celebrate "Baptism of the Lord" in worship, when we read of Jesus being baptized by John.

A seminary friend emailed me this question - if you are leading a congregational reaffirmation of baptismal vows (as I am in Oneida), what do you do for those who are unbaptized? Is there a way for them to participate in the ritual that is meaningful and theologically appropriate?

Last year, when this issue came up, I invited those who were not yet baptized to receive a blessing in anticipation of their baptism. An imperfect solution perhaps, but it worked OK.

Any thoughts? Ideas? I checked out the General Board of Discipleship's worship planning helps, and they had this to say:

Consider how to be hospitable to people who may be present who have not been baptized. How will they participate in reaffirmation of baptism? What invitation will you make to non-baptized people to journey toward the Jordan and life in the baptismal covenant? For example, you could print in the bulletin or say: "Today we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus, and we are remembering our baptism when God claimed us as sons and daughters in a life-long covenant. If you have not been baptized, you are fully welcome here. Enjoy the ritual! Be among us in peace. Feel free not to say words that may not yet apply to you. If you would like to know more about the life of discipleship and about being part of the baptismal covenant, be sure to speak with the pastor(s) or lay leaders."

This is OK too, but then those not baptized can't come forward in any way. I guess if they are not ready to be baptized, maybe that's OK. But it would be nice to find a meaningful way for all to participate. What do you think?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Spiritual Disciplines: Journaling

This year at my church, we're doing a program of focusing on spiritual disciplines together as a congregation. Each month, we'll be focusing on a different discipline - worship, tithing, fasting, fellowship, body, prayer, etc. Some of these are non-traditional disciplines, but I was wanted to find twelve that would work as a community. I've had a decent amount of interest asking people to sign up so far. I decided to start off with a less intimidating discipline, and my favorite: journaling.

Blogging is great - since I know someone else is reading, I tend to write more consistently in my blog than I do in my personal journal. But it wasn't always that way - I've been keeping journals since 5th grade - I have a whole filing cabinet full of them. But in the past years, my journaling has become much less regular. I'm so glad that at least I've been blogging, so at least there is some record of my thoughts and what's going on in my life. I love looking back over journal entries and seeing where I was and where I am now. But of course blog entries are of a different nature and feel than what goes into the pages no one else sees.

Do you keep a personal journal? How long? How often do you write? This month, I've promised, with some of my congregation, to write at least something in my journal everyday this month. So far, so good. Doing it makes me remember how much I enjoy it.

Back in 5th grade, I wrote about Iraq invading Kuwait. The entry went something like: "Iraq invaded Kuwait today. I won my soccer game. I think I have a crush on (name blanked to protect the innocent...)" It's refreshing to know that I've changed and matured over the years, especially on days when it doesn't feel like it!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

George for President - Just a different one

My brother, if you read his blog, already revealed my latest idea in the world of politics.

Thinking about how crazy it is that people like Arnold and like Jesse Ventura can end up as Governors, I thought it would be smart if the Democrats jumped onto the "let's run an actor" bandwagon.

Who?

George Clooney for President. People would vote for him because he's good looking and seems 'cool', and he has the added benefit of having some intelligent ideas (though I'm afraid that seems to be an afterthought for some voters.)

The crazy thing is that when I googled the phrase "George Clooney for President" I got quite a list of results!

Which celebrity would you run for president?