Monday, May 29, 2006

Review: Lamb - The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

A while back I read about a book on Sarah Dylan Bruer's Grace Notes - Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. (#10 in my year of books, for anyone keeping track) It's been on my "must read" list since then - who could pass up a title like that? I got the book for my birthday last month, and finished it last week.

The book is excellent. It is hilarious, and irreverent, and moving and profound in ways I'm not even sure the author intended it to be. For anyone who lives a life immersed in the church and the Word, I think you'll find the jokes and puns and convergence of faith and pop culture laugh-out-loud funny. I've read that some find Moore's writing offensive or controversial, but I think those reactions (at least to this book - I've read nothing else of his, know nothing else about what he's written) would come from missing the point. Actually, Moore says of the story, "Theologically, I made certain assumptions [in the novel] about who Jesus was, mainly, that he was who the Gospels say he was." (pg. 441) (On this point, in an afterward, Moore writes, "This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do." (pg. 443) I think he sells himself a bit short.)

Lamb takes a look at Jesus (Joshua in the book) and his struggle to figure out what it means to be the Messiah as he is growing up, from about age 10 through his crucifixion. In the book, Joshua clearly knows he is the Messiah, he just doesn't know what it means yet. His struggles are shared with us through the eyes of Biff, his best friend. Never heard of Biff? He's been written out of the gospels we know for reasons I don't want to reveal/spoil in this post. Read the book!

Joshua and Biff travel near and far in Joshua's quest to understand his mission. The bulk of the story talks about Joshua's pre-"official ministry" days, though the last section does make an account of the same time we are most familiar with from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though explaining these events in a different way.

I actually used a passage from this book in my sermon on Sunday, to explain the difference between disciples and apostles. But a more intriguing passage is this, spoken by Maggie, aka Mary Magdalene: "You two (Biff and Joshua) are the ninnies here. You both rail on them (the disciples) about their intelligence, when that doesn't have anything to do with why they're here. Have either one of you heard them preach? I have. Peter can heal the sick now. I've seen it. I've seen James make the lame walk. Faith isn't an act of intelligence, it's an act of imagination. Every time you give them a new metaphor for the kingdom, they see the metaphor, a mustard seed, a field, a garden, a vineyard, it's like pointing something out to a cat - the cat looks at your finger, not at what you're pointing at. They don't need to understand it, they only need to believe, and they do. They imagine the kingdom as they need it to be, they don't need to grasp it, it's there already, they can let is be. Imagination, not intellect." (pg. 384)

Moore also imagines what it might have been like if Jesus had been exposed to Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism. You'll also discover how sarcasm was invented, and maybe even irony. And a lot about angels. Highly recommended!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Could Al Gore Be the Next Nixon?

Check out this article from Anderson Cooper's CNN.com blog about Al Gore. He theorizes that Gore may be uniquely positioned for a return to politics, like Richards Nixon once was. For many liberals/progressives, I think Gore as a candidate could be an appealing idea, and appealing as an alternative to Hillary Clinton. I'm very eager for a woman to lead the nation. So many other countries have - shouldn't US, champion of human rights, be setting the tone by example? But I'm not sure Clinton is the right woman, or, more problematically, that she could be elected even if she was the right women, so venomous is the hatred of her by so many. Could Al Gore win the second time around? Maybe...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

question: reading of scripture in worship

At a recent worship meeting in my parish, we talked about scripture readings during worship, and whether or not the lector and/or pastor should conclude with something (like "the word of God for the people of God") or not and whether the congregation should respond together with something (like "thanks be to God") or not. Right now, this is not done consistently in our congregation.

Do you use responses to scripture in your congregation?

If so, what do you use?

Either way, do you have some theological/liturgical grounding for your decision?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

GBGM Missionary - Rev. John Yambasu

This past weekend at my church, we had the opportunity to hear Rev. John Yambasu speak during our Saturday evening worship. Rev. Yambasu is a regional missionary working through the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. He is stationed in Ghana, West Africa, and covers a region of 16 or so countries in Africa, specifically working with women, youth, and children.

I went to Ghana as part of a cross-cultural experience requirement when I was in seminary. I spent three and a half weeks there with a group of about 15 students and faculty. The trip was very overwhelming - this was at the end of my first year of seminary, 2001. Hard to believe it's been almost exactly five years since my trip. I have since wondered what different experience I might have had if I'd taken the trip later in seminary. Years later, I'm still processing the issues that confronted me in Ghana - issues of race, issues of ethnocentrism, issues of history and what it has to do with us today.

So, when I saw an opportunity to have Rev. Yambasu come and speak, I took it. My congregation is a pretty small, pretty homogeneous community. I think it is important for us to seek out ways to broaden our perspective. Rev. Yambasu talked to us about the church in Africa, and detailed for us the real concerns and areas in which he is serving. I was very proud to see in his presentation images of so many African clergy women. He talked about issues between Christians and Muslims and interfaith dialogue. He talked about issues in particular facing young people, and HIV/AIDs of course was primary in his presentation. Yambasu spoke of the difficulties with sex being taboo in conversation, and with the debates over whether or not to teach using condoms. He very strongly advocated for teaching safe-sex, reminding that this is a life and death issue. He spoke about the thousands who are in refugee camps, displaced by war in neighboring countries. He talked about the lack of opportunities for women who live in the camps, and turn to prostitution in desperation. In his work with young people, the repeated goal was enabling people to "live with dignity."

And of course, in the midst of this, is the growing church. Yambasu talked about churches building new buildings that are already too small by the time they are completed. Oh, to have such problems. But I was surprised to hear him speak of also having trouble keeping young people in church. He said, here in the US we have trouble getting young people in the church. But in Africa, he said, the young people are there, but leaving, particularly because young people feel that older member are not giving them enough opportunities for leadership within the church.

In all, I think we all learned from Rev. Yambasu. In fact, our church's VIM team leader is thinking of taking up the challenge to lead a trip to Ghana next year. Maybe I'll get that chance to experience Ghana again after all...

Friday, May 19, 2006

looking

When I was in elementary school, my big brother bought me a cassette tape that I played over and over and loved. I have no idea what it was called. I remember parts of lyrics to the first song: "You can surely say, in a certain way, each and every day's a new beginning. Starting out to see possibilities . . . " That's as much as I remember. One of the other songs was a mother-daughter duet that I thought was very pretty.

Anyone have a clue what this might be?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Evaluation

Sorry for the no-post week. Just haven't been in a writing mood this week I guess. I'm getting over being sick, and my voice is still MIA. I guess my blog-voice was MIA this week too!

Last week, we had a district clergy day with our Director of Congregational Development. We talked about a variety of things, but one of the topics was the process of evaluation for clergy by/with the staff-parish relations committee. Laurent suggested a model of evaluation that wasn't about the SPRC telling the pastor the critiques rounded up from the congregation, but instead, working together with the pastor to understand the pastor's quarterly ministry goals, and then evaluating progress on the goals to see how the goals can be achieved if they haven't been. A more collaborative process that is about effective ministry, not about criticizing an individual.

Have you been part (as pastor or as lay member) of an evaluation process? What does the process look like in your congregation?

Ministry is a hard place to always measure "results" - Lauren encouraged us to be very specific in setting our goals. Don't just say, "I want to grow our Sunday School." Say, "I want to grow our Sunday School by ____ number of new attendees." I think this is a good strategy. Ministry is mostly a job where nothing is ever really "done" as in nothing is every complete - ministry is always ongoing, of course. But personally, I find the "never done" part of ministry sometimes overwhelming. Perhaps being more specific about goals will help give a better sense of forward motion!

Thoughts?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Memory Lane

Yesterday my friend Jason asked on his blog about our spiritual paths - how'd we get where we are?

I can attribute a lot of my personal faith journey to my relationship with my big brother. He's six years older than me, and I had all proper admiration and adoration for him growing up. One year, (age 4?) I asked for "boy toys" for my birthday - I wanted everything my brother had - Star Wars toys for example. (I always had to be the bad guys in our games - always Darth Vader, and he was always Luke Skywalker. Totally unfair.) I listened to the music he listened too, which, at the time, was quality stuff like White Snake, Poison, White Lion - the bigger the hair, the better.

When he went to college, I was very sad to have him so far away, right when I was entering the pit of life that is junior high school. And then when he came back from his first semester declaring himself an (angry) atheist, I was devastated. This was one place I wasn't ready to follow him. I've kept journals since fifth grade, and my journals from that time are filled with worry about the eternal fate of my wayward brother. Today, we are both in different spiritual places, and very close. But when I think about things that shaped my faith, that time was definitely important.

At one point, I actually wrote out in my journal what I believed about several 'key' issues. My brother was a philosophy major, with very little mercy for the age difference in our debating skills, and I knew I needed to prepare to hold my own in conversation with him. I'm very private about my journals, but 14 years later, I think I'm ready to share most of this entry with you all, which is very funny.

Saturday, November 21st, 1992.

"Jim really confuses me. He makes me think and that is good - thinking I mean . . . But he has made me want to define values.
"Believing in God is a choice of my own. Yes, I was brought up that way but I'm 13 and I've made my choice now. Why do I believe in God? Because now and then, at camp, church, JCSuperstar, Christmas, Easter, I feel this overwhelming presence of love, peace, and joy that can only be explained by God. That's all I need to explain myself.
"I believe abortion is wrong in general. I understand if you are raped. I would not like it but would accept it if the girl was so young that labor would cause harm to her or the baby. I have no compassion for teens, prostitutes, or those who sleep around. Abortion is not birth control. If you have sex, pregnancy is a risk you are taking.
"I believe premarital sex is wrong because that's what my religion is . . ."
"I'm not sure how the Bible stands on homosexuality. I, however, think I'm accepting of it. I believe our God is loving of everyone. I believe he made us all different and unique. Sexual preference does not make you less or more a person. What if homosexuals became a majority? Who are we, certainly not perfect people, to judge others. That's not a responsibility I'm worthy of.
"I think the death penalty is wrong. If killing is wrong, who could rightly kill someone else? it isn't anyone's decision to take away life. I do belief in life in strict prisons but no one should be killed, even if they deserve it. But I have to wonder how I would feel if someone killed a family member . . . "

There it is, my own little "Social Principles."

Curiosity

Question, out of curiosity. Without agenda. Seriously wondering.

If you do, why do you believe what the Bible says? Or, why do you believe what the Bible says is true?

I've been thinking about scriptural authority, and how we use the Bible. I took a whole course, taught by the excellent Dr. Wesley Ariarajah, on 'The Authority of Scripture' in seminary, and it is a fascinating study. Today someone commented anonymously on my previous post about "in joy disbelieving," by saying only "james 1:2-8," which is a passage about joy and doubt and ends with "for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

Without any help from the commenter, I'm not sure what to think of the passage in the context of my post. But it did get me thinking about the nature of scripture. Thus, my question: why do you believe what the Bible says?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In Joy Disbelieving

I don't usually write about more personal events in my life on my blog. That's what my journal is for. But I've been pondering how to share my reactions to some recent events in my life on my blog without sharing the details of the event itself. So apologies, in advance, if the intro to the post is somewhat cryptic.

Throughout the season of Lent I've been worried about a particular matter. Very worried. Stressed to the max. A big black cloud hanging over my head. It has made the months of March and April very hard and very long, and I hate feeling that way - like I just can't wait to get to the next period of time. Life goes quickly enough as it is without us rushing and wishing it by. But finally, yesterday, came some resolution to this issue. Good news about the matter that had me so worried. News I hardly dared to hope for.

This past Sunday's lectionary text was not one that I found particularly inspiring, but in the wake of my good news, I keep returning to a phrase from the text: "in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering." (Luke 24:41a) Ah, exactly what I'm feeling. My good news is hard for me to believe. I keep forgetting, actually, that I've had this good news. I've been in such a funk for so long that I keep wanting to feel and react as if I haven't had this good news yet. I'm not quite ready to believe that the news could be so good.

And yet, if I don't get to the joy part of all of it, my good news will hardly be worth it, will it? Now that I know the news, I have to live like I know the news. You'd think that would be easy, but it's actually harder than it sounds. Suddenly this uninspiring text is making a lot more sense to me! (After the fact, of course.) "In their joy they were disbelieving." But they end up going with the joy, and not the disbelieving. Can we do the same? Or are we unable to really believe the good news, and so unable to really live new lives? I'm trying to lean towards the joy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Two Reviews: Elie Wiesel’s Night and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

Coming up as #8 and #9 in my 52-books-this-year-resolution are Eli Wiesel's Night and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.

Night, which has been recently released as an Oprah's Book Club selection, with a new translation and introduction by Wiesel, is a very short, quick, easy read. (By the way, I've never read or listened to an Oprah selection that I didn't like.)

I've been interested in the Holocaust ever since I was in high-school when I was in our dradepartment'st's production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Our director was very into helping us live into the experience of the play, and we did things like listen to a Holocaust survivor tell her story. Hearing those stories then, and since then, and reading Night now, I have one continuing reaction: It is so horrible, it is hard to believe it is possible, and yet it all really happened. How do people think of such terriblterribleble things to do to one another? And justify the doing of them? Come up with rationales for such things? Make it OK in their minds?

Night is particularly moving for the way Wiesel examines the emotional and psychological toll his time in the camps took on him. He's not very forgiving of himself, brutally honest in looking at how being in the camps made him unable to care about anything but survival, and barely even care about that sometimes.

Also included is his acceptance speech on his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He said, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages ttormentertor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere." (pg. 118)

Kostova's The Historian was recommended to me way back when by Sarah Dylan Bruer. I'm not normally a vampire-tale kind of reader, but this is just an excellent book. A good mystery. A good example of excellent writing. The way Kostova unfolds the story is almost as good as the story itself. I am reminded of a scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. Children Diggory and Polly are exploring a new world. Diggory sees a bell with a hammer next to it, and a card that says something like, "You have to ring this bell, and risk what doing so will cause to happen, because if you don't, you will go crazy wondering what would have happened." The Historian, in a way, is a storyline driven by such a quest.

Two books I'd gladly recommend.