Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I found this intriguing because I'm not always sure we're committed to voting for the person who actually supports what we want to see. There's a lot of reasons that might be the case, some more and less sensible! I can tell you that I wasn't surprised by who this quiz said I most agreed with, but that I'll most likely be voting for the candidate who showed up 5th on my list. Why? Electability. The candidate with whom I'm most in sync I doubt could get elected.
How about you? Do your results match your actual voting intentions?
Saturday, October 27, 2007
I'm often frustrated with the way clergy are portrayed in film and television. So often the clergy person in question is just a caricature, someone who is completely out of touch with the real concerns and needs of people. Maybe that's just a harsh but telling judgment on the role of clergy/church in the world today. But most pastors I know have a lot more to offer than empty words! To see a clergy person portrayed as rounded and fleshed out is much more rare.
Examples I can think of off the top of my head of clergy in film and TV:
- Seventh Heaven, the WB show about a pastor and his family
- Raising Helen, a movie with John Corbett and Kate Hudson where Hudson's character falls in love with Corbett's character, a pastor.
- LOST, my favorite show, had Mr. Eko, a priest of sorts, with some very questionable theological descriptions of baptism and its meaning: (emphasis mine)
CLAIRE: Charlie told me you were a priest.
CLAIRE: He said that you told him that I had to have --
EKO: I did not tell Charlie to do what he did. I'm sorry if he misunderstood me.
CLAIRE: But, do you think the baby has to be baptized?
EKO: Do you know what baptism is?
CLAIRE: It's what gets you into heaven.
EKO: It is said that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus the skies opened up and a dove flew down from the sky. This told John something -- that he had cleansed this man of all his sins. That he had freed him. Heaven came much later.
CLAIRE: I haven't been baptized. Does that mean that if you do it to Aaron and something happened to us that we wouldn't be together?
EKO: Not if I baptize you both. (source)
Can you think of other examples? Do you think that TV/film shapes people's perception of clergy, or that TV/film's representation of clergy is shaped by real experiences, or both/neither?
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
"While this my be a shocker to approximately 0% of the population familiar with The Bachelor, since I don't follow the show closely, it just hit me. What the women really want (or, the men, in the case of The Bachelorette) is to win. The falling in love and finding a soulmate part doesn't even matter. They like the idea of falling in love. What they really want is to win.
So, they disguise their want in the camouflage of an idea. By doing so, they think they can hold out hope that what they are really going after is in fact the thing they want. They hope that by winning they'll also fall in love and find their happy ever after...
...In a similar fashion,
- We like the idea of writing a book, but what we really want to do is create something. So we talk about how we hope to write a book, but end up never creating anything.
- We like the idea of starting a business, but what we really want is to put our own dreams into practice. So, we let our dreams hatch and die because we think that we've got to get a small business loan before any of that can happen.
- We like the idea of helping poor kids in Africa, but what we really want is to do something that matters. So, we wait and wait until we get the chance to fly across an ocean, letting our chances at greatness dissipate in the meantime.
- We like the idea of fame and fortune, but what we really want is someone else to notice us. So, we think no one is watching as we live our lives on what we consider a small and insignificant stage.
I think Sam is on to something here that really resonates with me. I find it very easy to get caught up in the ideas, and very tricky to act on what's beneath. What about you?
(hattip: Gavin Richardson)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
"I am very fortunate to be a member of the Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church, because through the church and all of its members, I have found stability. Here, I am embraced week after week with open arms and friendly smiles. It is a place where I have grown in, joy, fellowship, and faith tremendously. Church is my home away from home, and I feel very comfortable here, as I have since we came here. Coming to church every Sunday morning is something that I look forward to every week, and it is something that has influenced my life in many positive ways. Each person that comes to The Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church holds me and protects me, just as branches of a tree protect a squirrel.
It is also important to remember the bigger picture, however. If you are the branches of a tree, then God is the trunk. He is the main root and thread that we all share. Though we may be growing out of different parts of the tree, we are all connected to the same trunk. I think that the fact that we are all linked to each other is a very significant point, one so major that it has the power to reshape the world in which we live in.
Jesus uses the analogy of a tree and branches in John 15, verse 5-7. He says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.”
God will always protect us at the Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church, because we always remain faithful to Him. Our hearts are always open to Him and to other people around us. A couple weeks ago I was sitting outside on the hammock in my backyard. Hearing a sudden cracking in a tree behind me, I turned to look to see was had happened. I figured that due to the wind, the tree was rocking slightly. However, this was not the case. I watched, awed and dumbfounded as a meandering squirrel fell out of the tree landing on the ground with a thump. After the squirrel fell, so did the branch that the squirrel was perched on, obviously too weak for the squirrel’s weight. I am fortunate enough to say that I will never fall out of a tree as he had. Partly because I don’t typically climb in trees. But also because I know that I have a firm foundation beneath me.
At the Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church, I am supported and nurtured, and I know that I will always be protected and held up, no matter how heavy of a burden I may be. If I am a squirrel, you are my branches, keeping me aloft, allowing me to travel from limb to limb, exploring the unknown woods around me."
Justin's sermon was structured with a flow and rich with a content that even some seasoned preachers miss sometimes, and he spoke with ease and confidence. I told him to watch out - with gifts for preaching like that, you never know were God will take you!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Dr. Jouette Bassler was on again, this time as Bible Study leader, and she focused on Luke's Parable of the Shrewd Manager. I really wished I had attended this talk before preaching on this tough text a few weeks ago!!
- what are presuppositions we bring to text? Ie, we bring "different Jesuses" to the text
- Jesus’ intent when he spoke. – may have modified this in multiple tellings, probably not only time he spoke this parable. (My thoughts: This had never occurred to me before - how likely it is that Jesus shared parables more than once, in different places. Don't we do this with our stories and tales and illustrations and arguments? We focus what we say over time and tellings. Never even crossed my mind, but it makes sense, doesn't it?)
- Luke’s intent in writing it/including it.
C.H. Dodd – “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from native or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought."
Parables are not allegory – rich man does not equal God, not necessarily or not at all. Poor = God? No.
A manager is one who is in charge of the household/estate – a slave or freeman, but there is a power differential. Jesus’ audience identifies with the manager probably. Person you identified with is being charged with a crime.
(Book Recommendation: Scott – Hear Then the Parable – a Commentary on the Parables of Jesus, more recently retitled as Reimagine the Word)
Someone else must have brought charges against the man.
“Bring charges” – diaballein – diabolical, the devil – the slanderer. “discredit, misrepresent, slander, deceive by false accounts.”
“squander” – diaskorpizein – “squander” – also “scatter” like seeds.
Manager has no opportunity to give his account.
People would think – What’s wrong with digging and begging (asking)?
Other commentaries – like he was eliminating his commission. If this is true, that was really a lot of interest. And the text doesn’t point us in that direction.
Huge debts forgiven – who do you identify with? The forgiven ones! Or Jesus who is disrupting the whole economic system.
James Hudnut-Beumler – Dean of the Divinty School
“The failure of pilgrims to progress. God and Mammon now.” John Bunyon’s Pilgrims Progress. Vanity Fair. We’re in Vanity Fair more of the time these days.
What’s so interesting about money?
Never goes away. In contemporary culture – Dale Bunker, when someone says “it isn’t about money,” it’s about money.
Breaking a modern taboo
Money and material things are necessary, powerful, and most of us give too much power relative to other values in life. Most dangerous practice of church is making discussion of money a taboo. Not to discuss it. If one central value, people guard it carefully and surround it with mystery, lest it be taken away. Therefore, it is an idol. An idol can hurt us if we displease it. Money is an outward sign of an inward state (our state.) Our checkbooks and bank statements say things about us that we can scarcely confess. How does our money situation relate to love of God and love of neighbor? The difficulty of acting out around money by clergy. We can never have enough money, love, health. But death is certainty. Makes us insecure.
Is the church supposed to be a bartender, or a therapist to its members? To contemporary churchgoers want to be just heard, or healed? Healed with or without being asked for repentance?
Charity is what you give out of love and pity. Justice is what you would want if you were in that situation. Charity holds back for a rainy day. Justice flows down like an ever-flowing stream.
Car salesman knows more about our finances than pastor. One place we can be known for who we are instead of how fast we can pay and how much we have.
Typical American church projects a veneer of niceness. Exception: personal health and health of loved ones. We won’t share with others when moral blame is attached to struggles we face. Our tendency – moral superiority to those who prosper.
Abundance by the grace of God
Do we dare minister in the midst of Mammon?
Our tradition says yes and no to material life. Isn’t life more than these things?
Knowing the price of everything and value of nothing.
Not even God stands a chance if people prefer Mammon.
Survey: Should religion affect daily life? Yes. Make be nicer? Yes. Affect sexuality? Yes Politics? Under half. Jobs? Small minority.
God, whose transcendence has been domesticated. So useful that God is no use at all.
At best, people of God know something others don’t – our worth comes from God and not money.
Closing worship followed the last lecture. I sang in the seminary alumni choir, which I always enjoy, and got to help serve communion. Dean Beach preached on Jubilee. She encouraged us not to wait for Jubilee, to instead work for that kind of world-change right now, however we can.
Friday, October 19, 2007
For my morning workshop I went to Dr. Traci West's “Christian Ethical Policy for Rich and Poor: The Magnificat and Welfare Reform.” I've mentioned before that Dr. West was one of my favorite professors at Drew, so it is always nice to get a chance to learn a bit more from her.
Notes on her workshop:
How to keep someone from doing critical thinking:
1) Shaming us. About what we look like, who we are. Makes feel inadequate, go inward.
2) Help us think of selves as superior.
Scripture is our theory as Christians. God looks with favor on Mary’s lowliness.
How do we think about poor women receiving public assistance? Clinton – “I am going to end welfare” – end entitlement. No longer have a national policy for helping those who are poor. State by state block grants. Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Now Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. After certain number of years, cut off completely.
“Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act.” Punishments. “Personal Responsibility Agreement Plan.” Law with moral language. Pregnancy, reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancy, two-parent families.
Question: What feels good and what feels comforting to us about this kind of welfare policy? People who are wasting tax-payers money are being held accountable. It’s at my expense that some woman is having a life of comfort. Building character from weakness. Morally opposed to sexual ‘looseness’. Sexually reproducing children in a responsible way. DeLay: “Welfare is #1 enabler of illegitimacy.” Giving people an opportunity that they didn’t have before to work, get out of poverty (theoretically).
Poor, unwed Jewish teenager. Center of our gospel. Is there an idea of controlling women in Luke? Zachariah named as prophet by Luke, but Mary is not. Anna and Simeon – Simeon, more words, Anna, not anointed by Holy Spirit.
Vs. 52-53. Is this reversal? Or is it equality? What is God calling us to in this scripture?
Welfare reform: Marriage promotion. Preamble to legislation: Marriage is the foundation of society. Health and Human Services Website – Healthy Marriage Initiative. Should the government promote marriage? (And specifically to poor women?) Father-headed households. Af-Am, Hispanic, Native American initiatives. Poor whites are not the problem. Idea that whites can’t be lumped together in one group like that. Page (under Af-Am) about church attendance because they are more likely to be married.
Policy. Details of policy and how very, very poor get treated. How can I think through my criticism – what is bad about the policy? What are ministries that are addressing issues for both wealthy and poor? What is a matching ministry to those who are wealthy? Train people to acknowledge ways they are dependent. (Ie – people with children benefit from taxpayer dollars. Driving on road. Hospital dollars. OR getting something for almost nothing. I am dependent on somebody’s slave labor.
Afternoon plenary: Jouette Bassler, Professor of New Testament Emerita, Perkins School of Theology
Parable of the Shrewd Manager – not just to commend decisive action. Destabilizes the either/or of God and Mammon. Luke is hinting that there is a middle ground. Ambivalence, or a more nuanced view than in Matthew. Luke – “unrighteous” not just “impermanent” like in Matthew.
Related to Zacchaeus, Cornelius, Theophilus, wealthy patrons, etc., who are using their wealth and commended.
The apostles sharing possession conveys a message of the power and authority of the apostles. Acts 4:34b-35a – “laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Sign of submission to authority of apostles. Ananias and Sapphira. Peter declares the line between God and Mammon to be absolute. And yet, continues to be an important signifier.
Paul and Mammon. Mammon functioning as a tool of hierarchy. Mammon tamed into an ally of the gospel of grace. Or Mammon threatening the gospel of grace. Paul’s right to receive the same material support as the other apostles receive. An obstacle, certainly, but also what the other apostles are doing. Jousting over authority? Paul announcing Mammon so publicly as a power play to establish authority – “We don’t take money – they do.” Has a right to it, but better served by renouncing it. Wants it both ways – right to have it (authority like other apostles,) responsibility to renounce it. (True to gospel, sets him apart from others.) Refusing to take money from Corinthians eventually is a snub to them. (Think Myanmar monks refusing with bowls to take money from political leaders.) Mammon defines authority/flows to authority. Accepting refutes message of cross. Acceptance or rejection of Mammon defines who one serves. Mammon won.
Mammon and Revelation: Fornication – biblical language for intercourse of all kinds with surrounding culture. You cannot serve God and Mammon Empire. Mammon defines those who are in and those who are out. Mammon has no authority in New Jerusalem. Ambiguity.
Only in Eschatological or Apocalyptic messages do we find opposition of God and Mammon faithfully maintained. Elsewhere, conflicting signals, distorted lines, and inevitably corrupts. Urgent importance of distinguishing throne of God from throne of Mammon.
My reflections: I really like how Bassler showed the full scope of Mammon's role in the New Testament, especially her focus on the apostles and Paul, and the ambiguity. She shows how even the disciples struggled in their ministry to remain faithful to the clear choices Jesus talked about: God or Mammon.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Here are my (mostly unedited) notes from day one of the lectures:
John McCullough, Executive Director and CEO of Church World Service
Myanmar/Burma – rejection of 1990 elections, placing of leader under house arrest, 1989-present. 100,000 refugees in
Aim of Church World Service is Empowerment. To help people gain capacity to improve their lives and livelihood.
Chronic – conditions leading to poverty
Crises – responses to disaster/human conflict
Partnership – especially with most vulnerable
The church has an obligation to respond to situations of human crisis around the world. Matthew 25. CWS mission focus.
"We are our own response, not God’s." (My comments: Huh? I didn't understand what he meant by this - he said that people say our response is God's response, but he thinks God has God's own response to people in need, and that we are our own response. I don't get it, and don't think I agree with him.)
Reality: Rising food costs – 21% more at wholesale level than 2005 (some grains more than 30%) – harder for aid organizations to finance. Stretched thin. Quality and quantity of food at risk. 30,000 children die quietly each day from poverty. Invisible in death. ½ the world lives on less than $2/day. Children are largest group living in extreme poverty.
Eradicate conditions that demoralize human development.
Long and healthy life.
Decent standard of living.
Entitlements for which we must be advocates.
Sustainability. Staying in relationship for the long term.
Meeting basic needs. Housing. Food. Education. Health. Fair-trade.
Resolving Uprootedness. Finding locations for displaced persons. More than 80% displaced never return home again.
Protecting the most vulnerable.
Q&A - Dean Maxine Beach raised a question about the Prosperity Gospel being exported from the US to other countries.
Q&A - Dean Maxine Beach raised a question about the Prosperity Gospel being exported from the US to other countries.
David Jensen, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Responsive Labor, a theology of work.
In ordinary is holy in Christian life. Body, bath, meal, labor. Central to faith. Our daily work matters as a response to God. God at work for the world, before we work. We work as a form of thanksgiving, because God is at work. God’s work proceeds from abundance. God works so that all might have abundant life. Always enough work and always enough fruit of labor to go around.
Problematic Assumptions of Work in US economy:
Scarcity. Never enough to go around. I must work all I can to hang on to what I’ve got and accumulate more. Something we hoard to ourselves. Not enough time, money, things.
Consequences. Crisis of work.
Joblessness is something to be expected. Some unemployment means a healthy economy. Drives economic engine. Unemployment around 5%. ‘Natural rate’. Times are ‘good’. Unacceptable numbers underneath: Af-Am unemployment rates are double, youngest Af-Ams are quadruple. Numbers only include actively seeking. Otherwise, off the radar. Don’t even count. We assume it is ok for some who want work to be denied it.
If you are working, you will earn enough to make ends meet. But those who work the hardest often work below the poverty line. Near 31% live at or near poverty levels. Women Head of Household are 2x likely to be working poor. Purchasing power of min. wage has declined. Average CEO earns 300x much as min wage worker. Never have enough. Working poor work multiple jobs. Middle class work more just because we want more. Productivity has doubled since middle of 20th century. We could work ½ the amount for same standard of living as 1950s…We need bigger homes, 2 cars, gadgetry. Out paces all but 2 nations in time on the job.
Time-starved. Little time to rest. We sleep less. Mothers working outside home talk about sleep like starving people talk about food. “Merely showing up for a paycheck."
What do we bring as a Eucharistic People – Time, Things, and Gift:
1) Reorienting our Time. Not as an escape from work week, but as our work begins. Always enough time. Rids us of illusion that time is something we can control. Words of institution – we remember a distant time and our time. Time is not a demand on us, but given as a gift – is God’s time. (My note: Irony – woman answering cell phone during lecture) Does my work encourage me to see others as constraints on my time?
2) Our things. Eucharistic is materialistic – reminds us that God blesses the material work of our hands. Countless hours in bread and wine. Represent a life lived gently on the land. Our offering becomes God’s gift to us. Unimagined abundance when work is shared. Food of Eucharist is public. Without giving and sharing – meal devolves into gluttony (early church example.) People die because of hoarded work and bread. We go away full and we go away hungry. But from the Lord’s Table, we hunger for righteousness and justice. Mix of hunger and satisfaction. Hunger for God’s reign to come, satisfied because it is already here.
3) Gift. We don’t expect gifts, can’t receive them. Good life comes only to those who deserve it by working hard enough. Giving doesn’t happen. Hard work should reap own rewards. In scarcity, we have idea that we must repay the giver to stay out of their debt. Is just like barter, exchange, etc. But Eucharistic economy, gifts are gifts! Evokes our response. Ceaseless giving, not just an exchange of economies. Christ is the offering and the offerer. Divine giving subverts tit-for-tat assumptions. We give not to be out of debt to giver, but in response to God’s fullness, giving what we have already been given. Coming to table hungry, we leave hungry for the poor.
Scripture as a narrative of desire – God’s desire to establish relationship with us. God restlessly desiring us, to establish justice and peace among us.
Book suggestion: Dorothy Bass – Receiving the Day
Fred Curtis, professor of economics, Drew University
Mainstream/orthodox approaches. Bad economics – to question the desire for economic growth – heresy. “To think like an economist” is to think like a mainstream economist. Divestment. Global warming. Globalization. Consumerism.
People seen as maximizing individual happiness. Greed important to function of economy. Not always maximum financial returns. Economic analysis does not in itself determine best choices.
Global-warming reduction as investment. We should spend little now, grow economy, and spend later in a bigger way. Economics: future benefits are worth less today than other benefits. Presumes that we who live today are separate from those who live in the future.
More you study economics, less likely to give to charities.
Globalization. Not free or fair trade, but negotiated trade, negotiated by the rich nations. Whoever has the most gold makes the rules. Trade barriers – nations not allowed to ban imports because of human rights violations, like child labor, slave labor, etc. When things grow, they get bigger. Growing the economy shrinks the ecosystem. Growth undermines the resources necessary for further growth. Growth + environment does not = sustainability. To a point, more is better. But eventually, more isn’t better. It’s just more.
Unwilling to differentiate between needs and wants. Advertising to create dissatisfaction. Consumer pleasure with products is meant to be transient. Impermanent. “When basic needs are met, human development is more about being than having.”
Energy inflation à water/food price inflation. Now, 11% on food. Way we produce food uses huge amounts of energy. What should we do?
How to go back, since we’re used to all these things? Use more things in common. Vision/will. “can’t break up with my boyfriend because I have too much invested.” We have to break away.
Impulse to bigness. Things are (globalization) so far away that we can’t care about them.
My reflections: Of all the lectures on this day, I actually enjoyed the one with the economist the most. He gave an interesting perspective, and he talked about how outside the norm it is among economists to have this non-orthodox view - to be an environmental economist, an economist emphasizing sustainability.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The film centers around Anna, a mid-wife, played by Naomi Watts. She delivers the baby of a Russian girl, 14, who dies in childbirth. Anna, for reasons made clear in the film, can't let go until she finds the girl's (and baby's) family. She has the girl's diary, and seeks to follow the clues in it. Her quest leads her right into the Russian mafia, including twinkling-eyed Semyon Armin Mueller-Stahl, his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), and Kirill's friend/'driver', Nikolai, played by Mortensen.
The film is certainly graphic and violent as promised. But the images aren't gratuitous as they are in so many popular movies. The tagline of this film is "Every Sin Leaves a Mark," and that's a good theme to focus on in this movie. Actions and consequences. A seemingly never ending cycle, an unbreakable cycle of this life that is killing, body and soul, so many people in the story. Motivations - why are the people in the film making the choices they are? What leads Anna on her quest for justice in this case? Why do those caught up in the mafia do what they do? How did they get into the life they're in? Why?
I don't want to say too much more about the plot details, because it would really detract from your being able to enjoy the movie yourself. But I definitely recommend it!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Sam and Aunt Beth
Sam, looking too grown up at four months old.
Sam proving his grown-up status by bringing home fridge artwork already from daycare. He's talented, no?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
We've been talking about merger for at least the last four years. A number of factors bring us to this place, but suffice it to say that most of us on the Boundaries Task Force felt that merging together was a strong choice for the future of the UMC in the New York State area. It's a risk, of course. Membership in the UMC in the Northeast is declining. Merging will give us more collective resources, but unless we really change the way we're doing things at some critical and basic levels, we'll just continue to declined together. So it is a risk, but also an opportunity for real change, real discipleship. We voted, and decided: YES! We're recommending to Jurisdictional Conference a merger, to take place in 2010. The NEJ has to vote on our recommendation, but we feel optimistic.
Here's some notes from worship:
Bishop Fisher –
Listening for God’s Call in a New Day
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-10
God said, Go. Abraham said, Where? God said, I will tell you when you get there. Abraham believed, trusted. “and I would include Sarah” – when do we have to trust when we are not even the ones directly receiving the message? (my question)
Remove things that are obstacles from you moving toward your promised land.
“We fail at faith because we fear to risk.”
Bishop Hassinger –
A hope that we can be God’s faithful people
We have stayed in a land that has become comfortable
Not a true promised land, but it’s been “ok”
Focus on survival and maintenance.
People of God have never remained settled for very long
Hard to move from what is even when we know it isn’t what ought to be
Three Reminders from Hebrews
1) We can discern God’s call when we engage in truth-telling – face truth about current situations. Truth-telling was catalyst. To speak and hear the truth.
2) New future requires risk-taking vision. No GPS in wilderness. Every new awakening has begun in the Northeast.
3) Trust in God. Not trying to control every part of plan ourselves.
Monday, October 01, 2007
- Do you have a projection system at your church? What do you use it for? Do you use it every week? Do you (or does your pastor) use it in preaching? Every week? How?
- Do you have a Christian Education/Sunday School Program at your church? What ages? When does class meet? What curriculum do you use? How is attendance?
- How does your congregation celebrate Laity Sunday?
- Do you usually follow a theme for the whole season of Advent (or Lent)? This is something I've just started doing in the last two years, and it has helped give me more direction and cohesiveness to the whole direction of the season. Yes, it is time for worship planners to be thinking about Advent already!