Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Getting Right With God - A Do List

Someone recently asked me for help 'getting right with God'. We met several times and talked and prayed about what they wanted and came up with this document. I thought I'd share. What do you think? What would you add? Anything you'd take away?

# 1 – Express your desire simply and clearly to yourself and to others. Say a prayer to God announcing your attention to put some time into the relationship. Figure out what that will entail for you personally and let other people around you know to help hold you accountable.

#2 – Make a list. Write down on a piece of paper the areas of your life that are broken. Be honest. Be thorough. Don’t be a nitpicker, though. Look over the list and decide where to start.

#3 – Don’t be too ambitious. Start by incorporating parts of your plan into your long-established routine. It is far better to start small and stick with it, than to bite off more than you can chew and quit after a week. Write up your plan and post it somewhere prominent to remind yourself.

#4 – Pray daily. This is the core right here. I repeat: pray daily. Pray daily. Pray daily. Pray daily. The prayer doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to involve words. What is important is spending time with God. Consider buying or borrowing a daily devotional guide or other resource to help you keep the commitment.

#5 – Ask Forgiveness. Now we get to the hard stuff. Find people who you have wronged. You know they exist. Find some way to make amends and ask for forgiveness. You may not receive it. It is still important that you ask. It is more important that you genuinely make an effort to show contrition. If this is impossible, for one reason or another, do something kind for a stranger instead. You’ll know if you’ve really done this step right.

#6 – Forgive. Yes, it gets harder. Find people who have wronged you. Without asking for anything from them offer them forgiveness. This will often require a lot of work and prayer within yourself beforehand for it to be genuine. False forgiveness or partial forgiveness is worthless, so do the work. If this is impossible, for one reason or another, forgive symbolically – write a letter and burn it.

#7 – Listen For the Next Steps. Continue doing all of the above, and ask God for guidance for what to do next. Expect it to be something difficult and surprisingly life-giving like feeding the hungry, or clothing the homeless.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Unexpected Progressive Victory

We've been discussing the preliminary report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, and I encourage more of that, but something has occurred to me in the past couple of days. The way the committee is structured, and the words coming out of the committee, mark a significant progressive victory.

Let me explain.

Throughout the document and many of the things members are saying about the committee's functioning are phrases like "We as a committee have a strong communal commitment to everyone being welcomed at the table, not just in spite of, but because of our differences. We’re wondering how this might take root across the entire church."

Everyone being welcomed at the table, differences and all, is a distinctly progressive value. It is a value that can be driven to paradoxical or absurd extremes, like any value, but it is a progressive distinctive in my book if ever there was one. I think a conservative formulation might have been something like this: "We as a committee have a strong commitment to an orthodox interpretation of the Bible, and we prayerfully gathered together in order to determine how we should punish those who disagree."

Obviously that's a little tongue-in-cheek, but really, I think that the way this conversation is being formulated (that is, as a "conversation"), amounts to a progressive victory.

I wonder how this will play out among conservatives who are following what the Special Committee is doing? It seems that the progressive structure of the committee is working very effectively to foster community and mutual respect (of course!) and I wonder if this effect will spill out into the denomination at large?

I'm also curious, now, what an actual conservative formulation of this committee's structure would look like. Mine was meant to be sarcastic, but has a kernel of truth. I think that conservative thinking values punishment too much...but maybe that's just me.

PC(USA): We cannot agree

PC(USA): We cannot agree

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Liberty Before Forbearance

Go read the Draft of the Preliminary Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage to the 219th General Assembly. Then come back to my rant here.

Here is my one sentence response to the committee - mutual forbearance is only possible or meaningful in the absence of coercion.

It is not possible for someone to exercise forbearance against their oppressor. That is submission to tyranny. When we have a situation where those who oppose same-gender marriage are free to abstain, and those who favor it are free to perform or enter into same-gender marriages then a call to mutual forbearance would be both appropriate and feasible. Until then it is a cowardly appeal to the status quo.

I realize that probably sounded harsh. I was not privy to the work of the committee. I know one of the committee members, Rev. Derrick Weston, and admire him a great deal. Furthermore, the report contains much that is valuable - the overview of the history, and legal situation of marriage, as well as the admirable attempt to state a variety of viewpoints impartially. Ultimately, though, rather than making the substance of their conclusion about civil unions or marriage it is an emotional appeal to unity.

The committee is absolutely right about the importance of universal submission to Christ. Right about the need for respect and civility in our dialogue. These to me are obvious truths that bear frequent repeating, but don't actually impinge on the core debate which is whether we will permit our clergy to perform same-gendered marriages or our members enter into them. The conclusion is a non-conclusion.

As a progressive I understand the appeal, and sense the sage nodding of heads, behind the idea of living in the tension, of accepting that there are no easy solutions, of agreeing to disagree. But that obscures the fact that the two sides are not playing on equal footing here. At present there is no liberty. The progressive side is bound coercively to play according conservative beliefs the entire time we are in this season of discernment and prayer. This is no "mutual" forbearance at all. One side must forbear while the other is content with the status quo.

I'm not surprised by the report in the slightest. Like the PUP report before it, this committee has chosen, admirably, to go down the path of understanding and fellowship rather than arriving at conclusions. I have no doubt it was a fruitful season for the members of the committee of growing in affection for one another. Maybe we should all just get on committees and talk about these things face to face so we can all grow in respect and love. But we probably shouldn't expect anything to come out of these committees which looks anything like a decision. The stalemate is deep and lasting (for now).

Which is why liberty is imperative. When everyone is free to marry or not marry - then we can talk about mutual forbearance.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Victory for Nonviolence and Genuine Goodness

This is how you overcome evil with good. Are you taking notes? You should be.

(I can imagine the tragedy that would likely have ensued if this commuter was coming home from an Obama rally or townhall meeting with a loaded firearm. Being armed makes genuine Christian conduct all but impossible.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

John Cleese - The Scientists - 2008

This is classic John Cleese. Thanks to Rob at The Spyglass!

Visionary or Daydreamer?

I can see a lot of possibility for my congregation. I could draw up a list pages and pages long of everything we could be doing, but are not currently. When I was hired I was explicitly told that they wanted some re-invigorating. They wanted someone with ideas. Well I have that.

The question is, are the visions I see future possibilities for this congregation or are they just wishful thinking? Are they goals I should set, or is it just me daydreaming about the kind of church I wish I was in?

I am aware of this danger - too many pastors see themselves as mini-saviors come to fix some problem with their congregation. The truth is I don't think my church is in need of saving. It is doing fine, but it is just not in my personality to be stationary. If we are doing well in one area then I want to be excelling in seven others. If we are meeting some needs then I am looking for other needs we've missed. It's who I am.

Furthermore, there is an opposite danger - complacency. It may not be my job to fix the congregation, but it sure as hell is my job to stir them up a bit. As I said, I was hired with the explicit request that I inject new ideas and energy into the congregation. So where is the line between doing my job, and foisting my own agenda on a wonderful group of Presbyterians? Especially when "my agenda" seems to line up suspiciously well with "my job description"... or maybe that's just what I want to think.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rev. Hugh Wire: What the secular press is missing

Rev. Hugh Wire: What the secular press is missing

A conversation with Hugh Wire about the importance of religion in our lives and how the secular press sometimes misses out - as well as some other things.

A conversation on public discourse and the Church

A conversation on public discourse and the Church

A conversation with my friend Derrick Weston on public discourse and the Church. This seemed to be all kinds of germane right now, between church fights and political wrangling. Enjoy!

Stop praying: Self-help versus Quoheleth

Stop praying: Self-help versus Quoheleth

This is another of the articles I've written for Examiner.com. Check it out if you have the time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not 17 Again

I rented "17 Again" expecting to be mildly amused, and was instead moderately pissed off. Despite the hotness of Zac Efron (I guess) and the cheezball plot the movie managed to get me angry for a few reasons.

#1 - Sexism. Did Anyone else have a problem with the fact that the dude goes back to high school to help his kids and he ends up having to save his daughter from sex, and save his son from virginity? Yes we are convinced that the jock the girl is dating is a complete douchebag, who the teen daughter needs saving from - but where are we led to believe that the "head cheerleader" the son has a crush on is a redeemable human being? Actually, does anyone remember anything about the personality of the cheerleader girl at all? Exactly. It doesn't matter - if the son wants to bang her then he absolutely should and dad (transformed into Zac Efron) should do everything in his power to help. On the other hand, anyone who wants to have sex with his teen daughter is obviously a scum bag in need of severe humiliation and scorn.

#2 - Homophobia. It was a short moment in the film, but at one point someone suspects Zac Efron of being gay - and despite the fact that it would be the perfect resolution to the situation for him to confirm the suspicion he vigorously denies it. Why? Because being gay is just not cool and Zac Efron is cool. Right?

#3 - Persistent Lame "Geek Jokes". One of the main characters is Zac Efron's friend from high school who first shows up in the film running in to a basketball practice late wearing a wizard's robe and mumbling about his D&D game. This character later ends up being rich but ridiculously socially maladapted, living in a house full of toys and manequins. Listen, as a geek, I love to poke fun at geeky behavior and pastimes. We are a funny group of people. In fact, there is probably no subculture that laughs at itself more. But this movie wasn't laughing with us, it was laughing at us, demonstrated by the fact that it utterly failed to understand geek culture, in favor of perpetuating demeaning stereotypes. The geek in this movie committed cardinal geek sins like saying "the force is strong with this one" while dressed in a Star Trek uniform. He spoke elvish, but didn't remember that Gandalf the White is the one who appears in Fangorn Forest in the Two Towers. The movie wasn't interested in presenting a sympathetic and realistic portrait of a geeky personality they just needed somebody to do their slapstick and be the butt of their jokes, and the weirder the better - so make him forget his pants all the time, and wear ridiculous hats, and cover his walls in memorabilia, oh and make him act like a total dunce around women, because all geeks are like that, aren't they?

#4 - Banality. I guess in the final estimate, my complaint about this movie is that it was so painfully banal. So perfectly mainstream. So determinedly status quo. And I mean that in the most condemning sense. Zac Efron played a white-bread hero from a picket-fence town who knows how to teach boys to be MEN, and protect women from their own inner whore, and even how to be kind to the village idiot. I got the distinct impression that Zac Efron was too cool for real geeks who won't be happy as bumbling sidekicks, too cool for women with minds of their own, and too cool to let his son go through high school as something other than a mac daddy. He was definitely too cool for me. A real American Hero.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Men Shouldn't Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

h/t Christian Feminism

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Tiny Blip On The Radar Of Tragedy

It's September 11th today. A day which means nothing. A day, in actuality, which decreases the sum total of meaning in the world. A meaning vacuum.

Nevertheless we're going to engage in an orgy of ritualized reflection and glorification today. Mars will grow exponentially in power for awhile, as we pour libations on his altar. Everyone will be asking - where were you? What does it mean to you?

The travesty which occurred eight years ago on this day was a tiny blip on the radar screen of horrific awefulness that is the human propensity for violence. Less than 3,000 people died in the Al Qaeda attacks. Compare that with these other massacres:

At least 500,000 people died over 100 days in 1994 in Rwanda. That's 5,000/day or almost 2 9/11 every day for 100 days!

8,000 civilians were murdered on one day in July 1995 in Srebrenica, and 30,000 more were killed in the surrounding region in the following days.

In the Nanking Massacre an unknown number in the hundreds of thousands were murdered. At least 20,000 women were raped.

This is just talking about massacres of civilians that happened in single events limited in scope. It doesn't begin to talk about the millions that were murdered under Stalin, in the Killing Fields in Cambodia, in the Holocaust, East Timor, Turkey, the Sudan and who knows where else.

And this is confining ourselves to civilian deaths. If we include military deaths then you'd have to compare 9/11 to events like the Battle of Stalingrad where 2 million people lost their lives. 2 MILLION!!! That is 667 9/11's.

As tragic as 9/11 was, ultimately so for those who lost a loved one, it was not world-altering in the smallest degree. Our exaggerated estimation of its import has been the most damaging aspect of the entire event, because we continue to use this miniscule event as the universal justification for infinite violence. We have now killed over 450 TIMES as many Iraqis as the number who died on 9/11. When will it be enough?

Try Harder!

Americans Observing 9/11 By Trying Not To Masturbate

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Once Again, Senate Republicans Accuse Obama of Having Cooties, Withhold Alphabet Blocks

I hear that things got ugly once they went out for recess.

Maybe some adults should come in and break this up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bill Maher Interviews Bill Moyers

This is one of the few conversations about health care reform that is worth actually listening to.