Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Derek Webb on Homosexuality

A while ago, I blogged about sexuality and how the church just seems downright mixed up when it comes time to discuss it. I don't plan to be redundant, but after reading an article this week on homosexuality, I felt that this would be a good time to bring up that particular subject (as a side note, I acknowledge that my terminology may be politically incorrect, i.e., "LGBT", "queer", "homosexual", etc., but I am unequipped to keep up with the current appropriate terminology, so I will simply state my ignorance up front).

The article was an interview in the Huffington Post with Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb. Webb is quite notorious in the Christian music scene for his edgy lyrics and outspoken views (and, if you ask my wife, add "goosebump-inducing music" to that list). The interviewer asked him about his views on homosexuality and Christianity, and I found his responses thought-provoking and challenging.

Webb calls for Christians to first look at themselves when they look at homosexuals and realize that they are not radically different people. For him, many Christians have seen homosexuals as fundamentally "other"- as people of a completely different ontology (my words, not his). Naturally, this has caused fear and, in turn, hatred. This is not the response of the gospel in Webb's view. I see his point. Whether you see homosexuality as a sin or not, homosexuals are still created in God's image. So are saints, murderers, and the playboy who sleeps with a new woman every night. No matter what your opinion of each of these person is, Christians and the church are called to nourish and replenish whatever may be tarnished in that image with the love of Christ.

But Webb is careful to point out that love is not tolerance. Love is much stronger and much more engaging than tolerance. He is dead on here. Tolerance is not a virtue. Tolerance decides that "I'll let you do your thing if you let me do mine". Tolerance keeps others at an arms length. This is not what Christians are called to do simply because that is not the gospel. God did (and does) not just tolerate humankind. God loves us intensely. As we are so often reminded here in the Christmas season, what God did in Jesus was very a very intimate reponse to our desperate need for salvation- it was love in its purest state.

This brings me to a final point of Webb's interview- following Jesus. Webb calls for Christians to focus primarily on the call to follow Jesus. This seems like a no-brainer, but Webb reminds us how hard that really is- especially as it concerns the homosexuality issue. But what does this look like? I am not ready to ordain homosexuals in the United Methodist Church. I am not ready to concede that God is "OK" with homosexuality any more than I am ready to concede that God is OK with any other sexual sin (and this might rile you up, but I am almost at the point where I am ready to include recreational birth control, even for married couples, in this). But I will admit that I am ignorant. I do not know many homosexuals, and I do not feel educated enough to make any sort of judgment on the topic. Really, if I'm supposed to go beyond tolerance and love, I should not judge at all. In short, my mind is always open on this subject. So how do we go beyond tolerance and enter into loving dialogue and action with homosexuality?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No More Methodist Church?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short blog about politics and religion. Today, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook which exemplifies why I no longer vote for political conservatives- or really at all. I would love to hear some responses on this (OK, so nobody ever responds to my posts, but I thought I would give it a shot.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent of Peace

This year, Trinity UMC's theme for Advent is "Advent of Peace". In order to provide a resource for daily devotions and a calendar of church events during Advent, we have launched a wonderful website- Each of the pastors on staff will contribute a devotional every week. Mine will appear on Fridays. Check out the website here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sermon Link

On November 7th, I preached my first manuscript-free sermon. I was a little nervous about this new approach, but I think it turned out alright. You can find the audio for it here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jesus and Politics

I have long been leery of any vision that involves implementing Christian ideas and goals by means of secular politics. This includes issues such as social justice, health care, and abortion. I want the church to have space to offer its own Christ-centered vision and solutions to these issues apart from an ego- and vote-driven, non-Christian political system. In short, I do not want the church to think it has to play the game of secular politics in order for Christ's kingdom to be present. As such, I have traditionally aligned myself with the Libertarian Party. However, lately, I have even shied away from this affiliation, because of the rationale which lies behind the Libertarian Party's tendency towards small government (read: looking out only for the wealthy and so-called "natural rights").

As I wrestle with this myself, I read a pertinent blog today written by my bishop, Will Willimon. Although I did disagree with him on the issue of children's sermons (see below), I feel that he usually hits issues right on target from an orthodox Christian perspective (whether it is pleasant for us to hear or not). I strongly suggest reading his blog post on the relationship between church and state here. Also, I recommend reading John Howard Yoder's classic book The Christian Witness to the State.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting in Shape for Jesus

Once on The Johnny Carson Show, Carson interviewed some bodybuilders. They came on the stage with their shirts off, looking all jacked up. They were ready to show the world their hot bods. So Carson asked one of them, "So why do you bodybuild?" All the guy did was flex his guns and smile. So Carson asked him again, "Really, what's the point of bodybuilding?" The guy just flexed harder and smiled bigger.

Stories like that sadden me. It shows me how much of this world is just flash and vanity- and it's all fleeting. Maybe some folks just need to read Ecclesiastes and that will set them straight. Or maybe we are just more hard-hearted than I think.

Dieting, losing weight, and gaining muscle are all the rage, and they have been for quite some time. You even hear this quite frequently around more progressive Christian circles (although I have to say that at every meeting of Methodist pastors that I go to, at least half of the pastors are obese). So should Christians diet and take care of their bodies? If so, why?

On one hand, 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, "Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." So maybe my fellow pastors are right? Who needs the body when our souls are being saved? But this thinking risks a sort of Platonic dualism or Stoicism. On the other hand, other Christians will point to the creation narrative and claim that a more paradigmatic reading that our bodies are gifts from God and as such, we should take care of them. But paradigmatic readings are often challenged by those who desire a more literal interpretation of Scripture (and to my mind there is no "command" to diet and exercise). In essence, this question is like many ethical questions, it depends on your opinion of the authority of Scripture.

As you might expect if you know me, I choose the latter of these two choices. My theology as a Methodist is shaped by God's grace (a word that we have butchered over time, but simply means "free gift"). Our bodies are absolutely included in the gifts we are given by God, so we must be good stewards of them. But, I must confess, I have not been faithful to this. It's not that I haven't been taking care of my body. I have. In fact, I have lost 20 pounds since June (This is the 3rd time in my life I have lost at least this much weight. Keeping it off is the hard part. My suggestion: don't get married; the first year will get you.). But my rationale for losing weight was all wrong. You know why I lost weight? 2 reasons: 1) because I was tired of my double chin 2) because I didn't think I would get any respect as a preacher if I was fat. And on some level, those reasons are valid. But on the theological level, they are vapid. In fact, I don't think my reasoning makes me any better than those bodybuilders on Carson.

All this is to say that abstract theology is fun, but it is not really Christian theology. Real Christian theology is ethical, embodied practice of the knowledge of the risen Lord of all creation. So when we watch over that creation, to whom do we give the glory?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Point, Click, Amen!

Last week, I went to Leawood, Kansas (outside of Kansas City) with six of my Trinity coworkers to the annual Leadership Institute at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. CoR is the largest United Methodist congregation in the U.S. with over 14,000 members. They are always on the cutting edge of evangelism (a concern particular to my own position), and they do many tasks of the church extremely well. Some pastors would consider these approaches a little too innovative and straying from the truest definitions of church, but I generally admire their work. As such, there was one particular topic breached last week that raised some eyebrows- including my own.

That is, online worship. CoR has what they call an "online campus" of their church. Internet surfers can view worship services from the comfort of their laptops without ever heading out the door to grace the threshold of a sanctuary. And as they view the services, they can chat with their online pastor, who answers their questions about the church. The response to this approach has been phenomenal. Thousands tune in online every Sunday for online worship. Many have converted to Christianity because of the online worship experience. And several have even become motivated to shut down their computers and visit the church in person for the first time in decades.

The main criticism of this approach is obvious: without interpersonal interaction, can this really be church? Christ calls us to be in tangible communion with one another. That is the foundation for the Eucharist. It is why we have baptismal, confirmation, and membership candidates stand up in front of the whole church. In order to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2), don't we have to be physically present with one another?

But CoR and its senior pastor, Adam Hamilton (pictured above), are showing us that "tangibility" has changed in the 21st century. Hamilton admitted that he has issues with the approach as well, but that his opinion does not really matter. Instead, it's about what people need in today's world to start the path of Christian discipleship. Reality has been altered by "the cloud". Pokes, tweets, and e-mails are the first line of reachability in today's world, and we simply need to adjust to it. I agree with his assessment of today's world. However, I hope the church is not satisfied to stop evangelism at the first line of reachability. It is my desire that tools like online worship are not a substitute for worship, but instead a means to bring folks into real, interpersonal (read: non-cyberspace) communion. Your thoughts?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jesus Is a Friend of Mine

If you must watch one YouTube video today, please watch this one.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let the Children Come?

I have no idea how to relate to kids. In fact, I would venture to say that most pastors, due to their time spent pondering the "deeper questions of faith", struggle to relate those questions in terms that children can understand. So, besides preparing for a sermon, the part of worship that I (and most pastors) get the most nervous about preparing for is the "Children's Moment".

Recently, my bishop, Will Willimon, released a blog article about the Children's Moment. He derides the idea as a noble attempt to show a congregation's emphasis on children, but a poor attempt to convey the gospel to the little ones. For Willimon, kids simply cannot grasp the abstract information in a sermon, even one directed at their level. And furthermore, these sermons are so superficial (most of the time) that kids grow up deluded by some of these ideas as they learn more in-depth information about the faith (at least that is my interpretation of part of his argument).

But he certainly realizes the importance of utlizing children in worship, so as to not marginalize them (Luke 18:15-17). He suggests having them sit at the chancel to observe baptisms, which I have seen in practice before, and it is a beautiful moment for sure. But this suggestion falls apart in most small churches where they may baptize children once or twice a year. Another suggestion is to have them pray or read a Scripture passage, which I wholeheartedly endorse. However, this suggestion can only affect one child every Sunday.

As a person who has to lead Children's Moments, I understand Willimon's frustrations. Sometimes, I too wonder if the kids are "getting it". But have issue with Willimon calling out Children's Moments on two grounds. The first is, I have seen kids "get it" in the Children's Moment before, and there is nothing greater in my eyes to see a child's eyes light up when they understand even the tiniest bit of the gospel. Perhaps the fact that this has happened so often to me is because I serve a church where most of the kids grow up in solid families where the education at church is being supplemented by good nurturing at home. Secondly, I cannot think of a better alternative for most churches (who don't have baptisms every Sunday) to exhibit their devotion to Christ's command in Luke 18 than for all of the children present to gather in front of the church- to remind the congregation of the gospel's preference for those who are meek and mild.

I agree that the Children's Moments do not have to be merely abstract information. There are certainly more creative options for conveying the gospel to children. The burden here lies on pastors to be creative, to reach out to those who work with children on a daily basis (Children's Ministry directors, elementary school teachers, etc.) and find fresh and tangible solutions to Willimon's quandry. Most importantly, though, I call for pastors (especially myself) to put more care and planning into Children's Moments than to just be satisfied with seeing it as another check to mark off on the worship bulletin. I think the gospel deserves at least that much from us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie Recommendation

As many theologians, sociologists, and journalists will tell you, the Christian faith has, generally speaking, lost its sense of community over the centuries of the Constantinian and post-Enlightenment moment (take your pick). Christianity is a private and personal faith for most Christians. There is then little need to see faith as political, that is, social and interpersonal. With the exception of many small, rural congregations, the Pauline vision of the body of Christ (see especially Eph. 4) and the apostle's command to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) in the community of faith have been largely forgotten, or else they have become a sort of footnote to congregational life to be fulfilled with the occasional church program or function. Especially in large churches, like the one where I serve, it is difficult to foster any sense of community cohesion.

This unfortunate turn in the Christian faith became evident to me again when I recently saw the film A Serious Man. The movie is directed and produced by the magnificent Coen brothers, who have been in charge of some of my favorite flicks (especially O Brother, Where Art Thou?). This particular film narrates the life of a physics professor in suburban Minnesota and the concurrence of troubles that befall him, beginning with a bribery attempt by one of his students. Yet the film goes deeper than simply his troubles. Instead, it delves into how he deals with these problems within the Jewish community (and even how the Jewish community perpetuates some of his problems) around him.

The movie is thoroughly Jewish (the Coens are Jewish, in fact, their surname is an apocopated form of the Hebrew word for "priest"), and sometimes it is hard to follow because of it. For instance, if you don't know any Hebrew, the vocabulary will throw you off for sure. Also, the movie also does not follow any particular moral and does not end in any particular direction (we never get a solid answer why Hashem would allow all of these things to befall this Job-like character). But to my mind, the film attempts to be a microcosm of Hebrew scripture- it embodies the tension and portrayal of reality of life as the community and its individuals seek to find God working in their complex world.

But aside from the metaphysical intricacies of the movie, I was struck by how the Jewish community was portrayed. There is a distinct interconnectedness between all of the Jewish characters. Despite all of the catastrophes that occur, and even despite how these catastrophes are due to the moral failure of some of the Jewish characters, they never question leaving the community and God. Instead, they keep seeking truth and fellowship among each other.

I wish that Christians were that patient and loyal to their community. For Christians, we feel like we do have the option of leaving the church and leaving God if we don't find what we are looking for. But for Jews, their identity is a gift and something they cannot wholly forsake (although I do know some folks who claim to be Jew-ish). In the Christian faith today, our community is seen as optional. So I ask- How can we recover a true sense of unforsakable community?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hardcore Justice- Methodist Style

A neighbor of mine once said, "Birmingham is a city full of secrets that nobody outside of town knows." While I have seen what she meant as manifested in the area's beautiful mountain ridges, spectacular restaurants, and down-home Southern culture, last week I encountered a negative example of her claim. In fact, to my mind, it must be the dirtiest of those secrets- the inordinate amount of homeless persons that walk the streets of the Birmingham metro area.

Last Thursday, I paid a visit to The Church of the Reconciler, a downtown United Methodist congregation whose mission is specifically to the homeless population in downtown Birmingham. Initially, the congregation was a merger of various United Methodist congregations in the downtown area on the decline. However, the church's mission shifted when the pews slowly began to be filled with more and more homeless. Instead of dreading this shift, the church embraced their new direction. Now they feed, minister to, and worship with hundreds of Birmingham homeless every week. In fact, the demand for their mission was so great that they recently had to purchase a larger facility.

During my visit, I was impressed with the church's pastor, Rev. Kevin Higgs. Kevin is a well-educated and well-spoken pastor who could easily have ascended to a more prestigious pulpit. Instead, he actually requested this specific appointment from the bishop, and embraces his calling to serve Christ with "the least of these" (Mtt. 25). He is sober and realistic about the church's situation, its needs, and its congregants. But I have no doubt that he sees the significance of serving in such a challenging, yet grace-filled, place.

According to Kevin, there are more homeless per capita in Birmingham than anywhere else in the South. In fact, in a metro population of about 1.2 million, there are well over 4,000 (Kevin estimates that it's grown closer to 5,000 since the last homeless census) homeless persons in the Magic City. To find out more about the poverty in the area, click here. And please, as we all seek to serve Christ in the least of these, help us to ensure that this "city of hidden secrets" has a few less dirty ones.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion: Sermons

The audio for my latest sermon, "The Land", is up on the TUMC website. Check it out here.

Also, be sure to check out my sermon on Moses from 7/11.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Don't Need a Pass- I'm With the Sand

It's been a while since my last blog. Things have, all of a sudden, gotten very hectic around TUMC. I want to take the opportunity to now to turn away from my own endeavours and promote one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

A few years ago, I was at a youth conference in North Carolina. The featured "entertainer" (for lack of a better word) for the weekend was Joe Castillo, a sand artist. At first, I wondered what in the world that meant. I thought it sounded a little hokey, like the guys who come to music fests and build big sand castles. But Joe's work absolutely blew my mind.

Sand art, for Joe, starts with a plate of glass covered in sand. There is a camera below the glass, and Joe stands over the top of it. Joe's art is projected to the audience. Music starts, and Joe gathers the sand and "paints" biblical scenes with the it. But Joe does not paint one scene. Instead, the scene constantly changes (and it is choreographed with the music very well), until he finishes "painting" a biblical story. The best way I can describe it is "movie art". I know this doesn't help you very well with understanding what it is, so here are some videos of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Eat This Book... And Keep Chewing

As the prophet Ezekiel was faced with the humbling task of offering the Lord's word to the exiled Israelites, God tells him, "Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." The prophet does as he's commanded, and it is sweet in his mouth, like honey. (Ezekiel 3:3) I'm not sure how long it took Ezekiel to eat that scroll, but that kind of meal takes me weeks.

In seminary, I had a brilliant young professor named Kavin Rowe who taught two of my New Testament courses, Intro to NT and Acts. These two courses were two of the most challenging courses I had at the Div School (and two of my lowest grades), but I learned a heckuva lot. One of Dr. Rowe's maxims was that to read Scripture properly, a significant task is to try and read each book in its entirety, in one sitting, without interruption. Now, for our modern, impatient minds, this task is very diffucult- for instance, I am in the midst of reading Jeremiah straight through, and I can only handle about 3-5 chapters per night. But indeed, this is how the original readers and hearers (mostly hearers) of these texts digested them. So the idea is, that if you want to perceive these texts as closely as possible to their original authorial intent, you must read them in one sitting.

And let me tell you, this completely changes the way one understands these texts. In reading a book all at once, I have caught so many verses, passages, etc. that I have previously interpreted out of context, and so this is a strategy that I fully endorse. In a day when football players show their faith by listing a verse on their eye-black, this practice of Scripture reading reminds me of how much deeper and comprehensive Scriptural faith is than our fast-food, reductionistic view.

For a good intro to the art of reading Scripture, I recommend the following two books:
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: This book is accessible and really thoughtful.
Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible: This book is very Catholic, but very good and short.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the Aftermath of Jubilation

Every now and then, I will offer links to other blogs, articles, etc. that I find pertinent. Here is one about the 4th of July, which fell on a Sunday this year. The blogger is Dr. James Howell, the pastor from the last church where I was a lay member, Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, NC (he is also an enormous influence on my call to enter into the ministry). Dr. Howell offers a critique of the American attitude (more specifically, the Christian American attitude) towards this holiday. I think he hit it out of the park on this one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rachel Ray Sex Advice

Yes, you heard that right. Last week, I was sitting in a waiting room and the Rachel Ray Show was on. "OK," I thought, "This is normal." That is until I heard the topic for the day: Sex. I almost spit my stale coffee back into the styrofoam cup.

I'm no prude or anything, but I thought Rachel Ray was a chef?! What is she doing giving sex advice? Well, I had no other choice than to sit through the rest of this episode as Ms. Ray brought in a "sex expert" to answer audience questions- most of which made me pretty queasy- and Ms. Ray proceeded to continually put in her two cents. I would expect something like this from MTV or Oprah, but not from what I thought was essentially a cooking show. I guess anyone can give you sex advice nowadays as long as it makes money. I mean, really? If I turn on the TV to get advice about making a Thanksgiving turkey, I do not expect to hear advice about the bedroom.

But you know, the church isn't doing a whole lot to help the situation. Sex has got to be the most preached-upon topic in sermon series, and I've yet to hear a good theologically- or biblically-grounded one yet. In fact, there's not a whole lot that the Bible says about sex (it was a whole lot less of a big deal back then as it is now, apparently), and what we do have is kind of ambiguous (for instance- what really is "porneia" in the New Testament?).

Typically, I take my ideas about sex from my doctrine of creation- if the act isn't open to creation, then it probably ain't right. Therefore, I have mostly been against the idea of homosexual ordination in the church. Now you're thinking, "Wait Drew, don't you believe in birth control? Wouldn't that be against your doctrine of creation?" My only answer to that is, "Dangit". Moreover, the fact that I was disgusted over hearing sex advice in public speaks to the fact that I've accepted a public/private split on the matter of sex (so I am making up for it by being red-faced as I type this blog entry). In fact, I've realized lately how, even in marriage, so many of my ideas on sex have been influenced by popular culture (read- people like Rachel Ray), not really my theological perspectives.

What does a biblically-informed ethic of sex really look like? How does this ethic fit with a doctrine of creation? Obviously I am disgusted by the idea of people like Rachel Ray, and not the church, informing our sex life; yet, I have realized how much of my own sex life has been informed by people like her. How should the church teach sex?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

View from the High Horse

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been co-leading (mostly observing) a book study of Fearless by Max Lucado. Before this study, I had never read any of Mr. Lucado's books. But I had heard a little about them from others. And the sense I got was that my Duke-educated, highfalootin', book-learned self would not see a bit of redeeming value in anything he wrote. So when I was asked to help with this book study, I was a little nervous.

It turns out that I was right, but in a good way. Sure, Lucado's not exactly going to deal in the same terms as Bultmann, Barth, and Hauerwas, so the book was not something that I would get a lot of redeeming value out of. In fact, his writing is very simple, and even by the way the typeface was set, I felt that my intelligence had been insulted. What's more, his writing does come off as a little too "warm and fuzzy". But given all of this, it was not far off base. Fearless was pretty orthodox and Lucado drew straight from several biblical examples (some I thought risked reductionism- the reading of a text out of context, but most often not).

All of this reminded me how pseudo-intellectual, seminary-educated folks like me can totally miss our mark when we communicate with our parishioners. It's obvious that the reason that the Christian book-buying public eats up works by authors like Lucado and Osteen (but don't get me started on him) is because they are accessible. Sure, I would love if folks in the pews had a basic understanding of Hays or Lindbeck, or even if most knew how much they've been influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr, or how much I wish they would eat up some Lesslie Newbigin, James Howell, or Lauren Winner (I offer the latter four examples as authors who are well-learned yet somewhat lay-accessible). And I still encourage folks to read these people as well. But the truth of the matter is, that outside of worship, it is difficult for folks to find the time and desire to read more than a 5-page chapter in large type that requires very little thought. So my hat's off to you, Mr. Lucado, for spreading the Good News in a very accessible way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fear Not!

There are countless Scripture passages which teach us not to fear: Matthew 10:26-31, Psalm 46, and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 just to name a few. It seems that we who fear God ought to not fear anything else. I am even currently co-leading a study at church on a book by Max Lucado called Fearless (maybe after the study is finished I can share my thoughts on the book).

But yesterday, an event happened in the neighborhood of our church that struck fear into many of us here at Trinity. Two armed men carjacked an employee at the Piggly Wiggly down the street from the church. The two men fled, were chased by police, wrecked the car a few blocks from the church, and ran. Police apprehended one of the two gunmen. Read about it here.

We were holding a staff meeting, when a co-worker stuck her head in the door of the conference room to tell us the news. Immediately, some of us (myself included) ran out of the room to find and update our loved ones. For most of the rest of the day, we were on lockdown in the church- no one could come in or go out.

It's situations like this that remind me how far we fall short of God, who fearlessly loves us. In our nihilistic culture which sees death as the absolute end, we lack any sense of eschatological hope. This has bled over into our churches, where I find very little preaching of eschatological imagination other than simple pie-in-the sky theology. It's too risky, too unknown to profess faith in a God who resurrects and creates newly. So we put our ultimate faith in folks in lab coats and politicians who legislate health care laws. Don't get me wrong, I admire and partake of advances in medical sciences as much as the next person. I am extremely fortunate to see a doctor to cure my ills and do so affordably. But is this really the absolute end? Is our health, our earthly life, all there is? Why can we not see healing, as it was in the Bible, as a sign, which points to the God who makes us new?

Even our naive confessions of pie-in-the-sky fall too short for me. How does thinking that I'll die and play the back nine with Jesus in the sky, be reunited with my old dog, and have tea parties with Aunt Norma shape us as a community of disciples? We've got to think deeper, longer, and more imaginitively about God's reclamation project for all of creation, not just about our whims and desires. Only then can we live with the love which casts out fear. My recommendation: read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

All the time, I witness God re-claiming a life, making something out of a mess, leading my fellow depraved humans in faithfulness and obedience despite the pressures of the world. How can this not be a sign, a foretaste of a new creation? I have no idea what God specifically intends for us after this life, but as for myself, I imagine myself sitting around the throne of God proclaiming the eucharistic affirmation of the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Truckin' and Eucharistin'

Before I blog anything too serious, I must begin with this link to a fictious advertisement for a Sunday worship service. It was created by a parishioner at St. Andrew's Episcopal in Birmingham, an Anglo-Catholic community not far from Trinity. It reminds me that, yes, there is room for humor in the Good News.

I was reminded of the humor of Scripture last semester in seminary when I wrote an exegesis paper on Acts 12. In this passage, Luke (the author of Acts and the Gospel bearing his name) tells of a young maidservant Rhoda who hears the voice of Peter at the gate to the house she serves. Peter has been imprisoned, sent away to die at the hand of one of the Herodian kings, but has escaped. Rhoda is so excited to hear Peter's voice that she runs in and tells her mistress Mary, mother of John Mark (supposed author of the Gospel According to Mark), the good news. Only she, and the others in the house don't believe her and Rhoda looks foolish. But it's only when they see Peter at the gate in flesh-and-blood, do they finally understand what God has done. The story eerily echoes that of Doubting Thomas in John's Gospel (John 20:24-39).

OK, so it's not going to be featured on Saturday Night Live anytime soon, but it is a scene which was assuredly funny to ancient readers, as it followed the tropes of the familiar (to ancient readers) Greek New Comedy genre. Not only is it funny, but it is imbedded in a very downcast portion of the narrative of Acts in which apostles and Christians are suffering persecution for their faith.

It's often said that God has a sense of humor. I think there's warrant for that. So next time you're in church, don't be afraid to tell a good joke. Just make sure it's not one you learned a monster truck rally...

Monday, June 28, 2010

A New Chapter

So, as you can probably tell, I have updated my blog. But I have done so in concert with an update in my own life. I graduated from Duke Divinity School in May, and I am now one week in to my first appointment as a United Methodist pastor. I am now serving as the Associate Minister for Evangelism and Young Adults at Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, AL.

The above picture is of the front entrance to the main sanctuary at Trinity. Trinity is a large church in suburban Birmingham. Its membership currently sits at around 3,500 members. Compared to most UMC congregations, Trinity is very young- 80% of new members in 2009 were under 40 years old. But more surprising still, is that Trinity doing all the same things that traditional UMC churches have been doing all along- two traditional worship services (complemented by one contemporary service), Sunday School, UMYF, UMW, you name it. But, as I can tell in my first week, Trinity is doing these things the right way. Perhaps I can flesh those practices more as this newly refreshed blog continues to unfold.

My responsibilities at Trinity will be to work with the Young Adult (ages 21-35) ministries and programming here, to help bring in new members, and to help those new members assimilate into the faith community here by finding their calling in service to God. I am blessed to work with a talented and faithful staff here, and I can already tell that they will be a big help. I am humbled to serve in this position, and if anything I do serves to open one person's eyes to the Kingdom of God, then it is by God's prevenient grace. Deo Gratias.