Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Good Friday Reading

Why the cross? Of course, there are myriads of ways to answer this question. But I have not found a more articulate response to my own feelings on the subject than this article by Anglican theologian Charles Hefling. I hope it challenges and frees you as you approach the thought of God bearing the cross this week.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Veggie Tale

Early in my appointment at Trinity, an elderly woman came up to me after worship and (quite randomly) asked me, "Why do we have to kill to eat?" Usually, I have some kind of packaged answer for theological questions posed to me by laity. But I had no answer for this one. First, it caught me off guard because the question seemed out of context to the worship service we just had. But second, as a Christian pacifist and lover of meat, I had no packaged answer for this one. In fact, I had no answer at all.

So I asked a lot of my preacher and div school friends. Many of them were stumped as well. Even those who are vegetarian told me they were simply protesting the inhumane manner with which animals are slaughtered. The best answer, however, came from one of my div school roommates who, oddly enough, is no longer a Christian. He told me that the early church fathers, and later Augustine, said the answer to that question was that killing animals for food was an act necessary only after the Fall of Genesis 3. 

Now I know the naturalist answers: we were born with incisors, the need for protein and iron, and the simple fact that these animals are born and raised for our consumption. But none of that from a Christian perspective means that meat-consuming was part of God's intention for humankind. And, don't get me wrong: I love meat. I fancy myself a connoisseur of North Carolina barbecue. When someone else is paying, I always go for the New York strip. And, after my doctor predictably told me that my cholesterol was too high, chicken became a staple of the dinner table at my house. But my love for meat, like most things I "love", is trumped by my love for Christ and willingness to explore other routes of growth in Christ.

So I have given up meat for Lent in order to live into my exploration of this question posed to me years ago. What I have found is that I do not miss meat nearly as much as I thought I would. I have found excellent substitutes that people always told me were excellent substitutes, but I never believed them (come on, certainly a Big Mac and tofu are not in the same league). But I have learned that I can survive quite well on pasta, grits, portobellos, and greens. I have even enjoyed odd foods like quinoa and polenta. The experiment has been a bigger success than I suggested. In fact, I worry that my Lenten devotion has been easier on me than it should be. After all, I have not understood the temptation and suffering that I am supposed to know during this season of repentance. But, well, it's too late to go back now and do something more painful, right?!

One of my vegetarian pastor friends said, "It seems ridiculous to me that we feel like we need meat with every meal." At first, I thought it was just "hippie talk", but now I get it. In our super-sized nation, we can afford to keep our meals a little leaner. Plus, we are fortunate people in our world today. For most of the history of the world, and even in several places today, meat has been, and is, considered a luxury item on the  menu. If anything, this Lenten devotion has placed me in slight solidarity (they didn't have access to the fancy meat substitutes I do) with those who have gone before me, and I understand a little bit more about the resilience of God's creation without the comforts of the Western world. But, like most people who try a Lenten devotional practice, I realize I have a long way to go to fully understand these things. Thanks be to the perfect God of grace, who guides us as we grow to understand God's love for all of creation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Weddings

It seems that I have either recently officiated or will soon officiate several weddings, so I've been thinking a lot about what it means to get married, especially in the church. Here are a few thoughts I have compiled.

  • If you are a religious person, get married in a church, temple, synagogue, etc. I understand that it is cute and fun to get married on a beach, in a park, or in a baseball stadium, but the ceremony of marriage is a religious ceremony. If the ceremony occurs in a sanctuary of some sort, you will be surrounded by religious symbolism that will set the ceremony, and the ensuing marriage, in the proper context. I know I write this at the risk of sounding like an old fogey traditionalist, but believe it or not, there is oftentimes a good reason that a certain tradition forms.
  • Since the wedding ceremony and marriage are religious acts, don't get married if you aren't religious. Somehow, what was once considered religious and sacred has bled over into the secular and state world, as the media propounds marriage as a simple fact of life that is needed if you don't want to be lonely and since the government has decided to get into the marriage business. These are only recent inventions to commandeer the religious for other reasons (see next bullet point) and, if you aren't religious, there are certainly more convenient and cheaper ways to show your commitment to your partner.
  • Weddings are big business. According to Wikipedia (a reliable source, I know), the wedding industry reaps $40 billion a year. Your wedding is not that special to your florist, caterer, photographer, etc. They do not care if you will have enough money to eat dinner your first week of marriage. You are a big source of revenue to them and they will try to upsell you on everything possible (I'm speaking in generalities here). And this is only a recent phenomenon. For example, the idea of the engagement ring has only been around about 100 years or so (Thanks, Cecil Rhodes). What is supposed to be a meaningful celebration of God's gift of marriage has been grossly bastardized into brides obsessing over the most extravagant bridesmaid dresses, grooms tearing up friendships over who will be the best man, and stressing over what party favor to give guests. This is not what God had in mind.
  • Marriage is not for everyone. Movies, novels, and the sentiment at the country club may indicate that your life is nothing without marriage. If you don't get married, then you must be useless and undesirable. But both Jesus and Paul were very cautious about marriage (cf. Luke 20:34-38 and 1 Cor. 7:38... not exactly passages you will hear proclaimed at the next Royal Wedding). The Bible does not see marriage as some fairy tale come true, but as a serious union with serious ramifications.
  • Marriage is a serious deal in the church because, well for one, Jesus definitely wasn't a fan of divorce (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:7-9, and parallels). This is not because Jesus was looking for a way to punish us. Instead, he was concerned to create a community in which God's people would not see the brokenness of divorce unfold. Your marriage is not a vacuum and it greatly affects parents, friends, and children, whether we want to admit it or not. We pastors, as leaders of faith communities, do our best to make sure that divorce does not result from a marriage. We usually try to spend several hours in counseling with couples on the front end to make sure that couples know the seriousness of marriage. This, in my opinion, constitutes a good reason (and one that I think is more important that getting married in a church building) to be married by a serious clergyperson who has your spiritual interests in mind.
  • How much should you pay your pastor? This question always comes up when I officiate a wedding. Our pay is somewhat arbitrary for officiating a ceremony and, sometimes, we pastors are too sweet and sugary to be firm in saying how much our time is worth. The standard for our church is $200. If that seems high, consider how much you pay for the dress, caterer, florist, honeymoon, etc. You can have your wedding without them. You cannot have your wedding without a pastor. And your pastor's time away from her or his family is worth something. Also, don't underestimate the amount of time your pastor spends in preparing for premarital counseling, the ceremony, and the homily. And also, unlike these vendors, your pastor has an enormous workday ahead of him tomorrow.
  • If any of this sounds bitter, then I apologize for the tone. Every couple I have married has done come to the altar with the intent to grow in their faith together and has understood my fairly strict interpretation of the ceremony and marriage. But I do cringe every time I see an ad on TV for a jewelry store, a "wedding episode" of a TV show, or a thick bridal magazine on the grocery store rack without a single word of God. God deserves better than this and, frankly, you do too.