Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Growing a Church

Bob Hyatt, is a church planter and new pastor of a church in Evergreen Community Church in Portland, Oregon. The church began with just a few folks and has grown exponentially. There are troubles with growing too fast- most notably that the attention necessary to meet and greet the newcomers gets lost and they leave feeling as though the church doesn't care about them.

And so a church reacts by adding new ministers and new programs, over-extending itself and sometimes putting themselves in debt. Working your tail off to get the church and going can also lead to burnout and a whole host of other problems.

Presently his church meets in homes, at neighborhood bars, or anywhere else they can find a place to put all the people. What his church is doing is inspirational and shows how creative they are in coming up with new ideas to tell "the old, old, story."

Bob writes about his struggles in his church start. Reading his thoughts and insights you can tell he is a soul searcher doing an amazing thing. Check out his blog, visit his church wesbite, and think how we can do something similiar here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Our Calling and our Vocations

I found this great devotional waiting for me in my email inbox. And I want to share it with you-

Your Irrevocable Calling
by Os Hillman

For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable. - Romans 11:29

It is dangerous to align your calling and your vocation as dependent on each other. God calls us into relationship with Him. That is our foremost calling. It is from this relationship that our "physical" calling results. Whether that is to be a teacher, a stockbroker, a nurse, a pastor, or any number of vocations, we must realize that when He calls us, the change in vocation never changes His call on our lives. It is a mere change in the landscape of our calling. This is why it is dangerous to associate our purpose and calling too closely with our work. When we define our work life exclusively as our calling, we fall into the trap of locking up our identity into our vocation. This promotes aspiration because of a need to gain greater self-worth through what we do.

Os Guinness, author of The Call, describes the great artist Picasso, who fell into this trap.

"When a man knows how to do something," Pablo Picasso told a friend, "he ceases being a man when he stops doing it." The result was a driven man. Picasso's gift, once idolized, held him in thrall. Every empty canvass was an affront to his creativity. Like an addict, he made work his source of satisfaction only to find himself dissatisfied. "I have only one thought: work," Picasso said toward the end of his life, when neither his family nor his friends could help him relax. [Os Guiness, The Call (Nashville, Tennessee: Word Publishing, 1998), 242.]

What happens when you lose your job? Do you lose your calling? Do you lose your identity? Do you lose your sense of well-being? No. Calling involves different stages and experiences in life. Disruptions in your work are an important training ground for God to fulfill all aspects of His calling on your life. Trust in your God who says your calling is irrevocable and that all things come from Him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Salvation through Violence?

As many of you know, Rosie O'Donnell is now on The View, that morning talk show hosted by funny and bright women who talk about various topics of interest, some of which can be a bit controversial. Last week, the ladies of the View were responding to the Pope's latest rant (speech) against Islamic violence and Rosie equated extremist Muslim fanaticism with militant right wing Christian folks. You can watch the portion of the show below (it's only about a minute long).

Interestingly enough, last week I ran across a comment on a blog asking if violence is ever a sin, and if it were, how would Christians be divided in various positions very much akin to how Christians are divided over their view of sex.

And then yesterday, I was commenting on a post over on a friend's blog comparing Islam extremists to the religion of Islam to Christian understandings of violence. One of the comments on that blog was at odds with the Islam understanding of violence as compared to the Christian view that violence plays no part in the Christian's salvific experience. Unfortunately though, as I pointed out in my response, is that Christianity does have a violent streak when we explain that Jesus' death and crucifixion paid the price for our sins. In his violent death, their is redemption, right?

Christianity and Judeo-Christianity has a violent streak that runs from Genesis through Revelation. Beginning with the nation of Israel invading a land that did not belong to them and killing its inhabitants to disobedient Israelites being slaughtered at Joshua's hand. We find examples of obedience through violence in the proclamations of Moses and the prophets who demand death as a payment for sinful behavior. Enter into the New Testament, and Jesus' death at the hands of his enemies provided a salvation for anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord.

I wonder if violence were not a part of the salvific experience and Jesus instead held a prayer meeting in the Garden of Gethsemane and invited anyone to come forward to take Jesus into their hearts, if that would have been a softer approach than first being beaten and then being hung on a cross bleeding to death at the hands of the Romans. Or, in the mindset that Jesus' death had to pay for sins (again the violent act of redemption), if Jesus could simply have laid down on an altar (think of Isaac willingly laying down on the alter for his father Abraham) and, instead of a knife being used, his Spirit could simply have been released from his body by the same voice of God that declared, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." That voice could also have said, "Well done, my faithful child. Now come home Son, I've missed you." Would this be a way out of the violence of Jesus' atoning sacrifice?

My point in all this is to help us see that violence plays a huge part in our own salvific history. We need to be mindful of others who employ violence in order that they too, may find salvation. While not justifying a militant's fanaticism, we might explore other methods of gaining the world's sympathy and finding another solution to ending terrorism than by violence, scapegoating, and alienation alone.

Discussing such discussions begs us to also talk and engage those who question and challenge violence as a means to salvation. For this reason, many liberation theologies speak out against violence as a means of salvation because it has so often justified other kinds of violence (e.g., spouse abuse and war). If violence does not lead to salvation, as Mary Daly and Rosemary Ruether (two liberation feminists) suggest, then what does lead to salvation? Could Christianity have missed the real message of salvation and redemption of Jesus by focusing on the wrong way in which salvation occurs?

I believe these are good questions to ask; otherwise, we might think we're better than someone else while we go about killing others in the name of terrorism, war, or white hetero-European-Christian-centristic moral cleansing. And, while we're at it, maybe we will find a solution to ending this war on terrorism that is killing so many innocent people along the way.

I am even tempted to ask, can their ever be redemption when collatoral damage occurs? But I won't ask, that'd be another post for another day.

True Wisdom

On Sunday, we are going to be reading James 3 in church as part of our lectionary text. In the reading, James makes the case that true wisdom is synonymous with being virtuous. Or, put another way, being virtuous can also make you wise.

I think one challenge many of us face as we go through high school, then college, and sometimes to graduate school and beyond, is that we think that a wise person is someone with educational degrees. The more degrees a person has, the more likely we are to trust their judgment. And, if they are a doctor of any kind, we tend to take their keen insights as facts, rather than as an educated recommendation.

Honestly, I am like that sometimes too. I trust my medical doctor to give me sound medical advice. When also I should be researching things myself to be an educated patient, sometimes I get lazy and let him make all the decisions for me. As any of our older congregants can tell us, to do can lead to big mistakes. Doctors, after all, are only human and able to make mistakes too.

When I was younger, I often found myself in awe with anyone who had a college or graduate degree. It wasn't until I too had a college degree that I discovered people who were just as silly and prone to error as anyone else. And, I found that true wisdom isn't learned in the classroom. It is learned somewhere else.

Some people think true wisdom is learned in the School of Hard Knocks. Living life 'in the real world', so to speak, educates a person into wisdom. However, I know several people who think they are wise but they are actually pessimists (or, 'realists' as they would say). The real world or graduating from the School of Hard Knocks can open our eyes to situations where we realize that we are responsible for our decisions. And, it can also help make us more responsible. And, it can help us appreciate where we've been and where we're going. But that in and of itself, doesn't make us wise. I mean, not everyone who has had a tough life is wise, right? Many folks who have had tough lives are sometimes prone to harmful coping mechanisms that comfort their frustrations. Many of them use the benefits of escapist opportunities such as getting drunk every night, over eating, or doing drugs to appease their egos. In other words, living a hard life in and of itself doesn't make a person wise in the way our lectionary texts explain divine wisdom.

According to James, the brother of Jesus, being virutous makes us wise. If we do good works, pursue peace, be gentle, or yield to others when the situation gets out of hand, we become wise. If we live life with integrity and let our yes's be yes's and our no's be no's, then we become wiser.

I think my biggest challenge has been learning that God's wisdom is very different than earthly wisdom. What the 'world' values in wisdom is different than what God values as wisdom. What God values as true wisdom is the ability to help others, make decisions that honor God and ourselves, while all the while keeping us out of trouble and minimizing life's stress that can weaken our spirits and cause us great emotional harm.

And you know what? While not everyone can pursue a college degree, and yet anyone can become wise. To me, that is the great equalizer in the human condition. Not only is salvation offered and able to be received by anyone but also, anyone can become wise. Learn to do good and let that doing manifest itself into our ontological existence, and in the process we'll become wise.

Now if only we could give degrees to those who have mastered wisdom, then we could make that the enviable pursuit of the uneducated or unwise.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Something to Think About

I just returned from reading a post over on Philosophy Over Coffee about something Marcus Borg had said and wanted to pass it along to you. The context of the blog entry is about feeding the homeless and what the author of the post experienced while participating in a UCC Synod meeting in Atlanta last year. He wrote a post about that experience.

Borg cites a piece of wisdom that I actually heard for the first time while at Synod: 'Give a bit of food to the hungry and they'll call you a saint. Ask why the people are hungry and they'll call you a communist.'

I don't know if Borg actually said that or not, but if he did, what do you think about that statement? It seems to talk about the politics of feeding the poor, which is a discussion we all ought to have.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Third Great Awakening?

President Bush was speaking with a group of conservative journalists recently and offered his opinion that he believes this country is experiencing a third Great Awakening. His reasons for offering this opinion were that more people that he meets on his travels talk of their faith than ever before. But he also suggests that because more and more people who see his war on terrorism as a matter of good vs. evil, similar to those who supported Lincoln who saw slavery as an issue of good vs. evil, seem to understand that good must win and that there are more people who are siding with his own understanding that good=God and that he's doing the work of God in his War on Terror.

Okay, so maybe he didn't say it exactly like that. But he did correlate his war with Lincoln's and he did talk about the War on Terror as a fight between good vs. evil and he did speculate that this country is in the midst of a Great Awakening.

What he didn't say was that Great Awakenings are not political tools, they can't be summoned (they actually are events that are later described as such, rather than saying, "Hey look everyone, we're in a Great Awakening!") Great Awakenings are not about which religion is right and which ones are demonstratedly evil; instead, they are about getting right with God on a large scale. And, it'd happen in many places all at once- a sort of Billy Graham Crusade but with a lot of Billy Grahams and it would inspire great mission and great compassion.

One journalist wrote a story asking if Bush is trying to stir the emotional forces of a dying Christian Coalition back into action. Other journalists have picked up the story, you can read a post on a blog over at the National Review Online. One blogger, which is as cynical as I am, wrote that he thinks its an awful coincidence that the Presidential politics are aimed at supporting such a third Great Awakening.

But you know, politics and religion have gone hand in hand for centuries (or milenias). Each using the other in a sort of 'strange bedfellows' kind of way. Each wanting the other to justify and support their idea of God for them or God leading them. We can read in the Old Testament where even Israel's kings had God leading them in their decisions and justifying their wars. And, we can also read of Israel's great kings who were men who talked a good faith but didn't actually live it very well. Saul had his idols, David had his women, and Solomon had both. And yet, all three claimed God as their justifier for all sorts of political activity.

Maybe what Bush is doing is trying to recast America as God's new chosen nation, replacing the Israel that so many fundamentalists believe who are responsible for killing Jesus. Maybe Bush thinks he's a David or a Solomon, I really don't know. But it makes me wonder if he is using the evangelical relationship with divinely inspired Kings to justify his War on Terrorism that is losing the confidence of the American people. It sure seems like another awful coincidence to me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Time Lapse Moon Rise

I find something spiritual in those time-lapse movies, the ones where you can watch an entire week's worth of a happening in like, a minute or two. Maybe it's because of the reminder that we're here only for a little while, in the larger scheme of things. Think about it, moons rise, tides come in, suns set and they've been doing all of these things for millions of years. And comparably, we're here for only what seems like seconds to the Universe.

To me, it makes me feel like I am part of something much larger than myself and it gives me a comfort that is difficult to express. As if what I am doing is part of everything else and, while only brief, what I do (whatever that is) will be contributing to the scheme of life.

How do you feel about the greater scheme of things? To help think about this, check out this example of a time-lapse moon rising.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


We have a host of new features coming to our new church blog. We are glad you stopped by and in the coming weeks, we'll have additions to the blog that'll be interesting (I hope).

For now, I'll start adding things to the right of this blog, with UCC-related links, fun stuff, and hopefully things that you might enjoy. And, I'll be writing a 'post', an article in which you can respond (if you like) or not.

Thanks for dropping by and if you have any blog related questions, be sure to let me know. I'll be glad to help out in any way I can.