Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ONA Conversations

For about 8 months now, our congregation has been involved in a process of discernment known as the Open and Affirming (ONA) process. The purpose of this discernment process is to educate our members about issues relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. It's secondary purpose is aimed at developing a policy officially welcoming and affirming by name persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.

There are fewer groups of persons who have been disallowed, disowned, and unwelcomed than gay and transgender folks. And in few other institutions other than church, have these same folks been met with alienation, judgment, and condemnation. Our ONA process and subsequent statement of inclusion (if it's agreed upon by a vote of the congregation) affect several areas throughout our church life. It also opens us up to conversations about equality. If we're open and affirming to gay folks, how open and affirming are we to disabled folks? How might we continue to educate ourselves about the issues of inclusion and the obstacles that remain?

A good friend has been writing a series of posts about areas of inclusion on his blog. asking tough questions about integration (we've all heard the oft quoted statement, 'Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week.') How do we remain open and seek ways to understand why we need to be that way? These are questions we'll continue to ask whether or not we vote to become an Open and Affirming congregation.

This afternoon I read an interesting article written by a woman who married a gay man. Her insights are well-written, her questions tear at your heart, and her final resolve is one of hope--one that addresses why gay men would marry a woman in the first place. Let me encourage you to read it (as well as my friend's posts). Both of these articles remind us of the importance of inclusion across racial, socio-economic, political, orientation, and gender lines. All in all they address the issue of Jesus' call towards inclusion, affirmation, and kingdom building.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

When a Sermon is a Sermon

I wanted to think of a nifty post title and this is what I came up with. I read an interesting post by a congregate of another congregation, this what was the post said,

A sermon is not a motivational speech. It is not a life application message. Don’t tell me how to get along with my coworkers or bring passion back into my marriage. Preach a da*n sermon. Tell me what the text says and then let me see how you wrestle the Good News out of it.

That can be the only concern for a preacher when looking at a text. What is the Good News here? It is often easier to find a way to have it remind you of a life lesson that came out of a conversation with your young son, or to see how it could help you eliminate stress if you only prayed more or remembered to be thankful. Finding the Good News in a nineteen hundred-year-old book written in another language and cultural context is hard.

When it comes to preaching, the author is correct: it IS hard. It is also joyous when everything comes together--and that makes up for the challenge of presenting and preaching a good sermon. What struck me about this post was the reality of what a sermon isn't: it isn't a motivational talk nor is it a 'life application message' per say. It is delving into the text and finding a way to bring it and Jesus to life, 1900 years later.

But this isn't to say that a sermon cannot include motivation and life application, as the author points out. Sermons include many genres and parts--each part pointing to something deeper and meaningful. For many preachers, that something is always Jesus and how Jesus relates to our faith today. For a few others, Jesus has been relegated to something less--or as a mere by-product of living a full life. We've all heard preachers who preach mainly about one thing or another. Yesterday, I watched a video featuring the president of Union Theological Seminary (my seminary alma mater) when ABC News ran a story about a tele-evangelist and megachurch pastor whose primary message what that God wants you to be rich--both financially, mentally, and physically. When Jesus fits that construct, then that's when you hear the import of Jesus. But this preacher finds wealth to be very important and it is to the thousands who attend his churches and the estimated 1 billion people who watch him on television.

Joel Osteen is another preacher who preaches prosperity. His critics contend that he compromises the Jesus message by articulating wealth as being superior to poverty (whereas Jesus proclaimed those who are 'poor in spirit' to be counted among the best in the life to come. And yet, Osteen message affects countless thousands who flock into America's largest church in Houston, Texas.

As an aside to my point, the magazine Rev! pointed to an interesting new phenomena in their latest issue that explains that of the 100 top mega-churches in America (membership greater than 1000), 75 of their pastors never attended seminary. Isn't this interesting? While I don't think a seminary education will give you a special place in heaven, I have difficulty imagining a pastor not trained in the models of philosophy and Scriptural interpretation and deconstruction. These provide a serious benefit to the pastor as he or she nagivates the faith journeys of their congregation.

I think there is a common thread between these mega preachers and the Rev! story that bears a closer examination. Those who have the largest followings are preachers whose personal magnetism is the beacon of their ministry. Your local pastor may suggest that Jesus ought to be the true beacon--and if you ask either Osteen or other mega-church pastors, they would surely agree. And yet, their message is speaking about something somewhat different (and sometimes altogether different) from the message Jesus proclaimed 2000 years ago. It is so different that those who are responding to it explain how incorporating the preacher's message has changed their lives. And, I wouldn't doubt that lives are being changed all the time.

What I wonder about is how a preacher's message that draws thousands of souls to a life of prosperity is similar or different to the message Jesus proclaimed. Or, perhaps I might explain it this way: when is a sermon considered preaching and when is a sermon considered a 'life application message'? To me, when a message of Jesus is proclaimed that honors the poor in spirit, this is preaching. When a message is about how I can profit in one way or another, then that message is not preaching--it's something different. Is it better? Is it worse? Honestly, messages of prosperity can be helpful when we live a life of self-hatred and self-indignation. To me, we are children created by and with the image of God in us. We can be prosperous spiritually affecting our community with the good news of God's peace. But when the focal point of a sermon is reversed: when prosperity and the redirection of God's peace is pointed at our self-worth, then something has changed in the sermon that no longer makes it a sermon--it becomes something else.

And that's really all I am saying. I am not intending to make judgments here. I simply want to clarify when a sermon is a sermon and when its not. Am I splitting hairs? Reply with your opinion and let's share our thoughts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Joke of the Day: The Love Story of Ralph and Edna.

Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want
them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all
they have.

Ralph and Edna were both patients in a mental
hospital. One day while they were walking past the
hospital swimming pool. Ralph suddenly jumped into the
deep end. He sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed
there. Edna promptly jumped in to save him. She swam
to the bottom and pulled him out.

When the Head Nurse Director became aware of Edna's
heroic act she immediately ordered her to be
discharged from the hospital, as she now considered
her to be mentally stable. When she went to tell Edna
the news she said, 'Edna, I have good news and bad
news. The good news is you're being discharged, since
you were able to rationally respond to a crisis by
jumping in and saving the life of the person you love.
I have concluded that your act displays sound
mindedness. The bad news is, Ralph hung himself in the
bathroom with his bathrobe belt right after you saved
him. I am so sorry, but he's dead.'

Edna replied, 'He didn't hang himself, I put him there
to dry. How soon can I go home?'

eBooks on Finances

You know, when it comes to our personal finances, there is a commonly help belief that if you save more than you spend, OR if you live below your means, then that is all you need to know to not be in debt. In actuality, it's more than that (although certainly it contains that too). We need to continually educate ourselves regarding what we buy, how we shop, and what credit and investments are all about. Only by immersing ourselves in the ways we shop, save, and invest can we truly break the cycle of debt that our consumerist culture constantly throws at us.

Today I found a great resource to help us educate ourselves. I have a blog post that pointed me to another blog post that contains 30 eBooks (actually they are just .pdf files that you can read on your Palm Pilot or computer). These files contain a wealth of information (pun intended).

h/t Dumb Little Man

Guest Bloggers

Hello Church folk (and other readers!)-

I am excited to announce that over the course of the next few months we will be having guest bloggers write about their experiences of faith, religion, and how they interpret their culture in light of their faith.

Our first guest blogger is church member Steve Moldt who is, as you know, a practicing Buddhist. He will post a series of articles on Christianity and Buddhism and how they both compliment his faith and outlook on life. He will be posting his first article in the next few days.

Isn't blogging great?!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It Does Matter How You Say It...

Here is a great quote taken from a longer post that I'll link to at the end:

"Much as we want people to understand that the words gay and marriage do belong together, we don't want “gay marriage.” It's the freedom to marry that matters – for all of us."

Evan Wolfson makes a great case that suggests marriage should be for all, whether gay or straight, but that there shouldn't be "gay marriage" because it suggests it would be different than 'straight marriage.' I like it when conversations such as these take place when the issues is about equality and how to make it as seamless as possible. Wolfson's argument is for a seamless marriage for all.

Go here to a blog about Wolfson's comment (and subsequently where I read it). Go here to where his words first appeared.