Tuesday, October 31, 2006

10 Greatest Horror Films Ever Made

1 - Frankenstein (1931)

2 - Psycho (1960)

3 - King Kong (1933)

4 - Jaws (1975)

5 - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

6 - Alien (1979)

7 - Dracula (1931)
(Note: My brother insists that the Spanish-language version made at the same time is actually the superior film...he probably knows better than I do in this case.)

8 - The Bride of Frankenstein - (1935)

9 - Halloween (1978)

10 - The Haunting (1963)

11 (in case you don't consider "King Kong" a proper horror flick) - The Shining (1980)

Halloween 2006

When Robyn and I began our life together, we lived in Pittsburgh...in the small borough of Wilmerding, to be precise (near Turtle Creek). During the 1991 Halloween season, when Christian was only 11 months old, we purchased pumpkins for carving Jack O'Lanterns at a little fruit stand on Rt. 30 in East McKeesport. I took this picture and have loved it ever since...beautiful Robyn with the brilliant orange tones of the season around her...

Now, thirteen years after leaving the Pittsburgh area, we are back in the city. This year, we went to that same old fruit stand on Rt. 30 in East McKeesport to get our pumpkins, and we took a new picture of Robyn, even wearing that same old shirt...
...still unbelievably beautiful!

Here are our Jack O'Lanterns for Halloween 2006,
which we carved with the kids on Sunday afternoon...

Here's my brother Kevin at the recent "Zombie Walk" on the South Side...

Happy Halloween!

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities,
he made a public spectacle of them,
triumphing over them by the cross.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink,
or with regard to a religious festival,
a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

These are a shadow of the things that were to come;
the reality, however, is found in Christ."

- Colossians 2:15-17 (TNIV)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

War & Torture

I have been very concerned with the rhetoric (as well as the actions) surrounding the "War on Terror" since 9/11/01, when it really began (though I am aware that neo-conservatives claim it had started years earlier...the USA was just unaware of that). As I've stated before, I don't believe Bill Clinton or George W. Bush are responsible for the 9/11 tragedy, as either would have done whatever they felt necessary to prevent the attack had they known it was coming. To speak of conspiracy theories involving either man, which typically comes from the Reactionary Right and/or the Radical Left, is humorous at best and terribly sad at worst.

The Church has generally been of little help regarding the War on Terror. In the days and weeks after the 9/11 tragedy, the Church was kept busy comforting the mourning, guiding the confused, and helping to mobilize relief. That was fine; it was good ministry. But when the War on Terror started its Afghan phase, the Church was woefully silent. Again, when the Iraqi front opened, the Church was, for the most part silent. We do have a statement in our Social Principles in the Book of Discipline which gives us a theological springboard from which to address war, human rights, and "weapons of mass destruction", but the Church was silent...

"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

- Book of Discipline 2004, par. 165.C

How many United Methodists pondered this statement as the Afghan and Iraqi fronts opened? A legitimate question for our denominational leadership and those who will be making Church law at General Conference 2008 in Texas is, "If remarkably few United Methodists utilize or consider these principles and resolutions, of what real value are they?"

To their credit, both the General Board of Church and Society and the national leadership of the United Methodist Women early on denounced the widening war and called for an end to hostilities, but both groups have been so tainted by bizarre behavior and, in the case of the national leadership of the United Methodist Women, recent flirtation with heresy (in reference to the entire "Re-imagining" movement of the late 20th century), that it was nearly impossible for the Church to take them seriously.

Where were our bishops? While they did pass a series of resolutions "lamenting" the state of affairs, I don't recall any great move from the Council (like the one we saw after the Hurricane Katrina disaster) to teach the Church and lead us to stand against the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, in the autumn of 2005, two years after the Iraqi front opened and a full three years after the opening of the Afghan front, our bishops spoke against U.S. action in the Iraqi front, and admitted their complicity in failing to lead. This struck me as "too little, too late"; they had missed a kairos moment to prophetically lead the Church into faithful but difficult waters, speaking out only when the mood of the American people had shifted regarding the war, and the belated statement of the bishops revealed real cowardice.

Throughout the War, the White House has been "skirting the edge" regarding what are acceptable practices during a war of this nature which, granted, is a new kind of war. I believe that President Bush is a decent and sincere man who is trying his best in the midst of extraordinarily difficult circumstances to be faithful to God, to protect the United States, and prevent another 9/11-like attack. I also believe that he and his administration have made some real mistakes regarding the War on Terror, on all of its fronts; I believe that, for good or ill, the President is obsessed with preventing another 9/11-like attack.

While as a pacifist I believe all war to be wrong, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, Haiti or Kosovo, Germany or Japan, I also believe that military and political leaders should do their best to minimize the horror of war. Perhaps I'm being too naive, expecting people who are engaged in radical sin (war) to "pretty up" the sins a bit. That's something concerning which I'll need to meditate.

I have been quite concerned about the prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. While, for all I know, every one of them is guilty of war crimes, the United States should be seeing to it that all of them are treated with compassion and justice. I am aware that many of them would reject these same considerations if they held American combatants, but if the United States is to claim a moral high ground, we should take this opportunity to demonstrate some just ideals. All of the prisoners in Cuba should have been given the opportunity to defend themselves in trial by now, and our national leaders should see to it that these hearings are expedited with utmost urgency.

How can the Church help? Well, perhaps the General Board of Church & Society (and similar boards in other denominations) can offer to actually pay for legal representation for the prisoners; prisoners certainly qualify as "the least of these" by the Biblical understanding. Showing them this compassion would certainly qualify as faithful witness to the gospel. Additionally, perhaps our bishops could visit Cuba regularly, even if it means incurring fines from the federal government, to speak with, eat with, and serve the prisoners in some way. There has to be a way to do that. What powerful images we could see...our bishops serving the prisoners, helping them, modeling the love of Christ! Now, that would be leadership, and might go a long way to restoring the tarnsihed moral authority of the Council in regards to the War.

There may be no more disturbing element of the War, however, than the allegations of torture. The incidents at Abu Ghraib were surely conducted by a few misguided soldiers who acted inappropriately and who should probably be behind bars for a very, very long time. But their actions don't seem to have been condoned by their superiors, or by the White House.

What we should hold the White House responsible for is the secretive ways in which the CIA and military "experts" have been permitted to conduct torture or, at least, torture-like activities. I understand that the American leadership wants to do all it can do to prevent another 9/11, and I appreciate the urgency of that desire. But that does not mean that Christians ought to turn a blind eye or, even worse, condone these kinds of activities (I write this knowing that both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are United Methodists).

The White House has fought for several years now for the right to maintain secret interrogation facilities where torture or torture-like activities are practiced in an effort to gain information. In a speech earlier this week, Vice President Cheney seemed to make light of a particular torture (or near-torture) method, and seemed to actually endorse it. While the White House has denied the speech was an endorsement, it still raises concerns.

If the Church can't speak out strongly against torture, we are a completely neutered and tame institution.

Scripture teaches us, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21, TNIV) Our Social Principles in the Book of Discipline state, "...the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever it occurs." (par. 164.A) The GBCS released a statement in 2005 condemning the presumed torture.

Now is a time for our denominational leaders to show leadership. They need not personally attack the president or vice president, which would be antithetical to the gospel, but ought to tell the world that the Church is clearly and entirely against torture, and that we regard this as a great moral and theological issue.

We have been given another kairos moment in which to prophetically lead the Church into faithful but difficult waters...let's pray that this time, we are more faithful.

Here are some helpful links...

* A Wesleyan Attitude Toward War
* Methodists United for Peace with Justice
* National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)

How Many of Me?

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Thanks to Gavin Richardson at Hit the Back Button to Move Forward

Friday, October 27, 2006

30 Scariest Films Ever Made

This is not the same as "Greatest Horror Films"...

1 - Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

2 - Psycho (1960)

3 - Jaws (1975)

4 - The Blair Witch Project (1999)

5 - Phantom of the Opera (1925)

6 - The Exorcist (1973)

7 - The Amityville Horror (1979)

8 - Deliverance (1972)

9 - The Haunting (1963)

10 - Race With The Devil (1975)

11 - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

12 - The Ring (2002)

13 - Nosferatu (1922)

14 - The Shining (1980)

15 - Poltergeist (1982)

16 - Rosemary's Baby (1968)

17 - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1958)

18 - It (1990)

19 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

20 - Carrie (1976)

21 - Fantasia (1940)

22 - Alien (1979)

23 - The Birds (1963)

24 - Freaks (1932)

25 - Halloween (1978)

26 - The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

27 - Salem's Lot (1979)

28 - The Others (2001)

29 - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

30 - Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

'Tis the Headless Horseman season

'Tis the War season

'Tis the Mummy season

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NFL Rankings - Week 7

1 - Chicago Bears (last week 1)

2 - New England Patriots (last week 2)

3 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 3)

4 - New Orleans Saints (last week 4)

5 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 8)

6 - Denver Broncos (last week 5)

7 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 7)

8 - New York Giants (last week unranked)

9 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 9)

10 - Carolina Panthers (last week 6)

Honorable mentions:
Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles (last week 10), St. Louis Rams

Not long now:
Denny Green will not see Thanksgiving as Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals, who are now vying with Oakland for the label "Football's Worst Team"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nothing But Nets

This is one of the most exciting projects in which the Church has been involved for some time.

Sports Illustrated, the United Nations, the NBA, and The United Methodist Church have banded together to start "Nothing But Nets", a program to stop the deaths of millions of people each year due to malaria. We know that by providing nets to stop mosquitos, the spread of malaria can be severely slowed. Together with vaccinations and other methods, we can really make a difference in Africa.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, representing the UMC, will appear in Times Square on November 14 with NBA stars to give an official kick off to the program. He said that the UMC was asked to help with "Nothing But Nets" because there is a United Methodist presence — a school, clinic, or church — in nearly every African village. "United Methodist clinics, schools and churches are developing a community-based model of education, prevention, and treatment that can be used in other countries. It will teach people how to use the nets, use preventive drugs, and control mosquito-breeding areas. Our Communications Foundation also is setting up a community-based radio network to deliver information about prevention and treatment."

To learn more about this exciting ministry opportunity, click here.

To read an article in our Conference newspaper (a PDF file), which highlights the Bishop's involvement, click here.

10 Greatest Horror Film Icons

1. Lon Chaney
2. Boris Karloff
3. Bela Lugosi
4. Vincent Price
5. Christopher Lee
6. Peter Cushing
7. Anthony Hopkins
8. Donald Pleasance
9. Anthony Perkins
10. Elsa Lanchester
11. Linda Blair
12. Lon Chaney, Jr.
13. Colin Clive
14. Max Schreck
15. Janet Leigh
16. Peter Lorre
17. Robert Englund
18. Jack Nicholson
19. Jamie Lee Curtis
20. Heather O'Rourke

updated at 5:20 PM

60 Greatest Film Monsters

1. Dracula (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman)
2. Frankenstein's Monster (Boris Karloff)
3. The Wolf Man (also The Howling, An American Werewolf in London)
4. Kong (1933)
5. Sharks (Jaws, also Open Water)
6. Count Orlock (Nosferatu)
7. Godzilla
8. Phantom of the Opera (Lon Chaney)
9. Wicked Witch of the West
10. Michael Myers (Halloween, 1978)
11. The Flying Monkeys (Wizard of Oz)
12. The Mummy (Boris Karloff, Tom Tyler, Lon Chaney, Jr., Christopher Lee)
13. Satan (The Exorcist, Legend)
14. Ghosts
15. Dead sisters (The Shining)
16. Clowns (Killer Klowns, Poltergeist, It)
17. Norman Bates
18. 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville
19. Zombies (Night of the Living Dead and sequels)
20. Freddy Krueger
21. Apes (Planet of the Apes, 1968)
22. Creature from the Black Lagoon ("Gill Man")
23. Alien
24. The Oompa Loompas (Willy Wonka, 1971)
25. Black Riders (Lord of the Rings)
26. Invisible Man
27. The Headless Horseman
28. Mr. Hyde
29. Samarra (The Ring)
30. HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
31. The Blob
32. Bride of Frankenstein
33. Blair Witch
34. Moby Dick
35. Medusa (Clash of the Titans)
36. The Joker
37. Chernabog (Fantasia, 1940)
38. Hannibal Lecter
39. Baby Jane (Bette Davis)
40. Pinhead (Hellraiser series)
41. Gollum (Lord of the Rings)
42. The Fly (1958)
43. Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park)
44. Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th series)
45. Creature in the crate (Creepshow)
46. Ghostface (Scream)
47. Sleestaks (Land of the Lost TV series)
48. The Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)
49. The Body Snatchers
50. The Grinch (Dr. Seuss / Chuck Jones / Boris Karloff)
51. Giant ants (THEM)
52. Minnie Castevet (Rosemary's Baby)
53. The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, 2005)
54. Chucky (Child's Play series)
55. Mrs. Baylock (The Omen)
56. The Cast of Freaks (1932)
57. Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
58. Witchiepoo (H.R. Pufnstuf TV series)
59. Cujo
60. Prince Prospero (Masque of the Red Death, 1964)

On this date...

Bob Kane was born on this date in 1915. Kane, who died in 1998, was a true American treasure. An artist and writer of comic books, Kane, inspired in part by Zorro, in 1939 created "Batman", one of the greatest superheroes ever created and arguably one of twentieth century literature's greatest characters.

Among the other great characters created by Bob Kane were the Joker, Catwoman, and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Throughout the years, many fine writers, artists, and filmmakers have put their own spin on Kane's creations. In the 1980s, Frank Miller's take on the Batman "mythology", The Dark Knight Returns, not only was a revolution in the superhero comics medium, but jumpstarted the Batman film franchise and also led to the modern fascination with superhero films.

What wonderful stories we owe to Bob Kane! What joy his work has brought to the world! Today, I thank God for Bob Kane!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Steelers review

I'm too upset to blog.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Exciting times

It's good to be at Jefferson United Methodist Church these days. The community is growing by leaps and bounds as hundreds of young families move into the area, building beautiful new homes. Thomas Jefferson High School is currently ranked #9 in Pennsylvania for academics, and the football team is ranked #1 statewide. The autumn leaves look stunning; we may live in the best place on earth. Attendance is up at JUMC. We had nice crowds for Laity Sunday, and I look forward to the opportunities given with the "holiday boost" coming up between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A few weeks ago, our choir director (who also has served as a volunteer youth director) resigned to take a higher paying position at a nearby Episcopalian church. While we are all sorry to see her go, we are excited for her family and the opportunities her new position will bring her way.

I've also been encouraging JUMC to look at this as a blessed opportunity. While our first choice would have been for our staff to remain intact, the Spirit has brought us a chance to "jumpstart" our ministry and begin to really take advantage of the growth in the area to work on our disciple-making mission.

While we begin the search for a new choir director, we already have a temporary "fill in" lined up, who can work with us through the important Advent and Christmas seasons, when beautiful, quality music is our sincere desire. Also, JUMC has decided to begin the search for someone to oversee not only Youth ministry, but ministries to children and families as well. This is a big step for JUMC, as they've never had paid staff for this kind of ministry. We recognize that it will be a leap of faith and will work hard to see that the resources are there, but the church really feels called to "take the next step" and begin to move into the future.

We are also beginning a building program to connect our church and education buildings, complete with a much needed new roof on our ed. building, as well as a revamped exterior. The new design is really exciting and is traditional yet contemporary, which will, I think really be attractive to visitors, especially if our ministry matches our appearance.

Additionally, in 2007, we're beginning a visioncasting time, during which we will prayerfully seek the Spirit's leading regarding our future. To where is God calling us? How does he want us to get there? What does God want the ministry of JUMC to look like in 5 years...10 years...20 years?

It's an exciting time to be here, and I am thrilled that God has planted the McIlwain family in this place at this moment in time!

"I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High..."

- Psalm 9:1-2 (TNIV)

Sports thoughts

Evgeni Malkin (#71) made his NHL debut last night as a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins...and what a debut it was! Malkin was without question the dominant player on the ice, scoring his first NHL goal against perhaps the top goalie in the game, Martin Brodeur of the NJ Devils (though the Pens lost the game 2-1). Malkin was so fast, it looked for a moment as if Mario Lemieux had returned...he was so big and strong it seemed as if an NFL linebacker had skated up for the game...in short, he was everywhere...Polamalu on ice. Now, the Pens have both Malkin and arguably the best young player in the game, Sidney Crosby (#87). Once this team meshes and finds its identity, they will be probably the best young team in the NHL. Let's hope they can find a way to stay in Pittsburgh; they play the NY Islanders tonight at 7:30 PM...

...the story that terrorists may target NFL games on Sunday is frightening, and, hopefully, untrue...

...the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars (#1 in WPIAL and in PA) play Chartiers Valley this Friday before their regular season finale next week against rival West Mifflin (which is having a less than satisfactory season), but folks in the area are already looking to the playoffs; I hope the team and Coach Cherpak aren't looking any further than Friday night...

...NY Giants running back Tiki Barber, having the best season of a fine career, is contemplating retirement...I would suggest he play for a few more years until he starts losing steam; all of those media opportunities will still be there in a few years for the charismatic, well-spoken player...

...with rumors swirling around that Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis may bolt the school for an NFL opportunity, Coach Weis made it clear he had no intention of leaving the Fighting Irish, which is good news for Roman Catholics everywhere...

...regarding the melee at the University of Miami football game last weekend, here is what a colleague of mine has to say (Pastor Chris Whitehead of Charter Oak UMC), and I agree with him 100%...

...I will painfully miss Sunday's Steelers game against the Atlanta Falcons, but will be praying hard; we'll be in downtown Pittsburgh serving lunch & dinner to folks who normally don't know from where their next meal is coming, helping a wonderful ministry of New Hope United Methodist Church (led by pastor Ron Wanless)...

...despite his team's collapse Monday night against the Chicago Bears (a collapse which may ultimately cost coach Denny Green his job), Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart will soon be a superstar, a slap in the face to all the teams who passed him over in the draft...

...it's hard to care whether St. Louis or the Mets make it to the World Series to play Jim Leyland's Detroit Tigers; with the Pirates uncompetitive for what seems like a thousand years, sports fans in western PA stopped caring long ago.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


"Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honor and majesty,
who coverest thyself with light as with a garment, who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent,
who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters, who makest the clouds thy chariot, who ridest on the wings of the wind,
who makest the winds thy messengers, fire and flame thy ministers.
Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken.
Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
At thy rebuke they fled; at the sound of thy thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which thou didst appoint for them.
Thou didst set a bound which they should not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth...
O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creatures...
Praise the LORD!"
- from Psalm 104 (RSV)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NFL Rankings - Week 6

1 - Chicago Bears (last week 1)...a close Monday night game, but they persevered

2 - New England Patriots (last week 2)

3 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 3)

4 - New Orleans Saints (last week 7)...the football story of the year

5 - Denver Broncos (last week 9)

6 - Carolina Panthers (last week unranked)

7 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 5)...McNair better get healthy...fast

8 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 8)

9 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 4)...are they beginning to implode?

10 - Philadelphia Eagles (last week 6)

Honorable mentions:
Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers (what a dominating performance), San Diego Chargers (last week 10), Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

Arizona Cardinals...they almost beat the #1 ranked team in the NFL, but made some very costly mistakes against an opportunistic defense...QB Matt Leinart is coming on fast, and will very quickly be one of the NFL's best

Oakland Raiders...each week, they put on a clinic: "What Not to Do"...what a horrible mess of a football team

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Wesleyan Response to Inerrancy

Donald Haynes of Hood Theological Seminary has written a column for The United Methodist Reporter in which he deals with the question, "Is the Bible literally the Word of God?" In the article, Haynes strongly affirms Biblical authority while essentially rejecting the notion of "inerrancy".

The belief that the Bible is "inerrant" is a Calvinist doctrine which, while "in the mix" since the 16th century, wasn't formalized until the early 20th century. In the light of the 19th century development of "modern" Biblical criticism, conservative Christians (who were soon dubbed "fundamentalists") declared a belief that the Bible is inerrant in order to combat the affect that modern criticism was having on the notion of Biblical authority. By the 1970s, many evangelicals had established the idea that inerrancy was one of the real tests of evangelicalism.

The problem is that historically speaking inerrancy has been foreign to Wesleyan theology (as demonstrated by Wesleyan theologians Dennis Bratcher, J. Kenneth Grider, and Gregory Neal, among others). The reason for this is that Methodists, from Wesley's day until today, have been primarly concerned with the soteriological message of Scripture; what does the Bible say about the salvation message?

The fifth of the Methodist Articles of Religion, entitled "Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation", states in part:

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation...

The fourth article of the Evangelical United Brethren Confession of Faith similarly states, in part:

We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.

Obviously, no mention is made of the notion of inerrancy, which is predated by the Methodist Articles.

Inerrancy has, at times, actually led to idolatry and sin. A common side effect of inerrancy has been termed "bibliolatry". The Bible is inspired and authoritative, but it is also a book written through the agency of human beings. Many who affirm inerrancy are aghast at the notion that the Bible is a very human book.

Christian orthodoxy has affirmed for centuries that Jesus was/is both fully divine and fully human; in fact, that is a legitimate test of orthodoxy. He wasn't more God or more human...he was fully both.

Why, then, do so many of our sisters and brothers who affirm inerrancy reject the idea that the Bible can also be a fully divine book as well as fully human? Frankly, to reject the human side of the Bible is to place the Bible above Jesus, which is clearly sinful. Jesus is the Lord of Scripture, and is himself above even the Holy Bible.

I have found it useful in my personal understanding to differentiate between Jesus as the one true Word of God (with a capital W) and the Bible as the living, active, supernatural word of God (with a lowercase w). Both are from God, but one is certainly superior to the other.

What, then, are we to say as Wesleyans about inerrancy?

First, we can strongly affirm Scriptural authority. The Bible is inspired by God and is essential, and is authoritative for the Church. It does indeed contain all that is necessary for salvation and, as such, we need to cling to the message of Scripture and live in its gracious words, allowing the Spirit to shape us and remake us using the Bible. (Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, probably the top New Testament scholar on the planet today as well as one of the top evangelical theologians perhaps ever, has some good words to say about Biblical authority, while rejecting inerrancy.)

Second, we can be gracious to our sisters and brothers (generally of Calvinist persuasions) with whom we disagree regarding how best to define the ideas of Biblical inspiration and authority. We need not disparage those who do affirm inerrancy, even as we live in another room of God's house.

Third, we must see to it that modern Biblical criticism is responsibly applied. We have much to learn from Biblical critics, but too often their work is used to demean or belittle the Christian faith or important doctrines of the faith. Wesleyans have a responsibility as "Bible moths" to defend the Scriptures and see to it that criticism is applied properly.

Fourth, we need to be "on guard" regarding the idolatry of bibliolatry. Most folks who commit this error do so unawares. While we must guard orthodoxy, we must do so in a loving way, graciously correcting and instructing our Christian brethren.

Finally, we need to focus on our mission, which is also the Bible's purpose. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and the Bible exists not that we might prove scientific details or historic happenings which don't even matter (in terms of the big picture), but that people might believe. As I said to a Presbyterian colleague in my seminary years, "We United Methodists are content to let you all and the Baptists worry about inerrancy; we're too busy saving souls." That was my smart-mouthed way of putting the debate into perspective; we should not be distracted by these interesting but ultimately silly debates when the task at hand is of such great import.

O Father of all the nations of the earth: Remember the multitudes who have been created in your image but have not known the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that, by the prayers and labors of your holy Church, they may be brought to know and worship you as you have been revealed in the Bible, your word, and preeminently in your Son, the Word; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Spiritual Pyramid

This is a tool put together by Bishop Sally Dyck of the Minnesota Annual Conference.

It isn't perfect; no spiritual tool made by human beings is perfect. But it's an interesting visual aid to help Christians grow into proper stewards of their time and commitment to Christ.

Bishop Dyck's explanation of the pyramid can be found here.

A printable PDF version of the pyramid can be found here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

'Tis the Monster season

Steelers review

Steelers 45, Kansas City Chiefs 7

Game Ball: Steelers Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who did a remarkable job in planning and calling the game; runners-up: QB Ben Roethlisberger, who returned to form, and safety Troy Polamalu, who was everywhere (10 tackles including 9 solo, 1 49 yard int)

Play of the Game: Steelers safety Troy Polamalu's interception, which sealed the victory; runner-up: WR Santonio Holmes' 50 yard catch/run, which lit the spark for the team

Steelers Grades:

Coaching: A+ ...great job all-around

QB: A...an almost perfect performance

Running Game: A+ ...219 rushing yards (109 for RB Willie Parker)...a great offensive line performance

Passing Game: A...some excellent plays by the QB and all the wide recievers

Defense: A+ ...allowing only 7 points, they were solid, even without star linebacker & defensive leader Joey Porter; they kept Chiefs Pro Bowl RB Larry Johnson to a mere 26 yards

Special Teams: B...Holmes did a fine job returning kicks; K Jeff Reed missed what should have been an easy field goal

Chiefs analysis: This is a mediocre team with a new head coach (albeit one with previous head coaching experience). They were led by a mediocre back-up QB. The Steelers looked Super Bowl good...finally...but it was against a mediocre team, and no one should lose sight of that. A solid win for Pittsburgh. Next week, the Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons, which will be a true test.

Friday, October 13, 2006

'Tis the Vampire season

Starring Bela Lugosi, the definitive film Dracula

Thursday, October 12, 2006

'Tis the Phantom season

Starring the great Lon Chaney

Back from Retreat

I returned home yesterday from a retreat mandated and led by Bishop Thomas Bickerton, along with other clergy from the Pittsburgh and Butler Districts. The rereat was held at Camp Lutherlyn, which was absolutely beautiful, especially when filled with the vibrant colors of autumn and the falling leaves. Excellent facilities, and the food was pretty good too, as far as camp food goes.

It is always good to connect with sisters and brothers in Christ, and the conversations and "down time" were certainly a highlight of the two day event. I'm blessed to be a part of this Annual Conference, with so many gifted servants.

The Bishop presented his take on the itinerancy. His presentation was detailed and, while the topic can be a bit dry, fairly enlightening. Many in our Conference, myself included, have questioned the wisdom of the process in years past, as it has seemed at times as if salary considerations and politics have had far more to do with appointment-making in our Conference than gifts, graces, and missional needs. Bishop Bickerton has been very honest and open, and it seems as if the days of money and politics as primary considerations are gone. Praise God! I can certainly affirm that my current appointment seems the result of excellent matching and Spirit-filled direction, rather than other factors. I appreciate our Bishop's openness and the hard work our episcopal leader and his Cabinet.

He also spoke about why we need to support our Conference's strategic plan, "Believe Again", which is an attempt to not only recapture a sense of optimism, but do something to really affect mission among United Methodists in western Pennsylvania. While no one likely feels the plan is perfect, hopefully we can agree that it's a noble attempt to try something new to revitalize ministry in our Conference. In my view, we need to support our Bishop and the strategic plan as strongly as we can.

The highlight of the retreat - by far - was the sharing of the sacrament. How blessed we are to experience this gracious gift. I believe that the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup may be the most powerful thing we do as the Church, for it encompasses so much. Too often, we take it for granted, when the Eucharist is a proclamation of penitence, forgiveness, reconciliation, new life, and empowerment unrivaled in Christian praxis. When we celebrated the sacrament at Camp Lutherlyn, it was a moving moment for me. At Jefferson UMC, we celebrate communion monthly; that isn't enough. It's my desire to lead the congregation to a deeper understanding of the sacrament (something which my predecessor successfully accomplished, taking them far on the "sacramental journey"); weekly celebration is my goal. It may take a few years, but it's a goal worth working toward.

All in all, a decent retreat...a good opportunity for Bishop Bickerton to be honest and open about what may be the most stressful thing he does, which causes serious anxiety for our Conference clergy. It could've been a lot worse...I could have been there on my wedding anniversary. It was wonderful to get home and see my beautiful wife and children, though I have a lot of work waiting for me in the church. Praise the Lord for that, too!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea

A Call to Prayer with the President of the United States and Leaders of the World

by Taylor Burton-Edwards (UM General Board of Discipleship)


I'm leaving today for a retreat with our Bishop and the pastors of the Butler and Pittsburgh Districts of Western PA Conference. We'll be staying at Camp Lutherlyn, a Lutheran retreat center near Butler, PA.

Bishop Bickerton has been holding these mandatory retreats throughout the Fall; I believe he'll be discussing our Strategic Plan ("Believe Again!") and his take on the itineracy. I'll try and blog a bit about my impressions upon my return.

Our Bible study will continue later this week, continuing our study of Joseph (the OT figure, not the NT figure) and what we can learn from his life concerning godly character. This week, we'll be looking at Joseph and sexual ethics (this week's study is entitled "When All Else Fails - RUN!").

NFL Rankings - Week 5

1 - Chicago Bears (last week 2)...they look like the best in the NFL right now

2 - New England Patriots (last week 4)...the NFL's best coach (Belichick) and best QB (Brady) always contend...two future Hall of Famers at the peak of their games

3 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 1)...another record set for future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison with his 159th consecutive game with a catch...but they shouldn't have had to come from behind against the Titans

4 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 5)

5 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 3)...despite losing to Denver on MNF, they are still tough

6 - Philadelphia Eagles (last week 10)...McNabb showed Dallas who is boss...did anyone in America want T.O. to win?

7 - New Orleans Saints (last week 6)

8 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 7)

9 - Denver Broncos (last week unranked)...big win vs. Baltimore on Monday night

10 - San Diego Chargers (last week 9)...they struggled a bit to beat a sloppy Pittsburgh team

Honorable mentions:
Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks (last week 8), St. Louis Rams

Pittsburgh Steelers...they are in bad shape, extremely inconsistent, and Big Ben needs to get his act together

Games to watch next week:
NY Giants @ Atlanta
Seattle @ St. Louis
Philly @ New Orleans
Carolina @ Baltimore
KC @ Pgh (which team will begin to climb up)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Laity Sunday

In The United Methodist Church, this Sunday (October 15) has been designated Laity Sunday. It is a day when we are called to celebrate the ministry of the laity. What's so odd is that we should be doing that every day!

Many congregations celebrate the day by having lay speakers preach. At Jefferson UMC, we have two lay speakers who will bring the message. At our 8:30 AM service, Eric Jones will preach; at our 11 AM service, Ron Lewis will preach. Both are fine communicators and faithful servants in our church. I'm looking foward to sitting with my family as we worship the Lord together, something we don't get to do very often.

"...as God said,
'I will live in them, and move among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.'''
- 2 Corinthians 6:16 (RSV)

Steelers review

San Diego Chargers 23, Steelers 13

Game Ball: Chargers QB Phillip Rivers

Play of the Game: Chargers safety Marlon McCree's interception of Ben Roethlisberger's pass at the Chargers 42 yard line in the fourt quarter, which killed the Steelers last hopes of coming back.

Steelers Grades:

Coaching: C...failure to make adjustments.

QB: D...Ben Roethlisberger didn't look anywhere near "game ready"...he looked confused, hesitant and unsure of himself.

Running Game: D...57 yards for RB Willie Parker? Sad.

Passing Game: C...WR Hines Ward, WR Nate Washington, and TE Heath Miller looked focused, but WR Santonio Holmes remained a non-factor, and Big Ben threw some pretty poor passes.

Defense: C - ...While still the strength of the team, making some great plays at times, they simply gave up too many plays.

Special Teams: B...noticeable improvement.

Chargers analysis: I don't think they are a playoff team, but they really have some talent and, with the development of Philip Rivers, could be a real threat in a year or two to the top NFL teams.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sunday's Psalm

"Clear my name, God; I've kept an honest shop.
I've thrown in my lot with you, God, and I'm not budging.

Examine me, God, from head to foot, order your battery of tests. Make sure I'm fit inside and out

So I never lose sight of your love, But keep in step with you, never missing a beat...

I scrub my hands with purest soap,
then join hands with the others in the great circle, dancing around your altar, God,

Singing God-songs at the top of my lungs, telling God-stories.

God, I love living with you; your house glows with your glory.

When it's time for spring cleaning, don't sweep me out with the quacks and crooks,

Men with bags of dirty tricks, women with purses stuffed with bribe-money.

You know I've been aboveboard with you; now be aboveboard with me.

I'm on the level with you, God; I bless you every chance I get."
- from Psalm 26 (The Message)

Fox News at 10

This weekend, Fox News celebrates ten years on the air. Several news outlets have stories on the anniversary, including USA Today and TIME Magazine.

What can be said with certainity about Fox News? First, without question, it's the highest rated cable news network; as Peter Johnson of USA Today says, "...it has reduced granddaddy CNN to a distant second and NBC's cable news venture, MSNBC, to an also-ran." Second, it's commentators by and large definitely lean to the Right...Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity being perhaps the most notable of the network's commentators. There are more Left-leaning commentators on Fox News, but, for every Alan Colmes, there are three or four O'Reillys and Hannitys. Third, Fox News' style has has an undisputed impact on TV news...from the "news zipper" at the bottom of the screen to "in your face" graphics to ultra-aggressive commentary. TIME Magazine, in fact, a generally moderate-left publication, talks about these influences quite concisely in its article.

What has been said about Fox News that is disputed? The common charge is that it is, as TIME Magazine phrases it, a "covert Republican shill". Peter Johnson's USA Today article deals with this charge well. Referring to Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, Johnson writes, "Ailes also says Fox News is probably more conservative than other TV news outlets, but only because it has consistently given equal voice to people whom mainstream media traditionally ignored if not disdained: conservatives. Liberals 'hate us for coming on the scene and changing the game and making people look at both sides of issues,' he says."

Ailes is on to something here. Getting more than one side of an issue is crucial; getting more than one perspective adds depth.

While the commentary on Fox News is, as I've stated, generally right-leaning, the news coverage, in my view, tends to be, as the cliche goes, "fair and balanced". While journalists like Brit Hume and Chris Wallace may indeed lean to the right (I've really no idea), their coverage tends to be pretty fair. It was Fox News, for example, that broke the story in 2000 a few days before the Presidential election that years ago, George W. Bush had been pulled over for driving while intoxicated.

So, my view is that Fox News seems "conservative" to many people for two reasons. First, they haven't recognized the inherent bias of the "mainstream media" (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, NY Times, Washington Post, etc.). This inherent bias is detailed in the 2001 book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by journalist Bernard Goldberg. It's also detailed daily by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly and non-Fox News right-leaning radio commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Jim Quinn. Second, the inherent bias of the viewer has a tremendous effect on how they "view" TV news. If Sean Penn or Barbra Streisand are watching Fox News, they're going to think it's too conservative; if Pat Buchanan or Michael Savage are watching Fox News, they're going to think it's too liberal. The more left-leaning you are, the more you'll consider Fox News a "Republican shill". The more right-leaning you are, the more you'll consider, say, the NY Times a "Democrat shill".

Given the dominance of Fox News, it's no wonder that CNN and MSNBC are envious, and the Left is disgusted by the network (witness Bill Clinton's recent assault on Chris Wallace for doing his job as a journalist by asking legitimate, tough questions). Folks like MSNBC's Keith Olberman (a fine sports broadcaster) reek of jealousy and nastiness toward the people of Fox News.

All in all, Fox News is a quality news organization. While I very often disagree with its commentary, it usually presents the news well and, even when I disagree with O'Reilly et al, I find them entertaining and informative. It is a fine alternative to the more lazy, one-sided view often presented elsewhere.

In the interest of full disclosure, I took this online test found on Alan Colmes' web site...

You are a

Social Moderate
(56% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(35% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

Friday, October 06, 2006

Who created the monster?

The Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, has written a new book entitled Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right. The book is discussed in an article from the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).

In the book, Rev. Edgar appropriately calls the Church to a new commitment toward defeating poverty, violence, war and illiteracy and fighting for civil rights and education. Without question, these are important issues and the Church needs to do more to address them in a Christian manner. We have fallen short.

The UMNS article goes on to say, "
His problem with the denomination today, he notes, is that United Methodists are so reflective of U.S. society, they have been sidelined by 'what I call the piety issues' at the expense of Methodism founder John Wesley's call to care for the poor. The piety issues include homosexuality, civil marriage and abortion."

I think there's some truth there. We have indeed been distracted by what Rev. Edgar calls "piety issues". However, Rev. Edgar blames the right wing of the Church for this, and I believe he is incorrect.

As I recall, it was the left wing of the Church who pushed to allow Rev. Elizabeth Stroud to continue to pastor while in violation of the Book of Discipline as a "self-avowed, practing homosexual". The right wing didn't make an issue of Rev. Stroud; the left wing did.

As I recall, it was the left wing who pushed for changing the definition of marriage from "one man, one woman" to other alternatives, attempting to push barriers in the last few years in both the religious and secular worlds. The right wing didn't make an issue of marriage; the left wing did.

So, as Rev. Edgar bemoans the fact that the Church seems distracted from its larger mission, perhaps he should ask himself, "Who created the monster?" There is much about the right wing of the Church I find quite disturbing (wrapping up in the flag, a sickening gun culture, an incredible moral failure to stand against the war fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc.), but it seems clear that the left wing of the Church bears responsibility for distracting us all with these so-called "piety issues" during a time when the world has needed the Church to be a prophetic voice of reconciliation, hope, and the transforming power of the gospel.

'Tis the Frankenstein season

What's up at Asbury?

A recent blog post by member of our Conference, also a true brother in Christ, discusses the tense situation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. It sounds indeed as if there is some serious spiritual warfare going on. We are in prayer for the president of the school, the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Greenway (also a member of our Conference), his family, and the school. Difficult days.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
- Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Forty years ago this autumn, "The Monkees" debuted on TV. Great show, great group, great songs. Underrated. I've seen them in concert several times.

Here's a video for my favorite Monkees tune, "Pleasant Valley Sunday".


"I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service,
though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners;
but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."

- 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (RSV)

As I work today in my office, praying for my family, the sick, the poor, and for the ministry of Jefferson UMC and Western PA Conference, and looking over our preparations and plans for Advent and Christmas (almost complete), I am filled with immense gratitude to God. I am so blessed in so many ways, deserving none of it, and keenly aware that I owe the Lord everything.

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for my exquisitely beautiful wife Robyn, who is a blessing beyond my dreams, about whom there are not words to express her beauty and grace...

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for my children, loud, obnoxious, and beautiful, through whom the Lord has given me joy greater than I ever realized was possible...

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for the ministry to which the Lord has called me, the awesome responsibility of serving as an ordained Elder of the Church and as pastor to a wonderful congregation filled with giftedness, grace, and possibility...

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for living where I do, in an imperfect but free nation, in what may be the loveliest region on the planet (western Pennsylvania), near a great city, and in a suburban area (Jefferson Hills/Pleasant Hills) that simply must be one of the best places on earth to live...

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for the blessing that my children attend school in a truly excellent school district (ranked #9 in PA for academics), with lots of opportunities, and a fine football team (ranked #1 in PA)...

I give thanks to the Lord Almighty today for leisurely joys like the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the sheer joy of watching "The Monkees" and "M*A*S*H", the excitement of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL, and great books to read on a cool autumn evening...

As the leaves begin to change into beautiful colors, silently praising God by their very appearance, I am truly thankful to the Lord Almighty. I, the foremost of sinners, am truly blessed. Thank you, Father.

NFL Rankings - Week 4

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 1)

2 - Chicago Bears (last week 2)

3 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 7)

4 - New England Patriots (last week 9)

5 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 6)

6 - New Orleans Saints (last week 8)

7 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 10)

8 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 3)

9 - San Diego Chargers (last week 5)

10 - Philadelphia Eagles (last week unranked)

Honorable mentions:
Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars (last week 4), New York Jets, St. Louis Rams

Are they for real?:
Washington Redskins...what a win in OT against Jacksonville...but they'll need another win against a good team to convince me that they are for real

Horrible to watch:
Miami Dolphins...nobody thought they'd be this bad...Culpepper is having an absolutely horrible season

What to watch next week:
Pittsburgh at San Diego on Sunday night...both teams are out to prove themselves during prime time

Sunday, October 01, 2006


This afternoon, my beautiful wife Robyn and I went to see Monty Python's "Spamalot", a Tony-award winning musical based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Funny, funny stuff. I recommend this show, which is just completing its current tour stop in Pittsburgh, to anyone who likes to laugh and loves to sing. After the show, Robyn and I went to dinner together...a rarity, given the busy nature of our lives and the balancing act called "parenthood" with our four children.

So, I celebrated the Eucharist this morning on World Communion Sunday, then spent some time with a stunning woman whom I happen to love. All in all, a good day!

"If you trust in your song
Keep your eyes on the goal
Then the prize you won't fail
That's your grail

So be strong
Keep right on
To the end of your song
Do not fail
Find your grail

Life is really up to you
You must choose what to pursue
Set your mind on what to find
And there's nothin' you can't do

So keep right to the end
You'll find your goal my friend
You won't fail
Find your grail"
- Eric Idle, 2004

(Those lyrics, to the Spamalot song "Find Your Grail", sounded fairly Arminian to me, so I thought I'd post them.)