Saturday, September 27, 2008

Farewell Paul Newman

God bless Paul Newman (1925-2008).

Paul Newman was one of filmdom's greatest actors. Nominated for bunches of Oscars (he was awarded 3), he was hugely influential on other actors and helped make several excellent films into iconic movie moments with his astonishing craft. My mother, mother-in-law, and wife all loved him for his physical traits. He died today of cancer.

Some of Newman's best roles included boxer Rocky Marziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler (1961) and The Color of Money (1986), the title characters in Hud (1963) and Cool Hand Luke (1967), Henry Gondorff in The Sting (1973), Reg Dunlop in Slapshot (1977 - filmed in Johnstown, PA), Doc Hudson in Cars (2006), and - my personal favorite - Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

His great performances are only part of his legacy. Newman was one of the first big Hollywood liberals, who donated to and campaigned for various liberal causes through the years, even making it onto Nixon's "enemies list". In our era, when so many obtuse celebrities try to make insipidly vapid "contributions" to the political arena, Newman evermore seems like the real deal. He walked the walk and talked the talk, doing more for charity than perhaps any other celebrity in history with the exception of Jerry Lewis. Additionally, the late Gil Kane, a comic book legend, modeled his character Hal Jordan (the second "Green Lantern") on Paul Newman.

Newman's greatest legacy is his family. When his first marriage ended after 10 years, he married actress Joanne Woodward, and they remained together for fifty years. He had six children; his only son died in the late 1970s from a drug overdose.

I'm sad that Newman has passed and I thank God for his life. He was an inspiration as a family man and as an activist; he helped the lives of so many people through his charitable work; he has left a rich film legacy matched by few other actors in screen history; he will continue to challenge and inspire for years to come.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bono on the Bailout

Food for thought: "It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases."

Friday Top 10: English Bible translations

1 - RSV - Revised Standard Version (1952/1972)

2 - ESV - English Standard Version (2001)

3 - HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible (2003)

4 - NRSV - New Revised Standard Version (1989)

5 - NKJV - New King James Version (1982)

6 - NIV - New International Version (1978)

7 - TNIV - Today's New International Version (2002)

8 - KJV - King James Version / "Authorised Version" (1611)

9 - NLT - New Living Translation (1996/2004)

10 - NET - New English Translation (2001)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Wesley Study Bible

A friend in the Virginia Annual Conference (W. Clay Knick of Kernstown UMC) has informed me of the upcoming publication of the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Due in February 2009, this looks like something that every United Methodist pastor will want to check out.

I am a "Bible geek" who is always checking out new translations, editions, and study Bibles. Clay follows the scene even more closely than I, and I have been grateful for his tenacity and his willingness to share information; he was able to get me an advance copy of the HCSB Psalter a few years ago, which I have come to believe is the most beautifully effective translation of the Psalms since Thomas Cranmer put together the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Bible translations have a bias. The NRSV is left-leaning, mainline; the NIV is right-leaning, Calvinist premillenialist. I like both translations, mind you, and don't mean to denigrate either of them. My old chum Joe Miller has some strong feelings about Eugene Peterson's The Message, which Joe believes to be a commentary, rather than a paraphrase (as it has been advertized). The primary translation I am using now is the ESV, a 2001 revision of the RSV that is a mite more "literal" than the NRSV. Picking up on the biases of the translators can really help the way we exegete (of course, for serious exegesis, turn to Greek and Hebrew editions...there's a good reason they pounded these languages into our heads during seminary!).

Study Bibles can be useful tools. I don't recommend that pastors or laity exclusively use any particular study Bible, but as concise references, they can be excellent. Some are certainly better than others.

In 1989, Thomas Nelson published the Wesley Bible (NKJV), a study Bible put together from a Holiness perspective. It was very good, and I still refer to it. But, it didn't last long and is now difficult to find.

A few years later, Zondervan published the Reflecting God Study Bible (NIV), again featuring a Holiness perspective. This Bible was a revision of the very popular NIV Study Bible, released to counter many of the notes, which contain a Calvinist bent (as does the NIV). Despite its high quality, generally good notes and articles, and similarities to a top selling edition, this study Bible failed to catch on with readers of Wesleyan persuasion. Like the Wesley Bible, it can now be difficult to find.

I am very excited about the February 2009 publication of the Wesley Study Bible. Cokesbury describes it thusly:

"With a warmed heart and active hands...

"The Wesley Study Bible helps persons experience God in fresh ways and grow as more faithful disciples. The Wesley Study Bible gives inspiration and practical examples to live your faith with a warmed heart and active hands.

"Written for everyone in: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God (Anderson), Free Methodist Church of North America, The Salvation Army, Wesleyan Church, United Church of Canada, and The United Methodist Church."
So, for the first time, we have a mainline Wesleyan study Bible. And the scholarship looks excellent. The General Editors are Joel Green and Bishop William Willimon. Prominent contributors include Thomas Bandy, Ted Campbell, Bishop Kenneth Carder, Paul Chilcote, Kenneth Collins, Maxie Dunnam, Western PA alumnus Jeff Greenway, Adam Hamilton, Western PA alumnus Richard Heitzenrater, Zan Holmes, Bishop Rueben Job, Gregory Jones, Bishop Scott Jones, F. Belton Joyner, J. Ellsworth Kallas, Michael Lodahl, Russell Richey, Theodore Runyon, Bishop Robert Schnase, Michael Slaughter, David Lowes Watson, Bishop Timothy Whitaker, Ben Witherington, Charles Yrigoyen, and many others. That's a heck of a list!

I'm sure there will be more news about it as its release draws near. My fear is that it is too "mainline compromised" to be very useful; my hope is that these excellent scholars, leaders and theologians have crafted a truly useful Wesleyan resource. The Cokesbury page is here. You can view some excerpts as PDF files here, including the Letter of St. James.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

For Better, For Worse: 5 Ways Blogging Changed My Life

Allan Bevere has tagged me from a meme created by L.L. Barkat. Here are the rules should you decide to keep them:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you.

3. Link back to the parent post (L.L. Barkat is not so much interested in generating links, but rather in tracking the meme so she can perhaps do a summary post later on that looks at patterns and interesting discoveries.)

4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all

5. Post these rules — or just have fun breaking them

How blogging has changed me:

1. Blogging has enabled me to converse with folks from across the United Methodist Connection, as well as with folks outside of our Connection. It was very, very interesting to follow the blogosphere a bit during General Conference 2008.

2. It has been a special blessing to connect more regularly (at times) with sisters and brothers in my own Annual Conference who don't live too far away but whom I get to see far too inconsistently.

3. I've managed to pick up some neat ministry ideas and get acquainted with some new worship resources and approaches and am still learning a good deal.

4. I am continually impressed by the great senses of humor out there. We have some extraordinarily funny people in the blogosphere. Thank God for that!

5. I've learned that the best of the blogosphere is inherently relational and generally respectful; the worst of it is nasty beyond all understanding.

I now tag the following individuals:

Bruce Alderman
Michael Daniel
John Meunier
Joe Miller
Dayton Mix
Eric Park
Anyone else who would like to participate

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pirates game

On Thursday (9/18/08), I was able to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game with tickets (obtained through JUMC secretary Debbie Moatz) courtesy of Pittsburgh District Superintendent Don Scandrol.

Here is beautiful PNC Park,
where the Pirates lost a close one to the L.A. Dodgers...

Here is the Rev. Gary Bailey, who attended the game with me;
Gary serves Brush Run UMC in Beaver Falls, PA
with his wife & four children
and is in the midst of PhD studies in Old Testament...

Here is Gary's food tray near the end of its usefulness...

Here I am the next day;
I had worn a bandana to protect my head from the sun...
it worked...

I'll look just great for the wedding at which I'm officiating
this weekend.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Top 10: Best Music Videos Ever

1 - "Take on Me" (1985) by a-ha

2 - "Billie Jean" (1983) by Michael Jackson

3 - "Sledgehammer" (1986) by Peter Gabriel

4 - "Hurt" (2002) by Johnny Cash

5 - "Thriller" (1983) by Michael Jackson

6 - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991) by Nirvana

7 - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (1965) by Bob Dylan

8 - "Vogue" (1990) by Madonna

9 - "One" (1989) by Metallica

10 - "Addicted to Love" (1985) by Robert Palmer

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Christology, Not Just Sex

"Both conservatives and liberals shy away from debating the real issues that have divided United Methodism for decades: scriptural authority and the identity of Jesus Christ. Conservatives believe that the Bible is God’s wholly reliable, revealed authority. They believe that Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God, the supernaturally born son of a Virgin, who was boldly resurrected, the Savior of the whole world, who was dispatched by God the Father to redeem fallen humanity. Liberals, in contrast, see the Bible as human stories that illustrate humanity’s search for God. For them, Jesus is a social liberator, giving hope to oppressed peoples, much as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi did.

“Conservatives see homosexual behavior as a consequence of humanity’s innately sinful nature. For conservatives, Jesus Christ is the Good News, who can break the bondage of all sin. Liberals see people as basically good, and therefore sexual preference is God-ordained and meriting affirmation. For liberals, good people do not need salvation from a Savior so much as affirmation from a Liberator.”
- Mark Tooley,
Taking Back the United Methodist Church (2008)

I completely agree with the first sentence of this passage from Mark Tooley: the current debate in The United Methodist Church is Christological; sex and connectional covenant issues are simply manifestations of this debate. The fundamental problem we face has to do with how we affirm (and if we affirm, I suppose) the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and what it means to do that.

I would take issue with Mr. Tooley's depiction of conservatives viewing Scripture as divine while liberals view it as a human document. We affirm that Jesus is both divine and human; surely, we can do the same for Scripture, without losing sight of the fact that it is our primary authority. Jesus, then, is both Savior and Liberator. For conservatives or liberals to forget this would be (and has been, at times) painful for the Church.

That said, in all honesty, it is my opinion that in recent years it has more often than not been the theological Left which has forgotten these truths. Many on the theological Left (not all) seem to be more agenda-driven than mission-driven, doctrine-driven, Scripture-driven, or Christ-driven. I believe the reason for this has to do with a failure to craft a Christology which is faithful to the authoritative truth of revealed Scripture and the Great Tradition of the Church, favoring other models with foundations that are less sure.

United Methodists affirm a variety of Christologies; not all are compatible.

The prescription for our current illness, it seems to me, must derive from sincere, painful Christological debate. Every pastor should lead Christological discussions in their appointed parish; every Conference should be engaging in these discussions. Talk and planning about goals, visions or hopes will ultimately prove fruitless if we do not first clarify what tree we are part of and determine what is the taste of the fruit we hope to help produce.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Prayer for Those in the Path of Hurricane Ike

O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve humankind: Look with pity on the sorrows of the people and communities in the path of Hurricane Ike, for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with encouragement, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance on them, and give them peace; by the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to be in continual prayer for all those afflicted, to have the wisdom, strength and resources to help them when the storm has passed, and to faithfully witness to our Risen Savior throughout this trial, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer (adapt.)

Friday Top 10: Current NFL Receivers

1 - Randy Moss (New England Patriots)

2 - Terrell Owens (Dallas Cowboys)

3 - Steve Smith (Carolina Panthers)

4 - Hines Ward (Pittsburgh Steelers)

5 - Plaxico Burress (New York Giants)

6 - Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts)

7 - Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)

8 - Marvin Harrison (Indianapolis Colts)

9 - Chad Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals)

10 - Santonio Holmes (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Thinking About Race

WASHINGTON (AP) - Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Tuesday that African-Americans are better served by colorblind programs than affirmative action. Thomas, addressing leaders of historically black colleges, said affirmative action "has become this mantra and there almost has become this secular religiosity about it. I think it almost trumps thinking."

A longtime opponent of race-based preferences in hiring and school admissions, Thomas said, "Just from a constitutional standpoint, I think we're going to run into problems if we say the Constitution says we can consider race sometimes."

Thomas, 60, has voted on the court to outlaw the use of race in college admissions and in determining which public schools students will attend. He wrote with evident resentment in his autobiography "My Grandfather's Son" that he felt he was allowed to attend Yale Law School in the 1970s because of his race and took a tough course load to prove he was as able as his white classmates.

"My suggestion would be to stop the buzz words and to focus more on the practical effect of what we're doing," he said Tuesday.

"I can tell you when you have fudge words, it leaves a lot of room for mischief," he said. "People have a tendency to read their personal opinions into fudge words. You want, when it comes to the issue of race, absolute words."

Thomas also reminisced about his childhood in Savannah, Ga., when his sports heroes played at the historically black institutions because the flagship state universities in the South—with their big-time athletic programs—remained segregated.

He recalled as a seminal moment the night in 1966 when five black starters led Texas Western to the NCAA basketball championship over an all-white Kentucky team. "I remember sitting alone at the end of that game and saying something has changed dramatically in society," he said.

The coach of the winning team, Don Haskins, died Sunday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Top 10: Current NFL Running backs

1 - LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers)

2 - Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)

3 - Brian Westbrook (Philadelphia Eagles)

4 - Willie Parker (Pittsburgh Steelers)

5 - Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars)

6 - Willis McGahee (Baltimore Ravens)

7 - Marion Barber (Dallas Cowboys)

8 - Joseph Addai (Indianapolis Colts)

9 - Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints)

10 - Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gridiron Wisdom, Part 1: Tom Brady

a "back-to-basics" series which uses football -
a prominent part of life in Jefferson Hills & Pleasant Hills,
the two communities I consider to be
the JUMC "parish" - as a "hook";
it will be "fleshed out" later in the week)

"...they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."
- Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

Many of us have been amazed in the past decade or so while watching the football career of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This California native was an excellent athlete who grew up idolizing Joe Montana, and was actually drafted out of high school to play professional baseball for the Montreal Expos. Preferring football - and who wouldn't? - Brady went to the University of Michigan where he was seventh on the depth chart, and worked his way up slowly. By 1998, he led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title; the following year, he led his team to an Orange Bowl victory over Alabama.

Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, pick #199, which some consider to be the biggest "steal" in the history of the NFL Draft. He was the team's fourth string quarterback when he started; eventually, he had worked his way up to become the lead back-up for then-starter Drew Bledsoe. In September 2001, Bledsoe was severely injured in a game against the New York Jets, and Brady took over, winning 11 of 14 games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and, more importantly, led the Patriots into the playoffs.

You may recall the Super Bowl that year, when the Patriots played against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, who had won it all the previous year. Just a few months removed from the horrors of 9/11, it seemed appropriate, somehow, that the "Patriots" would be involved in the biggest sporting event on the planet, led by a young upstart who had virtually stumbled into his leadership role. I remember watching the extremely emotional halftime show that year, in which U2 - the best and certainly the most important band since the breakup of the Beatles - rocked the stadium with a powerful musical tribute to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy; it remains the best halftime performance in Super Bowl far.

Then, Tom Brady led the Patriots to victory against the mighty Rams, whose offense had been dubbed "the Greatest Show on Turf". Brady was named the MVP of the game and a football superstar was born. Since that time, Brady has appeared in three more Super Bowls, winning two of them - only his hero Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have won more. He has won another Super Bowl MVP and last year had the greatest statistical season ever for an NFL quarterback, being named the MVP of the entire league.

Most impressively, for the past two years he has been dating supermodel Gisele...proof that God indeed loves Tom Brady.

What has made Tom Brady the most successful NFL quarterback of the 21st century? He may, in the end, be considered the best ever to play the game. How did this happen?

Certainly, a monstrous competitive streak has helped. He is as intense a player as any on the field.

But it can't be denied that he lacks the unearthly leadership gifts of Peyton Manning, the superheroic toughness of Brett Favre, and the explosive cannon arm of Terry Bradshaw. How did Tom Brady get to be perhaps the best ever?!

I believe that Brady is the leader of the pack because he is an expert at "working the system". Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has been justifiably condemned for cheating, has nevertheless devised a system that requires complete devotion for success. The offense utilizes multiple confusing formations which, in the end, run only a few relatively simple plays. Bill Cowher ran a similar offensive system in his early years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense is designed to maximize the freedom of aggressive linebackers...also a pretty "Steelers-friendly" idea.

Tom Brady is a master at the system put in place in New England. When he has been hurt and the team has relied on back-up leadership, they have faltered. The system needs Tom Brady in order to succeed, and no one "works the system" as well as this future Hall of Famer.

How does this relate to our faith journey in Christ?

We have in the Scriptures a "system" for success. Being United Methodist, perhaps it would be better to say that we have a "method" for success given to us in Acts 2. When we prayerfully and faithfully adhere to the system, we experience personal growth in the Spirit and are better equipped to help build the Kingdom of God. When we lose focus on the system, things don't go nearly as well.

Our system - the Acts 2 system - consists of devotion to the apostles' teaching (reading, studying, living out the Scriptures; doctrinal faithfulness), fellowship (intentionally spending time with sisters and brothers in Christ), the breaking of the bread (faithfully and regularly celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion), prayer (as individuals, couples, families, small groups, and a congregation), doing signs and wonders (performing any number of acts which point to Jesus Christ and the transforming truth of his could be something supernatural, as many of our charismatic and Pentecostal sisters and brothers believe, or it could be something as simple as sharing a hug with someone in pain or a sandwich with someone who is hungry), and sharing (being obedient in our tithes and offerings).

This is our system. Simple? Perhaps. But it can be difficult to master with the distractions of life continually knocking at our door. We need to be intentional about our system. Tom Brady, knowing that he lacked many of the gifts of Manning, Favre, or Bradshaw, chose to master the Patriots system, and has become the best quarterback in the NFL.

Isn't our devotion to Jesus and our journey of faith more important than how many Lombardi trophies the Patriots or Steelers win? Isn't Jesus worth our best efforts? I think so, and I'm sure you do as well.

The end result of faithfully mastering our system is even better than winning a hundred Super Bowls: "The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." But we as individuals, as a congregation, as a Conference, as a denomination, as the Church of Jesus Christ around the world, need first to work the system provided for us, to be devoted to it, to work hard at it, to do our best to be the people that God has called us to be on the journey toward holiness and perfection. Jesus is worth it, and the stakes are high.