Monday, December 08, 2014

Our Advent playlist

"Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" from Godspell
"El Shaddai" by Amy Grant
"Wait" by The Beatles
"People Get Ready" by The Impressions
"Waiting on the World to Change"
by John Mayer
"Crying, Waiting, Hoping"
by Buddy Holly
"Christmas Time" by The Chipmunks
"Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant
"Getting Ready for Christmas Day"
by Paul Simon
"Pie Jesu" by Sarah Brightman &
Paul Miles-Kingston
"Patience" by Guns n'Roses
"Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" by Sting
"Ave Maria" by Leontyne Price
"The Waiting"
by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
"Emmanuel" by Amy Grant
"Joseph's Song" by Michael Card
"Mary, Did You Know?" by Clay Aiken
"Count Your Blessings" by Bing Crosby
"I Wonder as I Wander" by Barbra Streisand
"Thy Word" by Amy Grant
"River" by Joni Mitchell
"Gabriel's Message" by Sting

additional suggestions are welcome

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Good Thing: Stores Open on Thanksgiving

Each November for several years, I have seen postings on social media and heard conversations in which people denounce the fact that stores open on Thanksgiving Day to take advantage of the "Black Friday" rush.
It seems that people are annoyed by the fact that Thanksgiving is "interrupted" by the onset of the Christmas shopping season. Some folks also seem distressed that family members, friends and neighbors who work in retail must cut their holiday short in order to get to work.

This attitude doesn't seem to me to take all of the facts into account.

First, let's be honest: the Christmas shopping season starts well before Thanksgiving. Before children have gathered their final bits of candy on Halloween night, stores were putting up Christmas decorations and announcing sales. Black Friday is, if anything, a halftime in the shopping season, not a kick off.

Second, we live in uncertain times, with an extremely uncertain economy. People who are blessed to have jobs that pay well are indeed truly blessed. Having to work on part of Thanksgiving Day could be seen as a hindrance to holiday joy or as a reason to be thankful. Having a job, even in retail, even during holiday shopping madness, is a blessing. These jobs enable families to give and receive presents on Christmas & put food on the table every day. These are reasons to be grateful, not to complain.

Finally, we live in a world that gives us many reasons to complain. Instead of wasting one's time complaining about Black Friday, have fun with it! Get up early with your family, go out for a nice breakfast & then hit the mall...if only to see the madness & laugh! It's the Christmas season, after all; try to enjoy it!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Our Thanksgiving playlist

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Thanksgiving" by George Winston
"Thank You Girl" by The Beatles
"Thank You For The Music" by ABBA
"Thank You" by Keith Urban
"I've Got Plenty To Be Thankful For" by Bing Crosby
"I Thank You" by ZZ Top
"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" by Arlo Guthrie
"What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong
"Our House" by Madness
"King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" by The Band
"Love This Life" by Crowded House
"Count Your Blessings" by Bing Crosby
"My Favorite Things" by Julie Andrews
"We Are Family" by Sister Sledge
"Thank You" by Dido
"In My Life" by The Beatles
"Wildflowers" by Tom Petty
"Teach Your Children Well" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"C'mon Get Happy" by the Partridge Family
"Better Be Home Soon" by Crowded House
"Home" by Michael Bublé
"I Love To See You Smile" by Randy Newman

additional suggestions are welcome

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Our Halloween playlist

"Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett
"Great Pumpkin Waltz" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Beware of the Blob" by The Five Blobs
"Somebody's Watching Me"
by Rockwell featuring Michael Jackson
"Halloween Theme" by John Carpenter
"Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley
"Spooky" by Classics IV
"Zombie Zoo" by Tom Petty
"Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr.
"Time Warp" by Richard O'Brien
"Thriller" by Michael Jackson
"People Are Strange" by The Doors
"They're Coming to Take Me Away" by Napoleon XIV
"Enter Sandman" by Metallica
"I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins
"Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult
"Witches' Brew" by Hap Palmer
"Crazy Train" Ozzy Osbourne
"Highway to Hell" by AC/DC
"Boris the Spider" by The Who
"Devil in Her Heart" by The Beatles
"Black Magic Woman" by Santana
"Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea"
by George Harrison
"Clap for the Wolfman" by The Guess Who
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
by the Charlie Daniels Band
"Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult
"Runnin' with the Devil" by Van Halen
"Abracadabra" by the Steve Miller Band
"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen
"Devil Inside" by INXS
"Chicken Heart" by Bill Cosby
"The Twilight Zone Main Title theme" by Marius Constant & Rod Serling
"Devil's Radio" by George Harrison
"Toccata & Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach
"Puttin' on the Ritz" by Peter Boyle & Gene Wilder
"The X-Files theme" by Mark Snow
"Scared" by John Lennon
"What's This" by Danny Elfman
"Friend of the Devil" by the Grateful Dead
"Little Red Riding Hood" by the Big Bopper
"Witchcraft" by Frank Sinatra
"Time of the Season" by The Zombies
"Hell in a Bucket" by the Grateful Dead
"Evil Woman" by Electric Light Orchestra
"Dr Heckyll & Mr Jive" by Men at Work
"Walking on the Dark Side of the Moon" by Jody Reynolds
"Sucker for Your Love" by B.A. Robertson
"Moondance" by Van Morrison
"The Walking Dead Theme" by Bear McCreary
"Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
"Season of the Witch" by Donovan
"The Headless Horseman" by Bing Crosby
"This Is Halloween" by Danny Elfman & the Citizens of Halloweentown
"Witch Doctor" by David Seville & the Chipmunks
"One" by Metallica
"Hell in a Bucket" by the Grateful Dead
"Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osbourne
"Witchy Woman" by Eagles
"Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads
"Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky
"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder
"She Wolf" by Shakira
"Love Potion No. 9" by The Searchers
"Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones
"Run Devil Run" by Paul McCartney
"Evil Ways" by Santana
"Trick or Treat" by Otis Redding
"I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats
"Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest
"Iron Man" by Black Sabbath
"You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore
"Lullaby" by Krzysztof Komeda
"This is Halloween" by Marilyn Manson
"Li'l Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" by The Beatles
"Do You Want to Build a Snowman? in G Major"
by Kristen Bell, Agatha Lee Monn & Katie Lopez

additional suggestions are welcome

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Good Science, Bad History

This spring, I generally enjoyed watching the 13 part television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. An update of Carl Sagan's classic program "Cosmos", the series told many historic stories from the perspective of mainstream science & gave viewers a little glimpse into how & why things work the way they do.

As I said: in general, I enjoyed it.

But there were two traits of the series which I found to be disturbing.

The first was the implication that faith & science must always be at odds, and that those who rely on faith to inform their worldview are possibly backward, but certainly incorrect.

While at times throughout history that analysis is certainly valid, it seems to me that Dr Tyson & the producers were attacking a narrow fundamentalist faith with little regard for or even awareness of broader faith movements which do not disregard science or history. That's not only unfair, it's also inaccurate. In other words, while Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey was at times a beautiful portrayal of science, it wasn't always great history. Accuracy matters.

Equally disturbing was the implication that scientists are entitled to a more powerful voice in society than those in other fields. This was stressed throughout the series, but nowhere moreso than in episode 12, "The World Set Free". After previous episodes had demonstrated the folly of ignoring scientists, Dr Tyson & the producers claimed that runaway global warming could turn Earth into a second Venus & that society ought to simply do what scientists tell it to do in order to avert catastrophe.

It may well be that Dr Tyson, the producers & other scientists are correct that human-driven climate change will result in the destruction of life on our planet. It is not my intention to argue the merits of that thesis here.

But, even if scientists are correct in their theories, this does not grant them a voice more important than any other in society. Those who disagree with them are entitled to a voice and "a vote". Those who don't care about the issue are also entitled to maintain that view.

In other words, scientists need to make their case & win the debate. Yes, there will be people with vested interests who will make opposing cases, sometimes with good intentions & sometimes perhaps even sharing inaccurate Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey did regarding the faith vs science discussions.

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Incredibles (2004). Among the more interesting characters in the film is fashion designer Edna Mode, a strange cross between Edith Head & Yoko Ono. At one point, she is speaking with a superheroine who has just discovered some disturbing news about her husband, and is unsure about how to proceed. Edna Mode yells at the heroine what has become a favorite quote: "Go! Confront the problem! Fight! Win!"

This is good advice for anyone interested in persuasion in American society. No one is entitled to a louder voice, regardless of their education, career trajectory, social status, wealth, behavior or even the righteousness of their cause. They must confront the problem, which is often that people disagree with one's proposals. They must make their case - over & over & over again, if necessary. They must in a civil manner oppose those who are in disagreement with the proposal. They must convince society (perhaps voters) that their cause is the right one.

So, even if the opinion of scientists that human-driven climate change is real & it is disastrous is absolutely correct, that alone does not entitle scientists to gain a decision-making stature in the culture, any more than being correct about theology entitles Wesleyan clergy to a similar status in Church or society. Dr Tyson and his colleagues need to make their case & win the day. And while I generally enjoyed Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the (in my opinion) arrogant assumption that scientists are entitled to more power failed to win me over to their side. But I'm happy to continue to listen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Leading Jesus' Church

I have heard a refrain from members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops over the last several years. It is heard whenever discussions ensue regarding the issue of sex & people's chosen behaviors. I have heard it or read it multiple times over the last several months, as the actions of a few unfaithful pastors & bishops have driven the denomination to the brink of schism.

The refrain is heard when leaders refuse to take a side in the debate & goes something like this:

"I am called to lead ALL of God's people, the entire Church, both sides of the issue of sexual behavior."

It sounds like a fair, mediative statement. The issue of a person's chosen sexual behavior is, after all, a very heated one in today's Church. Bishops & pastors alike desire to lead the Church through these times of trial into whatever future the Spirit leads us.

But the more I hear it or read it, the more I find it problematic. When you analyze what the statement is really saying, it isn't a statement of leadership; it's an example of "anti-leadership", an abdication of leadership, a blatant refusal to lead.

To lead, after all, means (according to Merriam-Webster), " guide on a way especially by going in direct on a course or in a serve as a channel direct the operations, activity, or performance bring to some conclusion or condition."

Leadership, then, means seeing a chosen destination in the future & saying, "Follow me." Imagine great leaders of the past. Had they said, "I will not take a side or choose a path. I am called to lead EVERYONE," how might history be different?

Imagine if Churchill had said, "I'm called to lead ALL of the British people; I won't take a side in the issue of German aggressiveness."

Imagine if Reagan had said, "I'm called to lead ALL of the American people; I won't take a side in the issue of Soviet moral integrity."

Imagine if Jesus had said, "I'm called to lead ALL people to salvation; I won't take a side in the issue of sin & death."

In The United Methodist Church, our clergy leaders - especially our bishops - are called to live into our covenant. Our covenant is determined by our exegesis of Scripture through the lens of Church tradition, reason, and our experience of the doctrine of assurance of salvation, all of which is detailed in our Book of Discipline.

Our covenant teaches that while, "We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God", "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Lots of persons disagree with the Church on lots of issues, but this is our covenant. It's relatively clear. Leaders will live into this & lead others into it as well. It is a position informed by centuries of exegesis, compassion & grace. It is our position because we love all persons & desire to see them know the liberating mercy of a great God, not because we are mean or desire harm. Persons who understand our theology will understand this. It is unworthy of the clergy office to ignore or apologize for Church teaching which is founded on centuries of faithful exegesis & theological development. It is also arrogant.

If a United Methodist pastor or bishop cannot with integrity live into our covenant or lead others to do so, there is no shame in simply separating from the Church. That can happen in a gracious manner. But live into it we must, or our integrity & character must be called into question.

If United Methodist bishops cannot live into, teach & lead persons into our covenant, why are they bishops? Surely the Church deserves better than leaders who refuse to lead. Unity begins with faithfulness to our covenant. If our bishops truly desire unity, they will live into it.

Conversely, if a bishop cannot with integrity live into our covenant without violating his or her conscience, there is no shame in stepping away from the episcopacy. The role of bishop is reserved for those who are called by the Spirit to lead persons into our covenant, not for well-meaning folks who simply lack the courage or the desire to lead.

I'm reminded of a brief speech in the 1995 movie Braveheart, in which William Wallace says to Robert the Bruce, "Tell me, what does it mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles; they follow courage. Now, our people know you, noble and common they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Incomplete Ponderings of the Possibility of Schism

In the past year or so, the level of confusion in The United Methodist Church regarding sexual behavior, secular politics & ecclesial accountability has risen to new heights. In that time, we have seen relations between the evangelical side & the progressive side of the Church sink to new lows.

There have been several steps along this journey. The Church teaches, in union with the Church Universal over the centuries, that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." (par 304.3)

The Church also teaches, "We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God." Even if someone chooses to engage in behavior which the Church deems sinful, they are loved by God & Christ's Holy Church. We cannot condone sin, obviously, but we love all people & offer grace to all. This is hardly news.

Many progressives hope to see the Church change its stance. I welcome the conversation, which can be a healthy one if facilitated properly. As the progressive regions (such as the Western & Northeast Jurisdictions) continue to decline, however, and evangelical areas (such as the Southeast Jurisdiction & Africa) continue to grow, the likelihood of change seems remote, barring a radical restructuring of the denomination (which failed miserably in 2012).

A few progressive schismatics have chosen disobedience to the Church in an effort to, presumably, force change. They have violated our covenant & our sacred ordination vows which call us "to proclaim the faith of the church and no other." Some pastors have been put on trial; some have lost their clergy credentials, others received what amounted to slaps on the wrist. Some bishops have refused to hold pastors accountable who violate church law. Almost every week, there seems another bold move by progressive activists eager to break covenant for the sake of their agenda.

These acts of canonically criminal conduct (to borrow a phrase from a friend) have led some evangelical leaders in the Church to the conclusion that schism has already taken place & to ponder whether a formal separation would serve both sides better. This sad conclusion is being decried by many United Methodists as premature or even mean-spirited.

Two Biblical allusions come to mind. One, shared via Twitter by Pastor Drew McIntyre of the Western NC Conference, is the story of the prophet Hosea. Hosea was called by God to "take a wife of whoredom" to illustrate God's grace toward Israel even in the midst of their unfaithfulness. Though Hosea might have been justified in divorcing his promiscuous wife, he remained with her, in part to demonstrate God's abundant mercy. In Drew's allusion, the progressive schismatics are a whoring wife married to Hosea (the orthodox faction of the Church, or at least those faithful to our covenant). If Hosea did not dismiss his wife, neither should the orthodox dismiss the unfaithful progressives. (I apologize to Drew if I've pushed the analogy too far; I've sought to use it biblically.)

There are many (including many bishops) who urge the Church to remain united (almost) no matter what, stating that unity is greater than almost any differences.

The other biblical allusion that I've been pondering was shared with me by a pastor in my Conference (who has not publicly shared the idea, so whose name I will not share). In Genesis 11, the people were united...but not in a way pleasing to God. John Wesley viewed this story as a tale of disobedience; many today view it as an example of human arrogance. The united people were building a grand tower "to make a name for [them]selves". In other words, though they were united, they were acting in an unholy manner. They were bound by mutual unfaithfulness, not mission, submission or holiness.

God reacts by breaking their unity, scattering them across the world. Wesley's notes teach that, "...if they continue as one...these children of men will swallow up the little remnant of God's children, therefore it is decreed they must not be one."  To the Lord, unity in sin seems abhorrent. Apparently, God would rather see disunity than solidarity if disobedience is necessary to achieve that state.

I am not advocating formal schism. My utmost prayer is that the progressives who have engaged in & who plan further schismatic behavior repent & endeavor to live in faithfulness to our covenant. But I am advocating that those who believe that nothing could possibly be worse than schism rethink that line of thought. There are worse things than splitting, as heartbreaking as that might be.

Though the example of Hosea is an inspiring one, and perhaps does have much to teach us in these days of great impatience, it may well be that unity is even more dishonorable. The stakes are high: the salvation of the world. I believe wholeheartedly that the Methodist movement is better equipped to be the hands of God in the world than any other branch of the Christian family tree & that Wesleyan theology is by far the most biblical option in the Church Universal. I believe that perhaps the finest days of Methodism are in our future, not our past. But it's possible that God may be on the cusp of bringing division in order to once again save a remnant, that the mission to make disciples of Jesus might continue on in faithfulness, holiness & true justice.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

April 2014 newsletter article

"Jesus cried out,
‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’…
…and with a scream, he yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two…”
- Matthew 27:46-51

We are surrounded by busy-ness. We rush to get here and there, to accomplish this and that, to meet the obligations of contemporary life. The busy nature of 21st century life is the narrative offered by this broken world, into which we live. But the world’s narrative, fueled by the corruptions of sin and alienation, holds no atonement for us or for our families. It only serves itself.

Lent is a rebellion against the narrative of the world. Lent is a reminder to us that the narrative that REALLY matters, the narrative that REALLY defines us as disciples of Jesus, is the Grand Story of Israel – of a loving God who chooses a people through whom he will save his creation, of prophets through the ages calling people to faithfulness, of a God so desperate to be with us that he came into the world in Jesus and ultimately suffered a horrific death that we might have the opportunity to know his everlasting peace.

Lent teaches us that our own desires and opinions pale next to the Story of Jesus on the day he died. 

Worship…ministry…work…life…these are not about you or me or our wants. They never were. They are all about Jesus and, in this season of the year, the great suffering he endured for us. Lent is a corrective to our own self-centeredness and our focus on the wrong things. This is what Word and Sacrament are all about.

I encourage us all during the final, brutal weeks of Lent to pray that God’s Spirit does a mighty work in us and among us, that the Story of Jesus becomes paramount in all that we think, say and do…that the glories of Easter morning might truly become transformative and redemptive.

God loves you more than you know,