Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tongues of Fire

"And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance...
And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language."
- Acts 2:3-4, 6 (ESV)

What a wonderfully mysterious event! It seems there are as many interpretations of these "tongues of fire" and their significance as there are Christians! That is a great thing, for, surely, there was so much happening on that first Pentecost that human words cannot tell the whole story!

One of the miracles caused by these Spirit-driven "tongues of fire" is that those who heard the early Church speaking in other tongues heard the disciples praising God and sharing the Good News in their own languages. This gives us a license, I believe, to maintain a variety of ministries in the contemporary Church.

As John Wesley said in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, "The miracle was not in the ears of the hearers, (as some have unaccountably supposed,) but in the mouth of the speakers. And this family praising God together, with the tongues of all the world, was an earnest that the whole world should in due time praise God in their various tongues."

Suppose one is pastor of a congregation with a significant number of senior citizens, who grew up on "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Sweet Hour of Prayer". Then, it seems to me, the pastor has license to lead a revivalistic type of worship service focused on these types of hymns, southern Gospel-style standards, and more recent Gaither classics. This is "language" they can understand.

Suppose one is pastor of a congregation with a significant number of highly educated professionals or who have backgrounds or family connections in Roman Catholicism (the largest denomination in the USA, and quite dominant in southwestern PA). Then, it seems to me, the pastor has license to lead a traditional, liturgical worship service, perhaps utilizing organ music and litanies or other prayers birthed in the "liturgical renewal" movement. This is "language" they understand.

Suppose one is pastor of a congregation with a significant number of Baby Boomers (50s and 60s) or serves in an area with a significant number of these folks. Then, it seems to me, the pastor has license to lead a "praise band"-style worship service a la Willow Creek and Saddleback, birthed out of the so-called "Jesus movement" of the 1960s and 1970s. This is "language" they understand.

Suppose one is pastor of a congregation with a significant number of teens and "young adults" (20s and 30s, even 40s), who learn primarily through visuals and hands-on experience rather than lecture-style teaching. Then, it seems to me, the pastor has license to lead a worship service incorporating a variety of musical styles (from traditional Church music to rock and roll), and utilize drama and other techniques to utilize multiple senses in a so-called "emergent" style (such as Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Western PA Conference).

Surely, God intends for us to use these varieties of gifts and approaches to ministry. All (and others) can be effective means of grace in worship, when done properly.

Praise God for the diversity the Spirit brings to the Church!

Monday, May 29, 2006


Since we are preparing to celebrate the high holy day of Pentecost, with images of flames and fire, I thought I'd post a pic of my brother in Christ Rev. Brett Probert, doing his thing.

(OK, it's not really him...but the resemblance is striking.)

The Miracle of Pentecost

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,
both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.'
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'
But others mocking said, 'They are filled with new wine.'

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

- Acts 2:1-21 (ESV)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

TODAY in history...

The Battle of Jumonville Glen was a battle of the French and Indian War fought on May 28, 1754 near what is present-day Hopwood in western Pennsylvania. Along with the Battle of the Great Meadows (a.k.a. Battle of Fort Necessity), it is considered the opening battle in the French and Indian War which would spread through the world and become the Seven Years' War, the first truly "world war".

On the morning of May 28, 1754, young Virginia militia officer lieutenant colonel George Washington and the 40 soldiers he commanded attacked the French (Canadian) militia under the command of Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. Washington lost control of his troops and they massacred their prisoners, killing all but one of the wounded. After the slaughter, the wounded French commander Jumonville told Washington he had been sent as a peaceful emissary on behalf of Louis XV. The response from Washington's Indian ally, Seneca chief Tanaghrisson, was to cleave open ensign Jumonville's skull with his hatchet saying "Thou are not dead yet my father," and wash his hands in the Frenchman's braincase. Tanaghrisson's act is considered by historians to be a carefully calculated outrage to ignite war.

It was in reference to the battle at Jumonville Glen that Washington made his now famous statement, "I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound."

A portion of the battlefield is preserved as a unit of Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

Today, Jumonville Glen, where the initial shots were fired, is a part of Jumonville Training Center, a world-class camping and retreat center under the jurisdiction of the Western PA Conference of the UMC. On June 19, 1983, I knelt at the altar of Whyel Chapel at Jumonville and gave my life to Jesus Christ, led to this momentous decision by the Spirit's work through the ministries of Terry Wardle, John Smith, and Jeff Painter. Since that time, my life has been a story of my failure to live up to that covenant and God's continual forgiveness and loving faithfulness.

Jumonville is a very special place because the history of the world was forever altered by the events which took place there on this date two hundred fifty-two years ago; it is a very special place for me personally because my life was forever altered by what took place there twenty-three years ago. Praise God for Jumonville!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bishop Huie

Earlier this month, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Texas Annual Conference became the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. You can read about Bishop Huie and her vision for the Church in this article from the United Methodist News Service.

Bishop Huie is now the closest thing we United Methodists have to a "pope". While she carries little denominational authority beyond basically being a spokesperson for the Council, she will, for a time, be our visible head.

This is very encouraging, for a variety of reasons.

First, she is, quite obviously, a woman. It is wonderful that in this year when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of women being granted full clergy status in the UMC (actually, in the Methodist Church, which preceded the UMC), a woman is the "head" of our denomination. It says a great deal about us and our willingness to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. As a firm supporter of women in ministry, I rejoice for the Church!

Second, Bishop Huie has an exciting vision (which you can read about in the article mentioned above). She desires a "...return to the time when Methodism was seen as a movement instead of an institution." Amen, Bishop Huie! Amen! She unashamedly uses words like "holiness", and believes in the authority of Scripture and a movement which is "mission-fed and laity-led". She is also a "...strong advocate of leadership training and development...", which are sorely needed in the Church today.

Finally, she is a committed Wesleyan. So many of our pastors are either committed Protestant liberals (or perhaps Boston personalists if their seminary training came as far back as the 1950s) or Calvinist evangelicals (the "inerrancy" crowd). Bishop Huie is an odd duck for us...an actual Wesleyan. Praise God! We need more like her in every Annual Conference!

I have no illusions. Bishop Huie, like the rest of the Council of Bishops, disagreed with the recent Judicial Council decisions. In recent years, our Bishops' have often confused as much as they have led, and Bishop Huie has been an Episcopal leader since 1996. Additionally, she will preside over a difficult time in the life of the Church, when many United Methodist leaders disregard our covenantal responsibilities and accountability. She has real challenges ahead.

But I find more to be excited about than to worry about. God is still doing wonderful things in and through American Methodism, and hasn't yet given up on us. Glory to God!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ascension of the Lord

Today is the day celebrated on the Christian calendar as "Ascension of the Lord", making next Sunday (May 28) "Ascension Sunday". On this day (and on Sunday), we remember the events recorded in Luke 24:50-53, Mark 16:19-20 (though this is probably a second or third century addition to Mark's Gospel), and, especially, Acts 1:1-11, with the focus on verse 9...

" And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." - ESV

Sometimes, it seems that just when we want Jesus to be very clear to us or about something, he is obscured by something. Perhaps he is obscured by the distractions of daily life, our work or livelihood, our families, personal tragedy, our own sinfulness...on and on. The clouds of life can obscure our Lord...just when we may feel we need him most!

Welcome to the confusing and often misunderstood world of Jesus' Ascension.

As we ponder the meaning of this bizarre event, a Johannine text may help our perspective...

"I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away..." - John 16:7 (ESV)

In every life, things change. I am reminded of the protagonist in Herman Hesse's great book Siddhartha, who discovers after a long journey and many trials that the one "constant" in life is the ever-changing river. Change is always the leave-taking of one thing and the arrival of another, and, though painful, there is often good in the change which may not be immediately recognized.

Leaving a baby for the first time with a babysitter helps the child to grow accustomed to your (relatively brief) absence...leaving a child at school means they will learn new and wonderful things...leaving a child at church camp means an opportunity to experience God in a new way. In each case, the "thing" which arrived was growth and maturity. This is what change can offer.

Jesus left that we might grow and mature as disciples. He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us until he returns, but we are taught clearly in Acts 1 (et al) that Jesus has, at least physically, left us. John 16 reminds us, however, that he left for our benefit. In his absence, we must learn to rely on the Spirit and be strengthened by what we have been taught.

As I prepare to move to a new appointment in just a few weeks, the lessons of the Ascension hit home. I must leave in order for the faithful disciples of Dawson to grow and mature, with another pastor to lead them on the next steps of their journey...all of this can be painful, but is ultimately for the good of the Body and the glory of God.

"Almighty Father, who is the One constant in life upon whom we can rely, bless those who are in a time of change and transition, that empowered by your Spirit, they may grow in grace and in ministry effectiveness, through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Taylor Hicks!

Congratulations to my boy Taylor Hicks, the new American Idol!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

American Idol finals

Tonight is the night that my boy Taylor Hicks faces off against pretty Katharine McPhee. Both are fine singers. Taylor is a southern bluesman; Katharine is a technical whiz. So many folks with whom I speak are rooting for Taylor. A gray-haired, hefty, white blues and soul singer from Alabama...the American Idol? It's a strange world in which we live. Both singers have the talent to pursue fine careers in music. It's sure to be an enjoyable evening of music tonight, and a suspenseful "results show" tomorrow night. Fun for our entire family!

Dixie Chicks

I'm not a country music fan. Most of it I find silly, unsophisticated, and utterly juvenile. There are exceptions, of course. Johnny Cash is one of the greatest American artists of the last century; Shania Twain writes pretty good songs, and she and Faith Hill, a very strong singer, are both easy on the eyes.

The Dixie Chicks, also easy on the eyes, are a fine bluegrass band. I don't really follow bluegrass, but they seem to me to be pretty good at what they do. In March of 2003, singer Natalie Maines said at a concert in London, as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." This naturally offended the obviously conservative country audience, and there was a backlash. While their subsequent tour fared relatively well, record sales and radio airplay plummeted. The group also claims that some more dernaged and disillusioned fans made threats against the all-female trio.

Now, the group is out with a new CD. Critics seem pleased with the music. The first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice", was pretty much banned by country radio and peaked at a paltry #36. The second single, "Everybody Knows", peaked at #48, with, again, very little radio exposure (see here for the story). Are they in trouble?

As a non-country fan, it seems pretty evident to me that from a strictly business perspective, Maines comments were stupid. A cashier at McDonald's shouldn't tell people that burgers and fries are bad for your cholesterol...a ride operator at Kennywood shouldn't tell people that rollercoasters are dangerous. These are idiotic things which can clearly affect your livelihood. If you can't in good conscience serve burgers and fries, then become an accountant or a policeman or a nurse. If you're a country music singer, you need to recognize just who the people are who purchase your music and who attend your concerts. Ms. Maines' statement was an extremely poor business decision.

Now, nobody should threaten these ladies. That's appalling.

But almost as appalling has been Ms. Maines' inability to take responsibility for her own words. In the almost-hit "Not Ready to Make Nice", she seems to blame others for her recent trials. That's not uncommon; we humans are awfully bad at taking responsibility for our own actions. But to hear the Dixie Chicks say (I'm paraphrasing), "Our career is in jeopardy...our record sales are down...we hear boos from the audience...how dare they treat us this way", is monumentally self-centered.

With all due respect, that's OK; I don't expect actors and musicians to be geniuses or informed political commentators...I expect them to act and sing. And I appreciate the Dixie Chicks willingness to express themselves through their music. What's disappointing is that the "selves" they are representing seem pretty shallow. Which is too bad for such a talented group of ladies.

I predict that the new CD will end up doing pretty well, though maybe not as well as the group's previous efforts. I'm sure that the Hollywood elite will call them "brave" and "courageous", which is Hollywood-speak for "Think and talk like us."

I hope that country music fans come to the place where they appreciate good music in spite of people's personal silliness, and embrace this bluegrass band again. Musically, they could do a lot worse.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Annual Conference prep

In Western PA Conference, we are gearing up for our annual gathering at beautiful Grove City College in Grove City, PA. While it is sometimes a headache, and I grow tired of the political nonsense which sometimes occurs, it is quite often a valuable time of connection and a true means of grace. I'm also looking forward to Conference a bit because my lovely wife will participate as a lay member (equalization from Connellsville District) and my oldest son will participate as a member of the youth caucus.

Here are some preparatory / informational resources:

* Conference website

* Pre-Conference Journal

* Conference newspaper pre-Conference issue (PDF)

* "Believe Again!" proposed strategic plan (PDF)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Myth-ing the Point

When I was in the fourth grade, I fell in love with a book entitled D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, two award-winning children's books illustrators. This book was (and remains) an excellent introduction to Greek mythology; it is simply told and beautifully illustrated. I soon also obtained the "sequel", D'Aulaires' Norse Gods and Giants, now published as D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. Both books are classics, and began for me a lifelong love of mythology. I read voraciously on the subject in middle school, high school, and college. I considered pursuing the subject as a formal academic discipline, but the Lord had other plans for my life.

While a college student at IUP (Class of '96), I attended Trinity United Methodist Church in Indiana, PA with my wife and (then two) children. Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Deryl Larsen, we participated in DISCIPLE Bible Study, a wonderful formal course developed for United Methodists. There, I was first exposed to the notion of "myth" as applied to the Bible.

At first, I was shocked. How could the divinely-inspired Scriptures be compared to the mythological stories I loved so much, and knew so well? I soon calmed down as I became aware that the academic meaning of "myth" differs significantly from the common "lay" understanding. To recognize mythological elements in the Bible is not to call into question the Bible's inspiration, authority, or even veracity; instead, it shows us how the Bible is "fully human", even as it is, in its inspiration, "fully divine".

A myth is essentially a narrative in which the supernatural or fantastic is utilized to explain something. Given this definition, the Bible is filled with myth - gloriously so! Genesis 1-11 is rich with mythological imagery, perhaps moreso than any other section of the Bible. Myth is also apparent throughout the Pentateuch, the Psalter (Psalm 89 is a particularly good example), Daniel, and the New Testament book of Revelation.

United Methodist Bernhard Anderson, author of Creation Versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible as well as Understanding the Old Testament (the best one volume OT commentary available), is one of the greatest Old Testament scholars of the last century. He is currently Professor of Old Testament Theology Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. His work has greatly informed my understanding. He believes that (as theologian Diogenes Allen summarizes), "...one may read the Old Testament as indeed revealing saving truth, without ignoring the existence of myth and without sacrifice of the intellect."

And that's the point. We can affirm the mythological while still recognizing saving truth. This may mean a sacrifice of the Calvinist notion of "inerrancy", but, as a Wesleyan, that's not an issue for me. As a Wesleyan, I am most concerned with the soteriological message and authority of Scripture, not its linguistic accuracy (a view supported by Article V of the UM Articles of Religion).

This weekend sees the release of the film The DaVinci Code, a story which is drenched in myth. Does all myth point to truth? Not necessarily. But The DaVinci Code uses the mythological to point us toward Jesus...though it's unlikely this was the intention of the book's author or the talented filmmakers. As a friend said recently on her blog, "...it got us talking about Jesus."

Myth is good. It's as Biblical as the Sermon on the Mount or salvation by grace or sanctification. Myth has been a part of the extra-Biblical tradition for years, with wonderful stories such as the stations of the Cross, the assumption of Mary, Ragnarok, Beowulf, Prester John, the Arthurian cycle, Paradise Lost, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Calvin Miller's Singer trilogy and the works of Stephen Lawhead. Few, if any, will see The DaVinci Code and walk away converted to its proposals. But many, I believe, will ask questions and seek answers in the Scriptures and in congregational settings. May we be ready to joyfully engage in this dialogue, and not miss out on what the Spirit is doing through this book and film...once again, through mythology!

Sitcom Endings

Last evening, the final episodes of That 70s Show and Will & Grace aired on television. I managed to watch both finales (surprisingly, considering I haven't seen a first run episode of either show in at least 2 years).

Will & Grace was on TV for eight seasons and in that time was usually a very funny television show. The writers/cast/directors/producers were obviously committed to pushing the boundaries of television, portraying homosexuals in non-threatening ways...focused on comedy. The show, while having clear stands on the issue of homosexuality and the related political tempests, was never too preachy, and this was its strength. Making people laugh at funny characters and situations was its mission...and that's good. When the series sometimes lost focus, spending too much time on the soap opera love lives of its main characters, it was relatively boring. Luckily, the show had two supporting characters...Jack and Karen...who were among the most dementedly funny characters ever seen on television and often saved the show from itself (BTW - there simply aren't enough Emmys to give to Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, the two gifted actors who brilliantly portrayed Jack and Karen for 8 seasons).

The finale was unsatisfying. It was fairly dark for what had been a relatively "light" show. Will and Grace not speaking for years...Jack and Karen, for the first time, reduced to seriously supporting players. The highlight in an otherwise disappointing finale was the Mullally/Hayes performance of the Nat King Cole classic "Unforgettable".

The other finale last evening was That 70s Show. For most of its 8 seasons, this show was perhaps the "hippest" series on TV, and birthed several stars, including the excellent Topher Grace (set to portray Venom in Spider-Man 3). The final episode had an odd moment or two, but the fact that Kelso and Eric returned made up for any faux pas. The "old gang" was together one more time to ring in the new year. The series ended with a license plate display which showed the registration date of 1980. A good, relatively faithful ending to a very funny show.

So, what good shows are left on TV? My wife watches Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, which aren't great shows. The once-great Alias, starring the talented Jennifer Garner, is going off the air next week. I guess CSI and Lost are still on, and just about everybody watches American Idol. Boston Legal, starring the legendary William Shatner, is probably the best drama on TV right now.

But, you know, I don't get too many opportunities to watch TV. When I do, I often watch reruns of M*A*S*H or Seinfeld. There aren't very many great shows on nowadays, and very few funny sitcoms.

That's really too bad. We all need to laugh. Laughter is one of God's greatest gifts. Few things are as spiritually fulfilling or theologically profound as sitting in the arms of someone you love and laughing together at a movie, a TV show, a play, or other form of artistic expression. I hope that the TV networks don't focus too much on silly reality programming (which is relatively cheap to produce) and dark dramas (CSI is plenty) that we don't see any truly funny sitcoms. And, if they fail us, then M*A*S*H is on every evening at 11 PM on the Hallmark Channel.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More on Leadership

Here is a brief word on leadership by my friend Chris Whitehead, one of the pastors of Charter Oak United Methodist Church in Greensburg, PA. Chris and I agree on most things theological in nature, but disagree at times on strategy and ecclesiology (I am really drawn to historical / liturgical worship; Chris is more drawn, in my view, to the "Baby Boomer praise style" that is seen in so many churches these days). His blog centers really around what's happening at Charter Oak (about which he's very excited) and his passion for leadership development; Chris' passion in this area has inspired many pastors in our Conference, myself included, to be more deliberate and intentional about developing these skills. This particular post gives a strong reminder about what can happen when we lead where God calls...sometimes in the face of opposition.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Worship & Farewell planning

Today was a good day...I preached on John 13:31-35, and talked about Jesus' command that we love one another, comparing it to our mothers' request that we love one another and learn to get along. I got to imitate my mother as part of the sermon, which is always fun (I love my mother, but she has a very distinctive whine).

Good things have been happening as we've been preparing to transition out of Dawson. There have been lots of tears, as people have expressed their feelings and how much they'll miss us. Today, one of my lay leaders let me know how much my ministry has meant to her and how good it's been for the church. Also today, Roy Hess, lead guitarist of the High Ryder Band and an all around good egg, played a very touching guitar medley in worship, in honor of my wife and I. The medley included beautiful renditions of "Let It Be", "Lady Madonna", "I Feel Fine", "Yesterday", and "God Be with You 'til We Meet Again". Lovely guitar work from a cherished brother in Christ; I found it difficult to continue the service after Roy played.

I'm very pleased that the charge has set a date for a farewell dinner for our family, and did it in conjunction with our local Ministerium. I started the Ministerium here in my first year of ministry. We had several congregations in the Tri-Town area which really didn't know each other very well. Now, we have monthly services together (weekly during Lent), a joint Youth ministry, and a joint Food Bank serving over 100 clients. Additionally, the pastors help one another with pastoral work and we've gotten to be a pretty tight group; I'll miss these good Christian servants a great deal.

Upon hearing that we were moving to Jefferson UM Church, the folks in the other churches asked to be a part of our farewell, so our farewell dinner will include Baptists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, folks from the Church of Christ, and, of course, United Methodists (the Presbys said that they were predestined to bring the ham!). Also, several of our Food Bank clients, with whom I have worked extensively, have expressed a desire to be a part of our farewell. I consider it a personal triumph of sorts that the entire community is together on this - glory to God! - as I believe wholeheartedly in our Bishop's claim that we are appointed to serve communities, not simply to congregations. God is good!

Tomorrow, we will be taking our children (and three friends) to Kennywood for their school picnic. It may be cold and rainy all day long, but the kids were really looking forward to the trip. We will be praying for good weather!

Tuesday, I'm off to Jefferson Hills to meet with the pastor and some of the leadership at Jefferson UM Church...more transitional stuff. Saturday - my final wedding in Dawson. A busy week! But, again...God is good! What a privilege to serve my Lord!

It may be a few days until I get to post again. So, I leave you with a video starring my favorite theologian, the one and only John Wesley...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dick Grayson: The Movie

This is the best trailer ever made for a fake movie...enjoy.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Leadership vs. Polls

A recent poll has suggested that only 29% of the American people approve of the job performance of President Bush.

Who cares? How does this matter at all? Why is this considered newsworthy?

If he were running again, it would certainly merit some attention. But he isn't. I suppose that inasmuch as the approval numbers affect the Congressional elections this November, politicos need to keep their eyes open.

But these silly polls don't really matter at all. Not to any real leader worth his or her salt.

Leadership isn't about pleasing your constituents...although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Leadership involves following your moral compass even in the face of difficult times, when your "poll numbers" seem low. If your moral compass - your valued principles - points to what is true and right, then you'll be OK.

I'm not claiming that President Bush's moral compass is perfect, although I believe him to be a sincere Christian man who wants to do the right thing (but I often disagree with him as to what "the right thing" might be). But "Big News" in this nation is as corrupt as "Big Tobacco" or "Big Oil" or any other corporate principality. "Big News" has its own agenda and is driven by ratings, money, and, at times, radical political beliefs. If hyping essentially meaningless poll numbers will drive the agenda, they'll do it. Whether or not these "stories" matter is inconsequential.

I would urge President Bush, Prime Minister Blair (who is experiencing similar problems), and leaders around the world, whether Church or State, to follow a true moral compass and lead honestly. If your moral compass points to "true north", which is Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit will define and create effectiveness...not public opinion or corporate news.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My "Eschatological worldview"

I took another online quiz, found here; again, I can't say that I'm surprised at the results.

You scored as Amillenialist.
Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal
but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension.
People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your



Moltmannian Eschatology










Left Behind


Thursday, May 04, 2006

1 John 3:17-18

This passage is included in the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday...

"If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no compassion for them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." - TNIV (adapt.)


"If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love." - Eugene Peterson's The Message

Powerful words. So many wonderful Christian people worship obediently, live morally, pray earnestly, give generously, care deeply, and perhaps even read and study the Bible faithfully...yet, if we are not actively engaged in helping the poor, are we still Christian? Or are we just nice people, religious people, to whom the Lord might say, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God..." (Mark 12:34, TNIV) or remind us that, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21, TNIV)

With loving respect, I grow tired of hearing colleagues talk about wonderful prayer services or great Bible studies or Spirit-inspired worship...all great things...and rarely if ever talk about the ways in which they and their congregants are serving "the least of these". What's happened to us? How "in bed" with the world are we? How comfortable have we become?

It seems to me that the poor, the least, the lowest of society ought to be our primary mission field. Yet most of us (myself included) clamor for the suburban appointments of our dreams, where there are comparatively few poor, and where everyone seems remarkably like us. Shame on us..shame on me.

Merciful Father, who upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry, who sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, watches over the foreigner and sustains the orphan and the widow, forgive me my arrogance and my lack of obedience in reaching out to "the least of these" in society. By the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire and enable me to faithfully reach them and lead your people in this same outreach, that your name might be glorified by our work and pleased with our offering, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What am I reading now?

The Poor and the People Called Methodists by Richard Heitzenrater

The Brethren by John Grisham

Mastering Transitions by E. Bratcher/R. Kemper/D. Scott

1 John

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Judicial Council

Yesterday, the Judicial Council, the "Supreme Court" of The United Methodist Church, issued its "final" decisions on two cases regarding sexuality and the Church. The Judicial Council had been asked to reconsider Decisions 1031 and 1032, which stated that the rights of a pastor had been violated when he had been placed on a leave of absence after refusing to admit into local church membership a "self-avowed, practing homosexual" (a legal term in the UMC). The Judicial Council had also affirmed that the pastor-in-charge of a local church was the one who had the right to determine when a person was eligible for membership in the local church. The Council of Bishops and others strongly disagreed with the decision, maintaining that they really had the final word, and no one could be denied membership if we were committed to being an inclusive Church (see Article IV of the UMC Constitution).

The Judicial Council decided yesterday, in Decisions 1040 and 1041, that they would not reconsider their earlier decisions. According to Church law, therefore, the pastor-in-charge of a local church is the one with the authority vested by our Book of Discipline to determine when a person is eligible for membership. The Council of Bishops, legally, lost this case. Undoubtedly, the Church will revisit the issue at our 2008 General Conference in Texas. And, I assume, there are a lot of angry Bishops out there today. (For the reaction of the evangelical wing of the Church, see the statement of the "Good News" organization here.)

In my view, the Church has in the past acted unfairly toward homosexuals. We seem to have - at times - singled out this one behavior as a grave sin, ignoring others. While homosexual behavior is viewed by the Church as "incompatible with Christian teaching" (another UMC legal term), we sometimes turn our heads at heterosexual sin, or even many non-sexual behaviors which are also "incompatible with Christian teaching". Both the left and the right have focused too much on homosexuality, to the detriment of our mission.

I believe we should maintain the classical Christian understanding that sex is acceptable only within the marriage covenant, and that behaviors which violate this understanding are sinful. This means that heterosexual fornication is as "incompatible with Christian teaching" as is homosexual behavior. Why are we afraid to speak this truth?

I affirm the Judicial Council. I believe that they have authority to determine these interpretations, and I believe they have acted properly. They are correct; the Council of Bishops is incorrect.

My prayer is that we can affirm this position at General Conference in 2008, that our Bishops adhere to Church law and enforce it, that we can stop singling out homosexuality at the expense of other sins, and that we can move on and begin to focus our efforts on disciple-making for the transformation of the world.

It is our mission which has suffered the most in this controversy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy Birthday, Nessie!

On this date in 1933, Nessie, the so-called "Loch Ness Monster", was sited for the first time in the modern era.

Now, I am a natural skeptic. I don't believe in Bigfoot or the Yeti, as much I'd love it if they really existed. Nessie, however, is quite real. I have excellent reasons for affirming her existence.

First, I am a Scottish-American. Both my father's family and my mother's family are Scot and, while, there is also some German and a few other things, I have proudly embraced my Highlands heritage. I would never say or do anything to hurt Scotland or its economy, so I'll support the idea that Nessie is real.

Second, Nessie brings to mind a quote by the eminently quotable G.K. Chesterton, a great early 20th century English Catholic writer who was a huge influence on figures such as filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, writers Neil Gaiman and J.R.R. Tolkien, and theologian C.S. Lewis.

Chesterton once said, "Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

The quote is a reminder to me that Christians need fairy tales...we need wonder...we need magnificent tales of heroes and monsters and the fantastic. Nessie, for me, represents the mystery of creation and the amazement of the unknown. I need these things to remind me of the greatness of God, to remind me that there is still much "out there" that remains unknown, and to remind me that, as in every good fairy tale, good does triumph over evil in the end.

NFL Draft, Day 2

All in all, the Steelers did a phenomenal job, maybe the best in the NFL. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes will be a great fit, and they added depth at several important positions. The truth is that they are already loaded with talent, and didn't have the great needs of other teams. An excellent analysis of the draft, focusing on the Super Bowl champions, can be read here.

As far as the drafts of the other teams...the Buffalo Bills draft seemed a bit confusing, but maybe we need to trust the great Marv Levy....the New Orleans Saints, who grabbed Reggie Bush, and the Arizona Cardinals, who grabbed Matt Leinart, should be thrilled today...the Denver Broncos seem to have done a fine job, a testament to the consistency and excellence of Head Coach Mike Shanahan...all the teams of the AFC North seem to have done well...the Houston Texans blew a sure thing in passing on Reggie Bush.