Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Vote and Why I Voted the Way I Did

As I said, I voted earlier this week. I have voted for a Republican for President for 16 years. This time around I voted for Barack Obama. This is why:

1. Obama had a clear message of hope of the future.

When I heard Obama speak, visited his web site, read articles about him. Do I agree with him about everything? No. Do I agree with his plan to get out of Iraq, work toward affordable health care (we will not get as far as he hoped), and the logic of his tax plan? Yes I do.

2. McCains lack of vision

I kept hoping McCain would communicate a vision for the future that made sense. He did not communicate any sort of hope for the future. He just relied on a his resume to carry him through. Surviving a prison camp in service of one's country is a noble accomplishment. It in no way has any bearing on how one will be president 40 years later. He is a survivor. He has been in congress for decades. His campaign is all about how he feels entitled to be president, much like Bob Dole.

3. The Vice Presidential choices

I predicted Palin would be chosen months ahead of time. I think she has a lot of political talent. She has good job as governor of Alaska. She is not ready to president of the United States. She is a female version of George Bush, with less gravitas (which is saying a lot.)

4. McCain's campaign
McCain, who I was open to be convinced by--especially after the choice of Palin--has failed to run a campaign with any focus or discipline. Instead, he has consistently run a campaign of attack on Obama on irrational, fringe issues. McCain has tried to appeal to the racism and fears of Americans, and I refuse to vote for anyone who does this. The last couple weeks I have been called by McCain advocates who say that Obama pierces children's head with skulls, inserts for church bullitens by a PAC that say Obama favors child sacrifice and making America a Muslim nation.

The communism argument is a red herring, and politicians tried to put the same label on Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s. It is not socialist to stand for a fairer and more just economy. It is just moral and right.

As for the "associations"--they should have been mentioned but not dwelt upon. Do you want to be held accountable for every word your pastor has ever said? Do you want to be held to account for every committee member of every committee you have ever been on. I don't. Also, in respect for Bill Ayers, every urban area has that influential person that had a radical past. Especially when you are a community organizer in an established inner city.

If you don't believe me, I ask every White American with small town roots if they have friend or acquaintence with strong racist attitudes that somewhere in the past participated in some sort of racial violence or with a fringe group. Heck, I have a man in our church that is a member of the John Birch society. Another who talked about how minorities used to be out of town by dark, and that is the way it should be today.

5. Obama inspires me and makes me feel proud of my country.

McCain does not.

Well...there are several other reasons. But that is a short view of my rationale.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Voting by Mail

Jen and I voted by mail this evening. It was an interesting experience. In the process, it brought up issues of a fear about whether our votes would be counted, but at the same time a similar sense of excitement in a little more open aptnosphere.

First, there was the fear. This came up in some ways for both of us. It is strange putting a ballot in the mail, and wondering if it will get there. When you do it at the polls, you watch your ballot go into the box or on the computer. When you do it by mail, you wonder if your ballot will even get there. And if they will lose it or something from the mail box to the machine that counts it. It was kind of strange.

Second, I had seen some publicity about how especially with mail ballots, republican powers that be were finding all sorts of ways to disqualify ballots. When I saw Jen's ballot, it was interesting to see how hers was different than mine. First, her political party (Democrat) was written on her label on her ballot. Mine (Republican) was not. Why is her party identified and mine was not? Then, her ballot instructions were poorly copied and illegible. Then, there was the fact that she intentionally did not register for a mail ballot, and yet got a mail ballot anyway. Finally, her envelope was addressed on the back side of the envelope instead of the front. She is convinced she is going to be a disenfranchised voter--in her mind just like the ones in Florida in 2000.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Club

We had a good book club meeting last night. It keeps sounding like people in the community might be invested in joining us, but as of yet nobody has made it.

Last night we studied The Shack. It was interesting to see the diversity of response to the book. One of the responses was by my neighbor Scotty. Scotty thinks that we have this culturally conditioned view of God, and of the supernatural for that matter. In reference to angels, he is convinced that his guardian angel looks like a triceritops dinosaur. I laughed out loud, but thought it was great. Certainly the angels in Revelation look more like a dinosaur than it looks like our renaissance picture of angels.

One of our more mature ladies was frustrated that the author didnt include Bible verses, until she reread the cover of the book and realized that it was fiction. So cute.

The smart alec side of me did want to say....verses are not in the Bible. Well...they are, but they are not. Verses were a later addition to the Bible, and are there so we can understand the Bible better. But John did not write his gospel with chapters and verses. That is just how we have put things together as people.

That got me much of what is "inside" our Bibles are not really a part of the Bible at all. Paragraph divisions. Subheadings. Footnotes. Cross-references. Study notes? How do they condition our thinking? Define our way of reading?

Anyway...there was a little bit more personal sharing of things.

It is interesting. I am getting to use these book clubs to discuss theological issues--most have one or more theological themes. So I am getting to teach a whole group of folks that do not usually come to a traditional class/bible study.

btw...I was just elected as president of friends ofthe in a small as a small town pastor.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Discipline--The Overview

I have been thinking about how to become more disciplined. I seem to do well at some things for a while, and it gives me traction, but then I seem to get stuck at some point and fail to make progress.

The other day I was reading Axioms by Bill Hybels, and he encouraged leaders not to be decieved by incrementalism. He said that incremental change often means no real change in the long run. Furthermore, he encouraged wholesale, exponential steps of growth. He was talking about this in relation to working with churches. I have been thinking about this in terms of life stuff.

Here are some of my observations:

  • When I try to get disciplined in one area of my life (time management), I usually thought it was better to give myself slack in another area of my life (diet, finances, spiritual disciplines, goal setting and acheivement). What I have come to understand is that it may be better to get disciplined in all areas of my life at the same time. Thus...wholesale life change instead of incremental change. The problem is I have already had a lot of life change this year.......
  • At the same time, little changes can make a big difference. They have to be small committed changes, not half-hearted, put your toe in the water changes though
  • I need effective accountability structures to make life changes. I have tried this in some areas of my life. My accountability people in some recent ventures have not done well at keeping me accountatble. Other times the people are total jerks and I do not want to be around them.

Just some thinking I am doing.

Discipline Part 2

I have been thinking a lot, and discussing a lot with Jennifer about being more financially disciplined. Jennifer thinks I am a planner--which is probably different from what my family of orgin would say--but I think she is right. I am more and more of a planner all of the time.

Lately I have been thinking about Dave Ramsey, the Total Money Makeover, Financial Peace University, and how we can become more disciplined as a couple with our finances. To be honest, we are not awfully undisciplined at the moment. We do not eat out a lot, we rarely go to movies, and we do not spend a lot on luxuries. But, I think with a little more focus we can get some good things accomplished. And maybe if I get a second job, we can get some more stuff paid off. Right now we do well if we have regular expenses, but when those unexpected (car repairs or medical bills) or irregular (like Christmas) expenses come, we fall a little behind. Luckily, right now we have a cushion.

I am thinking that we will look at preparing for this until the end of the year, and then after Christmas get started with a firm plan.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Theological Clarification

Both of the first two comments on the previous post shared that I was a little over their head of the theology of the Trinity. That is ok...I meant the Trinity stuff for people who are theologically critical of the book.

But I thought I would take a chance and explain.

Patripassionism--Patripassionism is the thought that all of the Trinity was crucified on the cross. Orthodox Christian thought is that Jesus died on the Cross.

modalism--Over emphasis on separate personalities of the Trinity to the exclusion of the oneness of God. The metaphor of God as H2O, and water being like one member of the trinity, steam being like another, and ice being like another is an expression of this heresy.

Oneness--Overemphasis on oneness to the exclusion of separate personalities of God within the Trinity. Usually done by saying is one God just playing different roles or wearing different masks for our benefit.

subortinationism--A heresy that parts of the Trinity are not equal to other parts of the Trinity. For instance, I am studying how certain evangelicals tend us say that the Son is subordinate to the Father and thus women should be subordinate to men in the same way. This is a misreading of a passage in I Corinthians, which misreads a text poorly interpreted in English.

A couple of years ago, I spoke with a friend who did read this blog, about our language for God. I said that I felt that in some way all language for God is in some sense metaphorical. That God is bigger than we can think or describe, but that we know God through how he has revealed himself in Scripture, and that the dominant metaphor God uses to reveal himself through the Trinity. My friend tossed me to and fro from one heresy to another like a ping pong ball in trying to understand what I was saying. What I was trying to say was that I agree with Karl Barth, who was both a strong Trinitarian and a believer that God was Wholly Other (also a term used in the Shack from modern theology). Anyway, I am not smart enough to articulate that then and now without sounding like a heretic myself. But I learned to bone up on my Trinitarian heresies so I do not miscommunicate about my beliefs.

Review of the Shack

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I thought it was thought-provoking, intelligent, and hard to put down. It was in many ways, a sign of the times. A generation ago, people were communicating issues about how to deal with suffering and heartache and faith in books like Where is God When It Hurts? and When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Now, true to our times, the message is communicated in narrative form.

Also, this book is in the forefront of books in "Christian Fiction" that go against the flow. Several atttempt to deal with theological questions in honest and authentic ways. Most notably, Brain McClaren with A New Kind of Christian, The Story We Find Ourselves In, and The Last Word and the Word After That
as well as Venita Hampton Wright in Grace at Bender Springs, Velma Still Cooks At Leeway, and Dwelling Places. But also some very authentic, unconventional books about people struggling with their faith in the real world like Leaper and My Name is Russell Fink.

For those of you who do not know, The Shack is a self-published book by a father trying to relate his spiritual journey to his children in a fictional/mythical manner. It tells the story of a man named Mack, who is invited by "Papa" to meet God at The Shack. The Shack is a place that is the center of Mack's "Great Sadness", and is also symbolic of Mack's own soul. While at the
Shack, God helps Mack deal with his sense and grief and loss from the kidnapping and presumed death of his daughter.

Unique to this novel is that God presents Godself as Trinity. Papa (Father), Jesus, and Sarayu (Hindi word for wind, which is the Greek Word for Spirit). Also, as a manifestation of Papa, we see God represented as Sophia (Wisdom). Admittedly, this is a difficult thing to understand through non-fictional writing, this understanding as God as three in one. It is more challenging when one encounters it in narrative form. I think the book suceeds in not embracing the heresy of "modalism" on one end, and the heresy of "oneness" theology on the other end. It also studiously avoids the heresy of subordinationism--a hersesy that has become increasingly present among evangelical Christians. What I appreciated about what Young did in this book is to present Trinity as self-sustaining community, and thus as a model for Christian community. This seems informed by some strong, recent theology such as In Our Likeness by Miroslav Volf. On the negative side of the issue, I wondered if The Shack did engage in the heresy of patripassionism.

What is most controversial thing about the book is its presentation of God as female. Papa is presented as an African-American woman who loves to bake (see Matthew 13), although later he is presented as a long-haired white male. Jesus is presented as a Middle-Eastern carpenter and outdoorsman, and the Holy Spirit is presented as a kaliedoscopic woman. After reading the book, I was not uncomfortable in presenting God as having both male and female characteristics. I believe God is beyond gender. I was uncomfortable with the over-feminizing of God. I especially thought Jesus was over-feminized in his personality--kind of a limp-wristed Jesus--even though he was presented completely as male. Also, following the thinking of Ben Witherington in Jesus the Sage, I see the personification of wisdom in Proverbs relating to Jesus in John 1, not to God the Father.

Having said this, I was not necessarily offended by Young's presentation of God. I just thought it was inbalanced. The presentation of Papa was there, right from the start, to mess with Mack's (and our) head. The narrative says as much, and thus the name is male and the visual is female. I also thought a lot of Young's presentation of God was based upon his own personal history, which includes sexually abuse and emotional abuse at the hands of males.

Young's goal was to present God as a God that loves us and is on our side. A God who is there to comfort and to guide, a God that longs to have us be reconciled to Him and to one another. The need to forgive and reconcile with others to be faithful and whole comes across especially clear. Young's presentation of God is of a God who wants us to do the hard things to be the person that God calls us to be, but that doesn't take away all the pain just to make us feel better.

I thought the book was well-written. Unlike other writers, who work for publishers, I did not think it needed the scrutiny of a publishing house to be a good book. I thought it was an entertaining read, and it made me think, although I did not find it to be as life changing as others did.
All in all, before you make a judgement, read it for yourself.

The Shack Discussion Questions/Reading Guide

Book Discussion: The Shack

Overview Questions

  1. If you were to rank the book: THE SHACK on a scale of 1-5, what would you rate it and why would you give it that rating?
  2. What part of the book spoke to you the most, and why?(If you can find it please read it)
  3. Are there any brief quotes in the book that you like?
  4. What part of the book confused you the most or created the most questions? Why did you have a hard time with that part of the book?
  5. What were some of the things that the Shack says about God, faith, and life that you disagree with?

Digging In: The Shack, The Garden, and The Human Soul

  1. Why do you think Mack's encounter with God took place at the shack? If God were to invite you somewhere, where would it be? (In other words, where is the center of your doubt and pain)?
  2. Do you think suffering draws people closer to God or distances them from Him? Which has it done in your life?
  3. If you think about your soul as a garden, what do you imagine it being like? Is it neat and all in order? Is it a mess? Do you want it in order? Do you want it to be a mess or in order? Does it need weeding?
  4. Why do you think Missy was buried in the garden?

Digging In: Papa, The Trinity, and All that God Stuff

  1. How did the author's description of God differ from your understanding of God? What parts of the descriptions of God did you resonate with? What parts did you have a hard time with? Why?
  2. Did you have a hard time with the way the author presented God's gender? Why or why not?
  3. Did you find the presentation of the Trinity helpful? Why or why not?
  4. When you pray to or think about God, what is the mental picture that comes to mind of what God looks like?
  5. Mack naturally relates to Jesus the best out of any member of the Trinity? Which do you tend to relate to when you pray? When you think about what is God is like?
  6. Do you think God is too nice in The Shack?



Digging In: The Great Sadness, Relationships and Reconciliation

  1. What do you think about how Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu relate to one another?
  2. The Great Sadness goes from being something that is the grief of Mack, to the thing that defines him. How did this happen? How does this happen in people that you know?
  3. In what ways does the Great Sadness in Mack hurt him in his relationships with other people?
  4. In what ways does Mack blame himself for what happened to Missy? How does this define him?
  5. Throughout the story we see that Mack, although he can hardly speak it, blames God for taking his daughter away. When do we blame God? Why? How do we reconcile with God after this?
  6. What were your thoughts about Mack's reconciliation with his father? In what ways do our relationships with our parents define us? Color our relationship with God? With others?
  7. Why is Mack's forgiveness of the killer important? To Papa? To Mack? For the killer?
  8. How does Mack's forgiveness of himself, God, and others get him to the point where he can be a better husband, father, and friend? Do you think this is true of all of us?



Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Thoughts

  • I drove up to the hotel this evening and realized that the landscaping plan for the hotel was the cunning use of well placed rocks. Interesting decorating plan.
  • My dog is bred for hunting. He has a good nose. Strange thing is, he has very little that smells bad to him. Smells are not good or bad. They are just something to respond to, and not to judge. I wonder what would happen if we would approach the circumstances of our life with the same kind of openness. Speaking of Jake, when I had jen put me on speakerphone to talk to the dog, he nuzzled the phone and started licking it. Too cute!!
  • From the minute I begin to attend one of these "gatherings" I began to plan an escape route. What can I get away with not going to and get some alone time?
  • American Baptist Ministry Events other than youth stuff is very geriatric
  • I love the racial and ethnic diversity of our denomination
  • I am rooming with a good man, who actually chose to room with me when his wife did not make it. He is also the region president. I feel the need to be prim and proper. So I use the bathroom in the pool area .
  • A lot of large churches have special bathrooms for the senior pastor or staff in their building. I think this is because nobody wants to hear a pastor have a bowel movement, and then try and reconcile that moment with him preaching and presiding over the Lord's Table the next. Too much role confusion.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Toilet Timeout

I grew up, for most of my growing up years, being the only guy in the house. Up until high school, I had to share a room with my sister. Maybe that is how I got started with indulging my introversion.

But I do not think I am alone. I think many people take toilet timeouts.

You know what I mean. You have to go to the bathroom. You bring a book. You think you will be in there for a few minutes, but the book gets more and more interesting. You stay in the bathroom for a half of an hour until some family member knocks on the door begging to use the restroom. People may think you are having a difficult time, or possibly to much of a good time with yourself. Deep down though, you have found your only refuge for a timeout. An acceptable one that does not look anti-social.

I am at a conference now, and the presentation has gotten dull. So I am sitting in the back of the room, after taking my toilet timeout. And slowly I am watching others do the same thing. Or maybe I am the only one. Am I?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fowler in the News

The head of Fowler State Bank, who is also out moderator's brother in law, had CNN Money interview him about the mortgage crisis, and how it effects our small town bank. It seems the local bank is healthier than some of the big boys. Here is the ARTICLE.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Quotes I Like from "Today Matters"

When opportunity comes, it is too late to prepare--John Wooden

One today is worth two tomorrows. What I am to be, I am now becoming.--Benjamin Franklin

Most people don't lead their own lives, they accept their lives.--John Kotter

Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.--John Wooden

Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing--Michael LeBoef

The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.--William James

Money doesn't change men, it merely unmasks them.If a man is naturally selfish, or arrogant, or greedy, the money brings it out. Thats all--Henry Ford

Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we do not believe.--St. Augustine of Hippo

Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble--Charles Spurgeoun

Try not to become men of success. Rather, become men of value,--Albert Einstein

Nice guys finish last, but they are usually running a different race.--Ken Blanchard and Normal Vincent Peale

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Best of far

Al Hsu's summary of David Brooks' (a well known conservative) discovery of Obama the theologian. Very interesting.

Marko's review of Jesus wants to Save Christians

Erin's Greg Boyd quote about voting

Kim's artwork

Steve's Debate Bingo--I hope we have one for the next debate because it will be really fun with time to prepare for this.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Quote for the Day

Men are not simply hindered by ignorance, but deliberately sieze hold of offences so that they may not follow where God calls.--
John Calvin

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

If the Next Great Depression Happens

I was talking to a friend from college this morning. He said that in any church activity with younger adults, the economy is being discussed with fear and trepidation. Most people around our age are heavily mortgaged and fairly newly mortgaged in urban and suburban areas.

It gotten to me to thinking about what is coming with our economy. Let me throw out a few predictions of what will happen if we have another depression. This is a big "if", but it is a possibility if :

1. I think if the next depression happens, it will be a gradual process. There will probably not be a great run on the banks. It will be trickling depression instead of a great crash. If we are headed toward a depression, it has already started.Slowly, as homeowners are unable to refinance, anyone without a thirty year fixed mortgage will lose their home. This will take 5-6 years to completely play out.

2. I think Obama will be elected (barring something unforseen). He will quickly remove troops from Iraq. He will do this not simply because of his views on the war. It will soon become an economic necessity. Afganistan will also become a necessity to get out of as well. We have no viable economic interest in being there. Besides, there will soon be other wars to fight. If McCain wins, we will in a power grab make Iraq a colony of some sort, and force them to give us cheap oil. We will, as he promised, be there 100 years.

3. Most people think Obama will have to table his health care initiative. Nothing is further from the truth if a democrat is elected. We will have some form of socialized health care by 2011. People will get poorer and poorer and will not be able to afford insurance if the next depression happens. In particular, health care will be provided for basic necessities--with insurance available for catastrophic incidents.

4. Much like the previous depression, infrastructure will be repaired and built on a grand scale. It may seem like we do not have money for this, but it will be work that will keep young people fed and clothed.

5. Crime rates will rise astronomically in both small towns and big cities. When people get hungry, they steal. Young people will become more violent. Youth violence is almost always tied to economic factors. Racial tensions will become strained. Some of this will be directed at African-Americans, but most of it will be directed at immigrant people groups. This includes Latin Americans, but also some Asian groups in certain areas of the country. If jobs become more scarice, more citizen groups will form to remove illegals from their communities. Some will do this by force.

6. Many people in urban areas will begin to take in boarders. There will be a return to the extended family home. Grandparents with mortgages paid will have their children and grandchildren moving in with them. If that does not happen, you will see families having their single friends rent out rooms.

7. There will be another terrorist attack. If Obama is elected he will respond forcefully against this. If McCain is elected, he will caution restraint. I know this sounds counterintuitive. It is. But McCain can pull off a "wait and get to the bottom of this" approach. Obama will find it politically necessary to lash out immediately.

8. We will not be able to bail out areas devastated by natural disasters, except for in vital farmland. We will develop a relocation plan.

9. Like the last great depression, this depression will be exasserbated by environmental crisis. America will be in the forefront of addressing this environmental crisis. China will not address it at all. This will cause considerable conflict between the west and China. Unfortunately for the West, China will hold all their bank notes. As this crisis goes on, Al Gore will rise again to prominence as a national leader.

10. Whoever is elected next will be in office for 8 years. People will not want to switch leaders in the middle of this crisis.

11. Churches will gain membership. They will do low-risk, high-reward community iniatives. In suburbs you will see a revival of the neighborhood church, as well as in cities. People will not spend 40 miles of gas money to commute to congregations. This will hit the megachurches hard, but will revitalize small membership churches in neighborhoods.

Do you agree or disagree with this...what are your thoughts about the possibility of the coming great depression?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gendered Language for God

I attended a mainline seminary to study for the ministry. I still consider that a good experience. I learned a lot from the diversity I experienced there. Since I took seriously the perspectives of students and teachers that profoundly differed from my own, I learned to a lot about what I believed and why I believed it. Sometimes the people I argued with the most (either within my own thought life or in the classroom) are the people I came to agree with more profoundly at a later date.

(For those of you not in on church labeling lingo, mainline seminaries are seminaries of "mainline" denominations. Mainline can be distinguished from evangelical and fundamental seminaries on the theological right(read Dallas Seminary), and liberal seminaries/religion schools on the left (read University of Chicago or Harvard). Mainline seminaries tend to have more diversity--socioeconomic and theological--than their evangelical counterparts. They can, at times, because of their lack of theological boundaries, be seen in a very negative light by people who are more conservative. Some ministers where my mom lives became worried about my soul when I went to a mainline seminary--referrring to seminaries as "cemetaries" for people's Christian faith.)

In my seminary, the language police were in full force. Part of this was just academic standards in all fields of study. Using the word "humankind" instead of "mankind" is standard in all academic disciplines. Very few people objected, and if they refused to use gender inclusive language their grades were docked.

Where people had a hard time was being strongly encouraged to use gender-bhalanced language for God. Some people encouraged doing this by alternating your "he's" and "she's" for God. Some others encouraged neutered language for God. (Creator God. God reveals Godself..... This has alwasys been more difficult for me.

Any theological student worth their salt knows that Scripture is full of female metaphors for God. Ruach Elohim--"The Spirit of God" in Hebrew, is a term for God that is written in the feminine form. El-Shaddai--translated the Lord Almighty--has at its root the word "shad"--which is a word for a female breast. But that root is also related to words for "mountain" (Jennifer was just saying yesterday how some of the San Juan Mountains in the distance appeared breastlike, so I can see the relationship of the two words), and destroyer. Both the prophets and the psalmist refer to God in maternal nurturing roles. In Genesis, it says that men and women are both equally the "image of God".

In the Gospels God gives birth (John 3), is like a woman baking in a kitchen (Matt 13) and like a woman looking for her lost coin (Luke 15). Jesus refers to himself as a "mother hen" wanting to gather his children under his wing. The Bible says that "in Christ there is no male or female".

As for all of the "he" language used in describing God throughout in Scripture, it speaks of a male form of the word. (Remember from French or Spanish that words have masculine and feminine forms). Yet, it can be convincingly argued that masculine form, much like our language in previous years, is meant to be inclusive. For instance, when we say "mankind" when mean men and women, but if we say "womankind" we are referring exclusively to women. Hebrew and Greek work like this--masculine forms are inclusive. Thus the "he" language cannot be convincingly argued as saying God language should be exclusively male.

The strongest argument for male language in Scripture is the revalation of God as Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three in one. God is most often spoken of in Scripture in male form in the Bible. And although I believe this language for God is limited (God is beyond gender), I believe it does MEAN SOMETHING. When we stop referring to God as Father, we lose a lot of what God is revealing about himself, as well as a clear understanding of what God has made us to be in relationship to him. And the use of feminine archetype often creates imagery of God that is unbiblical or anti-biblical.

So, as I processed through the issues, I maintained the importance of using the male language for God in worship. I did, however, head the language of African-American churches in services that I had attended. As I had heard multiple black preachers say from their pulpits. "If you need a father, God can be a father to you. If you need a mother, God will be a mother to you..."

Now, recent Christian communications into popular culture advocate for stronger use of the feminine metaphor for God. One is the book The Shack by William Paul Young who is based in the Portland suburbs. The other is the video She by Nooma and Rob Bell (out of Grand Rapids).

The Shack is throughly Christian and Trinitarian in its revelation of the God that heals, although the "Father" member of the Trinity is referred to as "Papa", a large black woman. "Papa" eventually morphs into a male for a different part of the story. The Holy Spirit is referred to as female, a woman's name that means "wind" in a Hindi dialect. Jesus is a stereotypical middle eastern man.

At the same time, Bell makes a strong emphasis on the feminine imagery for God in his Nooma video series. While The Shack uses this language for spiritual formation of an individual needing growth and healing, Bell uses this imagery to additionally address justice concerns. He does not want women to think that they are less in the image of God than they are. And he wants us to see Christlike behavior in women's lives and not value men above women.

I have sympathy with both Young and Bell, but wonder if they take things a little too far at times. Young is more understandable in his story--it is an extended parable after all. Bell's video seems to be aiming at something beyond what he communicated--though I am unsure what he is moving toward. I have sympathy with their way of communicating about God, and agree with much of what they have said. Yet, I believe the predominance of masculine metaphor for God is deeply meaningful, and to reject it is to somehow neuter our understanding of the God that is revealed in Scripture, to our detriment. But it has got me thinking.

This book and video has also gotten me thinking because of the other two ministers I know well in town. Both are clearly fundamentalists. And both very publically advocate the defeminizing of the church. They believe that the aestetics, language, and worship of the church has catered to females, and that is why men are less likely than women to attend church. In many ways I agree with this. Especially as it relates to some of the songs of the modern "praise song" worship movement. Yet, when a pastor says that any "love language" for God in musical expression communicates homosexuality with God, I think they take this a little too far. But I also disagree with their excessively misogenistic views toward church leadership (only men), especially when they base subordination of women in the Trinity, and say that men are by creation mandate closer to God because they were created first.

What has bothered me since childhood is that this hierarchical, complimentarian male dominated view of church life has come across as unjust. And I can see it in the way my pastor friends operate. They often take over things from women, and in my opinion speak to some women like children instead of like equals.

Anyway...I am working through all this...especially the Trinitarian/gender stuff because we have been doing a bookclub at church. And we have been using literature as a springboard to talk about theological stuff. This month is The Shack, and I know I am going to be asked questions.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley endorses Obama with a radio ad

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Through A Different Window—Sermon from September 28. 2008

Through A Different Window

Imagine this. A president has just been elected. And the inauguration has just happened. And it comes time for the inaugural ball. About 4 to 5 hours before, a secretary of the president begins to call and confirm the attendance of the many dignitaries that are to attend. The House Majority Leader's daughter has a film premiere of her daughter's newest documentary. She will not be coming. The Secretary of Defense has decided to go on a ski trip. The Senate majority leader does not want to come out because it is a little snowy outside. The Secretary goes down the list. Slowly he discovers very few people are planning on coming. This ball is going to be covered on national television. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on the food alone. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on decorations, renting the venue etc. etc. What is this new president going to do? What would you do?

The Bible says that Jesus was at a dinner. But not just any dinner. This dinner was a dinner at the home of the ruler of the Pharisees. The ruler of the Pharisees invites Jesus with all of these other people, we can only assume, to check him out. To get a closer look. In the middle of the dinner, Jesus tells a parable. Now the Bible does not tell us the parable, but it does tell us the punch line. It tells us that Jesus says that when you come to a banquet you should not sit at a place of honor, but you should sit at the most humble place at the table. When you sit and the more humble place at the table, you may be called forward in honor. And if you try and move forward to a place of honor, you may be asked to move to another seat because it rightfully belonged to a person closer to the host or more prestigious than you. Jesus says the lesson of the story in the most general sense is that the humble will be exalted and the proud will be humbled. Jesus isn't looking for showboats or grandstanders in his kingdom. He is looking for humble servants who don't assume that they are better than everyone else, and that are not wanting to use religion as a club to beat others down.

Jesus went on to say to the host that he should not invite people to eat at his place who made him look good and gained him political stature. Jesus told the head of the good old boys network that his network was corrupt. Instead, Jesus said, when you have a banquet you should invite those that are rejected by everyone else. Those who cannot pay back your generosity. Because that is what God would want you to do. And God will pay you back for your generosity at the end.

I am assuming that after this story there was an awkward silence. The kind of silence you hear when someone is really blunt in a group of people, and they say something that everyone else thinks should not be said. All of the people Jesus was eating with were religious ladder climbers, and they type of people who were eager to find fault in others. The kind of people who believed that everyone else lives would be just great if they just were as righteous as they were. Your poverty is because of your sin. You handicaps are because of your sin. That is the way the Pharisees approached the world. And Jesus told them a story that told them that they need to be humble.

All of the sudden, one of the men decides to defuse the conversation by saying something everyone will agree with that will most likely shut down conversation. One of the guests said, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God." Or something like that depending on the version you are reading. Or in other words, won't it be great when we are all in heaven, but that will just be really cool. Quite swell.

This Sunday, we starting off a monthly book club on family night. Our first book is about a man who dies and goes to heaven for 90 minutes. Miraculously, even thought he was declared dead almost an hour before, his friend prayed him back to life. In the book he shares what he experienced in heaven. What he shares is primarily imagery from Revelation, mostly the last two chapters of the book of Revelation. It is an overwhelming picture of what heaven will be like.

This morning, as we look at this passage, Jesus gives us another picture of what eternity will be like. It is not like on part of the Bible is right, and another is wrong. No. All Scripture is inspired, or better said in Timothy, all Scripture comes by the breath of God. But it is like in the Bible when we are talking about heaven we are seeing a collage of fractal images, a slideshow. It is like in the Bible we get to see what eternity is like, but it is like we get to look into different windows of a large place and see different things through those windows. This passage in Luke 14 allows us to see heaven through a different window than Revelation 21-22. Both are true, and there is still more to eternity that we will discover after our lives are done.

Anyway…Jesus tells us a story to show us what heaven will be like.

Jesus says that there was a man that was throwing a party. And he sent out invitations. And he received the RSVPs. And on the day of the big banquet, as was the custom of the time, the servants of the great and powerful host sent his servants out to let people know exactly what time all of the arrangements would be ready. One after another this great feast was rejected by a person who had one excuse after another. He had to check out the land he bought. They were newlyweds and needed some alone time. He had to inspect the cattle he had bought and see how they looked. One by one everybody that was supposed to come did not come to the big party. The great banquet. What would the master do?

I will tell you what the master did. He told his servants to run around and knock at every door in town and invite them to come to the party. The servant did precisely this. And they found that there was still room at the party. The master extended the invitation even further. He went out into every country house, every family farm, every group home and long term care facility. Every tent and shack he could find in travel distance for the party. Every person that was left behind by society. Every homeless man and woman, wheel every person in a wheelchair to the party.

Let me return to our modernized version of the parable. What would that president do when he was getting stood up at that innaugriation gala? When all of those people who said they would come did not?

Well, he would invite all sorts of people that were on his rolodex that were not invited. People he had met once. People who he had business cards from. All of his volunteers that helped him get elected.

And then there would still be room.

And so this president would say…go out into all the streets. I want you to go to every group home for the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. I want you to go to the homeless shelter and the welfare lines. I want you to find every homebound elderly person, every housing project, and to Walter Reed for all those soldiers that have lost limbs in the war.

And his servants would do just as they were instructed to do. And many of those people would come to the president's banquet.

Imagine our surprise as we turned on our televisions and expected to see all these stuffy people in black ties celebrating how good and wonderful and right they were. And instead the news reporter had the camera pan to the party and there were all these people milling around. There are homeless men scarfing down the food in front of them with their hands. There are these downs' syndrome kids waving at the camera. There is a drug addict with a cup of coffee in his hand, track lines from shooting up clearly visible. There is a fat black woman and her three little girls with beads in their hair going on and on about how this is the best food they ever ate. There are immigrants and ex-cons. And slowly the servants of the president are trading the people's old garments for beautiful new ones. And all the reporters, on the outside looking in, are talking about what a tragedy this is. But all the guests are talking about what a wonderful time they are having. And then the President enters. The Downs' kids run up and hug him, followed quickly by the children. And after all the introductions happen the president is supposed to dance. But he wants to dance with everyone so he takes one of the vets in a wheelchair and a few of the homeless folks, and they lead everybody in dancing to the Village People singing YMCA. And the rest of the world thinks it is a scandal but we know different. Because we are all guests at that party. And we know that this is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen.

This parable that Jesus told, which I told my modern version of, is another view of what eternity is going to be like. Another picture of God's heavenly kingdom.

My friends. There is this idea going around. I expect it has been around for a while, but I hear it more and more lately. It is that the church is for people who have it all together. And that church is a place for people who have all the right answers, all the right clothes, all the right things on their resume, and do not struggle with anything significant at all. And the thought goes on that God's heavenly kingdom is for those really good people, and we need to try really hard to make it.

But that is not what my Bible says. My Bible says that Jesus came to earth for us when we didn't have everything all together. When our pride is shattered. When our body is broken. When were broke. When we feel like we have made too many mistakes and we are not sure if God can ever forgive us. This Jesus came to invite those of us who don't measure up, who fall flat on our faces, who feel pathetic and hopeless and inadequate and times, to follow him on earth and to spend eternity with him in heaven.

I know that is true of me. When Jesus became real to me I was a lonely pre-teen boy who was picked on by just about everyone because I ran to slow and talked to loud. We were broke. My mom was going to school full-time and working, and my dad rarely if ever wanted to see my sister and I. I was lonely and alone. And in my estimation I wondered if I was worth anything to anyone and if my life was even worth living. I just felt like a burden to everyone. I was angry.

And then I started to get to know Jesus better. And though I still have struggles and heartaches, I know that I was made new by Jesus. When I felt unloved by anyone, I experienced the love of Christ. When I saw no hope, Christ gave me a hope and a future. And I know that everything that I am that is good is not of me. It is from him. And the fact that I stand here, getting to preach and teach his word, I don't know how he uses me but I know he does. In Christ I can do all things as he gives me strength, but without Jesus I am hopeless and incompetent.

So when I take my last breathe, and when I enter into eternity, I am sure I will see pearly gates, and golden streets, and friends and relatives that I long to see again. But those pearly gates and golden streets may be a blur. And my friends and relatives may wonder why it takes me a year or two to get to visit with them. I may see the most vivid colors I have ever seen and I may hear angels wings playing beautiful music. In fact I am sure I will. But I have to be honest with you. When my heart stops beating and my lungs start breathing and I enter eternity the interior decorating and architecture of heaven will not be my top priority.

No I hope that when I reach eternity I will enter eternity running. Running past and through the pearly gates and the welcoming committee. I hope that when I enter the eternal kingdom those golden streets will just be a blur under my feet. And I will be running toward where all the noise is. And I will hope to just get a glimpse of Jesus. I will just want to see him. I will just want to hear his voice. I will just want to tell him thank you for all he has done. I will just want to be in his presence. And as I round the corner, and before I can see him I will here Jesus call across the way…calling my name. And I will hold my reservation in my hand with FORGIVEN on one side and REDEEMED on the other. And Jesus will shake his head…and reach out his arms…and he will point to the banner above my head. And it will say WELCOME HOME. And I will give him a big hug..and I will try and say a million things…and he will just keep saying my name…and saying WELCOME HOME. WELCOME HOME. And I will realize that though this party and this banquet was for everyone..all of us misfits and rejects of the world that were invited to God's party…but that it was at the same time…for me. And you…if you accept the invitation he sends.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Palintology--Alaskan English

If I get a doctorate, there are about two or three things that I would want to study. One is multiculturalism within Caucasian Americans that are not recent immigrants. There is an article on MSN about Alaskan English and Palin's accent. Very interesting. Here is a quote from the article:

Others have wondered whether her accent hails from Idaho, where her
parents are from. But dialect features tend to come from one's peers, not one's
parents, and Palin spent her childhood in Alaska's Mat-Su Valley, which is where
she got her distinctive manner of speaking. The next town over from Wasilla,
Palmer, has a large settlement of Minnesotans—who were moved there by a
government relief
in the 1930s—and features of the Minnesotan dialect are
thus prominent in the Mat-Su Valley area. Hence the Fargo-like elements in
Palin's speech, in particular the sound of her "O" vowel. (Despite its name,
Fargo took place mostly in Brainerd, Minn.) However, even in the area, many
people speak a more general Alaskan English, the sort one would find in nearby
Anchorage. Palin's frequent dropping of the final G in -ing words and her
pronunciation of terrorist with two syllables instead of three are
characteristic of general Alaskan English (and Western English) rather than the
specific Mat-Su Valley speech


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...