Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review of Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year C Vol. 1 ed. by Kimberly Bracken Long

Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year C, Vol. 1
Edited by Kimberly Bracken Long
ISBN 978-0664238056
Westminster/John Knox Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The folks and Westminster/John Knox Press and  Columbia Theological Seminary partnered up to create a mainline, ecumenical commentary series that combined the best of biblical scholarship with an acute sensitivity to the pastoral tasks of teaching, preaching, and counseling people with the Scriptures called Feasting on the Word. Now these partner organizations are coming out with companion pieces to their commentaries. One of the first of these resources is litanies and liturgies to support worship. Feasting on the Word Worship Companion is a great book of readings and prayers to add to one's liturgical library.

The book in the series provides worship resources for Advent-Pentecost of Year C in the lectionary cycle. Each Sunday has an option of some Opening Words or a Call to Worship, resources for the confession of sin and assurance of pardon including a call to confession, a prayer of the day, a prayer for illumination, a prayer for intercession, and invitation to the offering and a prayer of dedication, a charge and a blessings, as well as the unexpected extras of questions for reflection and two household prayers for the week to be used in the morning and evening.

Kimberly Bracken Long and her team has an excellent attention to detail. Along side the readings for each part of the service are the Scriptures that are referenced in the readings. At the top of the page for each Sunday the readings are listed. In the back of the book, supplementary resources are included. These include prayers for baptisms, words for greeting the congregation, and Great Thanksgiving Eucharist texts for each season in the church year.  In addition to these helpful extras, the book comes with a CD-ROM to cut and paste any of the resources used into a bulletin.

I really like this set of resources. There are a lot of liturgical resources available that, in my opinion, are simply overdone. They are written by folks who are poets, but often not highly skilled theologians or ministry practitioners. The result in this case is that many readings are overly flowery, and they sometimes even come across a little silly. Not so with Feasting on the Word Worship Companion. The readings are thoughtful, thought-provoking, and appropriately reverent for worship. They are creative, but in a way that makes you think about God and the text in a deeper way, not in a way that is cute or playful. I appreciate this.

The one drawback of the Worship Companion is the price. Right now, most retailers online are selling it for over $30. Which is a lot of money to spend for one half of a year's worth of liturgical resources. I think though, especially for the high seasons of the church year, in the end this will prove to be a good investment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wonder Which Is Worse?

Four gaffes. Two by either candidate, although the last one for Romney is more for my amusement.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Can a Baptist preacher sprinkle babies?

I am a Baptist Christian through and through. I used to be a Southern Baptist Christian, then an Independent Baptist Christian, then a Christian Church/Church of Christ Christian, and for nearly all my adult life I have been an American Baptist Christian. As a matter of fact, this fall is my 20th anniversary in the American Baptist family.

Having said all of that, I am a Christian first, and a Baptist second. I have friends of all different flavors who root for their denominations like they do their favorite football teams, and argue in favor of their particular group like a congressman defends and advocates for their political party. That is not me. I am Baptist because it fits my theological convictions and because I have been called to be a part of the American Baptist family. However, when a denominational official suggested in a moment of compassion and support that I change my standardized denominational resume to reflect more loyalty to my ABC family I could not do it, even though I knew it might cost me a few opportunities. I am too ecumenical for that. And besides that, I was deep down hoping and praying that I might be able to serve somewhere in a more federated congregation. Which is where I am now.

Serving in a congregation of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, I am called upon to serve as a part of each of the three denominational traditions. As a part of that commitment, I am obligated to preside over the rites and sacraments of each of the three groups. That means, at times, I baptize infants.

Many of my Baptist friends, as well as those from other faith traditions, have asked me how I could baptize infants. Isn't it a betrayal of some of my core convictions as a Baptist? Aren't I compromising my faith? Still others are less judgmental. They ask their questions differently. How do you process that? How do you consent to baptize infants and still remain Baptist?

So I thought I would write about how a Baptist can also choose to baptize infants in a United Churches setting.

1. My commitment to Christian unity is more important to me that my commitment to Baptist identity.

When we get to heaven, we are not going to have Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian t-shirts on. We are going to be children of God participating fully in the Kingdom of God. The witness of Christian unity is more important to me that being right and pushing my agenda in regard to Baptism.

2. While as a Baptist Christian I believe believer's baptism by immersion is the most biblical form of baptism, that does not mean that I believe that other forms of baptism are therefore bad or sinful.

I actually think the intention and meaning behind infant baptism is quite beautiful. I found baptizing the child I baptized extremely moving. Every church needs a rite to initiate children into the family of God.

Sometimes, when I pour water over my child's head when I bathe her, I pray over her, dedicating her to God, and I am reminded of her baptism I am looking forward to. Sometimes I even pretend that I am baptizing her in that moment. All of this stuff happens in my head, and not verbally.

3. I want to honor each person's and their family's faith journey, and not just my own.

As a pastor, it is not my job to be a dictator or a micro-manager in people's lives. My job is to be a guide to people as they seek to walk with Christ as they are led by the Spirit. If a practice does not violate my conscience and the Scriptures, and it helps people grow closer to Christ, I am willing to support them in it.

4. In a church with multiple denominational traditions, the possibility of believer's baptism is always open to person's of any spiritual heritage. Thus, for me, what I am practicing is an infant dedication, not a baptism, even though my brothers and sisters from other traditions may call it baptism. 

Anyway, I am sure I could be more articulate. But I am just putting this out to share my thoughts on the issue.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Delighting in God: Newspaper Article for Hot Springs Star

Delighting in God
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,
and to enjoy him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4)

Life is not always easy. However, God is always good. I was reminded of that again last night.

I was awakened about an hour after I went to sleep by my beautiful daughter Karis, who was crying for a reason I have still yet to figure out. I kept trying to do the right thing for her that would help her get back to sleep. Nothing seemed to work. Then I asked her if she wanted me to hold her and rock her. She said yes. She stood up, and raised her hands for me to grab her.

I held her in my arms and rocked her. I held her close. I sang songs softly in her ear. After about five minutes I started to get up to put her back in the crib. Her hand came up to my cheek. “No daddy, not yet.” She said to me as she snuggled in tighter.
The same thing happened 3 more times in the next 15 minutes. Then I prayed with her, kissed her, and put her down to sleep. She slept soundly the rest of the night, and late into the next morning.

It is a moment she will soon forget, but I will never forget. I got to hold her, sing songs of comfort to her, and let her know I loved her. I live for those moments. What brought me the most joy was that I was bringing her joy. She loved being rocked, being held, and being sung to. And the fact that she loved it made it all that more enjoyable for me.

I think this is much the way God experiences prayer and worship. He enjoys having us delight in him. He loves it when we cry out to him, and he gets to hold us close, and wipe our tears away.

In fact, it may be some of those moments where we are so lost and confused that we have to turn to him to be our everything that he delights in the most. Oh, I believe that God hates to see us hurt.  But I know he loves to forgive, comfort, restore, and heal. This is clear throughout Scripture.

As we linger in those moments of worship and prayer and experience His presence, we may feel the tug to get back to the real world. But then something in deep in our hearts tells us to stay a little while longer. We say to the world, “No, not yet”. God smiles and pulls us closer. And we are slowly renewed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

On Hospital Visits

I try to do hospital visits with people in my church whenever the occasion arises where I might do so. People go into a care facility for all sorts of reasons. Some are old. Some are younger. Some are gravely ill. Others are having some sort of surgery and will be back on their feet in a matter of days. I enjoy getting to visit with people in the hospital (they are, after all, a captive audience), and I feel honored having the opportunity to pray with them. Yet, there are often times where I feel like the whole practice of pastoral visitation in hospitals is kind of odd.

I come into the hospital room armed with my Bible and/or a prayer book. Everyone else walks in with gadgets and medications. I try to have a conversation in the midst of alarms ringing, medical professionals running in to administer tests, and family members trying to put on their best face for the "man of the cloth". I exchange pleasantries with the person who is ill. I ask about their condition. I try to read their mental or emotional state. If I notice something in that regard, I gently probe with some questions or statements that help me understand more of where that person is at. Eventually I pray with the person. Then, eventually, I make an effort to move out of the room (which usually takes at least 5 miniutes). Often, a family member will walk with me out of the room, and when we get some distance away from the room, I begin to offer them counsel, prayer, and comfort as well.

Often, though, I leave wondering if I really did any good being there. I begin to ask myself if my visiting a hospital is a wise use of my time and the church's money. I mean, is driving 110 miles round trip to Rapid City really necessary when I can maybe extend a visit to a half of an hour at most? Besides, what did I do to help that I could not have done over the phone?

I don't have all the answers to this question. But I have come to two conclusions. First, I think my presence means something because it symbolizes something bigger, namely the presence of God with the people in the middle of this dangerous and difficult time. Sometimes somebody being there is all that matters.

The second reason for the visit is more mystical than the first. Somehow, when I go to visit someone in distress, there is a mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit that is often present in a unique way, ministering to me and through me as I seek to be a witness and a caregiver to others.

Have you ever had pastoral visits while in the hospital? What were your thoughts/concerns about them?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Life in the Ministry Fishbowl

There are a lot of things I like about ministry. I like doing people work. I like teaching and preaching. I enjoy the fact that our hours can be occasionally flexible. I also delight in the opportunity to be a generalist in many ways. I like working with my mind in the way ministry challenges me too.

Yet, there are also things that are difficult about being in ministry. One of those more difficult things is feeling like you are living your life in a fishbowl. In other words, feeling like your life is being watched and evaluated by lots of people all around you.

It is interesting. A few weeks ago in our church's contemporary service, we were having a talk back after the sermon. One of the things that people kept talking about in relationship to the message was the difficulty of dealing with the judgment of others. In particular they were talking about a sense of judgment from those inside the church, and how this kind of judgment ran contrary to Christ's message of acceptance and grace. As they were sharing, I got the sense from some of them that they felt they were informing their pastor on something he may not have knowledge of since he is a pastor. Which is interesting, because it is my feeling that nobody can identify better with the self-righteous judgment of religious persons than a pastor.

It is interesting. There is much in ancient writings about encounters between holy men and women of ill repute, and their ability to relate to one another. I think this is due to the fishbowl effect. Both the religious leader and the prostitute are used to people looking at them and seeing their jobs. They are both used to having what they do for a living conflated with who they are. Both are often valued by what service they can provide, and both often don't have people wanting to come to close to them in a peer relationship.

There is very little about me and my life that when I speak it or publish it on Facebook or a blog, that I do not have to consider how what I think will be perceived by the church I served, as well as the churches I have served before this one. Which in turn makes it more difficult to be the kind of open and transparent person that I like to be.

I have noticed the fishbowl more now that I have my family in it with me.

This makes "life in the fishbowl" all the more complicated. Why? On one hand, I hurt for my family to experience the sense of being "public" people, especially when they did not ask to be. Also, their behavior, both positive and negative, is a reflection on me in the eyes of the church and effects my ministry perceptions and results.

People are generally positive about all this now. They look on me more favorably because they think my kids are cute and my wife is a classy lady. But, I know that this will not always be the case.

There will be a day when Karis' spunkiness will rub a congregation the wrong way, and they won't just look on her as a kid that is a little ornery, they will look at her as a child that does not live up to the standards they hope for with a pastor's kid. Don't believe me? I had a friend whose child played with fire. The church wanted him to get help, and wondered if his fascination with fire was a result of demonic influence.

I worry that my wife will not feel free to be herself in church because what she might say or do will have a direct bearing on our financial well-being and on my ability to have influence with others. She worries about it too. Feeling like she was living in too much of a fishbowl in a town of 1200 in SE Colorado, and that if she shared too much about herself she would find rejection and judgment is part of a long-list of reasons she was happy we moved to Hot Springs, SD.

I don't worry about escaping the fishbowl of ministry. I don't believe that is possible. But I do wonder how much I should live in awareness of its presence. When should I just be transparent about what I do and what I think, and not care what others may think that I have a ministry with? And when is an awareness of the fishbowl and invitation to discretion and reserve in my life (which is hard for a person who is naturally uncouth and unreserved)?

Anyway...something I am thinking about....

On blogging and life

I am a little disappointed in myself. I began this blog as a vehicle for self expression, growth as a writer, and as an opportunity to think through my faith a little better. Lately, it reads like a collection of school assignments full of book reports, sermons, newspaper articles and other miscellany. Not that these are bad things, it is just that I think I really benefit from the platform this blog gives me to speak my mind.

One of the reasons that I have struggled in writing personal things is that my personal life has become a lot more public in recent years. I have linked this blog to Facebook, so it is accessible to all of my friends. I have slowly become more cautious of what I share because I know that someone, somewhere is going to be hurt or offended by something I write, not knowing that this is my space to be heard OUTSIDE of my role as a pastor and a public person.

In addition to my professional paranoia, my personal life has changed drastically since I began blogging. Now I have a wife, a dog, a toddler, and a newborn. I have less time to ponder, to think, to be alone and write. Yet, I think this kind of thing is important.

So, I am going to get back to including more self-expression, random thoughts, and funny stories from my life on this blog. Not to mention picture shares and other stuff.

We will see if the effort lasts more than a day or two...but at least it will last a day or two!


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