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Archbishop of Canterbury – @JustinWelby – Callous & Careless

Justin Welby just stepped in it.

I don't know anything about this Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the Church of England). I do know that he has just made something up to explain blind hatred.

In this Huffington Post Religion piece, Welby talks about the supposed dangers placed upon African Christians by the decision of Western Christians to place a premium on the issue of marriage equality. I wouldn't begrudge him his comments, had he not said this:

If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we're going to kill the Christians.

Essentially, the Archbishop of Canterbury is excusing the murderous actions of a particular group with…I don't even know. This isn't a “slippery-slope.” It's barely even a “straw-man.” It's excusing sin. He might as well have said, “Our beliefs may get us killed, so let's not have those beliefs.”

Yes, let's have that sink in for a moment.

I'm not going to begrudge the Archbishop his beliefs where marriage equality are concerned – neither will I begrudge anyone else.

I will begrudge, however, a church leader being so callous and careless when speaking about such things.

Instead of calling for violence against Christians to cease, he calls for the church to capitulate in the face of persecution. It's just disappointing.

What say you?

 

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The Folly of Xians Voting with Their Wallets #WorldVision #Fail

Most of us are aware of the furor caused when the religious non-profit World Vision decided to allow the hiring of married, same-sex couples in their organization. As most of you also know, they reversed their decision two days later.

What you may not know are effects their decision had on their ministry.

Elizabeth Esther spent time speaking with Rich Stearns – World Vision president – about the contraversy. She writes beautifully about it here.

The bottom line? 10,000 children's sponsorships were cancelled. Not only that, but his employees were subjected to the anger of thousands of callers. Some people went as far as to call World Vision “agents of Satan.”

Really? Agents of Satan?

After reading Esther's article, I got to thinking about the relationship and coorelation between American political ideology and intra-religious, Christian ideology. I think many of us would agree that either side of the political, ideological spectrum is mirrored pretty heavily in the spectrum within Christianity.

In the political realm, it is common to hear talk of “voting with your wallet.” This is a phrase used when a company does something or supports someone with which you disagree. You, then, decide that the way to send them a message they'll understand, is to hit them where it really hurts – their bottom line. That's when you agree to – and have others follow suit – not buy their products or support them in other financial ways.

This financial strategy is successful in some cases. There's a good chance you've heard about Rush Limbaugh's sponsors dropping him after his dust-up with Sandra Fluke.

However, the situation with World Vision is a wholly other thing. 10,000 children lost their sponsorships because many Christians decided that the best way to send a message was to “vote with their wallets” and punish the organizations bottom line – which really did nothing but punish impoverished children across the globe.

It raises an interesting question: should Christians “vote with their wallets” in order to protect their sincerely held beliefs, no matter who is hurt in the process?

I think it is folly. I think it is borderline sinful, but I'm more willing to say it is folly.

In this situation, who are the real “agents of Satan?”

This is Esther's take – with whic I happen to agree on why “voting with your wallets” is not always a good thing:

I am a Catholic Christian and regardless of whether I agree or disagree with World Vision’s initial policy change, I have made commitments to three very precious and very REAL children. It is my DUTY to fulfill those commitments and not JUST because I’ve seen firsthand the incredible work World Vision has done in impoverished communities. It is my duty because I am a CHRISTIAN.

It speaks to something particularly Wesleyan. John Wesley spoke of something we Methodists like to call “social holiness.” Among other things, it includes the idea we have commonly come to refer to as “social justice.” It's outreach to the poor. It's accountability to the community, rather than just self. It's understanding that the faithful, Christian life is about more than just how I get to heaven.

My prayer is that there were very few Methodists who were calling to tell World Vision that they are “agents of Satan.” Not just because name-calling is not life-affirming, but because your sponsorship effects more than just someone in an office in Washington state.

I welcome your thoughts and criticisms.

 

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Change the World, Not the Message

The church has a hard time with change. Some like the way things used to be. Some have been through change that was difficult or harmful. Some just lack the energy for it. Unfortunately, the culture isn't going to wait for us to decide to do it. I've said it numerous times before, but the […]

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‘Fight Club’ & The Art of Faithful Listening

As a preacher, I often lean on illustrations from movies to in order to further demonstrate truths of our faith.

Many might disagree with that approach.

Still more might disagree with how often I refer to the movie 'Fight Club' as an illustration of faithful community.

Let me explain.

For the most part, the movie is not a life-affirming or redeeming one. However, there is one scene between Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and one of the main characters (played by Edward Norton), where they share an encounter at a cancer support group.

I'm not sure if one must yell “Spoiler Alert!” before mentioning details from a movie that is 15 years old, but…Spoiler Alert!

Neither of these characters has cancer. However, they have inserted themselves into a series of support groups because – as you gather through the course of the movie – they lack basic and healthy connections to other human beings. This is certainly a problem for our culture – especially Christian culture – but I digress.

In an exchange which causes them to finish each other's sentence, Norton begins by saying, “When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…”

To which Bonham Carter replies, “…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

This raises an interesting – and possibly life-changing – question: Do you find yourself really listening to others, or just waiting for your turn to speak?

I would argue that the faithful life and existing in faithful community is more about listening, than it is about being able to say the right and faithful thing.

I'm preparing to be commissioned as a probationary elder in the United Methodist Church this May. As a part of that, I am taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Essentially, you serve as a chaplain in a group learning environment. I'm happen to be serving as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chaplains are called upon to minister into many different situations. You could be paged to a belligerent patient's room, you could be asked to pray for someone before they go into surgery, or you could be called to the bedside of someone who is being terminally weaned from life support.

In each of these situations, the faithful have obtained a list of platitudinous sayings or supposedly helpful scriptures that are meant to act as “silver bullets” to correct behavior or soothe the hurting soul. However, that shouldn't excuse the fact that, short of our platitudes, we have a way of finding a place to insert our thoughts and feelings – rather than allowing the other person to find a caring soul within us. My role as a chaplain is not necessarily to find the right words to say to someone, but to hear the other person as a creature of sacred worth. Only after I have listened, should I consider attempting to offer some type of spiritual intervention into their lives.

Should I tell the belligerent patient to ” be slow to anger?”

Should I tell the patient going into surgery that “God doesn't give us more than we can handle?”

Should I tell the family of the terminal patient that “God needed another angel?”

Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was pouring their heart out to you. Were you just waiting for your chance to tell them exactly what you think you should do, or waiting to share with them a particular scripture that speaks to them in times of trouble?

I hope not.

Am I saying that scripture is wholly unhelpful in our times of trouble? No.

Am I saying that each of our carefully or hastily shared platitudes is worthless? Possibly – but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on.

I am saying that maybe we should be more attuned to the inherent worth in others. If we understand the other person as a creature of sacred worth, maybe we should be willing to listen, empathize and validate, rather than just listening for opportunities to insert ourselves into their trials.

There is a difference between listening and “listening for your turn to speak.” As those seeking to live in faithful community with each other, the faithful thing to do would be to learn to tell the difference.

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@BartEhrman & the Line Between Scholarship & Sensationalism

On March 25th, Bart Ehrman's latest book came out, and I haven't read it. However, after reading his HuffPo article about it, I've decided I'm probably gonna read something else.

The thesis of his article – and the book, one can easily gather – is:

It is not hard to make the argument that if Jesus had never been declared God, our form of civilization would have been unalterably and indescribably different.

He proceeds to spout a contrarian stream of logic that challenges the origins of the faith. In an abbreviated counterfactual, Ehrman comes to Constantine:

If Constantine had not converted, masses of former pagans would not have accepted the faith in his wake. The empire would not have become predominantly Christian. The Christian religion would not have been made the official religion of the state. The Christian church would never have become the dominant religious, cultural, social, political, and economic force of the West. We never would have had the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, or Modernity as we know it. And most of us would still be pagans.

While I trust Ehrman to be a more faithful and virtuous scholar, this paragraph reminds me of the leaps Bill O'Reilly made to connect modern, conservative political thought to the teachings of Jesus in Killing Jesus. The thesis Ehrman spouts is a fairly contraversial one – and he knows it. At the very least, this book will be talked about in many academic circles. However, it could also get picked up by national press, and even television shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – like some of his previous work. How exciting for him?

Essentially, Ehrman claims that the insistence upon Jesus' divinity by a small group of Jesus' friends is the only way Christianity could have grown into the world-wide force it is today.

This is thin at best, and straddles the line between scholarship and sensationalism. Irresponsibly, I might add.

My Wesleyan heritage tells me that scripture, tradition, reason and experience should work together to inform my faith. Many in the Wesleyan tradition are fighting hard against this heritage, but I still find value in it. I use this dynamic to further understand my faith. Ehrman's book appears as if it will lie well outside the realm of what I consider valuable to further understand my faith.

So, again, I'm probably gonna read something else.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Comments welcome.

 

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Can #UMC-ers ‘Blog It Out’ in Preparation for General Conference?

Joel Watts is attempting to work out what it means to be a United Methodist blogger – as opposed to a United Methodist who blogs. His latest post gets the ball rolling on the subject.

In doing so, he raises an interesting question:

Can, or should we, use [the blogosphere] to settle disputes before the General Conference?

There are certainly questions of efficiency and polity to consider, but why couldn't we make the blogosphere help us make General Conference a better governing body? Anyone who has paid any attention to General Conferences over the past few quadrennia certainly knows how constipated a process it has become. Could our rhetoric and advocacy in the blogosphere lead to a more pleasurable or productive General Conference experience.

To be sure, UM bloggers would have to learn to abide by certain ground rules. That is, if our rhetoric remains deadlocked within the same left-right, ideological malaise, there would be no reason to attempt this type of feat. However, if we agreed to speak with each other and about differing subjects as if we are each creatures of sacred worth, we might be able to incorporate the blogosphere into our polity in this fashion.

Am I off base? What would you suggest?

Let's get talking! 2016 is not far away.

 

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How Soon Will the #UMC Split?

Annual Conference is just around the corner. I'm excited, mainly because I will be comissioned as a probationary elder this year – something that has been nearly 10 years in the making. I will also be taking a new appointment shortly thereafter. It's an exciting time.

Unfortunately, the upcoming Annual Conference season has caused many in the UMC blogosphere to turn their attention to the incipient rumblings of a schism.

Dr. David Watson – Academic Dean at United Theological – wrote this thought-provoking piece.

John Lomperis – IRD director of UMAction – wrote about a group who claims schism has already happened in theory.

Joel Watts questions – among other things – the witness of a church that would schism.

To be sure, there are other things over which a church split could be fought. However, the ideological extremes (isn't is telling that phrase is germane to the discussion?) appear willing to pull the church apart over the issue of LBGT inclusion into the life of the community of faith. Since the 1970's, this issue has been pulling at the edges of the denomination – fraying and tattering the fabric of the church.

In the meantime, the culture has not stopped it's slow-but-sure turn away from the church. We are all aware that the Western church as a whole – not to mention the UMC – has spent the last 5 decades in decline. Each of the ideologically opposed sides has spent considerable amounts of time blaming each other for it, or they will point to their own numeric success as proof that their side has the market on righteousness cornered.

The fact is that the church's multi-decade, numeric decline has much more to do with cultural shift and the church's refusal to respond in kind, than it does with how the church acts on this issue. Yes, the church's stance on issues of LBGT concern effect the church's witness in the world, but church renewal folk will tell you we have bigger fish to fry.

In my opinion – and the opinion of many others – schism would only further kill the church's witness.

I spoke about the frayed edges of the fabric of the denomination. However, there is a vast middle. In this vast middle lives the majority of the denomination. These people see the same disagreements everyone else does, and they probably have their own opinions on this and other issues – with varying degrees of passion ascribed to them. What they see, however, is their local congregation and the communities into which they must minister.

Those in this vast middle see the ministry that needs to be done, and not their pet ideological issues for which they need to doggedly advocate. They are congregations who tend to be more conservative, being led by pastors who tend to be more progressive – or vice versa – and they see opportunities for ministry. They are communities of faith, and they understand that our minor disagreements over pet issues should not overshadow the vital ministry they could do together.

How much more effective and vital could our ministry be if we learned to live and love together? Could our disagreements be used to enliven our community, instead of being used as a way to divide it? Could we make ministry about the love and grace of God, and not about how we've learned to deny it to each other?

Even with General Conference being a couple of years away, there are rumblings of a schism proposal (or two) being floated around. It won't pass this quadrennial or next, but there are plenty of us who hear these rumblings and think it could be sooner rather than later.

I prefer never.

What do you think?

 

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Approved for Commissioning – It’s Finally Happening

The day has finally arrived.  After nearly 10 years of schooling – on top of serving in the pulpit and raising a family with the invaluable support of my wonderful wife, Emily – the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Indiana Conference has approved me for comissioning as a candidate for ordained ministry. There is […]

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Apprved for Commissioning – It’s Finally Happening

The day has finally arrived.  After nearly 10 years of schooling – on top of serving in the pulpit and raising a family with the invaluable support of my wonderful wife, Emily – the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Indiana Conference has approved me for comissioning as a candidate for ordained ministry. There is […]

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The Faith Healer at My Seminary Commencement

Mama Heidi

Note: I've been extremely busy recently, finishing my seminary education and beginning a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Thank you for being patient and I hope this post gets you back in the 'Notes From the Pastor's Office' mood!

I graduated from United Theological Seminary on December 20th, 2013. After 3 and a half years in seminary, immeadiately following 5 years at Ball State, I was ready. One UTS official mentioned to me that it was a commencement ceremony one won't soon forget.

#fact

Why won't it be soon forgotten?

Heidi Baker.

Let me explain.

Heidi Baker is a faith healer who has built a powerful ministry in Mozambique. On it's face, you cannot deny the good that has come from their work. They dig wells for drinking water. They care for orphans. They have also been clinically proven to improve the ailments of those suffering from deafness and blindness. Again, it's easy to see they do good in the name of Jesus.

Then, she gave the commencement address for a United Methodist seminary.

Four things stood out most prominently about her presence that day at Ginghamsburg Church. First, she told a story about how she ministered to a group of Muslims who were engaged in the practice of their faith. To be clear, these people were not engaging her. They were engaged in the practice of their own faith. When she engaged with them with her faith, they got violent. In an effort to save his mother, one of Dr. Baker's sons stepped in front of her and took the beating she was about to receive.

It's certainly a powerful story. However, had she let them continue in what they were peacefully doing, there might not have been a story to tell.

Second, Dr. Baker insisted that one doesn't need the doctoral bars to be in ministry. Again, Dr. Baker said she didn't need the doctoral bars to be in ministry. She wasn't the only Dr. Baker at Ginghamsburg that day. Her husband – Rolland – was graduating with his D.Min. At a ceremony meant to signify and celebrate the academic accomplishments of those who have been called to some type of ministry, Dr. Baker poo-pooed the idea.

It's small, but it stood out for me.

Third, Dr. Baker – on three seperate occasions – spoke in tongues.

I have mixed feelings about speaking in tongues. I cannot deny that God might choose to work in this fashion, but I believe it happens authentically much less often than many would believe.

On the day, I was mainly focused on myself and my family – and the fact that there were so many of them there to support me. However, when a commencement speaker begins to speak in tongues, it creates a moment to remember.

The reason I remain skeptical of “tongues” is that I've never heard someone speaking in tongues, and been able to understand them. There was no interpretation for those moments where she engaged this “gift of the Spirit.” Not for her, or others in the auidence who also spoke in tongues.

The other odd thing was that the auidence seemed to be full of people who were fans (I don't know whether to call them fans or followers, 'cause both seem inappropriate) who were there just to hear her. There was also much commotion in the narthex, after the service, where many were trying to get their picture taken with Dr. Baker.

I'm actually not even sure I'm ascribing a value judgement to these events, as much as I am reporting what happened.

Lastly, Dr. Baker shared a story about a baby that was brought back to life. In the interest of full disclosure, I've heard her and others tell stories about how her ministry has brought her into contact with people who have been brought back to life. Additionally, after having lost a son myself, this type of thing always gets my antennae working at full strength.

As she told the story, a child had died and a woman took the child in her arms – where she then sat with that dead child for three days. After sitting vigil with the child, the child was brought back to life. As a story, it was moving. If it is true, it's even more moving – and I cannot deny God can work in this way.

However, with stories like this, you get to thinking.

Those familiar with what happens to the human body, even just shortly after death, understand that stories like this are difficult to wrap one's head around. The human body is a relatively fragile thing, and once life leaves it – for no matter how long – evidence of the decomposition process appear shortly thereafter.

Was the child not completely dead? Was it unusually cold in that part of sub-Saharan Africa?

That's not even the biggest part of my reasoning for bringing up this particular part of Dr. Baker's commencement address.

My wife sat in the hospital with our son for days and days at a time. There was never a mother who loved their child more than my wife. She prayed and prayed…then prayed more. There were people from all over the world praying for our son. A child could not have been more loved and cared for – physically or spiritually – than our son.

The implication that is given when someone shares an incredible story like this is that there just wasn't enough Jesus in our little equation to help our son to defeat death. God must not love us enough. Somehow, we were spiritually deficient enough that God would not grant us the life of our son – no matter how badly we wanted it.

I do not believe this way. The God I've come to know doesn't distribute his love on a “biggest come, biggest served” basis. I believe the challenge of our faith is trying to live and understand life in the midst of the most trying of our experiences.

The problem is that there are plenty of people who do believe this way. They believe this way and are spiritually brutalized by thoughts that they might not have prayed hard enough or God did not love them enough to grant them whatever it is they were desiring. Life. Fame. Wealth. Those who have experienced the other side of this type of faith would call it spiritual abuse, and I would have a hard time disagreeing with them. In my seminary education, a very heavy focus was placed on church renewal and how the church can exist in a world that is largely leaving Christianity behind. This type of faith behavior – for better or worse – was seldom identified as part of the problem.

You can read more about spiritual brutality in my friend's – Joel Watts – book. Available here, by the way.

I waited this long to share my thoughts about this so I might be evenhanded and fair. I know very faithful and well-meaning people who believe this way and my desire is not to upset or offend them.

Additionally, I'm not even really complaining that UTS had her speak. If I would defend Columbia University's right to host the Iranian President, I certainly wouldn't deny UTS's right to host her.

Essentially, I had some thoughts about the proceedings, and I wanted to share them.

For better or worse.

 

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