Take the LENT CHALLENGE!

Posted: 2017/02/27 in Christianity

Lent is a season of preparation for Easter, the most important moment of the Christian year.  It provides space to grow one’s faith and deepen their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It has been the tradition of many Christians over the centuries to take up spiritual practices that help such faith and relationship building.  Today, we tend to reduce these to giving up something we probably will not miss anyway and eating fish on Fridays (if there is a good fish fry in the area).

To better use this Lent season, I offer the following 3-part challenge that will make Lent a much more meaningful season.  It’s a tough challenge and moments of failure will occur along the way.  That’s okay—ours is a gracious and forgiving God.  Don’t give up!

Here’s the challenge:

(1)  Give up/abstain/fast from something that you know down deep is harmful, be it alcohol, overeating, smoking, cynicism, internet trolling, messing with your cell phone while driving, or whatever (you know best your own harmful habits and hang-ups).

(2)  Take up a spiritual practice (or two) that grows your faith and relationship with God—
– schedule/set-aside time for prayer each day,
– read your Bible each day,
– attend worship at church every Sunday, and/or
join a Bible study.

(3)  Establish accountability for your choices made in (1) and (2)—
– Write down what you plan to give up and the spiritual practice(s) you want to do.
– Tell someone you trust about what you are doing and ask them to check in with you regularly.
(This last part of the challenge is the most difficult, but it’s the most powerful way to support your efforts with (1) and (2).)

Remember, you are not alone in this—let God help by inspiring and strengthening you along the way.

Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  (mission statement of The United Methodist Church)

It’s that last bit—“for the transformation of the world”—that has driven my ministry since I retired from software engineering a baker’s-dozen years ago to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it’s that last bit that obliges United Methodist preachers to bring the affairs of the outside world into the church, a place where a good many would prefer to be a sanctuary away from the conflicts and anxieties of the world.  If we are to be a Christ-following people of world transformation, we must engage the world and do so within the context of Christian community (i.e. the church).  Bit, never have I known this imperative to be so difficult as it is today.

In this winter of our divisive discontent, having just elected a president unlike any other, and whose leadership is decisive, unconventional, and results-oriented (bypassing the red-tape to fulfill campaign promises), yet sometimes dysfunctional and too-often immoral (lying and promulgation of prejudice against Mexicans and Muslims), a Christ-centered perspective on current events is necessary.  We need to sort out and clarify who we are and what we believe as Christians (individually and as a church), and then interact with our world from that identity.

My first impulse, not unlike that of the bazillions of commentators and trolls on social media, is to speak and preach directly to our current situation.  But to do so would allow me to drift too far into preaching political and social opinion rather than interpretation of the Bible.

My solution to this problem, and I hope it works, will be to focus first on the Bible and its theology.  Our turbulent world will always be in the background, but with the Bible and Jesus Christ in the foreground, those to whom I preach and teach will receive from me tools for making their own decisions about the world around us.  In other words, I want to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ.”  They will, in turn, go forth and impact the world around them in their own unique ways.

Part of me feels like this is a bit of a cop-out that allows me to avoid conflict, and it may be, but I do not see how we get to “the transformation of the world” without first “making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  And it will be those disciples who, out of their own deep faith and Spirit-stoked inspiration, will do whatever they do best to make a difference in the world.  I intend not to get in the way of that by alienating the very people whom I am trying to help become more devoted disciples of Christ.

I AM A HUGE POPE FRANCIS FAN!  BUT!!!!! -WE’RE NOW AT ODDS . . . AND IT’S OVER WOMEN!  (I’m sure we’ll get through this disagreement and, one day, the Pope will invite me to dinner, but for now. . .)

In an article reported in The Guardian, a Swiss journalist asked the pontiff if the ban on women becoming priests would ever be lifted.  His response: “Saint Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” referring to a 1994 document forever prohibiting women from the priesthood.  I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed.  I was hoping for ecclesial disruption of the Holy See’s status quo from this pope. I guess even the most radical pope in generations (centuries?) has his limits.

To be clear, although I am an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, I owe much of my vocation, and maybe my health and wholeness, to the Catholic Church, who, during my undergrad, had an on-campus ministry that reached out to me and helped me through a very difficult transition from Atheist to Christian. They helped me when I was in spiritual, emotional, and physical danger, and for that I will be forever grateful.

However, my ancestry, genetics, and my spirituality are, at their roots, Celtic, and the Celtic Church has always been more … well … practical than the Holy See.  We’ve never accepted the prohibition of women in the priesthood.  Women have always been as revered, venerated, and respected as men . . . especially spiritually.  (For that matter, we’ve never warmed up to the celibacy of the priesthood.)

The foundational argument for keeping women out of the priesthood is that Jesus’ disciples—in particular his inner circle of those who would become his apostles—were all men. No women.  Thus, there is no precedent to ordain women as priests (they forget that we had Celtic women priests once).

I’d like to point out that none of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples were from South America (as Pope Francis is), or Poland (where John Paul II came from), or Italy (where a lot of popes were from).  So . . . why can a pope be a non-biblical Polish, Italian, or (name-the-nationality) man but not a non-biblical any-nationality woman?!?

It’s medieval, patriarchal, and a bit silly. . . and the Roman Catholic Church should obsolete the prohibition against female priests. It makes no sense, is not biblical, and berefts the church of a great deal of wisdom.

Pope Francis — if you do invite me to dinner, I’ll not only bring my wife but ask for a more cogent theological rationale for a male-only priesthood.

Finally . . . my time is here! Time to get some mileage out of my so far unused math major (Dr. Vandenboss, I hope you’re paying attention), I can now share a revelation:
During a piece on one of the current presidential candidates, it was said that we live in a POST-TRUTH WORLD. That being the case, my Post-Truth Theory of the World, which can now be revealed, is as follows:
The earth is NOT a SPHERE but a DODECAHEDRON – a lovely polygon with 12-sides.

Since we are in a Post-Truth world, I expect that, while there may be some controversy among some about this theory, there will surely be considerable support for a dodecahedral earth among all those who are fed up with geography-as-usual and the rigged system of maps and globes that smooth off the edges and points in a way that smacks of excessive geometrical correctness.

Support the Dodecahedron Earth theory—it is the first step back to a world so-called mathematicians and scientists have rejected, but is the post-truth truth, a world in which we really can fall off the edge and beyond those edges be monsters.
MAKE EARTH FLAT AGAIN!

As voices within The United Methodist Church (UMC) continue to argue human sexuality, vis-a-vis, homosexuality, they continue to do so while ignoring the proverbial 800 pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room.  A good example of how some of our more thoughtful UMs miss the most crucial point is exposed a quote from Rev. Jeff Greenway, who led Asbury Theological Seminary while I was matriculating there.  In a piece he wrote explaining  the purpose of the newly formed Wesleyan Covenant Association, a conservative forum for UMs, and offering thoughts on the Council of Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward, which will try to sort out our issues of human sexuality, Rev. Greenway said (emphasis mine),

“Let me be clear—human sexuality is not the cause of our differences—it is the presenting symptom. The real causes of our division are related to the nature, role and authority of Scripture—the nature of salvation—and the work of sanctification in the life and conduct of a follower of Jesus. We are miles apart in these basic beliefs and it makes our covenantal relationship untenable. We use the same language, sometimes quote the same scriptures or Wesley sermons, but we are speaking about entirely different expressions of faith”

Rev. Greenway almost sees the 800 lb. gorilla. He is spot on that the arguments we have over homosexuality are proxies, carrying the water for deeper issues that a few, like Greenway, are either insightful or bold enough to raise to the surface. As Greenway, and a good many others who claim the “conservative” label see it, the real issue is a difference of opinion about the authority of the Bible. Alas, this is where we get stuck again because we haven’t yet dug deep enough to unearth the core issue.  Moreover, when conservatives claim that they support the authority of Scripture, then they are also claiming that the same authority is being ignored by progressives (those who support the full inclusion of homosexuals into membership and ordained ministry, and who advocate defying The Disciple in those places where it lists proscriptions against homosexuality).  This is not a debate but an indictment that gives progressives no way to respond.

The very debate that we are neglecting–the 800 pound gorilla–is not human sexuality, or even the authority of Scripture (which faithful people on both sides will say is all important and inviolable), but how we interpret the Bible.

Competent, critical interpretation of the Bible is a basic required skill of all UM clergy.  The preaching, teaching, and spiritual guidance that is our business are dependent on our ability to do more than skim a page of the Bible and then simply parrot back what it says (although some scripture allows for this, e.g. “Jesus wept”). However , we can interpret the Bible using various rubrics. One common rubric is a literalist rubric that assumes what was written a long time ago in a land far away is absolutely universal in meaning. This contrasts with the kind of interpretation many of us are trained to do by using the tools of literary criticism, historical criticism, social/psychological criticism, coupled with the commentaries of the church throughout its history. Nor surprisingly, these varying interpretive rubrics can render differing interpretations of a text.

Until we begin sideline accusations about who does and does not recognize the true meaning and authority of Scripture so we can discus how we interpret Scripture, we will progress no further, and, worse, our differing positions will entrench.

Let’s stop ignoring the 800 lb gorilla—It’s not invisible.

To all nervy white folk who are anxious (or just plain panicked) about increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in America:

Become a well-rounded musician or music-listener and you might lose your fear of diversity.

As I bounce back and forth between sermon preparation and rehearsal for a piece of music I’m presenting in church tomorrow, it occurs to me that I am playing a flute traditionally used by Native Americans of the Great Plains, a guitar built by a Canadian company, all played over electronic music with roots in Europe with improvisation based on jazz, an African-American invention.

Oh . . . and the sermon is based on a piece of scripture from a writing originating in the Middle-East around 3,000 years ago (a Psalm from the Hebrew Bible, a.k.a. Old Testament). And to my knowledge, the Bible which we Christians, including White Christian Evangelicals (the religious group most disturbed by cultural diversity) claim to be the cornerstone of our religion, spirituality, and ethics was written by a bunch of Semitic Middle-Easterners and Greek-speakers from what is today’s Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. No American white guys involved.

Maybe I’m due to give an apology to my ethnicity, so here it goes:

To all white Americans—my apologies but, I just don’t get the fear of diversity that’s created the Alt Right, nurtured racial division and inequality, and somehow makes the angry rhetoric of American isolationism and wall building seem reasonable to far too many. Sorry, but I just don’t understand what the problem is and why I should be anxious, suspicious, and hateful of non-whites either in America or outside of it. Indeed, I feel enriched by exposure to cultures other than my own.

Okay . . . so that wasn’t really an apology. I guess I have no apology I feel I need to make for my embrace of the world’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Why should I? As God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humanity in our image,” and that means all of us (I just can’t get that to read “Let us make white Americans in our image.”).

Oh, by the way, . . . about that wall one of our presidential candidates wants to build to wall off Mexico— The French tried that tactic already. It was called the Maginot Line and after great expense and effort to wall off France from Germany, the Germans simply went around it.

Demon Drug (…prices)

Posted: 2016/08/25 in Social Justice

To hell with the pure free-market economics—people are sick and dying and it will only get worse.  It was announced, yesterday, that drug manufacturer Mylan has doubled the price of the EpiPen, the ubiquitous life-saver carried by people with dangerously severe allergies. The two-pack, and that’s the only way to buy them, is now $600. I cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like knowing I would probably die because I was accidentally exposed to an allergen that has triggered anaphalactic shock and I could not afford the drug that could easily save my life. Nor can I imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one to severe allergic reaction because they could not afford to carry an EpiPen.

The drug’s manufacturer blames an economy outside their control  Policy makers say that the problem with the high cost of medicine and its solutions are extremely complex.

Damn them all if anyone dies because it cost to much to live!

Obviously, I’m a bit hacked off about the high price of drugs and, no, I do not understand why they need be so high. I might be able to understand and even give some grudging acceptance to the situation if expensive medicines were expensive for everyone everywhere, but they are not. We in America pay far more than anyone else. The cowpies are beginning  to pile up.

Drug manufacturers and industry spokespersons seem only to have one seriously lame two-part answer to give us:

  • No one covered by health insurance pays very much (. . . but what if the one drug that is needed is not covered?!?), and
  • If someone cannot pay full price they would most likely be qualified to receive the drug at a drastically reduced price (. . . which implies that those drugs need not be so expensive).

To call it what it is—this is about greed and a market economy that is hardly free. Not being an economist or a Harvard MBa, I cannot map out a solution. But there has to be one. All I know is that it is grossly unjust and tragic that anyone should be either disabled or dead because s/he could not afford the medicine s/he needed. This situation is wrong enough that it simply should not be tolerated.