Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Ridiculousness of Joy at this Time

Sandy Hook happened.
Sunday came.
I had to preach.

The texts, as loosely as I used them this week, were Luke 3:7-18 and Philippians 4:4-7.

If you'd like to listen to it, it is here:
Joy: What then should we do?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A (Slight) Lament

Meghan and I share the same love for a lot of different things. 

Some things I've picked up from her, like an appreciation for Yankee macintosh candles, sweatshirts, marriage, child-rearing, and even (slightly) the story of Anne of Green Gables. Some things she's picked up from me, like stove-cooked popcorn, theology, apolitical positions, or even (slightly) Boston sports. Of course, many other things we appreciated well before we even came together, like Christmas, driving through Vermont, the seasons, and Jesus.

Love has a way of drawing various parties together toward one another's interests and concerns. Surely that is part of what has happened for Meghan and I. I cherish this.

For one, we've loved to visit used bookstores. We've found them while traveling, spending time perusing, sometimes buying, but more often not. She heads for the children's and classics sections while I prefer theology and photography.  The best book stores are ones that have good coffee and some tables. We've frequented bookstores in Kansas, Vermont, and many places in between. Some stores are duds. Others have been more fruitful.

About a year and a half ago, we were in North Conway at a bed and breakfast thanks to the generosity of our church community. As we often did, we sought out a local used book store. A beautiful little building with a second-floor loft (children's section, of course), it was very pleasing to the eye and slightly exciting in thinking about the possibilities within.

But after some time spent browsing, I was rather disappointed. 

And realization set in. 

Theology books just aren't exactly best-sellers these days. While I'm truly okay with that (I don't mind pop theology dying, and these are usually the types of theology books that would be in stores), I lament it in that the space I used to inhabit in book stores doesn't exist like it used to.

And secondly, used bookstores are going the way of wagon wheels and landline phones. I am typing this on my iPad, from which I also do 90% of my reading these days. I love the minimalist nature that technology brings. But with the advance of the electronic (like books) goes the demise of the material (like ink and paper). 

Sad.

But true.

And by sad, I don't mean that it should be otherwise. I feel for bookstores and bookstore owners (Meghan apparently does too since she's watched the movie You've Got Mail about a million times). But in life, this is the way things go: things die. Out of them, new things grow. 

And so today, I lament.

I am up in North Conway at the moment, this time without Meghan. (It's likely that this post was birthed from our separation.) My father and I are together and he wanted to go to a bookstore, so I brought him to the one Meghan and I "discovered." I was even more disappointed today. The theology books in the inspirational section were limited to one by Joyce Meyer and a commentary on The Shack (not even the book itself). Wright, Newbigin, Hauerwas, and even Lewis and Lucado: all missing. There were five copies of Satanic Verses from the Underground (or some such thing). 

Inspirational, indeed.

And so I lament today. 

Of course, there are "much more important" things to lament. The list is obvious. Today though, this is on my mind.

But to lament is not necessarily to wish for something to be different. Instead, it may simply be to acknowledge that we don't enjoy the truth of a matter, however inevitable it may be.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Seeing the Church Again


The property next door to our chapel and parsonage has been under development for what seems like years. It appears that an end might be in sight for this project to restore an historic house and barn that sit on the property. As part of it, the developers are installing a new driveway that hugs our property line. And to be able to do so, they had to cut down a number of large trees where the new driveway will eventually sit. While those trees were admittedly pretty old and not-so-glorious, it's somewhat sad to see trees go regardless. In the end, it's the way of life sometimes. No big deal.

In another area, I'm dealing with a bit of angst at the moment. Unfortunately, it does have to do with the fact that it's November, 2012, and the first Tuesday of the month is soon upon us. Now as much as I've tried to deal moderately with the port-a-potty-and-spittoon-all-in-one that is the political scene in America (for one: I'm still undecided on what I will do - if anything - in regard to voting for a President at the moment), I was recently told by someone that he didn't feel welcome to accept my invitation to share the Table of Communion with me. While I'm not completely sure why that is (it may be simply because I am not able at the moment to choose a particular candidate), it gives me angst whatever the reason. I would like to think that any followers of Christ could feel welcome to gather at the table after an election regardless of whether or not they voted or for whom. And to think he doesn't feel welcome to do so with me makes me - to use a big boy word - sad.

I've been trying to get out and walk a bit more. This morning as I was returning from my walk down North Street, I saw our chapel from a new perspective. The fact that those trees that were cut down has allowed for a new view of the chapel from the east. Before, sight of the chapel was mostly blocked from certain angles to the east. But this morning, with those old trees cut down, I could see the chapel from an angle that I couldn't before.

Despite the early morning darkness, I had to stop and take a picture (the resulting blurry image above). As I was listening to a sermon that was encouraging the Church to always remember that the throne of the world is occupied by a slain little lamb and not any human nation or superpower, the image of a fresh perspective of the Church was encouraging. 

For many, there is a certain cloud, a mass of twisted trees: an object of blockage between who Christ would have his Church be and who she currently is in this nation. (I do think it's slightly better than four years ago, but that may simply be due to my perspective and geography). 

And oh...for God to come and chop down those trees, burn the chaff, and make way for a Spirit to blow through and sweep away the leaves...so the Church could be seen as she should be: devoid of human division.

Tuesday's passing will be wonderful - both personally and corporately. It's sad that it has to pass for some things themselves to pass, but oh well. It'll take it. 

I'd like to see the Church again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Stark Difference

I went to two different, unrelated public hearings today.

It's hard for me to imagine a greater difference between the scope of these two hearings.

The first was at the State House in Boston. As part of dealing with homelessness in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the overseeing governing branch of the government had made changes to regulations and budgeting in regards to how homelessness is fought (mainly shifting funds from sheltering to housing). Some 200-300 people were there, with dozens upon dozens of testimonies, mostly against the proposed changes.

There were families present who shared very difficult and sad stories about being denied approval for shelter or other assistance. Story after story was told like the one about a young couple who after much trying and no hope, ended up living in their car...with six-week-old triplets (who were born six weeks premature). There were pediatricians, college professors, and certainly social workers and family advocates who spoke passionately about what they saw as important steps to help the homeless.

I left feeling helpless. The problem is daunting.

The second hearing was in my town of Hingham, MA. Hingham is a proudly historic community, and has several historic districts in which buildings and landscapes (basically anything in the public line of sight) are regulated to require committee approval for any kind of change whatsoever, including everything from material used in construction to the very color of the paint splattered upon it. These regularly-scheduled meetings involve business- and home-owners having to present their case for changes to their building or landscape in front of a committee of seven people.

The passion of some of the committee members about what they do is incredible - they know their stuff. They can tell you what colors were being used in various architectural periods spanning the last couple of centuries, with specific knowledge about trends right here in this town. It's unbelievable. At the same time, it can be frustrating to the applicants when this knowledge and desire to maintain historical accuracy and appeal come in the way of desired changes to one's home. I'll never forget the older gentleman a couple of years ago who was almost in tears as he requested using synthetic decking on his front stairs so they wouldn't rot out again like the ones his wife had stepped on and tumbled down. (He was denied...he had to use real wood.)

The disparity between these two hearings I went to today was stark. The hearings took place but a few miles apart, and yet their scope was a world apart.

I'm not necessarily placing blame or onus upon anyone at the moment.

Just observing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Sabbatical

When we were interviewing as a possibility to come pastor North Street Community Church of the Nazarene, the church board and I agreed that an agreed sabbath plan was a good idea. Aspects of this plan have risen and fallen and risen again (weekly and tri-monthly rhythms). But the notion that I would take an extended sabbatical period in the seventh year of ministry is coming to fruition.

Next summer I will be taking a sabbatical from June through early September. I am very excited about this and what it means for myself, my family, my extended family, and our church community. I will share more details in the coming months, but in general, my family and I will be traveling to re-connect with tradition, family, and culture. This will include Nazarene General Assembly (at the very beginning, thankfully), northern Vermont for a couple of weeks, Switzerland, Israel, and Virginia. After Vermont, I will travel to the West Coast to drive from Portland, OR to San Diego, CA visiting with various pastors & friends and Christian communities that I've admired from afar. My parents and my in-laws will be with us at various points. When I go to Israel, it will be with my father and father-in-law.

This is all in great thanks to our church's application to the Lilly Endowment and their National Clergy Renewal Program. The whole sabbatical period is fully funded by the Endowment. We are so thankful. In addition to our activities, there are a number of opportunities for us to study and share sabbath together with our church community, culminating with a weekend retreat in the early fall.

As part of the proposal, I said that I'd be sending reports back (non-interactively) about what I'm doing. At the moment, I plan on using this site/blog.

Here is a press release if anyone would like to read just a couple of more details for now.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Local Church is the Hope of the World

Among evangelicals, Bill Hybels is known for the title of this post. But others say the same thing. Jesus and Paul certainly emphasized it a few years before him.

In this article, Stanley Hauerwas wants to point out that Rowan Williams does too. Quotable:

"The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord's Table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this not as a circle to be squared but as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with one another."

...which is part of why some of us in the Church of the Nazarene desire to see the Covenant of Christian Conduct eliminated. (This is our specific list of "do nots"). But I believe that the local church not only should, but must work out what it means to be the Body of Christ in its context. 

Many are quick to point out how abusive, divisive, and whorish the local church has been and can be.

Hauerwas responds:
"I am all too well aware of the perversities of the so-called 'local church.' But you do not avoid the perversities of place by escaping to some alleged universal. You can only avoid the perversities of place by being the church of Jesus Christ..."

Bill Hybels would be proud.

Spoon-fed praxis from powers-that-be, even "democratically-elected" bodies such as General Assemblies, General Conferences, and other denominationally-led bodies, are not easily conducive to true gospel living on the dirt road, despite being cloaked "in the name of unity."

It might be notable that Paul has a letter to the Ephesians, and letters to the Corinthians, and a letter to the Philippians. And each letter focuses on different things resulting from the one Christ, each according to their context. Paul might have wrote one letter and sent it to the known Christian world. But that's not what we have. We have different letters to different churches. 

Are we trying too hard to force unity? Are we focusing too hard on "unity in essentials" and not enough on "in all things charity"?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Prayer for Kids in School

Every morning since my kids began going to school, we have prayed together as we wait for the bus. Much of this is out of nerves that I've shared before. But even more so, we pray because I want my kids to know that today - not in the future - but today, they are able to reveal the Kingdom of God to those around them.

While the prayer changes sometimes from day-to-day depending on what's going on, teachers' names, etc., it always has the same elements. I thought I'd share the bones of the prayer here for anyone who might want to do the same. As it's so often useful for everyone, but particularly kids (and my own memory!), there's a bit of alliteration:

God -
As we go to school again today, please help us.
Help us to listen so we can better learn so we can better love.
Amen.

Sometimes it comes out like this:
...help us to listen so we can learn, but most of all, help us to love.

Friday, August 17, 2012

More reason for no war

CBS News reports that July saw 38 suicides amongst active duty and reservists...in the Army alone.

Thirty-eight.

If 38 people died in one month from a certain flu strain or salmonella or something, there'd be a nation-wide outcry and even panic. If 38 people died in one month due to drinking from plastic bottles, we'd outlaw them.

The answer is not to increase services to service people. That should happen regardless and many times over what is currently offered. I'm tempted to note again the billions of dollars that go into weaponry and "defense" and question just if and how a small percentage of that should be directed to post-war healing. But the fact may be that no amount of money can be thrown at such problems as a solution for healing.

The answer is not to have wars, or at the very least,
consider the morality of how we go about having them.

I can't do much of anything about that.

But the Church can still stand in as a means of grace in these situations.


Here again is Dr. Stanley on the moral injuries of war:

 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ecclesiological, Ecclesiastical, Ecclesial

As I gear up for a possible re-entry into academia and have been thinking through research possibilities, I came across a syllabus from Bryan Stone wherein a footnote clarifies the distinction between three terms that I've wondered about in the past. I'm putting it here for my own future reference, but also because others might appreciate the distinctions:

Ecclesiological: “of or relating to the understanding, doctrine, or concept of the church”  
(e.g. “Church architecture has enormous ecclesiological significance.”)

Ecclesiastical: “of or relating to the church as an established institution” 
(e.g., “Our church follows an ecclesiastical calendar.”)

Ecclesial: “of or relating to the church or to the church's nature” 
(e.g., “Christian existence is ecclesial existence.”)

There. Now we know.

The difference between ecclesiological, ecclesiastical, ecclesial, ecclesiastes, ecclesia, ecclesiology, ecclesiologist

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

What a great book.

It's been a long time since I've posted about a book. While that doesn't mean that I haven't read any books great enough to talk about, this one really got me. It's cliche, but several times, it literally had me laughing in one moment and crying in the next.

Ian Morgan Cron and I have few things in common: we both lead a segment of Christ's people, we live in New England (and vacation in VT), we can't help but feel that raising children is similar to handling fine china, and we aren't sure what we'd do without the Eucharist. But other than that, my appreciation of his book hardly came from being able to identify with his life:

His father was an alcoholic and an agent for the CIA. He had a nanny. College was filled with drunken partying. He's an alcoholic himself.

And yet, I was able to identify with his story because he was able to tell it so well. What I really appreciated about the book was Cron's ability to say up front that the anecdotes and conversations he'd write about were obviously in the spirit of what happened, and not perfect historical accounts.

This is life. I can hardly tell you in exact factual detail how an event I witnessed an hour ago went down, let alone one from my childhood. But I can tell you the truth of how I remember it. In a world that tries so hard to remember - or worse yet: create - the factuality of events past, what we really have are warped shadows of what happened, or again, worse yet: a truth full of lies, which is no truth at all.

Truth is hardly about facts.

So don't let the facts get in the way of the truth.
No...really, don't.

(Just to be clear, I don't mean that facts and truth are totally unrelated or mutually exclusive. And facts serve the truth. But when it comes to faith and life, the truth does not serve facts or historicity.)

So I really appreciated the way Cron approached his own life story.

I've often looked at the memory of an event in my childhood and wondered what might have "really" happened. In the end, it doesn't matter, because I grew up thinking it happened one way and my life has been profoundly shaped by that thinking. The realization that things can be so often (mis-)remembered in this way - at least in terms of fact - hopefully causes us to be gentle in how we respond to the words, stories, and remembrances of others. And so, the media, politics, and the brutality of scientific fact...these things often make me weep.

I recently came across this picture that says: "Seek Truth" with truth crossed out and "Jesus" scribbled in instead.

Really?

This just admits that the quest for truth has become so misunderstood in relationship to who Jesus Christ was and is (we do remember what he said, right?). That we'd have to dismiss the notion of truth in order to search for Jesus is sad, and for me, totally faithless. For me, truth is much different than an end of having collected the right facts. And in Jesus' story, it looks like it was different than fact-checking, too. He apparently didn't care as much about presenting the facts as we do:
The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 
...but Jesus was silent.
I heard a quote last week that I love. We, like Thomas, want the details of the road ahead: namely, the destination. Jesus provides a way of living in the moment instead. This spanish proverb speaks to it:

"Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar."

Traveller, there is no road.
The path is made by walking.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Old People

While on vacation last week, I went to a church where I heard a sermon that was a great encouragement to me. It was an encouragement because the Word was one which I myself have been led to many times, yet sometimes feel alone in it. I have sometimes been rebuked or challenged when having preached on this topic and made to feel childish, unrighteously brazen, and even marginalized. Time and again though, I feel as though the Lord has led me back there anyway.

Leaving the specific topic and preacher aside because they are besides my point in this post, it made me reflect more on the voice of those more experienced than I. I greatly value voices that have been seasoned by age. It's not just about authority (though it is in part), but it's because I appreciate hearing and am emboldened by a voice of solidarity that is older than my own. It reminds me that I'm not simply a child and though I have a lot to learn, I haven't learned nothing. It's unfortunate that when paired with a person, the adjective "old" is generally felt with a negative connotation in our society. I reject that.

What I'm saying is:
Sometimes I need to hear from old people.

Now age doesn't necessarily imply correctness nor impart sageness either. Usually the old voices that inspire me are ones that are able to note that they too - at their age - are still learning. (Hence the solidarity!) I've had some old people who've spoken with me in terms of pure rebuke and little else. I generally leave those conversations and individuals unchanged and uninspired. But the wise, old voices that imply, "Maybe you can see it this way..." help me to better see Jesus.

These old people are the kind that I want to be if I end up living many more decades. I want to be Jesus-gentle-like. There are a lot of younger people who inspire me too, and I long for the dual-vision of Joel that Peter reminds us of in Acts 2:16-17, but there's just something about age for me.

Here are some of the old people who are still alive with white or no hair and aged voices who have spoken to me, inspired me, or encouraged me (I purposefully chose to leave off people that I actually know personally because it would likely show too much of my prejudice concerning the word "old").

I'm thankful for them:

Walter Brueggemann
Stanley Hauerwas
Brennan Manning
Eugene Peterson
Barbara Brown Taylor
Phyllis Tickle
Jean Vanier
N.T. Wright*

Anyone else out there? Any old people that inspire you?

*I know he's not that old. But he fits the bill/image in my heart. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Promises to Children


Last week I spent seven days teaching the Sermon on the Mount again. While I preached through it last year for several months for our church community, this time it was an intensive week of teaching it for an hour and a half in corporate discussion every day for seven days. It was a lot! Many things are swirling in my mind from this (again), but I'm writing about one thing today.

Jesus said:
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.'
Much of my context of life at the moment revolves around 2-7 year-olds. I hear the words, "I promise..." several times a day. Often, the emphasis is blatantly over-done: I promise! I don't doubt that they picked up on this kind of verbal sealant from their father. I'm kind of wishing it weren't so.

Jesus seems to be saying that we needn't use oaths, but that each word we speak is our oath. Why would it be any other way?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
"...the fact that oaths exist only proves that we live in a world of lies."
Should we make promises to children?
Should we teach our children to make promises?
Or should each word we speak be enough?

There are other questions that arise from this beyond the promises to/of children. What of marriage vows? Military oaths of enlistment? ...and just how did the very book that Jesus' words above come from become a symbol of courtroom "swearing in"? This seems like a rather counter-action to Jesus' very words.

Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tale of Three Sisters: Crissy, Patty, & Millie



There were three sisters: Hypocrisy, Apathy, and Humility. They all received pretty much the same upbringing. Their parents, Tradition and Faith, gave them what they could. They fed them, nurtured them, taught them, took them through the appropriate rituals and life moments of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Tradition & Faith were the kind of faithful parents that just plodded along in life, doing the best they knew for their family and for the small areas around them over which they had any influence at all. 
Tradition was the kind of father figure that may have often seemed as though he was out of touch with the social and developmental worlds of his daughters (at least from their view), but he was always consistent, always staying true to what he knew to be best. Surely he didn't always seem relevant to either his daughters or their friends (particularly during adolescence), but his daughters at least held some aspect of their father Tradition in their own lives.

Their mother, Faith, was just constantly hopeful for her daughters and the life they all lived together as a family. Sometimes to the annoyance of the girls, Faith held out for this good thing or that good opportunity even when it seemed completely futile. She was always encouraging her daughters to look for flowers along the road, birds in the air, or faces in the clouds, telling them, "Just look for the signs of life that will move you on, giving you hope for hope for hope to come." Their mother Faith fed her daughters well, nurturing them with things of sustenance, endurance, and beauty. 

So then there were the three daughters...sisters.

Hypocrisy was the oldest. Right from the womb she adored the attention of her parents, giggling with her big eyes and wide smile just to get the same response again and again: of glee, giddyness, and pride. Her parents loved her smile and laugh. And she loved to see her parents happy. As she grew older, Crissy, as she came to be called, learned that her charm worked well beyond the attention of her parents. The other neighborhood girls were often awestruck by Crissy's charm. If something happened in the neighborhood amongst the children, you could bet that it had Crissy's stamp of approval. She just had a knack for making things appear as they should be and others around her encouraged her leadership.

Crissy went on to graduate from high school with impeccable grades at the top of her class. Such a hard worker, she did all that she could to put herself in an academic position presentable enough to be noticed by Ivy League schools. And because of her hard work, she did indeed receive acceptance to several notable schools. But she chose Harvard for it's well-known name and history. Crissy did okay there at Harvard, studying law as she found the idea of presence in front of a courtroom to be desirable. But she was often annoyed that the same hard work she used to put in during high school just wasn't rewarded nearly as extensively at Harvard. Combined with losing an intense race for student body president her senior year, this made for a not-so-enjoyable college experience. 

After Harvard, Hypocrisy decided to continue studying Law, but at a much lesser known school. She was happy to return to the top of her class. She thrived in her graduate and post-graduate studies before finally settling in as a courtroom lawyer where she could influence people each and every day. Crissy had a charming way with judges and a convicting yet slightly graceful presence to her clients, witnesses, and fellow attorneys. 

Her parents Tradition & Faith were quite proud of her and often told her so.

Which brings us to the second sister, Apathy. Patty, as she became to be called, always felt the coolness of her older sister Crissy's shadow. But even though Patty might have desired the attention that her older sister got, she'd never admit it. She was intelligent and smart enough, but things always seemed to go wrong for her. So Patty spent quite a bit of time dreaming of the success that would come to her as soon as she got - what she called - her "big break." For whenever something went wrong - a bad grade, a difficult financial situation, or a job she didn't enjoy - she always pointed out the things outside of her control that led to difficulty in her life: she had a cold when she took that test in school, her friend to whom she loaned money didn't pay her back, or the job turned out to be completely different than the job description she was given. It was always something or someone else's fault. 

But we've gotten ahead of ourselves.

Patty was born in the midst of several difficult months in a row in the lives of Tradition and Faith. Tradition had had his hours cut back at work. And despite her continued efforts to show a hopeful face, Faith still wavered nonetheless, not sure from where food would come for her young child Crissy, and infant Patty. Some days, Tradition just sat around...rather dormant, with distant memories of success, but always feeling like no one noticed or cared anymore. This only went on for a few months until Tradition found a new job wherein he was more appreciated, valued, and compensated as much, but both parents - Tradition and Faith - never forgot that it was this time during which Apathy was born. 

The thing about Patty was that she always had incredible intentions. Apathy was rarely lethargic as some might have expected...she saved those moments for when no one was looking. Rather, Patty just never got around to doing what she hoped to do. She had lofty and fancy ideas yet little and feeble efforts.

So Apathy was never without aspirations. She desired very much to be helpful to others, making promises about this or that and how she would help out or take care of, only to quit the task at the appearance of the slightest pebble on the path or a small wrinkle in the blanket. When it came to hitting the road, the couch always seemed more comfortable, regardless of well-intentioned plans. In situations where her sister Crissy might rise above everyone else to make sure the job was done (knowing the reward that would come as soon as people noticed), Patty would just assume quit because of the work involved, citing all sorts of explanations for her absence.

Patty went to college and did just fine, just enough to get a degree so she could enter the workforce. But even as she did, she jumped from one job to the next in a constant quest for a "meaningful" one. Family reunions were of mixed emotions for her. She loved being with her parents again - Tradition and Faith - and her sisters, particularly Crissy. Hearing of Crissy's success as a lawyer encouraged and even inspired Patty, but after a while, even this inspiration from her own sister was immediately followed by feelings of certain failure...just like always.

The third sister was unlike the first two. Humility was a complete surprise to Mom and Dad, Tradition and Faith. They hadn't really planned on having Humility. But despite their lack of planning, preparation, and ultimately, control in the situation, they found Humility to be a delight. She brought the simplest of infancy periods for her parents. While Tradition and Faith debated whether or not this was simply due to being their third child and their now-relaxed roles as parents, they didn't care. Having an easy-going infant was a blessing in a household of five. Millie - as she came to be called - Millie certainly cried sometimes, but mostly softly and at the things of genuine hurt like when Hypocrisy hit her on the head with a toy hammer when Mom and Dad weren't looking, or when Apathy absent-mindedly knocked her into the refrigerator in an instant of gleeful play.

Millie was regarded as the "spoiled youngest child" by her older sisters. While it was likely true that she [quote] "suffered" from youngest child syndrome, the one symptomised by a later bedtime, more snacks than usual, and a generally longer leash on life, it was likely because Millie gave Tradition and Faith no real reason to worry about her. 

Millie enjoyed people. She enjoyed the joy of other people. She was always happy for her sister Crissy's success, proud of her, even. And Millie cherished the moments when Patty took great attention to her. Patty's constant seemingly genuine promises like "You can ride my bike in a few minutes when I'm done!" or "I'll let you go first next time!" continually encouraged Millie, even after thousands of empty follow-throughs.

Millie did well enough in school, but was often chided by her teachers for taking more interest in her classmates than her work. It just seemed much more concerning to Millie that her classmate Teddy wasn't in school on a given day than the learning her multiplication tables. And she couldn't figure out why the capitals of the countries of the world would be more important than her classmate Susie's lack of a decent lunch.

Humility often felt isolated and even lonesome. While she appreciated Crissy's success, there was something about it that she just couldn't relate to. And while Patty's inspired life was fleetingly encouraging, she just wasn't often there when Millie needed something. So Millie would often seek her parents out - Tradition and Faith - milking the good things that she could from their respective strengths. 

So Millie made it just fine through school, graduating in the upper third of her class. She played a couple of sports - field hockey and softball - but was never really a star. Millie enjoyed the physical activity all right, but she couldn't understand some of the "rah-rah-ness" of things like pep rallies and rivalries. 

Millie's college years were conflicting, as they are for many. She wasn't completely sure why she went to college, but was sure it was right since Crissy and Patty had before her. Millie was studious enough, but again found herself a bit isolated, everyone's friend, but no one's best friend. She remained close to her parents, Tradition and Faith, throughout college, but also found some of what she always knew to be true now challenged by some of what she was learning. It was through stretching like this that she was able to find her own self even more, certainly drawing from her parents Tradition and Faith, but only as much as it was able to help her form an identity through which she could be true to herself. 

She too entered the workforce, but only so as to continue her concern for the people around her. She wasn't afraid to rest. She found her lawyer sister Crissy's phrenetic pace to work concerning. And she desperately wanted to be able to help Patty find meaning, but Humility didn't want to over-impose any more feelings of guilt upon Patty than her parents Tradition & Faith did.

So there were these three sisters, Hypocrisy, Apathy, & Humility. Each born from the good love relationship of their parents, Tradition & Faith. They lived on in their years and died as all humans do.

Crissy died at the top of her game. Everyone knew who she was, having served as a very successful judge later in life. She was rewarded greatly in life by the attention of others.

Patty found usefulness here and there as she wandered through life, but ultimately died never really having found her own.

And Millie died too. Her funeral was modest. Some wondered about her life and if she was really who she appeared to be, but it didn't really matter to Millie. 

Humility dies satisfied.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Death is an Interruption of Life

"Death is an interruption of life."

You'd think it would be obvious. But the way we tiptoe around death, it apparently isn't.

I just got home from the funeral of my best friend from preschool. BJ was my hero back in the day. For a toe-headed, wimpy pole of a kid, "big and tough" BJ always let me know he had my back (unless of course, I was a threat to his kid sister). Over the years, as things sometimes go, BJ and I fell away from one another: no fight or anything, just a change in geography and different paths in the journey of life.

Thirty-one-year olds are not supposed to die.

But that's kind of why we call it "death."
Death supplants life. It robs us of the way we think things should be.
And we kinda need to acknowledge this so that we can tell it to go to hell where it came from.


I think a lot about death. Don't call a psychologist as I'm rather comfortable with the notion. My craft demands that I wrestle with it. I don't invite it, but I certainly don't fear it. It ticks me off sometimes. It definitely interrupts my life.

But it will not reign. No, it will not reign.



Friday, June 01, 2012

Wesley, Logic, & Deism

"I could not study, to any degree of perfection, either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a Deist, if not an Atheist. And yet others may study them all their lives without sustaining any inconvenience. None therefore can here determine for another; but every man must judge for himself, and abstain from whatever he in particular finds to be hurtful to his soul." - John Wesley, Sermon L, The Use of Money

I knew I liked that guy.

I was a mathematics major in college. Still not sure how that happened. I mean, I know the path that took me to math, but I'm not sure how I actually graduated with the degree. Regardless, I am a rather logical thinker. It's been a detriment to faith. But I have often overcome it. For instance, I have no quibbles with evolution, the notion that God doesn't know the exact details of the future, and no longer need the stories of scripture to be historical to have faith in them and live as though they are true. The distinction between "fact" and "truth" has become very important to me. I don't mind living according to things that are outside of my experience and ability to "figure out," because my faith rests in truth and not in fact. (This is a good thing considering how often I've been wrong!)

I don't think that I totally divorce faith from knowledge, but they certainly aren't the same thing for me. Knowledge and empiricalness inform my faith, but they don't hold it together.

It seems to me that a great number of professing theists (those who believe in God) are actually inadvertent deists - those who believe in God, but don't live as though God makes any difference in their lives. I can't really blame them. But where I am similar, I challenge myself to believe with a hope that goes beyond figuring it all out. Otherwise - for myself - I'm not sure I could call it "faith."

I know...I'm so ignorantly idealistic.

And I'm still learning.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Truth & the Facts

This has been sitting in my email for months. I'm not even sure where I first got it (might have been a Scott Daniels sermon). Anyway, I'm sharing:

 The chief priests’ and elders’ question has been repeated through the centuries of Christian history. Attempts to answer the question as posed inevitably result in diverse forms of Christian heresy, for the attempt to establish grounds more determinative than Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for why we should believe in him results in idolatry. If one needs a standard of truth to insure that Jesus is the Messiah, then one ought to worship that standard of truth, not Jesus. There is no place one might go to know with certainty that Jesus is who he says he is. To know that Jesus is the Son of God requires that we take up his cross and follow him. Having taken up the cross, Christians discover they have no fear of the truth, no matter from where it might come.
 – Stanley Hauerwas

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games Review


If you're reading this, I might imagine what you're thinking: "Jeremy is finally breaking his blogging absence by reviewing a teenaged-hyped movie?" Yes...yes, I am, actually.

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I remember that when my wife was first reading the Hunger Games trilogy, she was slightly disturbed by the content. I think I recall her asking me something about them, but I just passed the books off as the next Twilight. Despite that I now reject the comparison of the two series for the most part (having read them all), the first movie went to pathetic lengths to imply similar themes. If the scenes that flash Gale's reaction to Peeta & Katniss' interactions were meant to bring forth the whimpers of teenage girls, the directors were successful (at least judging from the row of them that sat in front of me at the theater last night). And though I've not read the Twilight books and only suffered through one of the movies, even I can see the resemblance between the character cast as Gale and the one I think is the werewolf dude in Twilight.

I decided to read the books after a Mennonite pastor whose blog I read suggested that those drawn to the peaceable Kingdom (or the "nonviolence of Christ') would do well to interact with the themes. I read the first and was hooked. I couldn't wait for the movie. After initial reviews came out, including a not-so-good one from the afore-mentioned pastor, I was worried that what I valued in the series would be absent from the film.

While there were several things that I didn't like, overall, I thought the movie did very well with the story.

The casting and performance of Katniss was great. I've been sorely disappointed when characters formed in my mind while reading a book were drastically different when cast in a movie. The girl who played Katniss, while beautiful, was not "perfect" in the sense of today's magazine cover teenager. And she played the role of Katness wonderfully.

I had been warned that the effect of violence was not present in the movie in the ways it was in the book. However, I found Katniss' response to Rue's death wonderfully-depicted. The result and response to fear and violence in the books was what made them worthwhile to me. I believe we need to wrestle more with the agony of death and our role in it.

That said, Katniss was a bit too "innocent" for me. One of the things I valued in the series was the inner turmoil she had with the notion of killing. Short of a narrator-like over-voice in the movie (which would have had the potential to be horrible), much of this was probably impossible to portray. Hopefully, the forth-coming movies will not remove this important part of the story. I can envision a director making the final killing scene of the series one of revenge rather than the confused, conflicted, and impulsive action of a young woman devastated by the effects of violence.

What I'm saying is this: the main reason I even "enjoyed" the series were the implications of "power by fear" and "fear by [the threat of] violence". While the state and situation of Panem might seem far-removed from 21st century America, the notion of out-sourcing violence isn't so much. Do we ever really wonder just how it is that America is so "peaceful" while we every so often hear rumors of war, trial, violence, and death throughout much of the rest of the world?

Just how and why is it that we eat enough to get so fat that we spend billions in fat remedies while other parts of the world starve in hunger?

How and why would a bunch of human beings decide to board airplanes and exterminate themselves by kamikaze-ing them into our centers of commerce and government? Just what exactly breeds that passion and willingness to kill?

I don't think these are questions to leave to those who lead and who oversee power. In fact...the thought is rather scary.

But back to the movie: the interplay between scenes in the arena and in the control room (which was remarkably similar to one of my favorite movies: The Truman Show) or dialogue between President Snow/Seneca Crane/Haymitch was probably necessary, but it sure was a departure from the book. It seemed to blatantly tell the "progression" of power, rather than the guessed implications of what was going on through Katniss' thought processes in the book.

Movies like Wall-E and The Lorax are okay in that they demonstrate the effect of human ravaging upon all of nature. But the story of The Hunger Games does me better in showing the effects of humans ravaging one another.

While the arena and the idea of an annual event like the Hunger Games (a death-match to instill fear and maintain the "pax of Panem" disguised as entertainment's value) is again far-removed from our society, there are plenty of ways in which power is enacted or abused for entertainment's sake or one's own pleasure. These include the sex-trafficking trade, massive pornography industry, food over-consumption, sports industries, and certainly the whacko bi-partisan political scene which is little more than a spectator's sport at the moment.

Perhaps The Hunger Games will go beyond a teenaged romance triangle for some people.

In the end, I enjoyed the movie very much and look forward to the next. But as almost always...the book was better. :-)

Monday, February 06, 2012

Why I Don't Gamble


Last night, I had made eight not-so-serious predictions prior to the Super Bowl on Twitter. After, I jokingly tweeted: "Only two of my eight predictions for the #SuperBowl were correct. #fessingup #whyidontbet". An old friend responded via private message asking why it is that I don't gamble. I thought I'd share some of what I responded:

First of all, as with most things these days, I claim the spirit of Romans 14 in this. You asked my thoughts, so if you hear any legalism or forced piety directed at you within my response, check your filter. In other words, my conclusion on this is a non-essential and I'd be happy to sit at the table of Communion with someone despite our disagreement on this (and an ever-increasing list of other things).

There have been very brief times in my life when I've toyed with the notion of gambling. I've had some success with Blackjack and variant forms of online Poker. I believe that with patience and the proper amount of time spent, I could be a decent gambler and bring in more money than I'd lose. I can imagine myself being able to do that and while it may sound cocky, I generally believe it to be true.

But in the end, I see gambling as just another form of taking other people's money. 

I'm less concerned about becoming addicted myself (I do believe that is a possibility for anyone, though not a certainty for everyone). I'm more concerned that if I did indeed win, I'd simply be profiting from the impulsivity and addiction of others. That doesn't jive with my understanding of Christ. Even (and especially) when I win, I'm just contributing to the system. Put differently, gambling is just another way to confess my faith in power, specifically, the power of money (but also "winning" and "thrill"). That's something I'm trying to avoid as I try and understand the self-emptying of Christ.

Most people waste money in one form or another, and I am no exception. Sometimes I take my kids on the carousel. It costs $2.50 or so. I'm basically paying for the brief thrilling experience and - if I'm lucky - a small memory, because the money and the moment are both gone almost as quickly as a round of Blackjack. I could see how some say the same of gambling - they enjoy the thrill. I can understand that. But the overall picture I describe in the previous paragraph is enough for me to avoid this as a whole.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

After the Yellow Ribbon

"In any war, at least one side loses; in some wars, no side wins." - John Howard Yoder

Back in November, I flew down to North Carolina for a very short conference called "After the Yellow Ribbon" put on by the students of Duke Divinity School on their campus. It was my first time at Duke: impressive all around, as expected. Quite a stately campus. I've been on my share of campuses, but I'm not sure that I've been more in awe than at Duke. Of course, the fact that my favorite theologian (Hauerwas) walks those halls might have been a factor (though not for long, this is his last semester, I'm told). And there was indeed a Duke men's basketball game that weekend, making for a crazy campus. Anyway, the conference was bringing together three parties: the Church, the Academy, and the Military to talk about our response to soldiers who have come home from war. Some of my notes and reflections are below.

Overall, I was greatly challenged by the conference, as I knew I would be. I'm not really sure how to be proactive in response. I don't know any recent veterans (in my area, at least). My path to and on nonviolence basically led me to understand that despite my contrarian feelings about the US's military actions, my responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be directed to those who are hurting and those who are ignored. Veterans often to fit both of those demographics.

I was a bit out of place - it was mostly Duke Divinity students (academics) and a few in the military. It only kindled the fire in me to be back in school, but this is to come. There might have been a few other pastors, but I didn't perceive that anyone else really flew in for it.

A lot of this is a sporadism of notes, but glean what you can.

----- Friday Evening: Lieut. Colonel Pete Kilner -----

Lt. Col. Kilner teaches at West Point.

"There are elements of heaven that are only in war." - This is related this to a "band of brothers"-type camaraderie/community. I've actually considered this in relation to the Church and koinonia and have a sermon series on the very back burner along these lines. Good relationship generally cannot be manufactured. Something happens to people when they sweat and bleed together. I've not experienced war, but I've known the sweat and tears of serving for a couple of weeks in an impoverished area. The people I was with and I have bonds that cannot be explained nor recreated.

I was made to consider the notion of selective conscientious objection. Generally, a conscientious objector must object to ALL war...not just the current one. (i.e.: "Would you fight in WWII?") I have had my paperwork to sign and file to my denomination for my conscientious objection sitting on my desk for over half a year. I'm not sure why I haven't sent it in yet. Part of me wonders that if a situation like WWII did come about, I might actually want to participate. Anyway, Lt. Col. and others at the conference talked about "selective conscientious objection." I forget Kilner's feelings about it, but others would lobby for it. And I think I would too.

[paraphrasing] The people are not doing their job in doing a good public debate concerning the just-ness of war.

One take-away was just the notion of creating some kind of a "Soldiers Anonymous" group in our community. I would need a leader(s) though, and it certainly can't be me. But we need to create safe places where veterans can come and talk of their experience together...or at least just be together.

----- Saturday morning, Exploring the Moral Landscape: Military, Theological, and Academic Intersections (Elyse Gustafson, Herman Keizer, Warren Kinghorn) -----

(Kinghorn) PTSD - not just anxiety, traumatic events in the past act determinatively in the course of life in the present; generally considered a medical condition/diagnosis, responded to with medicine and therapy; But Kinghorn, while acknowledging the reality of PTSD, believes it can be an oversimplification for those coming back from combat, as PTSD is a general "explanation". But unlike other physical diagnoses, PTSD is in and of itself the symptoms. (Other diagnoses come about because of symptoms, which point to the diagnosis.) He might consider PTSD as coming about due to the _moral_ effects of war. He notes the difference between recipient trauma and agentive trauma ("done unto" and "done to others"). His belief is that these are the majoritive causes for PTSD in combat-related PTSD.

"moral injury" - perpetrating or failing to prevent the occurrence of moral events. problem: moral injury can hardly be classified simply as a medical term. As such, the issues and thus, the responses, are as diverse as the number of soldiers coming home. Again: create spaces for personal narrative-sharing 

(Gustafson) First Liut. Gustafson's presentation was probably the most moving of the conference for me. She told us of her experience in receiving soldiers home as a chaplain.

One such: "Dan" - combat soldier, on going to Church: "I'm treated either as a hero or a monster. Neither is a person." She wrote a prayer for "Dan."

When she read it to him, he cried, and she describes the experience as "the closest she'd ever felt to God." To me, she is describing Matthew 25.

Reconciliation for the penitent: confession; examination of conscience - Yes, confession. Growing up, like so many other Protestant boys and girls, confession was this crazy-idea to control people invented by the Roman Catholic Church (Forgive me, please). And even still, I have to remember that confession is only sometimes about culpability. But confession and incarnational ministry is as of Christ - "Taking the sin of the world upon oneself." This sharing in the RESULT of sin is our ministry. Soldiers (like all those who have injuries) need spaces of confession. The complexity of issues, responses, etc. is astounding.

"It's true confession if it brings people into community."

(Keizer) Chaplain Col. Keizer spoke freely and from the heart, obviously from decades of experience. 

Reported that 52% of Veterans are reserves, meaning they do not go back to people that understand them. There apparently is a much different debriefing process for reservists. (parenthetical comment by me: so far, my respect for the military has increased and for politicians and citizens has decreased)

"Reflexive" versus "reflective" in making decision to kill.

Again: the opportunity of selective conscientious objection

"If we're no longer able to be critical of our country, then we are unable to be good citizens of our country."

Keizer spoke of two things I need to read: Matterhorn (novel on Vietnam) and his own article: "I'll be home for Christmas"

He encouraged us to use the psalms to help veterans speak and heal.

----- Seminar: Caring for Veterans After War (Chaplains Bill Cantrell & John Oliver) -----

Bill is a Navy Chaplain, working for the VA here in Durham

Trauma:
Often challenges the integrity of our body and our sense of ourselves
Challenges our beliefs about: life, death, meaning, our sense of mastery and potency in the world
Can challenge the very foundations upon which we build our lives
Affects our identity and identification

Moral Injury: Causes & Consequences
[persistent threats to assumptions of right & wrong]
Altered assumptions/changed humanity
Affects decision-making & behavior
Actings out, revenge, retribution

The Emotional Toll 
Fear, Anxiety, Stress (Guerilla warfare, civilian threat)
Guilt, Shame (killing, abusiveness, destruction)
Anger, Rage (Helplessness, betrayal/violation)
Sadness, Dysphoria (Loss, hopelessness, witnessing grave suffering) 

Spiritual Fitness Guide
Fit-->Stressed-->Depleted-->Drained

The journey home marks the beginning of an internal war for the [soldiers].

Spiritual Aids to Recovery 
Group exercises
Community Involvement
Spiritual Practices
Existential Topics
Forgiveness
Values for Living
Finding Meaning and Purpose
Ritual

George Washington, November 10, 1781: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." (parenthetical: I'm not sure if this is good or bad...)

John Oliver - Pastoral Care

6308 US fatalities
4017 wounded  (as of Wednesday of last week)
...in comparison...
Vietnam - over 60,000
WWII - hundreds of thousands

So we've kept the casualties down, but this means more wounded coming home. What are the implications of this?

Four Issues:
Life Threat (you could die)
Wear & Tear on Body/Spirit/Soul
Ongoing loss of friends and family
Inner conflict of moral dilemmas

Of those interviewed coming home:
92% knew of someone killed
81% attacked or ambushed
75% seen dead bodies

30% of combat soldiers have some kind of diagnosis
So this means that there are 70% who are "resilient" - they are strong people

As pastors, the language of "disorder" is difficult in what it does as a label or even as a self-fulfilling prophecy

There are three people types in regard to trauma:
Been through a trauma
Those who are going through a trauma
Those who will go through trauma

Pattern of Lament:
Life is good.
Life is disrupted.
...yet...
Trust. Hope.

We can see this in the progression of Psalm 22 - 23 - 24
Let this be a pattern of how we serve as pastor to people through trauma

The removal from the community of the "band of brothers" is so difficult.
Can we bring them "home" into the community of the Church?
...this will not be easy, particularly because of the facade of community in the Church.

Spiritual reactions to trauma:
Confusion about God
Discounting community
Alters one sense of meaning in life
Loss of previously sustained and sustaining beliefs (especially superficial ones)
Guilt
Anger
Self-blaming
Questions of theodicy
Questions of God's love ("God can't love me..." I'd rather die than bring this stuff home to my family)

Three stages of recovery:
1. Safety (people need to know that they are safe)
2. Remembrance & Mourning
3. Reconnection

Sometimes remembering is difficult not simply because they don't want to, but because they can't

----- Mapping the Moral Landscape Discovering Resources for Recovery with Stephen Xenakis, David Miller, Peter Bowen -----

(Miller) Should the first place soldiers return to be a rally or the confessional? Because when they return, they are returning from having done things that no human should ever have to do (Again...confession isn't always about culpability, but about the opportunity of releasing the effects of sin.)

I really appreciated Miller's talk. It again left me wondering if I might be a better fit in an anabaptist tradition.

 The Church needs to focus on nurturing the baptized in priority to speaking in the public square. 

Trauma results in a disconnection from others.

I love this quote: "May the next generation create no veterans." - David Miller