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Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Question for my Traditionalist Friends

I have an honest question for my Traditionalist friends — those who hold to a conservative and traditionalist view of homosexuality in the Bible.

This traditionalist view is based primarily on three hermeneutical principles: (1) What the Bible says should be taken literally; (2) what was commanded then is still commanded now; and (3) consistency with church tradition is a critical test of exegesis. (feel free to correct me if you think I am mis-representing your views…)

Here is my question… what is the practical or theological difference between the following two theological claims, the first made by what are often termed extremists and the second a common view held by traditionalists:

(1) “God hates homosexuals and condemns them to hell.” (this is in essence the view of people like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church).

(2) “God loves homosexuals but condemns them to hell.” (this is in essence the traditionalist view espoused by many conservative evangelicals and other traditionalists).

Seriously, what is the practical distinction between these two theological statements? When talking to my gay friends, is #2 reallhy good news over #1?  If #1 is wrong, what makes #2 right?  Isn’t the only difference one of rhetoric and language, but not substance?  In other words, isn’t fair to say that the conservative traditionalist view is not significantly different than the fundamentalist/extremist view?

This is an honest question and I would love for some traditionalists to post their thoughts…

Thanks!

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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Na’aseh V’nishma

I have been re-reading Lauren Winner’s great book, “Mudhouse Sabbath”.  It is about rediscovering Jewish spiritual practices in the context of her Christian life.  Lauren grew up in an observant Jewish family, converted to evangelical Christianty and then found a church home within the Episcopal Church.  I love her writing and her journey!

Here is one of the key ideas that really struck me from the introduction of her book:

na’aseh v’nishma” — “We will do and we hear/understand.” (Exodus 24)

Note that the doing comes before the understanding.

Growing up in a Jewish family (including 2 years at an orthodox Jewish day school), I have always had an appreciation for this concept, but it was helpful for Lauren Winner to give words to the idea. (Or more specifically, the Torah to do it, lol).

I think this is part of the secret as to why obedience is such a powerful thing — as Nancy talked about in a her recent sermon about ways to know Jesus.  Sometimes we DO even when we don’t understand… but in DOING, we come to understand.

In a similiar way, I think there is a powerful dynamic between DOING and BEING.

Some Christians are really good at BEING and that is their emphasis in their spirituality.  Simply be in the presence of God. Don’t worry about doing, just pray/worship/enjoy God.  Accept that you are accepted. Know that you are loved.  Be transformed simply by the presence of Jesus in our lives. A common phrase among these folks is “we are supposed to be human beings, not human doings.”

These are the “BEING” Christians, and they are 100% right.

Other Christians are really good at DOING and that is their emphasis in their spirituality.  They are always doing, being active in their faith and ministry.  Serving the poor, sharing the good news, helping a friend move, giving to charity, etc etc.  These folks believe that as followers of Jesus, we are to DO the things He did and asked us to do. A common phrase… “WWJD?”

These are the “DOING” Christians, and they are 100% right.

That is the tension.  Both are right.

Here is what I am learning… and I think na’aseh v’nishma helps us grasp this, as do many of the rythyms of Jewish life that Lauren talks about… that BEING always leads to DOING and DOING should lead to BEING.

In other words… when we are authentically in the presence of Jesus (“being”), we will be compelled to service (as our master was)… and that when we DO, we will become more like Jesus in our character and being.

Thoughts?

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Lessons from Westboro

Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has become (in)famous for its political activism, protests and in-your-face-offensive signs at said protests such as “God Hates Fags.”  Led by the iconic Rev (?) Fred Phelps, the church and the Phelps family (almost one-in-the-same) represent the extreme right wing of Christianity.

It is easy to dismiss Phelps and his flock as crazy, extreme, hateful, evil and as a 1-trick pony in the world of hate speech. But an article by author and journalist Jeff Chu, profiling the only Asian American congregant of this Mid-western church, brings a human face to the often one-dimensional picture you get in most of the press.

It is worth reading Jeff’s article for several reasons… it is well-written, it offers an inside peak at the real people that are part of the WBC, and I think it forces us to actually deal with these folks as real people.  It also, I think, offers an interesting picture of how the conservative church approaches homosexuality. You can read Jeff’s article here.

This article is part of a book project that Jeff is working on.  The book is an exploration of Christian attitudes towards homosexuality in America, and is due to be released sometime next year.  I recently had lunch with Jeff and it was interesting hearing about the book and some of the profiles he is working on. I first connected with Jeff through my sister and we have talked extensively about my own story/experience as well as the general issue of homosexuality and Christianity.

There were a couple of real take-aways for me from the article/excerpt… I would be curious to hear what you thought…

1. The problem of “OTHER”.  I think we (and by we, I mean all humans) have a serious problem of exclusion.  We need to exclude people from the group and we do so by making them “other”.  This need for “other” is almost universal.  Even those of us who get all self-righteous about being labeled “other” (and as a Jewish evangelical gay democrat, I have been labeled “other” for various reasons at various times in my life), are quick to make others “other”.  And to exclude… to “make other”… is really to dehumanize someone, to make them less-than-human and one-dimensional.  Most of us have done this to the folks at WBC… we have made them other.  But Jeff’s article helped remind me that — like them or not — these are complex human beings with complex emotions, stories, motivations, etc.

2. The dangerous mixing of religion and politics.  If it weren’t for their political activism, WBC would be like many ultra-conservative fundamentalist churches in America… and we would probably not even know who they were.  And, with the exception of those within their immediate flock, they would be pretty harmless.  But when you inject conservative politics into the mix and add a good dose of media attention, all of sudden you have an explosive situation.

3. Church history and theology matters.  I believe in local governance of churches, I believe in idependent churches… at heart, when it comes to church governance I am a congregationalist and baptist.  However, I think it is important to understand church history and the broader theological landscape.  One of the things you get from reading this article is that while these folks may be savy (in terms of marketing and social networking), sharp and even educated (Phelp’s daughter successfully argued and won a U.S. Supreme Court case for the church), these folks are theologically shallow and simplistic.  On the one hand they are hyper-Calvinist, yet strongly baptist… the theological contradictions here are huge, but don’t seem to bother them at all.  These folks are not deep thinkers nor interested in theology… and that can be dangerous.

4. They might not be that extreme — at least in their theology.  Yes, their methods are extreme and offensive, but, at least when it comes to theology and message, I am not sure they are as extreme as we like to think.  Much of what they say about America being cursed by God (through 9/11, wars, natural disasters, etc) are things that people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others have also said.  Yes, Robertson and Falwell are both fundamentalists and ultra-conservative.  But given their influence on mainstream evangelicalism (at least for the thirty years from 1970 to the turn of the century), I am not sure you can call them “extreme’.  And while many conservative Christians are uncomfortable with the theological claim that “God hates fags”, I am not entirely sure that — from a theological or practical perspective — this is that much different than the claim that “God loves homosexuals… but condemns them to eternal hell.”  My sense is that trying to parse the difference between those two positions (the first being WBC’s position, the second being one that many non-extremist conservative Christians hold) is like splitting hairs.  So while many may be uncomfortable with the harsh language, the theology — and undergirding hermeneutic — is actually pretty close to each other.

5. For better or for worse, if you take away the political activism and the signs, WBC would look a lot like 1000’s of churches throughout America… that may be scary, but it is true.

6. While I disagree with almost everything they stand for and proclaim — and think they are 100% wrong in their reading of and application of the Bible — they are still (possibly) my brothers and sisters in Christ… and that is a hard pill to swallow.  It is tempting to dismiss them as false prophets that are not really believers… that may be the case, but it is not for me to say… anymore than it is for them to say about me.  My guess is that they are as uncomfortable with me being a brother in Christ to them as I am with the idea that they are brothers and sisters in Christ to me… such is family, I guess.

Those are some of my thoughts after reading the article… what are yours?

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

If I Were a GOP Candidate for President…

There have been several deeply disturbing moments in recent GOP debates among the candidates for their party’s nomination.  Each of these incidents happened because of audience reaction — in one, the audience cheers for the death penalty and execution of people; in another, when one candidate was asked what should happen to the uninsured, shouts of “let them die” rang out; and in the third, a gay soldier who was asking a question was booed.

The most shocking aspect of all three of these incidents is that not one candidate stepped up and spoke up to say that these reactions were wrong.  There was silence from the candidates… and tacit support, it would seem.

Now despite my serious policy differences with the current GOP candidates, I don’t believe that all of them revel in state-sponsored executions, honestly believe that the answer to our health care predicament is to “let them die” or that any soldier should be booed for serving our country.

But all of them were silent. And as Martin Luther King, Jr has famously noted in his day (and I believe it still applies in our day), “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Silence from the candidates under these circumstances is shameful and unacceptable. I believe it also disqualfies each of them for the presidency.  Standing up and speaking out on principle is essential for our leaders.  By not speaking out, these candidates either signal that they agree with the crowds or lack the backbone and conviction to challenge their own supporters.  Either way, they should be ashamed and have no business running for president.

In case you missed the moments, here are the brief video clips, followed by, if I were one of the candidates advisors, I would have counseled them to say:

DEATH PENALTY


Response should have been:  “Let’s all just hold on here a second.  I understand the desire of the public for the death penalty.  Some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty must be used. But let us never cheer or celebrate the use of the death penalty.  Every time the state chooses to execute a criminal, it is a human tragedy. It is a human tragedy for the victims of their crime and their families.  It is a human tragedy for the broader community.  And it is a human tragedy even for the life being executed.  For we believe all life has infinite potential, and it is always tragedy when a life full of potential chooses a road of death, destruction and murder.  Yes, we will use the death penalty as needed — but never with joy, never with cheers and always with sense of humbleness andseriusness that befits the issue.  To cheer death is to violate our basic principles as a party committed to life — and we should never do it.”

MEDICAL INSURANCE

Response should have been: “These are very complicated issues, as you know. And I do not support Obamacare or individual mandates. But obviously, “let him die” is unacceptable public policy and inconsitent with our values as a party.  Whatever solution we do end up with — and I believe there are are solutions that will not bankrupt America, will not federalize our entire medical system, will not socialize our medicine — but whatever solution we do end up with will need to be one that values life, sustains life and improves life for all Americans. That is what it means to be a truly pro-life party… from conception to death.  So no, “let him die” is not acceptable social policy.”

DADT

Response should have been: “Hold on a second… I need to interject here. I don’t care what your politics are or where are stand on the issue of homosexuals serving openly in our military. No soldier who honorably serves our nation should ever be booed or disrespected the way I just saw happen here.  That is unacceptable.  As a nation, we are capable of having a civilized policy debate whithout dishonoring the men and women who serve in our military.  We are a party that supports and honors our troops — and as President I will make sure that all of our troops are supported and honored.”

Now please note, these are the answers I would have suggested a GOP candidate give.  These are not my own answers.  For the record, I oppose the death penalty 100% of the time, I support Obamacare and individual mandates, and I support the repeal of DADT.

But even if you are a conservative on these issues, there is a way to do so that is honorable and has integrity… and then there is a way that is shameful and embarrassing.  So far, we have only seen the shameful and embarrassing approach from the declared candidates… highlighted by their silence in response to these three incidents. 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Last Words

“I?d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I?m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask ? is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.” – Troy Davis (last words before being executed by the State of Georgia)

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Ambushed!

Rembrandt-return-of-the-prodigal-son

I have to confess that often my daily quiet time are lackluster and flat. More often that I like to admit, I get through it but (seem) to get little from it.  I can even find myself day-dreaming through it, distracted from the words I’m reading or even saying.  After 18+ years of following Jesus, I have learned not to despair or feel guilt over such things. I know and trust the Spirit is ministering, even in ways I cannot see or even understand. But still, much of what one might call my devotional life can be stale far more than I like.

So why do I persist?

Mostly, because sometimes today happens.

Ambushed by the living Word of God, overwhelmed by joy, humbled by grace… 

In reading Hosea 5:6 – 6:6 and Matthew 8:18-27, it was like a floodgate of refreshing grace-filled living waters to my soul.  The Word led me to sing and worship and pray… and simply to want to be in His Presence, thankful that I am always — even when I don’t see Him.

In reading those two passages together, I was struck by the power of the cross afresh.  I was reminded of His unwavering love for me and the price He paid on my behalf… to spare me, to raise me up, to sanctify me and fill me with His Spirit.

Nothing new.  No epiphany moments. Just pure joy with my Father this morning, as He reminded me again and again… 

you have no idea how much I love you… 
you have no idea how much I love you… 
you have no idea how much I love you…

and that because of His love, the cost of following is both great, but also the greatest bargain in the world!

for where else do we find life?

no where, but in you Father!

Remind me, O Lord… each day! 
 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Advanced Decision Making

One basic principle I have learned over the years from wise mentors and experience is the importance of ADVANCED DECISION MAKING (ADM).  The principle of ADM is simple: look ahead at issues and situations coming your way and make advanced decisions about how you handle it.

Most things in life are not predictable… but many things are.  The better prepared we are for the predictable (or at least, statistically likely) the more flexible and resilient we will be when the unpredictable comes our way.

This works in both small and big ways in both personal and work life.

EXAMPLE #1: At the Casino. I am heading to the casino with friends. I know that my monthly budget is tight.  Wisdom is to make an advanced decision about the total amount of money I am willing to spend on this outing — including food, drink, games, parking, etc.  If I wait until I am in the middle of the action, I am far more likely to overspend than if I make the decision — and communicate it — in advance.

EXAMPLE #2: Dating. As a Christ-follower, I believe it is wise to never allow your physical intimacy to out-pace your emotional or spiritual intimacy when dating or in a relationship.  When I was a youth minister (and then a campus pastor working with college students) this was one of the major issues I would be asked about, teach upon, etc.  The basic principle (physical intimacy should never outpace emotional and spiritual intimacy) is simple enough, but not always easy to live by in the moment.  My advice?  Simply make an advanced decision — and communicate it — before you get yourself into the situation.  If the first time you are having the conversation with your partner about how far you are comfortable going is after you have started making out, a few drinks in, etc, etc… the likelihood of making a wise decision is much less.  

By making advanced decisions, we make decisions when we are at our best and sharpest — in our best decision-making mode.  By communicating those decisions early, we invite others to hold us accountable and can be sure to clearly communicate to others the decisions I have already made (thus avoiding, hopefully, the pressure from friends to spend more than I want to or by a partner/date to go further than I want to.)

Again, I think this is an important skill in life, especially when we are going through transitions. Starting college, a new job, a new relationship, a new season of life.

I am convinced that one major contributing factor to my moral meltdown/failure as a pastor in 2008-09 was that I failed to prepare adequately (with Advanced Decision Making) for the season I was entering.  As the ministry grew, I simply kept adding responsibilities to my schedule and job portfolio (launch of a new campus, building project, two simultaneous zoning board challenges, increase to 5 weekend services, etc etc). As my stress level, anxiety level and responsibility level went up, I did not compensate in any healthy ways in other areas of my life.  This both set me up to make bad decisions and to compensate/self-care in unhealthy ways. The results were catastrophic for me personally and the church I was called to lead.

Lesson learned…

In a few weeks I will once again be starting a new job.  This new job will be significantly more challenging and demanding than my current job, or really any professional role I have had since leaving full time ministry.  The responsibility, expectations and hours worked will all increase significantly.

This is predictable and known in advance. Much about my new job is unknown (it is new to me, after all) — but much is also predictable.

So I am making a number of advanced decisions in preparation for the new job.

Most of those decisions are about time management and commitments.

As I transition into this new role, I am purposely pulling back from or eliminating certain time commitments in my schedule. I am not waiting to see “how things play out” to make those decisions… I am making advanced decisions.  The truth is, I know how things will play out.  If I don’t trim my schedule and commitments, three months from now I will be stressed, filled with anxiety, exhausted, feeling over-worked and over-stretched. Totally predictable.

So what are some of the things I won’t be doing?
  • I will be blogging less often over the next few months, going from a posting pretty much 5 times a week to probably closer to 1-2 times a week… and sometimes less.
  • I am dropping for now the Demo Cooking Dinners I had been doing at a local specialty food store.  While fun, it is really a bonus thing and doesn’t directly advance any particular goals for me.
  • I am dropping teaching the Cooking Matters class, at least for the fall.  While I enjoy it and it fits with my core values, it doesn’t fit my schedule right now.
  • I am not taking on any new projects, ministries or major commitments outside work and the two ministries I currently volunteer with.
  • I am not taking on any new catering clients… catering is pretty much on hold.
I will continue to focus on church (primarily, being an involved and invested Board member, preaching occasionally and leading an online small group) and MACC Charities (focused on being an effective Board President and long term strategic planning).  I will increase my priority on a weekly sabbath, daily time in prayer/scripture, etc.  And I will maintain and increase my investment in the people, friends and family God has put in my life.

These are the advanced decisions I am making as I look forward to the coming season.  WHAT DECISIONS DO YOU NEED TO MAKE IN ADVANCE?
 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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