Monthly Archives: October 2010

A phrase left hanging….

My daughter’s violin school was invited to play with the RIT Orchestra in a Halloween concert today. It was of course very cute to see 30 costumed elementary students with violins playing ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ backed by the RIT students.

But that is not the real point. The conductor, a Dr. Michael Ruhling, gave a great little historical-musical introduction to each piece they played. After the cute kids were off stage, the orchestra turned to two other Halloween-y pieces: Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens and some movements from Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. His introduction for each commented on a major theme in each. In each the dead/undead/witch/evil builds and is given free reign, but in each it is cut short and more or less immediately goes away. In Saint-Saens the oboe(?) sounds the cocks crow signaling the dawn and the end of the harrowing. In Mussorgsky the witch Baba Yaga is cut off, one movement just ends and moves into the next, which is much grander and was meant to represent the Church bells ringing and the Great Gate of Kiev. Dr. Ruhling said the music was comforting in that the evil builds, but in each only for a short time, and he left that hanging.

He didn’t answer the why. Why does the evil in the music not over-run all? Why does it stop and stop immediately? Its just left hanging why two great pieces of music that get at truth say the same thing. Matt 24:22 – “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones. (Mat 24:22 NLT)” 1 Cor 15:52 – “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. (1Co 15:52 NLT)” The tribulation is always cut short. Evil has no power in front of of the risen one. They are allowed to have their day, but never victory.

The true things, the beautiful things like that music, tell a story. We might ignore it or forget it, but it is there. Waiting to be told.

Reformation Day

If you like Emenem and Martin Luther, this is the mix. I’m sure I shouldn’t be posting this here, but its such a weird mix of everything. (Not appropriate for kids warning!)

This one is safer.

There must be something about Luther and rap…

Its Halloween Time

Here is an interesting article from the WSJ on Halloween.

This is one of those holidays that has blown up, or the marketing machine and a willing public has gone along. As a kid it was at best a couple of hours. I’m sure there were, but I don’t remember adults getting costumed and partying. Now its almost worst than New Year’s eve. You can’t admit that you don’t have an Eve to go with your Adam costume or that its all a bit silly for anyone over 10…12?

But there is another side to Halloween. Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints is high enough on the Christian calendar that the altar cloths go white. That places it on the same level as Christmas and Easter by the way! As a Lutheran it is also near what we celebrate as reformation day (when Luther nailed the 95 theses to that Wittenberg door). One of the results of the reformation shouldn’t have been the eclipse of All Saints, but a larger view as in the Protestant mind we can safely claim more saints.

Is Halloween the secular celebration of having outgrown all such superstition as devils and saints and God…or is it the collective whistling past the graveyard of a culture that can’t talk about such things or doesn’t want to be forced to? Can Halloween be a bridge to less silly things, or is that just selling out to the culture?

Pastor’s hate weddings…

I sat on this one for a few days because I know what I’m going to say will be snotty, snippy, catty or just bad.

Here is the link to the open letter/article by a Viv Groskop in the UK Guardian. Her former Vicar (Anglican Pastor) is leaving the Anglican Church for Rome, and she wishes him God-speed. (I’ve block-quoted the entire thing at the bottom because I don’t know how long the link will work.)

Here is her money quote…

I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced…I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church…That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?

What Mrs. Groskop wants is a religious social club. I can recommend one, the masons. They are usually a fine and upstanding group that does good things. They have some rituals, especially at funerals. They like to get together and support each other business wise. The masons are everything that Ms. Groskop wants. What they are not is the church of Jesus Christ whose founder said things like: everyone who has, more will be given, but the one who has nothing, even that will be taken away (Luke 19:26), and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:38), and destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). Jesus was an all or nothing kinda guy who didn’t take to kindly to pious ritualistic religion.

Now, you can say that her Vicar seems to have been a little overbearing. Maybe a two word phrase rhyming with lompus lass might be in order. But he told the truth. Ultimately we are all asked to answer the question Jesus put to everyone – “who do you say that I am?” If you are going to say Lord, can you at the same time say, but I don’t want to see you except for that cute Christmas Eve fire service and for a blessing, excuse me a wedding or two or three…

On our wedding day we virtually ran back down the aisle the second the ceremony ended. “I thought you were going to trip up, you were in a such a hurry,” I remember one guest saying. Why the rush? Because it wasn’t really a wedding at all, but a blessing – and throughout the ceremony the vicar had not let us forget it.

My husband had been married before and, in the Church of England, remarriage is at the vicar’s discretion. Our vicar had decided against it. Throughout the ceremony he referred repeatedly and pointedly to “new beginnings” as opposed to just “beginnings”. He insisted that there be no exchange of rings, because we were, technically, already man and wife. (We went to a registry office five days earlier.) I spent most of the ceremony fiddling with my headdress because I had been told that I shouldn’t be wearing a veil (too bridal for a blessing). It was only at the last minute that the vicar relented and allowed my father to walk me down the aisle. And did I mention that it was not a beginning but a new beginning? I can still remember seeing, out of the corner of my eye, friends and family in the congregation cringing.

It did not come as a huge shock, then, to discover this week that the same vicar who married us is now seeking to defect wholesale – with his parish – to Rome. Father Stephen Bould of St Peter on the East Cliff in Folkestone may be the first to leave the Church of England following Pope Benedict XVI’s offer of “safe harbour” to disaffected Anglicans.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. In the 10 years since I married – in Bould’s previous parish in Somerset, where I grew up – I too have become disaffected by the church. But I’m not exactly rushing headlong to Rome. Instead, I’m more likely to consider signing up for a meditation course. Which is, I think, sad, but fairly typical of people like me.

I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced.

Around the time I got married I convinced myself that the Church of England’s stance on remarriage was impressive: I told myself that I approved of the fact that my husband’s first marriage wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet; that the church had more respect for marriage than to pretend it doesn’t matter how many times you do it. But over time I’ve changed my mind.

Ten years on I’m disillusioned for the opposite reasons to the angry Anglicans. I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church. It’s not as if you’d ever be turned away from a service, but there is a clear message on high days and holidays. Always the hopeful raised eyebrow: are you coming back on a regular basis or not? How serious are you? In today’s Christian Britain you are either atheist or God Squad. There’s no inbetween.

Those, like Bould, who look to Rome would say this is right. That if you want to marry in our church, you follow our rules. That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?

Perhaps if more take the road to Rome it will help. Anyone who wants a doggedly principled stance towards the Christian faith knows where to go. But while parish priests bicker about who is more biblically correct, they should beware. A whole new generation is heading to the nearest yoga class.

Bibles everywhere, but no hearing of the Word

Its a hobgoblin of mine, biblical translations. I can’t just let it go. I suppose it comes from when I started reading the scriptures. My confirmation was still done in KJV. (My brother two years later had the NIV). My first bible was actually a gold tone Good News Translation. Most my life I used an NIV. In seminary we used the Greek/Hebrew texts themselves.

This news article talks about today’s proliferation of English versions. There is a bible for every niche, but sometimes is seems like a tower of Babel instead of the Word. It is almost enough to make one envy Islam with its insistence upon Arabic as the only language of the Koran…almost.

I really think it comes down to a couple of simple things. 1) Are you willing to put the time, effort and trust into a good pastor and congregation? If you say no, then you need to learn Greek and Hebrew. Sometimes you just need to go back to the original. If you say yes, find a good minister and progress on to using English. 2) Are you a history buff, theology fan or just enjoy $10 words? If you are, pick up the KJV, NKJV or the ESV. These versions are best an maintaining historical continuity and they don’t back away from using the big words. (NKJV is the KJV with minor grammar updates, think ye becoming you.) 3) If you are none of those things, or if you are a novel reader, go get the NLT. The New Living Translation does the best job I’ve seen at making the Bible very readable and understandable. In the narrative sections (the psalms this way lack a certain aesthetic), for me it reads 2x-3x as fast without hurting understanding. The words just don’t get in the way of reading. 4) Make a commitment to that translation. Read it, learn it, and inwardly digest it. This is where a couple generations use the NIV. If you use the NIV, stick with it. If you don’t read it, try the NLT.

And please don’t get any hierarchy of translations out of this. When you leave the Greek/Hebrew, it really is more about what you will actually read and your personality. If you know Greek or the historical theology, the ESV is wonderful, you can see the original grammar and know what is being used. But that comes at the expense of English style.

As far as the tower of Babel complaint – I take it a bit more as nostalgia or longing for a lost or never seen wholeness. Were things perfect when everyone used the KJV? Like my hobgoblin about translations, everyone using the same is an authoritarians hobgoblin. We have to wait for the last day for that wholeness.

The Gospel according to Private Ryan


Full Text

Text: Luke 18:1-17

Most things have a normal curve outcome – i.e. lots of “c’s”, a few “A’s” and a few failures. As I was writing and practicing delivery, I knew this sermon was inverted – all or nothing.

Here is why it could strike out: 1) reference to child sexual abuse, 2) talking about how to be a disciple/holiness, 3) the major image being a secular motion picture, 4) continuing or heavily referencing the previous week’s gospel (the context is critical), 5) a heavy theological concept at the end (absolution coming ‘extra nos’ or outside of ourselves), 6) an analogy that if I took it out of the context of the image would be gross work’s righteousness, 7) a different outline or format than I typically use and 8) a general high level of emotional pitch throughout.

It was risk piled on risk. (Ok Holy Spirit, better show up for this one.) I was pondering right up until Sunday Morning if I had the guts to deliver it.

Links – Transparency, Church Finance and being in the loop

A few quick links.

Synagogues and churches are quite different, and not just in their view of the that guy from Nazareth. This talks about how they are financed.

And here is an article on probably the major line item in each of those church budgets, the rabbi/minister. I could have a few gripes, but transparency is a virtue.

Gordon Atkinson on the dangers of the sermon to your soul.

And a profound piece of wisdom that should probably be given to every graduate or heroically ambitious person in your life.

Blogs, Advertising & The Word

This post by Fuller Seminary Professor Kirk brings up a topic dear to my heart – use of internet media in church environments.

I’ve gone back and forth on this, recently deciding that it is more important to be true to the media even if people might misunderstand. Here is what I mean by that. Blogging and the internet as a media are about experimentation, dialog and thinking process. It is not that you don’t state thoughts, but that you have to be able to say, oops or I was wrong there. The church supposedly is a place for repentance (and it is), but having a pastor potentially say oops in a public space and under a church banner is something that is still shocking. But as I said, I’ve landed on the side of being more open.

Here is why – I think it is more true to what both the church and the Word should be. The commands about the Word are to talk about it when you lie down and when you get up, when you walk along the road and when you rest at home. (Deut 6:7). That is what is noticeably missing from many American Christian’s lives. They firmly believe the authority of the scriptures which then go unread, unreflected and not talked about in their lives. The Word of God is a risky thing. It asks us to do stuff, stuff we probably would rather not. It is uncontrollable. But you know the Word when you hear it. It is self-authenticating. In the same manner the church is really called to be the community of people gathered by that Word who live by that Word. The church is an active servant here. It will get its rest later. When in action, you can’t help but err. The church is a place of repentance and absolution. This media is somewhat unique in exhibiting the best of Christian life: Reflective, word-y, active, messy, reaching, repenting, absolving. We may not “get it” right now, but it can be a real gift. It gives communities a chance to live in front of others they might not otherwise talk too.

But I do have to add something. Right now, it probably does mean professional suicide as Prof Kirk blogs. (That is probably not a good thing to admit at budget time. I can hear the congregation already – you mean we are stuck with him!) I’m sure there are things that I’ve posted that would easily exclude me from any call process, and the answer that oops, doesn’t go over well in those meetings. In a smart world a call committee would look at the larger picture, understand the media and realize they have a fuller picture. In the world we live in the more person with ‘less out there’ just has less reason to exclude them. Before really opening up online, any religious organization leader needs to decide on the depth of the call to a place.

Biblical Personification – Spirits of the air

There are biblical verses that confound moderns – try Eph 6:12 or Eph 2:2.

The Bible consistently affirms there is more to creation than we can see. While it is most easy to understand the Bible as saying there are real spiritual entities (angels/demons) that influence the stuff we see, that is probably not the only valid way to interpret the verses. (The Nicene Creed confesses belief in the Father Almighty…maker of all things visible and invisible – so you can see it there also.)

A simple belief or confession in angels/demons runs smack against Occam’s Razor or the old jokes about angels on the head of a pin. And we should be clear that these are the approved and controlling beliefs of the age. If I can’t see, smell, touch, taste or hear something (i.e. put it on a scientific bench) it’s not there. That type of belief is also why (although all opinion polls would refute this), religious people always caricatured as a superstitious lot. (Why I say polls refute that is because they always find secular people believe it ghosts, ET, the evil eye and such at far greater rates than believing Christians.)

Read this article about the Facebook formula for what/who gets on your Facebook news page. The same thing could be said about Google’s search formula. And in a larger reach the collective wisdom about what is news to be covered and what isn’t. It used to be just the NY Times editor’s board. Today it is a little larger. (Men in Black spoofed this in a funny way with “J” always reading the Weekly World News as the best reporting on the planet.) You can get carried away by paranoia and conspiracy, but that is not the gospel response. It would seem to me that you could talk about these things like the facebook algorithm as “the spirits of the air”. These are things with little corporeal existence, and yet they clearly have influence over our lives. If Google’s formula doesn’t deliver links we probably don’t know it today. I wonder how many husband’s and wife’s are strangers to each other on facebook? And then which relationships are more real, the marriage or the “friends”?

Although not the easiest or most child-like way to read the Bible, it would seem to be valid that when the Bible speaks of ‘Spirits of the Air’ to understand this a those unseen agreements and agents that influence the way we live like the Facebook algorithm. Christian freedom is the freedom not to be afraid and paranoid of these things, but to live an authentic and faithful life in full knowledge of them. God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:7).

Congregational Meeting

This file is the slides from the pastoral portion of the congregational meeting. We had some good discussion around the these. We also accepted a slate of candidates for the offices in the church next and talked about the upcoming budget.

If you were unable to attend by have any questions, you know where to reach me.

Congregational Update Oct 2010