Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Pushin' 40

My eldest brother has a saying, "Life only gets better as you get older...as long as you've got your health." As I am nearing the end of my 30s (I am 38, will turn 39 in September), I have been spending time reflecting on my life and have realized that it is true: my life has indeed gotten better as I've gotten older.

For starters, this morning I realized that I am stronger now than I was at 24. I can bench press 180 lbs, do more pushups (I do 50 every day), and apart from my allergies, I am seldom sick. I am more organized, my apartment is picked up and clean, I can work until my eyes burn from tiredness, and my brain seems to always be thinking of new ways of doing old things.

But then- there is the down side. I have more gas.. heck, I have gas all the time. My body feels the pangs of stress, I have more responsibility (yes, single guys can still have responsibility) and tend to worry more. My love life hasn't been as great as I'd like (am coming off a very long term relationship although we're still talking and who knows what might happen next between us) and my circle of friends is smaller than I wish it was.

Given the ups and downs of life- I am thrilled to be doing what I enjoy and have felt is my life-long calling. I have great health, am somewhat financially stable (except when Macy's has one of its huge sales), and my outlook on life is very optimistic.

Why am I writing all these things here? Two weeks ago I purchased a new Bible. And, found a new translation (the new living translation) that has me reading the Bible again like I was 14 years old. Old texts have come alive for me and new ones are just waiting to be rediscovered. In many ways, I feel young again. I feel like the Bible was written especially for me. I am tasteing what I first experienced in my faith: a virgin faith. A faith that was untarnished by reason and doubt. A faith that believed anything was possible. A faith that met God every morning and fell asleep to each night.

In spite of the fact I am getting older, my soul, fueled by a renewed faith, continues to feel young and alive. In this way, I have discovered that God has created one part of my body that, if well maintained, doesn't get old, saturated, stressed, or flatulant. As Isaiah reminds me: "God gives power to those who are tired and worn out; God offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But they who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." (Is. 40:29-31)

So turning 40 won't be such a big deal after all... as long as my soul is young and my faith is invigorating.. growing older will be a wonderful blessing.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Old Men's Musings

In my youth, I remember hearing someone say, "When it comes to theologians, most of them begin to lose their minds in their old age. This is why most of their wisdom is forgotten once they have already made their theological declarations in their younger days." Or something like that. I thought of this while I began reading former Episcopal Bishop of Newark (New Jersey) John Spong in his new book, "A New Christianity for a New World." While it would be a tough argument to assume Spong has written stellar theology in his younger days, anyone reading his new book will be shocked beyond understanding.

Resisting the temptation to burn his book reading up to the second chapter, I have begun to see the points to his positions more clearly. He writes radically and believes the only hope for Christianity's survival is the deconstruction and ultimate demise of the theism of God and Jesus, the Christ. His arguments remind me of a comparitive religion major arguing against the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian faith and therefore, is less relevant than one might assume.

Understanding that the Judeo-Christian faith really is not as unique as the faith tradition of my youth, I still am not ready to throw the "baby out with the bathwater." However, my thoughts on Spong, his book, and how Christianity has indeed evolved (and will need to continue evolving, if it wants to make as great an impact on the 21st Century as it did on the 20th) have been playing over in my mind since I began this book on Tuesday. I must admit that I have found myself reading less and daydreaming more.

Spong isn't the only person who is contemplating a new face of Christianity for post-modern Christians. Articles in the New York Times, Soujorners, New Century, and Beliefnet all explain the shift in ministry and practice in this new century. Many of the thoughts and practices of how Christianity needs to change are completely new- and the oldtimers of modern Christian dogma are having a tough time keeping up or accepting new visions and new interpretations. It is somewhat like the Star Trek movie in with Capt Kirk was having a tough time accepting the Romulans into the Federation. He said something like, "My generation cannot accept new ways of doing diplomacy, I am a dying breed. I still can't bring myself to trust them." In much the same way, older pastors are having a tough time changing to meet the new spiritual interpretations of a generation of men and women who grew up with religious pluralism and continually asked, "So what?"

"So what," is a good question to ask Spong. "Why are you saying this?" Spong believes that Christianity's theism is in its death throes and Spong believes that if Christianity is to survive, it needs to address its tribal interpretations of the God of the Old Testament, its dependency on the Bible as the sole authority from which God speaks, and the theology surrounding Jesus as a mythical god. He wants us, yes, you and me, to answer why we believe what we believe. And, his conclusion follows that since our beliefs are so technical and so "off the mark", we had better change our message if we want to have an impact on the world.

I think Spong is asking the right questions. Why do I believe what I believe? And, why is it important? And, how can this message reach out to a new generation that thinks Christianity is lame?

I am not finished reading the book- I am not even close. However, faith being like a muscle (it only gets bigger when its used), I am already having to flex it while reading Spong. Have you read this book? Will you read it? I believe his thoughts reflect the thoughts of thousands who are struggling with the issues he raises- read Spong and you'll get in the minds of countless men and women who have forsaken the faith of their youth for feel good philosophies, spiritualism, as well as an articulated response to the fundamentalist regimes of religious tyranny.

I agree with Spong that Christianity does need to change- both in its message and its delivery. What that change will look like will probably not be identifyable for another generation. However, unless we can make our faith relevant for this generation, Christianity in America may someday look like the Christianity in Spain or London. It'll have lost its impact, the pews will be empty, and many people will have missed the joy of knowing God.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Okay, so this is my log entry into the world of blogging. I prolly oughta define what this site is about and what I hope to do with it. Chiefly, I want a place to jot down my thoughts, discuss them, and invite others to do the same.

About me: I am a left-leaning, liberal evangelical United Church of Christ associate pastor serving a congregational church in New York City. You can visit the church website at www.bwayucc.org. I am also a social justice advocate, tree-hugger, and peace activist. I am also, and here is the fun part, a fabulous tobacco chewing native Oklahoman. So, I have this unusual but tremendously optimistic outlook on life, the Kingdom of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit to do radical and wonderful things.

Okay, so I will end it here. Check back soon for updates and thoughts as they occur.