Thursday, August 31, 2006

Positive Press on Iraq is Aim of US Contract

At first I thought this was an article-spoof from The Onion, the satire laden newspaper. Instead, the article is very real. The United States military is looking for a company that will only relay positive news regarding the harsh war in Iraq. It seems our government would prefer to censor the public with a positive spin rather than a more realistic look as to the realities of war.

I guess when it comes to soldiers getting killed, civil war breaking out, and the unpopularity of our presence in Iraq by everyone else, there comes a time when better news is better than bad news. I guess it should not be considered a coincidence that the upcoming elections and the reality that many people are sick of the Republican led White House, Congress, and Senate should play into the pursuit of a better spin on war. The Republicans stand to lose many seats indeed.

So what better way to mislead us (more than we have already been misled) than to cook the news and serve it sweeter. Look for these upcoming headlines in your local newspaper soon:

War is Rosey: Sunnis and Shi'ites are Exchanging Hand Grenades for Flowers

Blood-bath? More like Bubble-bath. Local pools are now laden with bubbles and suds as children giggle through the war.

Al Qaeda Misunderstood, They Actually Think like We Do (okay, so this may have double meanings)

Disney to Open Theme Park in Baghdad; Everyone Cheers!

Reimagining and Deconstructing

Let me give you a conundrum:

A widowed 75 year old woman meets a spry 73 year old widowed man in church and fall in love. Both seeking companionship both emotional and physical, decide to get married. However, since both have been living independantly and receiving their Social Security checks to pay their bills, they realize that if they got married one would lose his or her Social Security altogether. Given the reality that one of the two may not live as long as they would like, where would they be once they were widowed again? And with the cost of utilities increasing exponentially, gas prices unstable, and the cost of living skyrocketing, what should they do?

If they stay together and don't get married, according to their church and tradition, they are living in sin? If they get married, the financial hardships they'll create for themselves (assuming both are not independenly wealthy) may very well create a huge financially stress-laden burden. They can't do that either. What should they do?

Former Bishop John Spong writes about such conundrums in one of his books entitled, 'Living in Sin?' In it, he talks about the need to reimagine our traditions when necessity calls for it (like an aging and healthier population). Next month at church, we are beginning a month-long book study at a church member's house. We will be discussing this book and other perceived social taboos that demand a modern re-imagining.

Two members of our church were in the above example. Do you know what they did? They got married but sought no marriage license, and thereby their marriage is not recognized by the State. They are married in the eyes of their faith community, just not with the State. Is what they did dishonest? Not hardly. They made a compromise that addressed their faith as well as speaking to their economic condition.

I actually know many elderly couples who have done the same thing. Sometimes you have to do, what you have to do with the caveat that they find a way to honor their God and their faith in the process. What a joy it is for me to serve in a parish where people are open-minded, and spiritually and intellectually curious enough to find solutions to their problems without compromising their integrity.

Laughing Out Loud

Yesterday, I somewhat played hooky. I left work a couple of hours early and went to see the matinee showing of Another Gay Movie. The movie is very much like American Pie and Scary Movie rolled into one. The movie spoofs both gay culture and gay themed movies such as Trick (one of my favs), Queer as Folk, The Lost Language of Cranes, Brokeback Mountain, and the Broken Hearts Club.

Besides the spoofing, it is riotously funny. I was laughing so hard that my mouth was open, tears were streaming down my face, I was leaned over on my side, and yet, unable to make a sound (other than gasping for air!). Everyone in the theatre was laughing like that too- which made for an unembarrassingly wonderful time. Now mind you, the acting left something to be desired (if at all) but the jokes were what made the movie so much fun. I can't think of another movie like that.

Right now the movie is only playing in LA, NYC, and Philly. But the movie will be opening in major metropolitan areas soon (with the obvious exception of the entire state of Oklahoma). If you don't mind gay themed movies (and a little bit of funny raunch thrown in), then you're sure to have a wildly good time watching this movie.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Favorite Sign

This was a gift from a church member. It is one of my favorite things I put in the parsonage.

More Pictures

More Pictures

More Pictures

Pictures of NJ

I have spoken with several of my family and friends and many have asked when am I "ever gonna post some pictures of where I am"? Well, I finally took some pictures of my home. I'll post a few of them back to back.

Later, I will post some pics of the church and post them here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Things that Shock our Sensibilities

Today, the state of California is waiting to hear if Gov. Schwarzenegger is going to sign a bill allowing the state prisons systems to distribute condoms by health care agencies in its state prisons. At present, it is illegal for prisons to distribute or for innmates to have in their possession condoms. The exceptions are those who live in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, Vermont and Philadelphia.

As you might imagine, such a reality is shocking. Most prison officials recognize that while drug use, sexual activity, and tattooing are illegal in the prison system, most admit that all three happen with regularity. And, since many prisoners enter into prison already infected with various sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV, the likihood of transmission is exceedingly high.

It is estimated that of those who are incarcerated, the HIV infection rate and Hepatitis C are 8-10 times higher than the general population outside of prisons. This is an alarming rate especially when you consider that there is no way for an inmate to prevent themselves from being infected during sexual activity. Admittedly, rapists probably wouldn't use a condom if there was one but not all sexual activity in prisons is violent.

You can read a report about this by going here.

Given our current desire to lock up just about anyone from just about any offense, we as a soceity need to take greater responsibility when we create such vast communities of offenders. We need to get past the notion that if we don't provide condoms, then inmates won't have sex. And if they do, then any disease they get is to their blame. To do otherwise is criminal in my opinion. This is a serious issue and for the church to remain silent is sinful.

It's high time we in the church realize that neglecting the poor, imprisoned, and widowed is a moral failure and a sin. And, not only ought we to recognize our sin, but we should find solutions to the problems we create.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Validating Another's Faith Journey

A few days ago, a friend wrote an interesting blog article about the need, from time to time, to deconstruct our thinking to ensure we're being critical enough of who we are and who we are becoming. I wrote a reply to his post. Afterwards, I haven't been able to get his words out of my head as I have been mulling over how deconstruction is such a vital exercise in a maturing faith.

And then, while still thinking of the need for deconstruction, I began to read Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities. Richard Valantasis, the professor of New Testament and Christian Origins as the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO, writes an interesting and easy to read book about the history of Gnosticism and the various theologies it represented. He also writes about certain Christian sects that were ultimately silenced by the 4th Century Church for ideas and teachings considered inconsistent with Christian theology. What makes Valantasis' book so interesting to me is how his enthusiasm and keen readability offers the reader a different perspective on Christianity than has been written in other Gnostic textbooks.

In this work, he shows how the early Christian church actually wasn't as single-minded as one might imagine. It was full of different ideas and different faith journeys that were at one time allowed to co-exist with other ideas. It wasn't until Constantine and the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. that ultimately invalidated expressions of the faith that those in attendance found either too threatening or very much unlike their own faith journeys. Similar to Irenaeus' assault on Gnosticism in the Second Century, the Council of Nicea took anti-gnostic sentiment a step further and those different ideas were silenced and adherents to the invalidated faith journeys were excommunited and branded heretics. Valantasis expresses some sorrow that so many expressions of the faith journey have been silenced.

Marcus Borg writes a brilliant introduction to the book and explains his own consternation with the vanished Christianities. Summing up the reality that there have been many ways to be a Christian from the earliest times of Christianity, he implies the need to engage in deconstruction in order to examine the motives of those with the religious power to silence those without it.

But he also asks some very intriguing questions. "Are there some ways of being a Christian that aren't really Christian? To put that differently," he asks, "is every group that claims the name 'Christian' authentically Christian?"

Borg makes a good point: Just because someone is on a faith journey doesn't necessarily mean that journey is Christian. And more to the point, within our own Christianity, how much Jesus is too little, not enough, or too much (if there is such a position). When it comes to feretting out the differences, many progressive religious thinkers use the Augustinian addage, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things charity."

But what exactly are the essentials in our faith tradition and journey that must be adhered to and what is our responsibility in validating another person's faith journey? I face this question in my pastorate when internally I think that within a particular faith community, there is an expectation that we agree on certain issues. But outside of my faith community, how am I empowered to validate or invalidate another person's faith journey?

Last night, I met with my Christian Education Committee as we are scheduling the Fall season of religious education, faith studies, social engagements, and church growth (yes, it is a committee with many responsibilities). One person had asked how it is we can be like the church in the next town that grew from 100 to 500 people in just a year? I responded that in order to become a church like that, we would have to change some of our expectations of our members. Being congregationalists, such a move might be an anethema to our faith tradition of personal and spiritual direction. I also explained that, if we want to 'require certain things of our members' (like outreach, specific monetary contributions, and accountability) we will have to engage our members in a way that at times leads with greater certainty than what we now engage with. To be successful in this pursuit, we would have to begin the arduous task of deconstructing why we do the things we do; but we must be cautious with the results of our deconstruction. And we must think carefully about our visions and re-envisonings.

And, as I told the Christian Ed Committee, many in the church have begun the task of beginning that very conversation. Our Good News Team is already in the process of such a deconstruction. I believe we are in the processes of rethinking and understanding why we do what we do. And, we hope to find some consensus along the way. How can we reach out to others if we haven't come to a concensus of who we all are.

All of these incidents, my book reading, the conversation with a friend, and the meeting with the Religious Education Committee are directing my thoughts about 'becoming' as well as 'who we already are' in terms of faith, faith journeys, and expectation. It is amazing to me how such conversations lend themselves to other ones--and how God's Spirit seems to be awakening in each of us the desire to construct and deconstruct our faith journeys. Honestly, it is a bit scary but certainly necessary if we are to discover within ourselves if and how we can be the children of God that God has created us to become.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ain't Done Nuthin'

I returned from my vacation this evening after spending 10 days of doing nothing at all. For 10 days, I slept late and stayed out late. I visited with family and friends. I ate the best barbeque I've ever eaten- twice! And, I had infrequent access to the internet which meant I checked my email and work related stuff exactly two times. I think this must've been my best vacation ever of not doing a dang thing.

Well, I guess I did do things- but it was all fun things. Here are some of the highlights:

I enjoyed day after day visiting and catching up with fun gossip with my mother (doing this is one of our favorite pasttimes).

I spent quality time yucking it up and talking all-things-god with my eldest brother, my sister-in-law, and my nephew.

I got a chance to visit and get caught up with my middle brother twice. He's been away and we hadn't seen each other face to face in a couple of years.

I had dinner with my friend Russel and his wife in their new house and watched a groovy movie. Afterwards we talked life and god-talk way into the evening.

I ate barbeque at Earl's Barbeque in Bricktown AND my eldest brother served me the best BBQ ribs I've ever eaten (even better than Earl's!).

My friend John came up from Dallas and we had an afternoon to get reaquainted (he and I went to Earl's).

I had a 'power lunch' with a pastoral colleague, Todd, who has been known more to me as a friend's brother but who was so incredibly facinating and insightful that I will be looking forward to his friendship too.

And I danced away the evening 5 times and met some hilarious and kookie new friends.

So, when I say I 'done nuthin', I guess I mean to say all I did was fun stuff I wanted to do and nothing I didn't want to do. Yeah, that sounds much better.


A friend of mine told this joke over on his blog. Get on over there and have a looksee.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Been on Vacation

Sorry I didn't say anything earlier; I guess my vacation excitement made me forget I even had a blog online. ;) Heck, I even forgot to submit a vacation stoppage for my mail at home. I can only imagine how much mail is stuffed into my mailbox at home.

Anyways, I'll be home late Thursday night and will probably post something over the weekend.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Best of Craigslist

Craigslist is an internet bulletin board (think early 1990's) that has everything you might want to sell or buy. If you want to rent an apartment, sell a car, buy a tv, or find a date for Saturday night. And, it also has something called, The Best of Craigslist. The Best of Craigslist are posts nominated by readers as being either freakishly weird or down-right funny. Whenever I am looking for a good laugh for the day, I read these listings.

Here is something funny I found today about a father who learned that everything he thought about his 'perfect little family' was in reality bogus and dysfunctional. This thread is his enlightened response to such a revelation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How much do I miss NYC?

Read this sermon and you'll know.

Judson Memorial Church has a new pastor, the Rev. Donna Schaper. Judson's former pastor, the Rev. Dr. Peter Laarman is now the executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting. You can read some of his blog posts over at Huffington by going here. I used to attend Judson Church prior to my ordination and subsequent position at Broadway UCC. I loved the social justice emphasis in sermons and personal discussion. And, I loved the fact that Judson participated in real gutsy ministry. Their needle exchange program is but one example.

Now Judson has a new pastor. Rev. Schaper has an incredible reputation. She is both gutsy and well grounded. And, from what I hear, she's one fun lady to be around. I haven't met her yet or heard her preach. But I am still on the Judson mailing list and her sermons are often included in their monthly newsletter. You can also read her sermons online.

If you want to read a gutsy sermon on love, marriage, and gay equality, follow this link. She is a married heterosexual and she is one heck of an ally if there ever was one to have.

That Settles It

I have to get a television at the office.

Beginning next month, Ellen and Oprah will be on at the same time!! Grr....! I hate it when tv producers do crap like this, they put on two popular shows that the viewers like for different reasons and force the viewers to choose one or the other.

And, I am a huge Ellen fan. But I also like Oprah too.

Remember when Ellen and Wayne Brady were on at the same time? I was furious! I think I wore out my tv switching back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I am thinking I ought to get one of those "picture within a picture" televisions and I can watch both at the same time. Actually I found a 32" LCD tv for about $650 that is tempting me beyond what I am able to withstand (I know, God promised that wouldn't happen- but I am here to tell you that I am as close to being tempted and buying that tv as much as I am when notebook computers went from costing $1200 to under $500.

Anyways, I need a tv at work. I think I can find a small 13" or 14" tv for sale on Craigslist. Or, maybe I could purchase one of those tv cards for my computer at work. I have a nice 17" LCD screen there.

As a result of this conundrum, I am now convinced of two things:
1. That t.v. producers' desire for competition and ratings make them basically evil.
2. That t.v. producers and American consumerism have made an unholy pact to get American consumers to buy, buy, buy!!


Is Ministry Right for You?

The United Church of Christ has a wonderful resource for anyone looking into the possibility that God may be calling them to ministry. The website is called, Ask the Question. It is a website full of thoughtful questions, personal testimony, and "What do I do now?" next steps. Even if you are a minister or have no desire whatsoever to be one, this is a good place to visit. Maybe you know someone who could be helped by this resource.