Tuesday, April 15, 2014

book review - Theology from Exile: The Year of Matthew, Commentary on the Revised Comon Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity

I've got a number of promised book reviews to get up here on my blog... and here is one.

Theology in Exile: The Year of Matthew is volume 2 of a series of commentaries on the lectionary readings.  Let me make a few disclaimers.  I preach from the Revised Common Lectionary almost every week.  For those who are unfamiliar with the lectionary, it is a selection of scripture readings including a gospel reading, epistle, psalm, and history (usually but not always from the Hebrew Scriptures) for every Sunday in the church year over a three year cycle.  The idea is that through that three year cycle all of the major themes of the Bible are lifted up.  The downside of using a lectionary is that there are some passages that are never read in worship.  The upside is that the lectionary pushes the preacher to consider passages which may be ignored because they are difficult or challenging to the preacher's theology.  It also does push the preaching in a certain arc.

some of my commentaries
I also love commentaries.  I understand that the books in the Bible were written centuries ago in situations radically different from the world in which I live.  I need to understand that setting to address those scriptures in a meaningful way.  I also know that men and women of great wisdom and deep commitment have spent centuries wrestling with the meaning of those words and applying them to their lives.  A wise preacher tries to listen for their experiences and advise.  So, I have lots of commentaries.  Some are on individual books, others are series, and I have one series that addresses the weekly lectionary readings.  Some of aimed at scholarly work while others are directed at preaching.  I am always looking for another to add to my collection.  When this one became available for free for review.  I jumped on it.

The author, Sea Raven, is an associate at the Westar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar) and is part of the Unitarian Universalist tradition.  Her blog is found at  http://www.gaiarising.org

I was looking forward to getting a more liberal perspective as the vast majority of my commentaries reflect a mainline view.  That you get and it is very helpful.  She poses 4 questions that permeate the series and which I find very helpful...
  1. 1)  What is the nature of God? Violent or non-violent?
  2. 2)  What is the nature of Jesus’s message? Inclusive or exclusive?
  3. 3)  What is faith? Literal belief, or trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-
    compassion?
  4. 4)  What is deliverance? Salvation from hell or liberation from injustice?
She does choose a format that I find less than helpful though.  Rather than address the 4 lections for the week individually as is done in the excellent series Feasting on the Word, she treats the readings together, focusing on the common themes which presumably underscore the choices made by those picking the passages.  She does focus more on the gospel readings but I wish she had either just excluded any reference to the other passages or addressed them all separately.

All in all, I found the volume a helpful addition and it will be used when I come around to year two of the lectionary (beginning in Advent of  2014).

Disclosure of material connection:  I received this book for free from the author or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review and the views expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16CFR part 255.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Website... FINALLY!

I finally got the new website up for Cambridge Drive Church.  Constructing a website is an interesting exercise.  I tend to be verbal rather than visual so I would write way too many words and have too few images... which is exactly the opposite of what a website should have.  And then, there is the huge question of what to include in a website.

One of the big questions was whether or not to include a "We Believe" page.  Many/most church pages have them and I have to admit that it is one of the first places I go when I'm looking at a church website.  We did include one but I was hesitant for a bunch of reasons.  Often churches include these statements as a litmus test for members and for staff.    In our Baptist tradition that is a little tricky.  Soul liberty made it difficult to tell someone else what he or she should or should not believe.  Freedom of the Bible militated against someone saying this is what the Bible officially says or does not say.  These two thoughts were the foundation of early Baptist discomfort with creeds.  At the same time, early Baptists did write confessions which were consensus documents that essentially said, these are the areas about which this group of Baptists in this time and place has some consensus.  A few years ago one of our adult studies had the classes write a confession.  My favorite one began, "All confessions of faith must be written in pencil."  That is to say that while there are certainly some pieces that will not change, others will and the confession must be held lightly.  I can't imagine there is much that I could write that every member of the church would agree with 100%.  Indeed, our church board went around a good bit regarding the content of that page.  I'm satisfied with it... but realize it is written in pencil and very well may change at some point.

The second page I visit on church websites is the staff page.  Again I was hesitant to include one and again we did.  I didn't want to communicate the idea that the church is the staff.  We have volunteers who spend more time working on the church property than some of the paid staff and a significant percentage of members who volunteer in a variety of community ministries.   Then there was a real question of who to include even among paid staff and what order to put them on the page.  We have direct church staff - who we included on the page - and we have a nursery school with additional staff - we included only the director.  We ended up putting the staff in alphabetical order mainly because I didn't know how else to order them.  Each staff member wrote their own short bio.  It meant a slightly different voice on each but made it so I didn't have to worry about including something not wanted or leaving something out.

Graphics are tricky.  I wanted a clean style that was easy to follow and caught the viewers eyes.  We ended up with some unhappiness about some of the images.  They are there now but can be easily changed.

We were gifted with a new logo from Bill Kole at Digital Media Associates.  Isn't it wonderful!



FWIW, we used WIX to host our site.  Their software is very easy to use, there are lots of reasonably good templates, and the cost was OK.

Check out the page and let me know what you think... www.cambridgedrivechurch.org

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eternal Punishment and the local Megachurch

Two pieces came together for me this week that led to this post.  I'm working on a new website for our church, Cambridge Drive Community Church, and a female friend of mine informed me that she and her husband are now attending one of the nearby megachurches with a typical evangelical theology.

I went to that megachurch's website to check it out and found the ubiquitous "We Believe" page.  Included on that page was a statement that all non-believers are going to eternal punishment in hell.  I have to say that multiple times someone has said to me about that church, "I go there... but I don't believe what they believe."  I'm pretty sure that virtually nobody who attends there really believes what the statement of faith says they believe from the pastors and elders down to the newest members.   I know that is true of my friend and her husband.  Let me explain.

If one truly believes that all of their unsaved neighbors, friends, and family members are going to suffer eternal punishment, then their behavior better change.  They literally better be out there doing everything they can possibly be doing, 24 hours a day, to get those folk saved.  There is simply no activity more important than that.  The church ought to have no activities that are not aimed either at direct evangelism or at training their members to evangelize.  Anything else is a betrayal of the billions of people who are not saved.  Telling your members how to have a better marriage is a waste of time when other folk (or some of them) are facing eternal punishment.  Worrying about responsible financial stewardship is irresponsible when something so big is at stake.  If they really believe what they say they believe, then that would define their sole agenda in ministry and in the life of their members.  When your neighbor's house is burning down, you don't teach a lesson about how to have a better sex life, you dial 911.  When your neighbor is facing eternal punishment... you get it.

Or of course, they could actually believe that and not care... but that is not my experience of the folk who attend that church who I have met.  They are good people with compassion and commitment.  They care about the people in their lives and they care about their community.  They think they're supposed to believe their neighbors are going to hell so they pay lip service, but they really don't believe it or they would do something about it.

I guess there is a third possibility... they believe some people have done things that are so terrible that they deserve eternal punishment and they're willing to allow for some collateral damage.  Some relatively good folk will end up burning forever so the really bad ones get their just deserts.  This time they may say that is the case, but again, I don't really believe it.  To make John Doe burn in hell forever just so Hitler can be punished too seems a bit extreme and again, out of character for the folk I know.

Now there is an alternative.  I am a universalist.  Simply put, I believe everyone gets saved.  That is another discussion and it obviously raises some serious questions, but I will point to a short piece quoted from William Barclay's autobiography where he gives his reasons for being a "convinced universalist."   Likewise, I hold those views based on both theology and scripture and believe they are the proper understanding of salvation. 

We won't have a "We believe" page on our website, but if we did, it would say that we believe that God's love and grace ultimately overcome all and all people are welcomed into God's arms.  They'd never say so, but I think that is what the folk at my local megachurch think too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bass?

I'm a guitar player.  I started playing in 1964.  It is a significant part of my self-identity.  It is my avocation, my therapy, and my primary artistic expression.  There have been times in my life when my guitar playing represented a significant portion of our income.  I've played in lots of different bands in multiple styles from funk to pop to singer/songwriter to even a little jazz. 

For about two years, I've been playing bass in the church band.  In spite of the fact that a bass guitar is tuned like the four lowest strings of a guitar one octave lower (which makes it very easy for  guitar player to find all of the right notes on a bass) playing guitar does not a bass player make.  Lots of guitar players think that qualifies them as a bass player but in the end, they sound like a guitar player playing at the bass rather than a bass player.   The bass line requires a different musical vocabulary and needs to be conceptualized in a completely different way than a guitar part.

I knew that going in and worked very hard to actually learn to be a bass player rather than just playing at bass.  I think I've done a pretty good job at that.  Playing bass is fun.  The fact that we have a couple of great drummers to play with makes it even more fun.  And having a good bottom end is really important for the church band.  There are negatives though.  I miss playing guitar.  Playing bass has impacted my guitar technique in a negative way.  And because I have limited time to spend on playing anything, putting time on the bass takes away time from guitar.

About two months ago that led me to place an ad on Craigslist for a bass player for the church band.  That would allow me to move back to guitar.  It is a volunteer position so we've had trouble finding someone.  In the meantime I came across the 10 Commandments for Bass Players.

  1. Thou shalt not *%$* up the groove.  *%$* up the notes if thou must but not the groove
  2. Thou shalt not lust after the guitar player's part.  He keepeth the fun.  Thou keepest the groove.
  3. Be thou not swayed by a drummer with crappy time, for thou art the keeper of the beat.
  4. Be thou not led into temptation before the gig.  After is cool.
  5. Thou pushest thy luck with 5 strings. 6 is a mortal sin, for thou hast no business in the upper register.
  6. Thou shalt not thump with thy thumb nor honk with a pick when thy fingers are the way of truth.
  7. Thou shalt not fear whole notes for they can be the way and the light.
  8. Thou shalt leave the fancy #$@% to thy bandmates so they might wrestle with their own bad taste.
  9.  Thou shalt change they strings once a decade whether they need it or not.
  10. Thou shalt tune thy bass before each and every gig even though it was in tune when last thou  put it away.
A couple don't really apply unless for example the temptation referred to in #4 are the cookies next to the coffee pot.   1, 2, 3, 7, & 8 did remind me of how important the bass part really is... and how much fun I have playing bass.  So, I'm not looking as hard for a bass player.  Who knows maybe I am a guitar player and  a bass player...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

retirement

The American Baptist Churches, USA was one of the first denominations to found a retirement plan for its clergy.   In 1911 a number of Baptist leaders, including John D. Rockefeller contributed seed money to start a fund for the "better maintenance of the ministry" and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board was founded.  When I was ordained in 1978, the clear expectation was that every congregation in the ABC would contribute the equivalent of 16% of the pastor's salary & housing to a fully funded retirement account, death benefits, and disability insurance.  That meant that 13% of salary and housing went into a 403B account.  My salary was paltry in those days but thanks to the wonders of compound interest and the general upward trend of the stock market, I have a fairly healthy retirement account these days.  Last week, I received my annual report for that account along with a projection of what my retirement will look like in seven years.  At the same time we received my wife's report, which while significantly smaller than mine for a variety of reasons, makes a nice addition to mine.  I don't know what Social Security numbers are but after making a conservative guess, I felt quite confident about the future for my wife and me.  We won't be rich, but we will be OK and could even afford to stay in our home with a Central Coast sized mortgage payment.

Then I thought about my children... and I worried.  Neither of my adult children have begun retirement accounts and neither has a work situation that provides one.  My daughter is saddled with significant educational debt that precludes the possibility of saving for retirement even if she was foresighted enough to plan that far ahead.  My son's income is not adequate to provide for housing and food let alone for long term planning.  Clearly demographics will not allow Social Security to provide adequate retirement income for them unless there are significant changes made.  I worry for both of them and their families. 

So... dreaming of changes...  I'd like to see a restructuring of the way that college debt works, freeing an entire generation of those terrible burdens.  At the very least, it should be treated the same way as other debt.  At the very most, educational costs should be seen as a social investment in the future of our country.  After all, historically we have provided for free the amount of education required to be a productive member of society.  Today that includes either college or trade school following high school.  A high school education is simply inadequate these days.  Then, for social security... remove the cap.  Social Security is not a retirement plan.  An individual is not making contributions to an account from which they will draw.  It is a tax that funds an important safety net that currently is applied in the most regressive way possible.  And perhaps there should be a means test in receiving the benefits.  Those with income or assets beyond a certain level do not receive Social Security benefits...  Of course, there is the conservative solution for the problem - cut the benefits and push many seniors either into poverty or back into an anemic workforce which already penalizes those with the the least amount of skill or, as Dave Ramsey says, "economic value."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Justice?

We've been struggling with an interesting question in the Santa Ynez Valley that frankly, about which I don't quite know how to feel.

first some of the details...

Some time ago the Chumash people purchased a large tract of agricultural land (2.2 square miles) in the Santa Ynez Valley, near their reservation, and then proceeded to apply to annex the land to their reservation.  There is no question that the Chumash people lived here before Europeans arrived and while I think their cultural understanding of ownership of the land was very different then, it doesn't seem too far off base to say that they were the owners until the Spaniards confiscated it. 

Centuries passed and much has changed.  The Santa Ynez Chumash band has a small reservation in a very expensive part of the country... and a casino.  Annexing the land would move it into the Chumash Nation and remove it from the property tax rolls and from the zoning restrictions of the county.

The members of that small band own the casino and each individual member receives payments from it each year that today's local paper says are $600,000 annually. (I have heard smaller numbers from other sources the smallest being $100,000 per person, per year)

Building is highly regulated and controlled in this area for a variety of reasons, one being that water is a very precious and rare commodity.  Infrastructure in the area of that land is limited and would struggle to support a significant influx of new residents.

The Chumash say they want to build homes for tribal members.  Local residents fear a second casino.  In any case, if the land is annexed, the Chumash can do whatever they please with no say from anyone else.

The Chumash could own the land without annexing it and go through the normal permitting process to build the homes they want, keeping them on county tax rolls, and their members could easily afford to purchase the homes.  Indeed, many currently live off of the reservation.  The tribe also owns businesses and hotels outside of the reservation.

The federal annexation law requires the tribe to have an "immediate need" or "necessity" for housing or economic development.

It does not look to me as if there is any real immediate need or necessity involved but it feels as if maybe there is room to reimburse the Chumash for all that was taken from them.  On the other hand, they have benefited significantly by the development of the broader community and have incomes significantly above the rest of the community.  Is it just to allow them to skirt laws that the rest of the community must observe while at the same time increasing stressors on the infrastructure and the environment without sharing any of the costs.  I have to say that the thought of displacing the cattle feeding on those rolling hills and adding more houses, aimed at wealthy folk who can afford to live basically anywhere they want makes my heart ache.

And I am sure there are complexities I do not understand.

So what is just?  What is right?  What should I think about these possibilities a few miles down the road from me?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Zealot

Wow... it's been more than a month since I've posted...

I finished reading Reza Aslan's book Zealot a few days ago.  If you haven't heard of it, it is an attempt to place Jesus in an historical context and thus make him more understandable.  I have to say I have very mixed feelings about the book.

The pros - If we believe in the Incarnation, we have to see that Jesus was not only a man but a man in a very specific time and place.  We could argue over what that specificity has to do with God's self revelation, but in any case, we cannot divorce that revelation from that setting.  We cannot understand Jesus without placing him in his context and we cannot understand incarnation without understanding contextualization.  Aslan does a good job at explaining the social context in which Jesus found himself as well as the particular profusion of Judean self-styled messiahs, gathering followers and calling for the overthrow of Rome.  A thorough understanding of the setting is critical for understanding Jesus and his teaching.  Aslan helps make that possible.  He does the same to a lesser degree for Paul.

The negatives - Aslan aknowledges that Jesus does not quite fit the common models of his day for the messiah but still tries to pigeon hole him into those models, dismissing any possibilities of Jesus bringing anything really unique to the discussion.  He goes on to say essentially that Christianity as we know it is an invention of Paul that has very little to do with Jesus. 

Additionally, Aslan picks and chooses his scholarship to fit his presuppositions. For example, he refers to Jesus' parables as incomprehensible when scholars going back to Jeremias' seminal 1947 book The Parables of Jesus, says that the parables were stories that used everyday experiences to reinforce a single message to the audience in a way they would understand.

And of course, he writes not as a person of faith but as a scholar looking for a more accurate picture of the historical Jesus whom he distinguishes from the Christ of faith.  I think there is great value in this approach both for academia and for people of faith all the while knowing that for many Christians, such a differentiation is offensive.

So... my short review is that it is a worthwhile read but do not expect it to be a devotional book nor the best scholarship.  It is however a fairly easy read that will help to enlighten the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

grandparenting

It's been a while since I've posted an entry here... life has been full.

In October our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson moved in with us.  It has been a tricky adjustment.  We have 5 adults, an infant, and 3 cats in our medium sized condo.   There are the tensions and adjustments one would expect when a grown child and her family move back with the rents.  Add the clutter that comes with a baby and you get the picture.  All of that has been a more difficult adjustment for my spouse than for me, but it is what it is.  I can only guess what my daughter and son-in-law are feeling about all of it.

Well, here's the good side.  I get to see my grandson every day and directly experience the changes that most grandparents don't get to see.  I tell him daily that he is "my favorite person in the whole world," and I mean it.  He brings a sense of delight to my life that hasn't been there in a good while.  When I hold him, I see the future.  When he smiles I melt.  Life is good.

I've thought a lot about the differences between parenting and grandparenting.  Obviously there are some bits that are the same.  We all want the very best for Corwin.  We want him to be happy, healthy, and to find a path for his life that is full.   Still there is a big difference.  I'm not responsible.  That makes my agenda for his life much less weighty.  I can enjoy my time with him.  If I change his diaper, it is because I want to, not because I have to.  Indeed, changing his diaper is one of my favorite activities as we get to talk uninterrupted.

OK, so let me brag on him a bit... Corwin loves music, or at least the music that he loves.  He is very opinionated.  He loves rhythmic music.  When music he enjoys is playing he moves arms, legs, and head and sometimes sings along.  When that song ends or when he hears music he doesn't like, he cries.   The first time I noticed it, I had recorded the Saturday Night Live episode with Katy Perry and it was playing while I changed his diaper.  He loved Roar and trying to get his diaper on was like trying to do origami with a fish as all of his limbs were moving.  The song ended... and he roared.  He likes faster Irish music and just about anything with a strong rhythm.  One of his favorites is an old Harry Belafonte tune I sing to him sometimes - Zombie Jamboree (as a child, the Kingston Trio version was in heavy rotation at my house).  There are those times when our tastes don't quite line up.  We were watching The Voice this week (one of his favorite shows BTW) and the coaches did a song with Def Leppard.  He loved it... me not so much.  Given the way he moves all of his limbs, I won't be surprised if he becomes a drummer.  Watch out Manu Katche, here he comes!