Friday, December 30, 2005

Who Is This Guy?

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

Those are the words from the 1951 carol from Alfred Burt. Our church band is doing an arrangement of it this Sunday in church based on one done by Stacy Sullivan that is just wonderful. She doesn't have a clip on her page but you can listen to it and purchase it on Napster (I didn't check Itunes) or at Amazon. Check it out.

Along with the song, I'll be showing a bunch of paintings of Jesus through the years that show him as everything from a rock star to a rastaman, a homeboy to Che Guevara, an icon to a boxer. You get the picture. It all has me thinking... when does it become a bad thing to identify Jesus with ourselves? When is it bad to make Jesus one of us? I've always loved Some Children See Him and deeply appreciated the history behind a last supper painting at the cathedral in Petionville Haiti that has one white character - Judas. It is good to identify Jesus with ourselves but it does take us outside of the particularity of the incarnation. Jesus was a Palestinian peasant living at a particular place and a particular time and that particularity has everything to do with God's self-revelation in him. God's self-revelation is as contextual as it could possibly be. Of course, if God is revealed only as a Palestinian peasant from that time, he becomes irrelevant to those of us here in the 21st century. The Jesus of faith must break out of the particular confines of a single place or time in history.

Which brings me back to my conundrum... when is identifying Jesus with ourselves too much? I'd be the first one to cringe at those who turn Jesus into a flag waving Republican but tears ran down my face as I listened to Stacy Sullivan sing Burt's words.

FWIW, that's what I'm preaching on this Sunday. Any thoughts?

Monday, December 26, 2005

angels' wings

well... not exactly. They were actually butterfly wings. On the 24th, the weather was gorgeous - the sun was shining and it was very warm so we went for a walk at Ellwood Mesa which I've blogged about before. There is a place in the woods that is a winter roosting site for monarch butterflies. As you see in the photo, they hang from the eucalyptus trees in clumps but when the weather is warm, the air is full of them. It was magical as thousands hung in clumps on the trees and hundreds more floated in the sky above us. It was magical.

extravagant beauty...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

may the peace of Christ rest in your heart...
the joy of Christ shine in your eyes...
the light of Christ brighten your path...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

it's a beginning

In the Jewish scriptures there is a provision for a Year of Jubilee - every 49 years, all debt would be forgiven and all lands go back to the orginal families of ownership. It was a way of preventing any one family from accumulating too much wealth and relegating others to perpetual poverty. Scholars tell us that the provision was never invoked. Then as now, those with power use it to retain their positions. Those without... well, too bad.

The IMF has extended 100% debt relief to 19 countries. There are those who say that this is just a ploy by the IMF to get those liberal do-gooders off its back. After all, the debt relief only amounts to about $3.3 billion and there are many countries that owe much more and desperately need relief. It certainly isn't the Year of Jubilee. Still, it is a beginning... and those 19 countries and their citizens will be much better off once this relief is granted in 2006.

music gone bad

Take a listen to O Holy Night

I just hope it was done as a joke... then it was really successful. If it was serious... then it is so sad.

Morals and Money 2

Last Friday the newspaper in nearby Santa Maria ran a comment on the budget that placed it in the context of Christmas and no room at the inn.

worth a read...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Missing Church

In a blog a few days ago, I made some negative comments about those churches that are closing down on Christmas.

Since then I've had some discussion with a friend I made at Soliton this year - Angela. She has a keen mind and a wonderful spirit and I really enjoyed meeting her and beginning our relationship. She has raised some good questions for me regarding this issue and she has blogged on it too.

Anyway, it all got me thinking... what did this hook in me that gave me such a negative reaction. Angela mentioned that one year she and her husband were ill at Easter and missed church services but still felt as if they had had a good encounter with God at home(my paraphrase). Well, when I miss worship services on a Sunday regardless of the reason, my entire week is thrown off. Yes, I can worship alone or with my family but it is different when we are gathered together with brothers and sisters as "church." Plus, that whole rhythm thing for me comes into play. I need a rhythm of alone and together time. Sunday worship services are one of the key markers of the week for me.

When we lived in snow country, every couple of years we'd get a big snowfall on Saturday night into Sunday morning and I would get calls beginning about 6 on Sunday morning - "Are we closing church?" The only time I said "yes" was a year when the police shut down the roads to all but emergency traffic. Other than that, we had "church" even if I had to get there on my cross country skis and only a handful of people made it. I would tell folk, "if you feel it is too dangerous to go out, stay home, but we will be there for those who want to come." And for me, it was/is stronger than "want," it is "need."

So... we're having service on Christmas. I hope some folk come. I'll be there.

Morals and Money

Yesterday and today the House (212 to 206) and the Senate (tied, broken by Cheney) passeda budget that gives huge tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that benefit the most vulnerable. Yes... I know I've said it before but it is still true. The budget is immoral.

114 Faith Leaders and activists were arrested the other day while protesting the budget.

To learn more about the ins and outs go here.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas is threatened!!!

And the threat is more real than I ever imagined. No, it isn't those secular humanists, it is the big evangelical churches that are the real threat. This year, a number of large, visible, evangelical churches around the US are shutting down for Christmas because it happens on a Sunday. Their reason? so that people can spend time with their families.

Do you see it? They have turned Christmas from a holy day that is central to the church year into a family holiday. They have turned it from a celebration of the birth of Jesus into a celebration of giving stuff to the people closest to us. They are taking Christ out of Christmas and cancelling the mass part (that is where the word came from you know... the mass that celebrates the birth of Christ). They have made this, one of the holiest days of the year, into a secular holiday.

Of all days of the year, that is one when we ought to have church. If folk complain that they want to be with their families, they should be encouraged to worship together. If their family members won't go to church, what better way to bear witness than to tell them that the true meaning of Christmas is about the birth of Jesus... and church is where we'll be.

For those of you believers who belong to a church that is shutting down... I hope that you will go somewhere else and tell the leaders of your church that they blew it bigtime.

Friday, December 16, 2005


December 13 is a special day in our house. 10 years ago on December 13, we sat in a judge's office and signed the final adoption papers for our son John. John came to us as a foster child at age 16 months and we all lived in that limbo until he was 5 when he was freed for adoption and became part of our forever family.

We remember that day each year in a small way. Last night (the 13th didn't work with schedules), we all went out to a restaurant that John chose and had a few hours of celebrating our forever family.

There are those who say that John was blessed... and there is some truth in that. His life would have been very different had things not gone the way they did. Many, many children in foster care end up with pretty dismal outcomes. Still, there is a hint of paternalism in those comments that doesn't get all of the truth. The entire family was blessed that day. The fact that he has different genes makes him no less my son. The fact that I didn't witness his birth makes me no less his father. The fact that he has blue eyes, is 6'2" and built like a lineman doesn't make him any less a part of this forever family.

Some say that adoptive chilcdren are chosen... that is sort of true... but it is also true of biological children (we chose to get pregnant). In either case, it is a matter of a family deciding to love one another, to put one another first, to tolerate the warts and embrace the foibles, to be a family no matter what comes.

John is my baby boy... even though I wouldn't dare try to put him on my lap. Sometimes he frustrates me - after all he is a 16 year old boy/man. Sometimes he amazes me - he has such a good heart. I am blessed that he was allowed to be a part of my life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Culture of Death

When we first became parents one thing was very clear... if we wanted our children to learn to respond without violence, we needed to refrain from violence. We have all groaned at the mother in the mall smacking the older of two children, "I'll teach you not to hit someone smaller than you."

Yesterday the state of California walked with eyes wide open into the same stupidity - Stanley Tookie Williams was executed. I don't doubt that he did terrible things. Even if he was not guilty of the murders for which he was convicted, as the co-founder of the Crips, there was more than enough blood on his hands. No, the questions are whether the state had the moral right do take his life, whether his death serves any purpose other than revenge, whether we are better off with Tookie Williams dead?

Like the mother in the mall, at best we send mixed messages when we execute someone for killing. But the situation is much worse than that... we have seen statistics that show the death penalty is not applied fairly. Kill a white person and you're more than 5 times as likely to get the death penalty than you are for killing a black person. Find yourself poor, minority, and not particularly bright and the odds go up. On the other hand, if you are rich and famous, especially in California, you don't even go to jail. And there are those clear, even if rare, instances where the person executed or sentenced to execution is later discovered to truly have been innocent. If an execution has taken place, there is no turning back. And what of those who do find redemption in prison and begin to make a difference? Are we better off serving some blood lust than allowing them to begin to make amends for the horrific things they had done?

The political commentators made me even more cynical when they said that the governator made the correct political decision... there wasn't a groundswell of support for Williams and commuting the sentence would have damaged his conservative base so he was better off allowing the execution to proceed. And the execution becomes about politics rather than a man's life. It is not relevant whether he found some kind of redemption in prison, which apparently he had as he worked against gang violence. The political games are played. The culture of violence is reinforced. The root causes of gang culture are ignored and nobody goes home satisfied that the world is a better place.

It is time to end the death penalty.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Aslan is on the move

Last night I attended The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with our older elementary program - TEAM. The film was everything I had hoped... almost. The characters could have been fleshed out a bit more but they didn't detract from the story. And I was afraid it took a bit long to get into Narnia but none of the kids complained about that. All in all, it is a wonderful telling of the book which is a wonderful allegory of the gospel. I found the sacrifice scene to be much more moving than The Passion of the Christ because the lion seemed much more human than Gibson's Jesus and the death was placed in a context that gave it meaning. Plus, it includes the resurrection.

After the film, we had a short discussion with the kids and I was impressed at what they got from it. I think we'll get a lot of mileage from it. FWIW, more than one of the kids remarked that "it is a buyer..." that is, a film that they will purchase once it is released on DVD. I also have a feeling that some of them will actually read the books now!

I highly recommend this film for older children (it is pretty intense for younger ones) and probably can be a good discussion starter for adults too. Go see it with a group of friends or with a bunch of kids and then discuss it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Films & Hope

I like movies. I wouldn't say that I'm a film buff because I'm not that serious about them but I think they can be very important expressions in our culture.

I went to see The Passion of the Christ with low expectations and my expectations were pretty much met. One reviewer referred to the main character as "Jesus Christ Super-stoic" and I think that was on target. I was struck by the over-the-top, pornographic nature of the violence which also seemed well beyond the capacity of the human body to endure. In addition, it was Mel Gibson's Stations of the Cross which is a very particular style of devotional exercise that is essentially meaningless to the outsider. Without already knowing the story, it seemed difficult to understand. All in all, I saw the film as being very weak as a way to communicate the gospel. I sat next to an obviously unchurched young man who seemed to reinforce my take. He pretty much reacted to the film as if it was a slasher movie with Jesus having no more significance than a young woman being caught by Freddy Kruger.

Today, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opens and I'm excited. The reviews that I've read seem to agree that Aslan is a much more complete Christ figure than Mel Gibson's interpretation. On Sunday I'm going to see it with our older elementary program - TEAM. I'm hopeful that it will provide an open wardrobe... er doorway to discussion with the young people and with lots of adults.

I'll post my impressions on Monday.

Beauty & Frustration

I live in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Santa Barbara sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains. The view is spectacular from just about anywhere. There are always birds singing and flowers blooming.

The other day we went for a walk in one of our favorite places - Ellwood Mesa - which has a wintering spot for monarch butterflies and a cliff that overlooks the ocean. We walked to the "magic circle" where the butterflies winter and there were thousands of them - hanging in clumps from the eucalyptus trees, filling the air... Then we walked to the edge of the cliff and watched as a pod of dolphins swam by.

But there was a disturbing piece too... a large section of the mesa is being turned into huge homes for the monstrously wealthy. I haven't seen the numbers but my expectation is that the homes will go between $2.5 & 3 million or more. We desperately need housing on the south coast. The rule of thumb is that you need to build 1 new housing unit for every 1.5 jobs created. Since 1990, that puts us at a deficit of some 8000 housing units. But, the houses that are needed are not multi-million dollar homes in a place where the median family income is about $65K. This use of space is atrocious when large numbers of middle class folk commute an hour or more each way to work here because they cannot afford housing. It is a recipe for disaster for the community as the middle class disappears.

And there is more. Folk here often complain that we need to preserve the green space around us... and oppose using vacant land that is surrounded by barbed wire for affordable housing yet this project is being built on land that was widely used for recreation and does nothing to serve the real needs of the community.

As a person of faith I must see both stewardship of the beauty that surrounds me and the need for housing for ordinary folk as spiritual issues. They'll be central on my plate for the next period of time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I really like Jesus

I really, really do. In an earlier blog I mentioned Marcus Borg's book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It is a short book but I'm working through it slowly...

Anyway, chapter 3 really got me thinking. In it, Borg places Jesus in the context of a culture that was shaped by its understandings of purity - what is clean and what is not. He portrays Jesus as a subversive who replaces a system of purity with one of compassion. Key to his argument is a quote from Jesus in Luke 6:36 - "Be compassionate as God is compassionate." Borg sees this quote as a deliberate subversion of the Old Testament text - "Be holy as God is holy," Leviticus 11:44. In both his words and his actions, Jesus throws out all of the purity requirements. In Jesus' view, the primary characteristic of God is not holiness... it is compassion.

The implications for us are amazing. Following Jesus means always openning our hearts to the other. It means always standing in solidarity with those who are at the margins. It means discarding any silly ideas regarding holiness and realizing that not only is it not a central requirement for the Christian, it isn't a requirement at all.

Borg touches homosexuality and says that "the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code's perception of homosexuality" and that "In Christ, there is neither straight nor gay." (p59)

Yeah... I really like Jesus.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Rhythm of Life

I think everything has rhythm... We see the rhythm of the seasons as creation moves from rest to birth to fecundity to closing down... of the day as the sun marches through the sky... of the month as the phases of the moon change... in a woman's cycle... in the circle of life that we go through in the course of our lives... we see it in scripture in the commandment that we rest on the 7th day... and in the church as the liturgical calendar cycles through the church year and the three year lectionary.

I believe the need for rhythm is built into the very nature of human beings. But it is so difficult to find in our culture. There is no time to rest. The lines between work time, play time, and rest time are completely blurred. We are too busy, too pulled, too pre-occupied. And all of that is worse here in California where there aren't even radical changes in the seasons that force a person to change their lives. At least in the snow country, when winter comes you are forced to turn inward a bit and when spring comes, the bursting forth of new life is amazing.

That lack of rhythm here in amazing Santa Barbara (it is drop dead gorgeous) has been the most difficult adjustment for me. Yes, there are differences in the seasons, subtle though they are, but they do not force themselves on you. It is easy to go on and allow everyday to be exactly like the day before. I find myself disoriented as to time of year (how can it be Advent when I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket?) The lines between work and play are blurry and it requires a lot of running to maintain that laid back California lifestyle. So all of that forces me to work harder to find rhythm. It forces me to take more seriously the rhythm of the week with Sunday as time for worship, the rhythm of the year with Advent as a special time of preparation, the rhythm of my life as I sit here in my middle age knowing that I will not be forever.

I teach 4 students beginning guitar. Rhythm is one of the most difficult pieces for them to learn. Hopefully it will be a skill that serves not only their music but all of their lives.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Science and silliness... Mystery and Wonder

Every now and then I take a look at The Onion and have a good smile.

This one really got me laughing - Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity... While nobody has gone after the theory of gravity yet, this does smack of the same kinds of pseudo-science and accommodation to Enlightenment Rationalism that lies behind most creationism and "intelligent design" theories. And we wonder why our science students lag behind those in most of the rest of the world.

I've been reading a little book by Marcus Borg called Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Borg begins the book by sharing his story as he went from naivete, to criticism, to post-critical naivete. He shares a wonderful illustration of a native American story-teller who begins his tribe's creation story with the line - "Now, I don't know if it actually happened this way, but I know it is true." To the mind steeped in Enlightenment Rationalism and criticism that statement seems contradictory. The text must be literally accurate or it cannot be true. To a mind open to mystery and wonder, truth is an entirely different category than accuracy. As long as we read sacred texts as if they were physics or biology or even sociology texts, we will miss the point and miss out on the mystery, the wonder, and the awe. This makes me remember one more quote that I came across years ago in a book on Austrlia I think entitled Dreamkeepers... "once it stops bein' a mystery it stops bein' true" David Mowaljarlai - Ngarinyin Aboriginal Elder

So what do I say about my creation stories as a Christian? "Now, I don't know if it actually happened this way, but I know it is true." And evolution? I'm as sure as I can be that it pretty much happened that way... but that doesn't tell me very much about what is true.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Creeds and Confessions

One of the places of controversy in my denomination is the questions of creeds vs. confessions and the role of either in the life of the church.

Any person who has grown up in one of the liturgical churches is familiar with the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. These documents were meant as condensations of faith... if you knew them and believed everything that was in them, you were part of the in-crowd, the church. In spite of Glenn Layne's statement in his blog, that we have "a robust creedal core to our faith," The earliest Baptists and all true Baptists since then have rejected creeds. They did this for a number of reasons: 1. You can't boil all of faith down to a three paragraph statement. 2. That God works contextually and who knows, God may have something else that is required of you where you are. 3.Nobody can tell someone else what they must believe. Faith is always between God and the individual.

The early Baptists did have confessions though. It may sound like mincing words, but the difference is huge. While creeds are prescriptive, confessions are descriptive. Creeds represented a list of things you had to believe dictated by a bunch of elite. Confessions were consensus documents hammered out by a community that said, this is what we believe right now, all of us. Confessions were used for discipline but only because the individual being disciplined had already agreed to the content. Indeed, the individual being disciplined or at least their community had a part in producing the document. And confessions were always "written in pencil." That is, there was always an expectation that it would change.

A confession becomes a creed when it is imposed upon folk who had either no role in producing it or were not part of the consensus. As you can imagine, with any group with over a million members, reaching consensus on anything is next to impossible. Confessions are next to impossible except in the broadest terms.

Any document that comes from the American Baptist General Board that adds new criteria for churches to be a part of the body is a creed... and as I said in an earlier blog, there is no place for creedalism in the Baptist tradition.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Sound of the Spheres

These days I'm playing a lot more electric guitar than acoustic. They are different instruments that require a completely different approach and switching from one to another can be tricky.

Last night we hosted a concert at our church with Thomas Leeb (more about Thomas in a paragraph or two) and Alexis and I opened. It was time to pull out the Lowden. I am again amazed at the design of a good acoustic that puts a great deal of tension on very thin plates of wood and makes such beautiful sounds... at least when played well.

And that brings us to Thomas. He is amazing. He did things that human bodies and wooden boxes shouldn't be able to do. Now I have to admit that sometimes watching a soloist on any instrument bores me. It is so easy for them to get caught up in the mechanics of what they're doing or lost in their own private nirvana... not so with Thomas. While his technique really is other-worldly, he never strays so far that he can't bring the audience with him. And the stories between songs quickly turn the audience into a gathering of friends listening to a buddy who just happens a world class player. For you gear heads, the guitar in the photo is a Lowden O25C. He is currently playing a Lowden F35C made of curly maple that is just a beautiful guitar and sounds like the spheres vibrating when he plays it.

If you ever get a chance to see Thomas play, do it. If you enjoy acoustic guitar taken to new places, buy his CDs.

So how did we do? OK. Alexis was her typical electric self.... amazing stage presence. I made a few goofs and was completely outclassed by Thomas but that is OK... music is also about just communicating what is in your heart, about having fun, about joining with the spheres.

General board caves

Well... the general board of ABC was meeting this past week and continues to struggle with questions about polity and homosexuality. This time they caved.

It is official policy of ABC going all the way back to 1907 that any statements or stands taken by the general board are not binding on local churches. Still, statements that come from the gb are important as they shape the perception of what we are and what we believe.

A few years ago a document was produced called We Are American Baptists in large degree as a response to those who were complaining that we didn't have a clear faith statement (well duh... we are/were real baptists and creedal statements are anathema). Well, an amendment was made to that document...The amendment adds the following statement to the section A Biblical People: "Who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching."

Evidently the executive minister of the PSW region had made a presentation stating 3 things that had to be done to keep PSW in ABC... I don't know whether this was one but I'm sure that the vote was, at least in part, a reaction to his presentation.

I am deeply saddened by this move. My guess is that it won't be enough to placate the conservatives/revisionists. The conservatives will want to go the next step and remove congregational autonomy to choose who the churches believe God has called as their leaders, to interpret scripture as they hear it, and in the end the conservatives will want to stamp out any dissent that remains. And it will serve to be used as a club that will hurt GLBT folk and drive them further from the experience of the love of God... one more body has condemned them.

It was a UCC church (for those of you who don't know such things, read "liberal") that coined the phrase - What Would Jesus Do? Well... this wasn't the answer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Authority of scripture?

This phrase is the issue that is purported to be at the center of the controversy in the proposed split of the Pacific Southwest region from American Baptist Churches. At the meeting last night, a number of speakers indirectly claimed that as their primary value while indirectly accusing the rest of the denomination of abandoning the Bible.

This makes me very angry.

I believe the Bible. I do not take it literally and I do not worship it, but scriptures are authoritative in my faith. The issue on the table with PSW is homosexuality, so let me make some statements about it. I have studied this issue for years. I have looked carefully at the Greek and Hebrew. I have read the scholars. I have examined the cultural settings of the verses under consideration. I come to one inescapable conclusion. Homosexuality as we know it in our culture is not mentioned in the Bible anywhere. There are no Biblical proscriptions against two committed homosexual people having sexual relations with one another. There are Biblical prescriptions to love one another, to encourage one another, to enable one another to use their gifts for the wholeness of the kindom of God. Because I believe in the authority of scripture, I must be welcoming and affirming of homosexual folk.

So where does that put us? Presumably the pastor who raised the question last night believes that scripture prohibits homosexual relationships under any circumstances. He says that the authority of scripture requires him to take that stand. I say it is a poor reading of scripture, a poor hermeneutic, an interpretation colored more by culture and homophobia than by an unbiased reading of what the Bible actually says. I read the same Bible... study it at least as diligently... claim to follow the same Jesus. I believe in the authority of scripture. So where do we differ? In the authority of interpretation! He obviously believes that he knows the mind of God and that there is no room for dissent from his interpretation. Because I disagree with him, I must be throwing out the Bible. There is a word for that stand - hubris.


Last night I attended a meeting with 5 leaders from the American Baptist Churches headquarters. The region that my congregation is part of - ABC of the pacific Southwest - has begun a process to remove itself from the denomination.
Some expected that the purpose was to garner support and even change the minds of some leaders in the region. I didn't see the intent that way. My read of the purpose was to offer a way for churches to remain in ABC and to communicate that to the leaders who wanted to hear it. It was, I expect, thought to be preaching to the choir.
Roy Medley, the general secretary of the denomination, was obviously saddened by his task. Still, I think he did a masterful job, although no doubt unsatisfying to the right. He was particularly good at deflecting false dichotomies such as "principles vs. polity" and "scriptural authority vs. soul liberty." In both cases, he stated clearly and forcefully that the two ideas are not in conflict with each other.
In general, there was little new information but I felt it was worthwhile for them to have some face time in the region.
Will it deter PSW from leaving ABC? I doubt it, but again I did not understand that as their purpose. It did continue to underscore some of the differences between those on the far right of our denomination with what I would characterize as the main stream of Baptist tradition.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

tele... GAS relieved?

well... the tele arrived and it is beautiful... much prettier than the photos I posted before indicated (as you can see).

The neck is large but not uncomfortable. The frets are a little smaller than I expected. I'll need to live with it a bit. I could end up swapping off the neck... The guitar is very lively acoustically which bodes well for the sound but that makes me wary of changing anything. The pickups are very different from what I'm used to but fit my ear much better than the ones in the red guitar did.

And here is a photo of the entire guitar.

We'll see to what degree it relieves my GAS... and for how long...

For any gear heads out there, the body is 2 piece alder with a flamed maple top and the neck is all maple with a little bit of flame on the back with a substantial boat profile. Body and neck came from USA Custom Guitars The pups are Fralin blues with a baseplate on the bridge pickup. The guitar weighs about 8 lbs.

my pirate name... argh!

My pirate name is:

Captain Tom Flint

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. Like the rock flint, you're hard and sharp. But, also like flint, you're easily chipped, and sparky. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from

Bad Intentions and intended consequences

On October 10 I posted Good Intentions and Unintended Consequences where I talked about the unintended impact that Katrina was having on giving to other pressing needs. I hinted at the intended one - that the poor would shoulder the lion's share of the burden for rebuilding. Well, my fears are coming true. Congress is working on the budget for the coming year and cuts of at least $50 BILLION are proposed to programs that directly serve the poor. At the same time $70 billion in new tax cus are proposed for the wealthiest among us. Among the proposed cuts:
$9.5 billion in Medicaid
$5 Billion in Child Support Enforcement
$844 Million in food stamps (this is much less than the administration wanted cut here)
This budget is immoral and unjust. It is also sin. Look what the Bible says in Ezekiel 16:48-49 (NRSV)
As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
If you live in the US, write your senators and representatives and express your outrage at this budget. Write the president and remind him that his budget is anything but Christian.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

singing mice

let's get away from guitars for a bit and talk about music.
There was an article in the local paper picked up today from the NY Times about singing mice. Evidently, mice sing but the pitch is beyond human hearing. Researchers have shown that male mice sing when they encounter females using sounds in an organized and repeated pattern... songs. And individual mice have their own songs.
Well, I googled singing mice and it seems that there have been reports of singing mice that were audible to humans. In 1932 a zoologist from the University of Michigan, upon hearing about a singing mouse, suggested in the Journal of Mammology that perhaps all mice sang but the pitch was beyond our hearing. Minnie, as the mouse was named, was perhaps just a basso profundo.
I am struck by the wonders of creation... by a God who makes everything more beautiful than it needs to be... a God who is concerned about aesthetics as much or more than practicality.

Friday, October 28, 2005

the never ending story

the tele got shipped today and should arrive next Thursday...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

the continuing saga

Payment arrived for the natural finish tele style guitar that I agreed to purchase so in the next few days it will be shipped and should arrive towards the end of next week... I'm excited

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

another test

yet another test...

and I came out a folkie.

You are a Folkie. Good for you.

What kind of Sixties Person are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died on Monday at age 92. The obituaries say that she was shy and quiet... an ordinary woman... who did an extraordinary thing and changed the world. In 1955 she refused to give up her seat. My guess is that she was tired and her feet hurt and she was tired of deferring.
She shows me that an ordinary person with courage to do what is right can make a difference. A little black woman on a bus in 1955 changed the world. So can you. So can I. So must you. So must I.
Thank you for your courage Sister Rosa. You are an inspiration.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


today the death toll of US soldiers hit 2000 in Iraq. Add to that the numbers whose lives have been ripped apart with horrendous injuries: physical, mental, and spiritual. Add to that at least 30,000 Iraqi's killed...
There is an old Jewish aphorism that says that killing one person is like destroying a world... because the entire future of that individual and of everything they would contribute to the future is gone.
George Bush, in his arrogance and stubborness and faithlessness has led us to destroy universes. I am ashamed.
As of today 2000 mothers, fathers, wives, husbands have seen their lives shattered in the US. More in Iraq. Stop the insanity. End the war. Bring home the troups.

Monday, October 24, 2005

GAS redux

Well... the pretty red guitar sold on Friday (for less than I hoped but still enough for me to break even on everything.) I made a deal on another guitar this morning that is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. The only change might be that the neck is too large for me but that is easily changed if need be. It should be here sometime next week.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

3 pieces

3 things came together in the news today... it was confirmed that US forces have gone over the border into Syria and engaged Syrian troups, Congress begins as early as Wednesday to decide how much to cut from domestic programs for the poor to fund the rebuilding of the Gulf coast, and Bono had lunch with the president...
Before meeting with Bush, Bono was interviewed by Rolling Stone. This is what he said when he was asked if he was afraid to meet world leaders: "They should be afraid because they will be held accountable for what happened on their watch." He went on to say that he was there representing the poor and the moral force that they represent is way beyond anything the politicians wield.
The politicians should be afraid. We must hold them accountable for what has happened on their watch. It must begin with the upcoming elections.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Future Church

I'm on the e-list for Thomas Hohstadt's Future Church. His articles always get me thinking. Today's asks the question of whether we will even call it "church" in the future. Of all of the folk I read in the emerging church, he is perhaps the most radical and evisions the most radical changes. Indeed, he calls it a metamorphosis. "So it's no surprise that a new "Body of Christ" quickly emerges in this epic moment. Yet, this "Body" is not an organization, it's an organism. It's not an institution, it's a living system. It's not a structure, it's a spontaneous response to the hastening of history." It is about people and mission. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

survival - success - significance

today was my clergy-cluster group. 5 clergy types (4 pastors and a resource minister) get together once a month. We're studying a great book Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. (It really wrestles with the difficult questions of faith.) We talk, we laugh, we share, we pray, we are honest with one another as we share our journeys of faith. I am really coming to depend upon these guys. It is a wonderful model of caring and working togeher in spite of theological differences.
Today as we shared, a phrase came up - "moving from survival to success to significance." We weren't sure that it is an accurate path but spent very little time talking about it.
I've been thinking about it this evening... For me, I hope it is not an accurate assessment of the journey of faith. If I have to be "successful" before what I do can be significant, then much of my time in ministry, much of my life, has been wasted. Perhaps one could even say that much of Jesus' ministry was wasted if that is the path. He was not successful by most standards... he didn't have a huge following of committed people. He didn't have political clout. He didn't have money or stuff. Instead, he did significant things - touched people's lives, gave of himself, offered a new paradigm in which success and significance are not even remotely related. One can have either... or both, but not having success does not preclude significance. I pray that at least some of my time has been significant.

Monday, October 17, 2005

on being independently poor

Alexis went to a training through Santa Barbara City College adult ed on compassionate communication led by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Saturday and was pretty taken by the whole thing. As she was sharing the experience with the family, she quoted the presenter who said that he is "independently poor." By that he meant that he had chosen to not chase the gods of materialism (consequently the presentation was free). She talks a bit more about it here: Team Equipped: Compassionate Communication - HUH?!?!">
I taken by the term too although, I'm not sure that I embrace the concept with the same independence that he does (see GAS below). It is something I strive for...

Friday, October 14, 2005


the pretty red guitar is now on e-bay

GAS revisted

well... I've played the guitar and tweaked it a bit... and it just ain't me. So, it will go to e-bay. And then I'll build another parts guitar... this time a tele style I think, and get what I want.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Guitars arrived

The guitars arrived at their appointed places safely and on time and we're both satisfied with the trade. The one I got really is a beautiful instrument. The color is a bit darker than it looks in the photo but still very beautiful.
I'll have to play the guitar that I got a bit... it is a very different style of guitar than I'm accustomed to so I'll give it some time to decide whether I like it... if not, it will go up for sale.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

end of gas

the guitar arrived... and it is very nice. Hopefully my trading partner will feel equally content. more later as I'm going to play it now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ministerial ethics and accountability

I had a discussion with a friend today who reminded me that there is a clause in the code of ethics that every clergy person in my denomination is expected to sign that says "I will not accept a position in the American Baptist family unless I am in accord with those traditions and practices; nor will I use my influence to alienate my congregation/constituents or any part thereof from its relationship and support of the denomination. If my convictions change, I will resign my position."
If an individual has signed this document, should they not be held accountable for any actions that encourage a church to leave the denomination? And shouldn't this clause be applicable to executive ministers and region boards who begin a process to pull an entire region from the family?
Obviously, there are those who would say that the denomination has strayed from its traditions and practices but does that negate an ethical commitment that has been made and signed? It seems to me that the ethical action for those who feel that the denomination has lost its moorings would be to quietly resign and leave.


The guitars have both scanned about 2 hours from their arrival destinations... so tomorrow they should both arrive.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Good Intentions and Unintended Consequences

At Soliton, Doug Pagitt got into a discussion about free trade coffee. It is a great idea - pay the growers a reasonable amount for their coffee directly so they can live reasonably off their labor. But there is often an unintended consequence. The neighbor who grows beans which are sold in the community for food sees the coffee grower suddenly doing well financially, pulls up the bean plants and begins growing coffee. Very quickly, there is no locally grown food available. The entire community is left at the whims of the coffee market and the poorest who cannot afford imported products cannot purchase food at all.
Watching the US response to Katrina makes me think of good intentions and unintended consequences. Many Americans opened their hearts and their wallets to help those whose lives were torn apart by the storms this summer. It is a good response but there are unintended consequences. The first is that giving to other charities has dropped. Feeding programs, housing for the homeless, and many other kinds of programs that help the poor and depend upon the giving of folk in their communities have seen their receipts drop. In a real sense, it is the poorest all around the country who are shouldering the bulk of the sacrifice because the programs that make life possible for them are reeling as their constituents give to Katrina victims. Foreign mission programs and other charities are suffering also.
And then there is the other consequence which may not be unintended, at least by some. Most of the funds that go to rebuilding the gulf will not benefit the poorest folk who have lost the most. We have already seen that the lion's share of the contracts for reconstruction did not go to local companies. Instead they went to companies that have ties to the present government or those that were well conected to former FEMA heads. This, while thousands are out of work in the area... And once the area is rebuilt does anyone realistically expect that the poor will be able to move back in? Once a developer has built a multi million dollar complex, will they be willing to rent out units at section 8 prices to poor folk when the opportunity is there to gentrify and welcome wealthy, white professionals? The poor will end up being pushed out or never return to New Orleans from the diaspora they now suffer.
The final consequence, this one certainly not unintended, is that the current administration has pledged to rebuild but will not retract the billions of dollars in tax cuts given to the wealthiest 1%. Instead, they plan to fund the reconstruction through budget cuts. They won't cut the military. They won't cut the Republican's pet projects. What is left? Social services for the poor, the elderly, and the very young. Again, it is the least able who will shoulder the bulk of the burden. There is a word for this in Christian theology - sin.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

the demons among us and accountability

Yesterday I had lunch with my executive minister, the leader of the region that is pulling out of the denomination I'm part of.
I like Dale. I respect his commitment and his faith. I don't agree with him about some significant issues. His theology has caused a great deal of pain for GLBT folk and those who support them. Who knows, we may even have "irreconcilable theological differences."
Two things struck me from our talk. Dale has been draw with horns and a tail by many on my side of the issue. That is not fair and it is not helpful. While one may disagree completely with his views and understand his views as being destructive of the personhood of others, we still must look for the image of God in his face and search for the heart which, in his case, sincerely loves Jesus.
Second, we talked about accountability. I am struck by those on the right who speak of accountability and want to pass judgement on others without knowing them. This is not accountability because accountability requires relationship. We are not accountable to one another unless we really know and care about one another. Without relationship, accountability becomes nothing less than judgmentalism.
So my prayer for those on the left of the conflict - that we will cease characaturing those on the right who I pray will open their hearts and sit at table, getting to know and love those on the left before calling into question their faith.

More Gas

The guitars are both in the hands of UPS now... and due to arrive next weds.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


So... this is the guitar I'm trading for. I've never owned a red guitar in over 40 years of playing. Looks pretty huh? Same company, same pickups, similar materials... it will be interesting to see how it sounds.
Both guitars will be shipped today and it should arrive in about a week...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

the price of GAS

No... not gasoline... Guitar Aquisition Syndrome. Ask Cheryl and she'll tell you I have a terminal case. I have gotten to the place where I'm more careful and don't buy guitar stuff willy nilly... but every now and then...
so this time, I'm trading one of my electrics (see the pic) with a guy across the country for one of his electrics. I'll keep you all updated as the process goes along and we'll see whether it cures my addiction.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

a risky faith

Many Sundays I include a video clip in my sermon. This week it was from Romero, the story of Oscar Romero's time as archbishop of El Salvador in the late 70's and his conversion to a faith that engaged the powers of the world... It is a powerful film. Try to check it out if you haven't seen it. It is out of print and may be difficult to find but it is worth the search.
Then in Sunday School this morning we looked at an excerpt from an article in the August edition of Harper's Magazine by Bill McKibben. In it, McKibben questions the American propensity towards a faith that emphasizes personal piety and reward above what he sees as the clear teaching of Jesus which emphasizes help for those who need it the most. He goes so far as to say that as a nation we are "simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior." He builds a good case for that statement.
I think it is time that our American "Christian" leaders have a conversion like Oscar Romero had... a conversion that brings them into solidarity with the poor, a conversion to a risky faith that makes a difference rather than one that supports a status quo that is less than God's yearnings.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Gonna Party like it's my birfday

cause it is!
happy Birthday to me...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

here I am again

And here are my politics...

You are a

Social Liberal
(73% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(15% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

scary aren't they...

Santa Barbara weather wimps or more about me

We moved to Santa Barbara, CA from Albany, NY 3 years ago. While in Albany we sponsored a number of refugee families including one from the Ukraine who were Pentecostals. Viktor, the dad, once told me "You Americans have it too easy... it makes you weak."
Now that we live in SB, I really see it. The weather here is pretty much close to perfect. We do get fog a lot of mornings but the temperature is perfect virtually year round and it rarely rains (the climate is actually semi-arid). And boy does it turn people into weather wimps. When it goes into the 40's or even low 50's at night, people complain it is freezing. If the high hits 85 (with low humidity), it is much too hot. And you see the weirdest mixes of clothing - like a polarfleece jacket, Uggs, and shorts... or gloves and a watchcap with gym shorts and flipflops.
After only 3 years, I have to admit I've become one. Yesterday was hot (it hit 90 and beautiful) but it was cold last night (it went down to 48 with sparkling skies). Yep... I'm officially a Santa Barbara weather wimp! I think Viktor was right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Here I Am

Sometime ago I did one of these quizes that places me theologically and yesterday came across another
The first one said that I was an anabaptist (good choice I think). These are my results from today's test. Anabaptist isn't a choice.
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal




Roman Catholic


Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with

So what are you?

courageous trust

Dennis McFadden is my friend but we disagree on some pretty significant issues when it comes to church. In his blog Dennis sees the current battles in the American Baptist churches as one of world views, between an "Enlightenment emphasis upon Christian experience (aka 'soul competency' or 'congregational autonomy') vs. the Reformation tradition of 'sola scriptura' ('biblical authority')." I think he is probably correct... but if he is, it is a battle between dinosaurs, both headed towards extinction.
Both mindsets are based in a modern paradigm of how the world works and neither fits in a post-modern context. Just as those structures of reality differ markedly from the pre-modern view of the world, so they will differ completely from the now emerging paradigm. The categories of theology and the core understandings of the Church will not be the same, cannot be the same. As I said in an earlier blog, I believe we are facing a new reformation.
There is another place where we divide that I believe is much more important. Let me pose another question: Did the Church emerge fullblown and mature out of God's head like Athena or was it birthed as a newborn, slowly maturing and adjusting to new contexts? If it was all there at the beginning then the Church is doomed... indeed it has already disappeared because our modern institutions are nothing like those early churches (in spite of what many Christians say, all across the theological and cultural spectrum). If it is contextual, then God still has much to do and much to say and the trajectory of God's salvation history continues to take us into a future we have not seen.
I'm excited by it all... and more than a little anxious (hey, one of those institutions pays my salary)... but a little courageous trust goes a long way.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

hating the church

Angela, one of my new friends from Soliton posted on her blog last week (hey, I'm slow) two pieces where she talks about hating the church with at least a little bit of guilt about her feelings.
I think it is the Holy Spirit at work. In a comment on her blog, her husband Rob says that he feels like a reformer. I think this is more true than any of us realize. I believe that this discontent is just setting the stage for a change that God has already begun - a change which will be at least as radical as the reformation was. I think both the little mom & pop churches will disappear but so will the massive Walmart mega-churches. Instead, we will see small communities, committed to mission, accountability, creativity, and following Jesus in their context. I think the new church will do theology in a different way (see orthodoxy & orthopraxy below). I think the forms will be myriad as the gospel will be contextualized in the setting of each individual community of faith. I think we may not recognize it as a church, but God will be there doing a beautiful and wonderful new thing and the Church will be stronger than it has ever been.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Everything sings

As you see in my profile, I'm a guitar player... These days I play a lot more electric than acoustic. They really are two different instruments - the difference being similar to the difference between an organ and a piano. The touch, the response, the voicings, the vocabulary... they're all different. Some folk compare an electric guitar to a horn or a horn section while the acoustic is less linear.
Anyway, I played a bit of electric today and then some acoustic. My acoustic guitar is a Lowden. What an amazing instrument George designed. My particular guitar was built in the former Lowden factory but George did do the bracing on it. It is a customized version of the O25 model.
My electric is a frankenstrat that I put together beginning with a Carvin kit. I changed the electronics a bit including a pickup that I wound at a user group day Seymour Duncan.
It all helps to keep me sane and keeps my feet on the ground. You can listen to some of my acoustic playing at Alexis d. Alexis, who is singing, is my daughter and has an amazing voice and a stage presence that is unbelievable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Prejudice, Racism, and Katrina

Paul Krugman has a very good op ed piece in today's NY Times titled Tragedy in Black and White where he raises the question of race in the handling of Katrina. He cites polls that show that African-Americans believe 3 to 1 that race was a factor while anglos think the opposite by a similar ratio.
good stuff... but sadly he falls into a common trap that many folk succumb to... he confuses racism and prejudice.
Prejudice is a characteristic of individuals who prejudge another because of race or any other quality. An example is obvious. When an individual sees a group of black teenagers walking down the street and crosses to the other side to avoid them, the individual has exhibited prejudice.
Racism is a systemic thing... it occurs when a system is rigged to work against a given racial group. When an African-American child goes to a poor school, has poor nutrition and poor support from parents who are struggling to survive, is unable to get into a good university because of that, doesn't have the opportunity to network and get the best jobs with the best companies or go to the best grad schools, or even drops out because they were inadequately prepared for higher education... and then ends up with a lower income, racism is at work. The other side is equally true. When a white student who is at best average in ability and below average in motivation gets into Yale (we'll not name names) while many more qualified minorities end up at community college, racism is at work.
Racism and prejudice can operate separately. A person can be prejudiced but not live in a racist system or a person can exibit no prejudice but because she lives in and benefits from a racist system, they are racist. They do however tend to feed one another.
I don't see any way that a reasonable argument can be made that we do not live in a racist system in the US. Just looking at statistics of poverty and race proves it. I also think it is virtually impossible to grow up in the US and not be prejudiced. Even Jesse Jackson says that he is because he too gets nervous, speeds up, and crosses the street when he hears a group of black teenagers walking behind him.
Bottom line... I'm part of the minority of anglo folk who agree with the majority of black folk - race was/is a factor in what happened in New Orleans and it will continue to be as we see moneyed developers (read white folk) jockey to gentrify the city as it is rebuilt and poor minorities end up left out again.
As people of faith. We need to work to subvert the system and work for ways that all folk have equal opportunity in our culture.

Monday, September 19, 2005

American Baptists and trusting God

I belong to the American Baptist denomination. I didn't grow up Baptist. In fact the word had lots of bad connotations for me but I ended up at an ABC seminary (long story that is irrelevant here). While I was there I learned what I took to be the best parts of the Baptist tradition - a commitment to diversity in community because each individual is responsible before God to work out their own faith and each local congregation is responsible to incarnate the presence of God where they are. Nobody outside has the power to dictate to anyone else what they should believe or how that faith should be lived. All of that is kept in tension with the need to be in community. Individuals don't spin their faith out of their own juices, they work it out as they wrestle with scripture and with others. Churches associate with other churches to do the things they cannot do alone and to be accountable to one another.
It has added up to my vision of what a denomination could be. There is no single racial group that comprises over 50% of the churches. There is theological diversity from fundamentalists on the right to churches that are essentially unitarian on the left. There are churches that back progressive social agendas and churches that are pro W all the way... and everything in between. It is messy and sometimes difficult. There is always someone who disagrees and usually can give reasonable justification for their views. I think that is a recipe for growth.
Sadly, there are those who disagree with me and the region I am a part of has chosen to leave because of "irreconcilable theological differences."
The presenting issue is homosexuality. There is obviously a lot going on there but I am coming to believe that maybe there is something deeper... I think there is a profound difference in theology but not the one presented... I think these folk have a small God.
They believe that God cannot surprise them. They know who and how God loves and how that love can and cannot be expressed in the world. They claim it is about the authority of scripture but really it is about the authority of their interpretation... and they know God's mind.
They lack faith in God. The folk who are pulling out feel a need to protect God and themselves from being sullied through contact with "the other." God is dependent upon their holiness and is unable to bring into its fullness, the kindom of God without them being "pure."
They don't understand the incarnation. Jesus was always there with those who were most likely to be at the margins of society and his criticism was always aimed at the religious and those who saw themselves as righteous.
Please don't think that I am implying these folk do not have faith... they do, serious faith. My criticisms do not show the whole of what they believe or how they live out their faith. They bring real commitment, a concern to share the good news of the gospel, and a tenacious spirituality, all of which I can and need to learn from... And that is why I grieve that they are removing themselves from the fellowship to which I have committed myself. We will all be impoverished.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

more extravagant beauty

a friend sent me this photo taken last spring on the east side of the Carrizo Plain in the Tremblor Range about 50 miles due west of Bakersfield, California.
why such beauty where nobody may see it? what purpose does it serve except extravagant beauty? what does it show other than the goodness of God poured out beyond our expectations or needs?
btw, remind me of this photo when I complain that there aren't any seasons here in CA

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ryan Bolger has some helpful thoughts about the emerging church that in some ways parallel what I said in my earlier post on orthodoxy & orthopraxy...
a brief snapshot of the emerging church

extravagant beauty

just got back from a walk on a mesa next to the ocean...
dolphins, sea lions, butterflies of a variety of shapes and colors, blue bellies (western fence post lizards), dragonflies, hawks, the smells of sage and anise, yellow & white flowers, blue sky, warm sun...
extravagant beauty!

orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy & the Emerging Church

Back when I was a student at Eastern Seminary I did a paper in a theology class on Latin American liberation theology. Two books that caught my attention were A Theology of Liberation by Gutierrez and The Liberation of Theology by Segundo. Coming from a fairly traditional background, it was jarring stuff for me. In my paper I concluded that it wasn't theology at all. After all, they didn't concern themselves with the typical topics of western theology where entire books are written, arguing whether we begin the discussion with the doctrine of God (after all God is at the beginning) or with the doctrine of humanity (because if we weren't here the whole thing would be moot). Instead the Latin Americans said that the most important question is not one of orthodoxy, that is having the right beliefs, but of orthopraxy, living and practicing your faith in the right way in community. The word praxis was key for them. By that they meant the process of living your faith in the world, doing theological reflection as a community about that living, and then living better. It was a theology of the people living and working and struggling together in small communities they called base communities. And they were mostly poor people. Sitting and playing mind games, writing volumes arguing over substitutionary atonement, or even constructing faith statements were seen as peripheral to what is real - living your whole life as a follower of Jesus.
There were other groups doing agenda theologies - Black Theology and Feminist Theology - but in large degree these works were the work of academics. The Latin American form of Liberation Theology began with the people and then was articulated by the academics.
The seeds were planted for me for a new way of experiencing faith, living as a church, and of constructing my paradigm of the church.
Recently, I've been very interested in the movement called The Emerging Church or the post-modern church. In it, I've seen two faces - one that parallels the base communities of Latin America and a second that looks to me me to be just window dressing on conservative churches using a tool to reach younger adults. And the key difference is in the question of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy. When I go to a website of an "'emerging" church, the first thing I look for is a statement of faith. If I find one, I move on. Most have them.
Last week I attended a conference in Ventura, CA called Solitoncity. The attendees were mostly 20 & 30 somethings coming from "emerging" churches. I was thrilled at the example of authentic faith lived in the world, genuine struggling with difficult issues, and a sense of real solidarity with the poor. I met folk who were interested in doing praxis whether they knew that word or not. I met folk who were less concerned about believing the right things than about living as followers of Jesus.
I know, the criticism will be that beliefs do matter because they shape our actions. That is true, but as James says in the Bible - faith (orthodoxy) without works (orthopraxy) is dead.

Friday, September 16, 2005


well... this is my first entry on this blog and the questions are real... do I have anything to say and more important do I have anything to say that is worth your reading? got me... you be the judge of that.
what is important to me is wrestling with what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today's world. where do we experience the presence of God? how do we align ourselves with the yearnings of God for this world that is both amazingly beautiful and filled with wonder but also marked by brokenness?
next blog... orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy