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.