Sunday, April 30, 2006

What next?

Yesterday the delegates from the PSW churches voted 1125 to 209 to advise the board of the region to withdraw from the denominational body - the American Baptist Churches of the USA. As that is consonant with the boards original position, it is virtually a done deal and on May 11, the board will certainly vote to withdraw from ABCUSA.

I attended the meeting and frankly felt ill at the whole endeavor. As a representative, I was chosen to vote "yes" and it stuck in my craw. A minority of our congregation had expressed the opinion that PSW should withdraw... and be gone with them.

My guess is that some other conservative factions will watch what happens to the new organization that is formed by the PSW leaders and if they feel it is being successful, more groups and probably regions will follow. ABC will look very different in a short while than it does today. But what will it look like?

There will be some who will bend over backwards to keep more factions from leaving. We have already seen the beginnings of this path in the addition of a sexuality and marriage statement to the identity document We Are American Baptists. If this continues, we will find ourselves moving further and further away from our tradition and losing any reason we have for existing.

On the other hand, if the leadership of ABCUSA sees this as an opportunity to reassert our identity and to trumpet those core values loud and clear, I believe we will find ourselves in a good position. I believe we must reassert those core values of soul freedom, congregational autonomy, the authority of scripture over any specific group or individual's interpretation, and separation of church and state. I believe that is a congregational foundation that will speak to the changes in our culture. I believe that is a metastory that fits the direction our culture is moving and offers the hope of the gospel of Jesus in a changing world. (I am a true believer here folks!)

Will it happen? Will it happen in time? I don't know. It may be that ABC will disappear that the movement of true Baptists will take another shape or even disappear entirely. I hope not. If it is to continue, it will take serious leadership that is willing to step up and stand up for Baptist principles.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Jack Spong

This past week I attended two lectures by Bishop Bishop John Shelby Spong. If you don't know that name, he is the poster child for liberal Christianity or for heresy, depending on your perspective. In a nutshell his lectures said that experience is universal but that descriptions and explanations of experience are cultural bound. The experience of God through Jesus doesn't change but our talk about it must or the story becomes irrelevant. This is the situation in which he sees the Church currently - trying to describe a universal and very real experience using language and categories that do not speak in today's world. Thus, we need to change our descriptions or Christianity will die.

As an aside, he sees numeric growth in Christianity in two places - the "Church Alumni Society" made up of those who can no longer accept the culturally bound assertions of Christian thought, and "fundamentalists" we he sees as reacting to the change in the world from a posture of fear and retreating into tribalism.

Personally, I think he dismisses the scriptural texts a little too easily but his basic thesis is extremely challenging to me. How do we frame an ancient message that reflects an experience of the very power of God in ways that communicate in today's culture? And his discussions of tribalism as it is reflected in the Church and modern culture provides an important perspective on what is happening in the world and why.

All in all... this has been a very stimulating week.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Oh Lord... we havin church!

We don't go to many concerts. As much as I believe one should support live music, they've just gotten too expensive and in Santa Barbara... well, everything costs even more here.

A church member gave us tickets and last night Chery & I went to see Mavis Staples. My Lord, what a concert. Sister Mavis has an incredible warmth that draws you in and an infectious faith that you can't help but fall into. She had an auditorium full of mostly middle aged, wealthy, white folk waving their hands and feeling the presence of a God who "does not sleep" but is always working. Amen.

She had a small but crack band - sister Yvonne on back-up vocals, the Rev. Wil Crosby on guitar, Tony Grady on bass, and Brian Parker on drums. The band was as hot and as tight as it could be and never for a moment did you wish for more musicians.

Yes, it felt like we were havin church! If you get a chance to see her, don't miss it. My only complaint was that it was a dual bill with Taj Mahal. While his performance was fine, most of his music doesn't do anything for me and I much rather would have had another 45 minutes with sister Mavis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Guilty Pleasures... Sin, but sin boldly

Guilty pleasures - those things that you enjoy... and probably shouldn't. You know, like bubblegum pop music, romance novels, etc. Well I have one these days: Big Love, the HBO television show about a polygamous Mormon family. It really is little more than a soap opera with a twist - the main characters reflect a culture very foreign from mine.

There are some serious "buts" here though. The show raises theological questions. Polygamy is a biblical practice that Bill and his wives practice because it is biblical. You can't question that it is there and was practiced by all of the patriarchs of the Hebrew scriptures. The question becomes, how do you apply scripture today? There is an issue that I think is bigger and more interesting, how do you know when God speaks to you? There is a lot of discussion of "revelation" and listening for God's voice regarding both the little and big things of life. One week, one of the characters spoke of a woman who listened to God to tell her even what clothes to wear. That was discounted as extreme but there is a real expectation of God being there everyday and of the possibility of hearing God's expectations. How do we know when it is God and not our culture, our desires, or our fears that are pushing us?

Most Christians I know would say that a key test is that the "revelation" cannot contradict the Bible. Seems like a reasonable criteria... but there is lots that doesn't contradict the Bible that most of them would be wary of including polygamy. And there are issues that societal changes have brought to us that are not addressed in any way. Is using a fuel air bomb moral? What about business practices that caus the extinction of a species? I would even say that the modern practice of homosexuality is not directly addressed in scripture. So how do we know it is God speaking when scriptures are not clear?

My gut tells me that WWJD is a good start, but obviously over simplified because we see Jesus through the lens of our culture and our theology. After a long discussion on an airplane with a young orthodox presbyterian woman about homosexuality, she remarked to me "we don't worship the same Jesus." She was right.

So how do you know when it is God speaking and not something else... or do you know?

My favorite quote from Martin Luther goes something like this, "Sin, but sin boldly... and accept forgiveness all the more boldly." I think he meant that we make our best choices, our best interpretations, our most faithful attempts at following Jesus knowing full welll that sometimes we will blow it. We cannot allow that knowledge to stop us from acting. When we discover that we were wrong, we ask forgiveness, accept it, and head off in a better direction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Love and Death

Yesterday, folk on a whale watch on the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara witnessed and sort of participated in a dramatic and brutal event. A mother gray whale and her calf were attacked by a pod of orca.

Presumably the mother had options. Gray whales dive as deep as 1000 feet while reports of Orca going deeper than 100 are very rare. None of the sites I could find thought they ever go deeper than 300 feet. The mother probably could have escaped... but to do so would have left the calf defenseless. Instead she pressed the calf up against the boat, using the boat to shield it from one side and her body to shield from the other.

It was a futile effort. The orca attacked for the better part of the day and eventually killed both the mother and the calf. My gut says that she had to know that would be the case - whales are smart animals - but she didn't want the infant to die knowing it had been abandoned by its mother.

Lot's to think about... I'm guessing that after witnessing that, most of the passengers will never go on a whale watch again. But given that it is Eastertide, it got me thinking about love and sacrifice.

Romans 5:6-8 (MsgB)
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. [7] We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. [8] But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Fear Not

Yesterday, the Santa Barbara clergy acssociation met and our speaker was our local representative Lois Capps. Lois is a woman of faith and integritywho always challenges this group of pastors to be engaged in meaningful ways.

We talked some about immigration and the need for secure borders. It was quickly surmised that much of the discussion is driven by fear. One of the clergy present commented that "Fear not" is a dominant theme in the Bible and it is a command given much more often than "Be holy." It was the first thing said at the empty tomb on Easter morning.

I was struck by the power of that command... and by how often I/we act out of fear rather than trust. Certainly fear drives much of our current political process and fear has been used as a tool to entrench power. Churches often plan from fear as they worry about preserving bank accounts, drawing new members to ensure the future of the church... As individuals we live from fear with doors and hearts locked, priorities that look to a future that may never arrive while ignoring the joys of the moment, we fear the stranger, the kids on the corner, a culture that is changing rapidly... you get the idea. Like the women at the tomb, we even fear God when God does the unexpected, no matter how wonderful.

If "perfect love casts out all fear," then I want to know more love and less fear. I want to trust in the goodness of God and in the call that God has placed on my life rather than fear the things I imagine. No... I want to imagine new things... things based on that perfect love rather than fear.

Fear not!

Monday, April 17, 2006

feeling dirty

Well... I sent my tax returns off today as well as my first quarter estimated for 2006 and I feel dirty. I couldn't help but think of the mess in Iraq, money squandered in the gulf area, the number of legislators involved in graft, obscene tax cuts for the rich... and then I heard about a HUGE fuel air bomb that is going to be set off in the Nevada desert as a "nuclear simulation." And I'm paying for all of it.

When rendering unto Caesar that which bears his image results in the death of countless numbers (or at least in the case of Iraqi's, uncounted) of those who bear the image of God, something needs to change.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Christ Is Risen

Christ Is Risen Indeed!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

in memory of

William Sloane Coffin

He was one of my heroes... a man of grace, of faith, of commitment, and of willingness to stand up for his beliefs whatever the cost. Oh that we only had more folk like him around.

You can read his obituary here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

too much

it's been a while since I've gotten anything posted... there has been too much going on.

We were back in Pittsburgh visiting family. Both of my parents have been admitted into hospice with emphysema. They both looked very frail. It was a good visit, holy time, and lots of good things were said. Still, there were things that couldn't be spoken, like the fact that it was probably the last time that I would see at least one of them alive. We returned to SB on Weds. and I still haven't processed everything.