Saturday, September 30, 2006

property and the ABC and PSW

It is my understanding that everyone involved in the separation of the PSW from the ABCUSA is trying to work in good faith when it comes to property issues. That is a good thing as the region holds title to many church properties and it could turn into an ugly mess. From what I understand, they are working hard to honor the individual congregations. That is wonderful.

The questions I have, have to do with the property that was owned by the PSW. Much of it was given or paid for with money given with the understanding that the resources would belong to an ABC related organization. That includes millions of dollars worth of property in the camps and other assets. Why should it be assumed that these assets go with the new Transformation Ministries? The argument would be that they hold the titles and they are the successor organization to the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest. I would think that an argument could be made that because they are no longer related to the ABCUSA, they are an entirely new organization and that the American Baptists of the Pacific Southwest or whatever organization of American Baptist related churches in the Pacific Southwest is the true successor and that all of the assets should go to them.

The very fact that churches deeded their properties to the PSW is a testament to this. Most churches who deeded their property to the PSW did so to keep the property from leaving the ABC family. Look at the scenario. A church owns its property. An outside group wants to have a church in the area but cannot afford property. They all join the ABC church, outnumber its members, vote to withdraw from ABC and then own the property. To prevent this from happening, churches put their titles in the hands of the region. This is an analog of what has happened. For whatever reason (and the reason doesn't matter), a majority in the PSW has voted to withdraw from ABC and take the properties with them.

Now I am in no way implying that their was malice involved in the PSW's actions. The vast majority of the folk I know in PSW are people of integrity and deep commitment to following Jesus. Indeed, they would argue that they are following the true intent of the donors by continuing their mission. It is here that the discussion needs to take place. Perhaps they are. On the other hand, perhaps these generous folk of earlier generations really did have a commitment to the ABC. We are talking about serious resources here that will impact the way ministry is done and the potential impact of those ministries.

The analogy of divorce has been used more than once by leaders in PSW. Well, in a divorce, nobody walks away with all of the assets. These assets should all be on the table.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I am ashamed

I have never been particularly patriotic. Being formed during the 60's no doubt contributed as did my understanding that as a follower of Jesus that my ultimate citizenship is not in any nation/state, but in the kindom of God. Still, I have always been especially proud of the values upon which this nation was founded. Certainly, we have not always lived up to them but we never (or at least seldom) outright rejected them. And always, someone would hold them up and call us to move towards our better selves.

A few years ago, Alexis was in the Balkans and was warned not to tell anyone she was an American. My first reaction was resignation but there was also a hint of surprise... "Don't they know what we stand for?"

Well, today I am ashamed. Yesterday the House voted for legislation that outright rejects everything that I thought we stood for as Americans. And immediately afterwards, the Republicans accused the Democrats who voted against the bill as being pro-terrorist. All of this following the release of the April intelligence estimate that concluded that everything we are doing in Iraq is making terrorism worse. Well, today I am ashamed to be an American. If this bill becomes law, I will truly be ashamed that we no longer stand up for human dignity or the rule of law.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

a smile...

this came from an aquaintence who got it from a friend who got it from a friend... and so the original author is long lost. It may indeed be that most famous and prolific writer - Anonymous

I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, start
out dead and get it out of the way. Then you wake up in a nursing home, feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, then, when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You drink alcohol, you party, you're generally promiscuous and you get ready for High School. You go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a baby, then, you spend your last 9 months floating peacefully with luxuries like central heating, spa room service on tap, larger quarters everyday, and finally you finish off as an orgasm.

Raises some interesting questions about the meaning and purpose of life doesn't it?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


These days it feels like deja vu... "it depends on what is is..." only now the stakes are much higher. So when is torture not torture? When does it become "coercive interrogation?" It seems as if this administration is arguing that as long as we aren't applying electrodes to genitals, breaking bones, raping, or murdering, it is OK. That leaves water-boarding, hanging upside down, sexual humiliation, and all sorts of other things that seem to me to fit any reasonable definition of torture.

So why should we not do any of these things? First off, it doesn't work. When these "coercive techniques" are being used, someone will say anything to get them to stop. How often do you think they'll tell the truth? If the torture stops with a lie, we've reinforced lying. If it doesn't stop with the truth, then we taught them that the torture won't stop anyway so why tell the truth? It doesn't work and experience has shown that the information that came using these "techniques" has been unreliable at best.

Second, it destroys any moral authority we have. Yes, some of the terrible people out there will torture American soldiers, journalists, and even civilians anyway but when we use torture, we have no argument before the world that we are any different than the terrorists. And there will be those who will follow our example and more American soldiers, journalists, and even civilians will find themselves being tortured around the world.

Third, and this is the most important reason, torture is wrong. There is no justification under any circumstances for using torture.

I'm reminded of the story of the holy man who was meditating near a river that was rising rapidly. He looked over and saw a scorpion sitting on a high spot that had turned to a tiny island, soon to be engulfed by the flood. He walked over and reached down to save the scorpion and the insect tried to sting him. This happened a number of times until a passerby remarked, "You know, you will get stung if you keep doing that. It is in the nature of the scorpion to sting." The holy man replied, "Yes, it is in the scorpion's nature to sting. It is in my nature to do what is good and right. Why should I allow the scorpion to make me change my nature?"

As a people we are allowing the "scorpions" to cause us to abandon our most beautiful values and deeply held convictions. We must hold true to who we claim we are and stand against the forces that are calling us to compromise what we know is right and true. We must not torture.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


just a short note here... we just got back from a wonderful week of rest and relaxation on Oahu and I'm trying to catch up with everything.

We stayed at Eden-by-the-Sea, a little guest house for two run by Jeff and Lynda Mueller as a ministry to professional church staff. They really have a gift of hospitality and have provided a beautiful spot to refresh and relax. They didn't miss a detail in making everything easy and enjoyable for us. I highly recommend their ministry to any of you for whom it fits.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Heretics Guide part 2

I finished my second read through A Heretic's Guide to Eternity the other day and need to say a bit more about it...

I first discovered that I was a heretic back in 1975 when I went through my ordination council with the Philadelphia Baptist Association. They voted me down, called me back for more questions, voted me down again, tried to get a local pastor to tutor me in the "right path," and when they couldn't called me back for more questions... actually just one - "Is there any chance your views will change?" When I replied "yes, I'm sure they will" that gave them the out they needed and they voted to allow the congregation I was already serving to proceed with ordination. Many times since then, I have been branded with the same title. Well, after reading the book, I am a little happier with the title than I was before. In fact, maybe I'll even own it! I'm reminded of an adult Sunday School class about 2 years ago at Cambridge Drive Church where three groups were charged with writing a good old fashioned confession of faith. The one that I liked the best began with the statement, "All Confessions of Faith must be written in pencil." I like that alot

So to the book... as I said before a primary theme is the juxtaposition of spirituality defined by grace vs. "religion" by which Spencer means all of the institutional stuff - rules, confessions, dogma, etc. etc. I find myself agreeing with many of his conclusions. I believe in the primacy of grace and free floaties. I believe that God is bigger than any of our systems of thought, or doctrine, or even of experience. I believe that we can find "truth" in just about every religion out there while still owning that they are not the same. I like unversalism as a starting point. I even believe that our understanding of God is growing as a culture and we are moving beyond where we were and it is a good thing. But... and it is a big but... there are two places where I feel like Spencer has dropped the ball.

1. He talks about "religion" as being culturally bound and shaped while "spirituality" (which is where he says we're headed) is universal. I think he is falling into the same trap that our ancestors in the faith lived in - the idea that we have gotten to the end of revelation and our views are eternal while everyone else's are flawed. Again, I agree with his conclusions that the Church as we have known it is quickly dying and will be gone in a relatively short time, but the forms that will replace it are still culturally bound, just bound to a new culture. This is a very important critique because it changes the whole nature of the argument. If his new schema is eternal and universal, then it becomes static and cannot be questioned. If it too is written in pencil, then the journey continues.

2. While Spencer clearly says that faith must be communal for it to be all that it can be, he doesn't give any way to build that community of faith once he has discarded the institutions of the past. Indeed, his few short descriptions of his community of faith left me feeling very sad. I really want to hear him tell what this new community of faith might look like without any institutional trappings. Base communities that struggle together over praxis... house churches that study and hold one another accountable... intentional communities that live faith as an alternative lifestyle... we need something more than what feels to me as too easy an escape from the joys and difficulties of community.

I also wanted a bit more about the way we follow Jesus in this murky water of religious pluralism... how does that play itself out in the free-wheeling, market driven world of spirituality where each person spins their own, often out of their own juices and often out of what feels easy and convenient rather than what challenges us to grow and change and serve.

To the degree that this book reflects some of the thought in at least one wing of the "emerging" church, it will provide a convenient target for some on the conservative side of things who are already condemning this movement as being soft on doctrine and anything but orthodox. He obviously pushes the envelope more than many of the other writers dealing with similar subject matter. I'm sure that the title "heretic" will be thrown at him more than once in the coming days.

All in all, I think it is an important book that will help frame some great discussions about the next steps for a Church that must leave behind its antiquated forms and find new ways of being followers of Jesus in a radically new world. Pick it up and read it and then wrestle with the ideas with a group of friends. Who knows, you may begin to answer the question I was left with... OK now what? How do we do this new thing together?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Yesterday was Labor Day. I grew up in a blue color family in a rust belt city so Labor Day has always brought up some strong feelings for me. I have a deeply held belief that working folk deserve the fruits of their labor and ought to share in the fruits of this society. Sadly, this is becoming less and less possible.

Yesterday there was an article that my local paper carried from the Miami Herald with some frightening statistics... Productivity is up but standard of living is going down for working folk. Wages are the lowest on record as a percentage of the national income while corporate profits are at a 56 year high. In 2005, CEO's earned 262 times the average worker's pay (up from 24 times in 1965).

I think we need a maximum wage law... or at least incredibly high taxes - 90% or more - on incomes above a certain level. Or maybe some of the executives could learn from a good example. There are CEO's who are doing it right.

Jim Sinegal, CEO and founder of Costco, makes about $350K which is approximately 12 times what the average worker on the floor of a Costco makes. If he was at the typical multiplier of most CEO's he'd be making nearly 8 million! Costco also pays above the market rate and provides higher benefits for those folk on the floor. Wall Street doesn't like him. Companies like Walmart hate him. Seems to me, he's doing things right.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

33 & counting

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the wedding of Roy & Cheryl Donkin. Hard to believe!

Through the easy times and the not so easy ones, I love you Cheryl!