Thursday, May 11, 2006

This article will come out here on Saturday in the paper. It might not be anything that others aren't saying. I don't know. I've not consulted too many "others" on this topic...Talk back to me.


"On Deciding Not To Weigh In"

Fact: Dozens of books have been written by Christians in response to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. At least five Christian radio shows are devoting entire broadcasts, if not multi-part series, to this hottest of topics. Watch enough cable news, and I’m sure you’ll find ardent defenders of the faith doing battle with this book (and forthcoming movie) on historical and theological grounds. Preachers are preaching sermons, and churches are holding seminars dedicated to equipping believers with the facts so that they can set the record straight with their unbelieving co-workers and skeptical friends.
Since these folks seem to have the matter under control, as far as the minutiae of Dan Brown’s claims go, I won’t bother.
I’ll leave the Da Vinici debunking in the hands of those wiser and more impassioned than I.
Instead, let me dwell for a few paragraphs on the larger picture as I see it.
Question: When did we (Christians in America that is) become so predictable?
Those attacking and reacting to The Da Vinci Code with reckless abandon are doing exactly what Dan Brown and Hollywood hoped they would—selling books and movie tickets.
Many of us seem to think our response is mobilizing a Christian army, ready to wage war in the name of truth. Better think again…
Fought this way, the war has already been lost. They see our angry mobs and laugh (all the way to the bank, they laugh).
I fear that the current ruckus is doing little more than proving to Hollywood that they’ve got us pegged. This kind of sensationalism is nothing new (anybody remember The Last Temptation of Christ?), and we seem to fall for it nearly every time.
What we have here, once again, is a case of Christians majoring in minors.
It’s not that the truth of the Gospel is a minor issue. It’s fine to counter Brown’s fictional claims with some facts.
But come on…let’s wake up and realize that The Da Vinci Code is hardly the biggest challenge with which the church is faced.
For example, fact: the average age of a homeless person in the United States is estimated to be nine years old. How is it that we’ve allowed a Hollywood blockbuster to divert our gaze from this and other such awful statistics?
The way we’re handling all this flap witnesses much less to our freedom in Christ than it does to our captivity to the entertainment media.
You see, not only are we helping to pad the wallets of Hollywood executives, we’ve also allowed them to set the agenda. We’ve allowed them to determine what’s most important, most compelling, and most worthy of our attention.
It turns out that the best way to prove Dan Brown wrong is, as they say, by keeping the main thing the main thing: faithfulness to the Gospel. Let’s do a little less ranting and raving and, instead, calmly seek to show the difference Jesus Christ, as he is attested in scripture, makes in our lives.
We can preach sermons and hold seminars until we’re blue in the face, but if the Jesus we’re arguing for isn’t changing our lives, then we’re just adding to the noise.
A Church focused on being the Body of Christ for the world is a better argument than an angry mob any day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Lord, we just ask that you would just..."

So, I went to perform my civic duty...

I must have written a dozen prayers that afternoon. All of them were either attempts to smuggle in contempt for politicians (not a bad thing) or to try to be too much like that rogue pastor/theologian who speaks truth to power..."I ain't your chaplain!"

In all this I decided that I was taking the City Council a bit too seriously (and, of course, taking myself too seriously).

I decided not to bring my own prayer, but to bring a prayer of the church. And, it being Lent and all, I decided to bring a prayer that (hopefully) the church is praying a lot right now--#890 in the UMC Hymnal, a prayer of confession:

Most merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry adn we humbly repent.
For the sake o fyour Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name. Amen

As to the question of "what do you mean by 'we'?" I mean the church (broadly speaking). I figured that if there were non-Christians present, that this is not a bad prayer for them to over hear. It was a way of praying publically on behalf of the church w/o taking on too much of a chaplaincy role. It seemed to offer honestly who we are without making us into something we are not or cheapening the gospel. At least that's how I justified it. Still, next time I'm going to say no.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I've been asked to give the invocation before the city council meeting tonight. Actually, I wasn't asked by the council. I was asked by my senior pastor, for whom I'm a substitute while she is out of town.

It's times like these that I wonder what would Willimon do...or (worse) what would Hauerwas do?

Hauerwas reports in his book "Prayers Plainly Spoken" that he's never been invited back to give the invocation at faculty lunches at Duke (in fact, they've dropped the practice altogether in favor of a moment of silence), after he led a prayer that was apparently a little too honest.

My hunch is that they're expecting a "bless the work we're doing" kind of prayer... looking more for sanction and convention in this invocation than they are really wanting a clergyman to come and invoke the presence of Almighty God.

In all honesty I don't want to go tonight. I don't know why my senior pastor agreed to go...

Any thoughts on what I should (or, by the time you've read this ) should have said?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Almost Barmen

Familiar Words

these are some thoughts i wrote down after our ash wednesday service. let me know what you think...

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the words I spoke to those who knelt at the altar rail as I marked their foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross.
These are the words the church has used for centuries to “mark” the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. With these words we begin our Lenten journey with a somber reminder of our mortality.
As Barbara Brown Taylor has said, the shopping malls will probably never find a way to commercialize Ash Wednesday. No, they’ve already skipped right on ahead to Easter (or their version of Easter). I dare say that we’ll never see a “war over Ash Wednesday” the way we did this past year over Christmas.
As far as beginnings go, Ash Wednesday may seem like a bit of a downer. It’s hardly starting with a bang. The church is obviously not taking its cue here from Hollywood or Broadway.
We might be tempted to think that the best way to get ourselves motivated for Easter would be to pull out the trumpets and go ahead and start celebrating. But Lent teaches us that the only way to celebrate the victory of the empty tomb is to walk with Jesus through the wilderness all the way to the cross.
Ash Wednesday is an abrupt transition, to put it mildly, from tone of our everyday lives. I once heard a priest compare it to shifting quickly from fifth gear into first.
It is abrupt because it confronts us with the truth. And in a world a lies, the truth will always take us by surprise.
The truths forced on us at Ash Wednesday are ones that we do our best to avoid: the truth of our mortality and the truth of our sinfulness.
When one prepares for a trip, one must decide what to items to take along. If you’re like me, then you usually do this hurriedly on the night before you’re to leave. I always find myself up very late, looking at all the items I’ve thrown on the floor and the bed, asking, “What do I really need for this trip?”
We begin journey with Jesus through Lent, however, by being told what NOT to take along. We’re told what baggage to leave behind.
We leave behind the self-deception we normally use to avoid looking at the depth of our sinfulness. We leave behind the pretension that comes with our denial of death.
Stripped of these favorite travel companions we go with Jesus into the wilderness to learn the truth about God and ourselves. As one preacher I know says it, we enter the wilderness on Jesus’ terms.
Our prayer is that if we travel not the way we like to think of ourselves, but as we really are, that we’ll be met by God as he really is. And in the wilderness we’ll hear, once again, or for the first time, the startling good news of the Gospel.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I enjoy playing various sports, and I try to exercise regularly (though the extent to which I’ve really been trying as of late is debatable). I am by no means a health and fitness expert.
Yet, in my limited experience, I’ve discovered one irrefutable truth when it comes to working out and getting in shape: it all depends on what you do when you don’t feel like exercising.
You may be a demon in the gym, lifting every weight and using all the machines. But it does you little good if you only go to the gym when you feel like going. It doesn’t matter how much weight you can lift, if your trips to the gym are erratic…if you’re just as likely to sit on the couch at the end of a long day.
Getting in shape requires time and discipline. There’s simply no way around it. You must exercise on those days when you’d rather stay at home or sleep in (especially on those days!).
We call this discipline. When we see it, we praise it. We hold it up as a virtue.
So, why is it that we Christians do just the opposite when it comes to the practice of our faith?
When someone, who obviously doesn’t “feel like it,” comes to church or sings a song of praise, we derogatorily say that they are “just going through the motions.” It’s empty ritual. It’s void of meaning. They’d be better off not doing it at all.
And we go in search of some secret formula to ensure that we will always “feel like it” when we sing praises or say prayers. We want desperately to avoid having a faith marked by hollow recitation or rote memorization.
Usually we think that the style of music is what makes the difference. If the music is more upbeat, the more likely we are to really have our hearts in it. If we smile while we pray, the more likely we are to mean what we say.
What often gets overlooked in all this searching is that a heart that truly desires to worship God is something that’s cultivated over time (over a lifetime).
It’s a lot like getting into good physical shape, really. It takes days, weeks, and months of going to the gym when you don’t feel like it (when you could think of a hundred other things to do) to get to the point where you actually feel like going to work out.
In the same way, it takes praying every day and going to church every Sunday (among other things), regardless of whether you want to or not, to develop a heart that truly desires to glorify God.
Our spiritual health is measured by how often we practice the faith when we don’t want to, when we’d rather sleep in, lie on the couch, or go to the lake.
So I’d like to prescribe, for your spiritual health and mine, going through the motions. Recite the creeds, sing the songs, say the prayers, and don’t worry so much about how you feel.
Some might interpret me as saying “Fake it until you make it.” Well…maybe. A better, more theological way of saying it would be, in the words of one theologian, practice the faith until it practices you. Sing the songs of the faith until they sing you.
Pray every day, and one day you just might discover that you know how to pray. You just might discover that the Holy Spirit has been at work, using what you thought were empty rituals to transform your life and teach your heart to desire God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The following is an article I wrote for a local paper. As Mike has pointed out, I'm not usually a "point person" (as in "hey, let me give you list of things to think about or do"--five things about Jesus that all start with the letter "Z"). But this was a Sunday school lesson before it was an article, and the list worked there, so I kept it. Enjoy...or critique!

“Merry Christmas” isn’t what it used to be. It used to be a way of speaking a blessing to others during a blessed season. This year it’s more of a battle cry.
Some are calling the battle the “War on Christmas.” Christians are fed up and fighting back…trying to reclaim the holiday…trying to keep Christ in Christmas.
Many Christians are taking aim at retailers who refuse to acknowledge the true Reason for the Season. Businesses that wish shoppers “Happy Holidays” and remove all things Christ-related from their stores are drawing fire from these Christmas warriors.
Not surprisingly, several large retailers are complying with the demands. They’re changing their “holiday trees” back to Christmas trees. They’re displaying nativity scenes. They’re apologizing. They’re surrendering. They’re waving a white flag.
Christians are winning the war on Christmas…
Yeah, right. Getting department stores to use the word “Christmas” seems like a pretty shallow victory to me.
What we’ve done is tell these corporations how to make money. At best, we’ve served as consultants for their advertising campaigns.
Christians are right to be upset over how far we’ve strayed from the true meaning of Christmas. God’s gift of Jesus Christ gets distorted, if not lost, in all the mad rush and stress of this season. But we need much more than nativity scenes in our stores if we’re going to reclaim Christmas.
If we want to win the “War on Christmas,” then the first thing to do is to stop calling it a war. There are enough wars in the world. And it’s disturbing that Christians would reach so quickly for the word “war” to describe this situation.
Secondly, we Christians need to own up to our part in the secularization of Christmas. We’ve greatly aided the corporate world in taking Christ out of Christmas.
Let me illustrate: Most of us can remember a time when most all businesses were closed on Sunday. When shopping malls and restaurants started opening for business-as-usual on Sunday, who was it that went shopping or out to eat on Sunday? Was it only the secular humanists? Was it only Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus? No. It was Christians who were the biggest help in making Sunday a good day to do businesses.
In the same way, we Christians shop just as much or more than non-Christians do at Christmas. We contribute just as much or more to the packed parking lots and the holiday rush that distract from “the Reason for the Season.”
Regardless of how loudly we say “Merry Christmas” we are very worldly in our observance of this holy day.
Finally, we must be clear about whose job it is to keep Christ in Christmas. It’s not the shopping malls’ job to keep Christmas holy. It’s our job. We don’t send our kids to the store to learn about Jesus. We take them to church for that.
In closing, let me offer a few simple ways we might begin to honor Christ with our celebration of Christmas:
1. Spend lots of time in prayer and worship.
2. Celebrate Advent in order to prepare for Christmas.
3. Shop less (even if you have kids)
4. Imagine different ways to say “I love you” to loved ones (ways that you don’t have to go to the store to find)
5. Recognize that most of us have more “stuff” than we’ll ever need.
6. Commit to putting the needs of others ahead of our own wants and the wants of our friends and family (what would it be like if we spent more on the poor at Christmas than on ourselves?).
7. Not closing our church doors when Christmas is on a Sunday probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Here goes...blogging. Putting myself out there on the w.w.w. Not that the world is really reading. Just Mike and Brock.

Still, I'm hesitant. I'm not much for putting myself out there, which is strange considering my vocation. I only have to stand up and speak for public scrutiny every week!
Perhaps that's what's behind the name Almost Barmen...of course I'm just guessing.

The Barmen Declaration draws a line in the sand: "Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation. "

Elsewhere it reads: "Precisely because we want to be and remain faithful...we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation."

Barmen takes a stand (nevermind that many of those who signed it eventually caved in). It takes a stand against THE evil of the 20th century.

And I find myself enthusiastically admiring from a distance (almost!), sitting in the cheap seats. I don't want to be self-righteous. I don't necessarily know what is right. I wouldn't want to alientate those who might not stand with me (better to be pastoral). What would I stand for anyway?

The thing about the cheap seats is that it's easy to slip in and out unnoticed...

Almost...safely removed. It's how I live, move, and have my being. A genuine admirer of Jesus. But to follow? To risk my neck (or even just my career)?

So, here's to almost blogging! See ya out there.