Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little fun with titles

I recently recieved an email from some folks at the United Methodist Publishing House, and one of the projects they're working on is a study Bible with a Wesleyan theme. It sounds like a pretty cool project, but they're having trouble coming up with a title. The ones they're kicking around right now include: The Wesley Study Bible, The Wesley Life Study Bible, The Wesley Abundant Life Bible, and The Wesley Intentional Life Bible.

While I'm sure these are fine titles, I think we in the blogosphere can do better. I'll offer up a few suggestions of my own, and I want readers to offer their suggestions as well. Bonus points for coming up with the most obscure/humorous titles from Wesley's writings and sermons. Here are a few examples:

The Scripture Way of Salvation Study Bible

The Reasonable Enthusiast Study Bible

The Circumcision of the Heart Study Bible

The Study Bible that will Strangely Warm Your Heart

And finally, a not exactly Wesleyan entry: The Wesleyan Best Life Now Study Bible, with special guest editor Joel Osteen.

Alright, your turn. The best entry wins... a sentence or two of praise on my blog. And who wouldn't want that? Let's hear your suggestions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Violence in Church

By now you’ve probably heard all about the shootings at a missionary training center and a mega-church in Colorado (if you haven’t, here’s a report courtesy of the New York Times). Whenever a senseless act of violence occurs theological questions inevitably follow, mostly asking why a good and loving God would allow such a thing to happen. This incident is no different, but the fact that the gunman was killed in a church by a volunteer security guard raises some serious ethical questions as well.

I am torn on whether having armed security guards in a church is a good thing or not. As a pastor I can’t even begin to imagine how I would feel if someone walked into my church and started shooting. If one of my parishioners killed the shooter before he could do any further harm I would be relieved because I don’t want to see anyone in my church (or anyone else, for that matter) hurt. And yet I’m not totally comfortable with church condoning violence, even if it is in self defense.

In Matthew 26 we find Judas leading a large group of armed men straight to Jesus. Peter, attempting to defend Jesus, draws a sword and cuts off a guy’s ear. Simon Peter: God’s soldier. Great idea, right? Except that Jesus stops him, supernatural-glues the guy’s ear back on, and says, “All who live by the sword will die by the sword”, and then submits himself to torture and execution. So began the Christian tradition of non-violent resistance to evil. The list of notable exceptions is too long to mention (we’re still paying the price for the actions of our Crusader ancestors), but the fact remains that Jesus was a non-violent person, even though his instinct for self-preservation was as strong as anybody else’s. So does this mean that followers of Jesus can never engage in violence of any sort?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled with this very same question. In 1937 he published The Cost of Discipleship, his own study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and probably the greatest articulation of a Christian theology of non-violence ever written. And yet Bonhoeffer was executed at Buchenwald in 1945 for his participation in the plot to kill Adolf Hitler. A man who preached non-violence so passionately participated in attempted assassination, and suffered a violent death as a result. Does this make him a hypocrite? I don’t believe so. Bonhoeffer wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison that he could not justify his violent actions. He said that not acting in the face of evil was itself evil, and that he knew what he must do even if he went to Hell for it. This action was, in Bonhoeffer’s view, not a necessary evil, but a lesser evil.

Killing a gunman in the lobby of a church undoubtedly resulted in fewer lives lost than would have been had he gone on with his shooting rampage. But I’m not ready to say that it was a justifiable or necessary act. The volunteer security guard claims that God steadied her hand and guided her aim. Whether or not that’s true is between her and God. All I know is that she made a choice in a situation where no ideal outcome was possible, and the result was probably the lesser evil. Violence is always evil, even if it is done for the right reason. All we can do is ask God for forgiveness for all our sins and pray for the courage to make the best decisions in situations where no one wins.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- part 5

In the last section of A Community Called Atonement, Scott McKnight moves away from the theological examination of atonement and explores the social aspects of understanding atonement as a way of life for the church community. Living out this theological understanding is what he calls “Atonement as Missional Praxis”.

The first area of this missional praxis McKnight explores is Fellowship. Being a Reformed theologian, he grounds this understanding of fellowship in God’s life in Trinity. The Trinity exists is perichoresis: an equal, mutually beneficial relationship with one another where no member dominates another. While each member of the Trinity is interdependent with one another, they each have a strong sense of self-identity within the relationship. McKnight takes the Trinitarian life as the model for the human community. In this way the life of the human community can be atoning because it reflects the life of the divine community.

Justice is the next area of missional praxis. McKnight is careful to define justice as God’s standard for human behavior instead of by what he sees as secular theories of justice that are not rooted in an understanding of God. McKnight spends most of this chapter discussing what he believes is God’s standard for humanity as revealed in the Bible, specifically in passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Minor Prophets, Matthew, Acts, and Ephesians. McKnight understands justice in the human community as restoring “cracked Eikons” (imperfect bearers of God’s image) to more accurately reflect their created purpose.

Mission itself is an area of missional praxis. McKnight talks about this by contrasting what he calls “missional” and “attractional” ecclesiologies (theologies of church). An attractional ecclesiology is designed to get as many people in the door as possible in hopes of saving the greatest number of souls. The end result is the church being a large, complex organization. A missional ecclesiology, on the other hand, is one where the church seeks to minimize itself and seeks to equip its members to live missional lives. McKnight defines a missional ecclesiology as the church existing for the world. This missional focus is evangelistic because it seeks to show the self emptying love of God in every action.

Another aspect of practicing atonement as missional praxis is living out the story of the Word. McKnight is suggesting that Scripture itself plays an atoning role in the life of the community. He contrasts his vision of Scripture’s role in communal life against Bibliodolatry: giving the Bible itself a place coequal to (or even above) God. He rightly points out that the Bible is a book produced by the church (sorry, but the King James version did not float down from Heaven) and neither can exist apart from the other. Scripture does not exist to be probed for secrets and codes, but to shape the lives of individuals and communities and direct them to having a missional focus.

The practices of baptism, Eucharist, and prayer also play into the concept of atonement as missional praxis. Baptism is symbolic of purification from Sin and incorporation into the life of the community, and therefore embodies atonement. Similarly, the Eucharist is the sign of our continuing incorporation into the Body of Christ and our missional calling as part of that body. The Eucharistic prayers recall the death and Resurrection of Jesus- the central narrative of atonement. Likewise, prayer is a continual reminder of this incorporation because we are privileged to have direct communication with God, which would not be possible without atonement.

With these reflections McKnight ends the book rather abruptly. There is no proper conclusion, formal or informal. This is rather appropriate because while I found the premise of this book very exciting and certain parts extremely satisfying, ultimately I found that the project never really came to fruition. Instead of letting the merits of each atonement story stand on their own and interact with one another freely, McKnight succumbed to the pressure of providing his own definitive answer to which narrative is most useful. The criterion he sets for the conversation greatly privilege the penal substitution theory of atonement, and ultimately serves to destroy the collegial tone McKnight sets out at the beginning. If he had left out Part III of the book and had an actual conclusion to the whole work he would have been much better off.

As it is, A Community Called Atonement is a book that had tons of potential but never fully realized it. Perhaps it reflects the ultimate fate of the whole Emerging Church phenomenon: lots of great potential but no one is ever really able to see it through? And is this necessarily such a bad thing? For its many flaws, McKnight’s book serves as great fodder for discussion and debate over the place of atonement in the future of the church.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- part 4

In the next section McKnight concludes the theological portion of his study by saying which atonement story/stories are most suitable for the twenty-first century church. He picks up the image he used at the beginning of the book: each atonement theory is an individual golf club, and that different “shots” (situations, contexts, etc.) are required to adequately play the game. Now McKnight is suggesting a “bag” in which all the clubs can fit. In doing so McKnight lays his Reformed theology cards on the table quite clearly. I’ll do my best to lay out McKnight’s arguments first and save most of my commentary for the end.

McKnight raises the interesting question of what Jesus thought about his own death. He rightly points out that nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus interpreting his death in the same language used by Paul and later New Testament writers. (This is assuming, of course, that all the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are genuinely his and not those of the gospel writers themselves. In other words, perhaps the understandings of Jesus’ death in the gospels are more adequately seen as those of the evangelists and not of Jesus himself.)

McKnight suggests that because Jesus chose to die during the Passover celebration (he assumes Jesus chose the time of his death) instead of during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we should view his death in light of liberation as well as atonement. As the Hebrew slaves painted their doorframes with lambs’ blood to avoid God’s wrath and was the final act before their liberation from slavery, so Jesus’ atoning death protects us from God’s wrath against Sin and liberates us from slavery to Sin and death.

McKnight also suggests that we consider atonement in light of what he calls “Paul’s Story: The Courtroom of God” (claiming to draw from the “New Perspective” on Paul articulated by EP Sanders, James Dunn, and NT Wright). Most of us are familiar with this basic juridical metaphor: we are judged guilty by God, but Jesus trades his innocence for our guilt, thereby making us justified before God. McKnight argues that the message of the Reformers has been overly individualized and that we also need to understand the communal dimension of justification by faith and not works.

What McKnight suggests as the “bag” in which we can carry all of our atonement theory “clubs” is the Recapitulation Theory of the early theologians Irenaeus and Athanasius. McKnight says that Recapitulation is the common thread among all the subsequent atonement theories. Recapitulation takes the idea of Jesus as the “new Adam” and sees the entire Christ-event as a cosmic do-over for humanity. Adam and Jesus were both created perfect, free of original Sin (a concept that was not fully developed by the time of Irenaeus and Athanasius- that came a few centuries later with Augustine). Adam screwed up pretty quickly and brought Sin into the world. Jesus did it right and broke the power of Sin by paying the price that only one who was untainted by Sin could not pay.

McKnight concludes by saying that all the major atonement theory “clubs” can fit and coexist more or less comfortably in the Recapitulation “bag”. Ransom theory, satisfaction, substitution, representation, and penal substitution (McKnight’s list, not mine) all fit in quite nicely. As for Abelard’s Moral Influence theory, McKnight questions whether it can adequately function as a true atonement theory because it involves no actual transaction taking place.

OK, time for my take on this. I find McKnight’s conclusions lacking in several ways. Thus far he has claimed not to privilege one atonement theory over another and to put them all into dialogue. However, once McKnight sets the ground rules for what the dialogue will be, the rules are such that certain atonement theories, namely penal substitution, are greatly privileged over others. In fact, other atonement theories seem to be included in the bag insofar as they fit into the scheme where penal substitution serves as a “first among equals”. This is most evident when the question of Abelard is raised. McKnight judges Abelard’s theory to be functionally insufficient because it involves no actual transaction or “transmutation of righteousness” (as Luther’s concept of “Alien Righteousness” defines it). But we have to ask why any actual transaction must take place at all. This ground rule necessitating some kind of transaction assumes that there is something necessarily lacking about the human condition and that some kind of payment is necessary to rectify this lack. Hence penal substitution is privileged over all other theories.

McKnight is clearly showing himself as a Reformed theologian here because his theological anthropology is clearly rooted in the Augustinian concept of Original Sin, and carried forward in the concept of Total Depravity defined by the Synod of Dort (from whence we get the TULIP of Five Point Calvinism).

McKnight argument is legitimate insofar as one comes to the table with the same set of assumptions that he does. If one comes with a different theological anthropology, a different understanding of Sin, a different view of the nature/sovereignty of God, a different understanding of the Bible, etc., then one is not on equal footing because McKnight has defined the rules of the conversation.

The fact that McKnight sets the rules of the conversation is not problematic in and of itself. He wrote the book, after all, and any writer by definition sets the rules of the conversation in their work. The problem I see here is that these rules are largely implicit and undefined. McKnight never comes out and says, “I’m a Reformed theologian, so here’s what I assume about God, Jesus, Sin, the authority of Scripture, etc.” If those assumptions were laid out as clearly and succinctly as possible, then the playing field is leveled considerably because the reader has the chance to asses their own position and understand the similarities and differences they have with McKnight. As it is the assumptions are unstated, forcing the reader to figure them out as they go along, or simply accepting these unstated assumptions and ultimately agreeing with McKnight’s conclusions because the rules of the conversation allow no other outcome.

This leads to my larger complaint about most attempts at ecumenical dialogue. There is little to no discussion of our basic assumptions that we bring to the table, what theologians call prolegomena. I think we have to have a fairly strong sense of what our own assumptions are and be able to state them succinctly before we attempt any kind of theological dialogue. Otherwise we’ll each be playing our own individual theological language games and talking at one another instead of talking with one another.

I’ve leveled a pretty strong critique at McKnight in this section. Is my criticism fair? Does it go too far? Am I operating on some unquestioned assumptions that I haven’t adequately expressed?


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- part 3

In the first section of the book McKnight argued quite persuasively that to adequately speak about atonement a plurality of metaphors had to be used, since each of those metaphors points to a reality larger than what they actually encompass. In the next section McKnight continues this strand by pointing out a plurality of atoning moments in the life of Christ. But first McKnight engages in a brief excuses on the nature of metaphorical dialogue itself.

McKnight says that “metaphor” can be understood as “possibility”. The subject points to the possibility of a reality that is far beyond the thing itself. Metaphors help expand our imaginations to consider new realms of possibility that cannot be adequately captured by words alone. Seeing metaphor in terms of possibility helps us see the relation of the symbol and the thing itself in terms of indwelling: the eternal reality actually indwells the symbol that points to it. In this way McKnight demonstrates that the symbol, while not being the thing itself (that would be idolatry), nevertheless participates in the reality of that to which it points.

McKnight applies this concept to atonement theory by discussing the critiques of penal substitution, which is the favorite atonement theory of most evangelicals. Many feminist theologians have been critical of the penal substation theory because it idealizes victims (the “silent suffering” of Christ) and justifies oppression and discourage the oppressed from trying to better their situation. McKnight says that while such critiques are valid and point out the potential for abuse inherent in any metaphor, we should not throw the baby out with the bath-water. If we have a more nuanced view of penal substitution as a metaphor, instead of as an actual blood-contract between humanity and God, the potential for abuse is more adequately mitigated, and dialogue between the different metaphors can actually occur.

Further, McKnight argues that since our metaphors are so thoroughly conditioned by our context, and therefore limited in their universal applicability, we need to exercise great care in imposing our metaphors (and thus our contextual reality) upon others. A great degree of humility is required to realize that our metaphors cannot contain the ultimate reality of God’s salvation, and that Truth is not something we can ourselves posses. These things are God’s and God’s alone. This lack of humility is a major cause of the trouble in which the Western church finds itself after the collapse of Christendom.

McKnight begins his discussion of atoning moments at the most obvious place: the cross. The event of the crucifixion is the sole focus of most atonement theories, but McKnight raises the question: Crux Sola? Is atonement only to be found in the cross? Atonement is certainly found powerfully in the cross, perhaps most powerfully because of the striking nature of the image of crucifixion. He also mentions Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” in which Luther speaks movingly of the cross being the ultimate meeting of God and humanity because of the intensity of Christ’s suffering. Jesus was at his most human on the cross because here he experienced the fullness of our pain: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The power of this atoning moment, however, does not strip other moments in the life of Christ of their atoning power.

McKnight brings a bit of Eastern theology in by asserting that the Incarnation is an atoning moment as well. In the incarnation God shows how much he loves us by becoming one of us. God experiences all of the things that humans experience: joy, laughter, love, fear, temptation, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, loneliness, sadness, pain, and death. But Jesus is more than just your average human being. He is the perfect Eikon- fully embodying the image of God in humanity. Whereas we are cracked and broken Eikons, Jesus shows the fullness of human potential. It would not have been possible for God to have become human had humanity not already been created in the image of God. As much as we have done to fracture that original perfect relationship with God, it cannot be fully broken because we remain, at our core, God’s image bearers.

McKnight also sees Easter and Pentecost as atoning moments. Pentecost is important because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles and the church was born, signifying the New Covenant in Christ. Although McKnight doesn’t say it explicitly, seeing Pentecost as an atoning moment enables us to see events in our own lives and the lives of our faith communities as atoning. The Holy Spirit still moves among us, reminding us of God’s continual call upon us.

I believe it is incredibly important to see Easter as an atoning moment. Just as Easter has no meaning without Good Friday, the crucifixion has no meaning without the Resurrection. When we focus solely on the suffering of Christ on Good Friday and pay only mere lip service to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday (Mel Gibson, I’m looking in your direction), then we imply that suffering itself is redemptive. Suffering is not redemptive in and of itself. The endurance of suffering is only possible because of the hope of the Resurrection. We endure the trials of life because we know that suffering will end, all tears will be dried, death will be no more, and all wrongs will be righted. Just as death is not the end of existence, the cross is not the endpoint of our faith. The cross points to the Resurrection and gives us hope for the future.

Reflections: If McKnight’s basis thesis is true and our communities truly can live out atonement and actualize the Kingdom of God in the world, then we have to be willing to see atoning moments throughout our communal lives. To begin to see the different ways our experiences can be atoning, a good place to start is to see how different moments in the life of Christ are atoning. McKnight is making a solid case here, and I’m anxious to see how he carries it forward into modern ecclesial contexts.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- Part 2

Hey everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in so long. It turns out this "Full Time Senior Pastor" thing cuts into blogging time. Who knew?

Picking up where we left off last time, McKnight begins Part 1 of the book by asserting again that when he uses the word atonement he is talking about far more than soteriology (how salvation works), but instead about our understanding of the Kingdom of God itself. That is, McKnight is talking about how we understand the Christian faith itself.

Since atonement theories point to a larger reality than that which they can encompass, therefore being ultimately inadequate to provide a full understanding of the subject in and of themselves, we have to use a plurality of metaphors when talking about atonement. If I may overlay Paul Tillich on McKnight’s text for a moment (something which I think McKnight would not mind terribly), a metaphor is another way of saying “symbolic language”. A symbol participates in the reality of that to which it points, but is not the thing itself. So if we were to absolutize only one atonement theory/metaphor/symbol we would be absolutizing something that is far less than absolute reality, i.e. God. The Bible calls this idolatry, which is a pretty major sin, so McKnight is right on in his insistence on using a plurality of metaphors to talk about atonement.

While McKnight’s list of starting points for talking about atonement is certainly not the end-all be-all list of possibilities (and I don’t see him implying that it is), his list is fairly comprehensive and each item merits some discussion.

Jesus: This may seem like a giant no-brainer, but most discussion of atonement begins with a definition of Sin, only then proceeding to Jesus. McKnight contends that Christian theology must begin with Christ. I tend to see theology as a circular undertaking, where our stance on every issue affects every other issue; hence there is no single starting point. Still, starting with Jesus is probably as good a place as any. McKnight takes Luke’s Jesus (let’s be clear- each gospel writer has his own distinct Jesus) and highlights the constant theme of reversal in Luke’s gospel: the last will be first, etc. This theme of reversal continues through Acts, of course, with the Gentiles inheriting the Kingdom that was supposed to be just for Israel. In a world where the divide between haves and have-nots is greater than ever, Luke’s Jesus has a special significance if we’re trying to articulate a relevant Christianity to that world.

God, Eikons, and Sin: For McKnight, these three things are the chronological beginning of the narrative. Theologians call this theological anthropology: how we understand humanity in relationship to God. Long story short, the loving God created us in God’s image (Eikons) and we quickly brought Sin into the picture and screwed up the imago Dei (Latin for the image of God). McKnight understands Sin as “hyper-relational”: breaking many strands in the complex web of relationships between God, the creation, individuals, families, communities, etc. It is this brokenness, estrangement, marred image, and separation that creates the basic problem that Jesus came to deal with. In Jesus, all of this brokenness is made “at one” again: atonement.

Eternity, Ecclesial Community, and Praxis: If Sin is hyper-relational, dealing with a complex web of relationships, than the cure is going to be complex and intertwined as well. It’s so complex as to literally have no beginning or end: hence the term eternity. McKnight employs the image of Ecclesial Community for much the same reason. Atonement is not simply the reconciliation of individual souls to God. It is also the reconciliation of our communal lives to God (Social Gospel, anyone?), and of ourselves to one another. How does this all work? That is the realm of Praxis: the intersection of theory (theology) and practice. Living out these nice, clean abstractions in the messy realities of everyday life is the tough part, and it’s a never-ending (eternal) conversation as to how this whole Christianity thing actually works.

Reflections: I like the ground McKnight has covered thus far. He genuinely seems committed to ecumenical dialogue without letting one particular voice dominate the conversation. I am trying to figure out what particular theological tradition McKnight hails from. My hunch is some branch of the Reformed/Calvinist tradition, but I’m not sure yet. Anybody have any thoughts or insights on this question or anything else I’ve brought up here?


Friday, September 14, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- Part 1

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing a new book by Scott McKnight called A Community Called Atonement. While I am not being compensated in any way for this review or any endorsement (or lack thereof), I was fortunate enough to be provided an advance copy of the book by my wife, Jessica, who works at Abingdon Press. Those of us in the Nashville Emergent Cohort were asked to comment on several chapters while the book was in production, so these blog posts are an extension of that conversation.

Before I dive into the text itself, a few preliminary comments are in order. First of all, the word atonement (click here for a brief introduction to the concept) is itself an extremely loaded term that carries all kinds of baggage, both good and bad, with it. Atonement itself is an English word, and literally means “at one-ment”; literally, how we are made at one with God. The very fact that it is an English word makes its theological usefulness debatable because it has no direct translation into other languages. In a seminary class on Paul’s letter to the Romans, we asked the professor, who is French, how the tradition he grew up in deals with atonement theories. He responded, “Well, we don’t believe in atonement.”

Just because the word atonement is English, however, does not mean it is not worth discussing. The concept is certainly older than the sixteenth century origin of the particular word. When Christians talk about atonement it is usually in reference to how the death of Jesus works in the process of salvation. There are any number of different “atonement theories”, depending on whose list you look at, and I’m sure I’ll be referencing what I consider to be the three primary atonement theories (Christus Victor, Substitutionary Atonement, and Moral Influence) in these posts.

What Scott McKnight wants to do in this book is to push our understanding of atonement past a mere explanation of the function of Jesus’ death into a way that we talk about the substance of the Christian life. In fact, on the back cover McKnight poses the question, “Can atonement be a way of life?” From a cursory glance at the book it seems that McKnight wants to talk about atonement as a summation of the whole gospel, and that the interaction of different understandings of atonement all have something to say about the way Christians go about proclaiming the gospel in the world in both word and deed.

In light of the baggage the word atonement carries with it, this seems an ambitious undertaking, but one that Scott McKnight is well suited for. Stay tuned for my summations and assessment of his arguments, and please comment if you agree or (especially if) you disagree with my reflections.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Myth of the Good Old Days

I don’t believe in “the Good Old Days”. You hear about them all the time. Someone will say something like, “Things were so much better when (fill in the blank). But now people (fill in the blank). So if we just (fill in the blank) things would be so much better than they are now.” This will get large cheers from a crowd and may even inspire donations to a church or political campaign. This is an especially favored rhetorical technique for preachers because it’s easy. We point to one particular thing and give a guarantee that if the people will just think and/or do what we say, things will return to the way they were in the “good old days”.

There are a couple problems with this. First of all, things were never as good as we remember them. There’s a popular joke in the United Methodist Church recalling a bishop who exclaimed “if the 1950s ever return, we’ll be ready!” I didn’t live through the 1950s, but my parents did. They tell me that there was drug use, teen pregnancy, divorce, homosexuality, and political corruption back then. It wasn’t as much as now, and it certainly wasn’t talked about as much back then, but it was there. My mother grew up in Memphis where Jim Crow laws were going strong in the 1950s, and she remembers “Whites only” water fountains, bathrooms, and swimming pools. We don’t have those today (even though racism is still alive and well), and I’d say that’s a decided improvement over “the good old days”.

The bigger problem, however, with the myth of the good old days is that it assumes that there is a system, a belief, or an institutional structure that transcends time, geography, cultural context, and even the type of people running the show.

This is the main problem in a new book that is currently all the rage in many United Methodist circles. In Restoring Methodism, James and Molly Scott argue that such a “good old days” existed in the early days of the Methodist movement in America (the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, or the generations that experienced the American Revolution). They say that certain decisions that were made by the church during the twentieth century have been responsible for the current decline we are experiencing, and suggest ten changes that would return us to an earlier time and would, they claim, stop the losses.

I certainly agree that the church made mistakes during the twentieth century, but we made plenty of errors in previous centuries, too. The various incarnations of the church of Jesus Christ have been screwing up in large and small ways since day one! And I also agree that we can learn a lot from the successes of the past and that those successes can and definately should challenge our thinking about the way we do church today.

But what I have to take issue with is the idea that there was ever some state of pristine Methodism that transcended the context in which it found itself. The 1950s are never going to return, and the eighteenth century colonial frontier isn’t either. It’s the twenty-first century and we need to deal with it as it is. Each generation faces challenges that are its own, and simply replicating the ways church has been done before is as bad (if not worse) an idea than changing everything for the sake of changing it.

What if, instead of longing for a return to the “good old days”, we took an honest look at what the past was like and how that is similar and different to where we find ourselves today? What if we put together a companion volume to Restoring Methodism called For God’s Sake, Don’t Do This Again: Ways the Church Universal has Screwed Up Throughout History and how to Avoid Doing it Again? What if we chose to dream about what the future could be, and not just scheme about how to bring the past back to life?

Admittedly this idea requires a whole lot more time, effort, and work than simply following someone’s ten step plan. But doing so would give us the chance to make some “good new days”. The best might just be yet to come…

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The iBible

It was only a matter of time...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Life is a Sacrament

This past weekend I performed a funeral, a wedding, and a baptism, in that order. I love times like this because it allows me to be present with people in some of the most significant moments of their lives. I’ll be honest, though- it was a tad inconvenient because it ate up what was supposed to be a day off spent reading the final Harry Potter book, but ministry never has and never will go according to my schedule (nor should it).

When it became clear what a busy 24 hours I was going to have, Jessica remarked, “Wow, a trifecta of sacraments in one weekend!” This is not technically true because, as Protestants, we tend to be finicky about biblical precedent for things, and as such we recognize only baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments because of their prominence in the life of Jesus. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, on the other hand, recognize weddings and funerals (last rites) among their list of seven sacraments.

Her comment got me thinking, though. Perhaps we Protestants have missed something in our noble quest for biblical fidelity. Perhaps a more inclusive list of sacraments makes a broader statement about the very nature of life itself. Recognizing baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, and anointing of the sick/dying as sacramental and holy reminds us that there are holy moments throughout our lives. Indeed, it helps us see all of life as sacramental, not just a few specially set aside parts. What if we really viewed every part of our lives, both the “significant” parts and the ordinary parts, as holy and completely infused with the spirit of the living God?

It’s unfortunate that those of us in higher church traditions (Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are all in the same boat here) have turned the sacraments into something that is reserved only for those of us who belong to the priestly class. We originally did this because we wanted everyone to understand them properly, of course, but what we ended up doing was creating a method by which we who wear fancy robes and have cool titles get to pretend we’re better than everyone else. “I can perform these things and you can’t because I’m special and you’re not.” This is the very thing which Jesus came to get rid of.

What if, just for a moment, we stopped our ecclesial chest thumping and considered the possibility that the reason the church has sacraments in the first place is to remind us that significant moments in our lives are not only important because we decide they are, but because they give us the opportunity to remember how God is fully present with us in all the moments of life? If we really believed this, then we might understand that sacraments are not merely another way to mark who’s in and who’s out, but as markers of the fact that Jesus has removed all barriers (most, if not all of our own making) to each of us experiencing the fullness of life with God. I think that looks a whole lot more like what Jesus wanted for us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Respectfully Disagreeing with Benedict

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as Pope, has recently released a document with which I have to take issue. I know, a progressive American Methodist taking issue with Roman Catholic theology?

But I feel the need to comment on this one because of the extreme irony I see in the situation. The Congregation's document "clarifying" (reinterpreting) statements made by the Second Vatican Council states that churches outside of full communion with the Roman Catholic Church "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because we do not enjoy the full benefit of "apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders". Basically because I'm not ordained by a bishop that has been appointed by the Pope, I'm not a legitimate celebrant of the Eucharist.

(Here is the full text, and here is the short version, courtesy of CNN.)

I could play the proof-texting game here, throwing out verses like "wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there" and whatnot. But someone could come back with "on this rock (Peter) I shall build my church", plus I don't believe in lobbing Bible verses back and forth. I could even question the legitimacy of true apostolic succession in the papal office because of the number of times there have been multiple claimants to the throne or how many times the office was achieved through simony. But I won't even do that because the ecclesiological practices in my own denomination are in need of great repair.

What I find ironic about this situation is that it represents the very thing that Jesus stood against: the hegemony and exclusivist practices of the religious establishment. Jesus broke Sabbath laws, reinterpreted Mosaic Law, taught without official authorization, and hung out with the unacceptable and "unclean" people to show that God's grace is available to everybody, regardless of whether the authority figures liked it or not. Grace is God's alone to give, and is not subject to the whims of any person wearing fancy robes- myself included.

What the Vatican is saying through this document is that ecclesial bodies who do not profess allegiance to Rome are at best second class citizens in the Kingdom, and at worst are totally left out, simply because they (we) do not choose to play by their rules. Jesus was executed because he flagrantly disregarded the rules of the system. We in the Protestant churches constantly fail to be truly Christlike communities, but perhaps in this one instance we find ourselves in very good company.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

And so it begins...

There's a song called "Closing Time" that they played at the end of almost all my high school dances. I can't recall the name of the band who sang it, but one line has always stuck with me:

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings' end."

It doesn't seem like all that long ago that I was a freshly minted college graduate who thought a little too highly of my own intelligence, entering seminary, trying (and failing miserably) to impress the cute girl that I met the first night of orientation, and beginning a job at Crievewood UMC in Nashville.

Today I'm a freshly minted seminary graduate who learned just how little I really know while in seminary (a lesson I'm sure to learn over and over throughout my life), married to that cute girl from orientation, and about to preach my first service as a Senior Pastor at Bethlehem UMC.

I look back on the past four years with tremendous appreciation for all I've experienced, all I've learned in classes, and from my successes and many, many mistakes in ministry. While I am very sad to leave Vanderbilt and Crievewood behind, it's the right time to do so and take up the new challenge of being the solo pastor of a church.

I got to know some of the folks at Bethlehem this week at VBS, and I'm very excited and nervous to worship with them for the first time. Wait, let me clarify. VBS is definately worship. Tomorrow will just be the first time where we worship together while I'm wearing a robe.

So here we are at this new beginning that comes from four years ago's beginning's end. What will this new beginning bring? Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruth Bell Graham

Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, died today after a long illness. From what I've read about her, it seems that she was one of the biggest reasons that Billy was able to rise above the temptations that so many other famous religious figures fall into: adultery, substance abuse, embezzelment, and becoming a partisan political whore, just to name a few.

Perhaps the reason that she was able to be a more effective supporter for him than many other spouses of religous celebrities is that she broke a cardinal rule of evangelicalism: she refused to play the role of the submissive wife.

She once told her children that "there comes a time to stop submitting and start outwitting". When she disagreed with Billy on an issue or thought his head was getting too big (a frequent occurrance for preachers, I assure you) she wasn't afraid to say so. It seems that Ruth cared a whole lot more about the integrity of Billy's ministry and spreading the gospel than about keeping up some image that others thought she should portray.

There's a saying that well behaved women rarely make history. Ruth Bell Graham was probably not well behaved by many of her peers' standards, and thus she and her husband made history. Let us pray that there will be more badly behaved women like her.

(P.S.- Let's give credit where credit is due- Billy Graham was smart enough to listen to a strong willed woman that was often smarter than he was.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Faith and Politics Forum

If you didn't get the chance to see the Faith and Politics Forum on CNN last night, let me suggest you watch the highlights on Sojourners' website. It was fascinating to see the top Democratic candidates (the Republicans will have a similar forum in a few weeks) talk specifically about their faith and how it informs their political actions. I do wish each candidate had received more than fifteen minutes for questions and dialogue, but this was a good start.

I'm listing my own personal highlights from the forum, broken down by candidate. These are nothing more and nothing less than my own personal opinions based on issues that I care about. I have arrived at my views as a result of my Christian faith, but I respect and celebrate that others have arrived at their views for the exact same reasons. I hope that if your take on this forum is different than my own that we can start a respectful dialogue about these issues.

John Edwards

Edwards has long been a favorite of mine because he talks about poverty as a moral issue more than almost any other politician out there. I think he spent a little too much time in this forum touting his record on poverty issues, but I understand that he's trying to make gains in the polls.

I liked how, when asked a question about his prayer life, he said that he asked God to show him the difference between his will and God's will. I also appreciated that when he was asked what the biggest sin he ever committed was (a question that still haunts Jimmy Carter 30 years later), he artfully dodged it, admitting that he sins every day and that all sins are bad.

Barak Obama

Obama spent quite a bit of time quoting both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.- two good people to listen to. The cynical side of me wonders if he quotes them because it earns political points, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he truly takes them to heart.

Obama made a number of nuanced points that I appreciated very much because he did his best to rise above the strategery (spelling intentional) of merely giving cute soundbites. When faced with a question about God's opinion of war, Obama said that he believed that evil exists and there are times when standing against evil requires taking up arms, but that just because a cause is just does not mean a nation always acts in a just manner, citing the extreme moral and ethical failures of Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay.

Obama also made the nuanced point that personal responsibility (a favorite theme of conservatives) and communal responsibility (a favorite theme of liberals) are not mutually exclusive and that justice is only done when understandings of both spheres of responsibility work together. "I have a stake in others", he said, emphasizing that any individual who does not have opportunities to succeed is done a disservice by the whole society.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton had a very personal moment when asked how she dealt with the infidelity in her marriage, saying that she would not have made it through without her faith and people praying for her and her husband. Hillary doesn't talk much about her faith, and she explained it by saying, "I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people that wear their faith on their sleeves”. I respect that, given the extreme hypocrisy shown by those who view evangelical Christians as a voting block to be courted rather than a group whose opinions should be honored. Perhaps Clinton's reluctance to use whatever faith life she has to score political points is evidence of a profound respect for that faith and a desire not to make it something it is not.

Final Thoughts

Given that we are nearly eighteen months from the next presidential election, I have not decided on a candidate, or a party for that matter, for whom I will vote. Whenever I do come to such a decision I will not make a public endorsement of that candidate, because I believe such an endorsement would be a gross misuse of my position as a pastor. Y'all probably will be able to figure out who I'm voting for at some point, but I'm not arrogant enough to think that my vote is the vote for everyone who calls themselves a Christian.

I believe that our relationship with God is personal, but not private, and that God's opinions on political issues have a lot more to do with making sure that each of God's image bearers and all of God's creation is treated justly, rather than God taking sides with one candidate over another.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Forum Tonight

Tonight, Sojourners (Jim Wallis' organization) is hosting a forum on faith and politics with the three leading Democratic Presidential Candidates: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barak Obama. I'll be posting my thoughts after the forum is over.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grace and Judgment

When I was at BOMEC (the Board of Ordained Ministry Evaluating Conference) a few months back, a certain individual gave an evening devotional that I haven't been able to get out of my mind so I have to comment on it.

Before I go any further, a bit of disclosure is in order. I was rejected by the BOM and was not allowed to take the next step towards ordination. I would be lying if I said my commentary was not affected at all by the results of BOMEC. That being said, the meat of these thoughts occurred before I found out I was rejected, so my thoughts are not at the core the result of said rejection. Take them with the grains of salt they require.

In this devotional the person started off reading from Galatians 3, which begins, "You foolish Galatians!", and proceeded to explain how this particular passage was about the tension of grace and law (New Testament scholars could and probably should take this person to task on this claim, but nevertheless, it was the subject of the devotional). The essential thesis was of the tension of grace and judgment. The BOM is given the task of making a judgment about those who come before them to seek commissioning and ordination, but since this judgment occurs in the context of the church of Jesus Christ, it requires the presence of grace. Hence the tension of grace and judgment.

This, of course, relies upon the assumption that grace and judgment are either polar opposites or things so different that they are not compatible, hence the necessity of holding them in tension. But is that really true? Are grace and judgment two entirely different things?

What is the purpose of making a judgment? Is it purely punitive? Do judgments only exist to meet out punishment for things done wrong? Or could a judgment be something more? Could particular individual actions be judged so that a person could learn from their mistakes and do better in the future? If a judgment is meant to be redemptive rather than punitive, could it not actually be gracious?

If a judgment can be gracious then the two things need not be in tension. They are only in tension with one another if we adhere to the world's fatalistic meta-narrative that people are who they are and can not change. If, on the other hand, we believe that God's grace can transform even the most unlikely person, nay, especially the most unlikely person, then a judgment is exactly the wake up call this most unlikely of people needs to realize that grace is leading them in a different direction. A judgment can be gracious because it points beyond itself to a future that is more in line with God's will. Is that not what grace is all about?

As of yet I have not seen that the judgment of the BOM has been gracious at all. The jury is still out, however. I remain hopeful that their judgment was made with the ultimate goal of helping me become a better person and a stronger pastor. But the evidence that this is the case is quite long in coming, so holding on to this hope is becoming harder and harder. As a Christian I believe in looking for the best in others, even to a fault, so I will continue to cling to the hope that their judgment will turn out to be gracious. But I'm only human, so I need a little help in holding on to that hope.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Long time gone

I haven't posted in quite a while because, frankly, I haven't known what to say. I've had plenty of thoughts and feelings, as anyone who knows me and what I've been going through lately knows, but I just haven't been able to put it into a coherent format suitable for publishing on the Internet.

First thing's first: I'll be moving from Nashville to Clarksville in June to be the pastor of Bethlehem UMC:

This church has been around since 1836! I'm excited/nervous/scared/etc, as you can probably imagine. The congregation doesn't have a website as of now, but that will change soon.
Second, even though I've been given a full time appointment I won't be commissioned at the upcoming session of Annual Conference. The Board of Ordained Ministry turned me down but hasn't told me why. They've promised that an explanation will come later, but I'm sure you can understand my growing cynicism since it's been almost two months. As of now the plan is to go back and try again in a year or two, and obviously I'm sticking with pastoral ministry for the time being.
But my discernment hasn't ended on this whole thing. I'm not questioning whether I'll continue to be in ministry, it's a question of whether it will continue to be in the Tennessee Conference, the United Methodist Church, or in any ordained capacity at all. I've had doubts and reservations about these things for some time, and the rejection by the BOM has only heightened them. I'll probably write my next post about questions surrounding the whole idea of ordination.
That's all for now. I'll get back to the standard "Truth As Best I Know It" fare soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Corporate prayer?

As we approached the first anniversary of The Gathering we decided to ask people to fill out a survey telling us what they found meaningful and what wasn't working. The results didn't really surprise us. In most areas we were doing fairly well. People felt like they really got to participate in the worship and that they weren't just spectators of some show.

The one area where we weren't doing so well, however, was in the prayer time during the service. We had sensed this for a while, and the surveys confirmed it. A year ago it seemed like we had a good strategy. I or another leader would open the prayer time and guide us through an expanding circle prayer: first we would pray for this congregation, then others who were suffering, our local community, the world, the church universal, and in communion with all the saints. As we expanded the circle we invited others to verbally lift up prayer requests, ending with, "Lord in your mercy", and the rest of us would respond, "hear our prayer."

What we discovered over time, however, was that this method didn't really work for a group of 50 people. I've personally experienced this as being very powerful in a small group of no more than 10 or so, but in a larger group it ended up being basically the same thing as what we do in the 10:45 traditional service at Crievewood.

At the later service the pastor or another leader highlights some of the concerns on the prayer list in the bulletin, calls for a few moments of silence (at most 30 seconds), and then prays out loud on behalf of the congregation. Theoretically the congregation is all praying together, but I've started to wonder if that's really true. Just because someone is standing at the front of a room making a speech directed to God with their eyes closed, does that mean that 200 people are all really praying together?

This was the same problem with our prayer time at The Gathering. In theory we were all praying together and others were invited to lift up prayers verbally, but in reality there were only a half dozen or so who felt comfortable speaking up. So instead of one person making a speech with their eyes closed and calling it communal prayer, we had 6 or 7 people making mini-speeches with their eyes closed and calling it communal prayer.

It begs the question of how we should handle prayer in corporate worship. It is really possible to get a group of people larger than a dozen to be praying about the same thing? Does the fact that we do this corporate prayer enable people's feelings of absolution from the responsibility to have their own prayer times outside the weekly meeting? Does the fact that we have specific prayer times in worship narrow our definition of what prayer is? Conversations about meaningful issues in our lives can be prayer. Times of studying and struggling with the scriptures can be prayer. The act of taking communion together should certainly be seen as a type of prayer. All these things are acts we participate in to heighten our awareness of God's continual presence with us, so why should we not call it all prayer?

Right now in The Gathering we're trying an individual prayer time. Prayer concerns in the expanding circle are put up on the screen, and each table has a stack of post-it notes to write prayers on and stick up on our "wailing wall". We're going to give this about six weeks or so and see if it's working or not.

What do you think? Are we doing ourselves a greater disservice by trying to have corporate prayer in worship? Can the only legitimate prayer be as individuals or small groups? Discuss...

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Call for Commentary

OK, it's time to see how many readers I have out there.

I've been asked to submit an op-ed piece (like one you would see in a newspaper) to help inform the UMC's Connectional Table as the formulate their "State of the Church" report for General Conference 2008. I'm one of a few hundred who've been asked to do this. I already have a draft going, but I want to know what you think.

Post replies on this blog (or email me if you want them kept private) on what you think is the current state of the United Methodist Church. These can be good things, bad things, whatever. You don't need to be a UM clergy person or even a member. As a matter of fact, outsiders' perceptions would be greatly helpful. I'll seriously consider your comments as I put together the final version of my op-ed piece.

This is democracy in action, people. Let's put the power of the internet to work. Leave your comments and tell me what you think.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cameron's Cash-Grab

A storm is on the horizon. My trick knee is acting up and it’s telling me that this one is going to be ugly.

“Titanic” director James Cameron is planning to release a documentary that alleges that ossuaries (boxes in which people’s bones were placed after their bodies had decayed) that were excavated in Israel in the 1980s are those of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the children they had together. (The idea being that if Jesus' body was discovered it would somehow "prove" that he was not crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven.) This film will premier just before Easter. Coincidence? I think not.

From a purely historical standpoint the fact that he’s doing this is quite silly. The inscriptions on the ossuaries were very faint and took archeologists years to decipher, and there is still no consensus on what the names really are. Even if the name “Jesus” is inscribed on the box, what does it prove? “Jesus” was a very common name at the time. Its English equivalent is “Josh”.

The real issue here is the fact that James Cameron is being highly opportunistic. He saw all the fuss over “The DaVinci Code” (which, by the way, was a work of fiction that claimed no theological or historical basis) and realized that stirring up a bit of religious controversy gets you lots of free publicity. It’s a good way to make a whole lot of money.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that James Cameron doesn’t care whether Jesus was resurrected or not. He’s gladly exploiting the fact that the Christian right will get up in arms and give him tons of free publicity. He knows that mega-churches will have multipart sermon series that dispute his claims and offer “proof” that the resurrection is a historical fact. He knows that televangelists will call for boycotts and a few people may even burn effigies of him. And the more they call him a heretic the more he gets paid. He’s laughing all the way to the bank, and the Christian right is playing into his hands.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pastoral Pressure

According to one of the pastors that is part of Ted Haggard’s counseling team, the former mega-church pastor now says he is “completely heterosexual”. (That comment would seem to suggest that one could be only partially heterosexual, an idea with which I would think most evangelical Christians would disagree, but I digress.) Regardless of whether or not this is actually true, what else would Haggard say? He and all those in his social and professional circles believe that homosexuality is a horrible sin, and for him to come out and say that he is gay would mean being even more ostracized than he currently is.

Haggard’s sexuality, whatever it may be, whatever percentages he may have, is between him and his wife, and frankly is no one else’s business. But I do believe there is an element of Haggard’s tragic “fall from grace” that does concern all of us. We have to ask ourselves to what extent we are all responsible for what happened.

Let me be clear about what I’m saying. I’m not trying to absolve Haggard of responsibility for what he did. No one held a gun to his head and made him do drugs and cheat on his wife. But neither did he just wake up one day and decide to do it.

As the pastor of one of the country’s largest churches, Haggard became well known all over the country. As a pastor he felt the obligation to embody the values he preached, and as a public figure he felt the pressure to maintain a carefully crafted public persona.

The problem was that this public persona was incredibly unrealistic. He was expected not only to model basic Christian values, but also to never waver in his theological positions, never have doubts, and never experience temptations. In other words, Haggard was expected to live up to a standard of perfection that nobody can live up to. Haggard certainly participated in the cultivation of this public image and promoted these ridiculous expectations, but he was not alone. Others promoted these expectations because they, too, wanted to believe that their leaders were “perfect”.

In the eighteenth century John Wesley published a treatise called “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”. He wanted to correct the popular misunderstandings of his theological position on perfection. What Wesley meant by “perfection” was not that one never had doubts, never made mistakes, or never experienced temptation. The kind of perfection Wesley had in mind was a perfection of intention. This perfection required intense self examination and a thorough knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Somewhat ironically, the one who was most perfected, according to Wesley, was the one who was most aware of their need to constantly confess their sins.

Pastors are people, too. We have doubts, we have fears, we have desires and experience temptations. We get mad. We have good days and bad days. We even have days where we’re not too sure God even exists! But most of us are afraid to admit this, even to ourselves because we think people want to see us project an image of confidence, unwavering conviction, and complete sinlessness. If we admit to problems in our lives, it’s almost always in the past tense. We would never admit that we’re currently going through a rough patch.

The problem is that when we ignore these doubts, fears, and desires, they don’t simply go away. We bury them somewhere deep inside ourselves, and eventually they pile up and boil over. Sometimes people just burn out and leave the ministry. Sometimes they seek comfort through substance abuse. Others like Haggard act out sexually because they just can’t take it any more. Ted Haggard should not have done what he did, but just like all of us he played a part in setting up a system of expectations that ultimately wore him down and led him to act out in an extreme way.

When I admit to people that I struggle every day with clinical depression and anxiety I get a variety of reactions. Some people are comforted, some people are shocked, but all too often I hear surprise because people think that to be a pastor you’re supposed to have moved past struggles like that.

Let’s all collectively take a deep breath and admit that none of us are “perfect”. We all have our doubts and struggles, and we always will. The values we proclaim are ideals toward which we strive, not things we will ever fully embody. And that’s OK. Our leaders should feel safe enough to be vulnerable and admit that they don’t always know what to do. May God grant us the strength and courage to be real with one another.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Stop! Before you read my post check out this LA Times article about this organization called “God-Men”, and their website, if you’re so inclined.

My reactions to this were many, as you might imagine, so I’ll try to keep them brief and coherent.

First of all, this seems to be the latest and greatest (or worstest, depending on how you use the terms) example of Christian ghetto-ism: where evangelical Christians will take something from the “secular” (I don’t like that word, but that’s the subject of another post) culture and make a supposedly Christianized version of it. Left Behind is the Christian Steven King. Bible Man is the Christian Power Rangers. I even heard a band recently that sounded like they wanted to be the Christian U2, as if Bono and company weren’t already model Christians. So here we have God-Men: the Christian Man Show.

Interestingly enough, the guy who is the face of God-Men is a comedian named Brad Stein, who apparently wants to be the Christian Dennis Leary. (Interesting aside- he’s featured in Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary, “Friends of God”- I highly recommend checking it out, and I’ll probably review it sometime soon) He’s aggressive in his style, he’s not afraid to curse (for which I whole-heartedly applaud him), and he’s not afraid to express opinions that not everyone will agree with. That’s fine. I don’t take issue with him personally or his style as an entertainer. Nor do I take issue with the fact that evangelical Christians are saying it’s OK to embody stereotypical manliness. My wife will tell you that I like fart jokes, football, and beer as much as the next guy. What I do take issue with is the extent to which the God-Men take this particular type of “manliness” and claim that it has it’s own ontology that is written into the DNA of every male.

Case in point is the example of the 26 year old construction worker who takes off to go camping with his friends and leaves his wife at home with their infant, despite her protests that she needs his help around the house. His justification: "I am supposed to be the leader of the family." Yes, you are supposed to be the leader of the family. You know what leaders do? They put the needs of those they lead over their own personal desires. You kicking off to go camping when your wife needs your help is not you being a man or a leader. It’s you being a spoiled little kid who does what he wants, gets bored, and expects mommy to clean up the mess. The only way you’re being a leader in this situation is if you say, “I need a weekend away, and I know you do, too. So I’ve booked you a few days at the spa next weekend and I’ll stay home with the baby then. That way we can both recharge.” Something tells me he this was not his course of action.

While God-Men may serve a good purpose and may very well be helpful to a lot of people, it seems that the extremes to which they go in promoting immature manliness will have as much, if not more destructive effect than any positives they may achieve. If I may lay my liberal cards on the table (if you haven’t already guessed this then you haven’t been reading me very closely), what God-Men really represents is the ideological extreme of what George W. Bush has brought to America. It’s the “I’m the leader (or decider, if you will), I have all the power, therefore I’m always right and if you tell me otherwise you’re helping the terrorists/devil/Al Franken/whoever” mentality. Not that W. created this mentality, of course, but he does epitomize it. It's time we moved beyond the "Man Show" mentality, even the Christianized version of it, and realized that leadership is more about responsibility than the use of power.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I'm baaack

Hey everyone. I'm back from my long blogging hiatus. Getting married, finishing my Master's thesis, and writing ordination papers tend to get in the way of updating the blog. A new post of substance will be up soon, and I won't wait three months in between postings again. I hope everyone had a happy new year!