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.