Friday, January 30, 2009

The 1:28s

I know a lot of people of the Christian persuasion that have a "Life-verse" or some similar title, more or less referring to a Bible verse that defines or somehow shapes their life. I think this can be kind of cool, even though I become highly suspicious any time individual Bible verses are quoted with no reference to context. Blame my Div School education for that particular quirk.

I don't really have one, myself. I have a tattoo of a cross over my heart, with the citation "Romans 8:38-39" under it, so I guess that might count.

My wife, Jessica, says that Matthew 11:19 should be "my verse", because my name is Matthew and I was born on November 19. It's oddly appropriate because it says "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

Read into that what you will. Those that know me (especially my college friends) can tell some stories.

Going on the "birthday verse" theme, I've been considering a particular Bible verse for my daughter, Kate, who was born on January 28. This isn't quite as easy as mine, since there is no biblical book called Kate or Katharine or anything like that. Blame patriarchy, I guess.

But nonetheless, I've been scanning through the Bible for books with a chapter 1, verse 28. Here are some of the cool ones I've found.

Genesis 1:28 "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" (them being the man and woman, who are given the names "Adam" and "Eve" in the second creation story in Genesis)

1 Samuel 1:28 "'So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.' And he worshiped the LORD there." (Is this good or bad for a preacher's kid?)

Ezekiel 1:28 "Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking."

Mark 1:28 "News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee." (if it said "region of the Internet" it would be perfect!)

Luke 1:28 "The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Colossians 1:18 "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ."

Of course, not every book of the Bible has a verse 1:28. Maybe a quarter of them do. And of those, there at least a half dozen that would be inappropriate or just weird. (Those of you with too much time on your hands can go look for the ones I'm talking about)

OK, so what does everyone think? I have two or three favorites, but I won't bias the discussion by saying which ones. Maybe I'll create a poll tomorrow.

Thanks again for all those who have left comments on Jessica's and my joint blog, Facebook, MySpace, sent emails, flowers, cards, visited, brought food, and everything else folks have done. We are truly grateful for and humbled by the outpouring of support from our friends and family.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Introducing Baby Kate!

Katharine Barry Kelley is here! She was born at 2:07 pm on January 28, 2009, weighing in at 7 pounds, 15 ounces, and 20.5 inches long.

Pictures and a narrative of our journey of labor and delivery are at the joint blog Jessica and I keep together: The Parsonage Family (

Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

Baby Kate!!!

We're at the hospital now, and we're getting ready for Baby Kate's arrival. Frequent updates will be at our joint blog: The Parsonage Family (

Thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. Pictures and news will come soon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Further Insight into "English Only"

According to a story in today's Tennessean, the recent attempt to make English the only allowable language for official government business in Nashville was almost entirely funded by an outside group: ProEnglish of Arlington, Virginia.

For those that didn't follow the story, when the deadline came to report fundraising for and against the amendments in the special election, the side in favor failed to file their report. It now seems that we know why.

Furthermore, the fact that the English Only effort was almost entirely funded by sources outside the state helps explain why Eric Crafton, the Nashville Councilman who sponsored the amendment, was so nonchalant when it failed. 

According to the Tennessean story, Crafton was contacted by this nativist special interest group who wanted to use Nashville as a test case and were willing to fund the campaign in favor of the effort. He put the wishes of this special interest group ahead of the needs of the people of Nashville who elected him. 

Some estimates have put the cost of the special election on these amendments at over a quarter of a million dollars. This money could have been better spent improving Nashville's schools or funding efforts to help immigrants better assimilate into the community.  How many ESL classes could that money have funded? And yet Councilman Crafton thought it would be better to spend Nashville-taxpayers' money on a test case for a special interest group.

The effort against "English Only" helped motivate compassionate, progressively minded people to get involved in local government. I hope that they will stay involved and that people who actually have the best interests of Nashville's residents, especially the immigrant population, in mind will run for seats on the Metro Council so that abuses like the one Mr. Crafton was all too happy to enable do not happen again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


A reminder to all Davidson County residents to go out and vote against the English Only Amendments. If you're still on the fence, or need to figure out where to go vote, all the relevant info is on Nashville for All of Us.

And since you're in a voting mood, click over to Jessica's blog, The Parsonage Family, and vote on when Baby Kate will be born. Your prize if you guess correctly? BRAGGING RIGHTS! What could be better than that?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thoughts on Transition

I'm writing this post just as President Obama has finished his inaugural address. There aren't too many folks who didn't stop to watch and or listen to this historic moment.

At this moment when we're looking forward hopefully to all that President Obama will do, many are also taking time to reflect (and some to argue) on the presidency of George W. Bush. Many of my colleagues in the clergy are inclined to defend Mr. Bush, if for no other reason than the fact that he wears his Christianity on his sleeve and so comfortably tosses around many "Christian" buzz-words.

Personally I think that while President Bush is probably a very good man, he was a very bad President. I disagreed with a number of his policies, but ultimately that's not why he was a bad President. George W. Bush was a bad President because he never stopped to ask if what he was doing was right.

In his farewell address the other night, President Bush illustrated his highly dualistic view of the world when he said "good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise". This is a wonderful theological statement but it can't serve as a governing principle in a world that is infinitely more complex than he was willing to admit.

President Bush always assumed that what he was doing was good and that those who opposed him were on the side of evil. He demonstrated this view time and time again, beginning after 9/11 when he told foreign governments that they were either "with us or against us".  He never asked if the things his administration was doing were good or evil because he assumed that he was right and that the ends justified the means. It never occurred to him that one could do evil in the pursuit of good. This lack of curiosity and reflection was what made George W. Bush a bad President.

President Obama has demonstrated that he is a very reflective person with tremendous curiosity about what we are doing and why we are doing it. He believes in good and evil, but he does not assume that any nation or even any person can fall completely into one category or another. 

He illustrated this in his inaugural address when he said, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our values". This is not a man who sees the world as black and white (in all the different senses of the term), even though he believes in right and wrong. He is able to see the "both/and" possibilities without being overly relativistic.

Regardless of our political affiliations, I hope we can all be happy that we now have a President who asks difficult questions of himself and those around him and who doesn't automatically assume that he is always right and that the ends always justify the means.

Best wishes, Mr. President. Our prayers are with you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts on MLK Day

The world is pausing to remember the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. this year as perhaps never before, since we are less than 24 hours away from inaugurating our first black President, Barack Obama. Most of the MLK retrospectives we encounter focus on the "safe" King. They play clips from the "I Have a Dream" speech and celebrate how legalized segregation is now ended. But very little attention is paid to the Martin Luther King who is still dangerous and threatening to our society today, 41 years after his death.

In the last few years of his life, King began to broaden his focus from issues of segregation to large issues of justice, particularly war and poverty. This shift in focus did not exactly sit well with many of his supporters, but King understood that justice is justice, and he didn't back down from his call for justice no matter what form it took, no matter how unpopular it might be.

In 1967, King gave a speech at Riverside Church in New York City called "Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence", where he called for an end to the Vietnam War, among other things. The speech was controversial then, and there are certain parts of it that challenge us today as we are involved in two wars abroad and witness an ever widening gap of economic inequality at home. You can read the full text of the speech here. The audio file is embedded in the page. I've posted an excerpt below:

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

This speech was about Vietnam, but it could easily be about Iraq, the global economic shift, and the post 9/11 world. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. is still a prophet, challenging us to rise up and make a better world than that which has been handed to us. He is still a threat today. We can be sure that he would still be assassinated today.


Here is a very powerful video that includes audio form the aforementioned speech. Thanks to gavoweb for bringing it to my attention.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It Might be Heart Warming After All

One of the most common jokes among Methodist preachers is about John Wesley's Aldersgate experience. After coming back from a stint as a missionary in America that can't be described as anything but a total failure, Mr. Wesley was quite depressed and wondering what God was up to. 

In his journal Wesley describes going to a meeting of a religious society on Aldersgate Street in London (which no longer exists, and is now the entrance to a shopping mall), where Luther's Preface to Romans was being read. Wesley writes that as he sat there he had a sensation of his heart being "strangely warmed", and the claims that it was the first time in his life he felt completely assured of God's love and grace.

The joke, of course, is that Luther's Preface to Romans is probably the least heart warming document one can read. Some say this is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, because no one would feel warm and fuzzy listening to Luther!

I've read Luther's Preface to Romans a handful of times, and that's the conclusion I've come to every time. But recently I decided to read it again because I'm teaching a short term Disciple class at Bethlehem on Romans, and I became curious again what it was that so affected Wesley.

I saw something new this time. I do not now, nor will I probably ever experience Martin Luther's writings as heart warming, but I'm beginning to see how John Wesley might have. The reader understands, in no uncertain terms, that Luther believes they are a wretched, dirty sinner. So whose heart would this warm? Only a person who already felt like a wretched, dirty sinner!

I think John Wesley found tremendous hope in Martin Luther's writings because they gave voice to what he was already experiencing. Wesley himself may not have been able to describe it, but Luther was. So when Luther gets around to the good news (such as it is), Wesley was already hooked. Luther accurately described the problem as Wesley experienced it, so Luther's solution would be very heartwarming, indeed.

This is just further proof that God's grace works in all kinds of different ways, and just because I may not understand it doesn't make it any less real. I've certainly felt unworthy of God's grace, but probably not to the extent that Luther or Wesley did. So the way they articulate God's grace in the midst of our Sin is probably not going to resonate with me the way it will with someone who shares Luther and Wesley's anxieties.

I still don't experience Luther's Preface to Romans as heartwarming at all, but I can appreciate how someone else like John Wesley would.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Against "English Only"

For the last few weeks, the proposal to amend the Metro-Nashville charter to mandate that no metro government business can be conducted in any language other than English has been, at worst, a local embarrassment. But recently the issue picked up national attention with a front page article in the New York Times, making this issue a national embarrassment.

For once, the official voices of the United Methodist Church are on the right side of the issue. Our Bishop, Richard Wills, has spoken out against the amendment, as have a number of pastors in the Nashville area. Jay Voorhees, pastor of Antioch UMC and master of the Methodist Blog Roll, has set up a website called Nashville for All of Us that explains why this amendment is a bad idea. 

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean are also against this amendment, and neither of them are what most of us would call "progressives".

If this amendment were to pass, Nashville would become the largest city in America to restrict government business to one language. It would send a message to the rest of the country and the world that Nashville is not a place that is welcoming or tolerant of diversity. Currently our city enjoys such a reputation, even though we are not in an area of the country where diversity is appreciated.

Perhaps even worse than the damage to our reputation would be the message that it would send to our own immigrant population, who already work extremely hard to integrate themselves into the Nashville community. I hope and pray that all thoughtful people that are registered to vote in Davidson County will make the right decision and vote against Motions #1 and #2 so that Nashville can continue to be welcoming place for all people.

Friday, January 09, 2009

TN Conference Publicity

Below I've pasted the article from latest edition the TN Conference Review, which included an article about the Trace Adkins video filmed at Bethlehem UMC a few months ago:

Adkins, Baldwin film at Bethlehem Methodist

By Beth Liggett Cogbill and Chris Smith, reprinted from the September 10, 2008, Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, Tennessee.

Country music star Trace Adkins and actor Stephen Baldwin created a stir in Montgomery County Tuesday filming at Bethlehem United Methodist Church on Gholson Road.

A few dozen people were at the scene, including camera crews, a crew from CMT filming the shoot and spectators from the church.

Trace Adkins and Stephen Baldwin with Bethlehem UMC pastor Matthew L. Kelley

Filming took place inside and outside the church, and at Big McAdoo Creek for a Baptism scene.

During some shots, police held up traffic on Gholson Road for a few minutes at a time.

Adkins' many hits include "Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk" and "Ladies Love Country Boys." Baldwin appeared in "The Usual Suspects" among other films and in recent years has been outspoken in Christian ministry.

The two were among 14 contestants this spring on NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice," hosted by Donald Trump. Adkins made it to the final two.

An anecdote from Bethlehem UMC pastor Matthew Kelley:
The person who played the pastor in the video is a longtime Nashville songwriter, so the director asked me (Matt) to coach him and Mr. Baldwin on how to accurately do an immersion baptism. They told me later that I would be credited as a technical consultant for the video. The things they don't teach you in seminary!