Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thoughts on Aldersgate Day

Today is Aldersgate Day for those of us who follow in the tradition of Mr. Wesley. On May 24, 1738, Wesley had his heart warming experience at Aldersgate that would come to influence Wesley's view of our continual need for salvation, as opposed to the single salvation experience theology advocated by our contemporary evangelical brethren.

To commemorate Aldersgate Day I'm reposting something I wrote a few months back that came out of my attempt to better understand Wesley's Aldersgate experience, particularly the role that Martin Luther's writings played:

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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Podcast Episode 6- Nationalist Religion

A new episode of the Truth As Best I Know It Podcast is up!

In this episode, "Nationalist Religion", Matt and Jessica reflect on the release of the "American Patriot's Bible" and issues that arise at the intersection of religion and national loyalties.

You can see the new Bible mentioned in the episode here.

Please feel free to comment on any issues raised in this episode in the comment section.

You can click on the title above to listen online, or listen at Podbean, where our podcast is hosted.

And, of course, you can (and should!) subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

A Trip to the Mailbox

I took a break from sermon writing this afternoon to go get the mail, and in the midst of all the junk mail (seriously, we have to stop this tree holocaust) I found two interesting pieces of mail. 

One was my renewed passport. The other was a letter from my District Superintendent, confirming that I was being appointed to Bethlehem UMC again for the coming conference year.

This struck me as a tad ironic, because although my passport allows me to go anywhere in the world, I'm staying right where I am for the time being.

Don't get me wrong, I love my congregation and I'm very glad to get to serve them for another year. I just thought it was kind of amusing.

PS- for those who are wondering, the next episode of The Truth As Best I Know It Podcast will probably be recorded later today and should be up sometime this weekend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Funding for Metro General Hospital

Yesterday I was very privileged to take a tour of Nashville's Metro General Hospital with several dozen other pastors. The tour was organized by my friend, Jay Voorhees, who has been leading the effort to get Nashville's Metro Council to fully fund the hospital so that they don't have to cut back on services for the uninsured. You can find out more about the cause at a website Jay has set up, Nashvillians for Metro General.

I went on this tour having mentally prepared myself to see some pretty heartbreaking stuff. As a pastor I've visited a number of health care facilities run by tax dollars, and it's never been a pretty sight. Whenever state and federal budgets get tight, these are the first places to lose funds since there is usually no one to fight for them in budget meetings. So publicly run health care facilities are often underfunded, understaffed, and the staff they do have are overworked and underpaid. Thus the quality of care is often very poor. Whenever I've needed hospital care I've been very fortunate to be able to choose a private hospital like Vanderbilt or Gateway, but that's only because I have very good health insurance.

I went to Metro General expecting to see what I've described above, so you can imagine I was blown away by what I saw. The hospital has clean, well maintained facilities and is staffed by people who were extremely friendly and very dedicated to their work. Most of the first floor is taken up by various clinics that offer free services for the uninsured: everything from mammograms to orthopedic care to cardiological services. They even have an infusion center where people can receive cancer treatments in comfortable, private spaces.

At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to hear from the administrators of Metro General. I was amazed to learn that their budget is a fraction of what a place like Vanderbilt has to work with, and yet the level of care is just as good. Even more amazing is that Metro General has no reserve funds and no line of credit, which is unheard of for a multi-million dollar organization.

If Metro General's funding is cut, it will have to seriously curtail and eliminate services it provides to the poor, homeless, and others who don't have adequate health insurance. The 47 million uninsured people in this country have no access to preventative medicine other than free services such as the ones that are provided at Metro General. As a result, they end up in the emergency rooms of other hospitals once their conditions, which would have been treatable had they been diagnosed earlier, are beyond the point of no return. The free services offered by Metro General save thousands of lives every year. To cut the funding would ensure that these services would be eliminated, effectively sentencing thousands of people to early deaths. 

Adequately funding Metro General Hospital isn't just a nice thing to do if we can. It is a moral imperative.

I'm no longer a legal resident of Davidson County, so this blog is the biggest contribution I can make to the effort. To all Nashville residents who read this, please take a moment to send your council member an email and tell them not to cut Metro General's funding. You can do so quickly through the City Council's website. There is a rally at the Metro Courthouse at 4:30pm on Thursday, May 21, just before the budget hearing gets underway. Please come if you can to support health care for Nashville's uninsured through Metro General Hospital.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Podcast Episode 5- Better People?

In this episode Matt and Jessica discuss a Pew Forum study that suggests that participation in organized religion makes people nicer individuals and better citizens. We wonder aloud why that is, how that might actually look, if there are exceptions, and possible negative uses of this information.

You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

You can click the title above to download the episode, or listen to it in the player below:

Thanks to the good folks at Podbean for hosting us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Participating in the Civil Religion

image courtesy of the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
(Notice how on the right side of the banner there is an image of the continental US with the word "God" in the middle. I'm assuming they didn't mean that America is God, but it's still a bit strange. Make of it what you will...)

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer, and I was asked to be part of the day-long observance at the Clarksville YMCA. Pastors of all different stripes (I'm assuming that non-Christian clerics were not invited, which is a shame) would take the microphone in the gym and pray for fifteen minutes. My particular time slot was in the middle of the afternoon, and there were about two dozen folks there. I left most of the time for silent prayer, because I figure if someone wants to hear me yammer on for fifteen minutes straight they'll come to my church.

Normally I get very uncomfortable about things like the National Day of Prayer. Not because I think prayer is a bad idea- I think prayer is great! Nor because I'm not a fan of our nation- I love America. (I don't like everything my government does, but I'm thankful for the freedom to say so without fear of persecution). Nor is it because I don't think we should pray for our nation- it needs a lot of prayer.

The idea is great. But the rhetoric about America being a "Christian nation" often implies that what is good for America is good for Christianity, and vice-versa. That makes me uncomfortable because I don't believe that this is always the case.

Hearing some of my clergy colleagues pray during their fifteen minute slots, I often heard phrases like "Lord, let your will/justice be done in this nation". While I don't know for sure what these individuals meant by that, I often hear such phrases coupled with ideas like "returning this nation to its former glory", which was presumably before sex, drugs, rock and roll, abortion, gay marriage, and Hillary Clinton.

But I have to wonder, do we really want God's justice in our nation? If God's will really is fulfilled, we might be in trouble here in the USA. Reading the Hebrew Prophets, one is lead to believe that God's idea of justice is everyone having and equal share of the resources, and an end to inequality and the idols of materialism. In Mary's Song in Luke (often called the Magnificat), she praises the God who lifts up the humble and brings down the lofty.

Do we really want that in America? We live in a country that has about five percent of the world's population, but we use a quarter of the earth's resources. According to the My Ecological Footprint Quiz, if everyone on the planet lived like I do, we would need 7.62 Earths! And I'm fairly conscious about my consumption compared to a lot of people I know!

I'm not trying to dump on my country or anything. My point is that we should be careful what we pray for. If God's justice was truly done in our country, then we'd be knocked down several pegs. We'd have to stop thinking that we are somehow better than everyone else on Earth be forced to live very simply, so that the 3 billion people who live on less than $1 a day would have a chance to live into what we consider "old age".

Let's be careful what we pray for, America. We just might get it, and we might not like it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Mother's Day Tribute

This is technically a date late, but yesterday was so busy it was hard to find a few spare minutes to blog.

So I'd like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to the best mom I know, who also happens to be the newest mom I know. She loves her daughter more than anything in the world and spends every moment with her she can. She's also a very successful career woman who is a great role model, showing her daughter that you can do anything you want. And on top of all that she's extremely beautiful!

The only complaint anyone could make against her is her choice of husbands, but that's just proof she's charitable, too.

So Happy Mother's Day, Jessica. You are the greatest wife and mother in the world, and I'm very proud to be your partner in life. I love you!

PS- Jessica posted cute video of Kate on her blog yesterday, which you should definitely check out.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


It seems that in a post I wrote recently on how my church dealt with the Swine Flu issue, I accidentally contracted foot-in-mouth disease.

I was being a bit silly and sarcastic in describing certain ways of doing communion, and attempting to use that as a contrast to what I believe to be theologically better practices of the Lord's Supper.

However, it came across another way. Some folks thought I was being disrespectful of my congregation. That was certainly not my intent, and I apologize to anybody who was offended by my comments.

If anybody wants to talk about it (or anything else, for that matter), please feel free to contact me directly.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Truth As Best I Know It Podcast- Episode 4: Church Shopping

After a number of technical difficulties, the latest episode of The Truth As Best I Know It podcast is available for mass consumption.

In this episode, Matt and Jessica debate the merits and drawbacks of the "church shopping" phenomenon, with the requisite straying into rabbit holes of other topics.

Now there are a few more options for listening.

If you want to download the file from this site, click the post title or below.

If you want to subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, click here.

And if you just want to check it out while you're here,

Thanks to the good folks over at Podbean for hosting us.

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