Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sports Moment of the Year

Bob Ryan is one of the better sports talking-heads out there. "Around the Horn" is always better when he's on the panel (incidentally, the show is so much better since they gave Jay Mariotti the boot). For further proof that the guy knows what he's talking about, here's his "Moment of the Year" in sports:

While his description causes all Butler fans to relive the pain of Gordon Hayward's almost-there buzzer beater, he's right in saying that Butler's tournament run proves that anything really is possible.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Holy Innocents

Today our Roman Catholic brethren are observing the Feast of the Holy Innocents, where they recall the story from Matthew's gospel where Herod orders the massacre of male infants in an attempt to wipe out anyone who would usurp his throne.

While this historicity of this story is pretty doubtful (Matthew includes it to strengthen the theme of Jesus as the new Moses), it does remind us that throughout human history, even at this very moment, there are untold numbers of holy innocent children that suffer and die needlessly.

It's estimated that as many as 30,000 children die every single day all over the world from malnutrition and other hunger related conditions. As an American who consumes far more than my fair share of the world's resources, I'm led to conclude that in many ways, I stand in the shoes of Herod on this Feast of the Holy Innocents.

So today I'm making a small gesture to help those holy innocents, most of whom will not be remembered by the world. I'm making a donation to Bread for the World, which is a great organization helping to fight hunger all over the world.

If you could find a way today to make a gift to them or any other charity you deem worthy, those holy innocents who are forgotten by the world, but are precious in God's sight, will be very grateful.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Archbishop Williams' Christmas Message

This morning (after presents, stockings, breakfasts, etc.), I was perusing the Christmas messages of prominent religious figures, and I found Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Eve sermon particularly moving. The challenge he issues is aimed primarily at Britons, but it's quite applicable to us here in the states.

Canterbury's website has the text, and ITN has a small portion of the video:

(someone please let me know if you find the full video).

May you all have a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12 Days of Christmas

I haven't been blogging much lately, not because I don't have thoughts that I want to share, I'm just not able to put them together in any coherent fashion. Once I've had some space to reflect on what I've been experiencing lately, I'll share more.

That said, in the spirit of the season, here's something that brings a smile to my face. I hope it does yours, too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

1 Corinthians- Christmas Version

A colleague forwarded this to me today, and it really spoke to where I'm at right now. I'm having trouble experiencing any sort of peace or joy this Advent, and Paul's word interpreted to the season helped remind me of what is really important. May it be a blessing to you, as well.

1 Corinthians 13 (Christmas Version) –Author unknown

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Last Minute "Black Friday" Challenge, er, ah, Deal!

As of the time I'm writing this, we're mere minutes from "Black Friday": the most American of holidays. Once we've spent a day overeating, now let's get up really early to overspend on stuff we don't need!

OK, OK, snark aside, I actually appreciate Black Friday on some level.

OK, I lied. One more bit of snark: we call it "Black" Friday, but isn't it middle class white people that make this day so crazy?

I promise the snark is out of my system now. Pinkie swear.

As I was saying, I appreciate the concept of a day with lots of sales. Businesses need to turn a profit, and we can all stand to save some money in a time where the economy is down. If you're getting up early to take advantage of the savings (which means either you're up really late and not getting enough sleep tonight, or you're reading this on your phone while in line at some store), I applaud you for saving money.

I have one question: what are you going to do with the money you've saved?

If you're motivated enough to get up really early and go fight the crowds, chances are you have a pretty good idea how much money you've saved today. And chances are you've told at least one person how much that is. So I'll ask again, what are you going to do with it?

We live in a time when almost none of us has enough money, so I'm not going to ask you to do anything drastic (but, to be fair, Jesus did ask someone to do something drastic once). I'm simply going to ask you to consider a tithe from your savings.

Did you go out and save $500 on Christmas gifts today? Great! A tithe is 10%, according to a number of ancient sources. So if you saved $500, consider giving $50 to a charity. Any charity. It could be a local church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious center, it could be the Red Cross, it could be World Vision, it could be HEAL Africa (the benificiaries of the recent 30 till 30 Challenge), or any of the literally thousands (heck, probably millions) of worthy charitable organizations out there. I mean, you already saved all that money. Giving a tenth of it away isn't going to hurt.

So here's the challenge. Go take advantage of those great Black Friday deals. Figure out how much you saved. Then tithe 10% of it to any organization you feel deserves it. Then leave a comment on this blog and share what kind of good you did with your Black Friday savings. And if you choose not to broadcast it, then it's just between you and God, and Jesus had something very positive to say about that.

Personally, I'm not getting up early tomorrow, and I probably won't be shopping at all. Cyber-Monday will probably be a different story, however. But I'll be keeping a tally of what I'm spending and how much I'm saving in holiday gift-buying. I'll commit right now to giving away at least 10% of those savings. Will you join me?

If we all decided to tithe one-tenth of the money we save during all of these holiday sales, we could make a huge impact on the world.

What I'm Thankful For

among many, many other things, of course, but these two girls are a constant reminder of God's love and grace to me.

May you have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

30 years later

I woke up today to find myself no longer in my twenties. Thus far everything seems to be staying in place, but we're only a few hours in.

Just kidding. Actually, I feel pretty good. We raise a total of $1,230 for HEAL Africa in the 30 till 30 Challenge. Thanks so much to all who donated!

Jessica and I will be at the Flying Saucer in Nashville at 8 tonight, and everyone is welcome to come hang out, even if we just know each other online. I'd love to meet you in person!

As so often happens, Tim McGraw expresses what it feels like to mark a major life milestone better than I could

Monday, November 15, 2010

Unplugging for a few Days

Until Wednesday afternoon, I'll be on a retreat at the Merton Center in Kentucky, which is next to the Abbey of Gethsemani.

There's still a few days left in the 30 till 30 Challenge, and I'd love to come back and see some more donations.

May you experience God's peace and love in the midst of the stresses of your week.

Friday, November 12, 2010

30 till 30: One Week to Go

I'm staring down the last week of my 20s, and I'm very encouraged by seeing how many folks have donated to the 30 till 30 Challenge.

So far we've raised $980 for HEAL Africa ($730 through the site, and another direct donation), and our donations have already helped One Day's Wages (the site hosting the Challenge) surpass their fundraising goal for this worthy organization. I'd love for us to pass $1,000 or even hit $1,500 to help empower women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be economically independent, allowing them to break generations long cycles of violence and abuse in this war-torn region.

To all those that have already donated, thanks so much for helping me turn what is normally a narcissistic event into a redemptive moment for people who have seen and experienced things we can't even imagine.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A tragic Loss

I was saddened this evening to learn of the death of Sarah Bayrd, my favorite teacher from high school. She taught AP US History, and she was an amazing person.

I'm still in shock, and I'm finding words difficult at the moment (a rare thing for me), but here is the tribute I sent to the Brentwood Home Page:

I am shocked and saddened at the death of Sarah Bayrd. A 1999 graduate of Brentwood High School, I took AP US History from Mrs. Bayrd and was honored to serve as one of her office workers when I was a Senior.

Plain and simple, Mrs. Bayrd was the best teacher I ever had. Not coincidentally, she was the hardest teacher I ever had. But no one ever disliked her for that. She was strict, but everyone understood what the expectations were from day 1. Many who graduated at the top of our class and were used to getting A's on everything felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when we got B's on Mrs. Bayrd's tests, but we knew that at the end of the year we would ace the AP exam. Other AP classes during my Senior year at Brentwood seemed relatively easy because they did not have the intensity and expectation that Mrs. Bayrd's class had (incidentally, at Brentwood, no one ever said "I'm taking AP US History"- they simply said "I'm taking Mrs. Bayrd").

No class did nearly as much to prepare me for college as did hers. I was fortunate enough to receive scholarships to Butler University and Vanderbilit Divinity School, and in those demanding institutions I had to assume responsibility for learning a large amount of material on my own without being spoon-fed by teachers. I learned how to do that in Mrs. Bayrd's class.

Her teaching continued into my Senior year, when I was able to serve as an office worker for her. We took care of menial tasks, of course, like making sure that the coffee maker in her class room was always full and that the vanilla candles were always lit (I can still recall the smell of her classroom to this day), but we also got to put together her tests and take care of the occasional off-campus errand (without the explicit permission of the school). The trust she placed in us was not taken for granted.

I could go on for much longer. Sarah Bayrd was an incredible teacher who inspired and challenged untold numbers of students to work harder and achieve more than they ever thought possible. I am one of the many lives that is so much greater for her presence in it. She will be missed.

This world is a much better place because Sarah Bayrd was in it. May we all be so fortunate as to have that truly said of us at the end of our lives.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

If I was wearing a costume this Halloween...

I would probably be a character from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But since I'm going as "Daddy escorting a toddler dressed as a cat" (pictures to come soon), I'll have to live vicariously through this guy who clearly has a great sense of humor and way too much time on his hands

Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

30 till 30 Challenge Update

One week (slightly less than 1/3 of the way, for you non-math majors out there) into the 30 till 30 Challenge, and we're doing great!

So far we've raised $760 for HEAL Africa!

Quick aside: while we haven't yet reached our goal of $3,000, donors to the 30 till 30 Challenge have already helped One Day's Wages surpass its partnership goal of $25,000 with HEAL Africa. Way to go!

If you have already given, thank you so much! This is the best birthday present I could imagine!

If you haven't please consider, chipping in, even if it's just a few bucks. There are literally thousands of worthy causes out there, and the needs always exceed our ability to give. However, your donation will help provide training and resources to women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help make them economically independent and allow them to escape the horrible cycles of poverty, abuse, and oppression in this war torn region.

Together, we can make a big difference. Thanks for your gift.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Religion on "Community"

"Community" is one of the best shows on TV right now. The ensemble cast doesn't have a weak link, and the writing is so good they even make Chevy Chase funny without reversing time back to 1980.

Last night's episode, "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" tackled the subject of religion with a fantastic mix of irreverence and deep respect (and no, those are not mutually exclusive concepts). I won't even attempt to explain the plot, except to say that it involves viral videos, a messiah complex or two, and a dash of ageism. Watch and see what I mean.

Here are the best religion related quotes from the episode:

"This lack of subject definition goes both ways. If farts are fair game, so is God" (John Oliver, defending the watching of random YouTube videos in Anthropology class)

"Being raised by TV and movies, I always thought Jesus just walked on water and told people not to have abortions, but it's so much cooler than that. He was like ET, Edward Scissorhands, and Marty McFly combined!" (Abed, the Muslim student and budding filmmaker, when considering directing a Christian viral video)

"Jesus, did you really die for our sins? That's dope!" (a line from the really lame Christian "viral" video. Jesus/Troy then proceeds to rap)

"Every minute of our lives is a world premiere, and my Father has already bought the popcorn" (Abed, playing a messianic figure)

"Did you just scripture me, Muslim?" (Shirley, getting mad at Abed proof-texting her)

"Isn't every movie (about Jesus)? Is the Matrix? Robocop? Superman Returns? All stories about death and resurrection." (Abed, talking the Dean out of shutting down his movie on account of separation of church and state, which, according to Christine O'Donnell, is not in the Constitution)

"Dear God, my movie is the worst piece of crap I've ever seen in my entire life. I've got a real 'Snakes on a Plane' brewing. Please take this project away from me." (Abed, out in the courtyard, or 'Gethsemane', if you will)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, word to the meek. The Kingdom of Heaven is open all week." (Troy rapping the Sermon the Mount. Incidentally, Donald Glover, who plays Troy, has a rap project called Childish Gambino, and it's really awesome)

So what did you think? Were there good quotes that I didn't include on the list? What, if anything, are the folks at "Community" trying to say about the place of religion in our world? Discuss!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Announcing the 30 till 30 Challenge

It's October 19. On November 19 I turn 30. Birthdays are, almost by definition, a massively narcissistic phenomenon. This year I'd like to do something a little different.

So I'm officially announcing the 30 till 30 Challenge.

In the next 30 days I want to raise $3,000 for HEAL Africa. $3,000 will provide three Fresh Start Kits, each of which provides basic training and equipment to a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo (be it a sewing machine, start-up capital, livestock, etc.) so that she can be economically independent and escape the endless cycles of poverty and violence in this war-torn region.

$3,000 will change three women's lives. One for each decade I've been on the planet. That kind of beautiful symmetry is the best birthday present you can give.

If you'd be so kind as to make your donation through the One Day's Wages "Birthday for a Cause" page I've set up, we can keep track of how much we've raised. You can donate directly through HEAL Africa's site, of course, but like I said, birthdays are an exercise in narcissism.

Seriously, though. This blog has enough readers that if everyone kicks in a few bucks, we can easily raise $3,000 by November 19. We can make a world of difference for some people we'll probably never meet. That would be way better than anything I could ever unwrap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Starts Early

The Mis-Informant: Part 2 with Jack Black as Nathan Spewman from Jack Black

You start playing fast and loose with facts just for fun, and before you know it, you're the lead anchor on the Fox News Kids Channel!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Whose House Would Jesus Watch Burn?

I was saddened by the news the other day that a local fire department in Tennessee had to watch a mobile home be destroyed by a fire because the owner didn't pay an annual $75 fee for fire protection. What really brakes my heart is the quote from the firefighter who said they all wanted to do something, but knew they would be in trouble if they did. So they just stood there and made sure the fire didn't harm the homes of others who had paid the fee.

Unlike a lot of news that saddens me, I was actually surprised to hear this. I didn't realize that local municipalities were so hard up for money that they had to charge extra fees for what most of us consider essential services. And even if that's the case, the firefighters must have been really afraid for their jobs to be able to fight against what basic human decency would otherwise compel them to do. It's the system, not the firefighters, that are at fault here.

As if the story wasn't sad enough to begin with, some right wing commentator felt the need to add insult to injury by claiming that letting the man's home burn was the "Christian thing to do":

In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.
(quote courtesy of Right Wing Watch, via Tea Party Jesus)

Fischer's justification of allowing your fellow human beings to suffer right in front of you just confirms Brian McLaren's contention that there is not just one Christianity out there, but many different kinds that all demand our allegiance (check out A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith for more on this concept). I talk a lot about all followers of Jesus being one and us having to learn to live together, and I still believe that, but things like this make me wonder if people like Fischer and I really worship the same Jesus.

Maybe I'm just too "liberal", or I've been co-opted by "feminized Christianity" (only women stood by Jesus at the cross, while all the guys ran and hid, so maybe a feminine touch isn't such a bad thing?), but when I read Matthew 25, I can't find Jesus saying to the sheep (the ones who get into heaven),

Blessed are you, for when you saw me hungry, you told me to get a job. When you saw me in prison you advocated for longer sentences and the death penalty. When you saw me sick you said I didn't deserve health care. When you saw my house burning you stood there and watched it burn because I didn't have the money to pay a fee. You guys really taught me a great lesson!

I've read lots of different translations, and I can even read a little Greek. Trust me, it's not in there!

Incidents like this are part of the larger problem of the disgusting state of public discourse in our country. People see that they will get lots of attention if they say the meanest, most hateful, most divisive things they can think of, regardless of whether they actually believe these things or not.

One of the young ladies in my congregation posted a very insightful poem that sums up what many of us in the "Reasonable Majority" feel about the current state of political dialogue in our country. Take a minute and read "Politics, Ugh" by Melissa Smith.

I continue to hope that this moment in history will be a brief, ugly chapter in a story that ultimately climaxes with the triumph of God's reign in the world. But living in this moment is really hard, so the sooner we start the next chapter, the better.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

It's Time for the Bullying to Stop

The news has been filled with reports lately about teenagers who have committed suicide because they were bullied for being gay. Let's be clear: this isn't a new problem. It's just finally getting the attention it deserves. We've also seen news that an Assistant Attorney General in Michigan is being prosecuted for cyber bullying a courageous University of Michigan student, bullying that he tries to hide behind the veil of free speech.

I hope that our society is finally starting to see that we have a serious problem that has gone ignored for far too long.

I am a Christian who does not believe that being gay or having a same sex relationship is a sin. I respect my brothers and sisters who disagree with me, but I believe we can respectfully disagree while still affirming the sacred worth of the persons in question. All persons are of sacred worth and bear God's image, and thus do not deserved to be degraded and bullied simply because they are different.

This is bigger than liberal v. conservative, Republican v. Democrat, or any other of the constructs we use to divide ourselves. This is a choice of love or hate, and we've been turning a blind eye to hate for far too long.

I preached about similar issues last year when the sexual orientation issue was, sadly, successfully used as a smoke screen to get people to vote against a number of proposed amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church.

You can listen to the audio of this sermon on our podcast, or read the text here.

Or you can just listen to Ellen Degeneres, who says it way better than I ever could

Ellen Degeneres/ Important Message from Ryan Glorioso on Vimeo.

or, for that matter, Sarah Silverman (just be aware she drops an F-bomb here)

Life is hard enough as it is when you're a teenager. Let's take a stand and help our young people learn how their actions can have unintended consequences.

Would Jesus bully the gay kids, or would he step between them and the insecure bully who's probably secretly struggling with his own sexuality?

Answer that question and you'll know where to stand.

Monday, October 04, 2010

At the Table with the "Other"

I generally don't post sermons online, because I think you don't fully experience proclamation unless you're part of the community being addressed. But I think what I preached yesterday for World Communion Sunday addresses some crucial issues in our society, not just our congregation.

The texts are Leviticus 19:33-34 and Luke 10:25-37.

Imagine a hypothetical situation with me. Imagine if I told you that there was a religious group here in Clarksville, and this religious group gave us some reasons to be concerned. This religion claims to be peaceful and loving, but their holy book is filled with violent acts done by their god and by people at the express command of this god. There’s even a passage in that book where it talks about being joyful when you take your enemies’ babies and smash them against the rocks!

Imagine that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their holy book is only the beginning of the troubling things about this group. Throughout the centuries people of this group have raped and pillaged and murdered on a scale unrivaled in human history. Again, they claim to be a peaceful religion, but in the last decade a member of this very sect became the leader of a country with a huge military, and he used his power to invade other countries, and he frequently invoked the name of their god to justify doing it!

Now at this point, you might be thinking that this group sounds sketchy, but they’re probably no threat to me. But remember, I told you they’re here in Clarksville. What if I told you, this group is about to build a new center here in town, close to where many of us live, that they’re going to hold their meetings there, they’re going to study their holy book there, and they’re going to try to recruit more members? What if I said that they’re especially interested in bringing in your children and indoctrinating them? Now we’re probably saying, “wait a second! I don’t like this at all! Someone needs to stop this scary religious group!”

Now imagine I told you that this group’s name was Bethlehem United Methodist Church.

Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? That’s not fair! How could anyone possibly come to the conclusion that Bethlehem United Methodist Church is a shadowy, possibly violent religious group? What on earth just happened here?

Well, first I cherry picked a few things that are essentially true and I took them drastically out of context. The part about the holy book being filled with violent acts? Check out the book of Joshua and see how the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. Some of that stuff will make your blood curdle. The part about being joyful while dashing infants’ heads against the rocks? Psalm 137, verse 9. Yikes. The long history of violence? Those are the crusades and the centuries of Protestant/Catholic wars in Europe. The modern leader of a country who invaded other countries? That’s George W. Bush, who is a Methodist. But I took it out of context, not saying anything about 9/11 or fears about weapons of mass destruction.

Selectively picking certain things and taking them out of context makes it very easy to paint a scary picture. That is, until I put a name to the group I’m talking about. Then it falls apart because no one in our community would accept the premise that a United Methodist congregation is dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed to build a new worship center. Not only would people not accept it, they would say that such an argument is intentionally misleading and unfair.

And yet that is exactly what we in our society to do all kind of other religious and ethnic groups, but we don’t protest and say, “that’s intentionally misleading. That’s not fair!” We don’t speak up, not because we’re hateful or prejudiced ourselves, but because we generally don’t know any of the people in these minority groups, so we don’t have any kind of knowledge or experience to refute these arguments. The manufactured controversies over Islamic centers in New York and Murfreesboro are a perfect example. Muslims have been part of those communities for years, but because they’re a minority, most people don’t know them, so when someone comes along wanting to stir people up by painting a scary picture of Muslims, most of us don’t really know what to think. We can be lured into believing misleading and hateful speech because we have very little else to inform our opinion.

My hypothetical example fell apart because people know Methodists, but it works in other cases, because most of us don’t really know any Muslims.

Bashing religious and ethnic minority groups is nothing new, of course. It’s as old as humanity itself. The passage we just read from Luke is one of the most beloved stories today, but in Jesus’ time it was a shocking and offensive story, because the wrong person was the good guy. The Samaritans are a different ethnicity, and they worship in a different place. If a Jewish person was traveling north from Jerusalem up to Galilee, they would take an extra day and go around Samaria because they were afraid of Samaritan gangs that would assault people along the roadside, kind of like what happened to the traveler in Jesus’ story.

But in Jesus’ parable, instead of the Samaritan being the bad guy, he’s the hero! The priest and the Levite aren’t bad guys. They actually had good reasons for not stopping. The Samaritan takes a huge risk by stopping along a dangerous road, picking up a wounded person who would slow him down, and spending a lot of money to take care of a Jewish man who probably hates him, who if he were conscious would think that the Samaritan were there to finish him off. The one who truly fulfills the Law and experiences eternal life is not the one who is a part of the right group and worships in the right ways, but the outsider who actually does what the Law says.

Jesus is telling this story in response to a question from an expert in the Law. This guy is very well versed in the minutia of the Torah, and he’s got another agenda in asking the question. Luke says that the guy “wanted to justify himself”. He’d already made up his mind about who his neighbor is, or more specifically, who is neighbor isn’t, and he’s looking to Jesus to affirm his prejudices. But Jesus won’t give him a free pass to love some people and hate others. Jesus proclaims the true spirit of the Law that commands us to treat everyone as our neighbor, regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not. That’s a message that is as relevant to our time as it was to people in first century Judea.

Today is World Communion Sunday. It’s a day when we affirm our fundamental connection with not only all Christians all over the world, but also with all of God’s children. This day is the perfect time for us to come to the table as a sign of unity with all human beings, to confront all the prejudice and hatred in our world and say “no more”.

The first thing we have to do is repent. Our Communion liturgy includes a prayer of repentance asking God to forgive all the things we have done, and the things we have left undone. Maybe we as individuals haven’t actively participated in the hatred against our neighbors, but how many of us have actively spoken against it? If we hear our friends engaging in bigoted speech, do we speak up and say, “please don’t do that. That’s hateful. That’s wrong.”? I know that far too often I just stay silent because I don’t want to get into an argument, and unfortunately my silence implies my consent with what’s going on.

So not being part of the problem is a good start, but our repentance and our resolve to do better have to go farther than that. We can begin with speaking up when we hear people being put down just because they’re different. If we’re ready to go one step further, we can take a step outside of our comfort zone and go intentionally get to know these others that we know so little about. We don’t have to go far to do this. They’re right here in our own community.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple weeks, and I decided to put my money where my mouth is. On the day before the anniversary of 9/11, I went to the Islamic Center of Clarksville for Friday prayers, which is the main weekly worship service for Muslims. I’ll be honest, I was super uncomfortable. I’m an introvert, so going somewhere were I don’t know anybody, where I’m the only white guy and where I’m completely unfamiliar with what is going on is not my idea of a good time.

But I went anyway, and it turned out that the Islamic community in Clarksville could not be more welcoming. They were happy to welcome a Christian to pray with them. They showed me what to do and they didn’t laugh or give me strange looks when it was obvious that I was totally clueless. Even though we pray to the same God, their way of worshiping and praying in different physical positions is unfamiliar to most American Christians. It turns out that this group where I thought I didn’t know anyone isn’t so scary after all. One guy there named Mohammed works at the Kroger down the street. I met lots of others who shared my concerns about all the hateful rhetoric out there and didn’t want more violence between our people.

Going to pray with the local Islamic community for one hour on a Friday didn’t solve all of the issues between our two faiths, but it was one small way to begin building bridges between us. Now when I see Mohammed at Kroger I stop and take a few minutes to talk about how our families are doing, and that brief conversation makes my day a little brighter. I’d like to think that we are beginning to emulate St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer “let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

If we can step outside our comfortable circles where we only hang out with others who are like us, we will begin to see that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. As we come together to the table of fellowship today, let us remember that in doing so we are united with all of our brothers and sisters in this great human family God has created, whether we like it or not. Come to the table with those who are like us, and with those who are “other”, because in doing so we will truly begin to see the face of God.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Religious Literacy, or Lack Thereof

A new Pew Forum study points out something that shouldn't shock anyone: "Americans are by nature a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion" (thanks to the New York Times for summing up the issue so well).

In my admittedly brief lifetime, I have never seen a time when people in this country seem to be so judgmental about other religions. And that's saying something, given that the rise of the religious right happened not long before I was born. 

This study by the Pew Forum confirms what I've been thinking for a while now. The reason that so many people are expressing such strong and frequently hateful opinions about other religious groups is because they are completely ignorant about who these groups really are. If all you know about Islam comes from 9/11 footage and American flag-burning rallies in other countries, then it's easy to hate Muslims. Fear is rooted in ignorance, and this study documents the ignorance that feeds the fear and hatred we are seeing right now.

The most interesting part of this study is that atheists and agnostics consistently had the best scores on the  test, because they have given the most serious thought to religious questions, as opposed to many religious people who just accept major truth claims without questioning them at all.

So here's my question for you all. How much do you need to know about other religions to give you license to criticize them? Take a short version of the Pew Forum's quiz on CNN's website. Does your score show that you know enough about other religions to make intelligent, informed comments? Or does it tell you that you have some more to learn?

I'll share my score on the quiz later, but I want to see what other folks have to say first.

Tuesday evening update- the Pew Forum site has a 15 question version of the quiz, and you can compare your results against their statistics. Take the quiz here, report your score (if you want), then decide if that gives you sufficient ground to critique another faith tradition.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mean Guy on a Monday

Check out this guy attempting to tear Adam Hamilton a new one, Glen Beck style. All he's missing is a chalkboard.

There are, quite literally, no words. The irony is just so perfect that any comments from me would take away from the experience.

That doesn't mean that you can't comment, though. Share your thoughts!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Due to the number of disrespectful and sometimes downright hateful anonymous comments made on this blog, I have changed the settings to only allow comments where people identify themselves. Yesterday's post on health care was not the first time this has happened, but it is the last straw.

I will continue not to moderate comments, because I want people to be able to speak their mind, and to feel free to disagree. A few cowardly people have necessitated this change. If you can't sign your name to it, don't say it, at least not here. There are literally millions of other sites where you can continue that kind of garbage, but The Truth As Best I Know It is not one of them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Health Care Changes

Yesterday a number of provisions of the new health care legislation went into effect. As with any highly charged political issue, folks are making a lot of noise over it. The legislation isn't perfect, but I have a real problem with those who want to repeal it altogether, because one of the provisions that just went into effect prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to people because of pre-existing conditions.

If the legislation is completely repealed, this is one of the people who would be hurt:

Her name is Becca Hill, and she's the smallest premie ever to survive in the state of Tennessee. Her parents (whose permission I received to post this) are dear friends of my family and I. My daughter, Kate, and Becca enjoy playing together and share a love of Elmo. Becca is now two years old, and while she still has a laundry list of medical issues, she's a walking, talking miracle. 

As of yesterday, health insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny her coverage based on pre-existing conditions. This walking, talking miracle is a walking, talking pre-existing condition. She's already exceeded half of the lifetime caps mandated by most insurance companies, so those who say we should completely repeal the health care legislation are effectively saying that it should be OK to deny Becca the care she needs. Whether or not these people realize that's what they're saying, I can't accept their argument.

You can follow the progress of this miracle baby on her mom's blog.

I think there should be ongoing discussion about amending the legislation. But it seems that fear rather than reason or compassion is dominating the political discourse. It's easy to forget that real people are being helped by these changes, and going back to square one would bring great harm to people who are already among the most vulnerable among us.

Perhaps we should think about how these real people are affected by our political actions instead of comparing anyone we don't like to deceased German dictators.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mad Men, Sad Men

I recently read a great profile of Mad Men's Jon Hamm in The Guardian, where (in stark contrast to Don Draper) he talks a lot about some formative, painful experiences early in life, including struggles with clinical depression for which he took medication.

Since I'm not a regular reader of The Guardian, I became aware of it through references in several other media outlets. An article on CNN referencing the Guardian profile all expressed surprise at Hamm's depression, since he plays such a "dapper, suave" character on TV.

I'm not sure if this writer has actually watched Mad Men, but it seems pretty obvious to me from the show that Hamm has a very deep understanding of the insecurity and self-loathing that people who suffer from clinical depression are able to successfully hide behind a confident exterior. Hamm is not Don Draper, but he clearly knows that man very well. (He says that the character is based, in part, on his father)

I've like Jon Hamm ever since I saw him host SNL. I was already a fan of Man Men, but I gained a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person when he was willing to make jokes about the very thing that made him famous, never mind demonstrating his range as an actor. He doesn't take himself too seriously, which enables him to be so good at what he does.

I hope that Jon Hamm's openness about his struggles help clear away the stigma associated with mental illness. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help, and doing so does not make you weak or less manly. One of the best decisions I ever made was to admit I had a problem I couldn't control, ask for help and to allow others to help me get better.

Hamm's comments on anti-depressant medication are helpful, too: "And honestly? Antidepressants help! If you can change your brain chemistry enough to think: 'I want to get up in the morning; I don't want to sleep until four in the afternoon. I want to get up and go do my (stuff) and go to work and…' Reset the auto-meter, kick-start the engine!" Anti-depressants don't change your personality. They take the edge off enough so you can talk yourself through the low moments, so you can will yourself to get out of bed and go live your life.

Jon Hamm doesn't need to become the national spokesman for NAMI or anything, but I do hope that he continues to speak up about issues of mental illness. Depression can be such a crippling condition because you believe that you're all alone, and seeing someone else openly talk about how they've struggled and made it through reminds you that's not true.

If you're feeling depressed and alone, and you think that it will never get better, listen to a handsome actor or a goofy blogger: you're not alone. Talk to a counselor or a doctor. There are brighter days ahead.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

See You After the Pole

"See You at the Pole" time is upon us once again. On Wednesday morning, students and youth pastors all over the country will gather around flag poles in front of schools to pray together.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but I'm not impressed. And it has nothing to do with the idolatry of ostensibly praying to God with the symbol of a nation at the center of your gathering. (Well, not nothing, but that is kind of ironic, isn't it?)

No, the reason I'm not impressed with "See You at the Pole" is because of the massive gap between the rhetoric that surrounds it and what actually happens there.

One morning when I was in high school, I saw a large group of people gathering around the flagpole in front of the school. I walked over and asked what was going on. Someone explained to me what "See You at the Pole" was, and they were surprised that I went to church but didn't know about it, implying that something was wrong with my church. (Later in life I realized that my church didn't feel the need to flaunt our faith, since Jesus said not to do that.)

I listened as one of the youth pastors from a nearby church told us how courageous we all were for being there that morning and taking a stand for God. I looked around and saw that all the pretty, popular people were there, and I thought that statement was strange because it didn't take a whole lot of courage to join a large group following the lead of the popular kids. That's what always happened at school. Looking back, I think it would have been much more courageous of me to speak up and challenge that guy's assertion, or even to simply walk away.

After the prayer (that I had a difficult time paying attention to because I started counting all the "Lord God/Lord Jesus"-es, and couldn't keep track somewhere after 30ish), I went up to say hi to one of the pretty, popular students, since I had heard the youth leader say that all of us there were each others' true friends and whatnot. The girl gave me a "why are you talking to me?" look of surprise/disgust and quickly walked away. As she was getting as far away from me as she could, I heard her say to one of her pretty, popular friends, "wow, did you see how (girl's name) was dressed? What a skank!"

I'd like to think that my experience at See You at the Pole was an exception, and that it really is a great, encouraging thing for students. And if that is or was your experience, that's great, and I certainly don't want to take away from it. But over the years I've met too many people who have had very similar experiences, and because of them they have given up on Christianity altogether, to simply dismiss it.

I've come to believe that it doesn't take a whole lot of courage to stand around a flag pole and hold hands with a bunch of people while listening to a religious speech with your eyes closed. It takes a lot more courage to seek out the kid who sits by himself at lunch and be friends with him, or to speak up when a group of people is laughing at some girl behind her back. It takes real courage to not only forgive someone who has done hurtful things to you, but also to treat that person with the same love and kindness that you would show to your best friend.

If someone sees you at the pole, that's great, but what's really going to make a difference is what they see after we walk away from the pole.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope and the Queen

Pope Benedict XVI (who will always be Joey Ratzinger to me) began a historic state visit to the UK today. There's been lots of media coverage, but no one seems to have noticed an interesting exchange they had as they were standing together observing the adoring crowds.

Apparently Her Royal Highness and His Holiness are trying to one up each other with demonstrations of who can sway a crowd better. "Watch this, Joe," says Her Majesty. "With a wave of my hand I can make all the Brits cheer and go crazy." So she stands up, waves (elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist), and of course, all the Brits cheer and go crazy.

"Ah, zat is nothing," His Holiness says, in a very bad German accent. "Vit a nod of mein head, I can make all the Irish people scream, cheer, and talk about it for ze rest of their lives!" So Benedict stands up, smoothes his cassock, and head-butts the Queen.

Why the mainstream media hasn't reported this, I have no idea.

If you thought the preceding joke was stupid, blame Lisa Maniker-Hewitt for making it part of one of my favorite high school memories ;) If you really want to know why, ask nicely.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What We'd Be Missing

if the Park 51 Center in Lower Manhattan isn't built

See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

Yes, yes, it's not serious. But they're right that we really aren't all that different. I mean, laser tag! Soft pretzels! Free puppies!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Honoring the Victims of September 11 by Blogging the Quran

In memory of those who lost their lives nine years ago today in an act of senseless violence, I feel like the best thing we can do is to witness to the hope we have in the face of evil and terror.

I've written in more detail about this previously, but I believe that if we allow hatred and fear to divide us, particularly hatred and fear of our Muslim neighbors, then the terrorists who hijacked those planes and turned them into missiles nine years ago win. Their message was loud and clear: "it's us or you. We can't live together, so one of us has to win and the other has to lose."

If, however, we refuse to accept the "us or them" argument and live in such a way that shows we can love our neighbor (something Jesus talked about repeatedly), no matter how different or strange that neighbor may be, the the men who killed thousands of people from all over the world on 9/11 will be proved wrong.

With the goal of defying the terrorists in mind, I attended Friday afternoon prayers at the Islamic Center of Clarksville yesterday. They were extraordinarily gracious in welcoming a Christian minister to pray with them and explaining how to participate in their prayers. Soon I'll post in more detail about my experience praying with my Muslim brothers, but for now I'll simply say that it was very uplifting and I look forward to getting to know them better.

I'm very encouraged by demonstrations of love like the Memphis area church that is actively building relationships with the new Islamic center next door.

At the urging of Andrew over at Tall Skinny Kiwi, I'm also participating in "Blog a Quran Day", sharing some verses from the Muslim's sacred text as a way of proclaiming that those who died in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were not casualties of a war with winners and losers, but victims of murders who falsely believed that all of God's children cannot live together in peace. May they never be forgotten, and may our witness help end the conflict so tragedies like 9/11 will never happen again.

From Surah 10, verses 9 and 10 of the Quran (Sahih International Translation):

Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds - their Lord will guide them because of their faith. Beneath them rivers will flow in the Gardens of Pleasure. Their call therein will be, "Exalted are You, O Allah ," and their greeting therein will be, "Peace." And the last of their call will be, "Praise to Allah , Lord of the worlds!"

(For those that are wondering, Allah is simply the Arabic word for "God". Arabic speaking Christians pray to Allah, just as Spanish speaking Christians pray to Dios, Germans to Gott, etc. Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in the same God.)

With men and women of all faiths, I pray for peace to grow in the hearts of all of God's children this day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This Just Keeps Getting Weirder

The sad "Quran burning, or not, well maybe" saga in Florida just keeps getting weirder.

Word came yesterday that the event was canceled, causing a mass wave of elation and linking/posting online (including yours truly). Woo hoo!

Then we discover the Quran burning was canceled because a deal was made (perhaps nowhere other than in Pastor Terry Jones' mind) for Jones to fly to New York City and negotiate the moving of the Park 51 Center. When the respective imams in New York and Gainesville said they had no idea what Jones was talking about, Jones left the door open for the burning to go ahead.

Meanwhile, here in Middle Tennessee, a pastor plans to burn a Quran on Saturday and post the video online. I hope he decides to back down, too.

All of this leads me to conclude that those who have been challenging the media not to make this a bigger story are on to something. Prior to the last 24 hours, I thought that this was news and that blaming the media was using a cheap target and missing the point.

However, seeing the flip-flopping on the burning and the competing claims about meetings, I'm starting to wonder if Pastor Jones isn't crazy (he is a pastor, after all; we've all got a screw loose!), but extremely savvy when it comes to manipulating the media.

After all, what to the Park 51 center in New York and a tiny, hateful church in Gainesville have to do with one another? Nothing, except for the fact that they're both front page news, and Jones sees that fabricating some kind of connection between them will keep him on the front page for a little bit longer. And that might be the whole point of this exercise.

It may be that Pastor Jones shares a compulsive need for attention with people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, willing to say and do anything to get people to notice them regardless of what they really believe or who they may hurt. We, the media consuming public, eat it up, because like a car wreck, we're horrified but we can't look away.

Semi-related aside: Mark Silk over at Spiritual Politics has a humorous take on all this. Perhaps a good laugh will ease the tension. Thanks, Mark.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

More Positive Steps for Observing 9/11

Earlier I posted about "Read a Quran Day", an alternative and much more beneficial way to observe the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks than a Gainesville church's "Burn a Quran Day".

I've since seen a few more good ideas. Andrew over at Tall Skinny Kiwi has suggested that bloggers all join in for "Blog a Quran Day" on Saturday, sharing verses or passages from the Quran to show that there are Christians who are not afraid of and can actually appreciate other faiths.

I'll be participating on Saturday. If you're a blogger, put the address of your page in Andrew's Comments section so he can add you to the blogroll.

I'm also personally going to step out of my comfort zone and take my witness physical, not just virtual. I hate to admit it, but I've lived in Clarksville for over three years and not met anyone from the local Islamic Center. So I'm going over for Friday prayers at 1pm tomorrow, as a way of saying that not all Christians are intolerant, hateful bigots. Anyone in the Clarksville area is welcome to come, or go to your local Islamic Center or mosque wherever you my reside.

That's what I'm doing. What about you, dear readers? What are some other concrete steps Christians can take to provide a positive witness to our Muslim brothers and sisters? How can we extend the hand of friendship today?

A Good Alternative This Saturday

Tragically, this Saturday, on the 9th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a Florida church will be holding a "Burn a Quran Day".

I've blogged previously on why I think this kind of demonstration shows how some Christians have a lot in common with the terrorists they claim to oppose. In fact, I think events like "Burn a Quran Day" means the terrorists win. (The aforementioned post will explain what I mean).

(Interesting sidenote- over at Essence Restored, Will McCorkle writes about how this demonstration shows America's solid commitment to truly free speech. Kudos to Will for finding the silver lining.)

For a moment there was a ray of hope that the burning wouldn't take place. Not because Pastor Terry Jones had seen the light or anything, but because General David Peraeus, Commander of American Forces in Afghanistan, said that such a demonstration could put American troops in danger. For a day or so Jones claimed to be rethinking the burning because of his respect for our troops.

I'm glad Jones is concerned about our soldiers' safety, but it would be nice if he had equal concern for the picture this would paint of Christianity. After all, his church is ironically named "Dove World Outreach Center". The dove is a universal symbol of peace, but burning another religion's holy book is neither peaceful nor an effective outreach for the gospel. So it's already clear where his priorities lie.

During the Labor Day weekend, an idea for a peaceful alternative demonstration occurred to me, but before I could put a blog post or a Facebook group together, someone beat me to it, and frankly, I couldn't be happier that they did.

The pastor of a UCC Church in Gainesville (where God lived for a few years, before Tim Tebow graduated) has proposed a "Read the Quran Day". I'm going to participate, and I hope you will, too.

The best alternative to the kind of ignorance and hatred displayed by Terry Jones and his church is education. Grab a copy of the Quran from your local library or look it up online. If you'd like to go the extra mile, pick up a copy of Islam for Dummies (written by one of my professors from my Butler University days, Malcom Clark).

Take some time to educate yourself and you'll see that Islam is a beautiful religion and we have nothing to fear from Muslims. Sure, there are violent extremists, but we have them in Christianity, too. They're called the KKK. To say nothing of televangelists who joyfully advocate bombing our enemies (not exactly how Jesus said to deal with them).

If you're still against Islam, that's certainly your right, but at least you'll understand what it is you're against. As GI Joe said, "knowing is half the battle".

To see the deep irony of the Quran burning, check out this parody commercial. (Warning- some NSFWish language here)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Quote of the Day

Sometimes I think John the Revelator might have been a crazy old man whose creative writing assignment for the Patmos learning annex accidentally made it into the Bible.

from Rachel Held EvansEvolving in Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

Evans' book is one of the many excellent spiritual memoirs that have come out in the last few years. I didn't grow up a small town evangelical like she did, but I found a lot that I could relate to in this book. Check this book out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Podcast Episode 12- The Jesus Question

A new episode of The Truth As Best I Know It Podcast is now live.

We're continue our journey through Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that Are Transforming the Faith with “The Jesus Question”.
We talk about differing conceptions of Jesus, casting Jesus in our own image, the variety of things the New Testament says about Jesus, and how the way we answer the question “who is Jesus” tells us a lot about our theology and about who we are.

You can listen to the episode on Podbean (the gracious hosts of our podcast), or download it on iTunes. If you're an iTunes subscriber, please take a few minutes to rate our show and write a review!

For those that may not have seen it, here is the scene from Talladega Nights we reference in this episode:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guest Blogging- Sunday Sermon

This week I've been invited to guest blog on's Homiletical Hot Tub.

If you're not a member of (and if you're a pastor, you should be- it's full of great resources), you can read what I wrote below.

This is the sermon I preached on the final Sunday of our Capital Campaign, "Bethlehem on the Rise". The title is "Sun Rising", and it is based on Genesis 1:3-5 and Matthew 5:14-16.

We just read from the first of two creation stories in the Book of Genesis. The one we just read from was probably composed in the form we have it about five centuries before the time of Jesus, and it is this beautiful liturgical song of praise about how God took the primal chaos and shaped it into the amazing created order that we see in the world today. This story has been around for at least twenty five hundred years, and it still takes our breath away.

Unfortunately, in our time, some of the beauty of this story has been clouded over because, for a couple centuries, Christians of different stripes have kept trying to turn the creation stories of Genesis into something they’re not, and we’ve done some damage to ourselves in the process. The generations of folks who passed down this story verbally from generation to generation, and eventually wrote it down had what we now call a “pre-scientific” understanding of the universe. For all they knew, the earth was flat and everything in the sky revolved around the earth. They weren’t dumb by any stretch of the imagination. They talked about who God is and how God works using of their best understanding of the shape of the universe and our place in it.

But over time that understanding began to evolve. In the sixteenth century we see a Polish priest named Nicholas Copernicus who also happens to dabble in mathematics and astronomy realizes that it isn’t the sun that revolved around the earth, the earth actually revolves around the Sun! About a generation later, an Italian guy named Galileo Galilei, who is also a faithful Catholic, says the same stuff and a lot of people start to think that there’s something to this.

Sadly, these brilliant men and their ideas didn’t exactly get a positive reception. They were called heretics and Galileo was actually dragged to Rome and tried by the Inquisition as a heretic. The church (and I’m talking about all churches: Catholic, Methodist, everyone) is and always has been a human institution, and in many of these critical moments we have succumbed to that most basic of human flaws: fear. Fear of change. Fear of new knowledge that might threaten the established order and our power in it. Fear of the unknown. Too often we reject new ideas and understandings because we are afraid and we only see the negative possibilities, and we miss out on the potential they bring.

Today’s theme in our worship is the “Sun Rising”, and the evolution in our understanding of what the Sun is, and in turn, what our place in the universe is, serves to remind us who we are and who God is. The very phrase, “watching the Sun rise” implies that we are standing still and that everything revolves around us. But if you’ve ever been on a beach or on top of a mountain and watched the Sun rise, you’ve probably been struck by how big this world is, and how small we are in comparison. As scientific discovery has shown us that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that even the Sun revolves around the center of our galaxy that is just one of billions in the universe, we’ve seen that truth again. We are not the center of the universe! We’re actually quite small in the grand scheme of things! We are not ultimate: God is. And the God who is ultimate, the God who is the center of the universe, cares deeply about each and every one of us. Little ‘ol you, and little ‘ol me are of sacred worth because we are created in the image of our great big God.

Perhaps this lesson about humanity’s place in the universe is also a word to our community today. We’re raising money right now to build a new church home. We’re in the midst of doing something really important, and any time we’re doing something important we can easily get stressed and blow things out of proportion and succumb to fear. So when that stress hits, when that fear is right in our face threatening to swallow us whole, let us remember our place in the created order. That amazingly beautiful, sacred piece of property on Gholson Road is but a speck on this Earth, this planet that revolves around the Sun, which is one of billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is but one of billions, or more likely, trillions of galaxies in this universe.

We don’t have to worry, because the fate of the cosmos does not hang on what we do here! We are important, but we are not ultimate. God is the center of the universe. God is ultimate.

Jesus tells us we are the light of the world, and to let our light shine. Just as we are not at the center of the created order, neither are we the source of that light. We are not the light of the world because of some innate goodness on our part. We are the light of the world because we are created by God, the God who actually spoke light into existence! We are not the source, we merely reflect the source of this light. So all we have to do is be what we are. Jesus tells us to let our light shine before people so that they may see it and praise the God who is ultimate, the God who is the center of the universe, the God who is the source of the light we shine.

So let us build our new church home, and let us attract some attention as we do it. Not for the purpose of being satisfied with the works of our hands, but to direct attention to the source of that light that is within us, so that all may see and praise the God who said “let there be light”. Saints of Bethlehem, let it shine.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Hope on a Sad Day

Forty seven years ago today, one of the greatest preachers of all time gave perhaps the greatest sermon in the English language. The best part is that the last, most famous section of "I Have a Dream" was unscripted. King had used the phrase before, but it took on a life of its own on this day.

Sadly, today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin and others are holding a blasphemous rally in an attempt to hijack the legacy of Dr. King. I'm not watching it, because as you can probably tell, I already have too much fuel for the judgmental spirit that too often takes over me.

Intstead, I'm feeding my soul with something more positive today. I hope you'll join me in turning off the cable news and spend a few minutes soaking in the words of a true prophet.

It doesn't matter if you've never seen this before or if you've seen it hundreds of times. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words never fail to inspire.

Amen, Dr. King. Amen.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg on Islamaphobia and Hypocrisy in America

"This whole issue will go away after the next election. This is people trying to stir up things, to get publicity, and trying to polarize people so they can get some votes"

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Michael Bloomberg
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Well said, sir.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Blogging- Wednesday

I'm guest blogging this week over at's "Homiletical Hot Tub", sharing about my weekly sermon preparation process.

If you're not a subscriber to (and if you're a pastor, you should be), you can read what I wrote below.

On Tuesday night our church holds our Roundtable Pulpit gathering at a local Starbucks to discuss the passages and themes for the coming Sunday. You can read more about our collaborative preaching process here.

It would be difficult if not impossible to replicate the entire conversation. And any attempt to do so would violate the “safe space” spirit we’ve cultivated for these gatherings, so what I will share is a slightly expanded form of the notes I took during last night’s conversation.

As a side note, my exegetical work and notes from the Roundtable conversation usually stay in handwritten bullet points in my notebook. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to make coherent paragraphs out of them. I’m not sure what kind of difference this new experience will make in the final product, but I’ll let you know at the end of the week.

Without further ado, here are some highlights of last night’s Roundtable Pulpit conversation on Genesis 1:3-5 and Matthew 5:14-16, and the theme of the “Sun Rising”.

We are supposed to be the light of the world, but what if our light is somehow dimmed or tainted? God is the source of the light, and any marring of that comes from us or those around us, life circumstances, etc.

Light illuminates other things, but also draws your attention to its source. We are to be like a mirror, reflecting the light of Christ, but ultimately calling attention away from ourselves and giving the glory to God. Drawing attention to our deeds but effectively giving God the glory is very hard do to, and this kind of humility is never perfected.

Physics has taught us that we can’t see anything without light bouncing off of it, and the way we perceive things like colors is due to how things filter and refract light. What do we filter out and what do we let through? What kind of a prism are we?

There’s something significant about the light and dark being separated at the beginning of creation. The idea that “we all start off in darkness” can be taken in multiple ways. Theologically, some people believe that one only “sees the light” at a specific moment, at which time they become “saved”. We can also understand it in terms of being in the womb, and when a baby comes out there are bright lights, so it shuts its eyes and screams because it has no idea what is going on.

Regarding sources of light, why are we drawn to them? When we have a campfire, why do we sit there and watch it dance, as if transfixed? We don’t usually build a fire unless it is dark, but a fire takes on a life of its own and we don’t know which way it will go next. Fire also purifies. It is how we separate elements like silver and gold to make jewelry.

When our new church building is being constructed, it will literally rise (gradually) from the ground up. It will attract lots of attention, and there will probably be a number of visitors who come because they are curious and want to see what we’ve built. Our challenge will be to direct their attention toward the glory of God and not to be too proud of what we have made with our hands.

Our understanding of the sun has evolved over the centuries. For a long time we thought the earth was the center of the universe. Then we learned that the earth revolved around the sun, and later that even the sun wasn’t stationary, but revolved around the center of a galaxy that is merely one of billions in the universe. Even though it took the church a few centuries to catch up to this evolving scientific knowledge (in many ways we’re still catching up), we have a better understanding of our place in creation and how we are not the center of it all.

We could easily have carried on this conversation for much longer, but at the end of the designated hour we closed with prayer. Over the rest of the week I will be distilling all of this into one core idea, and build the sermon around that. Friday is designated as “sermon writing day”, and hopefully I’ll share some kind of outline by then.

Until then, thanks for reading. Blessings to all you pastors out there crafting your messages for Sunday!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seven Years Ago Today

I went to orientation for Vanderbilt Divinity School, and while playing a "People Bingo" game, I met a very attractive fellow first year student.
I tried to be smooth, but she saw right thorough me. A few days later, for reasons unknown, she agreed to go out on a date with me. The rest is history.

We've been "Dancing in the Minefields" ever since, and there's no one I'd rather spend my life with. I love you!