Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jennifer Knapp on Larry King

Larry King had Jennifer Knapp on his show recently to talk about the interaction of her faith and her sexuality (I'm imbedding Part 1, there are 3 more parts you should check out)

Here are some of Jennifer's best quotes from the interview:

"I've had experience with denominations that openly accept the rich diversity of the types of believers     within their communities"

"We are somewhat at the handicap of our interpretations of a sacred text"

"Any time we read a book or we read any kind of word that it becomes the interpretation of our life's experience"

"It doesn't make the truth any less truth or love any less love"

"I recognize that love is a choice; my sexuality I'm not so sure about"

"I feel blessed to be able to be fully who I am"

"Do not use my name as a substitute for the word 'homosexuality'"

At one point, when conversing with pastor Bob Botsford, who (not maliciously, but very smugly) condemns Knapp to her face, she asks why, if her being gay is a sin, and no sin is worse than any other, are they sitting there having this conversation? Why is she not in the other chair condemning him for some "equal" sin? (Jennifer was so gracious and respectful, and yet didn't back off in telling him to leave her alone. We could all learn a lot from her reaction.)

Larry ended by having Ted Haggard on, and I was really blown away at how gracious Haggard was toward both Jennifer Knapp and Bob Botsford. Haggard is clearly still steeped in the Evangelical community, but his perspective seems so much broader than when he was the pastor of a mega-church. He seems much more comfortable with the messiness of life while following Jesus.

In the split screen, Botsford seemed extremely uncomfortable with what Haggard said. The depth of God's grace often makes us uncomfortable, and Botsford seems to be very uncomfortable with people who are OK with not knowing the answer to every question because they trust in grace.

Many thanks to Larry King for providing such an engaging and insightful hour of conversation!

Restoring Stephen Baldwin

There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere regarding the Restore Stephen Baldwin website, with folks disagreeing over whether it is real or an elaborate hoax. Bloggers have used the site's mention on South Park as proof for both sides of the argument.

I think this is for real. Without going into too much detail (because I don't want to be mean), I got to know Stephen a bit when he was in a music video that was shot at our church in September of 2008. He seems like the sort of person who would believe that he needs millions of dollars so that he can effectively witness to the Hollywood community.

I won't offer much commentary (again, I don't want to kick a guy when he's down), but let me say that this sort of get-rich-quick scheme was much funnier back when it was done on In Living Color.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Liberty University Really Stands For

Liberty University, the evangelical Christian college in Virginia founded by Jerry Falwell (and currently run by his son, Jerry Jr.), has invited Glen Beck to give this year's commencement address.

This is more than a little ironic, because as a Mormon, Beck would normally be shunned by most Evangelicals. Jerry Falwell called Mormonism a "cult" on numerous occasions during his lifetime. Beck was even dis-invited to an interview by Focus on the Family after people protested them having a "non-Christian" on their program.

So why would Liberty invite someone to practices what they believe to be a "false religion" to give such a prestigious address to their students?

Clearly Beck has been invited because he hates the same people Liberty hates: namely President Obama. Falwell Jr. claims that inviting Beck is part of "Liberty's long tradition of commencement speakers who are making a positive impact on society in all walks of life."

Don't equate "positive impact on society" with "social justice", though. Beck has told people to leave their churches if they preach social justice, since it's apparently a code word for socialism.

By inviting Glen Beck, Liberty University is proving once again that they value their identity as Americans (at least, their definition of what a "real" American is) more than their identity as Christians. The fact that Beck shares their political orientation trumps the fact that they think he is going to hell because of his religion. But this orientation is probably what led Falwell to name the school "Liberty" in the first place, rather than something more distinctly Christian like "Grace" or "Something Bible College".

Say what you want about them, but at least they're being clear on what is most important to them. The neo-conservative vision of America comes first. Evangelical Christianity comes second.

Friday, April 23, 2010

If You're on Facebook

Then you've no doubt seen the dust up over a group that prays for President Obama's death, and claims that it's a joke. Just when you thought we'd reached the bottom of the barrel in our national discourse, someone created a new low.

The really sad part is that lots of well meaning people (including friends that I hold in very high regard) joined the group. Have we been so bombarded by the Glen Becks and Keith Olbermans of the world that we're desensitized enough to think that praying for someone's death can be funny?

I'm taking a stand, and I hope you'll join me. Tomorrow from 8am to 8pm (local time wherever you are), don't log on to Facebook. The drop in participation will show the administrators of Facebook that people won't tolerate hate speech disguised as humor. If you're so inclined, RSVP to the Logout for Civility event page.

It's a small gesture (well, maybe a big one if you're a Facebook addict), but if enough people participate it will have a huge impact.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Merton on Change

I've been on a Thomas Merton binge of late. The biggest reason for this is that he lays bare his soul and says what he is actually going through, not just what he is "supposed" to say. More specifically, he really speaks to me because he always struggled with how his vocation as a writer and a priest could be an adequate expression of his calling as a child of God. He also struggled to live faithfully within a hierarchical institution that was very slow to change, even when those changes would enable them to more effectively minister to the world.

This one passage from The Sign of Jonas (a collection of his journals from 1946-1952, essentially the sequel to The Seven Storey Mountain) keeps coming back to me. Even though he was a Cistercian monk in the mid-twentieth century, and I'm a Methodist minister in the early twenty-first, I think at the core I'm struggling with the same issue he was in December of 1947.

"We cannot reproduce what they (twelfth-century Cistercian architects) did because we approach the problem in a way that makes it impossible for us to find a solution. We ask ourselves a question that they never considered. How shall we build a beautiful monastery according to the rules of a dead tradition? This we make the problem not only infinitely complicated but the reason why it is dead is that the motives and the circumstances that once gave it life have ceased to exist. They have given place to a situation that demands another style. If we were intent on loving God rather than upon getting a Gothic church out of a small budget we would soon put up something that would give glory to God and would be very simple and would also be in the tradition of our fathers. That is why the best looking buildings around Gethsemani are the barns. Nobody stopped to plan a Gothic barn, so they turned out all right. If they had build the gatehouse on the same principles as the hog-house it would have been beautiful. Actually it is hideous. 
... One of the big problems for an architect in our time is that for a hundred and fifty years men have been building churches as if a church could not belong to our time. A church has to look as if it were left over from some other age. I think that such an assumption is based on an implicit confession of atheism- as if God did not belong to all ages and as if religion were really only a pleasant, necessary social formality, preserved from past times in order to give our society an air of respectability."*

In that last paragraph Merton really convicts the American mainline Protestant church of our day, even though he was talking about his own Catholic order. Do we simply build memorials to some idealized earlier era and call it a church? Or should we instead try to ask the questions people in those earlier eras asked about how to most effectively communicate the love of God to the people of their own time and place?

I'm worried that we're focused on the former because it's easy, rather than taking the risk that God might actually be working in our own time. We can control how a memorial to the past will look, but if God is really in charge, we don't get to control it. That's a scary proposition, but as Merton shows us, it's not a new problem.

*This passage is found on pgs. 86-87 of the Harcourt paperback edition, right at the end of the "Solemn Profession" chapter.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mixed Feelings

It appears that Gordon Hayward is going to test the NBA waters after all.

As a Butler alum and fan, I have mixed feelings.

On one hand, I want to see him come back next year and finish the job, winning a national title for the Bulldogs.

On the other, I understand the allure of NBA money (even though there's no way he'll get picked as high as Kentucky one-and-dones John Wall and Demarcus Cousins), especially in light of the potential NBA lockout (again? really? especially at the same time the NFL may have one because you guys are all so darn greedy?).

The silver lining is that Hayward hasn't hired an agent, which means he could return to the college ranks. I feel horrible hoping that he will be disappointed with his short-term professional prospects, but his presence and leadership are so crucial to the Dawgs success next year.

I am not a big NBA fan, but I guarantee that whenever Gordon Hayward gets a place on an NBA roster, they will automatically become my favorite team in the Association. I'd love to see a professional player who understands the team concept, and who doesn't have any neck tats.

Please, Gordon, for the love of God, don't get any ink on your neck...

Supporting Jennifer Knapp

The way people behave on the internet astounds me sometimes. I read a number of different blogs, and it seems that for every intelligent comment there are at least five that have next to nothing to do with the topic, or are downright ignorant and/or hateful.

I think perhaps it's a combination of the instant nature of online communication and the anonymity that the internet provides that take away the usual filters that most people have in almost every other form of communication. If you sat down and hand wrote a letter, you'd probably not say every single thing that comes to your mind, because your hand travels at a much slower speed than your brain. Not so with a computer keyboard. And if you were face to face with someone expressing an opinion, there would be some kind of filter between your brain and your mouth. But on the internet you may only know someone's screen name, and having no idea who they are, normal restraints fly out the window. (I've only had a few instances of this kind of thing happening on my blog, thankfully)

I have to confess that I'm often tempted to do these kinds of things, especially when I see posts or replies that drive me up the wall. At least once a day I'm about to post a reply telling "ignorantcommenter666" (I really hope that's not anyone's actual handle) where they can stick their ill-informed, hateful opinions. I am usually able to stop myself, because I don't want to stoop down to their level, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't written a couple "anonymous" replies saying things I would never say or write under any other circumstance. I think many of you can identify with this.

The reason I bring it up today is that I'm nervously awaiting the blowback from the "Christian" blogosphere regarding Jennifer Knapp's admission in an interview with Christianity Today that she is gay. Thus far the only things I've seen have been supportive posts from progressive thinkers like Tony Jones, and admittedly I haven't gone trolling for the hateful stuff yet because it only tempts my judgmental spirit and increases the likelihood that I will post a mean "anonymous" comment.

But I know it will come, and it's probably already out there. There is plenty of indiscriminate hatred out there toward people with different sexual orientations: witness the Westboro Baptist Church phenomenon. And the Christian-media-industrial-complex has a track-record of being ruthless in enforcing their standard of morality. One only needs to remember how CCM magazine invented an apology from Amy Grant  to her fans following her divorce (you can read about it in Matthew Paul Turner's excellent book, Hear No Evil) to know what levels these corporate entities will often stoop to.

Regarding the interview with Christianity Today, I admire Jennifer Knapp for being willing to discuss the issue when she knows full well what kind of treatment she will receive. I especially admire her for rejecting the premise of some of the interviewer's questions (on pg. 3, if you're reading it online). When the interviewer asked if she was "struggling with these issues" at certain points, she refuses to characterize her sexual orientation as a sin or some kind of fundamental defect. Her only struggle was to be fully who God created her to be, regardless of how some allegedly Christian people might respond.

Here's my pledge: when I see negative reactions to Jennifer Knapp, I'm going to respond with positive, thoughtful, loving words. I'm not going to stoop down to the level of the haters. I'm going to keep the conversation civil and invite others to do so, too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lasting Images

I'll get back to posting about religious issues soon enough, but I though I'd share a couple of my favorite images from Butler's run in the NCAA tournament.

"Air Gordon" Hayward blocks a dunk attempt by UTEP guard Randy Culpepper in the Bulldog's opening round game in San Jose.

Butler's mascot, Blue II, chews on a huge bone

Coach Stevens and the players celebrate beating Kansas State for a trip back to Indy for the Final Four (I think there were some flying hip bumps going on here)

The final verdict? Duke wins the title, Butler wins America's hearts.

And they stand a darn good chance of winning the title next year, since they've given Coach Stevens the payday he deserves.

Now hopefully Gordon Hayward makes the right decision and stays in school. David Letterman put it well: "they have guns in the locker rooms in the NBA. Don't let him go!"

Go Dawgs!!!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Cross and Flame

One of the blogs I subscribe to on my Google reader is called God Hates Protesters. Today they featured what appeared to be a screenshot from the KKK website saying that they are not affiliated with Westboro Baptist Church and that they do not approve of WBC.

While this is the most clear-cut case of the pot using racial slurs against the kettle, I wanted to see if it was true. So even though it made me sick to do so (I took a shower afterward and am seriously considering burning my computer) I went to the KKK's website to find their denunciation.

I figured the FAQ page would be the most likely place, so I scanned down the page, which is mostly devoted to "clearing up misconceptions". One of the questions was attempting to say how burning crosses isn't racist, violent, or disrespectful to Christianity. (By the way, if you buy their argument, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you)

Part of the Klan's defense of burning crosses was a claim that "Methodist churches also have a burning cross". They are referencing the Cross and Flame, which is the official symbol of the United Methodist Church.

In case anyone was wondering, our symbol IS NOT a burning cross!!!

The flame represents the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the two flames symbolizing the two denominations that came together to form the United Methodist Church in 1968: The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren.

The United Methodist Church has nothing to do with the KKK. Just thought I'd share that.

Final Four

On Saturday night, after Butler beat Michigan State to advance to the national title game, I decided that I had to go to Indianapolis for Monday night's showdown against Duke. If it had been any weekend other than Easter, I probably would have been in the stands on Saturday, too!

This quick trip was a present to myself for making it through Holy Week with my sanity intact (something you pastors know can be difficult).

I went online, found a ticket, called a friend from college to see if I could crash on their couch, and I was set to go.

After all, when else would I get to to this? Even if my alma mater makes it back to the Final Four next year (a decent possibility, if all the underclassmen return), it wouldn't be just a few hours drive away, and just a few miles from campus!

Even though Butler came up just short of the win, I had an amazing time. I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen in years, and I got to have coffee with my undergrad advisor on campus the following day. The only thing that could have made the trip better (other than winning the title, of course) was if Jessica and Kate could have come with me.

I could lay the blame on some questionable officiating, particularly the lack of a foul call when Ivan Drago, er, Brian Zoubek clothes-lined Gordon Hayward with about 3 minutes to go, but it's hard to win against anybody when they outshoot you from the field 48 to 37 percent.

But now that the disappointment has had a few days to subside, I'm grateful for all the fun I had watching the team all year, and for the prestige they continue to bring to the university. I've never been prouder to be a Butler Bulldog!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

They Did It!!!

Can it be? YES!!! IT IS!!! The Butler Bulldogs, the smallest school (4,500 students) ever to go go the Final Four beat Michigan State in a 52-50 nail biter for a shot at the national title game!!!

For any regular readers who may be wondering about the state of the Kelley Family Bracket Smackdown, I'm leading with 56 points, Kate is hot on my heels with 54, and Jessica has 49. If Butler wins it all, the 14 month old wins! How crazy is that?

Oh yeah, about as crazy as Butler being in the national title game! WOO HOO!!!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Stations of the Cross

Tonight we celebrated Good Friday by walking the Stations of the Cross. I know this is something Protestants don't often do, but we thought we'd take advantage of worshipping in a Roman Catholic space where the stations are along the walls of the sanctuary.

Over the traditional rendering of each station is an additional piece of artwork (created by the lovely and talented Jessica Kelley) representing the emotional impact of each station. We photographed them after tonight's service, and they will remain through Easter Sunday. Come see them in person if you're in the Clarksville area this weekend!

Station 1- Jesus is Condemned by Pilate

the words on the surface of the water in the bowl are a selection of the sins of humanity for which Jesus died

Station 2- Jesus is given his cross

Station 3- Jesus falls for the first time

Station 4- Jesus meets his Mother

Station 5- Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

Station 6- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus 

Tradition says that the cloth Veronica used to wipe Jesus' face retained his image, creating one of the treasures of the early church. We used this one to remind ourselves that we are all created in the image of God, and are called to serve as his representatives in the world.

Station 7- Jesus falls the second time

Station 8- Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem

Station 9- Jesus falls the third time

Station 10- Jesus is stripped of his garment

Station 11- Jesus is nailed to the cross

Station 12- Jesus dies on the cross

Station 13a 

In the Catholic tradition, this station recalls Jesus being removed from the cross and being mourned, usually by his mother, we made a slightly different choice, as you will see in a moment)

Station 13b- Jesus is laid in the tomb

Station 14 (wide shot)- we thought it would be cool to have this one on the altar

Station 14 (close-up)- The Empty Tomb

Our final station ends with the Resurrection, because Jesus' death is not the end of the story, and Sin, Evil, and Death do not have the last word.