Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Little Town of Bethlehem Special Screening

Arlington United Methodist Church will be hosting a special screening of the documentary film, Little Town of Bethlehem on Sunday, October 9, at 6pm.

From the film's website: Little Town of Bethlehem, a documentary film, follows the story of three men of three different faiths and their lives in Israel and Palestine. The story explores each man’s choice of nonviolent action amidst a culture of overwhelming violence.

This is an extremely powerful film, and if you're in the Nashville/Middle TN area, I encourage you to attend. If you're interested, see my Project Israel posts from earlier this year to see what I experienced firsthand in this region.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment here or message me privately.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Budrus- streaming today only!

I've shared my feelings about the relations between Israel and Palestine on a number of occasions, and I've begun and deleted at least half a dozen blog posts this week about the issue of Palestinian statehood coming before the UN's current session.

But here's something that will speak about these issues better than any of my words ever could. A documentary about nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation in Palestine called "Budrus" (the name of the village where this particular movement originated), is streaming for free online for anyone in the US today (September 21) only.

Unfortunately, I can't embed the Mubi player here, but go over to the page and you can watch it. Do yourself a favor and discover a side of this conflict that we in the US rarely ever hear about.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Romans series week 8- Overview and Wrapup

This week we will be wrapping up our eight week series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody", and we'll be reading Romans 15:14-22 in the worship service.

Paul is beginning to wind down the letter, having made all of his major theological points, and now he’s talking a bit about himself and how he perceives his role in the rapidly expanding Jesus-movement. Here we see Paul affirming again (as he did in chapter 1) his confidence in the Roman church. He isn’t writing this letter to them to fix specific problems, even though he addresses number of general issues happening all over the place. Paul talks about his desire to go to Spain, which we don’t know if he ever did, but it’s likely that he never made it past Rome, where church tradition says he was martyred in a wave of persecutions under Nero, as was the apostle Peter.

This week’s message won’t dive too deeply into the text. Instead, we’ll be recapping the different things we’ve covered in the past seven weeks, but I do want to put some questions out there, nonetheless.

Given that Romans covers such a wide range of topics, how do we do a coherent summary in one sermon?

Repeating the question we began with, what do you see as the overall theme of Romans?

Are there passages or issues in Romans that we’ve skipped over that you wish we had covered? It’s still possible that we could hit them.


New podcast- Grace is for Everybody pt. 7- People with Different Needs

The latest episode of the Arlington UMC podcast is live. This week is part 7 of our eight week series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody". This week we're considering Romans 14:1-17. The message is titled "People with Different Needs".

You can listen in the media player below, on Arlington's webpage, on sermon.net/arlington, or subscribe to us on iTunes. If you're on iTunes, please rate us and write a review so they'll promote our podcast!

Check back later today for notes and questions on the final installment of our series on Romans, where we'll be recapping all the things we've been talking about and asking "now what?".

As always, comments are always appreciated.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Romans Series pt. 7- notes and questions

We're down to the next to last week in our eight part series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody". This week we're reading Romans 14:1-8.

Chapter 14 is the “beginning of the end”, not in the apocalyptic sense, but Paul is wrapping up his theological commentary, and spends the last half of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16 with final greetings and whatnot.

Last week we saw Paul talking about communal ethics, both for those in the church and how to deal with outsiders, particularly those who weren’t friendly. This week we see more ethical discussion, with Paul focusing in on the fact that people in the church come from extremely different backgrounds. Although the words “Jew” and “Gentile” aren’t used, the context of Paul’s comments suggests that’s what he’s talking about, particularly when he talks about what one chooses what they eat. Paul uses the phrases “the strong” and “the weak”, but they aren’t necessarily stand-ins for Jews and Gentiles, respectively.

The context of meat and vegetables has to due with Christians who chose to keep the Jewish food laws, specifically that it was often difficult to know if the meat one purchased in a market had been used in a pagan sacrifice, so some people in the Roman church evidently felt that eating such meat, even if they weren’t aware of whether it was sacrificed or not, was participating in idolatry, and therefore a sin. For others, that wasn’t an issue, so Paul is exhorting the people not to pass judgment on one another because of these differences, and appreciate that people can be very faithful in very different ways.

The same idea applies to the days one considers holy described in verse 5. Jewish Christians usually observed the different Jewish festivals, whereas Gentile Christians often did not, and were often giving up other festivals they used to observe before they became part of the church. A Gentile Christian might well get upset with a Jewish Christian because he had to give up his festivals, whereas the other did not. Paul is telling them to get over it. We’re all on the same team here, and eating meat and observing certain holy days is not a deal breaker.

One does not have to belong to one particular cultural form to faithfully follow Jesus- something that many Western missionaries in recent centuries have forgotten, often to the detriment of native cultures. 

Later in chapter 14, after the passage we’re reading Sunday, Paul encourages his readers/hearers to not “put a stumbling block in your brother/sister’s way”, knowingly doing something that would make another’s faith journey harder.

The most immediate example that comes to mind is alcohol use. When I was in college, the Campus Crusade group said that ever having a drink anywhere could possibly be a stumbling block to someone else, so you should never do it. While I can appreciate the care that demonstrates for others, I think the obsession with alcohol is more indicative of the hangover (pun intended) that our culture has from the prohibition era than in alcohol being a major issue in God’s eyes.

Here are some questions:

Paul clearly believes there are areas where people of faith can disagree and neither be wrong or right. Do you share this view? Why or why not?

What areas are ones where people of faith can have differing views. Are there issues you think we all have to agree on? If so, what?

What are some “stumbling blocks” that could be difficult for people today? Are there some instances where we should yield our own preferences or desires for the good of someone else?

Anything else of interest that I haven’t brought up here? Discuss...

Monday, September 12, 2011

New AUMC Podcast- Grace is for Everybody part 6

The latest episode of the Arlington UMC Podcast is online. This message is part 6 of our eight week series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody". It's called "The Renewed Creation" and is based on Romans 12:9-21.

Being the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that event is discussed in light of the biblical text.

You can listen on the media player below, on Arlington's webpage, on sermon.net/arlingon, or subscribe on iTunes. In fact, if you're on iTunes, could you take the time to rate our podcast and write a review? That will increase the chances that iTunes will promote our podcast.

I'm at Duke for the Full Connection seminar, so I'll get notes and questions for week 7 up as soon as I can. Until then, comments are always welcome!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Romans series Week 6

This week we're reading Romans 12:9-21 in worship. The tentative sermon title is "Marks of the Renewed Creation".

This week, the context in which this sermon is preached has a major effect on how it will be shaped. That’s always true to a certain extent with any sermon, but this Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so the question, “what does this text have to say to us today?” is especially important.

Chapter 12 begins the last major section of Romans, where Paul’s theology gets practical in exhortations about ethical living. Instructions about specific attitudes are the content of the passage we’re focusing on this week. NT Wright argues that Paul doesn’t have the nuanced concepts of later philosophers distinguishing individual morality from that of the community, so, Wright says, what Paul is talking about here is more properly called “ecclesiology”, which is seminary-speak for how the church is supposed to live together as a community formed by Christ.

Paul uses two different words for “love” in Greek, agape and philadelphia, both of which are used interchangeably elsewhere in Paul’s writings, so we know he’s talking about the deep, gut level love that is more than just warm fuzzies or raging hormones. Again, this reinforces the idea that Paul’s exhortation is communal in nature.

He then gives some advice on how to live amongst those that are not part of the Christian community, who may not share these values and might even be hostile to them. The appropriate response to people hostile to Christians is to bless them, and not to curse them. Televangelists who proclaim God’s judgment against their personal enemies list might want to read this passage carefully. As do those who argue that Christians have to self-segregate to avoid any temptation to sinning. Paul concludes by encouraging people to let God dispense justice.

Before we get to the questions- a quick aside. This is one of the few places where Paul is echoing the teachings of Jesus, almost word for word in this passage. Paul’s letters were written before the gospels, which is often pointed to as the reason Paul never quotes them as such. But the stories in the gospels were being told before they were written down in the form we have them now, so it’s reasonable to assume that Paul was familiar with the stories and teachings of Jesus, even though he focuses almost exclusively on the suffering and death of Jesus, and the cosmic implications of it.

Now for the questions:
What might the ethics Paul is advocating look like in the church today? Give a specific example (don’t name names, though) if you can.

How do we deal with those we perceive to be hostile to us or our understanding and practice of our faith?

Since this passage is divided into two different sections, do you think there are separate standards of ethics for how Christians treat those inside the community and those outside of it, or are we supposed to treat all people the same?

How does this passage and these issues resonate with us in light of the anniversary of 9/11 and all the ways our country and our world have changed since then?

Anything else about this passage stand out? Discuss

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Nonviolent Resistance in Palestine

One of the questions I've heard lots of people ask me since my pilgrimage to the Holy Land (you can check out my Project Israel posts for the rundown of the things our group saw and did) is why the Palestinians don't engage in nonviolent resistance. Several people have even said, "they just need a Palestinian Martin Luther King, and this whole thing would get solved".

While that particular statement is probably oversimplifying the complexity of the issues, the short answer is that there is lots of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. One example I saw firsthand is the Tent of Nations project. We in America just don't hear about these things very much.

This is the point where someone typically blames "the media", and to a certain extent there is some truth to that finger-pointing, because stories about death and destruction tend to attract more readers/viewers (the whole "if it bleeds, it leads" concept), and these organizations are businesses.

But I do think there's something else that lies beneath the surface. Seeing resistance to the Israeli occupation that doesn't involve bombs or guns interrupts the convenient narrative of Israeli good guys vs. Palestinian/Arab Muslim terrorists we've constructed. To consider that Israel might be treating Palestinians unfairly, and that not all Palestinians want to "drive Israel into the sea" requires us to think more deeply about the issue. It might even force us to ask some hard questions of ourselves and wonder if our country is always the good guy in the white hat, since Israel and the USA have so many close ties.

The video below is from a TED conference, by a filmmaker that tries to remedy the lack of attention paid to nonviolent resistance in Palestine. Watch it, and consider for just a moment that complex international issues might not be as black and white as we've been lead to believe.