30 September, 2006

Wired Parish

I was recently offered a trial subscription to an interesting idea: Wired Parish.

It's a collection of regularly offered podcasts, provided by several big names, with exclusive content. It's not a parish in the sense of a community of people, but rather a resource.

I'm new to the whole podcasting thing. I know, I know, get with the program.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first two offerings I listened to, one by Brian McLaren and one by Reggie McNeal. Both are authors that I've read and enjoyed, and hearing their voices was a delight. McLaren offered some faithful reflections on scripture, specifically on the creation stories in Genesis.

Reggie McNeal's cast was about the difference between GenX and Boomer generations in worship, and why GenX folk tend not to fit into Boomer-shaped holes. Makes me want to play it for my vestry.

further review, if warranted, in the upcoming weeks.

20 September, 2006

The big question

I just want to make something clear, for the record: I am a Christian.

That may not come as a surprise to you. I don’t know. But if you meet me on the street and ask me who I am, if you ask if I go to church, I tell you that I’m a Christian. The next question is usually "where do you go to church?" and then I say that I’m a member of St. Thomas’ church. I guess you would say that I’m a Christian first and an Episcopalian second, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. I mean that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, that I believe that Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world (which includes me) and that I try to honor my covenant partnership with God in the best of the Anglican tradition.

I try to turn the conversations away from church and toward Jesus, and not just because we’ve been getting ourselves in trouble recently in the national press. I do that because I think that the church is a group of people who are followers of Jesus who are trying to live together and do our best to bless the world. But I don’t think the church is going to save anyone. That’s God’s job.

My first exposure to Jesus was in Southern Baptist Sunday school. I was given a Children’s living Bible translation that contained pictures of Jesus. There he was, in hallmark-quality artwork, a nice smiling Caucasian man in a white robe, with blue eyes and tastefully combed hair, carrying a spotless sheep on his back while little children danced around his feet. My Sunday school teachers had me memorize verses from my little Bible. This is what I learned in Sunday School:

Jesus loves me.
Jesus wants me to be good.
Jesus wants me to be quiet and respectful (and sit still) in church
Jesus wants me to mind my parents
Jesus wants me to eat my broccoli.
The Bible is God’s word, and you don’t argue with it—you do exactly what it says.

* * * * * * *

When I got a little bit older, I was introduced to a different kind of Jesus, or, if you prefer, a different picture, or a different understanding. I started to hear stories about blood and death and sin. I started heading stories along a basic formula: God made us, and wants us to be good and perfect, but we screw up. (duh) And the price for screwing up is death, eternal separation from God. But Jesus paid the price for my sins. Jesus went to the cross for me. Jesus reconciled me to God.

And as I grew up, the world of my childhood started to clash with my adult world. My best friend in high school got disgusted with the hypocrisy of the church he attended, and the dysfunctional nature of the family he grew up in who claimed to be Christian, and he quit going to church, and so far as I know, he’s never been back. Three or four other friends, brainy types, started challenging me on questions like “your bible says the world was created in seven days. Do you really believe that?” and “can you prove to me, with an experiment like we do in Physics class, that God exists?” And many of them have left the church and never come back.

They did what far too many people do: when the slightly more grown-up version of the world doesn’t match their childhood picture of God, they threw out God along with the childhood worldview rather than looking for a new understanding of God in their new understanding of reality.

The church has been guilty of that, in our history. Galileo Galilei, a name you’ll remember from high school physics, was considered the father of astronomy. He published and defended a heliocentric theory of the universe, or that the sun was at the center of the solar system and the planets revolved around it, rather than the prevailing theory, which was that the earth was the fixed center of the universe.

The text that got him in trouble, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632. He was ordered to stand trial in 1633 on suspicion of heresy, and later sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, on the grounds that his work was incompatible with holy scripture and the teachings of the church, based in part on references to scripture like Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

In the deep he has set a pavilion for the sun,
It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber
It rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the outermost edge of the heavens
And runs about to the end of it again,
Nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

I doubt that any of you read those lines and interpreted them that the sun begins the day in the depths of the sea, and drives across the sky. Even the church, faced with a picture of God incompatible with what we had known previously, was unable to look for a new understanding of God in a new understanding of the world.

* * * * * * *

In the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, we hear Jesus ask what just might be the greatest question in all of the Bible. In fact, if you wanted to summarize the Bible in one phrase, you might say some thing like John 3:16, or you might say something like “all is forgiven.” Or you might borrow Jesus’ phrase from today’s reading:

who do you say that I am?

The setting of today’s reading is highly significant.

Caesarea Phillipi, the site of the story in Mark 8, was the capital of Philip the tetrarch’s territory, on the far northern end of the Biblical lands. It was formerly called Panias, named after the Greek god Pan.

Panias was the site of a grotto, out of which ran a stream that fed the headwaters of the Jordan River. It was a place dedicated for worship of the Greek god Pan. Remember Pan? Half-goat, half-man, wild, capricious, uncontrollable. Pan was the god of shepherds, who were wild half-beast people themselves. A shepherd slept out in the field with the animals, didn’t bathe much, smelled like sheep all the time. A brave shepherd might take on a mountain lion with a stick. Not exactly the kind of people you wanted to bring home to meet your mother.

More important for the gospel reading, Pan was also the god of fear. The kind of fear you experience in wild, open spaces, far from help. It’s from the name Pan that we get our word panic.

Just before Jesus was born, the city had been renamed Caesarea Philippi in homage to Caesar. Herod the Great had built a great white marble temple there to his patron, the temple of the god Caesar.

So Jesus stands between the grotto of fear and the temple of power, and asks, “who do people say that I am?”

This passage is called the hinge passage in Mark. A hinge because it is the question on which the whole story turns. The first half of the story asks the question “Who is this?” The disciples even ask the question in the text—who is this, who speaks with such authority? Who is this, who casts out demons? Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

After the hinge, the rest of the gospel story asks a different question: “What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?” Jesus gives us a summary: the Christ will suffer and die, and be raised from the dead.

A hinge because it is the center point of Peter’s life. He’s done some significant things. He’s a married man. Might have a family. He’s also done some daring things—leaving his nets to go follow this traveling rabbi. But after this question, his life is different.

And the question that Jesus asks, the hinge on which Peter’s life turns, is: who do you say that I am?

Jesus stands between the grotto of fear and the temple of power, a simple man with dirty feet. I am not like the gods of the Greeks, who play capriciously with mortals, so that people are afraid of offending the gods. I am not like the god of my childhood, one who demands sacrifice. I am not the god of political power. I am not the god of the white marble temple on the hill, built by slave labor, to a man everybody knows isn’t god but is afraid to say or the legions will kill your family.

No, says Jesus, I am the god who lays down his life in obedience. I am the god who teaches that love is the greatest power there is, who tells you to turn your swords into plows and your combat helmets into birdbaths. I am the God who dies in shame on the cross, takes the worst that humanity has to dish out, and gives only love in return.

* * * * * * *

The question I think the text is asking is this:
have you hit the hinge in your story yet?
Have you turned the corner from who is Jesus to what does that mean?

Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

I told you earlier that I always try to respond that I’m a Christian, rather than an Episcopalian. That’s because being a church-goer can get in the way. Doing churchy things is easier than answering Jesus’ question. Going to meetings about ministry is easier than getting out and getting your hands dirty. It’s certainly safer.

But Jesus never promised safe.

The question for us is the same as it was for Peter, all those years ago.
who do you say that Jesus is?
And what does that mean?

18 September, 2006


I've been accused of blogslacking, since I haven't posted in three weeks.

Not guilty.

For those of you wanting to know what's been happening, here's a brief summary:
* I got sick, only one day a stay-at-home kind of day, but more a lingering, nagging, grossness.
* School has started. We have to be there, and on time, every day. So we have to leave for school at the same time every day, and we have to fight the traffic, and our schedule is thrown all off.
* I've done (performed? facilitated? officated at?) two off-site funerals, both from families who aren't regularly-attending parishioners (which means that I've had to spend more time than usual getting to know the families and planning the services), both times when the rector was out of town and I had to do all the liturgical lifting anyway.
* I led chapel for the day school for a whole week in a row, which is a new idea.
* we put on a budgetary conference for the diocese at our home parish, which involved a practice session, and then a setup session, and then a six-hour conference.

I've had several blog-worthy thoughts, but no time and energy to complete them and write them down.

01 September, 2006

Ways to tell you're in the Diocese of West Texas

I stopped at a traffic light the other day, and took a careful look at the car in front of me. It was a laborer's pickup truck--long bed, four doors, with chipped white paint, a multitude of small dents and scratches associated with moving heavy loads. One of those huge round steel bumpers, with a massive tow hitch. Pipe, or lumber, or something, sticking out the back.

It was the bumper stickers that caught my attention, though:

"Bush-Cheney 2000"

"W for President 2004"

"I only fish on days ending in Y"

"Proud member of the National Rifle Association"


"The Episcopal Church welcomes you"