Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rereading books

I have a confession, with the exception of the Bible and a few other books I do not re-read books.
I guess I always felt like I got the basics of what I read the first time so why do it again. I do not want you to think I am ill-educated, I have read from Hitchens to Hesse, Aeschylus to Ellison, Dickenson to Kazantzakis, the Quran to the Bhagavad gita. Yet something is missing.
As I prepare for a life outside the ivory/tagua tower I am beginning to feel a certain poverty of my education, in that the width of my education far outstrips its depth in most areas.
I think of my mother, who can rattle off poetry she memorized in the 3rd grade and has kept close to her heart all these years hence. I hear of people returning to this work or that work (often times Shakespeare) every year to see how it reads after this experience or that experience, and I am jealous.
I think of the conserving and centering force of this task, the digging and redigging of trenches in the mind. Perhaps rereading is like morning suffrages, but for the intellect.
And so, dear readers, I would like to know what book(s) you reread yearly?
For that matter what is the proper nature of re-readable books? Is it just something you like, something that has touched you a certain way, is it edifying, short? What?
As for me I am compiling a list of potential books to reread, here are ten:

Jesus and the Disinherited
The Screwtape Letters
Freedom of a Christian
All the King’s Men
The Sound and the Fury
Invisible Man
The Pastor

Friday, December 10, 2010

What if we’ll have the poor with us always because we keep stealing from them?(2)

What if we’ll have the poor with us always because we keep stealing from them?

I was reading John 12:6-8 today and was struck by something. Judas is admonishing Mary for pouring expensive perfume on Jesus because the money could have been given to the poor. Then there is a parenthetical statement that Judas didn’t really care for the poor, but was stealing from the common purse. Then Jesus responds, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
This last verse has been used to justify regressive taxation and to attack the welfare state and attempts to create economic justice and equality. The argument is, at base, “there will always be poor folk, Jesus, who knows all, and is all, says so!” Therefore attempting to tweak economic and social systems to lessen or even end poverty is silly, futile, and maybe even dangerous and demonic.
In response to this, I believe it is Brian McLaren who says, “No! Jesus’ focus in this statement is that the poor will be with you!” That is, you will always be confronted with the needy neighbor on your doorstep—so living in gated communities, or in ways that you are not always struck by poverty, is wrong, unnatural, immoral, and maybe dangerous and demonic.
Today though, I am struck with another possibility. Jesus is saying stealing from the poor, as Judas does, will keep the poor in poverty. Or to state it another way, we will know theft of the inheritance of the poor by wolves in sheep’s clothing has stopped when poverty stops.
Now, this interpretation was hard for me to come to, because when I come to the gospel’s treatment of Judas I do so with a hermeneutic of suspicion. In general, I feel that where the gospels demonize (sometimes literally) Judas they are making rhetorical points, not describing a historical reality. As Christological claims increased in the early Christian community Judas’ betrayal became a greater and greater problem until the only solution available was “he’s a demon.” After all, if we didn’t get that Jesus was the Messiah—the Christ—the Son of God—God enfleshed—perhaps we also did not see Judas for what he was—in it for the money—a betrayer from the beginning—possessed.
All that to say I generally read descriptions such as this one accusing Judas of intending to steal from the poor with some hesitancy. I think it is a bias of the author. For the author Judas could not simply have been disillusioned by Jesus, Judas must have been a demon-possessed thief.
But, because I came with this suspicion I did not, in previous readings, make the connection between theft by Judas and the continued poverty of the poor. We will have the poor with us always because people, in making pious claims about helping the poor, but in fact enriching the rich/themselves, taking wealth from the commonwealth.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An oldie but a goodie: "What kind of Lutheran are you?" quiz

I made this while serving in YAGM over in England. It is kind of fun, as I am in my last year of seminary, to look back and see where I was at theologically then.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Being Bi-vocational

So, one of the things ELCAers going through the candidacy process have been told as of late is that they need to be prepared to be “bi-vocational.”
I would like to stir up the pot a little bit. When we are told that we need to be bi-vocational are we really being told that we need a second job?
If I remember my reformation history accurately part of the revolutionary nature Luther’s teaching was his understanding of vocation. In a sense the medieval church eschewed uni-vocational ministry; or to put it another way bi-vocationality was impossible in that system. By this I mean the only job that was “spiritual” the only job that was actually fulfilling God’s will and calling upon a person’s life was that of the priest.
Luther’s response to this was that a father changing a child’s diaper was as holy as the prayers of a whole monastery of monks. It was a re-capturing of the noble spiritual truth that when we serve our neighbor we also serve God. All of a sudden being a baker, a banker, a mother, a father, a husband, a plumber, or a social worker were all vocations—they were all jobs of spiritual worth, all jobs we are called by God to do because they serve a common good, a communal neighbor, and thus serve Christ and his Gospel.
Thus I have four questions I believe to be worth discussing:
1. So why is it that only now, when there aren’t enough full-time calls for Lutheran pastors, that the ELCA is calling us to discern a second vocation?
2. For that matter what does this “bi-vocational” language say to pastors who are fathers and mothers? GED certifiers? Volunteers of all sorts? What if a pastor has discerned that God has called him to be a pastor, God has called him to volunteer at a homeless shelter, God has called him to be a husband, and God has called him to be a father? That’s four vocations already! Four holy callings upon a man’s life!
3. The lifestyle of a pastor makes maintaining other vocations, such as parent and spouse, hard to do ( why is the ELCA only concerned with a clergyperson’s other vocations once it involves money? (As a side-note yes I am aware of the wholeness wheel
4. For that matter, when we discuss lay-folk and non-ordination track folk we lessen the use of this language of vocation. Why is it only when the work life of ordained-folk is concerned that we trot out this language of vocation?
I guess it seems that as a church it is important to call things what they are.
Chris Halverson

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sanity/Fear Rally (Part 2)

In a previous post I described the Sanity/Fear rally and Stewart's reason for having it.
What follows are my reasons for going.
I came to the Rally to restore Sanity and/or Fear for civic fellowship, to affirm civility, and to negate the Beck-Tea Party axis’ stranglehold on national discourse.
1.I went to Stewart and Cobert’s rally because friends were going. On one level I mean Onleilove, Samantha and Aaron who I rode down with.
On another level I mean the many friends and friends of friends (for example my Hebrew study partner from undergrad in Oregon and the boss of the woman who convinced me to get Simul in Wisconsin) who also attended, but because of the massive crowd I never saw there.
On still another level I mean all those people who came together who share shades of the same cultural, social, generational, and political views as my own. I’ve heard it said the Sanity/Fear Rally was my generation’s Woodstock. I think that’s a little far-reaching, but the point it well made.
I wanted to participate in a big event in the national-life of our country. There seem to be fewer opportunities for communal and community oriented events in our national life. I think this lack fed into the Beck rally. But it is not only Sarah Palin’s heart that yearns for national purpose, for a public life and the ability to earn some social capital, but my own as well.
2. I also went to the Sanity/Fear rally because I am pro-civility. Much of Stewart’s expressed reason for going to the rally mirrors my own. I think many people are truly fearful. They are acting like chickens with their heads cut off because the media, and, I would add, reactionary people with far more detrimental intentions than simply selling newspapers and gaining high television ratings, are telling us we have everything to fear. These same people also demonize those with whom they disagree, and next thing you know everything becomes a yelling match. I believe healthy discussion and clear discourse can do wonders for understanding what those you disagree with believe.
3. That said, there are people out there with whom I disagree deeply. They are the final reason I went to the Sanity/Fear rally; I went because I am anti-Tea Party and anti-right wing extremist. In fact, because of the way they have handled themselves they deserve to be mocked. Their claims upon the soul of my country (and theirs), their overblown sense of their own strength, and their manufacturing of reality is unacceptable. Thumbing my nose at these tendencies is the third and final reason I went to the Sanity/Fear rally (and yes I am aware there is a disconnect between this and my previous reason for going to the rally).

Simul Justus Et Peccator

As my little sinner-saint kitten, Simul, opens up my kitchen cabnet, climbs in, and goes to sleep, I note two websites that point toward her namesake this day:
Mockingbird points to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and quotes Stevenson thus: "With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two."
And over at LivingLutheran Luther is hailed as our "Patron Saint-Sinner."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Theology of the Cross in Revelation

As I write my paper about what Revelation chapter 5 verse 5 means in light of verse 6-- essentially asking the question what does a slain lamb have to do with a conquering lion--I ran across an interesting sidebar that I do not have time to research in the moment. Here is the summation of my sidebar:
I think it is important to note the parallel between the lamb horned earth beast and the lion mouthed sea beast found in the 13th chapter of Revelation. Both lion roar/fangs and lamb horns hold authority, but of a violent/coercive kind. Perhaps these things could help understand the Lamb/Lion of Revelation 5. Talk about finding God in the form of the opposite!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Sanity/Fear Rally (Part 1)

I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. My girlfriend
, two fellow seminarians, and I

got up early on that chilled Saturday morning and drove from Philadelphia to Pentagon City. There we took out markers and poster board and made a few cool signs!

We made our way to an extremely packed subway car and played the part of sardines all the way to the National Mall.
There we were met with Libertarians passing out signs, venders selling buttons, people giving away free towels, and people wielding homemade signs, lots of people wielding homemade signs!

We waded through the sea of people heading toward the stage in front of the Capital Building, passing Jumbotrons as we went. Along the way we saw met people from all over, from Alaska

to Texas, South Carolina to Wisconsin, Oregon to Maryland.
Eventually we found a place to sit near a Jumbotron, put down tarps, and enjoyed the rally. Stewart’s and Cobert’s show was great. It was filled with camp, satire, and stars (including the hosts of Mythbusters, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, and yes, R2-D2). Stewart and Cobert sparred over fear and sanity. Cobert was armed with a giant Cobert puppet and news clips, Stewart with guest appearances by R2D2 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Stewart ended the show with a speech about his intentions for the rally—about its meaning.
First the rally was a chastisement of the media, which in Stewart’s view, has amplified all problems in America to the point at which it we believe that we live in the end times, a catastrophic apocalypse in which killer bees will destroy us all—as will bullying—as will illegal immigration—as will our the Tea Party. The media has also projected a false image of our fellow Americans. They are “Marxists actively subverting our Constitution.” They are “racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own.”
Secondly, the rally was about affirming that this media echo-chamber is not true. Most Americans live their lives, “as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they really do not want to do—but they do it—impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.”
He made this second point clear with a video of people on a multi-lane highway that narrowed down to one lane in order to enter a tunnel. People were willing to take turns—to work together—in order to make it through to the other side.
Finally he concluded with a word of thanks, saying that seeing so many people come out to a rally to restore sanity restored his own.
I must admit, while I think it is important to affirm all of these things, to speak a still small word through the valley in order to point out that it has become an echo-chamber, and while I think it is also important to recognize dignity and humanity of people on both sides of an argument, I felt Stewart may have shot a little too low—maybe even have sided a little too strongly with the status quo. Having strong political views is seen as a vice, just getting along, just making it in a middle-class soccer-mom kind of way is a virtue. Not that there is anything wrong with middle-class soccer-mom’s, but I truly believe there are good strong political views and bad strong political views. I believe there is a whole large swath of America who doesn’t fit into a middle-class “just getting along” so don’t bother me Mr. Tea-Party-Man demographic.
And so, I have reflected upon this rally. Stewart allowed that it held multiple meanings—different people came for different reasons. In my next post I will describe what my reasons for going were.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok: A sermon preached at Breath of God Lutheran

Greetings from your pastor Mark Parker who is currently with Breath of God’s youth at the Freeride event in North East Maryland.
Greetings from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Greetings and peace in the name of Jesus.
They tell you at Seminary to never go back to the original biblical language in a sermon, because then you are just showing off. But, sometimes it is only in the original language that certain aspects of a story shine forth.
Today’s story found in Genesis chapter 32 is one of them. There is a phrase imbedded in this story that just jumps off the page because of its alliterations,
because of the way it looks on the page,
and the way it feels in my mouth,
and the way it sounds to my ear; it cannot be ignored!
“Vay-ye’abek Ya’akob ba-yabok.”
Or, to translate it very concretely, “Jacob wrestled at the Jabbok,” as in the Jabbok river.
Or, in order to keep the original alliteration that rings in my ear like a can-opener to a herd of hungry cats,
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok.”
Or, I would maintain,
At this time
In this place,
Before this assembly here,
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok” could be translated, “Church! You are called to this community.”
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok” is, for us today, the message:
You are called
to this community.”
Let us pray:
Lord God, please bless the words of my mouth, please bless the meditations of our hearts and the places they lead us to. Amen.

Jacob Jebekked at the Jabok.
Jacob—born with one hand clamped to his brother Esau’s heel, attempting to pull him back into the womb so he could be the first-born instead.
Jacob—whose name means Supplanter or Trickster.
Jacob—who continued to degrade his brother once out of the womb, stealing both his birthright and his blessing.
Jacob—who took his father-in-law’s flock by hook and by crook.
Jacob, because of these anti-social actions had been estranged from his family, is returning to his brother Esau, but fears for his life.
Fears that Esau will want revenge, more than that his brother Esau will want Justice and want blood!
And so Jacob finds himself alone in the night.
Then he is confronted by, and wrestles with, a man that whole night.
Jacob, whose name means Supplanter or Trickster, is asked by this mysterious man, “what is your name?”
And Jacob answers.
Jacob says, “Jacob!”
But he is more than simply giving an answer.
Jacob is confessing.
Jacob is admitting, “Yes, I am a Trickster. Yes I am a Supplanter. Yes I stole what was my brothers and left him alone. No I have not been my brother’s keeper.”
And, in making that confession, in being confronted by the cowardly nature of his name, Jacob was given a new name.
Now, Israel can be translated a few ways. In today’s translation it is suggested it means, “God strives” others suggest “God preserves.” I’m not here to parse out this word—that’s not the point.
What I want you to notice is that God is in his new name. The point is that, in confessing who he is, God enters in. Jacob is given a new start with God.

Church! There is a message for you in this. For you see Jacob is not the only one involved in a name change.
Not the only one who has confessed an incomplete showing in compassion and understanding toward his brother and his neighbor. Confession that he has, missed the mark.
You see, I both have and have not preached at this church before.
Yes, I’ve preached in this building before.
Yes, I’ve preached to some of the same people in the pews before.
But, last time I preached here I think I preached to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church wrestling with becoming Breath of God. Today, I preach to Breath of God Lutheran Church wrestling with being faithful to its roots as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. I am preaching to a church in transition. A church with one foot on each side of the river Jabbok.
Yes, Breath of God/St.Paul’s Lutheran. Or, as Deaconess Kati Kluckman-Ault called to you when she would talk to Assistant to the Bishop Wolfgang, “Mark’s _________ people.” Mark’s ______ people.
Ummm… I suppose I should really call them Assistant to the Bishop Kati Kluckman-Ault and Bishop Wolfgang. After all you and Jacob are not the only people dealing with a name changes—with a new start.

But, the important thing is not the name change itself. It doesn’t matter so much if I’m preaching to St. Paul’s or if I’m preaching to Breath of God.
What matters is that the name change isn’t a re-branding—you know about rebranding—
how Coke briefly became “new-coke,”
how the cigarette company Philip Morris became Altria,
how Wal-Mart is supposed to be friendlier to workers now because it has a yellow sun in its logo.
That’s not what happened to Jacob, and from what I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard, that’s not what is happening here at this church. No, what is going on here on Clinton Street is not a re-branding!
this church here has confessed—truly confessed!
that at times you have not been as intentional as you ought in reaching out to your neighbors.
And not only that, God has entered in, yes God has entered in, and is doing a new thing—a spirit thing—a ______ thing.
A new start
you are becoming the community God wishes you to be.
God is entering-into your name, into your being, into who you are,
and through His grace transforming you!

Jacob Jebekked. Jacob, despite being alone in the night—Jebekked. He wrestled.
And I’m not repeating the phrase “alone in the night” for the emotional impact of this phrase alone.
No. Jacob was very intentional about being alone that night
he wanted to be alone that night.
If we look back a few verses Jacob begins by sending waves and waves of his property toward his brother, hoping that he will take them and spare Jacob’s life.
Then, he does the same with his family—sending them in front of him as a sort of human shield.
Let me repeat that, Jacob took the phrase “women and children first”—which usually refers to protecting women and children, and instead sends women and children toward Esau, his brother who he believes intends to kill him and possible kill his family as well!
Jacob is putting everything he has—property and family—between himself and his brother.
He is doing everything in his power to be separated from his brother.
He is doing everything he can to be alone in the night!
But God doesn’t let this happen! God doesn’t let Jacob alone!
No, Jacob wrestles with this man from sundown to sun up. If this happened here in Baltimore they started wrestling at 6:27 last night, and didn’t stop wrestling until 7:17 this morning.
Yes, Jacob wanted to be alone,
he didn’t want to deal with people,
he didn’t want to deal with his brother
—but God stepped in and Jacob was not alone—instead he wrestled for 12 hours and 50 minutes!
And, you know, we so often think about this story of Jacob wrestling, and only think of its divine meaning—we so often describe this as the story of Jacob wrestling with God—or maybe, if we’re feeling a little low church—we call it Jacob wrestling with the angel.
But, if you look carefully, Jacob is re-named Israel, not only because he wrestles with God—but because he also wrestles with humans.
Israel is Israel because he is “the one who strives with Divine Beings and with Human Beings!”—he wrestled with God, and with Man.

And Church, you are called. Church, you are called.
Now sometimes we forget that.
Sometimes we forget we are called.
Sometimes we, like Jacob, try to be alone—alone in our faith, alone in our piety, alone in our church buildings.
Jacob sacrificed his stuff and his family to be alone—but, I would maintain we sometimes do him one better.
One of the ways church folk try to be alone is by focusing on wrestling with God.
Yes. You heard me right. We try to be alone by wrestling with God.
Or, maybe, we try to focus so much on God that we forget about Man—on the divine to the point that we forget about the human.
And when we do that—we use God to hide from our brothers; from our neighbors; from our neighborhood.
God won’t let us do that!
After all, our God is the God who, at the end, says to us, “you fed me. You clothed me.”

And we ask, “when did we do that?”
And God responds, “when you fed the least of these, when you clothed the least of these.”
Yes, ours is a God who we wrestle with when we wrestle with others, when we wrestle with our sisters and brothers
Ours is a God who when we wrestle from sun up to sun down—those 12 hours and 50 minutes of darkness we are wrestling with both God and man—both divine beings and human beings! When we wrestle with one we wrestle with the other.

Or to put it another way, I think of a community meeting Pastor Mark was telling me about.
The main “issue” the community decided to focus on was the youth of Highland town. The youth, were described as both a “problem” and a people who needs help.
Perhaps they too can be Christ to you.
And, all I want to tell you, from all of that, is that I’ve been to Thursday night Basketball here at Breath of God.
I’ve seen you opening your doors to the youth.
But you can’t stop here!

Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok.
Yes, in the end we find him limping into the morning light—changed—renamed—limping toward his brother!
We find him squinting a little as the light glimmers off the Jabbok. As he crosses over to the other side—cross over to a new relationship with his brother.

And Church! You are called to this community.
You have been called into a new relationship with the people of Baltimore!
You are called not only to serve here, but to learn here, and be community here!
You are called here! To Highlandtown.
You are called to wrestle,
and to engage,
and to be church
and to feel God’s breath reviving this place from Little Italy to O’Donnell Heights.
You are called to renewed engagement with your neighbors and with your brothers from Can-ton to Patterson Park.
You are called
to this community.

You are called to worship here!
You are called to belong here!
You are called to serve here!
You are called to grow in faith here!
Church! You are called to this community!
Amen and Alleluiah.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

On Specialization

I ended up reading a small portion of a tentative English translation of a Coptic document by Hibat Ibn al-‘Assal, the translator of the Bible from Coptic into Arabic, and I got to a place where Hibat was describing the books of the Bible he affirmed as canon.
The author translated most of the books correctly, but when it came to the books of Wisdom there was one book that the translator did not know how to translate “’Quhalet.”
This is of course a hare’s breath away from the Hebrew title for the book we call Ecclesiastes. Now, I would have assumed the author knew this and was simply leaving things in a purer form of translation—transliteration, except that “’Quhalet” was accompanied by one little added mark, a question mark. I genuinely believe the translator of this document did not know that Ecclesiastes is a Latin rendering of the Hebrew title Qohheleth.
And this was one of the reasons I didn’t stay in England to do the Ph.D. at Cambridge but instead came back to the United States to do an M.Div. at Philly. I kind of like being a generalist, poking my nose in multiple steaming and smelly mounds of knowledge. I am not ready to become so specialized that I can’t see the forest because I’m caressing one specific portion of a specific leaf on one specific type of tree.
That said, before I kick Specialization to the curb, I do have to affirm that the skills fostered by a Ph.D. are formidable and transferable to other subjects. Additionally, in digging down through the layers of time and interpretation to get to your specific subject you end up bumping into a lot of interesting things—so in a sense you become a generalist by osmosis instead of by intent.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Pop utilization of religious themes: A reflection for Francis of Assisi

(I apologize for being unable to post this ad, it was taken down from Youtube)
In commercials for the movie John Rambo Francis of Asisi’s prayer for peace:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
was voiced over images of Rambo brutally killing a bunch of Burmese soldiers.
What are we to make of this kind of use/abuse of religious heritage? Does the juxtaposition of image and idea strengthen or weaken Christian dedication to peace? Do they make a mockery out of this aspect of Christianity? Was the filmmaker’s intent to glorify the violence, or even hallow it?
My experience of this mash up of peaceful prayer and violent act was that it was done in order to titillate. Initially, this juxtaposition was both fascinating and jarring. It felt like I’d participated in some sort of blasphemy. I felt like I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar, or like my mother found hardcore pornographic videos stacked amongst my hymnals.
Then, because this video was out there in the mainstream, the commercial world has said this is acceptable discourse in North American culture, my pack-mind took another look—it thought of righteous killing, of sacred violence. Perhaps, I thought, in some strange way, violence was fulfilling this prayer. Perhaps there was some sort of sacred inversion, like a theology of the cross. By diving into the depths of violence you can find a deeper peace. Maybe, for the deeply disturbed character Rambo, overlaying prayer atop violence was a righteous thing. Perhaps, it was, “a Zen thing.”
After having had such a thought I rejected it. Yet, having watched this commercial several times has left me unable to hear St. Francis’ beautiful prayer without re-living the violence of this clip. In a sense, commercial violence has been fused to sacred peace. Pop and Prayer have been intertwined in my mind.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chris Halverson’s curriculum vitae

Christopher Lee Halverson
Fargo, North Dakota 1983

September 2009-August 2010—Vicar, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Pimlico Road, Baltimore, MD.
August 2008-May 2009—Field Education Student, Tabernacle Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA.
August 2008-December 2008—Hebrew TA, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, PA.

2011 The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia—M.Div.
2007 University of Cambridge—M. Phil. (Hebrew Scriptures)
2005 University of Oregon—B. A. (Religious Studies, History, Certificate Creative Writing)
2002 East High School in Cheyenne Wyoming—Diploma


2008 Clinical Pastoral Education Altru Hospital Grand Forks, ND.
2008 The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia—Anti-Racism Training
2006 Grand National Archery Society—Archery Instructor Certificate
British Gymnastics—Trampoline Instructor Certificate

Multiple articles in The Seminarian

An Uncomfortable Bit of Rope and Other Essays on the Binding of Isaac

Religious Violence, Genesis chapter 22, Wisdom Literature, Ecumenism, Universalism, Creative Writing, Urban Ministry, Polyethnic Ministry.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cordoba and Lutherans in America

So, just a very brief thought. As the controversy rages over the mosque/community center at/3 blocks from being built/refurbishing a Burlington Coat Factory I have to wonder where in the building they will be putting the American flag.
No, seriously. Think about it. German Americans put the American flag in the sanctuary of their Lutheran churches to show how loyal they were during the world wars.
For that matter the Muhlenberg statue that resides in front of my Seminary was moved there from downtown Philly because people feared “patriots” would deface and destroy it. And Muhlenberg was the father of Peter Muhlenberg who, according to Lutheran lore ended a sermon as British troops marched toward Woodstock, Virginia, whipped off his alb to reveal his militia officer’s uniform, and proceeded to win the battle of Yorktown and liberate America from the British.
So, all that to bring up the fact that even today pastors wring their hands for days on end contemplating moving the American flag out of the worship area (this has especially become an issue as the idea of “centeral things” takes hold—basically you don’t want every little doodad sitting around the altar, just some water, some wine, and some bread). And so I wonder if, in 2100 Imams throughout America will still be trying to cajole their members to use non-Red, White, and Blue prayer mats and trying to move the flag from the base of the Mihrab to the fellowship hall.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Long Awaited "DL Bible Study" or "Cover: The ELCA’s Sexuality Statement in a local context"

First off, to all those who I promised this blog post to a long time ago, I’m sorry its way late.

When my evening Bible Study crew was passing around the movie Cover I knew something was up.
Cover is about the Down-low culture. For those of you who don’t know what being on the Down-low (DL) is: Being on the DL is the phenomena of claiming to be straight, usually being in a relationship with a significant other of the opposite sex, often a wife or girlfriend, but then having sex with someone of the same sex.
“What? Isn’t that just being in the closet?” You might ask.
It may be that, but it is more than that. Being DL is more than being in the closet, it is also a rejection of (stereotypical) middle class white homosexuality by African American men.
Now, you might say, “sure, your parishioners were interested in this—its titillating… but how common is it? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know one of the places where DL hook-ups occur is Druid-Hill Park—sometimes known as “the meat market” which is just down the road from my church. Further, a friend of mine recently told me the DL culture is so prevalent that she and many other African American women deal with potential mates being on the DL so often that they ask point blank on a first date, “do you sleep with men?”
In order to think faithfully about people being on the DL I ended up breaking the phenomena up into the following constituent parts: Trust, Homosexuality, and Race.

I began the Bible Study by playing “the most disturbing scene” of the movie. This movie involved the main character sneaking into a hotel room, seeing her husband’s wedding ring on a table, and then catching her husband in the shower with another man. I pointed out that, viewing this scene from the ELCA’s statement on human sexuality, the disturbing thing wasn’t the homoeroticism but the wedding ring left on the table.
This is because our relationships—especially our sexual relationships—are there to build and protect trust. The sin isn’t boinking a man, the sin is breaking covenant with your wife. That’s because sin isn’t about breaking rules—even as our scripture does contain thou shalts and thou shalt nots. Sin is about turning away from God and neighbor and looking to ourselves.
Additionally, I used this scene to point out, point blank, that part of the reason this film was interesting to folk, and similarly that people are interested in one small part of the ELCA’s sexuality statement, is that it involves picking apart the sexuality of DL men and homosexuals. But in focusing on what two men are doing in a shower straight, non-DL-folk, don’t have to stop and think how our sexuality is or is not building and maintaining trust, and how the Sexuality statement bring up a lot of other things our society does that degrades our neighbors and our children. I quoted a professor who taught a class on sexuality and was constantly annoyed because her students kept referring to it as “the gay class.” It was as if hetrosexuals were assumed to be asexual beings—the class was not about them.
From there we moved to…

I began by pointing out what the ELCA’s statement actually said about homosexuality. It said that Lutherans within our tradition oppose all forms of harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. “It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their
families and to advocate for their legal protection.”
Additionally, it affirms that there is a wide variety of views on homosexual marriage within the church.
Some ELCAers, “On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.”
On the other end of the spectrum, ELCAers such as myself, “On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.”

From there we moved to what the Bible has to say about homosexuality… except that I cautioned that I believe the Bible speaks about homoeroticism, not homosexuality. That is because romantic love is a modern concept. The very idea that you would partner up with someone you are sexually attracted to was much less prominent when the testaments were written. Marriage, for example, was, and in some cases still is, more about economy than eros or any other kind of love.
We discussed both Hebrew Scripture—specifically Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
I maintained that Genesis 19—the case of Sodom, was not talking about “Sodomy” in any contemporary sense, but instead about being inhospitable and exhibiting domination and ultimately attempting to rape, foreigners who were in fact messengers of God.
Then we looked at what the book of Leviticus was condemning as “an abomination” (Tobah in Hebrew) and looked at what other abominations were.
Here is a list:
Gen. 43:32 They set a place for him, a separate place for his brothers, and another for the Egyptians who were eating with him. (The Egyptians are not able to eat with Hebrews, for the Egyptians think it is disgusting to do so.)
Gen. 46:34 Tell him, ‘Your servants have taken care of cattle from our youth until now, both we and our fathers,’ so that you may live in the land of Goshen, for everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians.”
Ex. 8:26 But Moses said, “That would not be the right thing to do, for the sacrifices we make to the LORD our God would be an abomination to the Egyptians. If we make sacrifices that are an abomination to the Egyptians right before their eyes, will they not stone us?
Lev. 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.
Lev. 18:26 You yourselves must obey my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the resident foreigner in your midst,
Lev. 18:27 for the people who were in the land before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become unclean.
Lev. 18:29 For if anyone does any of these abominations, the persons who do them will be cut off from the midst of their people.
Lev. 20:13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.
Deut. 14:3 You must not eat any forbidden thing.
Deut. 18:12 Whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD and because of these detestable things the LORD your God is about to drive them out from before you.
Deut. 22:5 ¶ A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor should a man dress up in women’s clothing, for anyone who does this is offensive to the LORD your God.
Deut. 24:4 her first husband who divorced her is not permitted to remarry her after she has become ritually impure, for that is offensive to the LORD. You must not bring guilt on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Deut. 25:16 For anyone who acts dishonestly in these ways is abhorrent to the LORD your God.

From this list it seems clear that abominations can be cultural practices that separate one group from another. For example Egyptians eat differently than Hebrews do, the Hebrew way of eating in an abomination.
I also listed what some of the eatable “forbidden things” were—pork, crab, etc.
I talked a little about purity laws, and how most things considered impure or tobah were things that didn’t easily fit into one category. For example crabs, they are fish, but they have legs like non-fish. Or menstrual blood—its blood, a death liquid, coming out of the vagina, a hole from which comes new life.

From there we looked at several pieces of the New Testament, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Jude 1:7.
I began this conversation by pointing out how Greek and Roman sexual mores are very different than our own. Greek men could have sex with boys and male Roman Citizens could have sex with pretty much any non-citizen. This explains why Paul advises people to have no sex what-so-ever (along with his assumption that the end of the world was neigh) —because sex in his society was always a question of power, a question of who is on top.
I noted that Romans 1 is a set up for Roman’s 2, “Therefor you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same thing. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?”—In other words “wow, those pagans even get so drunk they boink people they’re not attracted too… and you, in your own way… do the very same thing!”
From there I mentioned 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy may be talking about pimps, not people performing homoerotic acts, as the word Paul uses is a word he coins himself, not the typical Greek word for people performing homoerotic acts.
I also pointed out how Jude is referring back to Genesis 19, which we had already discussed.
Finally we closed by talking about how race might shape men’s decisions to be on the DL instead of coming out.

Here are a few quotes that I brought up to jumpstart our conversation:

Closeted or out?—“I’m only a homosexual when I’m having sex with a man.”

The African American Community—“It's like you've let down the whole black community, black women, black history, black pride. You don't hear black people say, 'Oh yeah, he's gay, but he's still a real man, and he still takes care of all his responsibilities.' What you hear is, 'Look at that sissy faggot.' ''

The Black Church— “coming out of the closet and pressing for rights in the Black church would be, I’d say, suicidal and destructive.”—Rev. Dr. Mozella G. Mitchell

Economics--“If you don’t have a job or a steady income, the thought of coming out may seem more like masochism than liberation.”-- Keith Boykin

The Gay Community--''The choice becomes, do I want to be discriminated against at home for my sexuality, or do I want to move away and be discriminated against for my skin color?''

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Old friends leave, new friends come

Well, I have cleared out my blog roll some. Goodbye Dr. John’s Fortress. And by goodbye, I really mean goodbye. Look back at the last post. The last words Dr. John blogged were " Life Goes On Anyway!"
As for “The Happy Couple” AKA Random Intolerance I’m going to miss them too. Dan was sort of my LCMS/WELS doppelganger back when blogs were scary and new and Lutheran blogs were non-existent. The only time I’ve physically been in Random Dan’s presence was at he and Intolerant Elle’s got hitched up in Anchorage Alaska.

Hello to “Esther” the better half of the Evangelical/Lutheran axis of social justice and multi-cultural ministry forming somewhere between Baltimore, Philly, and New York.
Hello to Future Hope, the Sci-fi/faith blog run by Kevin and his brother Craig, both out of Eugene Oregon.
Hello to Mockingbird, the heavily Lutheran-esque, and heavily pop-culture laden, work of Todd Brewer and David Zahl—some relation to my friend Simeon Zahl.

A brief update about your friendly neighborhood Lutheran. I am back in Philadelphia after a wonderful/challenging/growing year in Baltimore preaching The Damn Gospel (registered trademark of LTSP), learning at the feet of a brilliant hyper-intentional supervisor, and figuring out what it means to live into my pastoral identity.
I have moved into a third floor apartment on campus and am currently working on my approval essay.
Chris AKA Luthermatrix

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sermon: Wake/Rest/Serve

I had struggled and sweated over my Master’s thesis. I hadn’t slept. But I finished it—turned it in, and got on a plane back to the United States.
I wrote the sermon for my best friend’s wedding on the 11-hour plane ride from London to Los Angeles. I hadn’t slept.
I wrote my Best man’s toast and a speech about brotherhood, singleness, and friendship for the bachelor party on the plane from LA to Eugene Oregon. I hadn’t slept.
Kevin—my friend who was getting married—picked me up at the airport. I hadn’t slept.
Then came the bachelor party. Everyone showed up at the house down by the river. A bonfire was lit, a few golf-balls were carelessly hit into the Willamette River. Drinks were poured. I hadn’t slept.
Everyone gathered around—I gave my speech about bachelorhood, brotherhood, and continual friendship. I still hadn’t slept.
I began to talk to a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. Then I sat down on a couch.

Then I was woken up by someone vigorously knocking against my sternum.
“Man,” he said, “I’m glad that woke you up! We’d talked to you, poured water on you—I even slapped you on the face a couple of times. I can’t believe you slept through Kevin’s Bachelor party! I can’t believe you couldn’t stay awake for a celebration like this!”
I hadn’t slept. I couldn’t stay awake any longer.
And so, I want to say three things to you today.
1. Stay Awake
2. Rest in God’s Grace
3. Serve your neighbor
Please turn to your neighbor and say to your neighbor, “Stay awake. Rest in God’s Grace. Serve your neighbor.”

Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, please bless the words of my lips, make them true, make them faithful. Please bless too the ears and the hearts of the congregation, fill them with good things and awaken within them mercy, grace, love, and compassion.

Stay awake.
Stay awake, because the Son of Man is coming like a thief.
Stay awake, because God breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.
Stay awake because we may bolt the lock of our door, but that just means He will come through the window.
Stay awake because, we may re-enforce our windows with bars, but that just means She’ll cut a hole in the wall.
Stay awake because, we avoid going out at night, because we might get mugged. But that just means God will mug us in broad daylight as we walk to our car.

Have I exhausted you yet? Has all this talk of not sleeping and of Staying Awake made you want to collapse in the pew, or onto a couch?
Well, when I say, “stay awake” I’m not talking about that zombie-like wakefulness caused by jet-lag and poor planning. That wakefulness that is caffeinated exhaustion.
No. Because, at that Bachelor Party—even when I was awake—I wasn’t REALLY awake. I wasn’t alert. I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t present for my friends or experiences, or even present for myself.
And so, when I talk about being awake, I am taking about a wake-ful-ness that IS alert, is aware, and is present.
Because, if the Son of Man is coming like a thief in the night
and if God acts in unexpected times and unexpected places,
we need to be more than just awake.
We need to be able to catch God in the act. We need to be surprised by God, not sleepy, not sluggish, not dull.
And God does act in unexpected times and places.
It is, in fact, a central truth of our faith.
It is a re-occurring piece of our story.
The Israelites cried out in Egypt for a savior/ and got mumbling Moses.
The disciples looked for a Messiah on a war-horse/ and they got one on a donkey.
The scriptures say that dying on a tree is a curse/ so Jesus went ahead and died on a tree.

Stay awake, stay alert, be aware, and you will catch God doing amazing right here and right now.
For example, when you think of the various Lutheran churches in the city, you would assume that those that are growing the most would be the ones with a lot of money—those is the best of neighborhoods—those with the most staff.
But we here in Pimlico/Park Heights know better.
We know that God acts in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.
We know that, while it might not look like it today, with the choir and pastor and head musicians gone—we are one of the congregations that continues to grow.
Stay awake!

Stay awake, but don’t get me wrong. I know it can be hard to stay awake.
I know it can be difficult to stay awake in the night.
I know it can be hard to stay awake when the sun goes down.
To stay awake when the edges of dusk fade, when it so dark that you might as well have your eyes closed.
When you can stare into another person’s eyes and you could just as well be staring at a blank wall.
I know its hard to stay awake when the darkness is so deep that it is invisible.
Its hard to stay awake. Its hard to be awake to God’s movement—because so often it is invisible.
Its also hard to stay awake because there are long periods of time when neither thief, or mumbling Moses, or even so much as a DONKEY shows up.
The letter to the Hebrews, after all, describes multiple faithful people—
Abel, Enoch, Noah,
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses, Rahab, Samson,
David, and the prophets
who all died without having received the promise. It describes these people as having lived with hope in the invisible and a conviction in things unseen.
And it is important to acknowledge that. Because we can get discouraged. We can think that if things aren’t going all right we’re doing something wrong.
We can think that if we lose a loved one its our fault.
We can think that when our prayers go unanswered it is because there is no one to answer us.
We can even think that God has abandoned us.

Let me make it plain. A neighbor asked me the other day if I talk to myself in the morning—because she apparently hears me praying in the morning.
And you know what? As far as the visible world is concerned I could just as well be talking to myself.

And yet, anyone who has been following the oil spill—in the gulf lately can say a little something about the power of invisibility and things unseen.
After all, the administration recently told us that 70% of the oil that leaked out of that wound in the sea floor has disappeared! Yes, disappeared.
They can no longer see 70% of the oil. But that doesn’t mean its not there. It just means it is either deep below the surface of the ocean, or has dispersed and become to small for the eye to see.
Likewise, that doesn’t mean praying is talking to oneself. It doesn’t mean unanswered prayers are unheeded ones.
No, it just means we continue to stay awake—it just means we continue to wait convinced and hopeful about things unseen and invisible.
But yes, sometimes its hard to stay awake.

And all of that leads me to the question: How is it that we can stay awake?
How is it that we can be convinced in unseen and invisible things?
Well, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep at that Bachelor Party if I had prepared myself by resting. If I had given myself time to sleep on the plane, or even just a nap on the ride to the party.
And as Christians we need to rest.
We need to prepare ourselves for wakefulness by being rested.
There is a reason we talk about Sabbath, and more than that there is a reason we talk about Grace!
Yes. Grace!
I know!
I know!
I’m too Lutheran for my own good!
But I have to say it and say it and say it again.

Just as a runner doesn’t run the day before a marathon,
and just as a speaker doesn’t shout until they are hoarse at a basketball game the day before a big speech.
We don’t work to try to earn God’s love—because when we do that we forget to rest in Him and know His love!
We rest in God’s grace because, the Master is returning from the wedding banquet.
We rest in God’s grace because, the still small voice is speaking a word of comfort and truth to us.
We rest in God’s grace because, Jesus comes to us in our times of trial, and asks if he may wash our feet and serve us with gentleness and power.
We rest in God’s grace because, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what situation we are in, God is with us and God is for us.
It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
It is Jesus who says to us, “do not be afraid, little flock.”
Rest in God’s grace. Rest too, in community with your sisters and brothers—finding strength in this community here.
Rest in your baptism, knowing that you are a Child of God.
Rest too in the holy meal of communion, rejuvenated by the blessed words—the body of Christ give FOR YOU—the blood of Christ shed FOR YOU.

Rest, because we have a calling.
Yes, a calling to be awake—to witness God’s unexpected and amazing acts.
But not only that!
We have a calling to be awake for our neighbor.
And this is no small task.
How do I know this? Because whenever the gospel of Luke contains the phrase, “do not be afraid,”
its time to brace yourself!
When the angel Gabriel announced John’s coming and Jesus’ coming he said, “do not be afraid.”
When Jesus called his first disciples he told them, “be not afraid.”
And today, we are told, “do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, but stay awake because our brothers and sisters cry our in need.
Stay awake because there will be a neighbor in need of a generous hand.
There will be a neighbor in need of a kind word.
There will be a neighbor looking for a guide and a mentor.
But not only that, there will be neighbors who need you to listen—really listen—when they speak.
There will be neighbors who need you to treat them as equals even when you don’t want to.
There will be neighbors you don’t like. There will be neighbors who don’t like you.
Don’t be afraid, but stay awake to serve your neighbor.
Just as Jesus dressed himself for service in order to serve his disciples we, as his disciples—as those who follow after him—are called to dress ourselves for service as well.

The next morning, after the Bachelor Party
I had slept!
I was awake.
I was at Kevin and Kelly’s wedding banquet.
I celebrated that joyous event and served my friends by preaching at their wedding, and by roasting and toasting them at the reception.
“Stay awake. Rest in God’s Grace. Serve your neighbor.”

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Unseen and the Oil Spill

I've had a hard time writing my sermon for this Sunday because my brain has stuck on this wonderful image relating to Faith, Hope, and the Unseen, but it doesn't fit with the actual message I'm preaching.
So I'm going to share it here.
The Obama Administration recently let it be known that 70% of the oil in the gulf has disappeared.
Wonderful! We can't see it, so it must not matter!
Truth be told it has been dispersed or is lurking deeper in the water. It is still there, it still matters, it is just unseen.
Hebrews describes faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
So, I simply want to say faith is like 70% of the oil in the gulf--you can't see it, but it matters.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

In the end, things end

In the end, things end
After service last Sunday I drove out to Mar-Lu-Ridge a Lutheran camp near Fredrick Maryland.
For five days 8 adults and 27 youth focused on the story of Passover through skits, songs, and activities, included making bricks without straw and throwing Pastor Matt—then dressed as Pharaoh—into the swimming pool in order to simulate crossing the red sea.
Beside the faith building aspect of this time together, there was also fellow-ship time. Shy campers, slowly but surely, came out of their shells and made new friends. Other campers connected with old ones who they hadn’t seen since camp last year. At least one camp romance blossomed.
And then. Then Confirmation Camp was done. After five intense days—living, learning, and laughing together—confirmation camp was done.
Facebook information was shared, emails exchanged, tears shed, man-hugs traded
But camp was done—we would return to our respective churches and cities, the friendships of the moment would be seen in light of distance and time.
But, in the end, camp ended.
If the author of Ecclesiastes was writing home from camp he would probably say, “there is a time for camp, and a time for not being in camp.” Because, in the end, things end.

And, on this, my last official Sunday at St. John’s, I cannot help but think of my time here.
Of my rough start punctuated with a mugging and a shooting.
Of slowly but surely coming out of my shell.
Of our special Wednesday services during Advent and Lent.
Of the connections I have made with all of you.
Of hospital and home visits and Tuesday Bible Study.
How I have been growing into God’s calling upon my life—the calling of ministry.
How I have been learning at the feet of Pastor Gregg and growing through my successes and through my failures as a Vicar this year.
And yet, I can not help but be aware that all of this is coming to an end. I will, of course, keep St. John’s, and all my Baltimore people, in my prayers and updated about my life. I will hopefully make it to the instillation of Bishop Wolfgang and perhaps see some people there—but my time here—like Justin, Rene, and Calvin’s time at camp—has passed. Because, in the end, things end.
In the end, things end.

Let us pray:
Lord God, may my words and their meaning be meaningful and true. May they reflect faithfully your faithfulness to us. In Jesus name. Amen.

While trying to preach from this weeks readings has been challenging, I am glad that one of my favorite books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, is here for me to preach from.
This book, is the ruminations and reflections of a man who has grown tired of wisdom literature, tired of common-sense, and at times cliché, explanations of the way the world works.
At the heart of Wisdom Literature is the assumption that there are two types of people in this world—the Wise and the Foolish.
Wisdom Literature also maintains that , it is better to be wise than foolish. The world works better for you if you are wise.
Good things happen to wise people, bad things happen to foolish people.
So, our goal in life, according to Wisdom Literature, is to act wisely… to act in ways that ebb and flow with the way the world works.
For example, it is written in the book of Proverbs—a prime example of Wisdom Literature, “consider the ant you sluggard, watch its ways and be wise.”
But, much like my children’s sermon today, the author of Ecclesiastes writes in big letters, “hold on a minute!”
He looks at the world around him and notices that both the industrious ant and the lazy grasshopper die. He notes, as does the Psalmist today, that those who are wise, those who are foolish, and those who are dolts, all die together. He notes that, in the end, things end.
He takes this deep and wide realization, that in the end, things end, and puts a name to it.
He packs all the power of this insight into one word, a word that he coins.
A word that happens to be one of my favorite words in the Hebrew language, “Havel.”
Traditionally this word—Havel—is translated “vanity” as in the majestic words of the King James Bible, “Vanity of Vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Or translated more literally “a puff of smoke,” says the Preacher, “a puff of smoke, everything is a puff of smoke.” or perhaps “vapor vaporizing,” says the preacher, “all is… vapor vaporizing.”
Or, translated more freely, “Everything is just a tumbleweed blowing by.”

Or, perhaps I can overstep the bounds of good taste for a moment, “everything is a soaked hair weave smashed in a gutter on a rainy Saturday morning.”
In the end, things end.

And one of the hardest things about endings is that we have little control over what comes next, we don’t know what comes next.
The author of Ecclesiastes recognizes that all he has done will soon be out of his control—his life’s works will be picked up by someone else. Perhaps it will be bettered, perhaps it will be broken—he does not know.
So he writes, “One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”

There is one other fact about the author of the book of Ecclesiastes I forgot to mention… Its actually kind of important.
Tradition claims that the author was none other than king Solomon—the second king of Israel. Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon the king revered for his wisdom.
If this is indeed the case, there was a very particular historical reason for him to cry Havel—to cry “In the end things end.”
For, you see, Solomon had a son—Rehoboam. Rehoboam was neither wise or knowledgeable, or skillful. He barely sat down upon the throne of Israel before things fell to pieces. Under his reign a great civil war was unleashed. Under his reign Solomon’s kingdom was split asunder never to be rejoined into one nation.
Think of it. Think of the tension in Solomon’s hands as he wrote, “One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”
Rehoboam’s grandfather David and father Solomon spent their lives building up Israel. Rehoboam acted foolishly and in such a way that all they had worked for was brought to nothing. The Junior king of Israel destroyed all that the Senior king of Israel had toiled to create.
To bring this up to modern times I would say it was a tragedy like that of the first and the second President George Bush. The first—Bush Senior—spent much of his presidency affirming international laws and “a new world order” whereas his son—Bush Junior—disregarded and dismissed and dismantled as meaningless many of these same international laws and institutions.
In the end, things end.

Yet, it was not as if Solomon pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Solomon did not earn his kingdom on his own and then have it thrown away by his son. He inherited his kingdom from his father David.
But, it is said David received his kingdom because he was the anointed of God.
In a sense David inherited his kingdom from God.

And I think to myself, “What would Solomon’s words sound like on the lips of the one who truly gave him the kingdom. What would his words sound like on the lips of God?” “For that matter what would it sound like upon the lips of Solomon’s great-great-great-great grandson Jesus?”
“One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”
Upon the lips of God these words become Grace.
Upon the lips of God our lack of wisdom, knowledge, and skill, are replaced with enjoyment.
Upon the lips of God we reap what God has planted, we benefit from the toil of God.
Upon the lips of God Havel and our endings are undergirded with sustenance, mercy, and resurrection.
Upon the lips of God the end is also the beginning.
As I reflect upon my year here I recognize that I have reaped mightily from the planting of past Vicars and of course Pastor Gregg and the entire congregation.
I have benefited from the toil of Betty, Leila, and Krista. Their endings have been gracious beginnings for me. And I hope Meheret benefits from my own meager toil and planting.
Because the end is also the beginning.
But more than that I recognize that any good I have done this year, anything wise, knowledgeable, or skillful that has come out of me has not come from me, but instead came about by the grace of God.
And I know that God will continue to be gracious to St. John’s. I know that all of St. John’s will be God’s blessing for Meheret and all future Vicars.
Because in the end, things end, but the end is also a beginning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lutheran version of sermon: “A Unitarian and a Lutheran Walk into a Bar”

So, tomorrow I am going to be preaching a shortened version of this sermon along with my friend Christina Leone at UUCA
What follows is the version we preached at St. John's about a month ago.

“A Unitarian and a Lutheran Walk into a Bar”

St. John’s (Chris’s Intro)- Greetings brothers and sisters.
It is my pleasure to introduce Christina Leone, the intern minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. During my time here at St. John’s Christina has been a sounding board about being a religious leader, a peer in ministry, and a friend. Despite our theological differences we have found commonalities as well. This sermon is the result of this ongoing conversation.
Today I will be representing Martin Luther, whose name our tradition still carries. Martin was a Roman Catholic monk in the 16th century who faced controversial practices within his faith, such as the selling of indulgences, which we demonstrated in the Youth Sermon, as well as teachings that obscured God’s grace. As he learned Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible, he became convinced that the word of God must be translated into a language people understood. Eventually he was declared a heretic and started a reform movement that focused on the Bible, allowed ministers to marry, and worked to eliminate corruption in the church.

St. John’s (Christina’s Intro)- Good morning. I am Christina Leone, as Vicar Chris mentioned. I bring greetings from my church in Annapolis. In this sermon I will play the part of Francis David, the 16th century Polish reformer who spent some time as a Catholic, a Lutheran minister, a Calvinist bishop, and finally, a Unitarian minister. As a Unitarian he eventually came to serve in the court of the Transylvanian King John Sigismund during a time of religious upheaval. There were debates over what the official religion of Transylvania should be, and Francis David convinced King John, rather than declaring one official religion and persecuting those who did not follow it, to instead issue an Edict of Toleration that permitted freedom of thought and belief across the land. Unfortunately King John only lived a few more years and was succeeded by a less open-minded king who imprisoned David for his faith and his teachings. My people look to Francis David as one of the earliest teachers of our beliefs… the belief in a unified God as opposed to the Trinity, as well as the importance of freedom, reason, and tolerance.

Francis David and Martin Luther lived around the same time, though Luther was about 30 years older than David, and this sermon is the fictional account of what might have happened if they met in a bar in 1540. The majority of this sermon conversation is made up, our dream about what they might have said to each other had they been able to look past their differences, but some of the dialogue Vicar Chris and I have come up with is actually taken directly from their speeches or writings. We have tried to be faithful to their theologies and situations while also taking some liberties with what this conversation might have looked like. I invite you to imagine the time and place that David and Luther inhabited, the problems they encountered and the solutions they imagined. How might this glimpse into our religious histories inform your faith and life today?

D- Hey, aren’t you Martin Luther?

L- Why yes, I am. Why do you ask, were you one of my students?

D- Well I was… I mean, I never attended your lectures but I was a big fan… for a while. I even became a pastor of your teachings, but then I kind of came to a different conclusion…

L- How do you mean?

D- Well first I joined up with the Reformed Church.

L- Darn Calvinists!

D- Yeah, that didn’t last long. Then after doing much study of the Gospel and much prayer and reflection, I came to join with the Unitarians.
L- Uh! Unitarians?! You mean you do not believe in the Trinity of God? I know that God is three-personed, and I know that God is with us! You’re a heretic!!

D- Those are pretty strong words coming from you. Weren’t you called a heretic at the Diet of Worms?

L- Hmmm… Well there is that. I guess I was one of the originals, wasn’t I?

D- Yeah, I gotta give you credit for that.

L- But, you know, I was simply defending the faith from its corruption by the Church in Rome. I was protecting those things which have been professed from the beginning—including a Triune God.
D- Professed from the beginning? I’m not so sure about that. There has been disagreement from the beginning. And just because a group of people say its so, doesn’t mean it’s the Truth. I know that God is with us.

L- The only Truth is the word of God. Sola scriptura. The Word alone. As it says at the end of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, “Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the earth, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

D- hmmm… I agree. Whatever the Holy Scriptures tell us about Christ, I reverently embrace. And that’s why I’m a Unitarian. In the gospel of mark chapter 10 Jesus asks the young man, “Why do you call me Good? No one is good, except God alone.”
L- Hmmm….
D- Hmmm….
L- You really are convinced by scripture.

D- Convinced? I know that God is with us. After my tolerant King died and was replaced by one without tolerance for differing religious viewpoints, I was charged with religious innovation. I was convicted, in fact, of preaching a change we could believe in. But my opponents saw it differently, and before I was sentenced to life in prison, I told them, “No lightning, no cross, no sword of the Pope nor the face of death most visible, no power whatever, can stay the progress of Truth.”

L- Sounds familiar. I, too, am convinced. … I know that God is with us. When the Church in Rome confronted me with all my writings and asked me to throw them all to the fire, I told them, “Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason, not councils and popes, for they contradict one another, my conscience is captive to the word of God. I could not recant what I proclaimed, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God Help Me. Amen.”

D- Sounds like we’re going to have to agree to disagree. For it is my belief that we need not think alike to love alike.

L- When love is lost, faith and the Holy Spirit are lost as well. Christ calls us to love our neighbor and our enemies.
D- Its possible even here, between you and I that God is with us… Bartender, another round on me for my friend here. We’re just getting into the heart of things.

L- The heart of things!! The heart is the people. It is my most fervent belief that the people must have access to the word of God in their own language, so that they will not be deceived. For the people’s heart to be full, it must be filled with the Word of God, and not that which is mediated by the vile trappings and false words of foolish priests and corrupt officials.

D-Yes. Without the ability to look for themselves into the word of God people can easily be convinced of false teachings by those in power who abuse religion to maintain their own power.

L-If the people are to be liberated, they must know the word of God in their own tongue. For it is the very Word of God which kills them and makes them alive again.

D- Liberated!! Indeed, the people must be liberated from the corruption of false teachers, from being forced by others to claim a belief in something that goes against their personal conscience. In the end it doesn’t work. No one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied. Faith is the gift of God.

L- Faith!! Yes, the people must have faith. Without faith, people cannot recognize the grace of God. Being forced to believe something would make faith—make trust in God’s goodness—into a work—and faith is never about works! Faith is not something brought about by the emotionalism of dogs such as Tetzel, who convinced the average peasant that they must buy salvation for their loved ones. Faith is not bought with gold or silver, neither is it bought by the sweat of our brows as those who claim that works of the law are required for God to love them. No, it is by faith that we are confronted by God’s “yes” to us—God’s gracious love! For God is with us.

D-So we are in agreement. Faith cannot be forced! What kinds of laws do you mean? What laws do others believe are required?

L-All those religious works—those empty prayers—those pilgrimages to far off lands instead of turning to your neighbor right next to you. For, all the works of monks, all their—Nay—for I was a monk myself—all my prayers lobbed to the heights of heaven did not have the same power as changing a single one of my son’s diapers. Fatherhood, I found, is more holy than monkhood. Those! Those are the laws that I call empty. Laws that are performed out of a sense of obligation and not for the sake of others.

D- Holy diaper changing! Luther! The power of life lived for God and neighbor is a powerful thing. Faith in its holiest expression!

L-Holiness—holiness they yell in Rome, but holiness is found in the home, in the works of butchers and mothers and tailors.

D- Oh my!

L-For all of those are vocations—jobs that God has called us to. God calls all people to their tasks, not only pastors. It is through that calling that we as God’s people can respond.

D- Butchers and mothers and tailors, eh? I am with you there. God’s love is for all people, not just the chosen leaders in any church. It is the calling of the people to respond to God’s love faithfully, in how they live their lives. In their jobs, in their families, and in the streets! For God is with us.


D- Because of my conviction, responding faithfully means to stand up and be true to my conscience and the Word of God in the face of forces that would wish to silence me… Forces like religious intolerance, powerful institutions, and those among us whose hearts have been hardened against hearing the cry of the people.

L-Yes, that is our holy calling Fransis, to stand against powers and principalities for the sake of God’s love.

D-Yes Martin! Stand firm and continue to be faithful to those whom the Reformation of God’s church has been entrusted.

L-Imagine, Francis, what the world could look like if this Reformation takes hold and continues for centuries to come! Barring the coming of Christ, of course, may He Return Swiftly, what might the world look like at the turn of the millennium if God is with us?

D- Ha! 500 more years? Look at the signs of the times! The end is near, Martin, we’ve waited 1500 years for the coming of our Lord. I’m sure He’s coming soon. But I’ll go with your pessimistic hypothetical situation for a moment. Think, if you really succeed with your Reformation, followers of your movement might have more to do with YOU than the piety of Christ, they might even call themselves LUTHERans!

L- Perish the thought. Then again… your people do no better. Your followers in 500 years might not even all be Christians!

D- Impossible! Well… even if that’s so… At least there won’t be women in the pulpit!

L- Amen! Cheers to that.

D- But even with these unforeseen changes, would our people still be faithful? Would God continue to stand on the side of all people who fight for truth, conscience, and love?

L- God willing, even then God is with us.

Christina- (Christina- So here we are, 470 years after this fictional conversation might have taken place, and indeed many things have changed. Today, I’m lucky if anyone has ever even heard of my religion. Most folks assume Unitarian Universalists are a “new age” religion. One that was “made up” about 50 years ago… But that’s not so… We have deep roots. And we honor the faith of our religious fathers.

When I think of Francis David, I see a man inspired by Martin Luther, I see a man inspired by the Word of God. I see a man convinced of the necessity of rationality, I see a man determined, in his words “to defend another person’s right to be wrong.”

I see a man whose commitment to religious freedom and tolerance ultimately got him imprisoned until death. I see a man who was deeply committed to his faith… so committed, in fact, he aligned himself with different traditions in order to find what was most authentic to his conscience.

I see the faces of my congregation in Annapolis in the legacy of Francis David.
I see Francis in the commitment to tolerance within my tradition.
I see Francis in the theist and the atheist sitting beside each other in the pews, or engaging in heartfelt discussion, agreeing to disagree.
I see Francis in the democratic process by which our faith is organized.
I see Francis in the commitment of Unitarian Universalists to speak out against injustice, to work to end racism, to fight for marriage equality, and to engage in interfaith dialogue, even though it is not the easy or popular thing to do.
I see Francis in my people, and I see Francis here, in this room, as we engage together across traditions and faiths.

Many Lutherans, when they think of Martin Luther, think of his death mask in Germany—a capturing of the reformer’s face and hands upon his death. To some that is his legacy—a man from the past who we can, in effect, idolize.
I do not see dear Martin that way.
No. I see a man humble enough to change his mind about the most central thing in his life, his faith.
I see a man both convicted and convinced by the Word of God—a man shaken by the death and by the new life that he experienced upon recognizing that the thrust of God’s righteousness is that God’s for us, not against us. God is with us!
I see a man caught up by this gracious yes to us—a man transformed by this experience and willing to spread this good news about God’s amazing grace by all means necessary.
I see a man so in love with the Word of God that he can not help but bring it to the people—a man who translated the bible so everyone could read it—a man putting the theology that saved his soul to the music of bar tunes and other popular music of his day so that that theology would spread.

And I see that man here today! I see the faith of our spiritual Father Martin Luther here today!
When I see Uriah playing music that both sings to the soul of today and speaks a word of hope for tomorrow. I see Martin. I see the faith of our fathers. And I know God is with us!
When I see Doris, Garry, Mr. McCreedy, and the Cottrells sitting around a plastic fold-up-table opening up the word of God. I see Martin. I see the faith of our fathers. And I know God is with us!
When the entire assembly speaks St. John’s mission statement, “Spreading the Gospel, Sharing the Spirit, and Serving our Community.” I see Martin. I see the faith of our fathers. And I know God is with us!
When I see our newest members reveling in the righteousness that God has given them. I see Martin. I see the faith of our fathers. And I know God is with us!
When I see lives changed by the power of the Gospel. When I see the effects of our faith. I see Martin. I see the faith of our fathers. And I know God is with us!
On this father’s day I see the faith of our fathers. Holy faith. We will be true to thee till death. Faith of our fathers, living still. In spite of dungeon, fire and sword. O how our hearts beat high with joy—whenever we hear that glorious word!” Amen and Alleluia.
Faith of our Fathers… hymn number X in the African American Heritage Hymnal. Hymn number X, Faith of our Fathers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sermon: Loving neighbor is a how question, not a who question

Loving neighbor is a how question, not a who question

As some of you may know the final match of the World Cup will be going on this afternoon. Spain will be playing the Netherlands. And some people are very excited to know who will win. Some people are so excited in fact, that they are looking everywhere for predictions about who is going to win. In fact an Octopus in Germany has predicted that the Spanish will beat the Dutch.
In Singapore a Parakeet made different predictions. It predicted that the Dutch soccer team will beat the Spanish.
I have a slightly different prediction to make today.
I predict that this afternoon there will be a Spaniard and a Dutchman traveling by boat hoping to make it to the last match of the World Cup in South Africa. The boat will strike a rock, and slowly began to sink.
The Spaniard will say, “I’ll call the Spanish embassy, they’ll send someone to help us.”
“No,” the Dutchman will reply, “I’ll call the Dutch embassy. They’ll get someone right out here to help us.”
And so it will go, both men refusing to allow the other one to call on their country to save the boat. And it will sink. And they will die.
When the wreckage is explored it will be said, “if only they had cared less about who was going to save them and more about how they were going to be saved.”

You may remember that during Lent I preached a sermon about Jesus’ injunction, “blessed be those who suffer.” And, when discussing suffering I suggested God takes the mournful question mark behind the word how? and straightens it up and makes it into an exclamation point behind the word who!
Today, however, I would suggest, when confronted with a command to love our neighbor we must ask how questions, not who questions. When confronted with a command to love our neighbor, we must ask how questions, not who questions.
Let us pray:
Lord, please anoint the preacher’s lips, that his words might be true and well heard. Lord, please anoint the assembly, that their meditations might be faithful and their responses right.--Amen.

Today, Jesus is asked the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, responds with his own question, “What does it say in scripture? How do you read our tradition?” He is, in a sense, asking the lawyer, “Why do you ask that question?”
The Lawyer’s response is not unusual, he thinks back to the second verse of the Jewish morning and evening prayer known as the Shema, “Here o Israel the Lord our God, the Lord, is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
To which he adds from Leviticus, “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And that could have ended the discussion right there. Jesus answers, “yup. So go on and love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But, the Lawyer insists upon asking the who question.
“Who,” he asks, “is my neighbor?”
“Who,” he asks, “must I love as myself?”
“Who,” he asks, “must I love to gain eternal life?”
But Jesus takes this question about eternal life—this who question—and takes it out of the abstract—he solidifies, “love your neighbor as yourself,” in story.
After all, “Once upon a time,” is a more effective instructor than, “thou shalt not,” or even, “thou shalt.”
He takes this lofty concept and lowers it onto a road—the Road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
This road was infamous.
This road was known as “the bloody path” for at least 500 years by the time Jesus placed his parable there.
This road was where the last king of Judah watched his sons be slaughtered by the Babylonians before they blinded him and bore him away to Babylon.
This road, in 17 miles, goes down 3,300 feet.
This road winds and twists, gets narrow, and is an easy place from which to ambush someone.
This road, was a dangerous road and a deadly place to ponder earning eternal life.

For that matter Jesus answers the “who question” very clearly and very concretely. “Who must I love to inherit eternal life?”
Who? The bloody carcass of a man mangled on a dangerous road—he is your neighbor.
Who? A man stripped naked, so you can’t tell if he’s your kin or not—he is your neighbor.
Who? A man without any means to repay you—he is your neighbor.
Acting merciful in the midst of death and danger—that’s how Jesus answers the eternal life question and the who question. When you can’t even tell who it is you’re helping and you help them anyway—that’s when you know you’re loving your neighbor.

But he doesn’t stop there.
He then turns to those who ask the who question,
and shows how the who question leaves men stranded and dying on deadly roads.
The Priest asked the who question, “Who is that there, is he dead? Who is he? Is he Israelite? Who will ambush me if I try to help him?”
He then decides that he’ll go to the other side to be on the “safe side.”
The Levite asks the same questions—the who questions. And he too decides to go to the other side in order to be on the “safe side.”
Then—to add insult to injury—the man who helps the injured man—the man who doesn’t ask the who question—is a Samaritan!

Now, that might not strike us as odd… after all we know this story as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” But at that time, and at that place, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan.
I could tell you all the historical reasons for Samaritans being considered bad news to 1st century Jews—but I think the startling nature of Jesus’ story can be made in another way—by placing him into our present social and historical context—by sticking him here and now.
In Palestine Jesus’ story would be titled “The Good Israeli.”
At ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood, the story’s title would be “The Good Terrorist.”
Amongst Crips the story would be entitled, “The Good Blood.”
To the Cleveland Cavaliers… the story would be entitled, “LeBron James.”

The hero of Jesus’ story—the one that doesn’t ask who—is a Samaritan.
And this Samaritan asks a different question, he asks how. “How am I going to help this man?”
And his actions answer this question loudly. He becomes personally involved. He personally binds up wounds, he gives of his oil and his wine, he puts the wounded man on—as scripture emphasizes, “his own beast” and gives of his own monies.
When confronted by someone broken by the conflicts and snares of this world—by banditry and by pain—he did not ask who is that? Is that person worth helping?
He asked, “How can I help him? What resources do I have, or do I know of, that can help that person!”
And once Jesus finished up his parable, he asked another question of the Lawyer. Because you see the Lawyer was busy asking who is my neighbor. So Jesus asked a different question—“Which of these three was neighborly to the man who fell among the robbers? Which one was neighborly to his neighbor?”
Sheepishly the Lawyer must admit, “the one showing mercy on him.” Jesus isn’t concerned with who the neighbor is—he’s concerned with how we treat the neighbor. He is concerned with showing mercy in the midst of death and danger!

And so, I would like to make another prediction about this afternoon.
This afternoon there will be a Spaniard and a Dutchman traveling by boat hoping to make it to the last match of the World Cup in South Africa. The boat will strike a rock, and slowly began to sink.
And they will make a call to the coast of South Africa, and the only people they can get a hold of will be a Uruguayan and a German.
And they will say, “I don’t know if you want to help us. After all our soccer teams beat your soccer teams.”
And to this the Uruguayan and the German will respond, “We don’t care who you are. All we care about is how we can save your life!”
And with that they will rush to the scene and save the day. Because when confronted with a command to love our neighbor, we must ask how questions, not who questions. A+A