Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peace amidst the storm

Many of you all know how chaotic having a baby is, particularly for first time parents. I've blogged about it, I've preached about it, I've even published an article about how impending parenthood has given me new appreciation for the Advent story.

Jessica and I have been tremendously blessed through this pregnancy with only relatively minor discomforts for her such as nausea and heartburn. Sometimes it becomes very easy to take our good health and that of our baby for granted.

My dear friend and mentor Will Penner and his wife, Christine, just gave birth to their fifth child, and while everything and everyone is fine now, there were some very scary moments. You can read about them on Will's blog.

If you are inclined toward such things, take a moment to offer up a prayer for all parents who are uncertain about the health of their children. It can be a very scary thing, and they all need a special awareness of God's grace in the midst of their anxiety and fear.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Shameless Self Promotion Continues

I've published another article on Worship Connection. This one is about the place of the Offering in the liturgy and an example of a creative way I've engaged it in the past. Comments and feedback are always welcome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Indulging my inner child

I was born in 1980, so I was a child during the golden age of Saturday morning cartoons. Say what you want about classic Disney and Looney Toons, but nothing beats G I Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Thundercats. These were cartoons in the post-Star Wars era, so merchandising tie ins were standard. So my childhood friends and I had our favorite shows, and the massive collections of action figures that went along with loving those shows. I'm sure it was torture to our parents paying all that money for action figures, but we didn't care. We had guys with cool little guns, awesome vehicles, and karate chop action.

The coolest cartoon of the early 80s is without a doubt He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

I spent my preschool and early elementary years thinking that He-Man was the coolest thing ever. And thanks to my generation's never ending appetite for nostalgia and things that are ironically cool, the old He-Man episodes are now online at Hulu. Watching these episodes 25 years later I have concluded that, yes, He-Man is in fact the coolest thing ever.

I had all the action figures and the playsets, I dressed up as He-Man for Halloween one year (my little brother was Orko), and I would run around yelling "I have the power!" I even loved the live action move with Dolph Lundgren, which was so cheesy that only a true He-Man devotee could sit through it. 

(Total sidenote: How cool would it have been if there had been a scene where Lundgren, playing He-Man, had stared down Skeletor and said "I must break you" Ivan Drago style?)

Yes, some if it is cheesy and unintentionally funny. He-Man himself is interesting. He has a blonde "Prince Valiant" hairdo, red fur topped ugg-boots, so many muscles that Jose Canseco thinks he does too many 'roids, and an outfit that would only be appropriate in a European sex club.

My favorite thing about these 80s cartoons, though, was that at the end of the episode, one of the characters would show up on screen and give some kind of moral message. The best was on G I Joe, where some kids would be doing something stupid like swimming when it was lightning out or playing with firecrackers. Then one of the characters would show up out of nowhere (insert inappropriate child molester joke here) and explain why that was bad. The best part, of course, was the tag line (say it with me): "Now you know. And knowing is half the battle!"

Cartoons today don't do that kind of stuff. But then again, maybe that's a good thing. I mean, what moral message could Sponge Bob give kids other than "I'm a lot funnier when you're on drugs"?

Anyway, this post is totally non-theological, but I and my fellow children of the 80s are enjoying reliving our childhoods online. Hopefully they will post other shows, too. I'm going to go dig around in my parents' attic and see if they still have any of these action figures. My inner child is loving this.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Hermenutics of Newsweek

There's an interesting and unexpected new voice in the gay marriage debate: Newsweek magazine. While most mainstream media coverage of religious issues demonstrates a pathetically weak understanding of the complexities of the issues at hand (one would expect a business reporter to understand something about business, so why not religion?), this Newsweek article is surprisingly articulate.

The cover story (which you can read here) correctly points out that nowhere in the Bible is marriage explicitly defined as only between a man and a woman. It also rightly points out that many biblical marriages included multiples wives, children conceived with slaves, women stolen from guys you had murdered, and enough other scandalous things to fill several seasons worth of prime time soap operas.

This article has, of course, made a lot of conservatives angry. Politico has a pretty good article surveying the reactions of several leading conservative voices.

While I thought the Newsweek article was pretty insightful, I do take issue with one of their conclusions. In the middle of the article the writer says that "religious objections to gay marriage are not rooted in the Bible at all, but in custom and tradition". The writer has very ably demonstrated that the subject of marriage between two people of the same gender is never specifically brought up in the Bible, and that homosexuality as an orientation is not, either. But just because a specific issue is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean that one cannot turn to the biblical text for guidance on it.

Let me pause for a moment and "out" myself, so to speak. Those who know me and/or read this blog can probably guess that I'm for marriage equality. I disagree with the official position of my denomination, even though I uphold the Discipline as part of my covenant as a pastor. The fact that I fall on the side of this particular issue that is usually labeled as liberal or progressive does not mean, however, that I don't see the merits in the other side's position.

The biblical texts are ancient documents written by ancient people and concern the issues of the ancient world. The modern/postmodern world is very different, and thus has very different issues and conflicts, yet many of the same human tendencies remain, so these ancient texts still have something to teach us. We have to understand the context in which they were written to understand what they might have to say to us today.

For example, I care greatly about the issue of climate change, which is also not specifically mentioned in the Bible, nor are any environmental issues, but that does not mean that the Bible cannot provide guidance for people of faith when dealing with the environment. In Genesis 2 God tells Adam that he is responsible for the earth. Some versions translate this as "fill the earth and subdue it", others say "care for it". The Hebrew words can legitimately be translated a number of ways, so an interpretive choice is involved. I choose the latter translation not just for the heck of it, but because I see in the broad scope of the biblical witness that God cares greatly about how we treat all the things God has created: people, plants, etc. So I take the "care for the earth" command as a kind of biblical support (but not a proof text) for the idea that we should be aware of and actively minimize our negative impact on the long term health of the planet.

All this is to say that those who oppose same sex marriage can certainly cite the Bible in their arguments even though the issue is never explicitly mentioned in the biblical text. Most people in this camp would disagree and say that it is explicitly mentioned, of course, and they certainly have the right to make that interpretive choice.

And that's really the point. We're all making certain interpretive choices when we read and apply the Bible. Let's be honest about that and say which choices we're making. That way we can discuss these issues on a level playing field instead of retreating into our trenches and lobbing rhetorical bombs at one another. We'll make a lot more progress if we will.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8- The Musical

I'm sure this is going to offend somebody, probably a lot of somebodies. But if we can't laugh at ourselves when we're the most heated in our disagreements, then we're really in trouble.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Looking into a crystal ball?

The Episcopal Church is facing a split. This is not news to anybody, of course, since disagreements over doctrinal issues have been wreaking havoc in the Church for quite some time now. But it looks as though the split may be formalized in a matter of weeks. An article in the New York Times today reported how the bishops of breakaway dioceses are formally organizing a competing province in North America. The strange irony of this is that the formal announcement was made at an evangelical church in Wheaton, Illinois- hardly the place one expects to find a bunch of high church prelates. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Since Anglicanism is the mother church of Methodism, I'm curious what this latest development has to say about my own church's future. The United Methodist Church also has a number of theological conflicts that, while they involve a plethora of issues, tend to separate into camps based on views concerning sexual orientation. Unlike the Episcopal Church, we have not yet consecrated an openly gay bishop, and our official stance on sexual orientation in ordained ministry is more clearly defined, but the disagreements are the same.

So what does the formal split along ideological lines in the Episcopal Church mean for the United Methodist Church? Will we, too, eventually have a small but significant minority split off from the connection and form a group that considers themselves to be an ideologically pure remnant? Or will we learn from the struggles of holy mother church and recommit ourselves to ongoing dialogue?

What do you out in the blogosphere think? Discuss...