Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kate's First Birthday

Kate is one year old today! For a detailed wrap-up of her first year, check out Jessica's blog.

Happy Birthday, Kate! I'm so lucky to be your daddy! I love you!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti Relief

At the risk of adding to everyone's compassion fatigue, I want to make folks aware of a couple opportunities to participate in relief efforts following this week's earthquake in Haiti.

Most of the immediate needs are financial, so that relief organizations can purchase supplies through their normal networks. In-kind gifts are often slowed by transportation and customs issues, but will be useful in the weeks and months to come as efforts shift from rescue to rebuilding. Organizations like the Red Cross, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Conduit Mission, an organization that a good friend of mine from college is passionate about, are good places to start.

If you want to find out about opportunities to physically participate in rebuilding efforts, UMCOR is currently exploring options for sending teams. It probably won't be safe until at least March, but you can sign up on their website to get updates on teams as they become available.

Lastly, the Bahamas Methodist Habitat is uniquely positioned to play a huge role in relief efforts due to their proximity to Port au Prince. The Habitat is run by my friend Abe McIntyre, and right now they're flying in food and water, surgical supplies, and transporting several missionaries out of the country for transit back to the US. To do this, they need money right away.

We're taking up a collection for their efforts at Bethlehem tomorrow, and I hope you'll consider supporting them, as well. In the coming months, the Bahamas Habitat will probably also have opportunities for hands-on service.

None of us can individually meet all of these needs. If you haven't already given, please consider one of these or one of the literally hundreds of other worthy organizations. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but every little bit counts.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Layout

Thanks to The Design Girl and my lovely wife, Jessica, The Truth As Best I Know It has a new look!

If you're reading this post in Google Reader, on Facebook, or another aggregator, click on over to see the new design.

Thanks to all the readers who interact with my musings and continue to make this project worthwhile. I hope you enjoy the new look.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh, you were finished? Well then allow me to retort!

This is my 200th post. That has nothing to do with its subject, I just thought I'd mention it.

Most folks in the blogosphere have probably heard about Pat Robertson's comments regarding the massive earthquake in Haiti earlier today. If you haven't, Google it, because I'm not dignifying that man or anything he says by embedding the video here.

In fact, I am a bit hesitant to blog about this at all, especially when so many people who are smarter and more articulate than I are providing thoughtful responses.

All I'll say is this: Pat Robertson ironically proves that the kind of god he worships doesn't actually exist. If God, as Pat sells him (and Pat's god is clearly a petty, insecure, impulsive man), really does rain down horrible vengeance on anyone who makes him look bad, then wouldn't this god smite Pat Robertson on TV for everyone to see?

How many millions of people have turned away from faith because of the hatred spewed by people like Pat Robertson? Who, save for the 9/11 terrorists, makes God look worse than Pat Robertson? The fact that he hasn't been obliterated by a bolt of lightning proves that this monstrous, vengeful god Pat Robertson preaches doesn't actually exist.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Conversion as a "great example to the world"

By now you've probably heard about Fox News' Brit Hume's take on Tiger Woods' personal problems. For those that haven't, here's what he said on "Fox News Sunday":

Let's assume for a moment that Brit Hume (who has no education or experience in theology, comparative religion, or interfaith dialogue) intended this statement as something more than mere pandering to the  rich, white, wealthy, suburban, evangelical Christian demographic that makes up the core of Fox News' audience. Let's assume he's trying to make a substantive point.

First, on what basis does Mr. Hume claim that Buddhism does not have the redemptive qualities of Christianity? For that matter, where has he heard that Tiger Woods is a Buddhist?

It's true that Buddhism does not place an emphasis on radical, instantaneous conversion in the same way as does Western, post-Augustinian Christianity (particularly the American brand that styles itself in the mold of the Second Great Awakening). But to say that Buddhism doesn't speak to Tiger Woods' or any other person's moral failings is simply not true.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state that the suffering of life comes from our attachment to worldly things, and that the way to alleviate suffering is to combat this attachment. If Tiger Woods is, in fact, a sex addict, as some have suggested, isn't his problem too great a desire for worldly pleasures? Might the core tenants of Buddhism encourage him to detach himself from his desires be very helpful? For something to be redemptive, it must, by definition, participate in healing and making something new. The Buddhist faith would, in fact, be very redemptive for Tiger Woods' situation.

Along the same lines, I have to wonder where Mr. Hume grounds his claim for Christianity as being more redemptive than Buddhism or any other religion? Does he ground this in the examples of Christian ministers who used to be guests on his channel until their own moral failings came to light (Ted Haggard, etc.)? Or on the televangelists who frequently appear on the network, who make their reputations more on who they hate and what they oppose than on the God of love and peace made known to us in the Bible they claim to take so seriously?

As a Christian I do believe in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. It is a claim upon which I have staked my life and my very being. But why do we have to attempt to prove that by bashing other religions about which we know so little? And aren't there better reasons to enter into the journey of being a disciple of Jesus Christ than "to be a great example to the rest of the world"?

The faith of the one who said "deny thyself, take up your cross and follow me" (Luke 9:23) means ridding ourselves of our attachment to our reputations and not worrying about "being a great example to the world". It actually means the opposite and being thought a fool by most of the world.

Mr. Hume, let me encourage you to read a bit about Buddhism, and maybe a little bit about Christianity, before you try making any more grand theological statements.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking back, looking forward

2009 has come and gone, and I've seen lots of folks do different kinds of retrospectives (Top/Bottom 10 lists, etc.) on the year. Since my year was consumed by two defining moments, the birth of my daughter and the loss of our church building, I'm not sure I can really wrap my mind around the year just yet.

I'll probably do a retrospective on my first year as a father later this month when Kate officially turns 1. And the recovery and rebuilding work we've done over the last six months will bear fruit over the course of this year, so I'll revisit it at some point. So the jury is still out on Matt's 2009.

Another thing I've seen folks doing is retrospectives on the past decade. Yes, I know the calendar purists argue that there's another year left in the decade, but the years 200_ have ended. Plus, this has been the first decade of actual adulthood for me (although that's also debatable!), so I'm looking back to where I was when the 2000s began.

Note- this is the only picture I could find of myself from 2000. This is me at a laundromat somewhere in Grundy County, TN, doing laundry with my Mountain TOP staff. For some reason we thought it would be funny to "ride" the dryer.

On January 1, 2000, I was nineteen years old and a freshman at Butler University. I was majoring in political science and considering adding religion as a second major. Of course, my second major would quickly become my priority and I would end up dedicating my life to studying religion, specifically Christian theology and how it is practiced in the world.

Some of my friends claimed that this was an odd combination of majors, since one is not supposed to talk religion or politics in polite company. But less than two years later, on September 11, 2001, we all realized how intertwined these two subjects really are.

Ten years ago I was a few months into my first youth ministry job at Speedway UMC in Indianapolis. What this church was doing hiring someone as young as me to work with teenagers, I still have no clue. I was very aware of how in over my head I was, so I probably called my mentor, Will Penner, a couple times a week for advice.

Local church ministry, whether as a youth pastor, associate, and now senior pastor, has taught me many things about myself, about the nature of humanity and how we relate to one another, and even a thing or two about God. But perhaps that first impression, that I'm in over my head and have no idea what I'm doing, has been the greatest lesson ministry has taught me. When I realize how little I know and little control I have, I become more dependent on God to guide me, which is probably the idea in the first place.

I've given up thinking that I'll ever "arrive" and be completely comfortable in my role as a pastor. I have, however, become more at peace with that discomfort, and I hope I will continue to grow in this way.

Ten years ago I was also involved in campus ministry with Campus Crusade. If you asked me about my goals ten years ago, I probably would have said that one of them would be to be the leader of Crusade's praise band, which I eventually got to do. My spiritual life at the time was very much fed by praise and worship music.

Perhaps it's partially the result of some negative experiences with Crusade and evangelicalism generally, or just my own growth and change in preferences, but I got really burned out on praise and worship music, and I've never really regained my taste for it. In a world that's full of noise and clutter, I find rock band praise music to be just more noise. There are those, my wife included, for whom it's very beneficial, and that's great. But I increasingly find myself more drawn to contemplative disciplines that force me to slow down and block out the many distractions around me. I find it much easier to listen for God's still, small voice when there is less noise around me.

I enjoyed writing ten years ago, but I didn't know how big a part o my life it would become. In the past decade I've been very fortunate to get to write for a number of different online and print publications. Hopefully this will continue to be part of my personal and professional life.

If, on January 1, 2000, you asked me where I'd be in ten years, I'm not sure what I would have said. I probably would have said I'd be married by then. I probably wouldn't have said I'd have a child by then, because my parents were both in their 30s when they had me, and I figured I'd follow suit. I certainly would have said I wanted to only have boys! What I got was way better than what I ever could have imagined.

In the past ten years I've collected a pair of degrees, met and married the love of my life, gotten to travel to a number of interesting places, met a lot of interesting (mostly wonderful) people, and become a father. All things considered, not a bad way to spend my twenties.