"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

28 May 2009

TEC, Bring us your tired, your poor, your sex scandals.... (moved)

Father Alberto Cutié To Join Episcopal Church
He Will Begin Process To Become Episcopalian Priest
CBS station WFOR-TV has learned that Father Alberto Cutié, who has been at the center of a major scandal over the breaking his vow of celibacy, is expected to leave the Catholic church and join the Episcopal church. Cutié is expected to begin the process of becoming an Episcopalian priest, which could take up to a year to complete.

The chain of events that led to Father Cutié leaving the Catholic church started when pictures were published of Cutié and Ruhama Canellis embraced in loving poses on the beach. One of the photos showed Cutie's hand inside of Canellis' swimsuit.

(The rest is here.)

He seems like a lovely person but clearly has no understanding of the Christian view of sexuality and did a foolish thing. But what is with TEC digging its grave deeper?

I find it offensive that we Anglicans are simply expected to marry those the Roman Church won't. That's the understanding in the world at large, that Anglicans don't have sexual standards so sure, they'll do anything. TEC has given us this image. If the Roman Church has already refused you, don't worry, TEC will take you in with no requirements.

Sex outside of marriage is wrong and makes a man unfit for the priesthood. I don't care if you're Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Baptist.

I'm sorry, but this Anglican stands in solidarity with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters... when we make an easy out for what they, knowing the situation, have disciplined, we turn our back on ecumenical relationships and the repair work that needs to be done in the body of Christ.

17 May 2009

Wait a Minute, Mister School Board Man (moved)

Today I met someone who is running as an incumbent for the local school board. My impression was not exactly favorable. The word "blowhard" comes to mind. Anyone who talks so loud his voice echoes, in normal conversation, is probably not going to get my vote. But he asked me something, not knowing my own educational decisions for my family. He asked, rhetorically, what it would take for all the cyber schoolers out there to get their kids back in the school system. He ought to be glad it was a rhetorical question. He wouldn't like my answer. Here is what it would take:

1. A parent controlled and child customizable education, solidly grounded in Scripture and a Biblical worldview.
2. Assurance that my children would never under any circumstances be indoctrinated into the secular humanist mythos, an agnostic worldview, or the socialist agenda.
3. An assurance that my child would not be the victim of peer to peer 'socialization' tactics including but not limited to peer pressure, bullying, name brand envy, ostracization, teasing, and a culture of antisocial and disrespectful behaviors.
4. Foreign languages taught at an early age, and for all children a grounding in at least one inflected classical language, Greek or Latin, according to the parents' choosing.
5. Mathematical education such that no child receives a high school diploma without a working knowledge of first year high school algebra (minimum) nor a diploma with honors without a grounding through Trigonometry.
6. The assurance that all children will read fluently by the end of the first grade, after which they will be exposed repeatedly to classical literature from many different cultures and over many different eras.
7. Instruction in history taught chronologically and systematically from ancient history to the modern era, cycled through at least three times through the course of the child's school years.
8. Instruction in grammar, usage and mechanics such that no child graduates without being a competent writer.
9. Classical method instruction using grammar, dialectic (Socratic) and rhetoric models and including training in logic and debate.
10. Instruction in the arts and music. Don't teach the kids to write without giving them something to write about. Sports are optional but I know some people disagree there.
11. A crime and drug free school and one in which my children's civil liberties would never be violated by illegal searches or seizures.
12. An education which takes no part in an unconstitutional federal department of education, teachers' unions using mafia-like political tactics, and bureaucratic red tape.
13. Safe and healthy facilities where healthy lunches are served (that my children like) and in a building free of asbestos, herbicides, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
14. An education that values the experiential and allows plenty of time for children to simply play and be children.
15. An education that allows plenty of time to encourage parent-child and sibling relationships free of age segregated classrooms.

And all of this for under $5000, per student. No, I'm not joking.

This is not a wish list. It's a minimum standard.

And the school board guy would tell me himself that it's impossible, no doubt. Which is why my children will be in those schools over my dead body. Actually, were I dead, they'd go to catholic school first. In fact, the catholic schools are doing a good deal of the things on this list and for half the price per capita of the government schools. Of course for thirteen thousand dollars per student each year (which I have to pay as a tax payer anyway) I get none of the things on this list.

Oh well, at least those kids won't be competing with mine for college placements and jobs.

06 May 2009

The Birth of a Sermon (moved)

How I write sermons, in ten, no fifteen, no several easy steps.
1. Pray
2. Read the assigned Scriptures.
3. Leave the scriptures on my desk for a day or two, perhaps to ferment a little?
4. Skim the scriptures. Make thoughtful facial expressions.
5. Ponder.
6. Scribble down thoughts. If no thoughts skip to #7.
7. Read the scripture and surrounding chapters. Let things sink in.
8. Read a commentary or two.
9. Putz around on Facebook, complain about being uninspired.
10. Repeat step 4.
11. Check sermon writing websites, discover that no one else has posted any thoughts either.
12. Play internet based video games or instant message a friend to complain that you're feeling uninspired.
13. Write something. Anything. It doesn't matter.
14. Delete anything written in step 13.
15. Sleep on it.
16. Repeat step 10.
17. Write something else. At least three paragraphs.
18. Paragraphs need to ferment too!!!
19. Write anything that comes to mind. Panic.
20. Complain that other people get to have fun on Saturday nights.
21. Panic some more. Pray some more if this is how you cope with panic.
22. Think of a cute illustration. Use it whether or not it fits.
23. Pull it all together and preach it!
24. Hide during coffee hour.

03 May 2009

A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights (moved)

I don't listen to a lot of sermons these days. Mostly, I'm the one preaching. If I am listening, I'm quite often critiquing, my seminarian, a student in the deacon formation program. Sometimes I'm mentally critiquing even when I don't mean to. I'm almost always having a conversation in my head with the preacher, sort of in the same way that I write in the margins of my books.

On my way home from church today-- its a long drive-- I found myself thinking, wondering, what goes through other people's minds, what are they thinking when I'm the one in the pulpit. What ought they be thinking? How much do they really take home? What would make the whole sermon experience better, more useful to them? Is this just a weekly event they have to endure, rather like getting one's teeth cleaned on schedule, or is it something worth engaging. Is homiletics an art to be enjoyed? It should be.

But clearly it isn't. Most Anglicans seem to find sermons longer than 15 minutes to be onerous. Maybe they've not been taught to listen. Maybe they're used to sermons that aren't worth listening to. How many of them would be happy if they went to hear a lecture, went to all the trouble of making the time to go, and the speaker only gave them a fifteen minute lecture? If they went to a comedy routine and only got a fifteen minute effort they'd demand their money back. Even their television shows are expected to give them at least a half an hour's entertainment or information.

But sermons aren't for entertainment... unfortunately, they're not often for much at all. Hence:

A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights
1. The sermon listener has a right to a well prepared sermon. The preacher has a responsibility to spend significant time in the Scriptures each week, show up with notes and a solid idea where the sermon is going. No lawyer goes into a courtroom without being prepared for any and all possibilities, but we face larger and more important juries every time we step into a pulpit. Many preachers prefer to rattle off stream of conciousness in what should be Christian Education's Prime Time. If you produce no other decent work all week, the sermon needs to be solid.
2. The sermon listener has a right to a biblical sermon. Stories from your childhood are nice, but they don't change lives, strengthen the weak or build on a foundation. Sermons should stick close to the text, make appropriate biblical connections, and apply to the culture only where the text leads to the application. Forced isogesis does no good to anyone.
3. The sermon listener has a right to ask questions. In most places it's not polite to raise a hand and question, that's a shame. Anyone in my congregation is welcome to do so at any time, though perhaps I should tell them that. If it's not polite to question on the spot, a preacher should still expect to hear questions as they file out, during coffee hour, adult education, or even weeks later. Be prepared. And if you don't know the answer, admit it and go find out.
4. The sermon listener has a right to a retraction if after preaching a sermon a serious theological error in the sermon later comes to light. If you were wrong, don't sweep it under the rug. People's spiritual lives depend on our good reporting. If you screw up, speak out of turn, utter bad theology, admit it at the next opportunity.
5. Sermon listeners have a right to a decent presentation. Ducking behind your notes, reading into the pulpit, never acknowledging their presence, these things may not harm your reputation as a theologian, but they won't do any favors for your relationships and pastoral care. A good sermon badly presented is a bad sermon.
6. Sermon listeners have a right to substance. Pithy statements, no matter how biblical they may be, are not helpful. Cliches, meandering, skimming the surface, sugary thoughts and watered down content do not help anyone. A bad sermon well presented is still a bad sermon. It doesn't matter how slick the packaging, junk food is junk food.
7. Sermon listeners have a right to hear and understand. Learn to use your voice. If you have people who are hard of hearing or if you just have a gentle voice, use a mike. You may hate the microphone (I do) and think you have a good solid speaking voice (I think I do), but if they tell you they can't hear you, use the boost. Sometimes they need a little extra help. And microphone or no microphone, learn to enunciate each word. Please.
8. Sermon listeners have a right to sermons that have purpose. Think about what you're trying to accomplish in the pulpit. Why are you there? What is the goal of your sermon? No secular writer writes without having a specific purpose, but most sermons are presented as "well we have to do this every week" which makes it feel very much like a dull duty to preach, and even more so to endure the resulting sermon. Don't preach because you have to. Don't preach out of habit. You'll produce Christians who only do their duty, and grudgingly at that.
9. Sermon listeners have a right to some joy. It's the word of God, how much more exciting can it get? Love what you do, or let someone else do the preaching. Have enthusiasm for the text and your people will too. But if your sermons are dry and dusty, they'll have a dry and dusty faith.
10. Sermon listeners have a right to be formed. Understand that they're not always going to be where you want them to be. It's a journey, make progress. Radical tranformation is the goal, but it often happens little by little over time. Understand that your words will be formative, one way or another. George Herbert once said, "sermons are dangerous things, that none goes out of church as he came in, but either better or worse." Your words hold power.
11. And finally, quite often your words are not your own. Sermon listeners have a right to hear the Holy Spirit preach from the pulpit. Sometimes all we can do is set our own agendas aside and get out of the way. Submit your will to the one who authored the text, call on his name. If you preach in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, know that you are claim God's authority and calling down his Spirit to make demands on you according to his will. Invoke his name with holy fear, willingness, and humility.
If you're good to me, maybe next week I'll write a preacher's bill of rights... hmmm... and if I have time.

02 May 2009

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself... (moved)

I think FDR gets credit for that one. Maybe. Actually, the one thing I fear most is my neighbors' fear. People do stupid things when they're afraid. They'll agree to anything when fear takes over. And one thing I've noticed in the past decade or maybe two is that Americans are pretty prone to jump and just about any kind of "boo" in the news headlines. And the boogyman sells newspapers, or so it seems, because the news people are shouting "boo" all the time.

The latest is of course, the swine flu. Never mind that the normal old run of the mill flu kills or sickens more people each and every year than this "swine flu." But the swine flu, or maybe we should call it 'whine flu' is all over the newspapers. Last night I went to a baseball game with 14,000+ other sports fans, at some point during the game, I thought to myself that if I sneezed I bet I could clear the section, get a better seat. "a-choo. Oink!"

But before that was terrorism. Our so-called excuse for signing over our freedoms to a president bent on spying on us. We accepted unconstitutional searches and seizures at our airports, ball parks, and national historic monuments without batting an eye. Then, like a society of lemmings, we turned on that president and elected an open socialist with the ethics of the Sopranos because he looked cute on the Tee-vee and we're afraid of the swine flu.

We Americans have been afraid of a lot of things, from Communism (ah Mr. McCarthy) to the environment (Mr. Gore, yet another alarmist with an agenda) and let's not neglect the Y2K insanity, and each time we hand over a little more personal freedom, a little more personal responsibility. So what will this Pig Flu Panic cost us? Our freedom to make decisions about our health care (ah, that indeed would play into the hands of the left, wouldn't it) or our freedom to freely assemble or perhaps our freedom to travel within or outside our national boarders.

Fear is the altar at which Americans are increasingly coming to worship and make sacrifice. Panic is an epidemic more deadly than any flu.