31 December, 2008

Party Like a Priest

So, I've known that the pastoral types in the world - for the most part - know how to have a great time. This makes sense theologically. But this priest in the Great Northeast is a whole other kettle of wax.

I know that Jesus was hardly the prude we've made him out to be. Like Jeremiah (the Bullfrog, not the Prophet*), he sure did like his wine. (And no matter what my conservative friends tell me whilst trying to justify culturally-rooted teetotalling, it was wine, not Welch's.)

But partying at clubs and dropping thousands of bucks on wine and tips? Somehow, I think Father Gregory might have overshot the mark. Now, if he'd bring lepers and the poor into the club, we'd be onto something.

much peace, much love, etc.

*In retrospect, Jeremiah the Prophet probably also liked his wine, but there's not a cool song about him.

26 December, 2008

Boxing Day

It's Boxing Day for our British friends and British-influenced friends up north; or, as we say in the Estados Unidos - After-Christmas-Sales Day. You know, 'cause we just can't buy enough stuff.

As a pastor, I don't let my church sing Christmas carols until, ummm, Christmas. We sing Advent hymns (there's a dearth of them in the world - someone write some good Advent songs, please! Anything with grandma and reindeer doesn't count...) in church during Advent and then sing carols during the 12 days of Christmas. (Weirdly, Christmas is actually 12 days - it's not just a song about turtledoves, et. al.)

It just seems to me that the Church went to the trouble of setting the Christian year, so we could at least try to follow it a little bit. And, as a bonus, if you don't start getting Christmas-y in mid-October, then you're not really tired of Christmas when it actually gets here.

So, since Christmas is just starting, and I'm not tired of it yet, here's a lovely/sappy story for you. It's about Texas high school football and doesn't involve academic scandals, guns or anything you might have seen on Friday Night Lights.

I hope your Christmas was at least as good as mine - family, a lovely sausage-intensive breakfast, a long nap, great steaks and good wine, and sledding with friends and family until late in the night. Also, I got a gold medal in Nintendo DS Olympics for the trampoline event!

much peace, much love, etc.

23 December, 2008

Happy Christmas, Jerk-face!

At least one brother (or sister) in the Church of England is in the Christmas spirit! [A word of warning/titillation - the story includes semi-sanitized language and links to other news stories that are NSFG - Not Safe for Grandmas (and other delicate souls).]

I sympathize with the frustrations of those who yearn for the Church to welcome all people into ordained ministry. And the archbishop referenced in the story may indeed be a righteous a-hole. (Uh oh, now the main page is also NSFG.) But somehow, I don't think name-calling is going to make it all better.

I can't decide is this is funny or sad. Maybe it's both. It is funny that this Official Assistant Holy Person vented his (or her) frustrations in so base a manner and in an official Lambeth Palace publication no less, and that no one saw it until it had been sent far and wide.

But it's sad in that, as the Church - the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God, a veritable Sign and Foretaste of the Heavenly Baquet - we can't even disagree agreeably. No wonder people often think Church is just so much crap-ola. We don't treat one another with love, much less our enemies.

And, tragically, the anonymous assistant in Lambeth Palace isn't even being new or creative - Christians have been calling one another a-holes* for millennia - although, admittedly, it sounded better in Latin - and doing things more unspeakable than that.

Anyway, Happy Christmas Eve-Eve. Make sure to buy lots of crap to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

much peace, much love, etc.

*A friend, who shall go nameless-ish, has a favorite reference for friends who irk her - "F'er." She says it just like that. I think this is a whole lot funnier than if she were to just drop a big old F-Bomb. She called me an F'er once in front of my parents. That was funny on lots of levels.

21 December, 2008

What We Need is Good Stoning

There's a church in Jacksonville, Fla. (says Clay to himself: "will not make cheap Florida joke, will not make cheap Florida joke, will not make....") that has garnered some headlines lately because they are going to publicly shame a woman who admitted to some fellow church members that she is sexually involved with her boyfriend. So you see the problem right there - SHE'S NOT MARRIED!!! (insert dramatic music here.)

The church is justified scipturally. The Gospel According to Oh So Sainted Matthew (18:15-20) tells how to deal with someone in the church who just won't stop sinnin'. It's a three-step process culminating in a church-wide meeting at which the sins of the sinning sinner are laid out in public.

The Bible is on the church's side.

Never mind that the woman has withdrawn her membership from the church. Never mind that Jesus also told a story about adultery and something about first stones. Never mind that one might ask if the church is as quick to address sinfulness that's not quite so sexy and titillating.* And never-thee-mind that Jesus's teaching about adultery was pretty clear: looking at another woman lustfully is committing adultery. Surely no one in their church has done something like that. (insert dramatic music here.)

The important thing is, that church has found a passage in Scripture that justifies their actions, so off we go. Get your list of this woman's sins ready - she needs our help! And grab a stone on the way.

Just one thing: Immediately after Jesus lays out the three-step process for dealing with stubborn sinners, he says that anyone who will not listen to the church shall be treated "as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:17)." And we all know how much fun that is - cast them out, spit on them, humiliate them, show them the depth of their sin by the strength of your anger against them, cast them into the...wait, what? You mean, we should look at how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors? Oh....yeah. He loved them into the Kingdom. In fact, he made them cornerstones in the Kingdom.

The problem with how this particular church reads this particular passage of the Gospel? The rest of the Gospel.

One other thing: Why, as the Church, are we so obsessed with sin? Why are we so especially obsessed with sexual sin? As I read the Gospels (and God knows, I'm probably missing something), Jesus' obsession seems to be with grace. With forgiveness. El Messiah Muy Grande certainly doesn't give a free pass to sin. But he seems to recognize that the only way to deal with sin is to forgive it.

I hope we can be a little more obsessed by grace.

much peace, much love, etc.

*"Church, you need to know that Brother Jerry has sinned before the Lord - he purchased a high-definition TV rather than give that money to the church. And he lied about it. The Lord shall surely strike him dead in accordance with Acts 5:1-6. In other announcements, the potluck next week has been moved..."

PS - I can never decide which is right/preferable for the possessive case of our Lord and Savior - "Jesus's" or "Jesus' " so to be safe, I used both.

18 December, 2008

An Uncomfortable Kingdom

The big political story of late is that El Presidente Elect-o has asked Rick Warren - pastor of Saddleback Church and Great High Potentate of the Pupose-Driven Empire - to offer the invocation at the inauguration. (See the story here.)

Understandably, gay and lesbian advocates (and many other folks) have expressed their dismay and anger at the choice. After all, Pastor Warren is very socially conservative. While he has challenged evangeilcals to confront the issues of poverty and the spread of AIDS, he remains opposed to gay marriage and is outspokenly pro-life.

I'm no fan of Pastor Warren - I'm not very Purpose-Driven, I guess - nor his theology (especially his ecclesiology), nor still some of his poitical opinions. I can understand on one level why many folks would be bugged that he was given such an honor.

On the other hand, this is exactly what Mr. Obama promised whilst campaigning: a new kind of politics that seeks to bring people together even when they disagree. Did folks think that he meant that he would only work with people when they disagreed on, say, the type of dog he should get? I don't agree with much of Pastor Warren's agenda, and would have probably chosen someone different. (I'm not saying I should have been invited, but I do have a blog, so I'm kind of a big deal....) But I am hopeful that perhaps this new approach to politics might actually open some eyes and soften some divisions.

And at the risk of waxing too Jesus-y, it makes me think a bit about the Kingdom that Jesus invites us to join. Politically, one can pick and choose with whom one stands. But in God's Kingdom, we don't get so much say. We can choose if we're in or out, but we can't choose who else gets in. I might think Rick Warren is kind of a doofus, but he's my doofus brother in Christ, like it or not. I think that some of his ideas fall outside of God's scandalous Kingdom, but that doesn't mean he does. Grace is really very irksome that way.

A very dear colleague whom I admire deeply (well, OK, actually it was just Eilidh*.....zing! A shout-out and an insult, all bottled together!) said that she believes that Heaven will be a lot of work. I'm not smart enough to know what the great hereafter is like, but I know that the here-and-now Kingdom of Heaven is a lot of work. It's not easy loving people you don't particularly like. It's challenging. It's often uncomfortable. (You mean, I may have to sit next to that guy?) But that's why it's God's Kingdom, not ours. I may not like it all the time, but I can trust that maybe God knows what God's doing. Maybe God is Purpose-Driven, after all, but just by a more divine purpose than we can easily see.

much peace, much love, etc.

*for non-Scottish speakers, "Eilidh" is pronounced like "Hailey" without the H. That's why I like to address email to her with "Hola Eilidh" - it sounds funny. In written form, though, it looks like a minor character from an H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu story. Just sayin'....

16 December, 2008

Call to Action

I'm not usually one to get my knickers in a twist shouting that we must act now! But I have had my complacency shaken today. We are losing this generation. Our children must be our top evangelistic target. Please, regardless of your theological leaning, join me as we seek to defend our youngest and most vulnerable before more of them are led astray.

See what has me so wound up.

much peace, much love, etc.

15 December, 2008

The Good Life Out in the Sticks

I titled my little blog "Out in the Sticks" because (a) I couldn't think of another title that struck the right tone for me without sounding semi-blasphemous and (b) most of my colleagues think of me as living in the remote outskirts of civilized society.

My friends from Texas have a hard time imagining someone living in Oregon - it's practically Canada to some of them. My Oregon-Idaho colleagues think NE Oregon is horribly uncivilized compared to the Willamette Valley.* (I mean, we only have 2 Starbucks, 1 Dutch Brothers and, like, 4 local coffee joints. Our coffee store per capita is way too low...)

But I like living Out in the Sticks.

So here, on a snowy Monday morning, are reasons to love the Sticks. (Or at least La Grande, which is a particularly nice part of the Sticks, if I do say so myself.)

A snow storm is not the end of the world. Portland has shut down today because they got a couple of inches of snow. Schools have closed only once since I've been here, and that was because it was snowy and blowing so hard that the school buses were being blown off the road. (If I were still a student, this might be a reason I hated living in the Sticks.)

A block and a half from my house, our road heads up a steep hill. When it snows, the city closes the road so folks can go sledding. There are several places in town where this happens.

There are folks whose family has been farming for generations on the same farm.

With the local university and its very impressive music program, we have very gifted folks in town. Yesterday, at a concert, I heard two extraordinarily talented students sing a piece from a Puccini opera. If you haven't been to a concert with third- and fourth-generation farmers listening appreciatively to Puccini, then you just haven't lived.

I can look out the windows of my house and see mountains. And the largest wilderness area in Oregon is 15 miles away, offering 565 square miles of land left just as God intended.

Jen and I can walk to work, to restaurants and the movies and to (some of) our friends' homes.

Speaking of movies: We have a downtown, 3-screen theater and a drive-in that's open every summer which shows a double feature every weekend. I'll take that over 30 screen monsterplexes most any day.

With only a little work, we could source most of our meat (and a lot of our fruits and veggies) locally. We regularly have conversations with people about buying half a cow/sheep/pig etc., and which local ranchers are the best. I never had a conversation like this where I grew up.

So, that's part of it. But, it's time to get ready to head out into the 8 inches of snow to go to work. And then I can come home and go sledding for an hour or so.

much peace, much love, etc.

*For non-Oregonians, "Willamette" rhymes with "dammit."

10 December, 2008

Lo-Jack for Jesus

Lest I be accused of casting aspersions* (That sounds like a good band name - "Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for Casting Aspersions!"), I confess that it would probably bug me if my church had a nice nativity display and someone made off with the Sweet Baby Jesus. I mean, Baby Jesuses (Jesii?) can be spendy.

And maybe I would be bugged enough to load the Baby Jesus with a GPS device so that I could hunt those horrible people once Jesus was lifted from the manger. I wouldn't be the first to do so. (I am especially proud to note that this article is written by a newspaper in my home state. I love Texas, but Molly Ivins was right - it's a weird place.)

What I want to know is, what do these churches do once they capture the Jesus Thieves? (Another good band name!) Do the prosecute? Once you get Sweet Baby Jesus back in his proper place in the nativity, is there a point to pressing charges? To ask the semi-obvious, WWSBJD? Grace is nice in theory... But once someone gets their knickers in a twist and decides that folks are out to remove Christ from Christmas, well, it sometimes becomes an excuse for being righteous jerk-heads.

And here's the other thing: Might one, were one so inclined, view this as a metaphor of life in the Church? Can't we sometimes be big fans of chaining Jesus down so that he won't go roaming so far afield, hobnobbing with the riff-raff? Don't we like to keep Jesus for ourselves? And don't we especially like Jesus when he's all sweet and innocent and surrounded by sweetly lowing cattle? He certainly doesn't cause quite so much trouble then. And God knows we like church a whole lot better when Jesus doesn't bug us.

much peace, much love, etc.

*Aspersion has two interesting definitions. Probably something to be learned here.

09 December, 2008

Mary's Really In Her Head

The Lord works in mysterious ways, so they say, and it's true in my experience. But, man, the Virgin Mary seems to work in some seriously frizz-eaky ways*. She shows up in window reflections, in the bark of trees, in toast (!), and now, apparently, she's really gotten into a woman's head.

Said woman has had a long battle with some sort of brain disorder/disease. (The article I read was pretty vague and the eBay explanation is, well, a bit hard to decipher.) As part of her treatment she received an MRI.

Lo! and behold! The Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord, the Theotokos**, did verily appear in the MRI.

Lo! and behold! The MRI is available on eBay, unto the one who biddest the highest.

Honestly, it does look like Mary - a bit more like Mary than some of the other places she's been claimed to have shown up. But it raises a few questions for me.

If the image of Mary is present in this woman's brain as a way of encouraging her in the face of her illness, as well as to raise money for her medical bills and to raise awareness for the health issues (which she claims are tied to Agent Orange), that's good. But what if the image of Mary in her head is the problem? Wouldn't it have just been easier for Mary to stay out of her head in the first place rather than being both the source of this woman's problems and a part of their solution?

I'm not Catholic (in the Roman sense of the word) so I didn't grow up with Mary veneration as part of my spiritual gig. I get the Mary thing in some ways, at least hypothetically. And my friend the smart-ass, eye-brow-pierced Episcopal priest sent me an Episcopal rosary (I didn't know there was such a thing...) with some prayers including veneration of Mary. But it's just not part of my make-up. So I know that I'm speaking, at least to some degree, out of ignorance.

But it just seems to me that a lot of what I see about Mary sightings, etc. (at least in the media) veers dangerously away from faith and towards superstition. But where's that oh-so-fuzzy line? It's OK to talk to Jesus (in my head and even out loud in front of people), but seeing Mary in an MRI is not?

On the other hand, this particular woman seems genuine and passionate and does seem to want to raise awareness about the problems she sees affecting her community. It may be laughably weird to us (or to me, at least, but then I'm pretty insensitive sometimes) but I suspect that much of the Christian faith and many faithful Christians have seemed laughably weird to other folks. (Seriously, communion is pretty freaking strange at some level. Or lots of levels.)

I'm not really sure what to do with stories like this. I can pray for the woman. Maybe I can learn something from her.

But what I really want to know is, what's a reasonable bid for an MRI of the Virgin Mary in some lady's head? Can I get this for my wife for Christmas? Better yet, can she get it for me?

much peace, much love, etc.


*For shizzle.
**Yeah, I'm dropping some Greek theological terms on your head. Look it up.
PS - Maybe what most sets my teeth on edge about this whole thing is the weird co-mingling of faith and patriotism on display on the eBay listing. Mother Mary and Lady Liberty: homegirls for faith, peace and prosperity! For shizzle!

06 December, 2008

Gray Area Saturday

Jen and I went shopping today. All the way to the Tri-Cities, which sound much more sophisticated than they are.

Now that Black Friday has become such a major part of our Thanksgiving milieu, I take pride in not participating. There's just a little to much gross materialism and/or trampling others to death for a new LCD TV for my taste. And besides, I'm above such rampant consumerism. I tell my church regularly that getting invested in a consumerist culture is a shallow, unfulfilling and, ultimately, dangerous trap. Shopping as spiritual practice is opposed to living the Gospel.

And since I'm so very clear on the tension between shopping and living the Gospel, what I do is nothing like all those unwashed, spirit-less masses do on Black Friday. I don't allow myself to be brainwashed by the evil geniuses working on Madison Ave. (Do ad people still work on Madison Ave.?)

I buy things that I need: well-considered purchases, bought out of necessity and always with full awareness of how the purchase will impact my spiritual life and the spiritual lives of those near and dear.

Unless I happen to go into a REI. Or maybe a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Or sometimes a Home Depot*. Or, rarely, if I stumble into a Petco. (I almost came home with a chameleon today...) When I go into those places, well, it's not as though I buy things on impulse. I just wasn't aware of how badly I needed some of things on offer until I saw them, gleaming and wonderful, on the shelves. Of course I need a new tie rack; you know how often I wear ties**. Or would wear ties if only they were neatly arranged and readily accessible in my closet.

That's the thing. I can always find a justification for my purchases. I'm not like those unwashed, unspiritual masses. They buy stuff because they're shallow and stupid and brainwashed by our consumer culture. I make purchases that will allow me to live the lifestyle to which I aspire - generous, thoughtful, sophisticated, with lots of dinner parties with my witty, urbane friends.

And to get there, what I need is a new bamboo chopping board. (Bed, Bath and Beyond - $30, bamboo nourishing oil sold separately.) Or a few new houseplants in hip containers. Or the aforementioned tie holder. (Non-motorized, owing to my fear of over-technologizing.)

It's so easy to get suckered in. I'm sure there's a lesson here. Maybe several - something about straight and narrow path, or putting faith in the things that will rot and rust, or maybe something about a speck, a log, a brother's eye and mine.

Well, I'll think about it. Right now I have to go open all the cool crap I bought at REI.

much peace, much love, too much stuff,

*or wine.com, or Bi-Mart, or, God forbid, a book store with church-nerdy books....
**Never. Ever. Maybe to wedding and funerals, if I'm not officiating and I really like the person(s) involved.

PS - Inspired by the unholy holiday of Black Friday, there's a posted survey.

02 December, 2008

A Badass Saint

I got news today that my friend Kathleen died of cancer. Lots of folks were closer to Kathleen than I was, knew her better and will better eulogize her than I can. But I do want to offer a sort of public prayer of thankgiving for what Kathleen meant to me and so many other folks.

Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball was a badass. (She also had a cool and funny hyphenated name.)

As a young, single (and thoroughly white) woman, Kathleen accepted a call to start a new United Methodist church in downtown Dallas in a Hispanic neighborhood. So, she went to Mexico for a 5 week class, became fluent in Spanish and started Nueva Esperanza in West Dallas. On Sunday mornings, she preached and led worship in Spanish and English, alternating between the two to make sure eveyone was part of the family. In this tragically poor part of the city, she founded a church of vibrancy and rich hope.

Kathleen's youth group at Nueva Esperanza included a number of young men who were torn between the church and the gangs that plague our cities. She loved those kids with a tough compassion that refused to give them up to the scourge of drugs and violence and refused to count them as lost.

After Kathleen left Nueva Esperanza she served two other churches, loving those folks no less compassionately and no less fiercely.

Kathleen was a nationally-known, Really Important United Methodist Pastor (for goodness' sake, she has a Wikipedia page!), but she always just felt like a friend. The last time I saw Kathleen I was in seminary and working at FUMC Allen, Texas. Kathleen was serving at Suncreek UMC, also in Allen. We were both at some pastoral function or another. I hadn't seen her in several years, so I went to re-introduce myself. Kathleen turned and beamed, grabbing me in a hug, "Clay! How are you? How's Perkins?"

As much as I remember Kathleen for what she did and said, I mostly remember that I laughed a lot in her presence.

Tough and tender. Full of God's fierce love. Unafraid. And laughing often.

Thanks be to God for my friend Kathleen.

God help us, we need more badass saints like her.

much love, much peace, etc.

01 December, 2008

Ah, Satire

Larknews.com is really funny. If you haven't discovered it yet, you should.

Here's a blog-relevant sample of why: http://larknews.com/november_2008/secondary.php?page=3

The Church has loads of problems. Perhaps one of the worst is that we take ourselves too seriously sometimes. Or, all the time. Either way.

much love, much peace, much satire, etc.

PS - Seriously, how could you not love a faux news site with an article titled, "Christian couple maintains abstinence through first two years of marriage "?