Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Just trying out a new widget...good times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Which Church Father Are You?

This won't surprise a single soul at seminary....

You’re Tertullian!

You possess many gifts, but patience isn’t one of them. You’re tough on yourself — and on others. You’re independent, too, and you don’t like to be told what to do. You wish the Church would be a little tighter in discipline. As for the pagans, you’ve pretty much written them off. Sometimes you think the Church would be a better place if you were in charge.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The things that REALLY matter in the election...

Because it's election day, we need to know where the candidates stand on the issues.  So a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen has done just that, putting the candidates' direct quotes concerning the major issues of our time in one helpful voting guide.  Hope you enjoy it.

What you must know for this election...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Little Hockey

I'm a little embarrassed that the hockey season has started and I haven't posted any hockey content.  Last night, Marian Hossa gave me ample reason to do so.  Check out this goal against his former team, the Atlanta Thrashers.

To quote John Wayne in True Grit, "He reminds me of me."

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Autumn Frost

This morning was the first hard frost of the fall season, and it was so beautiful (and cold!) that I thought I'd take a couple pictures of it and post them. Isn't it amazing the beauty that is always around us that we frequently fail to see? Well, at least I didn't miss it this morning....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Necessity of Baptism

In my "Early Church and Its Creeds" class yesterday, our topic of discussion centered upon baptism; and after looking at all the major biblical passages concerning baptism, my professor, Dr. Christianson (whom most of you would love) made a comment that bears further thought.  He said:

"Whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation, it is necessary for the assurance of salvation."


Friday, September 26, 2008

Communion Rails and Pastor/Congregation

Greetings everyone - sorry I haven't updated in quite some time, but with the start of seminary I needed some time to figure out how my schedule was going to work out.  Your prayers and encouragement are so appreciated!

I was on the blog yesterday of Father John Zuhlsdorf, a Catholic priest and prolific writer on all things Catholic and liturgical. If you follow the link, you'll find an entry concerning altar rails.  Apparently, there are churches (even Catholic churches) that are tearing them out, seeking to reduce the distance between a priest and a parish that this physical dividing line inevitably causes.  But is this a good thing?  Father Z finds this to be a disturbing trend, and he argues for the usefulness of the altar rail.  But I want to draw your attention to one of his arguments in particular:

Lay people and the ordained have different roles in the liturgy. They have their own particular places. When you blur those places by making them less distinct, you undermine something important in the hearts and minds of the clergy and congregation.  When you constantly tell people that they are being empowered by being given things to do and places to sit or stand that cannot be distinguished from what the clergy do, you are really telling them that on their own they aren’t good enough. They are really not good enough unless they do things priests do, or sit where they sit.

This blew me away because it perfectly describes me.  Part of the reason I wanted to be a minister is because it seemed like I couldn't be the best Christian I could be unless I was a minister.  All the best Christians I knew were pastors (I now see how wrong that was), which suggested to me that clergy were on another spiritual plane that couldn't be accessed unless on was clergy.  Furthermore, if it was acceptable for me to preach as a 15-year-old, then I wasn't doing enough, and was therefore less of a Christian, when I wasn't preaching.  The thought never entered my mind that I may have a vital role to play in worship as a member of the congregation. 

I wonder if I would have felt this way if there were a greater distinction between clergy and congregation growing up, if the creep of egalitarianism wasn't so strong.  What if there were places I wasn't allowed to go on the altar?  What if someone had explained to me that there are things the pastor does that the congregation can't do, and things the congregation does that the pastor can't do?  What if I knew that both are essential for worship (and, by extension, we do great harm to the worship of the church when we don't show up)?  I wonder if I would have valued the sacraments and the preaching of the Word more if I had a better understanding of the differences between ordained and lay.

I'm not necessarily arguing one way or the other; I'm just surprised at how personal this was for me.  How do you see it?  Are there differences between clergy and lay, and should we maintain those differences, even by physical barriers?  This gets at the very heart of what worship is all about, and so I'd be most appreciative of your thoughts.

(By the way, this further goes to illustrate that the buildings in which we worship shape how we worship and what we believe about God; as Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us."  Our buildings matter.)

May the Lord bless you and keep you! 

Friday, August 15, 2008

Caleb's Beans

Caleb had an interesting rendezvous with a green bean tonight. Here's the comical evidence.

Anticipating Sunday School: John Edwards

For those who may not know, each week our adult Sunday School class takes one of the significant news stories of the week and discusses it in the context of a Christian faith and worldview (the curriculum we use is from The Wired Word).  It often generates stimulating conversation while causing each of us to consider more deeply the events of the world and our daily lives in the context of Christ and his Kingdom.

I'm anticipating that this week's topic will center around John Edwards.  To that end, an article (ALERT:  adult themes) I read this morning was stimulating because it begs the question:  Why are we so upset about all this?  The author asks us to look critically at our culture and its mores and taboos, and she sees in them the seeds of infidelity not just for John Edwards, but for all of us.  Yet the condemnation we so freely lavish on Edwards is so seldom directed towards the culture that encourages such behavior, or the normal people that behave in the exact same way.  If your time is short, read the final paragraph.  Powerful stuff, and scary.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eunuchs and Birth Control

When studying the week's readings in preparation for my sermon on Sunday, I generally pull up the commentary from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Picayune, MS. On their site they provide very good commentary for the week's readings when the Catholic and Revised Common Lectionaries match up.  I also recommend them for the layperson who wants to prepare for Sunday by reading the lessons before worship.

The Old Testament reading for this week is from Isaiah 56, and it focuses on the care of God for those who are excluded from Israel because of the law, which meshes well with the Gospel reading about the Caananite woman.  Among those who were excluded were eunuchs, and the writer of the commentary explains: 

"Eunuchs were refused admission into the assembly of the Lord (Leviticus 22:24; Deuteronomy 23:1) because it seemed improper for a person, deprived of the power of transmitting life to associate with the God of life."

This is very interesting commentary explaining why God would be exclude someone from His presence for a simple bodily deficiency (somehow, that word seems too benign!); restrictions on eunuchs had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with reflecting God's nature and character in one's body.  

Recently we passed the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the much-maligned Catholic encyclical published by Pope Paul VI in 1968, which is most famous for its strong condemnation of birth control.  For a full treatment on the subject, Mary Eberstadt's article in First Things is a must-read.  In the opening statement of the encyclical, Paul VI writes,

"The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator."

The operating principle in the encyclical is that sex necessarily entails a responsibility to create; since God creates, and we are made in the image of the Creator, we are called to c0-create with the Creator.  Furthermore, the Bible is unmistakable that God created out of love - Psalm 136 explains that everything exists because "His love endures for ever."  Love and creation cannot be separated because to do so cuts right across the grain of who God is.  Therefore, the act of intercourse cannot be limited to an expression of love; to make it a non-creative act is to do violence to the design of God.

It seems that the same principle that excluded eunuchs from the sacred assembly is in play when discussing birth control.  Consider:  if God would exclude a eunuch from the sacred assembly for a bodily deficiency that deprives someone the ability to create life, why would God permit someone into His assembly who willingly deprived themselves of the possibility of procreation?  Is there a difference here?

Catholics have been rankling over this logic for 40 years, but Protestants are relative newcomers to the game.  Protestants have taken their positions on abortion on both sides, but we've remained largely silent on the next logical step of birth control.  And if there is any truth to Ms. Eberstadt's article, then it is imperative that we start speaking out on this issue, because contrary to popular opinion, birth control is not a private issue for couples, but a moral issue affecting all of us.  In the 40 years since Humanae Vitae, have we seen a significant drop in abortions, in children born or raised out of wedlock, in sexual irresponsibility?  Of course not; and as Ms. Eberstadt points out with remarkable clarity, much of that can be traced to the increase use of birth control, and, I would add, the stunning silence of churches.  "Free love" has been shown to be a filthy lie from Satan himself; the only answer is the responsible, creative love of God expressed in marriage.

Of course, the good news of the reading from Isaiah is that God has mercy on those who "keep justice and do righteousness."  For those who may have fallen, who have put themselves outside of the people of God, there is good news - we can choose God's way again.  Isaiah writes,

"To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off."

Thanks be to God.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Moving Video

I'm attempting to piece together a thoughtful blog entry for the near future, but in the meantime I found a video today that has got me in an even more somber, and thoughtful, mood. If you don't know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, he's a leader in the contemporary Christian music movement, a talented guitar player with a voice to match. But a few weeks ago, tragedy struck his family, as his son accidentally struck his adopted 5 year old daughter with the family car. The family was interviewed on Larry King recently, and I'd encourage you to spend some time with the video. Click on the link, and then scroll down in the videos section to find the interview.

This squares rather well with a string of tragedy in our own church family: breast cancer seems to be running rampant, we just heard about a young child who has what appears to be terminal cancer, not to mention the various bumps and bruises of everyday life.

How do we, as the people of God, deal with tragedy? Is God responsible? Can God be trusted in these moments? We often pay lip service to the idea that God is good, but do we really believe it when reality hits us with all its cruel force? Some food for thought.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I don't know about you, but this is freaky...the first is St. Benedict of Nursia, the second is Father Benedict Groeschel.

Friday, July 18, 2008

S.M. Hutchens' "A Note on Anthropological Modalism"

This is thick, but its a fascinating thought if you can get through it. From the Mere Comments website - "A Note on Anthropological Modalism":

In a recent Mere Comments posting I mentioned in passing that egalitarianism involves anthropological modalism. A friend wrote for clarification, asking me, “What is anthropological modalism and how is it related to the Egalitarian heresy?” This, for any who may have the same question, was my reply:

I am drawing an analogy here. A theological modalist effaces the critical distinctions between members of the Godhead by reducing the Persons to functions or modes of existence of a single member. Classically, under the influence of strict monotheism, the existence of a Son and Spirit were admitted, but they could only be "modes" of the existence of the one God--not the discrete personal existences (hypostases) recognized by Christian theology.

An egalitarian is an anthropological modalist who effaces the critical distinctions between man and woman by making the sexes into functions or modes of existence of the "human." The idea of humanness is thus made to serve a scheme in which the differences between the man and the woman, which include the priority that orthodox anthropology recognizes in the man, are subject to egalitarian reduction.

Because of the relation of God and man in Christ, any anthropological heresy also inescapably infects theology and becomes a theological heresy as well--although some egalitarians with more conservative instincts do not understand this or will not admit it. A Christ who is Human in the egalitarian sense cannot be Man in the orthodox sense, but is merely the apotheosis of the egalitarian ideal. He cannot be the head of the man as the man is the head of the woman as God is his own head; the ordinal relations of which the Apostle spoke, and in which the Church believes, are utterly broken on the egalitarian wheel. That is why egalitarianism is a heresy and no orthodox Christian can be an egalitarian.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia

Today is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, most famous for the "Rule of St. Benedict," which has had an incredible influence not just on monasticism, but on Western Christianity and, I would argue, western civilization itself.
What I have appreciated in the years since I was first exposed to Benedict's Rule was the necessity of discipline in Christian prayer. Prayer does not just happen, and it does not grow haphazardly. It is something that must be planned for and lived out. Of course, the Rule of St. Benedict is not terribly practical for most of us, though its underlying principles can find expression in many aspects of life outside the monastery. But I would suggest that a personal Rule, a personal discipline, is a magnificent way to progress in the Christian faith.
An ally in this venture would be Martin Thornton, who has included in his book "Christian Proficiency" an entire chapter devoted to developing a personal Rule. Here is what he says about the importance of a Rule:

"Rule" is a literal translation of the Latin word 'regula,' - rule, pattern, model, example - from which we derive 'Regular' as both noun and adjective. Both words are technical terms of ascetical theology associated with, but by no means exclusive to, St. Benedict, and they present...a problem...their meaning is not quite the same as that of common us. Rule, llike pattern, model, or system, is an essentially singular word, in some ways directly opposite to a list of "rules," and a 'Regular' Christian is one who "lives the Rule."
It implies status more than quality, efficiency more than keenness or brilliance; volunteers and conscripts might prove braver and more zealous than regular soldiers but they are unlikely to be more generally proficient.
Let it be said at once that the Rule is a help and not a hindrance, something liberating and not restrictive, expansive not burdensome, in accord with the freedom of the Christian spirit and absolutely opposed to 'legalism.' It is always the means to an end and never an end in itself...

A rule could be as simple as saying the Lord's Prayer a few times a day. It is not the amount, but our faithfulness to it. And if we are faithful, God will open up new doors and new revelation to us that will continue to draw us closer to Him. All we need do is take a small step, be faithful, and listen well.
May the Lord bless all his people through the example of St. Benedict, and through a life of devotion and service, modeled by Benedict, may we all come to the rewards of a righteous life.

Afternoon Prayer Buddies

Thought I'd pass along some pictures of a couple of afternoon prayer partners that I've been seeing the last few days. These birds (I'm pretty sure they are barn swallows) are generally perched on the power line that runs right past my window, but I also think they've got a nest tucked in our roof somewhere.

If St. Francis could preach to the birds, why can't I pray with them?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


This you gotta see...and they have whole clubs dedicated to this?

Maybe this opens the door for Eucharist Pong...

Worthwhile Article...

There is a terrific article in this month's issue of Touchstone that notes a remarkable similarity between Jeremiah Wright and "your best life now" preachers.  The article is not a polemic against the much-maligned UCC pastor, but rather how the Black Church has not cornered the market on liberation theology.  The author, Russell Moore, points out that one is just as likely to find the essence of Wright's theology in the self-help, consumerist White Church.  As Moore writes, "...one does not have to be a political radical to bypass Jesus at the church.  White, upwardly mobile, pro-America preachers preach liberation theology all the time, with all the fervor of Jeremiah Wright, if not the anger."
Both angles on the Gospel make the same mistake.  Blacks say that if we can escape psychological, economic, and political oppression in America that we will attain salvation.  Whites are seeking psychological, economic, and political liberation through the American Dream.
Both end up in the same place.  The Gospel exists to serve me, for my benefit.  But lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that we are able to attain perfect equality, perfect wealth distribution, etc.  What then?  Have we attained salvation?  Is that heaven?  Both styles, whether its the grunginess of black liberationists or the bourgeoisie self-help whites, lead to the same dead end.  As Moore puts it so well,
"In both cases, the preachers fit Jesus into a preexisting storyline.  They did not call upon their hearers to find themselves in the storyline of the crucified, buried, and ressurected Jesus.  For them, Jesus is a mascot, just for different agendas, none of which will last a minute past the Judgment Seat."

Monday, July 7, 2008

GAFCON and the UCC

It is a positive thing that the United Church of Christ keeps tabs on the other denominations among which she co-exists.  On the UCC website right now is an article concerning the PCUSA, the liberal branch of the Presbyterians in the United States (and, for what its worth, it is an article about gay clergy; is it really just the conservatives who are focused on sex?).  

But another partner of the UCC that is getting a lot of play in the media is the Episcopal Church.  The worldwide Anglican communion's existence is in serious jeopardy, and there is no guarantee that a unified Anglican church will exist in 10 years.  For years the Anglicans have tried to walk the line between a common faith and freedom in faith, the same line the United Church of Christ has walked for over 50 years now.  However, the success of that stance is waning, and  the battle between conservatives and liberals is coming to a head, and Christians around the world are watching.

The Anglican crisis calls for particular attention from UCC members because its arguments so closely mirror our own, and the rhetoric on both sides has a familiar ring.  During the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), a statement was released from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a gathering in Jerusalem of conservative Anglican bishops from all over the world (the majority being African - a persistently interesting twist).  During that conference they released a statement entitled  The Way, the Truth, the Life, outlining the theological positions of the conservative gathering.  The document warrants a close reading, but listen to some of the rhetoric being used:

"The liberals focus on shared worship, shared work and shared experience, but not on shared faith.  In contrast, the New Testament concept of fellowship is anchored in a common faith and a common mind (Phil. 2:1-2; John 1:1-3)."

"Liberal Anglican leaders and theologians insist, in their rhetoric, upon the comprehensiveness of the Church, but in reality they have problems with a comprehensiveness that includes the orthodox."

"The Anglican Church is committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. For some, however, the Church is itself the message. By this they mean that the Anglican Church’s own diversity, and its ability to live with plurality and contradiction in its own membership on matters of faith, is precisely the witness it gives to a plural society today."  

"How should we understand revelation?  It is the presence of God, and it is also God speaking to his people (God Is Still Spreaking!?!?).  These two understandings are completely compatible; they are only falsely opposed to one another.  God exercises his authority through his Spirit, by means of the words which he addresses to particular human beings.  Those who disagree with this claim will ask whether that speech is episodic and time-bound as we be suggested by its expression in a historical text, or whether it is of a different order from human-to-human speech."

These selections, among others, raise my antennae considerably; they are the verbatim battles we are fighting inside the UCC.  The lesson here is that the UCC better be watching the Episcopal Church; if they can somehow find a way to maintain their unity, or if they manage to destroy themselves, we would do well to take notes.  Will there be solutions that we can adapt to our own use?  Can we avoid the pitfalls that have and will occur?  Can we, as the UCC, live out what the Anglican church seems unable to do?  Is it possible to walk this path in faithfulness to Christ?  This is a fascinating, informative, and sorrowful tale.  May the Lord's wisdom and guidance prevail, come what may.