Saturday, May 29, 2004

Preaching and worshipping and praying, oh my!
After leading worship last Sunday, I get to preach on June 13th. I'm very excited and I finally decided what I'm going to talk about. I know I'm very lucky to have this much time to prepare!

The lectionary reading for that day that I'm going to use is Galatians 2:15-21 (NRSV).

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Check out the translation from The Message by Eugene Peterson.

Here's the general outline for my sermon. As I write it, I'll post it here.

Tentative title - Finding Faith

Testimony - How did I get here?

Faith and Salvation - What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to have faith? How does our understanding of salvation affect how we see our faith?

I'll write more later.


Thursday, May 27, 2004

This makes me sad...
I just discovered this blog the other day. This post makes me sad. He wants to see God as a rabid rottweiler. Frankly, that's not a God I want any part of. That's also not the God we see in the New Testament, in my humble opinion. It makes me sad to think that people might miss out on God's gift of grace if they only Christian they encounter tries to convince them that God is like a rabid rottweiler.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Burn them at the stake!
I was reading a new blog today and this person was commenting on another blogger's notes on the Emergent convention that just wrapped up in Nashville. I'm not going to link to this discussion because it's not about them. Anyway, this first blogger, in response to a presentation on theology, made a comment wondering if this presenter was a "false teacher" as predicted/prophesized by the Bible. I'm not interested in determining whether this person is or is not a false teacher or questioning the orthodoxy of their belief. I think it is interesting that this person's first response to a challenging theological concept was to apply the label of "false teacher" to its author.

Another example of a similar controversy is that of United Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague. Sprague’s theology and belief is admittedly unorthodox, but in response to this speech at the Iliff School of Theology he has been attacked as a heretic, a false teacher, and an apostate. (Google "Sprague Iliff heresy" for a representative sample.) He has had several formal complaints filed against him and there are many within the UMC who will not rest until they feel he is no longer a threat.

What bothers me is how quickly people are willing to label those they disagree with as "false teachers," "heretics," and "apostates." Why, when we are confronted with religious ideas that differ from our own, do we respond with these religiously loaded words? Also, think about what those words mean now and what they've meant historically. Christians used to burn heretics at the stake. Are those that would label others as heretics or false teachers ready to move from symbolic violence (i.e. language) to real violence? Is their belief system so fragile that they have an absolute need to root out any who might disagree with them and thus threaten their faith?

Why can't we just say to those we disagree with, "That's an interesting idea. I happen to disagree." I think we can't say that because by validating the right of individuals to possess ideas contrary to our own, we fear that we are legitimizing those ideas. I think people also fear that by acknowledging there are people of "other minds" in the world, their own certainty in their belief system will falter.

So instead people label others as heretics, false teachers, and apostates as a way of shutting down any possibility of discussion or debate. I think what they’re really saying is, "Your ideas are so crazy and unorthodox that I do not believe you can be a complete person and possess them. I reject your personhood because of the ideas you possess."

I think it is tragic that people are creating environments where it is impossible for Christians to share ideas without the fear of being labeled as heretical. My own sister-in-law implied that I might be a false teacher. How sad that people cannot sit down and have conversations without these labels being applied! It seems to me that the impulse to apply these labels represents a very deep fear in a lot of Christians. Their fear is that their faith is weak and that it will break under the slightest pressure. Thus they must isolate themselves from anything that might challenge their faith.

I think the very real danger is that by excluding anyone with different ideas in the name of orthodoxy, Christians risk missing the testimony of "authentic" teachers and prophets. It also risks encasing the church in a stale and stagnant theology and assumes that "true" Christians can determine whether God is working in the lives of others. My prayer would be that Christians open their minds to the possibility that God is working even in those that they disagree with. I know that I need to as well.

Just for fun – here are some helpful links to protect yourself from false teachers.


Starbucks as the Antichrist?

Here's an interesting article from Portland's alternative weekly (Willamette Week) on why Starbucks isn’t necessarily evil.


Monday, May 24, 2004

God Help the Unchurched!!!
I've been hearing a lot lately about the unchurched. I didn't realize it then, but growing up my family was unchurched too. I've been thinking about this word the last couple of days, and the term is really starting to bother me.

It seems to me that when you say someone is "unchurched," what you're really saying is that they should be going to church, but aren't. The further assumption is that, naturally, people are better off when they're "churched." I don't know that people are always necessarily better or worse off if they're going to church or not, but it seems to me to be a big assumption either way.

The problem I see is that whether or not someone is "churched" says very little about who they are or where they are on their "journey of faith." We've all known spiritually empty people who are at church every Sunday, and grace-filled people who are rarely there. I believe that thinking about church in this "attending or not" mindset distracts from what the real purpose of a community of faith is. That is, the point is not how many people are on the membership rolls, but is the community a place where people experience the transformative power of Christ's grace? If we create churches that are popular (i.e. well attended), but don't change people, what's the point?

I think that talking about churched vs. unchurched puts the emphasis on numbers, not on transformation. That leads to impersonal environments where people are not valued as individuals who are all loved by God, but rather as statistics who only have value in the quest for "growth." I know that this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but I experienced a church like this in my hometown. It was the reason I stayed away - from church and from God. I felt like I only mattered as a notch on someone's Bible. I found Christ when I found a church that cared about me as a person - not whether I'd been unchurched or not.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

My first experience leading worship at church went well by all accounts (that I heard anyway). I didn't mess anything up as far as I could tell, and more importantly, I really liked it.

Before the service started I was greeting people as they came in. An older couple I didn't recognize sneaked in while I was talking to someone else. I found them in the sanctuary and introduced myself. The man said, "Are you the preacher here?" I thought, you know, I could be. I'd like to be. I like doing this. Then I explained what I was doing there and we proceeded to have a good conversation. He and his wife are from Florida and they were in town visiting their grandchildren. He was sad that he couldn't convince them to come to church, but he and his wife seemed very happy to be there.

It was a good experience. My preaching debut is June 13th. Thankfully I have the luxury of having several weeks to prepare my sermon!


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Be careful what you ask for!
God is funny sometimes. Just two days ago I posted about how I feel called to ordained ministry. I mentioned that I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do, but I think it might be something that I need to do. Then on yesterday our minister emailed me asking if I could lead worship on Sunday.

When I said the other day that I wasn't sure if my skills really suited me to be a "regular" (serving a church) minister, I meant I wasn't sure how good I would be at this sort of thing. I agreed to lead worship, but I'll admit I'm very nervous! I don't have to preach, but I get to do everything else. It's scary and exciting at the same time. I get a small taste of what it would be like to serve a congregation. Hopefully I'll learn at least two things – 1. Do I like doing this? 2. Am I good at it?

Tonight, Sarah, Claire and I are going to a handbell concert. Ring of Fire is performing. ROF is a nationally recognized high-school handbell choir from Hillsboro, Oregon. It should be a great concert. We're also having dinner at one of the best restaurants for fish in Portland (courtesy of a gift certificate from Sarah’s playing her violin in a play at her old school). It should be a good night!


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Harry Potter and the End Times
I've read a couple of interesting things the last few days. This week's cover story in Newsweek was on Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, the authors of the Left Behind series. The article was somewhat interesting in terms of their influence on pop culture, but there wasn't any meaningful discussion of the theology behind their books. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit (as I have before) that I've read all of the Left Behind books except for the last one. I'll read it when it's in paperback.

A couple of interesting tidbits from the article:

Most establishmentarian Christians agree with Tina Pippin, a professor of religious studies at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., in saying "Left Behind" "encourages people to see the world in terms of black and white, good and evil, with us or against us."

Well, duh. But it also seems that our society is not very interested in nuance. We like black and white - simple answers.

I thought this was interesting:

How does he reconcile that with Jesus' injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor? "I can accomplish far more from my present lifestyle and the giving that I do to Christian work," he says. "If I just sold everything and gave it to the poor, I can't see where that would advance the Gospel as much as I'm doing." But wouldn't it advance the poor? "Well," he says, "you know how much I pay in taxes?"

That is an interesting statement from a biblical literalist. Jesus didn't say, "if you happen to become fabulously wealthy just make sure you pay your taxes and give generously to charity." From someone who criticizes others for picking and choosing the parts of the Bible that they like, LaHaye's justification strikes me as hypocritical.

I'm not saying that LaHaye should give everything to the poor, but it seems like he wants to have it both ways. Apparently he's qualified to tell us what parts of the Bible to take literally and what is just a general suggestion.

Brian McLaren has also posted a fantastic article on his website, "Christian Reflections in a Time of War." He covers a lot of territory, but what struck me was his discussion of American exceptionalism – the idea that we're God's new chosen people.

If I were to go to the heart of my concern and try to express it in one sentence, here’s what I would say: Many Christians in America seem to have confused Caesar and Christ. We seem to have confused a “kingdom of this world” – our nation - with the kingdom of God. The will and interests of our nation have become associated with the will and values of God.

He also offers some very thoughtful criticism of President Bush's (public) theology:

I believe he [President Bush] very sincerely feels that America is in some way God's chosen nation, so our hearts are a redemptive force in the world, like "the blood of the Lamb." I believe he is sincere and well-meaning in these kinds of statements, but I also believe he is dangerously wrong. And if we do not see and name the danger, I fear we will become unwitting conspirators with it.

And this is a great thought:

A friend at my church once told me, "Brian, I think you’re right about 85% of the time. That's what makes you dangerous. People will trust you for the 85% so they won't question you for the 15%. Your leadership depends on you having the humility and second thoughts to be on guard for the 15%." Could our nation and its leaders be in a similar situation?

I think there are a lot of people in our lives we trust about 85% of the time. To bring it back to Oregon, one of these people was former Portland mayor and Oregon Governor, Neil Goldschmidt. People trusted him implicitly until they learned he raped (repeatedly) a 14 year-old girl when he was mayor of Portland. His leadership failed him, his victim, and the state utterly in that 15%.

The obvious thing going on here is that we're blinded by our pride. But we're also blinded by our sense of our own inherent goodness. We couldn't possibly do evil because we're so well intentioned. But our sense of God's presence in our life can blind us to our ability to do evil. I'm not implying that George W. Bush is necessarily doing evil, but rather agreeing with Brian McLaren that Bush's Christian faith is no guarantee that he isn't. For Bush or anyone else to assume that their faith puts them above making a mistake is dangerously arrogant.

On a lighter note, Slate has an interesting article on the similarities between Harry Potter and Left Behind.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Knock, knock...
I think I've blogged before on my dissatisfaction with my current employment situation. To recap, I hate my job. I like the paychecks and health insurance, but other than that it leaves quite a bit to be desired. The problem is that I have no clear idea of what I'd rather be doing. Well, I do have one idea, but I'm not sure it's realistic. I'd really like to be on the injured reserve for the Portland Trailblazers (or any team that would take me). That way I'd get to go to a bunch of NBA games, sit courtside, travel all over the country, and get paid a lot. But unless the Blazers call me, I'm not sure what else to do.

What complicates things is that I think I feel God pulling at me. I'm feeling very strongly that I need to go to seminary. But I'm not sure what God wants me to do after that. I'm not sure I want to be a full time pastor. I think my skills might lie elsewhere. Right now my dream is to go to the Iliff School of Theology, get my M.Div, and then get my Ph.D. at the Iliff/University of Denver joint Ph.D. program in Religious and Theological Studies. Is this realistic? Is this part of God's call? I'm not sure.

The complicated thing, it seems to me, when you’re talking about "call" is that it is incredibly difficult to separate out our desires from what God wants of us. Am I just thinking about seminary because I'd do anything to get away from my current job? In the past I've also thought about getting my MBA, finishing my Ph.D. in Urban Studies, transferring to the Ph.D. program in Public Administration, and getting a Master of Science in Management of Information Technology. I'll freely admit that I've been all over the place.

So do I want to be minister and I'm just telling myself that it's really God that wants it? Or is God really calling me to ordained ministry? I don't know, but I'm going to think about it and pray about it and hope it becomes clearer.

What I'm looking for professional (and spiritually) is meaning. While I'm not enriching some godless, heartless corporation (or myself, for that matter) I don't get a lot of satisfaction out of my work. I work as a financial analyst for a local government in Oregon and while I can tell myself that because of what I do we have police and firefighters on the street, a great park system, and two libraries – I don't actually do any of those things. I make spreadsheets. I help prepare financial reports that no one ever reads and budgets that are out of the date the moment they are printed. If I got hit by a bus, there would still be police and firefighters, parks and libraries.

I know that I can make a difference through church and through volunteer activities. I'm just not sure that I can be happy spending the bulk of my professional life doing meaningless work. I want to do something that makes a difference in people's lives. I want to advance God's kingdom and share the good news of the grace that has transformed my life. Do I do that through ordained ministry? I'm not sure.


Monday, May 17, 2004

I'm Tired...
I'm physically tired today, but I'm also spiritually, mentally, and emotionally tired. Our minister finished her sermon series on homosexuality, the Bible, and marriage yesterday. Our Sunday School class was discussing same-gender marriage with Don Freuh, director of Shalom Ministries. Shalom Ministries is an outreach of the Metropolitan District of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Don was a great asset to have there, but the discussion was tense. Frankly, I'm glad it's over and we can go back to pretending this issue doesn't exist for a little while. I wish there was a way we could talk about it without the pain, anger, and fear.

I'm uplifted today by Father Jake’s post on "Right Beliefs?" He ends talking about Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV):

He said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

I think as Christians we spend way too much time focused on ourselves and our churches. We worry about who is in, who is not. Is this a sin, is it not? We need to make Christianity less focused on us and our failings, and instead rejoice in God’s goodness, in our creation and redemption, and in our call to mission. Then I think we'd worry less about doctrine and belief, and really get on with the business of being Christian.


Friday, May 14, 2004

Weekend Update
Well, it's the weekend. No blogging on the weekend. This weekend my sister graduates from Willamette University. Congratulations Megan!

Other than that, no deep thoughts for the day. One interesting thing to say - Claire is starting to roll over. She can go from her stomach to her back. Pretty cool!


Thursday, May 13, 2004

Sin? Sex? Sin? Sex? Sin? Sex?
Yesterday I was getting ready to write a very angry rant about how deeply I dislike modern fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christianity. I'm not sure where my anger came from, but it slowly dissipated as I thought about sin. More specifically, I was thinking about what the fundamentalist/evangelical church has to say about sin. I went to a mega-church during much of high school (mostly to play basketball after church, then because of a girl, but I did occasionally listen to the sermons). For us high school students, the message was about SEX. Sex is bad, bad, bad, bad. Unless of course, you happen to married, then it is good, good, good.

It seemed like the one goal of the youth ministers was to keep us from having sex. However, based on conversations with my friends later in life, I don't think they were particularly successful. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) I wasn't part of that backslidden, transgressing group. My celibacy, rather than being based on any great sense of morality or faithfulness to God, was more a case of an absolute lack of opportunity. If opportunity had presented itself, then I might have a better sense of my moral fiber at 16, but alas we'll never know.

Anyway, the point of this is that we heard about sin a lot. If you only attended that youth group you'd think that what made Christians different is that they think about sex more than any other people on earth. I never really got any comprehensive sense of what sin was or why it mattered. Maybe they mentioned it, but I was probably so busy thinking about sex that I missed it.

Anyway, here are a couple of loosely connected thoughts about sin from the wonderful world of the internet.

From the blogosphere, Father Jake always has interesting things to say. He describes himself as an "eccentric and sometimes heretical Anglican priest." This quote is from a longer post about tough Biblical passages:

One way to understand sin is to define it as "twisted good." At the root of every sin is something good. The idea that we can cut sin out of our lives is a very damaging image; to do so would require we also cut out a piece of ourselves. Instead, why not engage in the slow process of untwisting it, until we arrive at the good root?

The Upper Room Ministries are a ministry of the United Methodist Church. They have a frequent feature called "Ask Julian" where ordinary folk can write in and ask tough theological questions. This quote is from a question about suicide:

At her best, the Church knows God is the God of Life and for people to choose death in killing others or self is to miss God's hope and purposes for human beings. That missing of God's purpose is called "sin."

Mostly, in the Bible, sin is a word that comes from the language of bows and arrows. It has to do with missing the target. Over shooting. Under shooting. Shooting to the left or to the right. But missing the target.

Finally, this passage is from a sermon by the minister who married my wife and I. Fred Kane is the pastor of Hillsboro United Methodist Church. He is a very wise man and I miss his teaching. I think our current church community is a better fit for us, but Fred is very cool.

There is a wonderful story about a Catholic priest, a much-loved man who carried a burden of guilt about a long past sin. He had committed this so-called sin many years before during his time in seminary. No one knew of it. There was a woman in his parish who claimed she regularly spoke with God and God with her.

The priest was skeptical of her claim, so he said: "The next time you have one of these conversations with God ask what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary."

The woman agreed and went home. When she returned to church a few days later, the priest said, "Did you talk with God and did you ask God what sin I committed in seminary?"

"Yes," the woman said. "I asked God."

"Well," said the priest, "what did God say?"

"God said, 'I don't remember.'"

God does not remember your past which may bind you and constrict you and to which you return again and again. If God forgives, why can’t we? I know it’s hard. It’s hard for me. But, God’s plan for healing relationships is forgiveness.

I really like that last thought. Even though we might bind ourselves to our past (sins), God is not bound. We are healed through God’s grace and in Father Jake’s words, given the opportunity to "untwist" our sin and find that which God loves within us.

Good thoughts, all of them. This sounds like a cliché, but I think the world really does need healing. Forgiveness is powerful and incredibly difficult. I pray that God will help me to forgive and the world to forgive.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I just learned that three people have left our church and the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. Three people might not seem like that many, but when you regularly have 70 show up on Sunday, three matter. What's interesting to me is that they left because they disagree with a vocal minority in the church. The official stance of the United Methodist Church is that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and that homosexuals should not be ordained as ministers. The church also forbids clergy from performing gay marriages and gay marriages cannot be performed inside UMC facilities even if a UMC minister is not presiding.

It makes me very sad that our society is getting to the point that we are not even willing to be in fellowship with people we disagree with. Why do we feel the need to surround ourselves only with people who agree with us on everything? To some extent that feels like an inauthentic community. It is a community that either strictly enforces unanimity of thought or constantly teeters on the brink of dissolution over the contentious issue of the day. What happens when you find someone who disagrees with you on some other issue? Do you run to another community?

Isn't part of being in community realizing that you're not always going to agree with everyone? We're all part of God's family, and like our regular (biological) family, we don't always agree, but we should still try to enjoy each other's company.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The list of stuff you shouldn’t do...
I think one of the concerns when we’re discussing the exclusivity of Christianity, is that without a belief in a one, true God, we lose absolute moral authority. The Christians will have their God, Muslims theirs, etc. etc. etc. I’m not sure how much that really matters, practically and theologically. Practically, Christianity has flourished for 2000 years in a world where a large portion of the population doesn’t acknowledge the Christian God as sovereign. Theologically, I’m not sure it matters that much either.

When we talk about moral absolutes, I get the feeling that what people want is a list of stuff they shouldn’t do. And if they do the stuff they shouldn’t do, they want to know what the consequences are. I think part of the fear is that if we acknowledge that there aren’t moral absolutes (meaning lists of stuff you shouldn’t do) then people will say, "to hell with Christianity, I’m going to fornicate, curse, drink, and dance myself to death." In all seriousness, the fear is that Christianity will lose its moral authority if it can’t say, "our rules are the only way." But I would ask, is the transformational power of God’s grace found in scaring people into obeying a moral code, or people choosing of their own volition to follow Christ?

It seems to me that the message of moral absolutism is this: the world is a fallen, sinful place. Christ is the answer, but the fallen and sinful cannot see it because of their sin. Only by showing them the specific details of their sin, can we lead them to Christ. Thus we need a list of stuff you shouldn’t do that is backed the absolute moral authority of God.

But what about a view of the world that looks like this: the world is full of sin and sinners, but it is also a hopeful place. By sharing the knowledge of God’s unconditional acceptance and the power of Christ to transform our lives, we can advance God’s kingdom on earth. Grace can transform the world and through grace we will no longer focus on the list of stuff we shouldn’t do and instead deepen our relationship with God through study, worship, prayer and mission. As Christians, in our personal and communal relationship with God we will strive to lead faithful lives, but knowing that we will often miss the target. But we will rejoice in our creation and God’s love for us as evidenced by God’s grace!


Upcoming topics...
As part of my ongoing dialogue with my sister-in-law I think I’ll post parts of that here. As a bit of introduction, we're discussing some of the essentials of Christianity. I'm approaching the discussion as a faithful skeptic, while she is coming from a more conservative, evangelical perspective. Interesting stuff...


Monday, May 10, 2004

Over the weekend a theological discussion that has been lurking under the surface at several family gatherings, finally broke through. It was, at times, vigorous, challenging, tense, and painful. Are we the better for having it? I’m not sure.

One of the most contentious issues was that of belief. Is belief in the Bible and what the Bible says about Jesus, in particular, essential to being Christian? The others involved in the discussion argued that belief is essential. Their point (and I may be misstating it, but I am also inviting them to read this blog, and if you do, you’re welcome to correct me – and add anything you’d like - in the comments section below) was that without belief, what’s the point of being (or calling yourself) Christian? One Bible verse they quoted was Hebrews 11 (NRSV):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

I responded by mentioning that my faith is about more than just belief. Read this post for more about faith – I don’t want to repeat the discussion here. I don’t think my argument did much for them – they responded that the Bible says faith is belief, therefore that’s what faith is. I think they would argue that faith strengthens belief and visa versa.

I tried to say this then, but I’m not sure it came out very well. I think what we are talking about, to an extent, is certainty. They would argue that certainty of belief is essential – that being faithful (other definitions of faith, aside) leads one to the conclusion that no other truth is possible.

Here’s what I’m afraid of – We all create mental models, systems and theologies that fit our understanding of God. When we are certain, I think we want to believe that those mental models, systems and theologies are correct. But I think that we’re trying to fit God into our theology, rather than fitting our theology to God. But when we try to fit our theology to God we recognize that God is infinitely more complex than we can comprehend.

We realize that God doesn’t abide by our logical rules. Grace is a fantastic example. Radical grace breaks all of our rules and doesn’t seem to make sense. But yet, that is what God promises. I think the danger of certainty is that when something happens in our lives that doesn’t fit our theology, faith/belief can be weakened. When God doesn’t live up to our expectations, that certainty can begin to shatter.

I don’t see my skepticism and doubts as a lack of faith. I’ve given up trying to fit God to my expectations. Instead I’m putting my trust in God and pledging to live faithfully. I’m not saying that I can’t be rattled – rather, I’m expecting it and I believe it is an essential part of the Christian life. After all, while on the cross didn’t Jesus say, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46 NRSV).


Friday, May 07, 2004

When the mighty fall…
Neil Goldschmidt, former governor of Oregon, mayor of Portland, and Transportation Secretary under President Carter admitted yesterday that when he was 35, he had a nine-month sexual relationship with a 14 year-old girl. It’s hard to really comprehend the effect of this. For those of you outside Oregon, Goldschmidt is a giant in Oregon. He’s credited with helping make Portland the city it is today, and at 63, was the man current governor Ted Kulongoski called upon to fix higher education in Oregon. Revered by Democrats, respected by Republicans, he was a major force in Oregon politics.

On one hand, I want to be able to say that after 30 years, he surely must have redeemed himself. However, as a father, if it were my daughter, I’d want to kill him. As a Christian, I believe in redemption and forgiveness of sin (for the record, Goldschmidt is Jewish). While I believe that the power of God’s forgiveness and grace is available to Goldschmidt, I think he made the right decision by resigning from his public positions (as chair of the Board of Higher Education). When the mighty fall, they fall hard.

Here are a couple of news articles about the story:

Willameek Week – Portland alternative newspaper
Yahoo! News – the story actually made the national press

Of all the things I’ve learned in my relatively short adult life, one sticks out. I think it is best put by Psalm 146:3 - Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

There have been some people (public figures) in my life I’ve really looked up to. Several have also come crashing back to earth, though not as hard as Neil Goldschmidt. The first couple of times it happened, I was hurt. I felt as if I had been let down. What I’ve realized is that we’re all human, but we live in a culture that exalts some people and paints them as flawless. Their flaws, and ultimately their humanity is almost always revealed. I think the message is not to lower our expectations necessarily and wait to be disappointed, but rather to not put people on such a pedestal.

Certainly what Neil Goldschimdt did is horrible and he needs to account for that. But let’s also acknowledge his humanity and not revel in fall, but rejoice in the possibility of redemption. That’s God’s good news – the power of grace to work in our lives in spite of our flaws. I hope Neil Goldschmidt opens his heart and lets God work within him.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

New name, same old nonsense…
Thankfully the masses agreed with my top choice for the new name – The Faithful Skeptic. There are a couple of meanings in the title. First, I always want to be questioning – that is, being faithful to my skepticism. Secondly, I believe that skepticism and questioning bring me closer to God. Thinking about my faith is an essential part of being Christian – that is, an essential part of being faithful.

A couple of things inspired me to start thinking about this. I stumbled across a great blog called Real Live Preacher. In “The Preacher’s Story,” he says,

God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.

I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.

I highly recommend reading his whole story.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be faithful. Marcus Borg in “The Heart of Christianity” describes four different meanings of faith.

  • Faith as Assensus – this is faith as belief

  • Faith as Fiducia – Borg describes this as a radical trust in God

  • Faith as Fidelitas – this is faith as fidelity, faith as our faithfulness to our relationship with God

  • Faith as Visio – faith as our vision of God – do we see God as hostile, indifferent, or life-giving?

I’ve struggled with belief, and I think that’s part of the nature of skepticism. But seeing faith as bigger than belief is a really liberating thought. I may struggle with the details, but I’ll always place my trust in God, live faithfully as a Christ-follower, and rejoice in God’s creation and grace.


I started, or maybe picked up where we left off, a very interesting conversation today with my sister-in-law over the issue of gay marriage. One of central issues we’re discussing is what does the Bible actually say?

I stumbled across a short article today by Gayle Felton, who is a United Methodist minister and former faculty member at the Duke Divinity School. The article is a discussion of different translations of the Bible.
I found the following discussion to be very interesting:

It may be helpful to begin with eight facts that underlie all biblical translations.
1.) No English translation is based on the original manuscripts of any biblical book.
2.) The manuscripts that we do have are not alike.
3.) The discovery of older manuscripts (the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example) enables us to get closer to the original texts.
4.) The Hebrew and Greek languages (with some Aramaic) in which biblical books were written are very different from English.
5.) We do not know the exact meaning of some words and phrases in these ancient languages.
6.) English words and phrases have changed in meaning over the years and continue to do so.
7.) What is considered standard or proper usage of English words has also changed through time.
8.) Any translation from one language to another involves choices about precisely which words are to be used.

The reality of these eight factors influencing every English translation should by no means cause us to lose confidence in our Bibles. Most questions about precise meaning are insignificant, and none affect any basic Christian doctrines. The gospel of our living Lord is expressed in the words of our living language, and changes are to be welcomed. Finally, we trust the same Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical writers to guide both translators and readers today.

Given those eight factors, it seems to me that humility is a good thing. Thinking about the Bible in that way, I asked myself a question – “would I be willing to cut someone out of my life if they didn’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible?” For me, the answer is no. I’m going to do my best to be faithful, to ask lots of questions, share Christ’s love with my neighbors, and leave the judging up to God.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

New name?
I think I should rename my blog. I wonder if the self-deprecating title contributes to my lack of self-esteem or it is the other way around. Either way, I think I probably need to do something about my poor self-esteem. Except that I’m not confident that I can come up with a witty or meaningful title (not that the existing title fits either category). Oops – there’s that self-esteem problem again.

One thing I know for sure – my blog definitely needs new colors. Orange sucks – and the endless variations of orange-ness provided by the Blogger template are quite horrifying.

Here are some thoughts for a new title:
1. The Faithful Skeptic
2. Poorly dressed guy with a computer (lately I’ve been feeling insecure about my professional wardrobe…)
3. Quick to listen, slow to speak (James 1:19)
4. Where are censors when you need them?
5. Well-intentioned heresies…
6. Please read this!?!?!?
7. Ego at its finest
8. Why am I reading this?
9. You may not realize it by reading this, but I did actually go to college
10. Trying to be faithful

Any suggestions/thoughts/criticisms?


Monday, May 03, 2004

I’m deeply ashamed…
I have a terrible secret. I live in fear that this blackness in my soul will be exposed. However, I’ve decided to try to free myself of my demons. According to the End-Time Deliverance Ministry at, inadequacy, insecurity, and unreality (and a whole lot more) are all demons. Apparently, you have to cast out your demons before you can be delivered and practice spiritual warfare on a daily basis. Now the complete list of demons is kind of long, so the demons above are just a start. I’m sure I’ve got more…

Anyway, what sins are my demons causing me to commit? Here it is: I love trashy fiction. I’ve read almost every John Grisham book, every Tom Clancy novel, and all sorts of crap that they sell at the checkout counter at the grocery store. I tend towards spy novels, courtroom/lawyer novels, and crime thrillers. This may be the worst part – I’ve read every book in the Left Behind series (except the Glorious Appearing – I’m too cheap to buy it in hardback) twice!

Now, in my defense, I also try to read the novel that wins the Pulitzer each year. The books that win the Nobel prize are usually a little too esoteric for me. I think one of the reasons I feel guilty is that I have a solid liberal arts education from a very good school and I’m afraid my professors would lose all respect for me if they only knew. Such shame to live with!

Is it really a sin to love trashy novels? I’m reading The Da Vinci Code right now, but it’s just so I can witness against it. Really!