Wednesday, October 27, 2004


I've been at a conference all week. Heard one "inspirational" speaker. He made a good point though. He said that people who survive (based on a book by a Holocaust survivor) and thrive have two characteristics:

- They have a goal for every day
- They take control of their attitude

Its a good message and I am realizing that I have control over the type of day that I have.


Monday, October 25, 2004

Three reasons to vote against Bush...

that no one but me will probably care about.

1.) Bush appointees to the Federal Communications Commission (including Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell) are extremely unfriendly to local governments. Proposed FCC rules will limit the ability of local governments to collect franchise fees from telecommunication utilities. Those franchise fees pay for essential services like police and fire.

2.) The Bush Administration is proposing reduced funding for Local Law Enforcement Block Grants that provide local police agencies with equipment like radios, bulletproof vests, cars, and other essential gear. Bush appointees are also proposing to eliminate the Edward Byrne and Violence Against Women Act grant programs, that fund domestic violence prevention and recovery services across the country.

3.) The Bush administration delayed $2 billion in funding for local first responders for months after 9/11 after the House and Senate had approved it. Meanwhile, local police and fire agencies bore the burden of increased security costs based on the new terror alert system. Remember, the police and fire fighters that died in 9/11 worked for the City of New York - not the federal government.


Friday, October 22, 2004

Predictions, anyone?

Anyone care to call the presidential race? Here are my predictions:

1.) All of the polls will be wrong (more on this below).
2.) There will several lawsuits, regardless of who wins.
3.) Bush wins: Bush - 52%, Kerry - 47%, Nader - 1%

There are a couple of reasons the polls will be wrong. Polls typically poll "expected voters." Those are usually people who have voted recently, kept their address at their local elections office updated, and actually answer their phone. But both liberal and conservative groups have been running very successful voter registration drives. There are a lot of new voters on the rolls that don't fit the "expected voter" mold. Thus they're not getting asked who they are going to vote for.

An interesting aside to this discussion is an article by Robert X. Cringley, who argues that the widespread adoption of cell phones is also complicating the issue. For the last 50 years, about 95% of US homes had land line phones. But an increasing number of people are switching to cell phones for their primary phone. But it is illegal for pollsters to call cell phones! A lot of these new, young, registered voters only use cell phones and they're not getting polled!

What this means is that the polls are likely not giving us good information. The election is really going to come down to turnout. Will the Republicans be more successful at turning out conservative Christians, or will the Democrats turn out more young people? I feel much more confident in the ability of the GOP to turn out evangelical Christians than in the ability of the Democrats to turn out young people. But I could be wrong. I hope that I'm wrong.

Final prediction:

4.) After the election, the Democrats will ride Nader out of town on a rail and force him to emigrate to Antarctica. Or Greenland, maybe.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Godless people?

This comment was left on a previous post of mine:

"and the fact that the Godless people of the world are the main supporters of homosexuality does not make you wonder?"

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what is trying to be said. Without knowing the precise intent, I'm going to approach it in two ways.

The post that this comment belongs to affirms my opposition to a ballot measure in Oregon that seeks to ban gay marriage. Might this comment be saying, "if you're not with us (evangelical, conservative Christians), you're against us?" Godless homosexuals aren't part of God's kingdom so it is fine to discriminate against them? I think Christians are called to a higher standard of civility.

But I think the comment is more about who is in and who is out. In God's Kingdom, that is. I think the implicit message is that homosexuals aren't Christian (or at least good ones) and the people who support them aren't either, so they are obviously not in and/or welcome in God's Kingdom. Thus, if a Christian majority decides to legalize discrimination against them, that is their problem.

I want to turn back to this whole notion of who is in and who is out. The gospels have several stories where the Pharisees or Jesus' disciples were sure someone was "out." But then Jesus says, "Hang on a minute!" Take Matthew 9:10.

Jesus is sitting down to dinner with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees ask "what's up with that?" Jesus says, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

In Matthew 21:31 Jesus tells the temple priests and elders that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before they do.

In Luke 10 (the story of the good Samaritan), Jesus asks the disciples "And who is my neighbor." The answer? "The one who showed him mercy."

In John 4, Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman, when his disciples see him. They ask, "Why are you speaking with her?" Why would Jesus waste time with a Samaritan woman? Because he was breaking down their idea of who was in and out of the kingdom.

God asks us to show mercy. Jesus came to remind us that God's kingdom is bigger than we can imagine. I would ask who are the tax collectors and Samaritans of today? When Christians devote time and energy to exclude people from Christ's table based their sense of their own holiness, we miss the message of Christ.

I believe Christ demands us to radically welcome all people to his table. When I read the passages above, I see Jesus deconstructing the popular notion of who is in and who is out. If Jesus showed up today, what would he do? Read the passages above and tell me what you think he'd do.


An accurate diagnosis

Richard has hit the nail on the head:

I agree with Chuck and others that it is this division over Biblical interpretation that lies at the root of many ongoing controversies in the church. Unless that division can be bridged there is little prospect of reconciliation, but I see no sign of that happening any time soon. Those who hold the view that the Bible is “infallible” cannot easily accommodate an alternative view and keep their integrity. As a minister who reads the Bible with the utmost seriousness I have a problem with this. I’m convinced it is a relatively simple matter to demonstrate that the Bible is plainly and unequivocally not infallible, at least by any sensible use of the word. But the attempt to make that demonstration is seen by those who hold it as an assault upon their faith, the very last thing I would want to do.

I wish I thought there could be an easy answer to this problem. Prayer, fellowship and continuing conversation would provide a route, but without settling this issue it is exactly these 3 things which are most difficult.

How do we talk about these issues when, for some of us, the issue is "untouchable" theologically?


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I was coming home last night I heard a radio advertisement in support of Oregon's Measure 36. Measure 36 would define marriage in the Oregon Constitution as between "one man and one woman." This ad claimed (among other things) that should Measure 36 fail, schools would have to teach gay sex. Other ads ominously declare that "liberals and activist judges" are out to destroy your way of life.

So why the scare tactics? I think it is because if you try to present the issue reasonably it comes across as an exceptionally ugly form of discrimination. Try this on for size:

"Vote for Measure 36 so we can formalize discrimination against homosexuals in the Oregon Constitution!"

"Support denying homosexuals equal protection under the law. Vote for Measure 36!"

Measure 36 is discriminatory. It is ugly, it is evil, and it is wrong.

It makes me incredibly sad that the main people supporting this initiative are Christians. This measure is probably going to pass, primarily based on the political and financial support of Christians. Now that's the love of Christ in action!

I'm pissed.

I'm sad.

I want to curse, but I won't.


No on 36!


Monday, October 18, 2004

Sermon - "A word about The Word"

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (MSG)
There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another--showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was the lectionary passage for today. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and I didn't realize I'd have a such a great excuse to talk about this when I agreed to preach today. But I've got to start off with some bad news - the title of the message in the bulletin is "A Word about The Word." I'm afraid I've got a lot more to say than just one word.

It might seem funny to you, but this particular passage has been a big issue for me in my journey of faith. It might seem innocuous, but it isn't for me. What you might not realize is that this passage is one of a handful in the New Testament that support an idea called the Divine Plenary Inspiration of the Bible. The idea is that God directly sent what we know as the Bible down to earth through human writers. It's like God faxed it down. An accompanying doctrine is that of inerrancy. The belief is that the Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts. There is not a single error and every word is as God precisely intended it to be.

The problem for me is that many of the people I've met who believe this also feel perfectly comfortable telling me exactly what the Bible has to say on whatever the issue is at hand. But when I read the Bible, it's not nearly so unambiguous. For me, anyway, the Bible is complicated. So I started wondering, what was Paul saying when he wrote his second letter to Timothy?

One of the first things I learned is that Paul almost certainly didn't write the letter. The timeline in the letter conflicts with what scholars and historians know about Paul's life. It conflicts with Paul's other letters in the Bible and the accounts of Paul's life in Acts. Because the authorship is uncertain, it is difficult to date with any certainty. Scholars place its writing sometime between the year 64 CE (about thirty years after the death of Jesus) and the year 150.

The date is important because we know that the earliest gospel account (Mark) was written about the year 70. John, the latest, was written about the year 90. Scholars believe most of the other parts of the New Testament were written around that same time period - from about the year 40 or 50 until sometime in the early second century. What this means is that author of 2 Timothy was not referring to the New Testament when he or she said all Scripture is God-breathed because the New Testament didn't exist at that point. So what were they referring to?

Almost certainly not the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible as we know it. At that time Jews commonly used what was called the Septuagint. It contains the books we know as the Old Testament, but also several deuterocanonical books known as the Apocrypha, which Catholics include as part of the Old Testament. In fact, some scholars believe that early Christians considered the Apocrypha sacred long after Jews had excluded it from their canon. But the canonization of the Bible is a story for another day. My point is that the author of 2 Timothy was referring to something radically different than what we call Scripture today.

So what is Scripture? It is easy to say that the Bible is the Word of God. But which one? Is it the original texts? Then no translation is precisely the Word of God. If translations can be the Word of God - which one is it? They're all different. Right here I have four different versions.

I want to share a quote from a British theologian and Anglican Priest, Maggi Dawn. She has been publishing a series of short articles on the internet called Words and the Word. Here's part of what she has to say:

"The dilemma we face in calling the Bible "The Word of God" is that words, which remain our best means of communication, are fluid, unstable, shifting in meaning; thus the concept of a faithful and stable God communicating with us through his 'Word' is perilously woven in with the fickle and unstable medium of lanugage. To say that words are fluid doesn't necessarily mean that they don't mean anything. But to insist that these particular words - the words in the Bible - don't obey the same rules of fluidity that other words do, far from solving the problem actually creates another, worse one, in that it fixes and ossifies "The Word of God" into a legalistic and static document, which does not reflect the fact that God is alive and in relationship with himself and with humanity (and, incidentally, still doesn't render one clear and unambiguous meaning of the text!) Words with 'fixed meaning' become ossified; God is alive.

The release valve to the problem is the recognition that "The Word" and 'the words' are related but not the same thing. We may hear God speak THROUGH the words of the Bible more effectively if we do not insist that they are 'His Words'"

God is alive, indeed. And I think that is the insidious message of the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. It tells us that if God doesn't make perfect sense to you now all the help you're going to get is in the Bible. Not only that, but God stopped speaking to world 2000 years ago. For some reason God is done with us. And the message of inspiration is that we should be able to get it. This collection of ancient writings should be able to give us perfect knowledge of God. Everything we need to know should be in the Bible. As Methodists we believe that all of the knowledge necessary for our salvation is contained in the Bible. But that is a very different thing than saying everything that we need to know is contained in the Bible.

This may not seem as ridiculous to you as it did to me, but I was reading a Christian magazine a couple of months ago. In the advice column, a woman had written in asking if it was un-Biblical to get breast implants. The author worked hard to try to convince her it was un-Biblical, but from my perspective, the biggest problem for the columnist is that the Bible doesn't say anything about breast implants.

I think it is a temptation to try to make the Bible God's encyclopedia. But the reality is that it doesn't have the answers to every question we might ask. In our darkest hours, in the midst of our brokenness, we might not find what we need there. But that doesn't mean that Bible is meaningless. Rather, I like how Marcus Borg views the Bible. He argues that the Bible is divinely inspired, but by that he means that he believes God was working in the lives of the authors. But the Bible is a human product that documents the story of our faith and its sacredness derives from its ability to help us experience the Risen Christ.

I think it is really tempting to believe that God has given us everything we need to know, if we could just read the Bible the right way. It is comforting to believe that God inspired the writers of the Bible by dictating the exact words. It brings certainty to an uncertain world. The problem for me is that the Bible does not even claim that sort of inspiration for itself, as we can see from studying 2 Timothy. I believe the Bible is unmistakably a human product, inspired by the work of God in the lives of those that came before us.

I don't believe that the sum of God is wrapped up in a few thousand pages of text written down a couple of thousand years ago. God is both bigger and more complex than can possibly be reflected in human writing. I believe that God is active and present in our lives and will work through us when we open ourselves to that possibility. I think that our legacy as Christians is that we try to understand and experience God using the Biblical witness of our ancestors as the beginning of the story, rather than the end.


Friday, October 15, 2004

Speechless, for a change

I haven't had much to say lately. The main reason is that my job is keeping me very busy right now. That has actually been pretty enjoyable, but this vacation of sorts I've been having at work for the last four months comes to an end on Monday. That makes me sad, but I'll live. The good news, though, is that I start a new job on November 1st. I am very excited about the possibilities it holds.

A couple of baby stories for Friday.

It is fascinating to watch a baby develop. Now that Claire is crawling, she's starting to understand distance and the fact that people go away. She's been awake the last couple of mornings when I've left for work and she cries when I leave. It's great to feel wanted and needed, but it doesn't make you want to leave. She's also learned how to wave "bye-bye" in the last couple of weeks. It is adorable.

The flip side of that story is that Claire is incredibly excited to see me when I get home. She gives me a big smile and crawls to me as fast as she can. If there's something in her way, she cries until the obstacle is moved or she gets around it. Seeing that makes all of the baggage from a hard day at work disappear.

Now our only problem is that Claire has this small misunderstanding about sleep. She doesn't quite get that we sleep at night and play during the day. She wants to play all day and all night. That's not so good for those of us that like to sleep more than an hour at a time at night.
Speaking of babies and love, my father-in-law gave Sarah a book for her birthday called Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain.

Apparently research is showing that affection plays a crucial role in how babies develop. Knowing that makes me happy that Sarah decided to stay home with Claire. It certainly makes my life easier, but I believe that it is making a world of difference in Claire's life. I understand that not all families can afford to have one parent stay home and that placing your children in daycare doesn't make anyone a bad parent.

But I've got to say this. If you are middle class or filthy rich and you want to have children, but you're not willing to prioritize your life in a way that makes your children more important than money, then maybe you shouldn't have children. I know some people (male or female) feel like they couldn't stay home. But making your children a priority doesn't mean you have to quit your job. Maybe each partner works part-time. But if you are unwilling to change your lifestyle (by that I mean, get along with less money), I don't think you should have children.

I know a couple that has two children. Between the two of them they make a very good living. Their children spend close to 60 hours a week in daycare. Their jobs, and the lifestyle that their salaries make possible, are more important to them than being present for their children. They could live easily on either one of their salaries. They choose a large house, new cars, exotic vacations, and eating out over presence.

I think if you have the financial means available, you should put your kids first. If that's not something you want to do, don't have children. The last thing our society needs are more people who evaluate success only in terms of money.

Here's an interesting, and kind of scary, story from 60 Minutes about the phenomenon of high-powered women staying home. The scary part is a woman arguing that staying home is worse for women than being in the workforce and that women who do decide to stay home hurt women who decide to work. No more ranting for today.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Preaching, again

I have the opportunity to preach again this Sunday for Laity Sunday. Having done it once, I'm feeling a little more weight on my shoulders to do well. One of the good comments I got from my friend David (who is an excellent preacher, in my humble opinion) is to not try to cram every idea I have into my sermon. When you don't get to preach very often it is very tempting to try to say everything that's on your mind.

What's funny is that scripture the pastor picked (out of the lectionary, I assume, but I've been too busy to check) is the 2 Timothy passage used to support biblical inerrancy. Great timing for me, because I can use what I've written here as a start.

My challenge is to condense my thoughts into a single coherent message that leaves the congregation with something to take home. It's not enough to just say that I don't believe in biblical inerrancy - how do I think my perspective on the nature of the Bible should influence our lives as Christians and shape our approach to the Bible? When I find an answer, I'll let you know.


Monday, October 11, 2004

Too busy to blog

Things are too busy to really blog at the moment. Work is crazy. Baby isn't sleeping - at night, anyway.

Yesterday was our Church Conference - where we elect unsuspecting souls to committees and vote on the pastor's compensation (if you can call what we pay "compensation"). This is probably heretical, coming from a United Methodist (who are probably only second to the Germans in their love for bureaucracy), but I was expecting an afternoon of pointless meetings. Actually we had a short, but moving worship service and actually got some good stuff done. Still, I was happy to go home.

There's not much like singing "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" with about 100 other great singers!


Thursday, October 07, 2004

I've got nothing...

I've got nothing today. This is one of those times when the reality of life is getting in the way of creative thoughts. I've some ideas for a post on fear. Maybe next week. In the meantime, read David's post on Biblical Inerrancy - it is a great followup to my post on the same topic.

On another note, Sarah and I watched Part I of Angels in America. All I can really say is "Wow." It is amazing and powerful - and we still have Part II to watch. It's not hard to believe that it won 5 Academy Awards, 11 Emmys, and 5 Golden Globes, The mini-series is based on the play by Tony Kushner, which won two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer.

If you're interested in learning about the early years of the AIDS crisis, read And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts. It is an amazing book. It is also a great introduction to the field of epidemiology.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Can you say, "Insane Republican Spin"?

Direct quotation from a speech by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Council on Foreign Relations (full transcript here, courtesty of the Department of Defense):

Q: My name is Glenn Hutchins. Mr. Secretary, what exactly was the connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I tell you, I'm not going to answer the question. I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over the period of a year in the most amazing way. Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was. To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two. (emphasis added)

Direct quotation from press release issued by the Department of Defense (full release here):

A question I answered today at an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations regarding ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq regrettably was misunderstood.

I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. (emphasis added)

Huh? Is he living in an alternate universe?


Monday, October 04, 2004

Reflections on (Christian) parenting

I had an interesting discussion last night with my extended family about parenting. Specifically, we were talking about discipline. The discussion started when Sarah mentioned a book she was reading at the recommendation of her cousin. The book is Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp. I haven't read it, but Tripp advocates use of the "rod" and talking about the misbehavior of children in terms of sin.

Sarah and I are committed to not spanking our children, regardless of what it says in Proverbs. What concerns me is this idea of misbehavior as sin. My father-in-law, the psychoanalyst, says this idea is rooted in a belief that children, absent intervention from the parents, are naturally evil. Parents must correct that evil (on behalf of God) in order to save their children.

But he suggests that there is another way to look at misbehavior. Misbehavior is essentially a form of communication. Children have unstructured ideas in their heads, and they are acting out in an effort to get their parents (or teachers) to help them learn structure. So rather than looking at "acting out" behaviors as sinful, we can see them as a very natural process in which a child learns to interact with the world.

I really like Eugene Peterson's translation of Proverbs 13:24 (the "rod" passage): "A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them." We do our children a disservice if we don't help them structure their ideas. But it doesn't have to be done in anger and we don't have to see our children as evil.

Granted, my daughter is only 8 months old, so I don't have a whole lot of experience in this area. But this makes sense to me.

On another note, I've been trying to find a way to describe my parenting strategy that didn't make me seem lazy. I love how Jen Lemen put it: "i think that parenting is important and the way you do it matters, but i am more convinced that the real trick is going with the flow of the kind of kids you get."

I think the message is don't try to make your kid into something that they're not. Don't use that strategy as an excuse to not discipline them or put any sort of limits on them, but rather honor the person that they are becoming, not the person you wish they were.

Finally, read Sarah's post about her weekend in Idaho with her cousin. She had some interesting experiences with her cousin's kids and house rules. A good read.


Friday, October 01, 2004

No Debate

Last night, though it may be hard to believe, I didn't watch the presidential debate. Instead, Sarah, Claire and I went to a fundraiser for the Bethany Christian Services Adoption Agency. A member of our church works as a birth-mother counselor for Bethany. Now the real reason we were there was that Sarah was involved with a scheme with the birth-mother counselor to setup a single guy from our church with a coworker of the counselor, but that's another story.

Reading Bethany's statement of faith, I realize that we come from very different worldviews. But Bethany is commited to finding homes for children who need them. You can't argue with that. We heard some great stories last night about families that have stepped up take children into their lives. Pretty amazing stuff.

Read my friend David's post on how he and his wife (my friend Melissa) are starting the adoption journey. They are great people who will be fantastic parents. I pray that they will be blessed with a child soon! Speaking of children and prayers, if you're so inclined, I'd ask for prayers for two couples who are good friends of ours. I'd like to respect their anonymity, so I won't say names. One couple just discovered that they are pregnant with their first child! The other couple is also starting the adoption process - they're at the same stage as David and Melissa. We're very excited for all of them!