Church Meeting, Mexican Style

Our by-laws say that we should have a spring business meeting.  Why we need to have a spring business meeting is beyond me, but apparently it made sense to folks back when the by-laws were written.  Spring business meetings had apparently been deprecated long before I became pastor of Central (certain parts of our by-laws are suspended, I think that’s one of them), but our last president thought that if we were to be faithful to who we say we are we needed to have said meeting – so we had some.  They sucked.  This was no surprise to any of us.  There really that much that needed to be discussed at a “big” meeting, as the active membership of the Church had dropped to the point where you could actually pass on information better just having chats with people.  We didn’t need a “here’s what we’re doing” meeting – people have tended to know that (even if they complain about it).

So our current president decided to revision the meeting and have the various leadership communities come up and share their vision for the coming year.  As Cinco de Mayo was coming up, it was decided that we’d have a Cinco de Mayo pot-luck and then share our visions after that.  Not surprisingly, it worked.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have some hiccups, a few people were whining that they either don’t eat/cook Mexican food and so wouldn’t come.  I had someone else ask during worship what time the meeting was happening if people didn’t want to come to meal (to which I said, “Your church is getting together at 6:30, this is an important part of our meeting, you need to be there for it”).  In the end, however, we blew away my attendance estimate – and people were quite happy with the forward-looking content.  It was quite nice.

After the meeting one woman actually came up and said to everyone she talked to, “This was the best meeting I’ve ever been to – people were enthusiastic.”

Not bad.

Oh the sweet theology

Today I had the pleasure of attending the baptism of my 5 month old nephew at La Salle High School’s chapel.  It might seem a bit odd to see a baptist pastor write that attending an infant baptist was a “pleasure.”  I mean, when I listen to baptists talk about going to baptisms of some of their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews I get the feeling that they see it as the equivalent of having thumb-screws applied to them.  Our tradition is different, to be sure, but the “thumb-screw” mentality is a bit mis-placed in my opinion.

There was one big reason why I thought this baptism was a pleasure to attend, theology.

When I attend a Baptist baptist baptism, or wedding, or even weekly worship for that matter – it seems like no one cares really what the theology of the event is – and this often leaves me feeling heart-broken.  Theology shouldn’t be seen as an enemy, or even an after-thought.  Rather, it is the means by which we able to talk about the experience of what happens in worship.  In a not more than 15 minute liturgy (with a very warm and personable priest) we dealt with:

  • The idea that all the sacraments are meant to be experienced by the whole community as we are bound together and together with Christ as they are administered.
  • The need to reject Satan and the “glamor of evil.”
  • The idea that the acts of the Church’s worship are done in the view of the saints in heaven.
  • The core beliefs of Christianity in the form of the Apostle’s Creed (my wife’s been teaching this in Sunday School and both my kids looked up and said, “Hey we know this!” As the litany moved forward).
  • A clear teaching that the baptism reality is to literally be “clothed” with Christ – and that the power of a baptism life in the Church comes only through the light of Christ.

Why Baptists think that making stuff up on the fly (and missing about half these points, all of which are important) is better than a decent liturgy that reeks of Christ is beyond me – but it was a pleasure to experience it today.

Ordinary Meetings

I’ve never been a “good counselor.”  The desire to advocate is really strong in my psyche, and it kinda gets in the way.  Though, one of the couples I married did recently tell me that our pre-marital sessions were helpful so that’s nice (but rare).  I think that one of the big reasons I don’t care to do “counseling sessions” is because people tend to come to them “on guard.”  This is fine for a counselor who’s been trained to see through the counseling session mask, but I really don’t care for it all that much.

What I’d much rather do is get sucked into a TV show with some folks and establish a relationship where people don’t find it odd that I’m asking questions like, “So, how’s your marriage doing with you being out of work for so long?” (that’s a completely hypothetical question, don’t try to figure out who I posed it to).  It’s amazing to me how people feel open to discussing even the most intimate details of their lives when they are relaxed and feeling connected to the people they are talking to.  I’ve had significant discussions with people over Flyers Games, episodes of Lost, and even watching the News.  There’s something about chilling out with another person that sets people at ease.

Sadly, I don’t count “being a member of the same church” as a significant connection at this point, it’s too much of an “after-thought” community for the bulk of people – and the people who do consider it their primary community often don’t trust those who are “new” to the fold enough to be open.  Even Bible studies or small groups don’t seem to as easily create these types of connections in smaller or “long-established” congregations.  This is an utter shame, to be honest, because the message of the New Testament is that the bond of Christ ought to create a greater trust than a sports team or TV-show – and yet my over-whelming experience in small churches is that this bond just doesn’t seem to exist.  Yet, on the other hand, it affords me the opportunity to bring Jesus into “every-day” social situations with people who are not Christians, new believers, or folks who have let that bond of trust that Jesus is supposed to form between believers whither.  My hope is that folks will start to feel the longing for a deeper connection, which finds it’s outworking only as the Holy Spirit binds us into communion with God and each other.

Until then, and maybe beyond then, I’ll keep doing my counseling by the TV or waiting to pick the kids up from school.  It seems to put me into more “open” situations with interesting people – and sometimes I even notice when Jesus shows up.

Reading the Gospels

As some folks already know, I’m planning a fall sermon series examining the political implications of Jesus’ preaching as the would have been experienced in the first century.  With the backdrop of the presidential election, it seems like a good time to cover material I’ve hit tangentially in the past.  Basically, I’m led to preach this series because I keep coming across a basic matrix of beliefs regarding Jesus’ message that I feel a need to address.  This matrix has three axis, and covers many of the variations you may have encountered yourself:

  • Jesus’ message had no political implications whatsoever, he was only about “saving souls.”
  • Jesus was/is a teacher who adheres to “family values.”
  • Jesus is/was a teacher who believes in progressive individualism.

These ideas, and the ideas which form as their paths cross, make no sense to me.  So, during a season in which people will likely be rattling off each of these views I thought I’d offer something “different.”  My goal, is to help give people a better “toolbox” by which they can better interact with this world in the image of Jesus – this toolbox will help people recognize their own cultural assumptions as they are confronted with the dissimilarity between their own world, and that of First Century Palestine (“Palestine” is what the Romans called the collective region).

To that end, I’ve been doing a lot of reading New Testament Sociology.  Much of it is helpful, some of it helps me realize what field all the Freudians when into after he fell out of favor in main-stream psychology – but it’s all rewarding reading, and I still have much to read (thanks to my good friends Sarah and Jim).

Now that I’ve got some more grounding in the field which studies the social situation of the New Testament world, I’ve started reading the Gospels themselves (again).  I know many people may have said that I did this backwards, but I’ve read the Gospels so much that I’m generally unaware of my own biases that I bring as I read them – so I deliberately read the sociology material first so I could better be able to “change lenses” as I came to the text.  Now, because I’m attempting to experience, in some small way, the “ear” by which the first readers of the Gospels would have heard the text – I’m doing something I haven’t done to this point in my life, I’m reading each the Gospels through in one sitting – only taking the shortest of breaks to jot down references which might be helpful in my fall series.  This is likely how the Gospels were first encountered by the early Christians.

The effort to this point has been rewarding.  I did break with the canonical order and started with Mark rather than Matthew (I don’t feel bad about this, heck new believers aren’t even told to start with one of the Synoptics).  I did this for two reasons.  First, Mark is shorter – and my attention-addled brain finds that appealing.  Second, I do think Mark is the earliest Gospel and provides much of the source for the later Synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke) – by reading Mark first I could see how similar accounts became expanded in the later Gospels.

As I said, the result has been rewarding.  Matthew has always been my favorite Gospel, and I always instinctively neglected Mark as a sort of “also-ran” cousin.  Mark’s accounts seemed almost colorless to me, while Matthew painted the image in more.  Reading Mark through in one sitting, however, has changed my perspective entirely on this little Gospel.  In Mark Jesus is deliberately portrayed as one having authority, and the brevity of his account only highlights that more.  Jesus takes on evil spirits, challenges the status quo, and conquers them on the cross.  While the “cliff-hanger” ending is unsatisfying when one reads Mark in short spurts, when you read it one sitting the artistry of the ending is made clear.  The entire Gospel is set up to highlight Jesus’ authority and leave the audience wondering out loud at the end, “So, who is this?  What does this mean?”  In a real sense, Mark doesn’t so much answer questions as it is meant to provoke the right questions.  One of these days we’ll have to read through Mark as a congregation, just so people can experience that purpose.

Matthew was similarly rewarding.  While I was aware of some of the repetitions in Matthew, I never realized just how much was mirrored.  His teaching on the power of prayer was one of those moments for me – my memory has meshed both “mountain moving” (Matthew 17 & 21) statements into one teaching – but Matthew wanted it flagged as something important, so he recounts it twice (Jesus certainly repeated that teaching, I have no doubt, but in a world where space was at a premium for books you tended to only repeat accounts/teachings that you wanted the reader to take special note of).  I also appreciate Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as a human being.  He shows great compassion on people, and yet at the same time is not “pastoral” as we might understand it today.  Matthew shows us Jesus as being capable of hostility, and even making gruff (and even caustic) remarks towards those who not only oppose him, but also towards those who come seeking his help!  Matthew pictures a more “real” Jesus than exists in a lot of our sermons (where Jesus kinda floats through life on a cloud).  Reading Matthew in one sitting shows just how “human” the portrayal of Jesus is in it (he is portrayed as divine as well, certainly, but the emphasis seems to be on his humanity without losing Jesus’ other nature).

So have I come up with my text for the fall series yet?  Nope.  I’ve got some Ideas, but I still have two Gospels to read before I take that step.  I’ll keep you updated.

Interesting Developments…

Most folks who read my blog don’t realize that my son has a genetic disorder called “ocular albinism.”  What this means is his eyes don’t have a whole lot of myelin – and so the signals from his optic nerves aren’t processed as cleanly as a “normal” eye.  This trait is a lot like hemophilia in that it is passed on from daughter to son over generations.  My wife’s line has several people who were affected by the trait (including her father), and the disorder seems to be getting weaker with each generation that has it (my son has about the weakest form that a Caucasian male can have, African-American Males who have the trait tend to fare better).

I’ve never really seen myself as the father of a “special needs child,” but we are certainly making sure that the school is aware of his particular needs and that he will be given the tools he needs to learn well (I’m even contemplating looking up a combination smart-board/tablet set-up for him when he get’s to higher grades).  Other than that, my son’s pretty much like any other boy.  He loves physical play, star wars, and legos.  In a sense, he’s a chip off of the old block.

Still, as he gets older this is going to become more of an issue when it comes to driving (one of the few rights of passage we have left), sports (anything with a ball might be out of the question, which is a shame ’cause he’s got a great throwing arm, and good form to boot), and the general suckage of being “different” in middle and high school.  It’s because of that knowledge that when something like this comes up, and in our own back-yard, I get a bit excited.  For one specific condition, researches at U Penn (where our son has his doctor) have managed to successfully repair genes in the human eye – and seem to think that the younger a person is the more benefit they are likely to get from the treatment.

While the disorder being treated isn’t the one our son has, things like this give me hope that maybe our Son will get a treatment that repairs his eyes some time in his lifetime.  Though, the idea of gene therapy actually gives me the heebie-geebies.  I sometimes wrestle with the wisdom of genetic manipulation (just watch “I am Legend”).

Home again hello…

Well, we made it home safely after several adventures.  Our time of departure from Green Lake Conference Center was 12:30 PM.  We got off without incident, and our group even managed to make a new acquaintance along the way (if you’re reading this, hi Adam).  We were expecting about a two hour wait until we departed for Chicago, and it turned out that our flight actually left about 20 minutes earlier than we had first planned.  That’s the good news.  That bad news is that we left earlier because the flight we were supposed to be on had been delayed and we’d been bumped to the earlier flight which was leaving near the time for which we had originally been scheduled.

I had a nice conversation with my seat-mate on the flight.  He’s engaged, but they “aren’t in a hurry” to get married.  This is a common phenomena nowadays – it fascinates me, given that everyone knows they are cohabiting (and not infrequently procreating) and yet everyone agrees that the couple “isn’t married.” This is something folks in the Biblical world wouldn’t have understood.  Anyway, my seat-mate and I watched as we flew over thunderstorm after thunderstorm and a pretty-much unbroken layer of clouds until we got to Chicago.

When we landed our flight had already been delayed 20 minutes.  By the time we arrived, O’Hare was already swamped with delayed and diverted passengers.  Amazingly enough, as our group arrived to the gate another group got up and left – leaving us enough seats to stay together.  This turned out to be a good thing – because we were going to end up at O’Hare for a long time.  Delay after delay after delay ended up putting our “6 something” flight to more like a “9:45-ish” flight (Central Time).  While we waited, I shot some video (I won’t up it up on youtube until folks give me permission), we all grabbed some dinner, and coffee was acquired at one of the 2 dozen or so Starbucks that we had in my terminal.

During our long delay, I managed to make the acquaintance of a man from Nigeria who worked as an actuary.  He was a Christian and was fascinated by the quirky pastors we had in my group.  His biggest concern during our wait was that he would miss his Church’s prayer vigil – he was a nice man.  He did manage to freak me out, however, when he asked if I’d watch his bag for a bit while he stretched his legs. This is a huge no-no in the post-911 world so i couldn’t do it, but I felt that Jesus also wouldn’t let him carry his own bag while he walked, so I offered to carry it for him and we could walk together.  He didn’t let me carry his bag, but we took a nice stroll through the crowded airport.  My new friend’s son is heading to the University of Virginia to study business in the fall, and he and his son had just been down there looking for a Church he could attend while in school.  Impressed, I asked him if his son had initiated the search and he smiled and said, “No, there are some things you let your children find their own way on, and other in which you give them a wise path to walk.”  This impressed me even more and so I replied, “And yet, we so often only really learn when we step off that path.”  “Yes,” he replied, “I tell my children, ‘You don’t have to do this the hard way,’ but because they haven’t come to Jesus from another life they just don’t understand that.”  I didn’t get a chance to ask him what his story was – I wish I had, perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.

Our plane eventually lifted off (the last plane to Philly that night), and we got home without much incident. As we flew, my friend Frank and I watched Juno, it’s a nice movie.  The only other thing I can say about the trip is that Bruce is a saint.  He was at Philly Airport for so long that the parking company charged him for two days.  Sigh – we’ll have to do something seriously nice for him.

I expect videos and more images to be up “soon.”  Thanks for reading.