Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Affirmation of Faith for the 2nd Covenant Affirmation: The Necessity of New Birth

We confess that we often are a sinful, rebellious people, choosing selfishness over love, self-interest over compassion, pleasure over obedience. We confess that, apart from God, we are on a path to pain and sorrow, to death and destruction. We confess that we stood condemned before the Holy God, and that our lives, apart from him, fell far short of his glory. And yet, we confess that Christ came, that he died, and that he rose again, and that he now offers us forgiveness and a new way of living. We receive the new life that is in Christ, laying down our old broken selves and accepting the glory offered through Christ alone. There is no other name that saves, but the name of Jesus. God, we accept your offer of New Birth, in gratitude receiving the life that you alone can give. Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just so you know

I'm having a good time at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church, in Portland, OR. We drove down Wednesday, yesterday was the annual meeting of the ministerium and the opening worship service for the Covenant Annual Meeting, at the moment our new president Gary Walter is sharing all the good stuff that's happening in the Covenant. I've had opportunities to connect with old friends and make some new ones; I had lunch with former Lakebay pastor (and spouse) Chuck and Jan Wahlstrom yesterday.

And last night Karina and I went and met some anarchists in north Portland. Which had nothing to do with all the Covenant activities. But made for an exciting night, nonetheless.

Anyway, all that to say, this space will remain a little quiet over the next few days. If you want to follow along, the Covenant Website is hosting a live feed and posting regular updates of all that is happening here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Confirmation 2009

It was a difficult class. . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Long - Man

". . .so you bring all your history and I'll bring the bread and wine
and we'll have us a party where all the drinks are on me;
then as surely as the rising sun you will be set free "

Long Time Gone -
Dixie Chicks
The Long Way Around - Dixie Chicks
The Long Way Home - Norah Jones
The Look of Love - Diana Krall
Love - Chris Tomlin, w/ the Watoto Children's Choir
Love Can Change the World - Mars Hill Music
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling - St. Olaf Choir
Love Profound - Susan Ashton
Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire - Donny Gerard and Amy Holland
Lover - Derek Webb
The Man Inside - Bebo Norman
Man of Sorrows - Jill Phillips

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Question for you techie types

A couple times a day I'll be surfing the internets with a nice, strong wireless connection, when I'll click on a link and suddenly have the "connect via dial-up" box open up. Why is that? I don't lose the wireless connection, but still it thinks I need to connect via dial-up - and then it sits there and waits for me to click the "cancel" button before moving on to the page I'm seeking. If it happened every couple months I'd just ignore it, but a couple times a day gets a little irksome.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prayer for the dedication of a Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker

We gather today to celebrate the freedom we enjoy in the United States of America, and to remember that those freedoms have been, and still are protected by the men and women who serve in our armed forces around the world. We gather together to honor the veterans who served in times of peace and times of war, to remember those who suffer from the wounds of war, and particularly those who paid the ultimate price, sacrificing their very lives in defense of freedom here and around the world. We come to remember servicemen and women, their parents and children and spouses, all who play a part in supporting our nation. We mourn those who have been taken away, those who were killed or wounded in battle, we honor their memory, we offer love and encouragement to their families. Mostly, we resolve never to forget them, nor their sacrifice.

And so, gracious God, Lord and Father of all humankind, you who are the Prince of Peace, the defender of the righteous and shelter for those in conflict, doubt, or pain, we thank you for your hand that has been at work guiding and directing us to this day; we thank you for giving us brothers and sisters who give of their own lives and talents to defend our country – many of whom stand here in our presence even today. For the young soldier now in Baghdad or Afghanistan, for the old soldier whose sight is fading and step faltering, for the spouse and children who wait at home, missing yet supporting their soldier, we pray for protection, health, and comfort. For civilians who find themselves in harm's way, we pray for your hand to cover over them. Wherever there is violence or anger, where troops array for battle or insurgents sneak about in darkness, we pray your Spirit of Peace to reign in those places, bringing an end to hostility. We truly long for the day when swords are beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks, when nation will no longer take up arms against nation, nor will any train for war – the day your Kingdom of peace and righteousness reigns upon this land.

Until that day, we pray for your hand upon our leaders, our soldiers, our peacemakers. We pray that this marker would remind us of the great sacrifice made by so many, that it would remind us to encourage and support our veterans, that it would call to mind the men and women who have served this country faithfully. May all who come to this place be reminded to cherish the freedoms that you alone, O God, grant to your children. And may the prayers of peace in this garden, at this marker, be heard by you, O God, and may peace and freedom reign in this place, and around the world. Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The Translator

It's all too easy to think we know something about anything. We who hear 30-second snippets on the evening news, we who read a brief headline on Yahoo, and think we understand the world.

It's rare that we get a true insider view on world-changing events. Even rarer when a native comes forward and speaks to the complex internal situations that lead to suffering and chaos.

The Translator, by Daoud Hari is that gem of a book that is both delightful and disturbing, as this Sudanese native shares his own personal story in the midst of the conflict in Darfur. Because of his education in languages, Hari was able to escape the fate of so many of his countrymen; because of that gift, he was also able to go back in and open up the world of Sudan to the larger world.

Written in simple prose, full of humor and human insight, the book reads like a campfire tale shared between friends. Hari's descriptions of the land and the people there are full of love and passion. And yet. . .the stories of unspeakable suffering, of brutal torture and the incessant slaughter of the innocents is almost too much to bear. In one moment we delight with Hari as he and his friends play childish games in the moonlight, in the next we weep with a father driven mad by memories of his precious daughter dying on the end of a bayonet.

If anything, the greatest strength of The Translator is the humanity portrayed across the pages of this book. While Hari does speak to larger geo-political issues and the forces at play behind the conflict, his brilliance is shown in the intimate moments of quiet conversations with the boys ordered to execute him, of his sarcastic exchanges with the prison commander attempting to intimidate him, and in the sparse description of the attack on his village and the loss of his dear brother.

There is no great call to action here, no larger agenda pushing for world action; instead. Hari paints a picture of life on the ground in Sudan, of quiet people pushed into hell and yet retaining their spirit, of evil playing out in the hands of boys and generals. And yet, one cannot read this book without asking both why? and what can we do?

This is a book that every person should read; it opens up vistas both touching and heart-wrenching, it reveals the relative simplicity with which evil can take up residence and destroy a people; it also reminds us of the power of a kind word and a human touch. In the end, it took me only a day to read the book; its lessons will stick with me for a lifetime.

Tuesday morning

- I forgot to mention yesterday that we stopped at the coffee stand in Key Center on the way to the YMCA, and ran into Kim and David - the couple I married a couple months ago. Then I had to make a quick stop at the bank, and passed Jayne (church secretary) and her daughter Kate on the highway.

- AAARGH! Blackwater Cafe, the best cup of coffee in all of Tacoma, just closed for good. Our trips into town will never be the same. And where will I go to run into Roshni and Sean?

- Watching all the news from Iran, it reminds me of news footage of Berlin when the wall fell - only the Germans had David Hasselhoff to inspire them. Will this have the same long-term impact as the fall of Communism in Germany and the Soviet Union? Will we look back on these days as truly historic?

- Olivia is supposed to be finished with 3rd grade at the end of this week. But because of all those snow days last December, school now runs through next Tuesday.

- Our church was founded in the mid-1920s, originally meeting in a school building, before buying (being given?) the property outright to build our own sanctuary. On Saturday, at the Garden Club Memorial Garden and Blue Star Highway dedication I met a woman, born in 1917, who attended that school for first grade. She was here before our church was here. I also met Don Olson, one of the first firefighters on the KP. Lots of history at that ceremony, and I was honored to play a part of it all. Oh, and I was also recruited to join the Down Home Band. . .

- It's already been well-documented elsewhere, but that pseudo-minister and his false version of Christianity was all over Seattle last week, protesting churches and graduations and jews and small bundles of sticks (you do know that's the original meaning of the word 'fag,' don't you?). What part of 1 Peter 2:12 do they not understand?

Monday, June 15, 2009

One of the things I love about living out in the woods on the water

I ran over to the school to pick up Olivia. While waiting in the car queue, Kristen (our church's fellowship chair) and Robert (our former youth pastor) and their kids drove by. I waved, although I don't think they saw me. Still, as the line started moving and I was pulling in, Rance, a member of our church, was pulling out with all his girls; we exchanged pleasantries and off he went. I pulled around to pick up Olivia and waved at Robin, the school librarian, who also happens to be a member of our church.

Then off to the post office. As we pulled in I looked to my left and there was Mandy, also just pulling in - Mandy who lives with some of our church members, who occasionally comes and worships with us. We walked in together and there was Linda, a church member and recently-returned missionary to Alaska. We all chatted for a moment, and then, just as we were going our separate ways, in walked Debbie, who brings her kids and sometimes helps out at our Pioneer Clubs.

I do believe this is what community is supposed to feel like.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Letter to Long Island

"I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold onto these moments as they pass. . ."

Letter from Prison - The Infamous Stringdusters
Liar's Dream - Allie Rogers
Life of a Travelin' Man - Blue Highway
Life in a Nutshell - Barenaked Ladies
Like a Songbird that has Fallen - Reeltime Travelers (Cold Mountain Soundtrack)
A Little More - Jennifer Knapp
Little Room - Norah Jones
A Living Prayer - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Lonely River - Susan Ashton
The Long Day is Over - Norah Jones
A Long December - Counting Crows
Long Island Shores - Mindy Smith

How to Deal with the TV Conversion, in BASIC

10 turn off tv
20 go outside
30 work in garden
40 listen to birds sing
50 breathe
60 call a friend
70 read a book
80 if stress>joy then 20
90 end (with a nice nap)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Book Review: Making a Meal of It

Making a Meal of It is the second of three books penned by Ben Witherington III looking at the most basic elements of the Christian life and faith: Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Bible. Dr. Witherington is Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, as well as a prolific author and blogger. His expertise in NT and early church history give him a solid background with which to explore this topic of the Lord's Supper.

He begins by working the connection between the original meal in the upper room and the Jewish Passover feast, pointing out that the Passover festival was both a remembrance of what had gone before, and an act of renewal of the community that continually celebrated it. "Thus anamnesis is more than remembering; it is a placing of the current Jews into the ancient story such that it is and becomes once again their own story, their own trial and triumph, which took place in the Exodus-Sinai events" (10).

This, then, becomes the context of the original Lord's Supper, as shared in the synoptic gospels. In that place Jesus gathered his disciples, shared this meal with them, even with the one who would betray him (a scandal in itself), but he broke up the usual liturgy by reinterpreting elements of that meal, using them to point to his own impending atoning death. "What we have here then in the Last Supper is an enacted parable, much like ancient, prophetic enacting parables or sign acts. . .There is nothing here about the transformation of the elements into something they were not before. . .But what is most telling about all this is that Jesus is in a sense symbolically distributing the benefits of his Passion before it happens! How confident he must have been that God would use his death for good to have at this juncture changed or added to the Passover liturgy and referred to himself and his coming death this way" (27).

The earliest church carried on with this tradition of bread-breaking and wine-drinking in remembrance of Christ. While it is true that the book of Acts doesn't explicitly speak of the Lord's Supper, ". . .a good case can be made that the 'breaking of the bread' was Luke's shorthand for the special Christian meal that came to be called the Lord's Supper by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians" (30). However, one important aspect of this meal that must be remembered is its communal nature. This was a meal that took place in a home (or homes), not in the temple, perhaps daily as believers gathered together to share in this new-found faith in Christ. It was also closely tied to the sacrificial nature of this community, in which all sold their possessions so that none would go hungry or homeless. Speaking of Acts 2:24, Witherington writes, ". . . Luke sees the Lord's Supper as a fellowship meal, a meal that has a horizontal dimension binding the disciples to one another and so should be partaken of with great regularity to reinforce that bond" (31).

In the longest chapter in the book, Dr. Witherington digs into the passage dealing with this meal in Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth - one of the only texts in the NT which explicitly deals with the Lord's Supper. Much of his work here is to set this meal in context, comparing it to similar meals in Corinthian culture of the same time - meals that would have influenced the early Corinthian believers. In quick summary, much of this community's social life revolved around dinner parties and symposiums held in local homes by the well-to-do. Generally, the elite would invite those they wanted to impress (and their families) for a meal. Following the meal, the men would 'retire' for a drinking party. "The drinking parties were generally all-male affairs. . .But entertainment might include dancing and flute-playing girls and companions (hetairai) - as well as prostitutes at less-refined meals. . ." (35) Included in this after-meal affair were conversations "of all sorts of subjects, including politics, philosophy, religion, economics, and of course gossip and personal matters" (36).

Thus, this is what you had: The families of the rich and elite would gather for a meal. As they sat around the table, the most important people sat closest to the host. Following the meal, the women and children would leave, while the real party was just beginning. The few women who did remain were assumed to be immoral and shameful. In some of these locations, there was a garden next to the dining room "where slaves and perhaps lesser-status guests could also participate in the family meal or at least wait for the leftovers and take them away" (37).

It seems, from a close reading of 1 Corinthians, that the church in Corinth was allowing these traditions to influence their taking of the Lord's Supper. And Paul would have none of it. "Paul does not want his converts to hold their fellowship meals . . . according to the rules of Greco-Roman dining, perhaps especially because the Lord's Supper was a part of this larger fellowship meal and occasion. Not surprisingly these strictures came as something of a surprise, a painful one, to more high-status Christians in Corinth who had only partially understood what the practical implications were of being a Christian" (38).

This meal, according to Paul, is so much more than another feast with partying and debate. "What believers are sharing in is not just one another, but some third thing to which the word koinonia refers. . .Apparently Paul thinks more than mere symbols are involved. There seems to be some real, spiritual communion with Christ and others at issue here. . .Paul then is talking about that which binds Christians together into one body of believers. It is not merely the physical sharing in the bread but also the more profound spiritual sharing and uniting that it signifies and facilitates" (44-5).

What our author is working toward here is the premise that many of our discussion regardin the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians have approached the text incorrectly. Reading phrases like "discern the body" and "examine themselves" have been read through a strongly sacramental lens, in which it is assumed the elements somehow contain the body and blood of Christ, and thus individual believers must examine themselves to make sure they are worthy of partaking. But that isn't what Paul had in mind here. "The examination referred to in verse 28 means that one must reflect on how one is partaking of the meal; it is not about introspection to determine if one is worthy. . .While ['the body'] might be a reference to remembering Christ's death when one eats, it seems more likely in the larger context to refer to the body of believers. One is to be cognizant that this is a group meal, a group-building ceremony. . .The Corinthians are eating in a selfish and self-centered manner without taking cognizance of their brothers and sisters present. They should be partaking with them as one body of Christ, rather than following pagan protocol that gives the elite better treatment and first dibs at the meal" (59).

Witherington then turns to the great feast in the gospel of John. This text has long given scholars trouble, in that it doesn't seem to fit in with the accounts of the last supper in the other gospel. For one, the timeline is wrong - the synoptics place the last supper at the Passover feast, whereas John seems to place it the day before the Passover feast. Much work has gone into synchronizing these accounts, with some saying John just got it wrong, and others saying John changed the story to fit his theological agenda. The author here builds the case that both of those assumptions get it wrong. Instead, he writes, "Firstly, the Fourth Evangelist is portraying the disciples' sharing a farewell dinner, which was actually a series of dinners, with Jesus. Secondly, the dinner is not portrayed as a Passover meal." In other words, John is condensing a series of talks Jesus gave in the week leading up to the Passion, but doesn't directly give us an account of the Passover supper itself.

Another important point to be noted from the Gospel of John is that, through this final discourse, Jesus is working toward the same aims as Paul in Corinth. "Here we note that Jesus, by the footwashing episode at the meal, coupled with his prayer for unity in John 17, is depicted as undertaking the same kind of social rearrangement of perceptions and practices" [that Paul worked on in Corinth] (65).

It is here that Dr. Witherington does some detective work and comes forth with a startling claim. I'll let you pick up the book and work through the details, but, based on a careful reading of the text, and its interplay with the other accounts as well as the intricate details of the last days of Jesus, the author builds the case that the Gospel of John was written by Lazarus - the close friend of Jesus, the one Jesus had raised from death, the brother of Mary and Martha. And, if this is true, then it is probable that the meals earlier in the week, the meals on which this gospel focuses, the meals before the Last Supper, were all held in the home of Lazarus - which is why more attention is given to these than to the Last Supper itself.

Now, lest this review become longer than the book itself. . .it is pointed out that there really isn't any more work dealing with the Lord's Supper to be found in the pages of the NT; we also have very little documentation among the writings of the early church explaining the practice or belief surrounding this meal. Dr. Witherington works briefly with pertinent passages from the Didiche, which all seem to point toward a celebration that was part of a regular meal as both a remembrance of Christ's death, and as a unifying moment within the body of believers. "There certainly is nothing here that suggest some sort of magical view of the elements, and we have no commentary at all about the words of institution that Jesus himself spoke" (94). The few conclusions we can make based on this material are that the Lord's Supper remained an in-home ceremony taken along with a fellowship meal, that there is no mention of an official priesthood overseeing the meal, that it was partaken at least weekly, and that it was partaken of by those who had repented of their sins.

The final chapters of the book are given to working through the historical development of this meal, a development which, on the whole, hasn't been helpful. By the second century Ignatius of Antioch was speaking of the necessity of the the presence of a bishop to hold a love feast. By the fourth century many churches were banning love feasts as they embraced the ascetic movement (this was also one of the moments in which women began to be excluded from many church activities). Greek philosophical concepts of substance slowly overran the Hebrew concepts of enacted ritual, and, "Here then is a cautionary reminder - the less Jewish the approach one takes to the Lord's Supper, the more likely one is to be wrong about one's assessment of what is the case about the elements" (110).

By the Middle Ages, of course, the concept of transubstantiation had taken hold - that the bread and wine magically and mystically became the true body and blood of Christ. "The idea of transubstantiation is that the substantia changed when consecrated, whereas the material accidentia remain the same. In A.D. 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council proclaimed, 'His body and blood are really contained in the Sacrament of the altar. . .'" Witherington goes on to explain, "It was left to the Council of Trent to boldly claim what was absolutely untrue - 'it has therefore always been held in the Church of God' that what Christ offered under the appearance of bread and wine was truly his body" (119).

The theological maelstrom that was the Reformation added to the debate and confusion surrounding the Lord's Supper. "Luther discarded the notion that of the sacrifice of the Mass, but he wanted to hold on to the real, even physical presence of Christ connected somehow with the sacrament. This led to the idea of consubstantiation, the presence of Christ somehow being attached to or under and with the sacramental elements" (122). "By 1525 [Zwingli] was prepared to deny the real physical presence of Christ and speak of the spiritual presence of Christ with the Eucharist" (123). Zwingli began to grasp an important concept, perhaps coming close to seeing this for what it was supposed to be: ". . .he did not see the Lord's Supper as a merely symbolic ceremony, either. For those who received the elements in faith, there was the real spiritual presence of Christ, and. . .fellowship within the community of faith" (123). This would have a strong impact upon the anabaptist movement, which felt "the Lord's Supper signified and celebrated the unique communion between the Lord and his people, and among believers as well. It did not just have a vertical dimension such that it was all about the individual believers' communion with the heavenly Christ" (123-4).

So, what to make of all this? A couple of conclusions:

- "remembering and cherishing and keeping in mind. . .is the character of this meal according to Paul."

- "The focus of the original Lord's Supper is not on the elements in the present or the present in general, but on Christ and what he did and what he will do."

- While suggesting that moving the Lord's Supper back into the context of a larger meal might be a good idea, though not necessary, Witherington points out that there are modern adaptations of this meal that have harmed our understanding of it. "There is absolutely no reason why real bread could not be used, and more importantly whole loaf not yet broken, for the bread is in fact a double symbol, not only of Christ's own body, but of the church as the body of Christ - a united whole" (131).

- And what are we to make of the debates regarding the presence of Christ? Let me quote one of the best paragraphs from the book:

"The Lord's Supper should be seen as a chance for a close encounter with Jesus, a chance for a moment of clarity and recognition in one's life that Christ comes to meet us, bless us, forgive us, over and over again, and that we can and must actively participate in this joyful event. It's not about magical rituals or medicinal elements; it's about the living presence of Christ, which can either be honored or dishonored by how we partake of the Meal. Yes, indeed a spiritual transaction happens at the meal, and it can be positive, and it can be negative. The real spiritual presence of Christ meets us at and in the Meal if we receive him by faith" (134).

Thus, in the end, what is the Lord's Supper? It is a community meal to which we are invited by Christ as living host, a meal wherein he comes and meets his people, offering grace and redemption. It is also a meal of cohesion, drawing together all God's children to this table, tearing down dividing walls and creating one new body. And it is an equalizing meal - there is no hierarchy here, no rich or poor, no important or irrelevant, but all who stand as brothers and sisters before Jesus. "It is a community ritual meant for the community to take together signifying their unity with Christ and with one another in and as the body of Christ" (135).

In conclusion, I believe Dr. Witherington has offered a strong, well-balanced theological approach to the Lord's Supper. Avoiding the issues that seem to mark most of the discussion, he finds a refreshing new way of digging back into the original meaning and intent of this meal, showing how this meal can actually unite the Body, rather than cause division as it so often has. He challenges both the high-sacramentalism of the Roman Catholic Church (and others), and the low-ordinalism of those who treat this meal as a throw-away thing to do every once in awhile, restoring its dignity without turning it into a magical charm. The book is deep and broad enough to interest scholars and theologians, but simple enough for the average Christian reader looking to expand their knowledge on this issue. It was extremely helpful to me, even affirming a few ideas I'd been pondering but had yet to see in any theological discussion. It's given me a lot to think about, both as a pastor and a participant in the Body of Christ.

My childhood dream comes true

This coming Christmas season, Microsoft is releasing Train Simulator version 2. One of the four featured routes is the BNSF mainline over Stevens Pass, Washington.

I spent many days in my childhood and youth camping, hiking, exploring Stevens Pass, and most of those endeavors included the railroad. Moneycreek Campground, Skykomish, the horseshoe bridge over the Foss River, the Deception Creek bridge, and the 7.8-mile-long Cascade Tunnel. Late at night we'd lay in our tents and listen to the throaty growl of those GP-38s pulling against the grade out of Baring; dusty afternoons we'd stand outside the entrance of the Cascade Tunnel waiting for those distant lights to materialize as another auto shipment roaring out into daylight.

I know, I know. Call me a nerd. I've heard it before.

But now I'll get to (virtually) drive those trains, something I once dreamed about as a kid.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A completely meaningless post

Karina's doing some photography for a new book being published - a picture book of the Key Peninsula. One assignment is to shoot something representing "technology on the KP." Therefore, I'm sitting here with Sean in the Homeport, the one place here on the peninsula that has wifi, both of us pretending to blog. Actually, Sean's the focus of the picture; I'm just the background model.

Maybe I could make some extra money doing this. Pastor by day, blogger model by night.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Just a reminder

Lakebay Community Church is hosting the

Watoto Children's Choir
from Uganda, Africa

at the Longbranch Improvement Club
Sunday, June 7
7:00 p.m.

Admission is free,
although a free-will offering will be taken to benefit the Watoto kids.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Kiss Let

Kiss to Build a Dream On - Steve Tyrell
La Guarapachanga - Arturo Sandoval
Lady Margret - Cassie Franklin (the Cold Mountain Soundtrack)
Lamb of God - St. Olaf Choir
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms - Iris Dement
Learning How to Die - Jon Foreman
Let's Fall in Love - Diana Krall
Let All Things Now Living - Ken Burns' Lewis and Clark Original Soundtrack
Let it Be - Carol Woods and Timothy T. Mitchum (Across the Universe Soundtrack)
Let it Rise - Mars Hill Music
Let Me Go - Susan Ashton
Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson - Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

Thursday, June 04, 2009

How low can you go?

A friend asked me to tag along and provide moral support today, as they went before a judge to seek a restraining order against their spouse.

I couldn't go into the courtroom, so stood in the hall with my friend until they were called in, then sat outside and read a Ben Witherington book on the Lord's Supper.

My friend wasn't the only person going in. About 25 other couples went in as well. All seeking restraining orders against their spouses. It was a little eye-opening, since I'm usually in on the front end of weddings, or in on the 'trying-to-make-things-work' phase. But there I sat today, witnessing the worst-case scenario phase for so many.

And, of course, in another area of the same courthouse, the Wal-Mart murderer and accomplices were being arraigned, so the area outside was flooded with TV news crews. The whole thing was a little surreal, especially since it was such a lovely day - I made the drive over in the Jeep with the top down, enjoying the sunshine, the salty sea air at the Purdy Spit and Tacoma Narrows, the hawk flying overhead in Gig Harbor.

How things go from so dandy to so horrific in mere moments. . .and a not-so-gentle reminder that life isn't a game, but is deadly serious.

For my friend, things turned out as well as could be expected, and I had the opportunity simply to offer love and support in a moment of crisis - exactly why I love being a pastor. At the same time. . .a reminder that there is so much work yet to be done.

Lord Have Mercy
Christ Have Mercy

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


- Wintergrass may be leaving Tacoma. That would be a shame. Not sure I'd attend if it moved over to Bellevue.

- Our local high school is in the news, after a student's speech on marijuana ended with a demonstration of its use. I think he accomplished his goal, because the debate carries on.

- Congratulations to the Washington Huskies' Softball Team for winning the NCAA national championship last night.

- One of the things we most looked forward to when we moved from Turlock to Lakebay was experiencing four distinct seasons. Central California has two seasons: 2 months of winter, 10 of summer. But, we thought, once we got up to Washington we'd be able to enjoy all four. Not this year. Winter lasted forever, with snow into mid-April, and now we've blown right through spring into summer. Heat warnings in effect across the Puget Sound region. At the moment, I'm not complaining. Sun and warmth are nice after the long, wet winter we endured. But still. . .I kind of missed spring.

- Although the top's been off the Jeep all week, finally.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Seems I picked an interesting week to have this conversation

Eugene has a good, heart-felt post over on his blog today, on the pressures of loving people even when fundamentally disagreeing with them on truly deep, anguishing issues. I think I understand his angst.

This Sunday I'm beginning a new sermon series. For the next three months or so we're going to work through the Covenant Affirmations - six statements that help to define and center the Covenant Church. We are a little bit odd in being a non-creedal Church; there is no "creed" but the scriptures. And yet, there must be some definition, some point of general agreement, and so we hold to these six affirmations.

One of those affirmations is the reality of freedom in Christ. It is the recognition that men and women who call Christ 'Lord' still disagree over a host of issues when it comes to how we read the scriptures, and how they play out in our lives. But we take seriously the Unity of the Church, and would rather live in the tension of disagreement than divide the Body over secondary issues.

It's not a perfect system, but so far, it seems to have worked out rather well. I've sat in on some intense theological discussions where important issues were debated heatedly, only to see those discussions break up so everybody could go out for pizza and share in each other's lives. There are Covenant churches that lean in 'conservative' directions and Covenant churches that lean in more 'liberal' directions, but we remain committed to each other and the overarching mission of God to liberate this world from the Kingdom of the evil one. It is true of the Covenant Church that the need to liberate the prisoner and break the yoke of oppression is more important than the need to have a single definitive stance on baptism or the end times.

As such, the Covenant can be a lively place for discussion, and, for the most part, healthy discussion, where differences are respected and persons valued more than positions.

The Covenant Church truly seeks the third way in these things.

Unfortunately, I sometimes forget that not everybody operates with those same values. Eugene gave a couple of examples of being shot at from both sides for attempting live in the tension, to stay true to his interpretation of the Word while loving the wide variety of humanity in this world.

It seems most live by the "you're either with us or against us" mantra. If you don't condemn gays as hateful to God, you have no backbone. If you don't instantly throw 100% support behind gay marriage, you're a bigot. Or. . .if you don't call out abortionists as murderers, than you're culpable of the unborn holocaust, or if you don't stand 100% behind the right of women to have full freedom to abort their pregnancies, you're no different than the Taliban. (note: that Taliban comment didn't come from the previous comment threads; I've simply read it in a host of other web forums and comment streams).

And then there's this: I'm becoming more and more convinced that the internet is the absolutely worst place to carry on this discussion. It may be one step up from putting tracts on car windshields, but not much. Because, in the end, these issues are intensely human issues and they affect people at their deepest levels. And our lenses have all become so blurry through the past decades of debate and entrenchment, and our lists of bullet points so long that nobody really listens to each other, nobody hears the beating heart that is so passionate about the issue. It's all so much shouting and posturing.

Somewhere Wendell Berry once wrote a screed against revolutionary movements. His point was that true change happens when people decide to behave differently. Individual people. And those people influence the people around them. And from the ground up, change begins to come about. But top-down, it never works. I know he tries to ignore the internet, but I think his wisdom applies here. We affect change when we sit down with people, when we share our lives with the people in our communities, when we truly take the time to understand the people around us, when we can commit to care about each other, even when we disagree with each other. Which is why, in general, I don't tend to get into the Big Controversial Topics on this blog - because I'd rather sit down with someone on 'the other side' and talk it through, than try to sort anything out hidden behind an electronic wall.

Still, since for whatever reason this whole conversation came about this week, of all weeks, let me add my voice to the chorus: Victory is never ultimately won through violence. Our weapons, if weapons they be, are prayer, fasting, worship, seeking the Lord. Rhetoric, for sure, and the power of public persuasion. In a democracry no voice need be silenced; our voice belongs in the public sphere. But I am reminded of the words of 1 Peter: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." I'm afraid the Church has not understood this message very clearly. In the end, love and forgiveness win, not violent acts of retribution.

IF we take the message of Christ seriously, then our call is non-violence. Name-calling, demonizing, and certainly murder are not the answer. In fact, they are wrong, they are sin, they are an offense to God. I read Hugo's eulogy to Dr. Tiller, and I wouldn't agree with his saintly portrayal of the man. But in the end Dr. Tiller's will stand before the Lord, who alone will make final judgment of good or evil. And that should have been left in the hands of the Lord, not another human. Murder is murder is wrong. Killing in the name of Jesus is wrong. So hear me say this: yes, I am pro-life. Which means I believe all life ought to, except in the most extreme cases, be left in the hands of God to give or take away. And we all ought to grieve when life is snuffed out at the hands of other humans, rather than celebrate. Our call is to faithful living, representing the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of light and life, living lives marked by compassion, mercy, humility, justice, and a knowledge that it is God alone who rewards, and God alone who punishes.