1) Hello All! Sorry for the late post. Been a long weekend, and a long Monday. Today we started our fourth class of the Beeson Pastor experience, Anthropology for American Christian Ministry with Dr. Michael Rynkiewich (click the link to learn more about him: http://www.ats.wilmore.ky.us/about/faculty/bios/michael_rynkiewich.htm). Fascinating guy who is helping me make some sense of a lot of things theologically.
Interesting story.... he told us that everyday he was with us he'd be going to the Student Center for lunch, and that we could join him. I took him up on the offer today cause I had a few questions out of the morning lecture and the reading (six books which resulted in 36 pages of writing.... now you know why the blog was late). Anyhow, we get to the student center, and because he is wearing a skirt as an illustration for our first class (to show us how pastors dress in New Guinea), he has forgotten his wallet. Likely story.... I invented the whole "oops, I forgot my wallet cause I'm wearing my skirt to lunch schtick". Anyhow, we had a great lunch, and he's a great guy. I'll probably still only get a "C" for his class, but it'll be worthwhile none-the-less. I'll talk more about the class later in this post.
2) The "Beeson Program Clergy Council" is in town, and that means that we, as Beeson Pastors, are doing a little back-slapping and pressing-of-flesh. Two highlights of the experience. Jim Garlow, who is the Senior Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego (for those pastors who have heard of John Maxwell, this was his church until Jim succeeded him) told us a number of stories tonight about his adventures as a "talking head" during the DaVinci Code furor of the past three years. Apparently every "talking head" you see on these news programs all have agents, and when a news or talk network need a sound byte or two, they call the agent to ask for you (at a price, I might add), and then the agent calls you so you can make a beeline to whatever local studio will beam your image on the screen of Anderson-Cooper, Scarborough Country, Paula Zahn, or whatever. What is the network looking for from a "talking head"? The ability to give a quick decisive answer in 15 seconds... with a smile. Anyhow, to make it in this world, you've got to be pretty intelligent and quick on your feet (or at least entertaining or bombastic) and Jim is (quick and intelligent... let me make that clear). Here's a link to Jim Garlow's website (let's just say the dude knows a thing or two about self-promotion): http://www.jimgarlow.com/
NOTE: Here's a bit of trivia for my Lima readers: Guess who followed Jim Garlow at his church in Dallas, Texas when he went to San Diego to follow John Maxwell? None other than Dr. Dan Huckins, Senior Pastor of the Lima Community Church of the Nazarene. Dan spent four years at Metroplex Chapel in Dallas, Texas, succeeding Jim who was that church's founding pastor.
3) Here's another interesting tidbit from another clergy council-it: Lindsay Davis, the Bishop of the North Georgia Annual Conference, spent a few moments today talking about our beloved denomination. Bishop Davis exclaimed that when it was announced that our membership dipped below 8 million earlier this year, he kept waiting for denominational leaders to rip their clothing, cover themselves in ashes, and repent of whatever it was slowly marginalizing our influence in this culture. Of course, he heard nothing, which disturbed him because it's his belief that once you reach the second-half of an institution's decline, it accelerates at increasing speed. 37% of the churches (by the Bishop's estimates) in North Georgia are declining rapidly toward extinction and this is one of the healthier conferences in the country. In other words, according to the Bishop, get ready my United Methodist brothers and sisters, for a rapid downward plunge resulting in the closing of churches at a rate never before seen in our denomination's history. And after the property is disposed of by the conference, if pension obligations to retirees don't eat up everything we have, they'll be a rate of new church plants that will make our head spin. There has never been a more terrifying, and yet exciting time to be UM pastor.
4) Lots of woofin' and trash talkin' here in Beeson Country around college football. It just so happens that two (not one, BUT TWO) Auburn grads are in the program along with yours truly, who, while he never went to Ohio State, was born there (literally! University Hospital -February 10th, 1969). Had to listen to a lot of "blah, blah, blah" about how great Auburn's victory against LSU was Saturday. One of them even made the mistake of talking about how the Bucks could never get around Auburn's stout defense (which gave up over 300 yards to a LSU team that cracked their Red Zone FIVE TIMES, but only came away with a field goal... SEC Football - It's Fannnnnntastic!).
My response: OSU 37 Auburn 10 - Mark it down!
5) Aimee got the boys a couple of "He-Man" DVD's at the Jessamine County Public Library in Nicholasville. You might remember "He-Man", an animated character who had his 15-minutes of fame about 20 years ago when my brother, Andy, was about my boys' age. Andy was so into He-Man that before he could tell time, when he'd ask at 4:00pm how long it would be until dinner, if dinner was at 5pm, we'd respond with "two He-Mans" (for my mathematically-challenged friends who went to an SEC school, that means each episode was 30 minutes long). Anyhow, Aimee explains who He-Man is, and tells the boys that this show was my brother's favorite as a little boy.
Max's reply (and I am not making this up): "Is it in color, or black and white?"
How long do you think it took me to call my brother to ask?
6) Of all the books I read for this latest class, I can only recommend one, and that's only to people who are interested in some postulating about how Christians should approach people of different faiths. The book, Clash of Worlds, by David Burnett is a fairly fast read. Although, considering how fast I need to read this stuff right now, it could be that it's just EASIER to read than the other Missiology books on the syllabus, which wouldn't say much. (Consider yourself warned and here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1854245708)
7) But, even though the other books were tough reads, that doesn't mean they weren't profitable. One, in particular, The Gospel In A Pluralistic Society, by Lesslie Newbigin, hit me pretty hard. In it, Newbigin rails against those who have committed themselves to embracing religious pluralism in the name of keeping the peace in a plural culture. What this means, in English, is that at some point during the past 200 years, people stated teaching and believing that all religious faiths are equal and the same. What this created, according to Newbigin, was doubt about whether or not any of the faiths possessed any kind of truth. Religious scholars who once postulated about what Christ meant when he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed..." now dissected the Bible to figure out what the "truth" (and "untruth") about spirituality in that particular religion might be. Thus, anything that conflicted with was known scientifically about the natural world, or conflicted with other religious traditions, began to get tossed.
Newbigin believed (he's gone now, but his book lives on) that for Christians this was tragic, because part of the premise of being a Christian is that you believe that the Bible is the narrative possessing the truth about life and living for all humanity. When you lose this kind of belief, instead of accepting the text as being the definition in poetry, imagery, prose, history, mystery, and a cross, of humanity's past, present, and future encounter with God, you create a situation where we reduce the Bible to a book of philosophy, or a historical text that described the religious beliefs of certain people in a certain time and place. This results in a number of things, not the least of which, is the divorcing of Christian ethical practice from what is promised about the future: that in the end, good will overcome evil, and everything on this earth will be renewed.
Which, by the way, do you believe this is true? That in the end, evil will be vanquished and everything on earth will be better than it was when it was brand new?
8) Well, you'll find that most people, including Christians, don't. They believe in Heaven as a place you go when you die, and they might even believe in some form of final judgment where good and evil finally become apparent and discernable. But renewal of the earth for most is, at best, allegorical or metaphorical, and at worst a deluded pipe-dream.
Well at some point in history, science and theology were separated because the natural world could be measured and the spiritual one, well, couldn't. Along the way, science came up with a number of laws that helped them understand the world, one of which is that everything is always in a state of decay. With that as a given, how then could the world ever be renewed? It goes against everything we know to be true? One trip to your local gas pump when a gallon of the cheap stuff cost you $3 was enough proof that energy runs out eventually.
Well, this view is a secular humanist perception of how things in this world work. And while it might be OK for religions to teach us to take care of one another or the natural world, the general understanding is that at some point, our time here on earth is going to end, and when it does, it won't be pretty. Either the sun will burn out, or we'll blow ourselves up, or the environment will crap out on us ("crap out" being the highly technical scientific term) or the meteorite or something else following the laws of physics (in the meteorites case, it would be an object in motion continues in motion until a force equal or greater meets with it in the opposite direction... earth, for all those SEC school grads, being that force) will ultimately fulfill the laws of physics, and thus, the rule that everything is in decay.
After all, isn't the death rate for humans still hovering around 100%? How could this be wrong?
9a) So, let me ask you a question.... what if the laws of physics as we've always known them, are, well, a little misunderstood? Astrophysicists, for example, postulate that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. How is this possible? Gravity, while infintismal, still exists in space (a point confirmed by my brother-in-law who spent a number of years studying the effects of microgravity on fluids in space for NASA.... now you know that when it comes to the gene pool for my boys, the deep-end is Aimee's and the shallow-end is mine). If you blew up a pumpkin in space, would the pieces of that pumpkin continue to pick up speed, or does gravity, at some point, bring those pieces to rest? Why isn't the universe expansion slowing down?
What if the laws of physics are really aren't that all things are in decay, but all things somehow in a strange cosmic dance, are being made new? How might that change our outlook?
9b) But let's leave physics for awhile, supposing that I don't know what I'm talking about because I got a C in physics during my Senior Year at Lima Senior, and let me ask this: If you believe the end point of history, ultimately, is the destruction of all things, then what is the point to living? At best, you could adopt a personal philosophy of "treat others as you would want to be treated" if for no other reason than enlightened self-interest. Makes sense, as it'd be pretty tough living in the world if we all went around messing one another over.
This, supposedly, was what secular rationalists (Sigmund Freud being one) said would be the end point of social evolution.... people treating one another with dignity and respect out of the realization that it's in our best interest to do so. But after 200 hundred years of Christianity being increasingly marginalized, the point of almost extinction in Western Europe, and increasing irrelevance in the US and Canada, has Freud's vision of the future becoming reality?
If it was, do you think violence, illicit drug use, and rates of suicide would be decreasing in the "enlightened" western world as it continues to free itself of religious influence? Would the budgets of the western nations or the overall amount freely given to charities by individuals, dedicated to fighting disease and hunger in the less developed world be accelerating as a percentage of our respective GDP's? Would there be less war? Never at any time in history has more wealth and resources have been as available and the ability to use them greater... so in the west, are people becoming increasingly optimistic about the future for their children and grandchildren?
What do you think?
9c) What if, in fact, we supposed that the interaction that humans say they have had with God, which has been recorded, defines
1. why we're here,
2. what we're supposed be about while we're here, and
3. what the result of all this wrestling, struggling, and effort will be in the end...
Do you believe there's a good and evil? Do you believe that good is far superior than evil? Do you believe that above all other things, the purpose of the creation is to love? And do you believe that if we love the Creator and all that was created, someday the earth in terms of relationships and natural environment, will work in way better than you could ever imagine?
Your answer to those questions, my friends, will determine much about the quality of your life right now, and the legacy we leave those who come after us!
But it still doesn't answer how, if you believe this is true, that you live in multi-cultural, multi-faith kind of world. Am still working on that one (why do you think I went to lunch with a guy in a skirt?).
Anyhow, obviously I loved Newbigin's book. If you really want to torture yourself for about 200 pages before it really gets good (and you can't just skip that 200 pages, or the end won't make sense), here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-Pluralist-Society-Lesslie-Newbigin/dp/0802804268
10) Finally, the winner of the big Haiku contest is (drum roll please).... STEVE JENKINS OF LIMA, OHIO. Steve, you've won one dandy ATS Doctor of Ministry coffee mug and a pound of bourbon chocolate fudge (although, if you, or anyone in your family is a recovering alcoholic, you might want to request the non-bourbon fudge... trust me!). Steve, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you've won, and as for the rest of you... thanks for playing. Watch for my next big contest in October, which I promise will involve a prize from the city of London!!!
Until next time, let the good news be yours (which could be Katie's new sign-off phra.... oh, wait a minute... maybe someone used that already livin on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati - WKRP).