1) Preached this morning to rave reviews. My subject was the Christmas story (the real one, not the one with Ralphie) and my focus was Joseph (for reasons that will be made clear later). You know, there are some parts of the Bible most of us just kind of skim, or mostly skip over, and then there are other parts that you've read so many times you begin to think you know them cold. Such is the Christmas story.
Mary and Gabriel. Joseph and his dream. A trip to Bethlehem. Shepherds and angels. A manger and a tiny baby boy. It becomes more difficult to get a new take on the subject after awhile.
This morning's sermon really had two parts. The latter was a story of something that happened to me while ringing a bell for the Salvation Army outside of a WalGreens in Goshen, Indiana years ago. A funny story of grace where a woman was touched upon hearing me whistle "Oh Holy Night". I knew I wanted to use the story, just because I like it so much, but I wasn't sure how it connected to the part A...
Which was the difference in how Mary and Joseph perceived the pregnancy. Mary is visited directly by Gabriel and is profoundly touched by the Holy Spirit. He sings hymns and celebrates with Elizabeth. For her, she is blessed to be a vessel to bring the Son of God into the world.
But Joseph's take on the scene is different. Instead of a direct visit, the angel visits Joseph, who is crushed by his fiance's apparent infidelity to the point that he is ready to break the engagement, in a dream. Dreams can be a little harder to sort out. While the Bible says he did as the Angel in the dream orders, marrying Mary and moving on with his life, I speculated that somehow the message of the dream wasn't really confirmed until the moment Joseph laid eyes on the baby.... which is a miracle all its own.... and he named him Joshua, son of Joseph. In my opinion, that's the moment that the dream became "holy adoption papers", and confirmation that the baby isn't just the Son of God but also, the Son of Man.
I won't go into detail as to how I put altogether, since it'll be preached again this Sunday at both 9 and 11am at Shawnee... and we will experiment with streaming video on the http://www.shawneeumc.com/ web site in the near future.
Anyhow, it turned out pretty well. Dr. Kalas was complimentary, and that, really is about the best confirmation of your preaching ability you can receive.
2) Hey, who said this (and it's a direct quote)
"If you got a problem with Mo Cheeks, there must be something wrong with you,"
If you said Allen Iverson, you just won two roundtrip ticket on Piedmont Airlines good any day it's not a whole owned subsidiary of any other airline, between now and the end of the year! Seems that Iverson, who has clashed with all of the coaches he's ever had in Philadelphia was told my GM Billy King that this latest demand for Mo Cheeks' head would not be granted, and Allen would be on the next bus out of town.
As one of like, 14 NBA fans left in the country, I've always really liked Iverson. For all the tattoos and bluster, the guy plays hard, takes good care of his wife and kids, and is simply one of the best reasons to buy a ticket to see an NBA game today. That being said, taking a little guard in his 30's with the kind of miles on the odometer that AI has on his, should make any GM nervous. The best rumor so far has Iverson going to Sacramento to play with Ron "I Am An Insane Tru Warrior" Artest. Here's hoping that happens, and the Maloofs can also pick up Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, Stephen Jackson, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Darius Miles, Bonzi Wells, maybe coax J.R. Rider, Bad News Barnes, Darrell Dawkins, and John Starks out of retirement, and hire Vernon Maxwell as the coach. That's an "All NBA Headcase Team" if I ever saw one, generating headlines that I'm sure would never cease to amaze.
I think my brother, Steve Clouse, and I are the only two people who read and understood that last post.
3) Sounds like the commission to figure out how to get us out of Iraq is meeting with more than a little controversy. The current Iraqi government is upset. The hope by the commission is that we could get Iran and Syria to help patrol the country (good grief.... someone take Moammar Gadaffi off his meds and see if he'll send a few troops too)... which doesn't seem all that likely, or even desirable. Obviously the situation has degenerated into a mess, with the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shites all not wanting much to do with one another, and a whole lot of oil money at stake. If there ever is a functioning democracy in this country, we should all praise God and thank our lucky stars, as it looks like we have a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Balkans post-Marshall Tito on our hands.
4) People have been asking what I've been reading, and the answer is "nothing I'd recommend to others". This part of the dissertation requires a lot of reference books and commentaries, which are designed largely to read like stereo instructions. Which leads me to this...
Why do scholarly texts need to be so stinking boring? At what point in history did people quoting endlessly, other people, start passing itself off as relevant or important? I understand the need to credit others for the work they've done, but there's a reason you'd be better off reading one of Bishop Wright's books when he signs it "Tom", as opposed to "N.T.". The "Tom" books are supposed to be useful (which his series for laypeople on the life of Paul is.... it's terrific), where as "N.T." does so many mental gymnastics that the dense nature of the work almost becomes too obtuse to even be understood.
A new movement among scholars needs to start taking place... perhaps following "Tom" Wright's lead. The texts being produced now out of Biblical, Christo-historical, and theological circles has become so marginalized as to be almost inaccessible to common people. There's a reason they still sell so many Barclay Bible Series books.... folks can understand what the heck he's saying. While William Barclay is by no means cutting edge, his intent was education of the common reader, the everyday Christian, not to add more to the scholarly world.
I mean, all you brilliant guys out there... can't we have more of a balance? You are intellectually pricing yourself out of the market, leaving the stuff that passes as theology at the local Christian bookstore to fill the void. You are "Left Behinding" and "Prayer of Jabezing" the nation.... books not inherently evil in and of themselves, but can't they balanced by something else?
5) Had a nice weekend in Johnson City, Tennessee, interviewing people and surreptitiously observing the goings on at the Grandview Chrsitian Church. Grandview's senior pastor, Aaron Wymer, is on sabbatical pursuing his degree as a fellow BP. He suggested that we switch churches one weekend for the purpose of writing ethnography papers for one another as final projects for our Anthropology class. Here's his initial take of Shawnee, as detailed in his own fine blog.
Grandview is a part of the Independent Christian Church movement, which, as best I could understand it, started with a group of Scottish Presbyterians who were plenty angry at the established church, particularly for establishing creeds which appeared to supplant the role of scripture. There are now three major wings of this movement, the Acapella Church of Christ (which allows no instruments to be used in worship, and recognizes no other baptisms than those done in their own church..... the rest of us "out of luck", as it were), the ICC (which makes central a confession of Christ as Lord and Savior independent of any creeds or statements, looks to participate with other denominations, practices an "open table" at communion where all Christians regardless of background are invited to participate, and requires all members to have had a full-immersion baptism), and the Disciples of Christ (the group my buddy Pauly is affiliated with now... I think they are by far the most liberal of the three groups, and the only one to consider themselves a denomination).
Grandview is located only miles away from the ICC's flagship college (Milligan College) and seminary (Emmanuel School of Theology). If you want to know how closely those schools and the church are, I interviewed three Milligan profs, four more Milligan grads, an Emmanuel prof (an interesting fellow who after an education at Gordon-Cromwell and Harvard, has left his native Acapella Church of Christ Roots to join the ICC), and the youth pastor who is a Milligan grad and Emmanuel student. The preacher in the worship services was an Emmanuel prof, and the Communion meditation speaker in Grandview's second service was the Dean of Emmanuel.
Needless to say, there are more than a few experts in the congregation when Aaron preaches on Sunday morning.
All in all it was interesting experience. Every single person I talked to loves Aaron to death, and afraid he's going to leave after completing this degree, to which Aaron replied, "What kind of jerk do they think I am?" Not a jerk, sir... just thoroughly impressed enough with your ability that they are afraid another church will snatch you up.
No worries friends, he, Cindy, and the girls are coming home, and that right soon.
I was impressed with the depth of biblical understanding and theological depth of all the people who I met. The church is obviously very caring, and a great place for folks to be mentored into greater spiritual maturity. My hosts, the Allmans, are from the Midwest, and the husband is from Ironton and a huge Buckeye fan, so we watched Troy Smith win the Heisman. I ate great bar-be-que (go to The Firehouse if you are ever in Johnson City... trust me) with the Halls (who are passionate about their church... gotta like that). If I had any complaint on the weekend its that the people from Mapquest have never been to Johnson City... maybe they could buy an atlas and clean some things up. But beyond that, all was well. Thank you all for such a warm welcome.
6) East Tennessee might be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I'd love to ride a bike through it someday.
7) Our youngest, Elijah, has the stomach flu, and that on the day of our BP Christmas Party at Belle Notte (that Uncle Frank.... he goes upscale). Bummer. Such is the life of parents. Aimee's taken the brunt of him not being able to keep anything down, so I need to stop and pick up her "Number One Mom" medal on the way home. I just don't do the stomach flu all that well... I'm a wuss.
8) There are blogs, then there are good blogs, and then there are great blogs... and then there's Tina Dietsch's blog (where I lifted the Charlie Brown clip late last night). Tina, who's the pastor of a congregation in suburban Columbus, and former associate pastor at Lima Trinity UMC (my home church), is an unbelievably gifted writer. Mom and Dad loved her preaching while she was at Trinity, and used to bring me her sermons.... which I must admit became reference material for sermons I've done myself. An Asbury grad who is a good friend of fellow BP, Alicia Coltzer, her new blog is funny, insightful, and full of theological insights for all willing to read. I love her stuff!
9) Speaking of Lima Trinity, received news via their newsletter that Grace UMC, the last UMC located in what would be the south-end of Lima, has formally requested a merger which would involve Grace's congregation going to Trinity and putting her building up for sale. Over the course of the last five years, that will make the third UMC that's closed its doors in the City of Lima: First UMC (which merged with Epworth UMC to from Family of Faith UMC), High Street UMC (which merged with Sharon Park UMC to form Westside UMC... High Streets old building, by the way, is packed to the gills with Pentecostals who purchased the building with the intent of moving from suburban Shawnee into the City, which I find interesting), and now Grace. That leaves now only Trinity, Family of Faith, St. Marks, and Forest Park in a city of more than 40,000 people.
I hear a lot of talk at the conference level about making a commitment to urban communities, but in Lima throughout my lifetime, all I've witnessed is a slow retreat from the city. While I applaud pastors like Dave Harris, Senior Pastor at Trinity, Derek Russell (Forest Park) for standing strong in the heart of the community, I wonder what it is about our denomination that no longer easily speaks with an urban accent? Historically, our movement flourished in England's urban communities among the working class... that was the greatest strength of Wesley's movement. Francis Asbury, the first American Episcopal Bishop, found Jesus in a Methodist context while apprenticing to become a button-maker, came from the gritty industrial city of Birmingham, and never had more than six years of formal education.
Has credentialing made it difficult for us reach more impoverished communities? Have the requiring of MDiv's robbed us of the momentum needed to seek out those who might never pursue a graduate degree?
Anyhow, say a prayer for our city-center churches. You can feel the load growing heavier on their shoulders.