Monday, September 24, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Am in the middle of preparing for our new sermon series (which is on the book of Philippians) and the fall Koinania bible study (which is on the life of Paul). I am enjoying the research (as much as I can enjoy doing piles of reading), but am growing uneasy with the idea of trying to do two separate presentations for six weeks. I'm afraid I'll either end up repeating myself, or do a poor job twice.

Why the concern? Well, I've been here before. In a past life, I was a part of a new worship service startup that we originally conceived for Sunday evenings (which, in retrospect, was a mistake). The service was geared to reach unchurched or de-churched twenty-somethings (which actually ended up happening... just not on the scale we had hoped). But in order to get enough people to make the building not feel so empty, I decided to write two separate sermons... one for the morning worship and one for the evening. At first, I balanced things pretty well, but it didn't take long for the grind of the weekly schedule (which also required a prep for a large adult bible study and another for youth group) to wear me down. As a result, the quality went through the floor, and my preaching and teaching everywhere suffered.

Thus now I sit on the precipice of six weeks of double preps, and trying hard to avoid a similar fate than my Peak experience. But as I plow forward, I'm beginning to realize just how much more energy and concentration it takes to do sermons totally from memory while also writing an in-depth, engaging bible study from scratch. We'll see how it goes.

2) Hillary Clinton has introduced a prospective plan for universal health care, which is getting the debate going about whether not the US should have a single-payer (i.e. nationalized) system. A good many people will get riled about this (right in behind, I'd imagine, the the health care and pharmaceutical industries), trying to scare us with tales of woe and horror stories about things happening overseas to citizens receiving substandard care in government-administrated systems. Driving back from Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I realized the rhetoric had begun while listening to Rush Limbaugh's program as I cruised back home.

Rush told the story of a guy in England who was refused surgery on a broken leg that hadn't been set properly because he refused/was unable to comply with his doctor's orders to quit smoking. The implication here is that by handing over our health care to government bureaucrats you increasingly give away your liberty... which, given how abusive other government oversight agencies have been, could very well be true.

But, while the quality of medical care for Americans is excellent, private business interests have complicated the system of payment so greatly, that's it hard at this point to imagine any thing more intrusive or controlling than than what which we are living with in terms of private health insurance, right now. Case in point... Two weeks ago I went to see my doc, Eric Stallkamp, for the first of what will become an annual physical. Eric, as is the custom in such things, sent me to Lima Pathology to get some blood work done. Nothing big... just checking for routine stuff like cholesterol, blood sugar, and the like.

How much do you want to be that the cost of the blood work will be denied by my health insurance administrator (a plan which , by the way, costs over $18,000 per year)? Blood work which, quite frankly, will probably make real what needs to be changed, and could potentially save thousands of dollars down the line? You would think this kind of thing would be encouraged, but I know I'll just end up paying more on top of the $18,000 which doesn't make me eager to do it again. Yet, another example of how fiscally, short term profit is dictating long-term care.

So, call me a pollyanna if you must, but every horror story you could give me from a botched procedure in Canada, I can give you millions of examples of people right here who live in fear of getting sick. And besides, it's hard for me to find a doc or medical professional who really think this system we have now really makes all that much sense. I sense that the winds of change are blowing and I'm glad the debate has begun.

3) Spent yesterday evening playing a new version of "King of the Mountain" with the boys. In this version, I lay down on my stomach and all three boys battle to be the one to stay up on my back... while occasionally I rise up like a bucking bronco and cast them off. Hard to believe you could spent a couple of hours playing this game (while also watching the Bengals give another game away) but apparently you don't need much to keep three boys entertained.

And if you are thinking poor Eli couldn't compete, I watched him throw his five-year old brother off the bed and onto the floor. I suspect maybe God has given us our linebacker and our opportunity for season tickets at OSU games.

(One can dream....)

4) One of the more fascinating things I've learned about Paul during this study is how the guy rebelled against conventional societal norms in a manner that could only be described as prophetic. He was an educated Roman citizen, but to the disgust of Roman elite elected to use his hands as a tentmaker to help make a living. He was an trained, observant Jew, but to the dismay to those who had grown up in this tradition, advocated liberty from more arcane aspects of the law for gentiles, and even empowered them to be leaders. He was surely patriarchal in his own orientation, but was an advocate that women need not become married and empowered them, once again, to lead within the community. He was an enigma, who could argue with well-developed rhetoric, but unlike the philosophers of his day, didn't wish people to be convinced by his words, but by his example. His life and teaching was a challenge to conventional norms of Romans, Jews, and miscellaneous Gentiles which made him a controversial figure, both in and out of the church.

It's hard to get this picture of Paul, I think, because we envision him as an upstanding leader in a formalized church structure like we have now. But the church was at least 300 years from becoming a centralized, societally-accepted institution. Paul was involved as a leader in a largely disorganized, decentralized small cultic movement that was internally conflicted about it's present and future. A movement that wasn't universally intent on reaching all people, or effecting any kind of cultural transformation. Paul couldn't have been more radical given these circumstances... a guy who not only angered local political officials, but also was often an affront to the original Apostles themselves. A wildly complicated man, who slowly began to show the church the way from a one-generational Apocalyptic movement, to that which has spanned over two-millennium.

5) I've never been a big fan of the Pauline epistles, largely because of the way that Christians have used them (particularly the book of Romans) as a "Rosetta Stone" to understand the teachings of Jesus. Much of the doctrine we follow today comes out of this kind of study. We forget that Paul was inspired by Jesus' thinking and example to modify what he had previously believed, which is far different than what I discern is the current understanding that Paul translated a central message Jesus for others that was supposed to become Christian canon. I suspect this kind of interpretation of what Paul was doing (translating a canonical message) has shaped the way we have presented the gospel over the course of our history.

One wonders, for example, why colonial missionaries in Africa not only tried to undo the religious beliefs of the indigenous people they sought to evangelize, but also tried to tear apart carefully crafted social systems that had sustained people for multiple generations. That did not appear to be Paul's model. Instead, Paul would use the cultural background of the locals to build bridges between what they had known, and what Paul now longed for them to know: the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, working theology that would advocate letting locals eat meat served to foreign idols or advocating the possibility of singleness despite coming from a cultural background that would have vehemently argued against either practice. While Paul didn't simply accept any society or religious norm (one thinks about the anger he raised when freeing the young fortune teller from the spiritual pimps living off her practice of divination), he didn't seem all that interested in ripping them to shreds either.

Of course, if you follow my logic to its conclusion, you get the vision of more of a patchwork quilt of theological underpinnings being held by local churches, as opposed to great maxims and doctrines that are unequivocally held by everybody. But then again, as more indigenous forms of Christian expression are beginning to rise up all over the world, and even across the country (from snake-handling in Appalachia to multicultural faith communities in urban centers) that appears to be the direction the church is heading anyway... much to the fear of those who have enjoyed centuries of centralized power (the Roman Catholic) or are embedded in mainstream culture (mainline protestantism, and more recently, the non-denominational megachurch). To instead go into the local cultural milieu, and make where people the living there the starting place for spiritual transformation, hasn't been the pre-eminent strategy of institutional Christianity for over 1700 years. It'll be interesting to see how this shapes the church, and creates dissension within, in coming days.

6) The funeral for Christian Neff, a young soldier from the Shawnee community who died during his tour in Iraq, will be held here at the church on Friday. Our condolences go out to his family as we continue to pray for peace not just in Iraq, but across the world.

7) Either the Big Ten is just awful, or the Bucks are just dominant. It's too early to tell. But, gee whiz, they made Northwestern look terrible. Couple that with Michigan surviving Penn State coughing up the ball a couple of time inside the ten and A-State losing this week, and wonders who deep the troubles for the Big Ten go.

Or how far this Buckeye team could go. Could they really lose all of their offensive playmakers from last year, and still truly be a national championship contender? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

8) If you haven't checked out the latest issue of Fortune magazine, you might want to. There are not only some great articles on leadership, but another good one on next emerging craze on the internet: networking communities. It was fun to get a glimpse into the paranoia and competition that now marks the relationship between Facebook and MySpace, as well as all the other on-line communities that are popping up all over the world. One wonders who long it will take for these folks to figure out instant translation from one language to another as a means of attaining a global following. That has to be close.

9) Great article last week on Cody Kopilchack, a young man in our congregation who is a featured golfer on Shawnee High School's golf team and the place kicker for the football team. Know that Cody is not only a great athlete, but a great person. I have enjoyed watching he and his golfing buddy, Michael Malone, grow up. They're still as goofy as they ever were, but to watch them emerge as leaders has been very interesting. Anyhow, the article is a great read.

10) And finally, as checks begin to filter in for this year's Harvest for the Hungry Community Food Drive, here are a couple of upcoming events benefiting the cause you should be aware of. Saturday, October 6th our "Man to Man" Men's Ministry will be hosting it's annual golf scramble at the Oaks Country Club (out on Kemp Road). The cost (including cart and meal ) of the outing will be $50 per player or $200 per team. Tee off will be at 1pm, and (it might be added) that the Buckeyes don't tee off until 8pm that evening (against Purdue). Contact the church to sign up your team.

Also, Sunday afternoon on October 14th, we'll hold this year's version of the Harvest for the Hungry Poker Run. The cost will be 15$ per bike with rider, and an additional $5 per bike passenger. The first bike will (probably) leave at 1pm (just go to the early service) and the last will leave (probably) at 3pm. I'll release more details later in the week, but know that yours truly will be there on his bike, ready to ride to eliminate hunger in our community. Tell your all your friends about both of these great events, and hopefully we'll see you there.


Courtney said...

Hello Bryan,
Well, I do read your blogs quite often. I have been and will be doing research on the nationwide health care and benefits plans, and I have to say they look better overall than the privatized insurance we have now. I'm sure it would help infinately with the predicament that most unions are in now. For the real comments....
Why keep Eli from greatness and send him to OSU. WVU would make a true athlete out of him. By the way, my condolences go out to the big ten fans, but don't fret, just look east for the national champion...the Big East that is. WVU all the way!! (had to show my pride!)

Anonymous said...

Since this blog is your forum to talk about anything and everything, and you seem to be open to discussing anything, no matter how different peoples' opinions might be, I'd love to read some of your thoughts on syncretism - unless that's very different from some of the ideas you were talking about in #5 about Paul.

Along the same lines, have you heard of/read Don Richardson's stuff on building bridges for ministry among other cultures? It's interesting and provides some guidance moving forward in missions, as well. Kinda makes you go, "Hmmmm..."

Hope all is well!

Jeff Moore