Monday, October 31, 2005

Judicial Council Decisions

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has announced its decisions on the the Beth Stroud & Ed Johnson cases. In the first case, the findings of the original trial court - that Beth Stroud as a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" could be removed from ordained ministry - were affirmed. In the second, the decision of Bishop Kammerer to suspend Rev. Ed Johnson was reversed. The root cause of his case was a refusal to take into membership an allegedly unrepentant homosexual. Both of these cases are getting lots of publicity. I haven't seen any comments on Decision 1020, however.

Decision 1020 is about the California Nevada Annual Conference's inclusion of two items in their proceedings:
Item 26: The California-Nevada Annual Conference hereby defines the word “status” as including sexual orientation such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transgendered.

Item 27: The California-Nevada Annual Conference hereby specifically refuses and declines to define the word “practicing” or Practicing homosexual.”

The Cal-Nev AC doesn't approve of the denominational position regarding the exclusion of self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordained ministry. This looks like a strategy to allow them to retain the Discipline while acting in accord with their conscience. A member of the conference raised the question about whether Item 27 made ¶ 304.3 unenforceable. Bishop Shamana ruled that the Items were in keeping with the Discipline, and thus acceptable. On appeal, the Judicial Council has approved the Bishop's ruling.

Now I understand the Council's ruling, but I don't understand their statement (the part I've put in bold):
Question 3 concerns the annual conference’s refusal to define the word “practicing” or “practicing homosexual.” An annual conference may not adopt any item that purports to void and/or violate the enforcement or enforceability of ¶ 304.3 of the Discipline. Refusal to define has no effect on the enforceability of ¶304.3. The Bishop’s decision of law for Question 3 is affirmed.
How does "refusal to define" not have any effect on enforceability? How can an undefined condition be enforced? Someone help me out here. Also - am I wrong to assume that the Cal-Nev Conference was trying to make the statute unenforceable?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Are we running out of Church in the US?

Tertullian wrote, in the second century, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." If this is so, what are we to make of the Church in the United States, that suffers no martyrs?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

On Not Answering Questions

Have you ever noticed that our elected representatives aren’t very good at responding to questions? At least not answering questions they themselves haven’t proposed. Here’s the response I go to my recent letter to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison:

Dear Dr. Heyduck
Thank you for contacting me regarding Hurricane Katrina. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.
In the midst of this tragedy, my heart has been warmed by the many Texans who opened their arms and their homes to our fellow Americans. Approximately 80% of the city of New Orleans has been covered in water, and thousands of people suddenly found themselves homeless with nowhere to turn. Flood waters in Alabama left 325,000 homes and businesses without power. In Mississippi, hundreds of waterfront homes, businesses and community landmarks were obliterated by a storm surge that reached 30 feet. In the wake of this, I am proud of how our state has responded.
Thanks you for taking time to write your suggestions regarding the current relief efforts. While we cannot undo the losses to the victims of this devastation, working as a nation we can help them to regain some sense of normalcy in their lives.
I appreciate hearing from you and hope that you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.

I’d written Senator Hutchinson asking about what adjustments in the Federal Budget she’d be proposing to cover the expenses of Hurricane recovery. I guess she didn’t want to answer that question.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Milwaukee, we have a problem

Major League Baseball needs a real Commissioner. Not just an owner of one of the teams who is willing to make an appearance at it. The fact that the Milwaukee Brewers are not in the World series proves this point.

Though the Brewers are not in the World Series apparently hasn't occurred to "Commissioner" and Brewers owner Bud Selig.

Minute Maid Park, the homefield of the Houston Astros, was built with a retractable roof. Selig's office determined that the roof would be open for the World Series games to be played in Houston this week.

Was it Selig's call? According to the rules of MLB, yes. But was Selig in a position to make the call? I don't think so.

Commenting on his decision about the roof, Selif said, "We've studied weather, winds, we've studied humidity. There isn't a cloud within 800 miles of here. In Milwaukee, you don't get a day like this until July Fourth."

I've got news for you, Mr. Selig: this game wasn't played in Milwaukee. This game was played in Houston.

The Houston Astros ought to be able to configure their stadium as they see fit.

After all, the Milwaukee Brewers aren't in the World Series.

General Population to Membership Comparison

The second graphic in the Pre-Conference Journal aims at the heart of the problem we're facing. The population of out part of the state continues to rise - and we're not keeping up. The graph included in the report might lead one to believe we're doing ok.

A careless reader would look at 1980 and see a big gap between membership and population and then look at 2004 and see a much smaller gap. How many people will notice that the scale for each line is quite different - one (the Population) varying by 1,000,000, the other (Membership) by 10,000? Is our general math literacy better than has been reported?

Let's look at the same numbers differently. This figure graphs the percentage of the population reflected in the membership of the church. I believe this depicts the decline much more clearly.

Texas Conference Population Growth

The Pre-Conference Journal for our upcoming special session is now available online. Over the course of several posts I will be commenting on the proposals we'll be addressing. The first graphic in the presentation is a map showing the counties contained within the TAC. To my surprise Camp County (the county we're in - circled on the map to the left), the third smallest county in Texas, is projected to grow 21% - 40% by 2020. Growth in Upshur, Smith & Gregg counties, wouldn't suprise me - but they're not projected to grow as much as we are.

If these statistics are correct, we will have to work harder to be ready for growth. As United Methodists we'll need to find better ways to accommodate growth and change. SOunds good to me.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Thinking About Proposition 2

Marriage will be on the ballot election day in Texas. Proposition 2 reads:
"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
If all we're doing is saying that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that any other pretended acts of marriage, whether polygamous or same-sex or multi-species (or whatever) are not to be considered marriages in the State of Texas, it would seem fairly obvious.

But not much is obvious any more.

The Texas Conference Board of Church and Society has come out against the proposition, seeing it as being in conflict with the civil rights the church believes people are due. I'm not at all surprised the BCS would take such a stand. In my experience they're usually against the idea that homosexuality is a sin. They have not yet (fortunately) succeeded in changing the United Methodist position, however.

For different reasons I'm uneasy about the Proposition. I have no doubt marriage should be between a man and a woman. I don't think marriage is a civil right - though civil society has long claimed jurisdiction over marriage. I'm uneasy with the proposition that law should (or can) cover everything. Since our legal culture has decided that the State - the maker, implementer and judge of the law - is to be completely secular, I don't want to surrender any more power to the State than it already has.

By forcing the legal issues, we're put in the position of appearing to say EITHER marriage is a legal relationship only between a man and a woman OR marriage is a legal relationship between any two (or more?) individuals who are (currently) lovingly committed to each other. As one who supports a traditional understanding of marriage, I'm not sure what to do in a situation where I seem to be forced to choose between two evils - the complete transfer of marriage to the arena of law or the denial of the traditional concept of marriage.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The laugh is on whom?

We had a spirited discussion this past Wednesday at our Bible Study. Like I have done many times, I welcomed those present to discuss with me how we ought to interpret Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:48 (Be therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect."

You see, adding words like "strive" or "do your best" don't cut it. They don't cut it simply because those words aren't there.

But everyone knows, they always tell me, no one is or can be perfect. I challenge this assumption, and someone in the room automatically assumes I am thus declaring myself perfect. I am not; it's just that I can't imagine Jesus telling us to do something that we can't do.

So, the morning following this great, lively discussion, I heard someone telling a friend about it. "Steve actually believes we can be perfect," he said, half chuckling, half still in shock. The friend shared the humorous disbelief that I would make such an assertion.

I suppose they had a nice little chuckle. I can't help but wonder what has happened to the church that laughs at the idea of taking Jesus at his word.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Inconvenient People

This past Sunday was Children's Sabbath at our church. The Children's Defense fund put out tons of material including statistics about the condition of children in America. Of all the statistics to choose from, they published the bad news. Here's a sampling, under the heading Each Day in America:
4 Children are killed by abuse or neglect
8 Children or teens are killed by firearms
77 Babies die before their first birthday
177 Children arrested for violent crimes
390 Babies born to mothers who received late or no prenatal care
2076 Babies born without health insurance
2385 Babies born into poverty
3742 Babies are born to unmarried mothers

Instead of merely listing bad stuff - with the suggested idea that we need a bigger government to do something about IT - why not give a truer picture and list some positives? How many children are involved in Scouting programs every day? How many are staying in school and doing well? How many are visiting or volunteering in nursing homes, hospitals and the like?

Obviously, many children do have difficult lives. I challenged my people Sunday to consider Jesus' relativisation of family and take responsibility for children who are not their own in a biological sense. That was Augustine's motivation for suggesting Christians not have children: there are already enough people to evangelize without bringing more into the world (and that was in the 4th century).

I also added another statistic - I couldn't find it anywhere on the Children's Defense site so I had to go elsewhere for the data: Every day in America 3200 babies are aborted. This wasn't what Augustine had in mind when he talked about already having enough people. In fact, the early generations of Christians stood against the pagan practice of exposing "extra" or unwanted children (to the elements and predators). The first Christian admonotion against abortion dates from the second century (unless you want to date the Didache earlier).

Patricia Bauer writes in the Washington Post about the contemporary "responsibility" to abort "defective" children. Since we have plenty of genetic tests today (part of the routine prenatal care many women lack?) that allow us to identify many of the defects of our children, we can make the choice to deliver them from certain suffering by killing them now. Bauer says that when people discover she has a daughter with Down Syndrome they tend to have one of two responses. They either assume that she didn't have the proper testing before her daughter was born or that she is a raging fundamentalist pro-lifer.

Curiously, Bauer reports that her daughter's life has not been filled with suffering. Of sure, she has challenges. Many things we take for granted are difficult for her. But much of the suffering she encounters is from living in a society that labels her defective and pronounces her "better off dead."

We talk about wanting to put people "out of their misery." What we too often mean by this is more akin to putting people "out of our misery." We don't want to look at suffering or be reminded of imperfection. We don't want to experience the awkwardness of having to interact with "those kind of people."

It's just too inconvenient.

UPDATE: Here's some comment on the article from someone who has been through the joys of genetic counseling.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Unifying vs. Divisive

In today's column on Harriet Miers, David Brooks includes this comment on the difference between Rebublicans and Conservatives:
You know you are in establishment Republican circles when the conversation is bland but unifying. You know you are in conservative circles when it is interesting but divisive.
When applied to United Methodists, I'm inclined to think "establishment Republican" could be replaced by "establishment Methodist" (or Moderate) and at least in some cases UM liberals could be lumped in with the conservatives for generating "interesting division."

Monday, October 10, 2005

ATS: fact or fiction?

I am at Asbury Theological Seminary this week for a gathering of the Alumni Leadership Community. I attended Asbury from 1985-89, when I graduated with an M.Div. degree. Those four years were among the most important in my life in forming me and preparing me for ministry.

I found the academics challenging, the worship energizing, and the community healing and supportive.

You can imagine my dismay at hearing that there are "leaders" in the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church who tell ministerial candidates that "if you go to Asbury you will never get a good church in this conference."

Would you "leaders" like to tell the churches to which I have been appointed they are not considered good churches? Would you at least explain to me, and to my face, why it is you say such things?

Ironically, it is often Asbury alumni who are accused of being exclusive and narrow-minded.

Canon Service

Almost 2 years ago I bought a Canon ZR-60 video camera. I'd read reviews that said it had loud motor noise that showed up on the recordings, but mine worked fine - no noise, no problems. Until about a month ago, that it. At that point I was about to film something and the viewscreen was black. The battery was fine, as was play back operation. Just no camera functionality. With trepidation I mailed the camera to Canon's service center. The warranty period was over, so I didn't know how much it would cost.

Today I got the camera back (by Fed-Ex). They'd fixed the problem and serviced the camera - all for free. Their service certainly exceeded my expectations.

Way to go Canon!

Whose war is it?

Donald Sensing, and the Military Officers Association of America (Sensing's source?) mention Senator Robert Byrd saying, “Our nation isn’t at war, our military is at war.”

This saying is not original with Byrd (neither Sensing nor MOAA say it is), but has been around (in this form) at least since 2004. Both pro-war and anti-war commentators seem to be using the phrase. The former use it to try to raise the consciousness of the American public to get more people behind the war (i.e., to judge the war a good and proper thing for the nation to pursue). The latter use it to push a domestic agenda of higher taxes and controls on society - that's what we did in WW2's total war, isn't it?

I'm one of those oddballs who think it's a good thing our nation isn't at war - just our military. Those who remember (and yearn for?) the total war of WW2 are thinking of something that would produce such a degree of overkill we’d become pariahs in the eyes of the world - and if we did so the world would be right.

Assuming the war in Iraq is moral – fighting a total war, i.e., a war that mobilizes our whole country and all our national resources, would totally obliterate the Muslim world. That's what total war does. It doesn't focus our wrath and resources on only the tank, terrorist or division of either arrayed against us. Rather, total war mobilizes a nation to fight another nation to utterly destroy their capacity and will to make war. OUR capacity – in terms of military and economy – so dwarfs anything Al Qaeda and any of their adjuncts can ever hope to have, that we MUST engage in finesse and great self-restraint. This is difficult, but necessary - if we want to maintain the semblence of morality as we do so.

Please don’t wish total war on anyone. Certainly don’t propose it as an advance in morality or national policy. And don't rile up the American people to want such a war. Just because Al Qaeda and the Wahabbi preachers are doing it doesn't make it right.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Play it safe" vs. "Go for it!"

Seth Godin writes today about two approaches to work, the Abundance approach and the TBR approach. He summarizes:
an approach of Abundance and an approach I call Technically Beyond Reproach (TBR).

Abundance means that you look at every problem spec and figure out how to make it bigger.
TBR tries to make it smaller.

Abundance means that you spend a lot of time imagining how you will overdeliver.
TBR means you start from the beginning making sure that the work you do will either meet spec or you'll have a really good excuse.

entrepreneurs have a hard time with the TBR approach, because it has never ever worked for them. VCs and customers and competitors give few bonus points for excuses, even really good ones, so the only approach that wins is the abundance one.

An abundant-approach employee shows up early so she won't need the "train was late" excuse on the day of the presentation. The TBR employee gets a note from the Metro. (true story).

An abundant-approach minister grows his church from 200 families to 3,000 by constantly reinventing what he does all day. A TBR minister does a very good job of consoling the sick and writing sermons.

People make mistakes. Sometimes when we're trying our hardest, or extending ourselves to do something good, reality reaches out and bites us. Failure happens. What Godin calls the TBR approach seems paralyzed by the fear of failure - so it plans for it to happen. If failure doesn't happen, well, that's ok, but at least I'm covered when it does. Not failing, or worse, not being counted responsible for the failure, becomes the goal. ("I was just following the established procedures.")

If your job is of little consequence, I suppose the TBR approach might be good enough. Godin mentions chefs as one profession he doesn't want to function with the TBR approach. For me, that's of little consequence. If I eat at a restaurant and the food is bad or mediocre, it just means they won't get my business any more.

But in the church we're in the people business. God has entrusted us with the lives - in some ways, the eternal destinies - of the people around us. As Jesus tells us in the parable of the talents, TBR won't cut it. If as Tom Wright reads this parable, it's not so much looking forward (saying, "Someday Jesus will return and judge people") as it is looking at the current scene: "The King is here now, Israel. God has entrusted you with great gifts and responsibilities. What have you done with the mission to be a light to the nations (Gentiles)?"

The TBR approach says, "Let's play it safe. Let's make sure we enjoy the blessings of God, enjoy our own (legalistic) righteousness. The Gentiles deserve what they have coming to them." Christians would say something like, "I'm going to heaven when I die. That's good enough. Oh, I'll pray for God to send someone to help those people."

The Abundance approach says, "People are lost. God has graciously saved me and enlisted me as part of his effort to extend his salvation to all people even to the ends of the earth. What can I do to join in that effort now?" This approach is risky. It's unpopular. But it sure looks like what Jesus wants.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Going "Postal" over Postal Insurance?

For the first time I can remember, I just bought "postal insurance" on a package I mailed. Being naturally curious, especially of any bureaucracy, I asked questions so that I might better understand what I was paying for.

Postal insurance covers me (the item I am sending) up to the amount of insurance against loss or theft. For me, this translated into my paying extra to actually get the package to where I was sending it. The customer service representative did not follow my logic for several minutes, but eventually she admitted I was right.

At first she thought I was accusing the USPS of soemthing! I suppose I can understand how it seems accusatory, since I asked questions like, "So, insuring this package really just protects me from the postal service losing this package?"

I did not lose my cool; I was not upset. Ok, I was a little upset. It seems clear to me that I paid the initial $3.75 (or so) to "maybe" get the package delivered. if I was only willing to pay $3.75, then a light-fingered postal employee or a truck fire or whatever else were chances I was willing to take.

For an additional $3.75 (or so), the USPS was willing to assure me they wouldn't let their dishonest employees near my package, nor would they be reckless in loading my package onto a truck that was going to catch fire.

Do you suppose in the "good ol' days" companies actually took responsibility for items left in their hands without the customer paying extra?

what's the big IDea?

Continuing my brother's discussion on ID, or Intelligent Design, I ran across an article in the local Waco Tribune Herald that actually got my attention. Martha Raffaele wrote an Associate Press piece titled "Debate Revisited" on the Dover, Pennsylvania School District's fight over Intelligent Design.

In case you haven't followed the story, the Dover Area School District adopted a policy "requiring ninth-grade students to hear about 'intelligent design' in a preamble to biology lessons on evolution." The Pennsylvania ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are assisting a group of local parents who have sued to stop this practice.

Apparently there is currently a law in Pennsylvania that forbids the teachign of creationism. The parents and backing organizations argue that current law thus forbids the preamble Dover requires to be read.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank supporting the Dover Schools on this issue, alleges that their opponents are attempting to "squelch voluntary debate."

Setting aside the "scientific" issues at the moment, I simply want to ask, "what happened to free speech?" Am I missing something?

One side wants to uphold current law that FORBIDS a particular teaching. The other side wants to enforce a policy REQUIRING the reading of some specific text.

It seems there is agreement at least on one point, that the article in my local paper and all the others I have found seem to miss. It seems there is widespread agreement that teachers are not to be trusted to teach!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What About ID (Intelligent Design)?

ID and its place (or lack thereof) in public education has been a hot topic lately. Several email lists I'm on have been discussing it. Here's my response to some of it.

As a tradition/discipline, science has a right to police (or fight over) its own boundaries, just as Christianity, also conceivable as a tradition/discipline, has a similar right. If current guardians of the boundaries of science wish to declare that the discipline must be purely naturalistic, then I suppose they are free to do so. But in my view this doesn't help us much when it comes to the teaching of evolution, ID and related issues.

When it comes to teaching of science, we have left the realm of science itself and entered the realm of education. Must education be entirely naturalistic? Surely there is more to argue here than there is in the realm of science. Perhaps those who guard the boundaries of education have declared that each discipline must be taught by the reigning experts in the field. This has been my experience. In my pre-collegiate education the model was, "Here are the facts, no learn them." Only when I had entered college did I begin to learn that each area of knowledge, each discipline, was a cauldron of disputation and argument. Perhaps the guardians of education think younger students can't handle the lack of absolute certainty that comes with admitting disputation.

We also have the further problem that science is considered the paradigm of knowledge and the fount of our access to reality. As long as our culture retains an implicit foundationalist epistemology that puts a completely naturalistic discipline at the foundation, I cannot but think that those who do not adhere to a completely naturalistic view of the world might be troubled. The long time practice of compartmentalizing knowledge (science) and faith isn't very satisfying to many.

Not surprisingly, the naturalistic approach isn't satisfied to remain within the bounds of the natural sciences. From what I've seen it likes to move on to all areas of life (it's a totalizing discourse, after all, so why ought we be surprise?) including religion. How do we explain the existence of religious people? Is there any reason to think God had anything to do with it - or must we settle for purely naturalistic accounts (chemicals in the brain, depression, society, etc.)? Oops - not sure we want to go that far! Barnes & Bloor and their "Strong Program" in the sociology of knowledge have done that with science itself, and the idea that science itself is not rational has not been well accepted.

So that's a verbose way of saying I'm uneasy committing myself to the naturalistic (and popular) view. While I'm not sure how to specify what design looks like, or know how to demonstrate its existence; and while I'm skeptical about the usefulness of probability applied to historical events, I cannot but prefer that the statement, "God created the world" be taken to be ABOUT the world and not merely ABOUT my beliefs, faith, or "stance toward what is most important."

Christian Higher Education

Kenneth C. Elzinga, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, gave an address on Christian Higher Education to the people of Abilene Christian University. The whole piece is good, but I want to highlight one theme. Elzinga says:

Christian higher education does not start with Christian students. That may surprise you. But I would hope Christian institutions do not have a Christian litmus test for students.

If students want to be a part of Christian higher education, they should be welcome. The Christian faith is defensible; the Christian faith is compelling; the Christian faith is true. So let unbelievers live and learn in the environment of Christian higher education and test the faith.

Jesus did not throw out Doubting Thomas. Christian higher education should be a place that welcomes Doubting Thomases, as students.

But Christian higher education should be dominated by a faculty who are followers of Jesus.
The majority of faculty at a school of Christian higher education should be Christians. The institution makes no sense if that is not the case. Students are transients; they come and go. Christian higher education is defined by a core of faculty who believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:16), that every thought is to be made captive to Him and they are not ashamed of the gospel.

For those who would object that a faculty predominantly Christian will suppress freedom of inquiry and the pursuit of truth, I would respond in two ways. The first is the chronicle of how secular authorities have suppressed truth as well. The second is with a rhetorical question: if Christian higher education is not made so by Christian educators, what is the alternative paradigm that merits the label?

If Christian higher education starts with Christian faculty, it must also have rules for living in a Christian community. But the rules are derivative of Christian higher education; they are not the foundation.

Since my undergrad years at a United Methodist school, I've been disappointed that our denomination has had (at least in the past generation or two) such a weak understaning of Christian Higher Education. We have a large number of UM "related" schools. We have fewer each decade, however, as they slowly surrender to secularization. My alma mater still identifies itself as "affiliated" with the United Methodist Church, but neither Methodism nor Chistianity in general explicitly figure in its Core Values and public presenation of its self- understanding.

Core Purpose:

Fostering a liberal arts community whose values and actions encourage contributions toward the well-being of humanity.

Core Values:

Promoting lifelong learning and a passion for intellectual and personal growth.

Fostering diverse perspectives.

Being true to oneself and others.

Respecting the worth and dignity of persons.

Encouraging activism in the pursuit of justice and the common good.

Envisioned Future:

We believe we should strive for no less than making the University an inspiration to other preeminent undergraduate colleges because its innovative programs are transforming liberal arts education.

There's nothing bad here - not even anything anti-Christian. In fact, most if not all could be seen as easily compatible with Christianity. But most of it is also completely indistinguishable from the rest of academia. There is no recognition that these generalities - "well-being of humanity", "justice and the common good" - are contested concepts. As institution the University is still mired in a modernity that sees a universal concept of rationality and justice, drawn from the Western liberal tradition. That tradition has been influenced by the Christian tradition but is not the same thing.

I'd like to think UM schools could try recovering a distinctively Christian vision for high education - matched by a valuing of distinctively Christian faculty. I may be wrong, but I see two major obstacles to such a move. First, this vision of distinctively Christian higher education is not held by any where near a majority of UM leaders, whether in the church or in the academy. Like good moderns we look at some of the examples out there as proof that Christian higher education is an oxymoron. Anyone who keeps up with the UMC knows we don't even have (or want!) a shared understanding of the nature of Chritsianity. Secondly, we take great pride in hiring people outside our tradition - whether outside Methodism or outside the Christian faith altogether. We want the best teachers (Ivy League is best) for every subject, and our understanding of "best" is usually exactly the same as any secular school.

Am I arguing for an environment to shelter students, to coddle them so they won't have to get out into areas of controversy where they might get their feelings hurt? Not at all. I agree with Elzinga:

I happen not to think that Christian higher education should be safe. I think Christian higher education should have an edge to it, just as it was dangerous to hang around with Jesus.
Presenting one's discipline in a way that integrates one's Christian faith, not only varies from discipline to discipline, but also is not at all a fideistic, "God says it, I believe it, that settles it" point of view. That won't do students any good as they seek to live out their faith in a often hostile world. They need truth, but they also need practice and training in how to pursue it, argue for it, and stand up in it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sunday Sermon - Conflict

Sunday's sermon was on learning from John Wesley in the area of conflict. Whether we look to John Wesley, the Apostle Paul, or Jesus, we see people who regularly engaged in conflict. Since each of these also emphasized the place of love in the Christian life, conflict and love must not be antithetical as we sometimes think. Instead of avoiding all conflict, or seeking quick resolution, what we need to learn to do is find ways to handle conflict Christianly, whether it be in our churches, our families, or our day to day relationships.

Excellence Overrated?

I've been going to ministry conferences for years. I've read piles of books and listened to many tapes & CDs. I've heard inspiring and informative teachings on how to reach people, how to grow a church, and how to lead a congregation. The Willowcreek Leadership Summit in 2003 was great. The Catalyst Conference in 2001 exposed me to the ministry of Andy Stanley and North Point Church. Reading Purpose Driven Church and going to Dan Southerland's Transitions Conference gave me great ways to understand the church and how to move forward.

But at the same time these experiences leave me with an emotional high, they quickly lead to depression. We can't go out and buy the best leaders in the world like Willowcreek. We don't have the facilities or the budget or the critical mass of people to do children's & youth ministry like NPCC. We don't have the large base of new Christians like Saddleback.

We're a small church, in a small town, in the third smallest county in Texas. The biggest towns in the area, Tyler & Longview, are an hour away. We're also an established traditional church. The vast majority of our people were raised in church and their formative experiences of what church is about happened 50 or more yeras ago. Willowcreek, Saddleback & NPCC, however attractive they might be to me, are vastly different. All are in high population areas. All are recent church plants still led by the founding pastor. What they identify as "basic principles" that can be transferred elsewhere, may look universal, but are too intertwined with their own local peculiarities to be readily transplanted.

There's another church planter that seems to have a different approach. Sure, Steve Sjogren has grown a church from nothing into the thousands like the others. Sure, he's in a major metropolitan area. But he has less of an aura of certainty and perfection. In a recent article he says perfection - we call it "excellence" - is overrated. More important is the willingness to take risks.

There is a general malaise in the Church today that has been brought on by an attitude of perfectionism. “If you can’t do it with nearly perfect excellence, don’t even bother giving it a try.” This is hogwash!

I ascribe to the wisdom of turn-of-the-century Christian writer, G.K. Chesterton, who said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I love the permission that comes with that paradigm. Of course, neither he nor I nor you would embrace the concept of doing things poorly on a general basis. However, the idea of perfectionism is so insidious it makes us think that if we can’t do a super bangup job all the time, we might as well not even try.

There is a well-known church in America at which I have often been invited to speak over the past decade. I love that church in many ways, but they are overly committed to the concept of excellence. Each time I’m there, I come away feeling discouraged; as if I could never attain their standard of measurement.

I look up to the pastor of that church in a big way. I think he is one of the greatest leaders in America today – both in and out of the Church. But he overstates the value of excellence. What’s worse, they are modeling this set of values to hundreds of other churches eager to learn the best way to do church in the American context.

The truth is, God is looking for people who are looking to take risks. Risks are the way forward in life and in the church world.

We're a small church in a small town. We'll never be a mega church and I'm not sure any of us want to be. But if we learn to take risks, i.e., trust and obey God even when we don't see any way what we're doign can possibly work - then God can do great things through us to reach our community.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pittsburg Wins!

Friday night was homecoming in Pittsburg. Though they'd played a few close games this season, the varsity football team had managed to enter the night with no wins. With a strategy that included only one lost fumble (if I remember correctly), the Pirate finally won, beating Mt. Vernon 36-30. As usual, the Pittsburg band was better than the other band.

Fans came to the game in a variety of decor, though I didn't see any as colorful as this fellow.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Marriage in decline in UK

Here's a recent report from the UK:

Marriage is on the rocks in Britain, with the proportion of unmarried people set to exceed that of married people within 25 years as more men and women opt to live together without constraints, according to government statistics published this week.

The proportion of married men is expected to fall from 53 percent in 2003 to 42 percent in 2031, while the percentage of married women will decline from 50 percent to 40 percent, Britain's Office for National Statistics predicted Thursday.

The "Population Trends" report predicted on the other hand that the number of unmarried couples living together will almost double from two million in 2003 to 3.8 million in 2031.

The projections are based on the recent steep fall in marriage rates for people aged under 30. As the older generation dies, a new generation of people who prefer living together to marriage will take their place.

My travels have not yet taken me to the UK, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I have difficulty seeing these trends as being good for children - or even for those who for the sake of freedom (is that their reason?) eschew marriage.

Marriage is hard work. Raising children is hard work. Both require self-denial. Both require delayed gratification, often for years - sometimes forever. Both are still worth doing.