Monday, November 24, 2008

paper-writing angst

Hopefully the angsty tone of this blog will recover shortly... but as it is I'm stuck in academia and I don't know how to get out.

I have to write a 15-page research paper on salvation in Matthew.
All my ideas are 45 pages long and have no relation to any scholars I could research.

THIS IS YOUR FAULT, GTU!!! because you taught me to think for myself. You taught me to look at texts and ask new questions that no one else answers - you taught me that I can find out answers - connect texts - comment - expand - dig - !!!
and then, what? you ask me to write a 15-page research paper?
Sorry, people. I'm like so totally beyond that.

(and the real problem is I don't have the time to write that 45 pager and condense it to 15. But in an ideal world that's what I'd do.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Church-going angst

I sat through church today thinking about how very, very, very differently I would have preached the sermon.
The double-weird aspect is that it was a guest preacher with whom i have zero relationship, and so I didn't feel like bringing up my issues with her. If it was My Pastor sure I would have just started discussing after.
Instead, I sat around bitter and thought about it.

The TEXT in QUESTION: Matthew 25: 31-46
The Theme: be a sheep, not a goat.
My Objection: Christians aren't the ones being judged here. We know we should be sheep. That's obvious - painfully obvious -- plain and simple. This text (and it's an apocalypse, not a parable) has more to say than "you need to be a better person, in all ways, at all times."
The Christians in this text are not the sheep, nor the goats. Those animals come from the "nations" (Gentiles) which in the holy gospel of St. Matthew get an identity that is distinct from the Christian community. The nations are, to summarize the matthean view crudely, the foreigners to whom the disciples ultimately will preach.

Where are the Christians in this text?
The Christians are the "least of these my brothers" (see 10:42).
They are the disciples, the missionaries sent out without bag or staff or sandals, who will be "hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison" I.E. THE ONES IN NEED! They are Christ's representatives who are cared for or rejected as Christ himself was welcomed, or rejected, in different places.
So the question here, in the original context as I imagine it, is "In the end, what happens to the people we encounter, who are not converted to Christianity?" which might be quite an important issue to a traveling missionary encountering disappointment as far as conversion goes.

How sad is it -- then --
if you're with me thus far --
how sad is it that we have taken a text that was about judging the non-Christian nations of the world,
and we Christians have become so complacent
that we have to direct it at ourselves?
We stopped being the "least of these, Christ's brothers [and sisters]" and over 2000 years transmuted to idly hoping we'll be sheep rather than goats.
we could be Christ to others. Not the generous benefactor of the poor -- we could be the poor!

Maybe it's just me... but "try harder! be nicer! be a sheep!" just isn't attractive. it hurts. stop stabbing me with obvious commands. I know I need to be better.
while on the other hand... "you represent Christ to the world -- especially in your weakness" is FULL OF LIFE!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Hi, folks, I wrote something. I'm happy about it. I love school. I love the fact that my job (such as it is) is to answer questions like "what is worship?" I wrote about that. It did not feel like work. What joy, what joy... perhaps i'll be a professional academician when I grow up. Yes, academician is a word.

here 'tis.

What is worship?
Worship is our intentional participation in the work and the glory of God. To that end, anything we do to bring our lives under the direction of God can be worship, and any work that is not antithetical to the purposes of God in this world can be worship. God’s purposes are worked out in many ways, in concert with or in prophetic opposition to larger movements of politics or culture in which we participate. Any work in which we further God’s many purposes is the work of God. God’s glory is likewise all-pervasive and can be found in many guises. We participate in this in many ways: from confessing our sin that our worldview may come into closer alignment with God’s, to receiving Eucharist that God’s grace may be grown within us, to saying or singing words of joyful praise. God can be glorified in a whole range of ways.
Intentionality, however, makes the difference between worship and the rest of life. God’s purposes have been worked by nonbelievers ever since the days of Cyrus (Is. 45:1-5), but the intentions of the worker turn it from labor to worship. God is glorified in nature and the whole created realm without our help, but with our words of acknowledgment we become worshippers, as spectators become participants.
A worship service is a gathering of the faithful, at which hearts are tuned toward this intentional participation, and where the work and glory of God is rehearsed, encouraged, and strengthened. Intentionality begins in the simple action of attending corporate worship services. Our arrival together should demarcate a qualitatively different mindset from the other hours of the day or week. For some participants this may be the most intentional element of worship so far. The goal, however, is that the first step of “showing up” is but one of a long series of conversions, in which our whole selves are turned toward the work and the glory of God. We may experience these conversions through intellectual assent to elements of the service, through our mystical co-operation in the glorification of God, and through concrete decisions that are birthed in us through our time together.

My Theology of Worship:
The central purpose of worship, in my practice, is to strengthen us for mission. Here I draw from the Invitation To Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission which the PC(USA) adopted at the 218th General Assembly in 2008: “We recognize that God calls us to mission that is grounded in confession of our sins, grows out of a life of prayer and is sustained in worship.” Worship is our sustenance, that is, our food and drink, and our grounding in reality. Without worship we can scarcely “do” mission.
Mission is one of the primary functions of the church. If the church has no mission into the world, it turns into a group of navel-gazers – and we can scarcely blame those outside the walls of the church who complain about this. More tragic than that, though, is the missed opportunity for God to empower us, transform us, and work in the world through us. It is not just our mission field that suffers if we neglect mission, nor even the liveliness of our church, but our own lives that are impoverished by this neglect. Worship must move beyond the walls of the sanctuary in order for us to know and experience the fullness of God’s healing, empowerment, and gracious action in the world.
Just as mission has its roots in worship, corporate worship has roots in personal prayer. Worship is rich if it is full of pray-ers, people who are accustomed to focusing their attention on God. If the congregation is active beyond a pastor’s wildest dreams, with more programs than there are days in the week, yet does not pray, it is lacking. There is a danger of emptiness in its spiritual life, and a real risk of burnout.
Biblical stories instructive to this kind of worship are as varied as our mission practices. Prophetic texts instruct social justice; the Exodus instructs spiritual and physical freedom from bondage; many healing stories instruct medical mission as well as counseling practices; Matthew and James instruct charitable service; the kenosis hymn of Phillippians 2 checks our pride. All of these viewpoints come together to inspire, support, and correct our work. But we must also be fed for our work by the Eucharist, and by unrestricted praise of God. The deep and primal praise of God the creator, such as is found in the last five chapters of Psalms, can calm our striving and keep our feet on the ground to drink from the fountain of God’s goodness.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

St Andrew Presbyterian

Today at church... we began with the African-American National Anthem, and drumming, and no small bit of whooping and hollering at the line "let us march on 'til victory is won."

[what is victory? The question was asked also by the choir director who sang a passionate solo to the theme of "the Cross is my Statue of Liberty" which got the presidential seat off its pedestal]

We ended in a circle singing "We shall overcome" like it has been done in the past. Today we have some octogenarian african-american grandmothers, and some small mixed-race children with funny names, and more Asian folk than previously, and enough of us white people. When we sang the verse "black and white together" it didn't quite encompass us all in our various shades, but that's okay.

lift ev'ry voice and sing
'til earth and heaven ring
ring with the harmony of liberty
let our rejoicing rise
high as the list'ning skies
let it resound loud as the rolling sea

this is my favorite verse:
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
led us into the light
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
shadowed beneath Thy hand
may we forever stand
true to our God, true to our native land!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


It seems god DOES want me to go to an internship in podunk-ville, Oregon. Actually it's called Lostine, like a saltine that got lost, and the town is about two inches long. There is a church (est 1888), a general store (est 1907), and a tavern and a coffeeshop, and a few other things. No traffic light... in fact the entire Wallowa County lacks traffic lights completely.

So, I'll be blogging more often, and you will write me more, because I'm going to be very very far away from all of you. I'm really good at blogging when I'm a stranger somewhere. The Prague Blog in 2003 was a big hit, apparently... or at least my grandma SAID all her retirement home friends loved it when she read it aloud to them... The Uganda blog was well-read in 2005, and we even had a website hit counter to prove it by then. But I don't mean that popularity counts. What I mean is that when I don't have real live peers with whom I have long-standing connections living all around me, I use that energy to compose blog posts, and somehow it's satisfying.

Maybe I'll even start winding up now. Tell you about the preparations (I'll need a Serious Jacket, and a car, with snow tires and deer whistles on it) and otherwise distract myself from everyday life at seminary... we'll see.

Anyway, there are several attractions to this internship that really outweigh the risk factor of hitting deer on the road. It's a very flexible position, and I will be creating things most of the time. I will get to garden with developmentally disabled folks as part of a local mission project. Organic garden no less! I get half a dozen teenage girls to pastor at youth group, and they already starting spilling their hearts open to me. There is an apple tree outside and a wood stove inside my house (that's right, I get to stay in the parsonage -- the "real" pastor lives elsewhere). The congregation seems to enjoy a mixed bag of all kinds of musical/liturgical/improvisatory worship styles on Sunday morning, and they sing from their guts. There are cute children, too. And sheep nearby. And among the congregants, diversity of theological opinions with little tension and no fighting about it.
dude, i'm so there. And SO prepared for culture shock! The entire population of this town could probably fit on a small portion of my block back in NYC (which has four traffic lights if you count all the corners).

PS also a natural food store staffed by genuine bearded hippies! Never fear -- I will not have to eat deer all winter long -- I can buy tofu without driving a million miles!

Starting: January sometime. shiver me timbers.