Monday, June 20, 2005

What're you looking at?

From Egarwaen at Booman Tribune:


Evangelism, Southern Baptist Style

Agape Press reports on a speaker at the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville:
Baucham explained himself further. "What you do is like what we do in a courtroom; you [ask], 'Do we have any eyewitnesses? Do the eyewitnesses tell the same story?' Yep! 'Friday, dead -- Sunday, risen!'"

Baucham is co-author of a resolution that encourages Southern Baptist churches to investigate their local public school districts to determine if any homosexual influence exists. The resolution may come up for a vote on Wednesday during the SBC business meeting.

You let us know how this works out, okay?


Geekery upon geekery

This story has got it all, man: religion, pop science, historical intrigue...
The world's oldest monastery plans to use hi-tech cameras to shed new light on ancient Christian texts preserved for centuries within its fortress walls in the Sinai Desert.

Saint Catherine's Monastery hopes the technology will allow a fuller understanding of some of the world's earliest Christian texts, including pages from the Codex Sinaiticus -- the oldest surviving bible in the world.

The technique, known as hyperspectral imaging, will use a camera to photograph the parchments at different wavelengths of light, highlighting faded texts obscured by time and later overwritings.

It should allow scholars to understand corrections made to pages of the Greek Codex Sinaiticus, written between 330 and 350 and thought to be one of 50 copies of the scriptures commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine.

I'm drooling, I tells ya...


This is how I want to go

What a moron I've been. All these years, I thought it would be some kind of comfort to be buried. Seems I could have been ushered out of this world with a whole lot more class:

The ashes of a Lutheran pastor who was a fireworks enthusiast will be shot into the sky over Marine on St. Croix during the town's July 4th celebration.

The canister that will include the ashes of the Rev. Gordon Bergin will display gold crosses, a traditional part of the town's fireworks show.

Bergin, the longtime pastor of Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, died in February at age 93.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

  • For our fathers, who have given us life and love,
    that we may show them respect and love,
    let us pray*...

  • For fathers who have lost a child through death,
    that their faith may give them hope,
    and their family and friends support and console them,
    let us pray*...

  • For men, though without children of their own,
    who like fathers have nurtured and cared for us,
    let us pray*...

  • For fathers, who have been unable to be a source of strength,
    who have not responded to their children,
    who have not sustained their families,
    who have actually injured their families,
    let us pray*...

    God, in your wisdom and love you made all things.
    Bless these men, that they may be strengthened.
    Let them set an example of love and decency.

    Grant that we, their sons and daughters,
    may honor them always in word and deed.

*meditate, hold in good and active thought



Please tell me this is a joke. Please.
A Romanian Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the crucifixion of a young nun because she was "possessed by the devil," was unrepentant as he celebrated a funeral ceremony for his alleged victim.

"God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil," Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, told an AFP reporter before celebrating a short liturgy "for the soul of the deceased", in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion.

Oh, but that's not even the worst part. Here's the worst:
Vitalie Danciu, the superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the crucifixion "inexcusable," but a spokesman for the Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.

"I don't know what this young woman did," Bogdan Teleanu said.


Now Screening

Six counties around Waco, Texas are implementing a new mental health screening system:
The program is part of a statewide effort to ensure mentally ill people who end up behind bars receive appropriate treatment. That could entail anything from their receiving medication to making sure their mental illness is considered as a factor in prosecution.

The system is referred to as the CARE match program. CARE is the acronym the state uses for its Client Assignment & Registration System, which tracks people's involvement with the public mental health system.

CARE has been around for decades. What's new is that regional mental health centers are beginning to cross-reference the database with lists of people booked into jail. The idea is to take some of the guesswork out of identifying inmates with special needs.

In itself, not something that particularly raises an eyebrow. But then you read something like this:
A universal screening program that would identify children with behavioral disorders before age 5 is being prepared in the county as a way to head off severe mental health problems among school-aged children.

Nothing else has worked, said Kent Paxton, an official with San Bernardino County's Children's Network, an agency that helps at-risk youngsters.

Both of these initiatives could potentially help at-risk individuals receive mental health services sooner and more efficiently. But they could also lead to people being labeled and stigmatized--in the case of San Bernadino, at an age far too young to escape.

And I wonder about the kind of information being collected on people. Here in Lancaster, there's a computer system in place that allows the local homeless shelters to track individuals--whether or not they've been kicked out of another shelter in the past few days, what kinds of services they've been receiving through county-funded programs--and it's only a short step from there to including Mental Health/Mental Retardation data, or arrest warrants, for that matter.

And yeah, you've got to worry that what's driving these things is not concern for those in need of services, but money.


The Word For the Week

Matthew 10:24-39

Last fall, my wife and I got a phone call from the children's home where our goddaughter lives. An alumna of their program, a good friend of the goddaughter's, had died. Would we come to the memorial service?

We would have anyway, but it didn't hurt that the goddaughter was singing at the service.

And not just singing, but singing. We didn't know until the kid opened up her mouth that she was going to do an a cappella rendition of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." Wow! It wasn't technically perfect, but she sang it loud and clear. More important, she sang it with heart. There was no mistaking the message: His eye is on the sparrow, and so is mine.

I don't know how the kid made remembering a dead friend an act of defiance, but she did. Mrs. Pastor and I were dabbing away tears by the time she was done.

Remembering that story helps me put together the disparate parts of this morning's lesson. It's a collection of sayings stitched together to make a point, which is not unusual in the gospels. The first half of the reading is reassurance of God's love and protection; the second half an assurance that disciples are going to need that love and protection.

About that second half: it isn't so much that Jesus wants to run around blowing up families (quite a message for Father's Day). Instead, as one of my commentaries explains, disciples will inevitably have to make decisions about their priorities. To follow to Jesus' radical path leads inescapably to conflict, even within one's own family.

It's important to step back for a moment and remind ourselves that these words were not written for us. They were written for a group of people committed to beliefs that walked that fine line between "radical" and "insane." It was crazy--and contentious--enough to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. But on top of that, they added the completely insane idea that that reflected God's preference for the poor and dispossessed!

Early Christians, in other words, challenged the conventional wisdom in both religion and social priority. These folks were a menace to the status quo.

We can try to live out their faith, but I doubt we'll ever be pulled into the kind of conflict they must have experienced. Still, there are people who come close.

Norman Kansfield, for one:

SCHENECTADY, N.Y., June 17 - In the first trial of a minister in 100 years, the general assembly of the Reformed Church in America found Friday night that the Rev. Dr. Norman J. Kansfield, a leading Protestant theologian, had violated church law by officiating at the marriage of his daughter, Ann, to her partner, Jennifer Aull, a year ago.

The delegates also voted to suspend Dr. Kansfield, 65, from the ministry until he changes his views to fall in line with church doctrine, and to strip him of his standing as a professor of theology in the church.

Dr. Kansfield said the decision was "going to be very hard to deal with.

"My life," he said, "has been the ministry." But he was encouraged that at least one-third of the delegates - those who did not vote against him - were willing to consider a "far more open stance on the inclusion of gay people."

Dr. Kansfield's "family" here is not his own biological family, but the extended family of his church. One might fairly charge that he "loved his daughter more than Christ," but I don't believe so. Kansfield in fact acknowledged Christ before the world in testifying to his love and grace in uniting his daughter and her partner in a sacred bond.

You don't even have to claim that these two women face special challenges in the world, though of course they do. Any two lovers entering into matrimony face an uphill battle these days. Newlyweds are automatically qualified for sparrow status--especially, I think, when they get to their first arguments about who's going to balance the checkbook and who's going to make dinner after a long day at work.

My goddaughter would hate hearing this--she doesn't believe in same-sex marriage--but her example of fidelity, and Dr. Kansfield's, help to bolster my resolve when things get contentious. What she's too young to understand yet is how love for a friend or a family member is often a springboard for more abstract concern.

So it's her example, among others, that strengthens me when read about someone like Albert Mohler attacking the United Church of Christ again.

See, a few conservative churches in New Jersey have put up a resolution for the denomination's national gathering in July. It's a stalking horse; while on its face, there's nothing objectionable about it, if it is accepted, it will trap the denomination in the same kind of fundamentalist crap that overtook Mohler's Southern Baptist Convention twenty-five years ago. He says:

The resolution proceeds to remind the denomination that the UCC Constitution states that the body "claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers." Accordingly, the resolution "provides an opportunity for General Synod to unashamedly, unabashedly proclaim that the UCC is a Christian denomination where Jesus is Lord."

Believe it or not, the resolution has attracted significant opposition, and some observers do not expect it to pass. Consider this reaction from a New Jersey pastor: "Religiously speaking, it sounds like apple pie," commented Rev. Raymond Kostulias of the First Congregational Church of Park Ridge. Nevertheless, he's not a supporter of the statement. He described the resolution as having "a judgmental quality to it that implies very strongly that those who do not agree with us are condemned or damned or hopeless -- and that's exactly the thing that UCC is against."

Well, Rev. Kostulias, that's what the Apostles and the early chuch called the defining line between orthodoxy and heresy -- between genuine faith and a false gospel. A denomination that cannot stand together in affirming the Lordship and deity of Jesus Christ is a denomination that has set itself against Scripture and the faith of the Christian Church.

But as Chuck Currie explains,

Mohler's interpretation of the resolution is misleading. He bears false witness to the United Church of Christ. Why would we actually oppose such a resolution?

    The UCC respects freedom of individual conscience, and there are no "tests of faith" mandatory on our 1.4 million members, but we do honor the historic testimonies of our spiritual ancestors as they explored the Bible and applied its insights.

The resolution as worded would create a "test of faith" and in doing so would violate our church polity. In short, the resolution is an attempt (which I hope will fail) that seeks to make the UCC adopt a fundamentalist view of scripture that is common in Mohler's denomination. Click here to learn more.


The United Church of Christ is a denomination quite obviously committed to the Christian faith. We are not, however, a doctrinal church. Our members are not required to sign pledges that align us with one theological school or another. We trust our members to be faithful disciples and feel forcing dogma on them does nothing to further that discipleship. We put our faith in God before we put it in human tests of faith.

To which I can only add two things. First, that we also put our love in people before we put it in human tests of faith. Principles are no match in our church for the face of God in the face of a brother or sister.

Second, and more important, is this: in our very "Basis of Union," the agreement that brought the UCC into being, we declared that

denominations exist not for themselves but as parts of [the greater Church], within which each denomination is to live and labor and, if need be, die

It was originally meant as a commitment to the ecumenism that drove the formation of the UCC, but it is a reminder as well that the work we do is not our own, but Christ's.

And the last time I checked, Christ's eye was definitely on the sparrow, not theologically "sound" doctrine that happened to exclude whole categories of people from the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.

So it's the sparrows I'm willing to take up my cross for, for whom I would lose my life and would be glad to lose my denomination's. I owe it to my goddaughter, and the memory of her friend.

Screw orthodoxy.