Friday, November 22, 2002

You probably won't see much in this space for the next week to 10 days. My family and I will by travelling to Syracuse, NY for Thanksgiving. If I have a free moment on the computer, I'll blog from my in-laws house. For my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! And for all...may God bless you.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I told my pastor yesterday about the plans my wife and I have been formulating to move. It was a bit earlier than I planned, simply because there are still some details that we need to work out, and there's a chance the whole move could fall through. I think the chance is remote, but it's still possible. It's also the middle of a stressful budget period in our church and--with Advent just around the corner--a busy worship time as well. But I felt I had to tell him because he sent me an email on Tuesday saying that several people had mentioned that I would be a good fit for a new Stephen Ministry program we are starting at church. I felt it would be rude to ignore such a kind email, and I didn't want to mislead him intentionally, so I told him our plans.

He was very gracious, as I expected he would be. He said that the sorrow he would feel at losing my leadership and friendship (I hope it doesn't come to that!) would be balanced by the joy he would feel for my family. I realized in telling him that more than just Stephen Ministry would be complicated by our move: I'll have to leavemy covenant discipleship group; my explorations into ministry will be delayed; I'll need to help identify a new chair for the Outreach committee; and I'll be leaving my Sunday school class 2/3 of the way through the year. All those things make me a little sad, but I am still excited about the opportunity. And I know that the Spirit will guide me where I should go--whether it be ministry or continued lay leadership--and that God wouldn't be opening these doors if it were going to cause me to stray from the Way. No, the path will still be there for me, and I'll just need to find it and follow it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

On Sunday, my newly-forming Covenant Discipleship group met again. We were back to discussing acts of compassion and acts of devotion. After we had met 2 weeks ago, I noted that we had some problems getting concrete on acts of compassion. This week we had more success. One of the women in the group brought up the idea of "listening as a ministry of Grace." That is one of the examples from the guide book. After discussing it, we thought we'd like to make it more measurable as in "At least once a week I will strive to practice listening as a ministry of Grace to a person in need." I then brought up an idea we had talked about 2 weeks previous: our congregation has a large number of elderly members and many are homebound. We also have a growing membership that consists of single parents. Often (for different reasons), these people find themselves separated from the church for a period of time. We thought it might be a good idea to have a covenant that says something like "I will communicate with one person isolated from our church community per week to let them know we are thinking and praying for them." That communication could be a note, a vist, an email, a phone call, a delivered meal, whatever. I think both of these are good potential clauses, but I think the next time we discuss the topic I will push us to include something that isn't so insular to our congregation. I firmly believe we need to perform acts of compassion in the congregation, but I also know there is a great need outside the congregation as well.

Our discussion on acts of devotion revolved around prayer and scripture reading. It seems likely that we will include some clause that asks us to pray daily by name for the people in the CD group and on the church's prayer list. I also think we'll include something about daily devotional reading, which would be separate from Bible readings that are done to prepare for a Sunday School class (or a seminary class, for our leader). There is still good support for including healthy living as an act of devotion, and I'm sure that will make it into our covenant.

I have to miss the next couple meetings as I'll be travelling for the holiday, but I'm looking forward to the process of polishing off the covenant. I expect by the beginning of the year, we will have a covenantal set of New Years' resolutions.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Last night, my family and I slept in a hotel. Why? Our furnace isn't working. I'm pretty easy going and usually take these things in stride, but this has me angry. Again, why? Because I just put had a brand new furnace installed 4 MONTHS AGO!

Monday, November 18, 2002

This Sunday, my youth Sunday School class discussed Zacchaeus. It was one of those times where I learned by teaching, but I was also left with a question with which I thought some people might be able to help me.

At one point in the class, my co-teacher asked the kids a good question: "What are some modern examples of people like Zacchaeus?" We got a couple of answers I thought were pretty astute; people like Ken Lay and Bill Clinton. So I asked the students if they thought that Jesus would invite himself into the homes of a Lay or a Clinton. It was at this moment that I thought of something I hadn't before. Jesus annoys the crowd because he invites himself into the home of a sinner and (to their minds) a traitor (Zacchaeus was a tax collector). He also probably invited himself into the most luxurious house in Jericho. I wonder if the crowd grumbled about that too; this is one of the few times Jesus chose to be with the rich instead of the destitute, and I bet some in the crowd resented him for it.

But that wasn't the crux of our discussion. The students thought about my question and said, "No." They didn't think Jesus would choose to go to the house of Bill Clinton or Ken Lay unless they sincerely repented of what they had done. I tried to get them to see that in this story (as in others), Jesus first reaches out to a sinner and then Zacchaeus vows to change his ways. I'm not sure they got it. And here is my predicament. At what point should I "preach" at them, talk to them about prevenient Grace and show them what I believe to be the "correct" answer to my question? Do I just allow them to discover on their own, but then perhaps fall into error? My instincts as a Christian were to push them toward an orthodox reading of the passage; my instincts as a teacher were to allow them to stumble a bit in hopes that they will later learn good interpretive skills on their own. Has anyone ever been in a similar situation? How did you react, and would you now handle it differently? I'd really like to know, as I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll find myself in this situation.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

This weekend, I finished reading Tennyson's Selected Poetry. At the outset, I wasn't really expecting to like his poetry and picked it up only to fill that gap in my reading. I did hope I'd find enjoyment in his work. On the plus side, Eliot's comment that Tennyson had one of the best ears in poetry gave me hope; on the debit side, my experience with poets who write mostly long poems has shown that the work is very uneven in quality (witness Robert Browning). So it was with that mindset that I stated Tennyson.

I was pleasantly surprised. Tennyson was more to my taste than I expected. His work is of uneven quality, but Eliot (as usual) is correct, and he did write some of the loveliest lines of English poetry. My biggest surprise was the love I now feel for "In Memoriam A.H.H." I quoted one section on 10/30, but there were several sections by which I was equally moved. Given my preference for the lyric over the narrative poem in general, it is not surprising that this long poem--made up of a series of lyrical sections--is my favorite of this selection.

I'm not sure what my next poetry selection will be. I'll mull it over and add it to my reading list at the bottom of the left column.

Friday, November 15, 2002

After our visit to family, I posted (on 11/11) about the sense of change in our lives. My wife and I really feel pulled to make some changes that will get us closer to family and give us more time with our children. We've made some real strides in that direction, so don't be surprised if I'm soon asking your prayers in helping us to find a new place to live.

Instead, today, I'm asking your prayers for my 3 year old son. He's been sick with a cold this week, and I just ask the Lord to bring him back to full health soon. I have to admit, though, that he is a great patient--much better than I--and puts up not only with feeling bad but with mom and dad's constant meddling. A friend of his has a birthday party this weekend, and I know he really wants to go--he misses playing with his friends (and they miss him; one of his friend's mother called last night because her daughter was worried about him!), so I hope he is feeling better by Sunday.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Am I the only one who thinks blogs4God has lost its focus?

Don't get me wrong, I still think it is a good resource. I'm just not sure how much different it is from other metablogs out there in the blogosphere. It seems to me that if it wants to be "a semi-definitive list of Christian blogs" then the writeups that occupy the main page should regularly focus on Christianity. That doesn't seem to be the case.

For example, open the page in a new window and use your browser's "Find" feature to search for a few words. Search for "Jesus." It will come up a couple dozen times, but all but one of those is within a reprint of an article on evangelizing to Jehovah's Witnesses. That is a worthwhile article, and I'm glad they printed it. But there are a weeks worth of writeups on the home page, and there is only 1 other place where Jesus is mentioned (and that is for Jesus Action Figures?!). Do some other searches: "God," "Lord," "Bible" and see how few times these words appear.

Even just reading over the entries, I'm often surprised at how many are not about Christian or Theological concepts. Of course the amount of Christian content depends on the categories; Polity and Ministries tend to be more heavily focussed on Christian topics than Tech. It's the Pundit category that has me most stumped. There are countless issues that could--and are--addressed from a Christian point of view. It seems to me, though, that those topics and that point of view are often slighted, or perhaps more accurately, the topics aren't addressed in a way that is distinct from a secular (usually Conservative) approach to them.

Take, for example, Joshua Clayborn's recent parable. It's about taxes. Now Christ has something to say about taxes (not much, but he does address it), but you can't see that in the parable. In fact, there is nothing at all about Christianity in the parable that I can detect. It's just a secular look at taxes. If a person who was seeking direction, maybe even seeking Christ, and they came to blogs4God and read that parable, what would they learn about the Kingdom of God? How much more effective could that parable have been if--after making the political point he wanted to make--he added just a bit more:
The next night the 10 men came in and sat down at their accustomed table. The waiter came to the table but instead of bringing them their normal meal, he brought only bread and wine. The men grumbled at first, but they ate. When they were done, they felt more fulfilled than they had ever felt after eating. They basked in the pleasure of the meal until the bill arrived. They past it around and stared at it in stunned silence. The price had gone up. More than that, the price was now higher than they could ever hope to pay. If each of them gave all they earned for all their lives, they wouldn't be able to cover a fraction of the bill. They went as a group to the cashier to complain. The cashier took the check and entered it into her computer. The men were even more stunned as the "balance due" appeared on the screen and said $0.00. "Your bill," she said simply, "has been paid."
Maybe I'm making too much of this, but I really believe that blogs4God could be a powerful witness to the Gospel on the web. But not if the Gospel isn't on display there on a regular basis.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

I picked up a packet of cards with scripture to memorize, and the one I started today is 2 Tim 3:16, which in the RSV is "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". That is how I remembered the verse, but the cards I am using are based on the NIV, and they translate "inspired" as "God breathed." So I went to the Greek Lexicon on Crosswalk.com and found that the original Greek word is "Theopneustos" and it occurs only in this context. Breaking it down, the word is a compound of "Theo" (God, as in "theology") and "pneustos" which comes from the root word meaning to blow or to breath. So the NIV is more literal--and more awkward from a stylistic point of view. So the part of me that wants scripture to sound good in English likes the RSV, but the part that wants it to be as accurate as possible prefers the NIV. I got to wondering, though, if there is significance in saying that something is "God breathed" rather than "inspired by God" for the lay reader. Does the former make God seem more active in the composition of the scriptures than the latter? It does to my ear, at least a little. Do the connotations that come from other compositions--particularly creative/poetic compositions--taint our understanding of the word "inspire"? Do any of you have a favorite translation, and if so, why do you like it?

Also, I want to wish my mother and my nephew a happy birthday. May they both be blessed with many more!

Monday, November 11, 2002

We got back mid-day today from our trip to visit family. Like most such visits, we ended up by re-evaluating our situation. Would we be better off moving back to my hometown where we would be near family support? Where we could provide aid to my aging parents? Should we leave the "rat race" of Northern Virginia and design our lives around more normal schedules?

These are the questions we ask often after such trips, and there are no easy answers for us. These questions are tied up with others, of course. Such a move would put us farther from my wife's family: is that fair? How would such a move affect my sense of calling, particularly since there are no UMC seminaries in the area? Whould I be willing to go to a different denomination's seminary? What about all the effort my wife has put into her career and contacts in this area? What if she can't find as fulfilling a career in a smaller city?

But these are worthwhile questions to ask and to attempt to answer. We are looking at possibilities to take us in that direction. If that's the direction the Lord wants us to head, then I'm sure we'll find open doors and marked paths as we explore.

Friday, November 08, 2002

It may be quiet here the next few days...We're going away for the weekend to visit family. Please pray for travelers around the country that they may all arrive safely at their destinations.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

I just joined a group called BFB_Readers. The "BFB" stands for "Big Fat Books" which they define as books over 600 pages. I doubt I have enough reading time to take part in all their discussions, but hopefully I'll be able to tackle a few. They are currently reading Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas (the sequel to The Three Muskateers), but I wont be taking part in that discussion. I have, though, put in a nomination for the December book: Anna Karenina.

I've chosen to read a BFB that is less canonical, but I was in for some fluff: The Dragon Reborn, by Robert Jordan. It's book 3 of the "Wheel of Time" decalogue.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

I finished reading Jane Austen's Emma this morning (If you haven't read it and plan to, stop reading because I am taking no pains to avoid spoilers). Like pretty much everything Austen wrote, it's wonderful. It's also a pretty brave work, artistically. Austen was reported to have said that Emma was a heroine few people but her would like. I can't speak for others, but I have to admit I didn't find Emma endearing. Through most of the book she is meddling, haughty, and (as often as not) wrong in her surmises. At the end, when all the loose ends are neatly (a bit too neatly) tied up, she is no more endearing as reformed, ready-to-be-docile wife. All in all, she isn't much different from the inelegant Mrs. Elton, but whereas Mrs. Elton presumes too much based on her "connections," Emma presumes too much based on her status.

What is so interesting, though, is that the characters that begin the novel as seeming the silliest--Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates in particular--end up as being the touchstones for proper action by the end. Oh, of course, Mr. Knightley is there all along as the wall of virtue and manners, but he seems to lack the sincere concern and love that Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse feel for those close to them. Emma is only able to value her father properly--and perhaps too properly as her (clearly false) resolve never to marry is based solely on his aversion to it. Her humiliation of Miss Bates on Box Hill is one of the key moments of the novel, where Emma finally sees how deeply flawed she can act.

For all her introspection, Emma is a relatively poor judge of others and no better than a middling judge of herself. If she were wrong all the time, she would be no better than a comic figure, but Austen makes her just right enough that I often felt I was reading a mystery. At times, I was certain Emma was misreading a situation and delighted in the irony; at other times I was nearly as surprised as Emma by an event, and so I delighted in the catharsis of discovery. The construction and revelation of the plot is breathtaking--superior in my mind to Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice--and the irony and wit of the novel is every bit as strong as Austen's best works. Overall, I would say this novel is second only to Persuasion in Austen's oeuvre, but since Mansfield Park is still in my TBR pile, I'll have to withold final judgement until I get around to reading that one.

Next on my list is...I'm not sure. I'm leaning toward something completely different. Maybe a sci-fi/fantasy novel.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

During my morning devotion, I read Psalm 65. It seems wonderfully appropriate to the season:
Praise is due to thee, O God, in Zion; and to thee shall vows be performed, O thou who hearest prayer! To thee shall all flesh come on account of sins. When our transgressions prevail over us, thou dost forgive them. Blessed is he whom thou dost choose and bring near, to dwell in thy courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, thy holy temple! By dread deeds thou dost answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation, who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas; who by thy strength hast established the mountains, being girded with might; who dost still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples; so that those who dwell at earth's farthest bounds are afraid at thy signs; thou makest the outgoings of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it; the river of God is full of water; thou providest their grain, for so thou hast prepared it. Thou waterest its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. Thou crownest the year with thy bounty; the tracks of thy chariot drip with fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Last night we had the second meeting of our Covenant Discipleship group. It looks like we'll have 5 or 6 members, though so far only the organizer and I have made both meetings. None of the people who have come so far are people I know well in the church, so I'm looking forward to expanding my fellowship.

In our meeting yesterday, we began looking at the elements of the covenant we want to include. In the Methodist model, there are 4 areas in which the group makes covenants: Acts of Compassion, Acts of Devotion, Acts of Justice and Acts of Worship. We began discussing the first two. We had a bit of trouble with Acts of Compassion because the samples we had either seemed hopelessly broad ("I will help those in need in every way possible") or so narrowly constructed as to not allow much room for the promptings of the spirit ("I will spend 1 hour each week helping the homeless"). We are all going to pray this week and see if we can't make some progress on that one. I am thinking of three possibilities as suggestion points. We had more success in discussing Acts of Devotion. It is pretty clear that everyone wants to have a clause that holds us accountable for (as Paul puts it) "offering our bodies as a living sacrifice" and living a healthy life. We all see it as a challenge, but as something that will contribute to our devotional life. We also all want to include something on daily bible reading and devotions. I am pretty good at this already, so I would want to be held accountable for how well I focus on those activities, not just how well I perform them.

Next week, we'll pick up with Acts of Justice and Acts of Worship. It will probably be December before we have an entire covenant worked out, but I think it is worthwhile to put in the effort up front. If anyone has experience with accountability groups like this, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Tonight, we were going to go to dinner with some friends from church. And then...

Friday, November 01, 2002

For reasons I don't quite understand, Christians today seem much more interested in Halloween than the day that follows, All Saints' Day. I'm not just talking about celebrating it with kids, handing out candy and dressing up in costumes (I was traipsing around the neighborhood dressed as Winnie the Pooh last night, and my sons were both dressed as Tigger), because I don't know that Christians are any more interested in this facet of Halloween than anyone else. There is a sizeable group of Christians--though I believe it's a minority--who expend quite a bit of thought and energy on condemning Halloween.

I'm not condemning those people, but I'm also not that interested in the arguments. You see, I would rather focus my positive energies on All Saints' Day. There have been many wonderful things that have happened on All Saints--Michelangelo unveiled the Cistine Chapel, for instance--but more importantly, it is a time to praise God for the preservation of the saints throughout history. At my church, we will use this Sunday to remember and celebrate the lives all those who have passed away in the last 12 months.

I hope all of you have a blessed All Saints' Day and a wonderful weekend as well.

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