Aug 30, 2016

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I am a white, straight, male pastor in the United Church of Christ. From 2008-2014 I was the only one in the entire state of Utah. All the other UCC pastors were female, minority or LGBTQ. Among UCC ministers it is not unusual that the white, straight, male is the odd one out and I enjoy the ride very much. If you are uncomfortable by now, you know I am writing this for you. The important issue of skin-color and race I will have to address another time. Lately I have had multiple people ask me about “the gay question”. Sometimes it’s worded, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”

My initial reaction is usually: “The Bible” doesn’t say anything. Because the Bible is not a book but an entire library with dozens of books in it. They were written over the course of 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The Bible has contributions from nomadic peasants and highly educated scholars. There is no way they all can possible give one and the same answer to a single question.

Overall biblical authors are not very interested in questions of homosexuality. There are a few examples that are told in a matter-of-fact way without raising an eyebrow: King David addresses his lover Jonathan saying, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26) The author of the Gospel of John tells of his affection for Jesus, “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him.” (John 13:23) Yes, the Bible tells stories of men loving men without question.

Then there are negative voices from times when God’s people were under attack. The Holiness Code commands, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) And the Apostle Paul mourns, “And in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
The Holiness Code was written by priests who were deported during the Babylonian Exile. God’s people were afraid they couldn’t keep their cultural identity alive. It is during this period that circumcision and the Sabbath become identifiers of the Jewish people. Deviation from the norm seemed scary because those were anxious times. Similarly, when the earlier church was a minority in the largely hostile Roman Empire, Paul warned to not live like the Romans. Instead he asked the early Christians to remain distinct in their practices.

Today in North America God’s people are not under attack. We are not in a situation where we need to be afraid of the culture that surrounds us. We don’t have to hide our worship services in the Roman catacombs but can be open about our Christian faith. We don’t have to develop a rigid corporate identity because religious freedom is protected. Literally hundreds of times the Bible says: “Do not be afraid”. The Bible says that we need to tell stories of all kinds of love and celebrate them.

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Aug 27, 2016

How to add your NFL team’s schedule to Google Calendar

I like both the Houston Texans and the Google Calendar. Here is how I bring them together:

First: Grab the URL of your team’s 2016 schedule. The Houston Texans offer theirs for download here.

Second: Follow these simple instructions to import the whole thing into your Google Calendar:
add calendar

Aug 26, 2016

This election cycle is divisive


As a person who wasn’t raised speaking English I find great pleasure in digging deeply into linguistic details. This election cycle one word comes to mind:
DIVISIVE
Isn’t it amazing how the question of how to pronounce it can actually be a textbook case for its application? As usual, there is no clear-cut answer as Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman show so eloquently.

Aug 23, 2016

Three Ways That College Freshmen Do Faith Differently

At the beginning of a new school year Beloit College publishes a Zeitgeist list. The incoming class will graduate in 2020. They are mostly 18 and were born in 1998. On the 2020 Mindset List that makes them stand out in significant ways. As a pastor the following three points stand out from the original sixty:

8. Cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure.
Dolly_face_closeup
I remember back in the 90’s cloning felt like rocket science. When sheep Dolly was cloned the whole world seem to shift. Anything was possible now. As revolutionary as advances may have seemed, the reality is much less grandiose. The Clone Wars that eventually lead to Star Wars remain science fiction. Medical advances based on cloning a real and save lives every day though. Young people entering college this fall have never lived in a world without cloning technologies. The ethical questions surrounding human reproduction remain complicated. But for the most part cloning has been unquestioned mainstream practice their whole lives. There is nothing scary about reviving endangered or extinct species – unless of course our Jurassic Park fears from the 90’s are revived as well.

15. They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time.
On-Demand
I am old enough to remember that you had to go the the living room at a set time and sit down and watch a program that was running at that point in time. If you are entering college this fall, this was not necessarily the case. This generation could always stream or DVR whatever they wanted to watch. Everything is on demand. For one reason or another the church still thinks it is wise to make everybody sit down in the pew at the same time and share an experience in the same space. With school being mostly online these days, church and movie theater are about the only places you have to attend on a schedule. That is a very high expectation.

24. Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
justification
Radicals have always used nuances of their believes to fight each other. The great in-fight of Christianity started in 1517 with the beginning of the Reformation and ended in 1999 with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Since then there has been permanent peace between the two major branches of the church universal. New college students have never known a world where Christians had major disagreements on how God’s love reconciles us. They are not old enough to remember that warring fractions wanted to be better than the church next door. In their world it makes no sense that people would kill each other over issues of faith. And they are right about that: Persons of all faiths want to live in a peaceful world. Religion that focuses on being different from or better than another does not make sense.

Aug 9, 2016

Who is in charge of preaching?

UCC_CALENDAR_2016-17_Cover_FINAL_3_grande
Our congregation just had a meeting where the entire membership approved financial reports. That’s the way we conduct ourselves as a church. There is no higher authority than the gathered congregation. Did you know that that is true particularly as it comes to preaching? Here is how that works: The congregation builds its own pulpit. Then they hire a pastor and she or he is then in charge of preparing and delivering sermons on behalf of the congregation.

Who decides what is preached every Sunday?
In too many churches pastors decide what they want to preach about. That way you usually end up with her or his favorite passages and topics. Or they are trying to please their church but telling them what they want to hear. As a liturgical church we follow the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides the biblical readings for each Sunday and Holiday. In most mainline Protestant churches you will hear a sermon on the same passages of Scripture on the same Sunday. When you are travelling or moving you fit right in and can pick up where you left off.

With the new school year right around the corner I want to bring these two strengths of our tradition together: On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 pm our Bible Study group will be discussing the lectionary texts for one of the following Sundays. Everyone is welcome! Just because you are reading this invitation here today you are qualified. It means you care about what is going on at the church. That also makes you responsible for its preaching. So please join the conversation. It all starts on August 23 at 6pm.

Aug 4, 2016

The Labyrinth – A Spiritual Rock Drill

Next semester my Doctor of Ministry class will go on a silent retreat. Sometimes a labyrinth is part of the experience. I first learned to appreciate the practice of walking a labyrinth at La Foret. From there I have taken it on the road and set one up for my Soldiers wherever I can.

Here is a photo from last year’s annual training along with the meditation guide I provide:
labyrinth
A labyrinth is not a maze. It has one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost in it. There are no dead ends. It is a symbol for life: It may seem chaotic but it moves forward steadily.
As you enter please imagine how you are descending into darkness. A labyrinth has dungeon qualities to it. Ancient cultures have imagined all kinds of creatures in those caverns. It can be a dangerous and deadly place.
Just like the path of life leads to death so is your way into the labyrinth. As you step in you step from light into darkness. The light fades away more and more the deeper you get into it. As you enter please imagine your journey as the challenges and hardships you face in life: the turns you are forced to make, the dirt you have to walk through.
A labyrinth has a center. Once you are in the center stay there for a while. Rest. Celebrate your arrival. You made it through all of life’s troubles. If you are religious person consider this the end state of your existence whether you call it heaven or Nirvana or however you name it. Maybe for you it’s just the great emptiness.
When you are ready make your way out again. Take with you the strength of having been there before. As you walk out remember how you overcame all those troubles. After all you are walking back towards the light. Find signs of hope along your journey. Remember resources for personal strength that you can tap into. From my Christian perspective I call this part resurrection life. Out of death back to life. From darkness back to the light.
This is a spiritual exercise. If you have an urge to walk really fast get some physical exercise first and come back when you are ready to walk slowly. This exercise works best in total silence. If that does not work for you right now please come back when it does. Find your own pace. Some of the images that may pop up along the journey may make you slow down, some may make you want to speed up and run away. Find your own pace, yet be mindful of others.

Aug 4, 2016

Who Moved My Cheese?


Hem and Haw found their cheese in a prayer that they said every day, in the same fashion, in the same posture. Eventually they did no longer find what they were looking for in that ritual. I don’t think the Lord’s Prayer is like Cheese Station C that ran out of cheese. I think the Lord’s Prayer is like the maze that contains many different Cheese Stations. If it does not nourish you right now it is time for you to change. It is time to get your running shoes on and go deeper into the words and that may bring them back to life.

Aug 1, 2016

Feedly brings me back to blogging

I first started my blog in 2004. It was messy in the beginning. 2005 through 2013 were the happiest days of my blogging life. During that period Google provided the Google Reader. With that tool I could easily manage my blog subscriptions and follow whom and what I wanted to read. Since 2013 I have practically abandoned traditional blogging. I have pretty much transitioned to using WordPress as a Content Management System. Blogs have made a comeback for me recently with new alternatives to the Google Reader.

feedly
A good Blogger is a good Blog reader. Before you write you should read – a lot. Thanks to feedly there is again a convenient tool to manage your subscriptions. Now I am free to subscribe to things and persons that matter to me. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate what friends, colleagues and acquaintances share on Facebook or twitter but in my feedly I am in the driver seat and make my own decision on what I want to read.

Now how do you find stuff that interests you? – I am a theologian so I am looking for theological blogs.
Start with what you already read and know:
My church – New Sacred – A United Church of Christ blog
My school – The Houston Graduate School of Theology Blog
A trusted major online publication – The Religion Section of the Huffington Post

Second, find best-of-lists or directories that showcase expertise in your field. An initial search gave me:
Feedspot’s Top 100 Christian Blogs
and
blogrank’s Top 50 Religion blogs

Third, add blogs of people you know and want to follow like this one.

Jul 25, 2016

Run for the White House 2016

fort bend votes
Have you seen enough Convention coverage yet? Well, here’s part of a speech that you could have heard today, or was it at last week’s convention?

“Welcome to our convention!
If this party wins the White House come November we will be in good shape. In recent years the other party has hurt hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans by clinging to their ideology.
Can you imagine what America would look like if our party held the presidency? We would be able to set things right so that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean something.
Do you remember when the other party was not as nasty in their attacks on us as they are these days? It was a more civil America, where reasoning counted for something. Comprise was not a bad word but the way of getting things done. Now they are so dug into their trenches that you can barely talk to them.
What kind of America do you want? One where our ideals are upheld or one where they have the last word? With one of our own in the White House America has always been better off. The other party has consistently hurt us in the long run. Generations after generations suffer from the hurtful policies they put in place.”

What matters for us as Christians is what policies best reflect kingdom come! If Jesus were to come back today, what kind of America do you want him to find? One where God’s love is lived out or one where political ideologies rule the day? As Christians we cannot be strict followers of one ideology or another. We can only seek the best human equivalent of God’s intention. And parts of that will be found on both sides of the aisle. None of them are a perfect match of heaven. Politics is a human endeavor. As such it is flawed. But it is necessary to seek the best solution. The key is participation in the process.

We can do this! But it takes your vote. Make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure your friends, neighbors and coworkers are registered to vote. If you are not sure you can search for yourself and everybody else in the Fort Bend County Voter Registration Database. If you have a relative or acquaintance who is not listed in that database by October 11, 2016, they won’t be able to vote come November. Now go and do what is most reflective of God’s love to the best of your flawed human knowledge!

Jul 20, 2016

Shooting for the stars

swissarmyknife
This is my Swiss Army Knife. There are many like it but this is mine. It says Porsche on one side because the car dealership my dad used to work for sold cars of that make. Also it has a bad dent in it so I can’t get the toothpick out anymore. I have had it for most of my life and that’s what happens. Along life’s journey we get dinged and bruised and move on regardless. This is my Swiss Army Knife.

baldrin_marquee
This is Apollo 11. Around this time of year in 1969 they took off to humanity’s first mission to the moon. They had with them all the tools they needed to be successful. Buzz Aldrin even brought along a communion set and celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the Moon. What tools would you need to sustain yourself spiritually for a trip to the moon? What skills would you need to stay in touch with the Divine if you were to spend a whole year on the International Space Station like Scott Kelly did from 2015 until 2016? Going forward this question will only grow bigger: What source of strength do you find in yourself that keeps you sane on a one-way trip to Mars?

Most of us don’t have to plan for extended trips to space. But the question remains: What tools do you need in your pocket to make it through the day? What kind of spiritual Swiss Army Knife do you need in your heart and mind?

For a long time Christians have found it helpful to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. I think of it as the long blade of my spiritual Swiss Army Knife. I can carry it with me wherever I am on life’s journey. It is helpful in many different situations. But then it’s only one piece of equipment among many others that I need in order to make it through the day or all the way to Mars.

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