Monday, April 28, 2008

Stocking Walleyes, Homosexuality, Pauline Letters and the Church

The walleye is Minnesota's state fish. It's also Minnesota's sacred cow.... um, well fish. Each year the Minnesota D.N.R. raises and stocks millions of walleye fry or larvae and nearly 200,000 lbs of various sized fingerlings and adults. All of this is to support a fishery that can't support itself naturally ......... or maybe not. For nearly 35 years, studies from all over North America have demonstrated that stocking walleye has little influence on populations. There are of course exceptions, but as a rule, dumping 500 walleye fingerlings into "Fish Lake" isn't going to do a darn thing to make walleye fishing better. Yet we continue to do it. In fact, in the face of growing scientific evidence that it doesn't work and may even suppress naturally produced populations in some instances, the Minnesota D.N.R., under great pressure from resort owners, guides, and the aquaculture industry, has actually increased the number of walleyes that are stocked in the state's waters over the last 10 years. They've used up unknown gallons of fuel, wasted man power that could be used to address declining water quality and habitat alterations, and degraded countless wetlands that at one time were fishless. At what point do we discontinue to do something in the name of tradition that may affecting natural populations, is wasting a lot of energy, and costing the average "Joe" about $2,000,000 a year? When does scholarship and science start to be taken seriously?

A couple of weeks ago during the class I'm taking on Paul and his writings we were discussing the various texts related to homosexuality. Again, a good number of scholars, particularly those who are concerned with the societal context in which Paul was writing, agree that he wasn't speaking about homosexuality in the way that modern eyes would see it. We are able to see it as two loving individuals that are willing to make a committed relationship to each other. Paul saw it as rape and what we would consider pedophilia. In Paul's world, men of lesser standing were raped to remind them of their status in society and young boys were often kept by men for "sexual release" (for further reference I would point you to any books or writings by Wayne Meeks or Dale Martin). The instructor for the class is solidly in this "camp". At one point during the conversation, someone asked why, despite the evidence to the contrary, does the magesterium of the church still insist on using Pauline writings to condemn homosexuality? Why are homosexuals not allowed to participate in the church? His response was basically, tradition. So, again I ask, when does scholarship begin to be taken seriously? When do we look at traditions that are outdated, and hurtful and say enough is enough?

At some point, perhaps not in my life time, the worm will turn ......... the question is, which tradition will hold?


Thursday, April 24, 2008


This is one of the latest ice-out dates I can recall. Lake Minnewaska, which sits across the road from my office (I'm mentioned this before - but I have a great office; roomy, my own closet, book shelves (full), and a great view of the lake!) is now pretty much ice-free. Once exception is the bay across the road. It is full of ice chunks and shards that have been blown in from the winds we've had today. I walked over there this morning and it sounds like a combination of glass bottles breaking, wind chimes and a thousand kids running around with little mallets pounding on xylophones. It's pretty cool and very relaxing in a meditative sort of way.

The Bonaparte's Gulls are here for their annual passage through the area. These petite gulls usually stick around for a day or two before heading north. I wish them well on their journey.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day Sermon

The following is the text of a sermon I delivered at Alexandria UMC in honor of Earth Day.

Richard Louv, author of the book “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” tells of his four year old son Matthew asking “Dad, are God and Mother Nature married or are they just good friends?”

That’s a pretty interesting question.

What happens if we look at Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the context of Matthew’s question? Paul says that creation is “groaning with labour pains”. Yes, labour pains as in those felt by a mother about to give birth. I think that’s a pretty striking image; that of Creation in labor giving birth.

The question we must then ask is –
what exactly is Creation giving birth to?

Paul goes on to answer this question by assuring the Romans that through Christ’s death and resurrection ALL of Creation is given a new birth and has been reconciled with God. And make no mistake about it, Paul is saying ALL of Creation, not just humanity.

Paul, or more likely one of his followers well versed in Paul’s theology, also emphasizes the importance of Creation to and within Christ in the letter to the people of Colossae. This is what we know as Colossians. There is a hymn or a poem, contained within the text of the letter; I think it really becomes clear the role Creation plays in Paul’s theology, if read more like a poem than as liturgy …. From Colossians 1:15-20

“He is the image of the invisible God,
The first-born of all creation,
For in him were created all things
In heaven and on earth:
Everything visible and everything invisible,
Thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers
All things were created through him and for him.
He exists before all things
And in him all things hold together,
And he is the Head of the Body,
That is, the Church

He is the Beginning,
The first-born from the dead,
So that he should be supreme in every way;
Because God wanted all fullness to be found in him
And through him to reconcile all things to him,
Everything in heaven and everything on earth,
By making peace through his death on the cross.”

As children of God we are given the task of continuing the reconciliation that Jesus Christ began. This means living in harmony with the natural world that we are part of and come from. This means living in harmony with Creation that nourishes us not only physically through its bounty but also spiritually through its beauty and tranquility.

The Psalms and early books of the Old Testament are full of vivid imagery on how God intends us to live in harmony with nature.
Think of Psalm 23 – we generally hear this at funerals as a form of reassurance, but it is also a wonderful dialogue about how God intends us to be in harmony with Creation.

I shall not want
God gives me everything through his creation

He makes me lie down in green pastures, beside
still waters, He restoreth my soul

Through his Creation He provides me sanctuary for renewal

Think about that. Where do you go to clear your mind? Where are the places that God gives you time to think? Chances are it isn’t at the mall or a parking lot. Creation is vital for out spiritual development and awareness. Studies show that people with direct access to some form of nature – a neighborhood park, even a small garden or green space are awakened to or strengthened in their spiritual journey.

God’s purpose in creation is to bring us closer to our Creator. Closer to God. We enjoy nature for its beauty but we’re also exposed to something larger and longer standing than our own existence. Creation shows us humility. One can’t sit out at night, gaze into the heavens and feel at least a little humbled – we, as individuals certainly aren’t the center of the universe! Interestingly, the word humility is derived from the Greek humus, which also means earth. Humility grounds us to earth, to Creation.

Fr. Terrance Kardong – a Benedictine Monk is one of the foremost experts on religion and ecology. He notes:

“If humility is to be given full expression, the human person must not only be humble before God but also before the merest living member of God’s Creation”

Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering about the Genesis story about having dominion over the earth. Let me say a few things about this; first, there has been little recognition that the term means primarily to watch over with love and care, to nurture, and to look after and protect. Secondly reading further into Genesis, particularly into the second chapter and the second creation story we gain a better sense of what God meant for Creation.

In Chapter 2, man is formed from the soil and given God’s breath and life. God also breathes life into all of creation; further strengthening our bond with all of Creation. Old Testament Scholar, Theodore Hiebert, offers up a few translations that also shed some different light on the Creation story. First he notes that the Hebrew Adama which is traditionally been translated as human and is of course from which Adam comes, is more appropriately translated as “farmer”. In the context of Chapter 2, this is important in that Adam was said to have been sent to the garden “to till and keep it”. Hiebert goes on to call into question the translation of abad as “to till”, asserting that a more appropriate translation is “to serve”. So, in that light, Adam – who represents all of mankind, is a farmer whose job it is to “to serve and keep” the garden. This understanding of the complete Creation story provides a completely different view of Creation and our role in protecting and nurturing it.

As members of the global population, and as Christians, we are faced with the reality of ecological crises that could forever change God’s creation. Many of these are own doing. From city and agricultural run-off, to the degradation of our lakes and oceans, to climate change, Creation has never been strained so greatly. Even beyond the intrinsic value of Creation, if look to Creation for its spiritual value, we have a scripturally-based duty to address these issues.

Perhaps more importantly, as Disciples of Christ, we have an obligation to address issues that affect the poor and marginalized. Environmental crises not only affect the land, animals and plants – they affect people. Environmental crises are people crises. Even if half of the predictions about climate change happen, hundreds of millions of people will face forced relocation and starvation. Hundreds of millions is a best-case scenario.

Jesus calls and invites us to discipleship. He warns us that it won’t be easy, Luke’s gospel is full of such references (e.g. LK 14:25-35). This is one of those cases that discipleship isn’t easy; the environmental crises we face offer no easy answers or solutions. There is no way to look at the future of Creation and not feel a little anxious about its fate. But as Paul says in Romans, we are the children of God who are to be revealed to Creation, to care for it, to show it mercy and compassion.

I can’t think of a more relevant body than the Christian Church to offer care to Creation. As many of the solutions to environmental problem are truly counter-cultural, there is no better community of people than Christians to lead this counter-cultural revolution. After all, when comes to countering the prevailing popular and political culture we had a pretty good leader.

God’s Creation nourishes us physically and spiritually. It gives us pause to center ourselves with our Creator. It gives 4 year-old boys like Matthew Louv the opportunity to ask wonderful questions.

The band U2 sings in their song “Beautiful Day” –

It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to offer up a challenge to each of you today; spend 10 or even 15 minutes outside today. Not doing work, but just relaxing, reconnecting, marveling at Creation, rediscovering your connection to Creation and consequently our Creator.

It IS a beautiful day - don’t let this one or any other one get away.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Like a Kid in a Cany Store ... the Dangers of a Theological Education

There's been a lot of dialogue on blogs lately about the PEW Research Center's recent poll on religion in the U.S. A great deal of that has centered on how people are now more than ever switching denominations. A substantial number of people are no longer members of the denomination within which they were raised. I think there are a number of reasons for this (and obviously if you're really interested in this sort of thing shop around for more insight than I can give!) My feeling though is that people today are armed, or can be at the stroke of a key, with much more information about religion and what various faiths profess than ever before. I grew up Presbyterian and all I ever knew about Lutheranism is that they couldn't join our Cub Scout troop. Catholics? Well, they went to church on Saturday and you couldn't play on the school playground at that time because you made too much noise. I knew nothing about Baptists or Methodism or Anglican religions because they didn't exist in my home town. I would never have thought about checking out the Catholic church, lest someone find out. Today, I can surf around find out what Methodist believe, what Lutherans profess, and what it means to be an Episcopalian. What's more intriguing is that I can do this from the privacy of my own home. I can even check out Islam, Judiasm, and Budhism. People are now more than ever able to find a faith that fits their belief system - down to being able to read sermons to get a feel for what theological background a specific pastor might hold. I'm still undecided if that's all good, all bad, or somewhere in the middle.

During the course of my studies at St. John's, I've certainly been exposed to many more theological topics than your average person that fills a portion of a pew on Sunday. Sometimes I feel like that kid in the candy store ... wow, that sounds interesting .. how did they ever come up with that idea? .... where and why did we loose that tradition? It's been particularly interesting when we get to comparing things - from a decidedly Catholic perspective - with thoughts from the reformers or modern Protestant theologians. There are times when I can't imagine what in the world some of the reformers were thinking. At other times I'd like to stand up and cheer. Overall I feel the discussions we have as theology students are incredible - even as I'm often the only non-Catholic in the discussion. In fact, I hate to say it, but I think the discussions are much more balanced than if the roles were to be reversed. One reason I say this because in general the other students often have more questions for me about Methodism (often times ones I need to check on - which in itself has been invaluable for me) than I do about their faith.

I feel fortunate to be able to explore all these naunces of religion and form and reform my faith. It's been really good, albeit at times stressful, to be in an academic setting once again. To be able to respectfully debate and toss around ideas is incredibly stimulating. I'm blessed for the opportunity and for a family and faith community that has been insanely supportive.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

April 4th

For some reason, this didn't post correctly on Friday. (Still haven't figured out how to get the video directly on here.)

If you've been paying attention today, it's the 4oth Anniversary of the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr. I was struck by this video, a cover of U2's Pride.

Easter Peace,

Another Trip Around the Sun

Yep. 44 of them to be exact. Pretty lazy day ... perhaps the weather has something to do with that. Spits of snow, stuff that looks like miniature packing foam, rain. Not exactly a nice day outside. We're going to have some friends over for supper and enjoy a little wine and call it good.

I haven't been in the writing mood much lately, mainly due to a finishing up two manuscripts at work as well as a couple of longer papers for school. Hopefully the work related ones are on their way to publication; one in particular has been a real struggle to get published. The other paper is for a book that will come out this summer on reservior management. That'll be the first time I've published a book chapter, so that's pretty exciting. For school I'm working on a summary of how our Christian-Judaic views on creation stewardship have been influenced by biblical stories. It's been interesting how the topic abrubtly intersected my Pauline Letters course during a class discussion on Paul's Letter to the Romans.

Last week I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with work and school and was truly questioning if I could keep up the pace I've set for myself. I had review of Dale Martin's book "The Corinthian Body" due and was struggling with getting it done. I got it back last week and it was really just what I needed. My instructor was almost gushing with praise! It was a boost that came just when I needed. Funny how things work out that way isn't it?

Pasque flower update. Didn't find any yesterday. Might need a few more days of sunshine!