Thursday, February 26, 2009


This morning I got my United Methodist News Service feed via Twitter and was interested in one of the highlights that said United Methodist's begin dialogue with Catholics. Being United Methodist and attending a Catholic school of theology, naturally I was intrigued. Little did I know however that the dialogue that is taking place is centered on the environment and how our moral teachings (by the way our social principles and Catholic Social Teachings are incredibly similar) and worship can lead us to better stewardship of creation. Are you kidding me? I'm amazed. Thrilled. Almost speechless! I was really struck by a paragraph by Rev. James Massa, in which he states -

liturgical enactment of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross requires the cultivation of soil – and by extension, a planet – that is healthy enough to yield the wheat that becomes the ‘one loaf’ consecrated at the Eucharist.”

This is so cool. This is where we need to be. You can read the entire news piece here.
Lenten Peace,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does God Have Favorites?

I spent a fair amount of the past weekend working on a mid-term exam for my Pentateuch course. One of the major themes or lines of questioning was related to favoritism in Genesis. At the same time I was working on this exam, some 8,000 crazy nordic skiers were skiing 33 miles through the hills, valleys and forests of northwest Wisconsin. This annual event, America's largest ski marathon is known as the American Birkebeiner and it is really a tough ski race. The hills are numerous and large. The crowds are crazy. It's a huge event. While reading the results and race summaries something caught my attention. The women's race this year was very tight. Imagine skiing 32.9 miles and then having to sprint to the finish line! The result was a photo finish and the winner was determined to be Rebecca Dussault (she's in the black/yellow suit closest to the camera). She beat Holly Brooks by less than a second. Amazing. What stuck out however wasn't the fact that the race was exciting or that close, it was that as soon as she was able to catch her breath and talk with the announcer, Rebecca indicated that it was her faith that allowed her to win. Her deep convictions and strong faith in God and Jesus Christ made her win possible. Now, Rebecca and Holly both ski for the same ski company, both had their skis prepped by the same wax technicians, both are members of teams that feature top coaches, and both are incredible athletes. In short, all things were pretty much equal. So, does God like Rebecca more than Holly? Perhaps Holly doesn't pray enough? What if Rebecca had fallen in the last 10 meters? How would that be reconciled? If she'd been second would that have been God's fault?
I'm not asking these questions sarcastically either and by no means question Rebecca's sincerity. Rebecca is a woman of great faith and is an incredible role model. She's balanced raising a family, caring for a sick husband along with her Olympic dreams. But we see this attitude often in sports and in our greater culture. We see this in our nation's claim to be the greatest and by some that it was God's providence that we're even here to begin with. I think we see it because we don't often realize that when we makes these claims we automatically put the other person, team or country in a secondary position. I don't think that's Gods intentions.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mississippi, Wesley, and Lent

I was surfing the net this evening and a number of items listed on the United Methodist Reporter site struck me as somewhat odd. First was a report that Mississippi was the "most religious state" in the U.S. While not surprising, it's sad. It's sad because I fairly certain that I could come with with a index of tolerance that would likely find Mississippi among the least tolerant states in the U.S. When I mean tolerant, I'm referring to racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. The next logical step is to correlate the two indices and that certainly would show that the most religious states would also be the least tolerant. What exactly does that say about religion? Of course that correlation is a two-way street, the most tolerant societies are the least religious. Mississippi usually ranks among the bottom five in education, what does that say? (editorial note: when it comes to creationism I think it says a great deal!) I think there's some pretty interesting conclusions one could draw from such a study. Perhaps in another lifetime I'll take a look at this more closely.

The other alarming aspect of this study is that it relates church-going to religion. In short, you aren't considered religious if you don't attend or belong to a church. Details like this make it very important to take surveys and "best of" ratings with a large, very large, grain of salt. It reminds me of a book that came out a year or so ago (it was horrible so I'm not going to even give a mention here) that said conservatives gave more than their liberal counterparts. The book's premise was that if we didn't have to pay taxes we could give more to charities who are more capable of handing out money than the government. Of course giving to a church was included in their definition of charitable giving. I don't consider churches or clergy charity cases. The fact that most of a given church budget goes to salaries and building operations makes donating money to churches anything but charity. Now, giving to an organization like local missions, UMCOR or Catholic Charities, that's a different story. But the book didn't paint that picture. In fact if you eliminated church giving, conservatives gave less than 2/3 than liberals. Again, it's all in how you present and manipulate the data.

Back to the umportal. There's a great deal of discussion on the Wesley Study Bible going on in the "methosphere" these days. I chimed in a few weeks ago on this. I still like the bible and it has come in very useful lately. What interested me the most in these discussions are how people have interpreted John Wesley's theology and the ensuing debates over the results of those interpretations. There's a lot of "John Wesley meant this" and "No, John Wesley mean this" out there. It has strengthened my desire to take a class in Wesleyan theology, but at the same time it makes me think that perhaps we Weslyan's are a bit idolatrous.

Finally, as Lent approaches I've been toying with the idea of doing a daily posting as I did last year. Last year's postings were related to the events in the natural world that were unfolding as we moved towards spring. I also included a number of writings related to Aldo Leopold. I'm not sure I'll be able to do the daily posting this year, but we'll see. It will certainly take a different format than last year. Ideas?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Church of the Great Green Frog

Wednesday during a class break some of the students were talking about purgatory, a discussion that arose from a comment made about the re-emergence of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. It's certainly something pretty unfamiliar to this Protestant. But nonetheless, it's something that I've not been concerned with since I got my "Get out of Purgatory Card Free" card back in 1990. Now, I wish I could get a good copy of this to post, but alas the card is worn thin and the scanner doesn't do it justice. The card, given to me by a representative - perhaps a Bishop - of The Church of The Great Green Frog, pretty much excuses me from anytime in purgatory which is really a great relief. (Considering I got the card during Mardi Gras in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, it really is a relief!) You can read more about the Church here.

Hop A Lu Ya!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First glance at the Wesley Study Bible

Not that I need another Bible, but the idea of a Wesley-inspired Bible and the price (they're available from Cokesbury for 24.95 through the end of February) made this pretty hard to pass up. So, I ordered one last week and it arrived over the weekend. It's really one of the more attractive Bibles I've seen. (Mine is actually green with the leather and I think it looks better than the blue one shown here.) The Bible, as one would expect from a study Bible, is full of Wesleyan-related theology and often references John Wesley's sermons. There are also short insets within the commentaries themselves, "Wesleyan Core Term" which defines concepts like faith in Wesleyan context and "Life Application Topic" which attempt to give meaning to scripture in a current context. Both types of boxes are valuable and interesting to read. I've only skimmed through the WSB but did delve into the commentary on Mark since that's quickly becoming my area of interest, if not my area of semi-expertise. Situated within the commentary is a Wesleyan Core Term regarding Wesley's view on the Kingdom of God. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very familiar with Wesleyan theology, but I was pretty surprised and actually disappointed in reading that Wesley "opposes any attempt to substitute rituals for Christ-centered faith." and that "time-honored traditions and orthodoxy proved insufficient, however to bring for the kingdom of God". First of all, there is not Christ-centered faith without ritual. The ancients, early Christian communities by all accounts were highly ritualistic. Their theology and understanding of Christ was through ritual. So, if what's in the WSB is true, I think Wesley was dead wrong on that account. Secondly, it is through those rituals, "time-honored traditions" that we are exposed to the Kingdom of God. It is through the understanding of those rituals that everything else is possible, i.e. social justice, redeeming creation, etc. This all makes me very eager to dig into Wesley's theology and to further my understanding of the role the sacraments play in our theology.
But back to the WSB. It's well worth the $25. I would suggest reading it with another commentary to compare what's truly Weslyan with what other's have to say about a particular pericope or even larger portion of the scriptures.