Thursday, September 30, 2010

Whadda ya know? Apparently not much .....

There's been a bunch of buzz this week about the study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on religious knowledge in the U.S. I guess it isn't surprising that few Christians even scored above 50% on the 32 questions regarding world religions. And while this was a survey on world religions, I can attest to the Judeo-Christian slant to the questions that were posed to participants. In short, anyone that has attended a (Christian) church for more than a couple of years should have had a pretty decent handle on the majority of the questions that were being asked. But no. Many Christians couldn't name the 4 Gospels nor could they tell that the "Golden Rule" wasn't one of the Ten Commandments. With a lack of even a basic knowledge like this it is no wonder that people get upset when theologians and clergy start questioning the church's role in the experiment we call American or try to hold people accountable to their baptismal vows.
For example, Debra Dean Murphy writes one of the most thoughtful blogs around. Last week she was heavily criticized by a crowd that consisted mainly of United Methodists when she wrote about how Christians have allowed themselves to become Americans first and Christians second. The majority of those posting comments were totally missing the point of Debra's words. Many had a fundamental lack of knowledge of scripture not to mention the ability to be kind and loving as we've been taught by our Lord. I'd encourage you to read Debra's insightful column.
The other example that relates to the Pew survey is this week's posting by Dan Dick at UnitedMethodeviations. Dan has long been an advocate of accountable discipleship, i.e. being "church" is much more than just showing up for worship a couple of times a month. This week, Dan details an email he received from a young clergy person who had tried to raise the discipleship bar in his congregation and was told in no uncertain terms to back off, not only by his church leadership but by his District Superintendent. Just by asking people to consider living up to their baptismal vows he was taken to the wood shed! You can read the entire story here. I find it amazing that as soon as we start talking about expectations people get all nervous and suddenly don't have the time, don't want to be "Super Christians", and settle on mediocrity. Now, I must admit that since I've been studying theology, my expectations of others has been raised and as my loving wife kindly reminds me, "not everyone is in the same place spiritually as you are". This is true, but shouldn't we at the very least be providing people with the opportunity to grow in discipleship? Should we not be encouraging people to explore their relationship with God at a deeper level? Shouldn't we at the very least expect those who join us for worship on even a semi-regular basis to know the basics of our faith? I mean, remembering Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John isn't really all that difficult!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Local Food Economy?

Other than the heat, I really love this time of year. The prairie is transitioning into its suite of fall colors. Fish readily hit whatever you toss out into the water and the farmers markets are brimming with a variety of gorgeous produce. We've made it our practice to make our way to the local farmers market at least once a week (it's held three times a week here in Alexandria) to pick up whatever fresh veggies are ready for our table. We're also making it our practice to limit our meat consumption to that which has been grown and butchered locally. This can be somewhat of a challenge, but thanks to the growth in the local food movement, it is much easier than it was a year or two ago. We're fortunate to have two wonderful sources of such produce, one for beef and the other for chickens and other poultry. For beef, we've become huge fans of Stone Bridge Beef from Long Prairie. This is grass-fed beef and has a flavor that needs to experienced, I can't give it justice in writing. While we still aren't big steak eaters their burger is fantastic. We have found an excellent source of non-commercially grown chicken. Kadejan produces what are technically "free-range" chickens, but they aren't out roaming the prairie as the term implies. Rather they are given the option of venturing from the coop, something which few chicken do. However, they aren't force-fed, aren't manipulated with light, and are hand butchered and air-chilled. They are exceptional. Both of these growers produce a product that can be found in some of the best dining Establishments in the Twin Cities. For example, the other day we traveled to Minneapolis to celebrate a birthday with friends at the "The Sample Room", generally a highly rated establishment in Northeast Minneapolis. They featured beef from Stone Bridge, and I can attest that their meatloaf was exceptional! Kadejan chicken is featured on the menus of a number of equally well-known restaurants as well.
So, here's the irony. We had to travel to Minneapolis to dine on meat that had been grown and produced within 30 miles of our home. While there are a number of good dining establishments in and around Alexandria, not one of them offers its patrons locally grown grass-fed beef or "free-range" chickens. Not only are we not able to enjoy the occasional well prepared dinner of locally grown food, we're exporting our best products!
This is not unique to meat either. Our wonderful farmers market basically has 7 vendors that show up on a regular basis. For a city of this size, that's pretty small. Again, the irony is that we basically live in an area that produces food for the rest of the state, country, world but we're unable to readily obtain locally grown meats and vegetables whereas someone living in St. Paul or Minneapolis can. I think this just demonstrates how broken our food system really is right now. Farmers in this area are basically forced to grow corn and soy beans on an industrialized scale to make a living, albeit a highly subsidized living. Those who are willing to be environmentally and socially responsible by growing a variety of vegetables and meats are forced to sell their products in larger markets and to higher-end restaurants to make ends meet. These folks don't get the subsidies that their "bigger n better" neighbors do either. We need to rediscover our local economies, particularly when it comes to food. Not only does it make sense environmentally and socially, it just tastes better!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Early Morning Observations

Over the last three weeks, I've been rising early and heading out to one of my two study lakes to locate the nests of largemouth bass. At the same time I've been scanning the depths to identify nests, I've noticed something strikingly different between areas of the lakes that are developed and those that are either lightly developed or not developed at all. Most obvious to even the most casual observor is the change in vegetation. Developed shorelines, i.e. those with residential-like houses and yards, feature mowed yards and large mature trees. Undeveloped shoreline, or that which is relatively undeveloped, has a number of large mature trees, a large number of smaller trees, a layer of shrubs and a wide variety of ground covers, many of which flower in the spring. But that's all pretty obvious. What is less obvious but perhaps even more disconcerting is the differences in the avian communities that I saw, and heard, over the last three weeks. Consider these two lists, first a listing of birds from yards, or developed shorelines: Grackle, American Robin, Canada Goose, Northern Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Chipping Sparrow, American Crow, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. The second from shoreline that hasn't been developed, or lightly so: Yellow-headed Blackbird, Common Loon, Indigo Bunting, Northern Oriole, Bald Eagle, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Ovenbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, and Pileated Woodpecker. Most of the species seen in the developed areas where also seen at the less developed areas as well; meaning the diversity was substantially higher at the undeveloped areas. The point is birds that are normally what we consider "park species" or ones that anyone can see in their back yard are now common along our lakeshores. The dramatic habitat alterations that occur with development have altered the types of birds that frequent these areas. Yet this isn't new, more than 10 years ago biologists in Wisconsin were documenting these changes. You can read more about it here. The sad part is, the areas that I was seeing and hearing the greatest diversity of birds is currently being developed. By 7:30 a.m. each morning the sounds of grosbeaks, orioles, and yellow-headed blackbirds was replaced by the roar of bulldozers and chainsaws.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In this corner .... a theological throwdown

One of the blogs that I read regularly is by Dan Dick (you can link to it at United Methodeviations on my link list). In the last couple of days, Dan posted what he is calling a Theological Smackdown, an attempt to classify the greatest theologians by their "weight class" as in boxing. I thought it would be interesting to see what you all might have to say on this, and well as challenging myself to come up with a listing. To that end, I'm using Dan's original criteria below, but adding a couple of conditions. First added condition, you are only allowed 12 theologians per category (i.e. 12 Heavyweights) and of those 12, half must be pre-modern and half modern or post-modern. Secondly each category and sub-category must include a woman. Dan's criteria include:

Heavyweight — those who do foundational theological reflection, characterized by originality, deep philosophical and practical reflection, and challenging the status quo and conventional wisdom of the day. Those who shape the thinking of others in significant ways. Identifying a heavyweight in no way implies that I agree with everything they say — only that their influence is unmistakable.

Light heavyweight — those who synthesize and adapt the deep theological reflections of the heavyweights. Not original thinkers, but incredibly adept at “connecting the dots” of others.

Middle weights — those who recycle important concepts into modern language and culture. Much of the thinking is derivative at best, but while there is little or no originality, there is a powerful ability to communicate and impact people’s thinking.

Light/welter/featherweights — those whose thinking is derivative and fairly simplistic. This is not to say that there is no value in the theology, just that it is basic and offers substance to newcomers and novices only. Those who have “trained, practiced, and conditioned” for more challenging matches will find little helpful or valuable here for their own continued development. I’m not going to name specific writers/thinkers/theologians in this category because I don’t want to sound like I am devaluing what they offer to the church. They primarily provide an entrance into the faith

So, with that in mind here's my list:
Heavyweights - PRE: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Hildegaard of Bingen, Origen
POST: Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Elizabeth Johnson, Karl Rahner, Rudolf Bultmann, Reinhold Neihbur
Light Heavyweights - PRE: St. Francis, Huldrych Zwingli, John Wesley, John Calvin, St. Benedict, Julian of Norwich; POST: Moltman, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Luke Timothy Johnson, Gustavo Guiterrez, Amy-Jill Levine
Middleweights - PRE: Irenaeus, Tertullian,Clement,St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Terea of Avila, POST: Rowan Williams, Joan Chittister, N.T. Wright, John Crossan, Jon Sobrino, Walter Rauschenbush

So, what do you think?
Easter Peace,

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Nerburn's Latest Book

I started, and finished, Kent Nerburn's latest book "The Wolf at Twilight" one evening last week. It is a really wonderful story and it felt good to connect with the characters from "Neither Wolf nor Dog", even if I'm more skeptical now more than ever that a great deal of the books are in fact story. That isn't to say they aren't real, I think they probably are, but not in a linear manner that they are presented in the books. One line in the book has stuck with me over the last week. Towards the end of the book, as the story is coming to and end, "Dan", a Lakota Elder and the books main character, says to Nerburn "To us, the world was a mystery to be honored, not a puzzle to be solved."
There are a number of memorable lines in the book, further evidence of Nerburn's ability to tell a great story, but this one really stuck with me. First, I agree with Dan's account of the western view the world. I think we do try to deconstruct everything in a manner that makes it just a big old puzzle that we can tinker with and maybe find out how parts of it function. As a scientist, and a researcher in particular, that in fact is what I do. Which brings me to the second reason this particular quote stuck in my mind, I do that! I try to pull the ecological realm of our underwater world apart to see how hit all fits together. I realize that it is supposed to enable us to better take care of things, but do we? Would we be better off looking at the world in holistic manner, marveling at the mysteries it contains and going along our own little merry way? Or perhaps because we're "enlightened" we've gone too far already. Perhaps we need to look at things holistically and gain an understanding of how they function, an ecological "both/and" if you will. As we try to deconstruct creation into tidbits that our tiny minds can grasp, it then behooves us to ask, prior to doing so, why are we doing this? What will be gained, what will be lost in the process? Science is a great thing, but along with the inquiry associated with it, comes a high level of responsibility as well as a level of humility. Unfortunately, the later is much to often absent in the scientific world.
But back to the book, read it. It is a marvelous story and I promise you'll learn a thing or two or 12 while you're at it.