One of my favorite bloggers, Gordon Atkinson, has returned from a one-month blog hiatus with some nice reminiscences about children collecting the offering at his church.
His stories remind me of a recent incident with Samuel. A few minutes into the service, the younger children leave the sanctuary to attend ‘Godly play’ with Miss Bess for much of the service. They return later, usually during the offering.
On their way out of the sanctuary, Brother Odell, a 99-year-old former minister who worships with us, often gives each child a quarter to put into the offering plate.
One Sunday, Samuel returned from Godly play and sat down with Hannah near the choir loft where Katie and I were sitting and from where we have a good view of the entire congregation. When Samuel got to his seat, he remembered his quarter, but the offering plate had already been passed through his row.
We motioned to Samuel to get up and find one of the ushers who was standing at the ends of the rows to manage the passing of the plate.
Samuel got up and started toward one of the ushers. But he was determined to put his quarter into the collection plate himself, not just hand it to an usher. As he got closer to the usher, the usher started the plate down a row. Samuel stopped, hesitated, and then headed toward the other end of the row. By the time he got there, the usher on that end had already started the plate back down the next row.
By this time, the entire choir and many parishoners were watching the unfolding drama. Samuel hesitated again, and then started back toward his seat. Apparently, he had decided to give up. But when he turned around to go back to his seat, he saw Katie and me frantically, but (hopefully) discreetly, motioning for him to head back to an usher.
Finally, he turned around, spied an usher and ran over to him, arriving just in time to drop his quarter in the plate. His mission finally accomplished, he went back to his seat. I thought the choir was going to break into applause at that point.
One of my favorite bloggers, Gordon Atkinson, has returned from a one-month blog hiatus with some nice reminiscences about children collecting the offering at his church.
It seems every time I’ve turned on the TV or radio since Saturday, it’s been round-the-clock hagiography of Pope John Paul II. In the midst of this unadulterated mass media worship, one of my favorite bloggers, Eliot Gelwan, remains skeptical:
“World mourns,” or something similar, most of the headlines say. Of course, I’m no Catholic, and I say this with all due respects to the feelings of my Catholic and other readers who may have felt in some sense that they have lost a spiritual leader of theirs. He was certainly a very pious man and probably a very nice person. But I’m sorry, I just cannot feel all that griefstricken about the death of the Pope. His greatness, such as it was, seemed to lie in having been some mixture of captive and facilitator of the reactionary ideology of a rapacious establishment that does little good for the world, in the process facilitating third world overpopulation and poverty, the epidemic spread of AIDS and unwanted pregnancy, and generally oppressing people on the basis of their gender, their sexual preferences and their level of susceptibility to guilt. I grieve for them; their funerals are far less lavish.
John Paul’s greatest papal role models were apparently a pope from the sixth century and nineteenth-century Pope Pius IX, who was disparaged by many as anti-Semitic but whom he beatified. It was during Pius’ reign that the Church had promulgated the doctrine of papal infallibility, which John Paul cherished. His conservative authoritarianism has polarized both the Church and the world’s view of Catholicism. He is celebrated for his inclusionism; he had to reach outside the Western world, where the Church’s grip is seriously eroded. He was the ‘rock star’ pope, a charismatic showman who did not so much embrace as seduce. He will be remembered for peddling the Church’s dogma by personal appearance, by travelling alot. You can’t blame a man for that; I wish my job involved more international travel. But it is not an achievement in itself, any more than there was any inherent heroism in being the first Polish Pope. Catholic intellectualism fared poorly indeed under this pope. He is credited with contributing to the downfall of Communism, which is quite a stretch in any sense other than that he came from a former Communist country. His greatest legacy, and it is a dubious one at that, may have been to hold the line against liberation theology. To put it simply, this was a papacy in which faith was stood to oppose both justice and thoughtfulness.
Especially because over ninety percent of the cardinals electing the next pope were appointed by him, he is likely to be succeeded by another who largely fits the very same mold, ad infinitum. The Catholic Church grows quickly bankrupt in the Western World. The next Pope, if not from the developing world himself (could the Church seriously entertain the idea of a non-white yet?) must be someone appealing to the heathens in the fertile Third World waiting to be converted and exploited for the continued sustenance and survival of the Church.
How much of a sober appraisal of the impact of Catholicism and the true significance of its leader for the latter quarter of the twentieth century, the only Pope half the world’s people have ever known, will we get in the orgiastic media frenzy covering his death?
I don’t know the validity of many of Eliot’s claims, but I appreciate that he bucks the status quo of the mindless media. As a non-Catholic Christian, Eliot’s concerns remind me that while I’m sure the pope tried to do good, he did so within the constraints of a fallen humanity.
A newsbite from The Copenhagen Post:
For centuries, Danish churchgoers have received the body of Christ in the form of a small, bland communion wafer. Now, competition is on the way.
Ninety master bakers from the island of Funen have taken up the challenge to experiment with new recipes for the holy flesh, daily religious newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad reported on Thursday.
‘We have never tried anything like this before,’ Svendborg baker Gerner Pedersen said. ‘It’s very exciting. I think I will go for a baguette made out of a mixture of wheat and rye flour. That would give a good, strong taste of bread.’
Copenhagen deacon Finn Laugesen said he wished the bakers all the best. ‘But for as long as I have been responsible for the communion wafers, I’ve gone for the most neutral taste I could find,’ he said. ‘After all, the bread should symbolize the body of Jesus, and the wafer shouldn’t be getting all the attention. Just imagine if the pastor at the altar would say ‘This is the body of Jesus Christ. Would you like that with chocolate, vanilla or strawberry taste?’
Here’s a news flash: how about just using real bread?
Yesterday, the Supreme Court started hearing arguments about whether it’s constitutional for Texas and Kentucky to display the Ten Commandments on state grounds (Texas has a monument on the state capitol grounds). However, Fred Clark points out one issue I haven’t seen elsewhere:
The Pentateuch provides three slightly different versions [of the commandments], and various traditions have adopted these lists in slightly different ways. (ReligiousTolerance.org has a nice rundown of the differences.) The display of any particular version, therefore, requires a sectarian choice.
For several years, we attended a church in Austin. We live in the ‘burbs, so it was a long drive (30+ minutes) and of course, nobody in the congregation lived near us. How we ended up attending this church is a long story, and we were never terribly comfortable with the congregation, not to mention the commute, so we never joined.
About 18 months ago, we decided to find a church closer to home. We attended services at the nearest Methodist church, First Methodist in Pflugerville, and at another Methodist church in the next suburb. The service at the Pflugerville church was okay, nothing to write home about, but we liked a lot of things about the other church: the senior pastor is one of the most dynamic preachers I’ve ever heard, they’re growing and have lots of different programs that interested us.
When it came time to make a decision, it came down to the following factors: the other church offered the things we thought we wanted in a church, but the Pflugerville church is our neighborhood church–our kids would be with the same kids at church as at school and in the neighborhood, etc.
I thought about this for a while and concluded that ‘church shopping’ is a bunch of bullshit because it’s all about your own personal needs and desires, not about other things, of which community ranks highly.
So, we ended up joining First UMC Pflugerville, and we’re really glad we did. For one thing, the issue of community has turned out to be correct. We’re really glad we’ve deepened our roots in our local community.
Today, I just ran across an essay that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I think it’s related to this topic: How to Find a Church, by Gordon Atkinson
The United Church of Christ, a mainstream Christian denomination with 1.6 million members in the United States, has launched a new ad campaign to emphasize its inclusive nature. But the CBS and NBC televisions networks are declining to air the UCC’s television ad (see also CNN)because they say the ad is ‘too controversial.’
CBS’ written response to the the UCC said in part:
Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations,” reads an explanation from CBS, “and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.
As far as I can tell (I haven’t yet seen the ad, only read descriptions of it), the UCC’s television ad doesn’t say anything about gay and lesbian couples, only that everyone, including gays and lesbians, are welcome in their church. Yet, CBS and NBC view the ad in the context of the current civil debate over gay marriage. This is not a good sign of the direction our society is going in.
Typical anti-Christian MeFi thread unfolding… so I’d like to remove a couple of the straw man arguments from the discussion if I can.
Leviticus 18:22 and 22:13 – cited above – are Old Testament. In the broadest terms, the Old Testament chronicles the failure of God’s chosen people to live under the Law. Anyone who wants to try to live under the strictures of Old Testament Law is faced with this command: Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture.
But Christians today live under the New Covenant of Jesus. Unable to meet God’s standards, we stood in need of someone to intercede for us. Jesus played that role. His teachings were all about love. There is only one passage in the NT that is unambiguously critical of homosexual behavior, Romans 1:26-27, and it is really about the absence of love, not homosexuality per se. The Message translation brings this out clearly:
26Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either–women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. 27Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men–all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it–emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
The Bible has no sexual ethic. It accurately describes the rules that were in place 2000+ years ago, which were the sexual mores of the time. Mores change over time. Behaviors that were commonplace then are condemned now. Prostitution, polygamy, concubines and very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13) are just a few examples. Behaviors that were condemned then are commonplace now. Nudity (under certain conditions), birth control, masturbation, naming sexual organs (the Bible uses “foot” or “thigh” instead!), intercourse during menstruation, and yes, homosexuality were all forbidden. But the Bible does have a love ethic. Ethics don’t change over time.
Rather than focusing on how archaic laws from thousands of years ago might be prejudiced against homosexuals today, why not focus on the new message, delivered by Jesus Himself when he asked, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57).
In order to judge for yourself what is right, you need to have a firm ethical foundation. The Bible offers one that has stood the test of time for 2000 years. It is an ethos of love, and truly adopting it means living it to the standards set by Jesus. How you live it is up to you, but at least in part it surely means rejecting any mores – including sexual mores – that violate your own integrity and that of others, and striving to meet the standard of “love thy neighbor as thyself” as exemplified by Jesus. Some Christians are going to oppose homosexuality on that basis, others will not. It is, however, sad to see it politicized by both Christians and non-Christians. Christians, at least, should approach the issue from the perspective of love.
The Bible could be a valuable tool for homosexuals who seek to dialogue with conservatives or fundamentalists or evangelists on modern day issues of sexual mores and politics. Meaningful dialogue is easiest when parties approach a topic from a shared perspective, and when the perspective is “love” that’s even easier. You should read the Bible. It’s a good book.
I’ve always maintained that Christians who believe gay sex is a sin shouldn’t be casting homosexuals out of their churches; on the contrary, they should be welcoming them in and praying that the transforming love of God will help them to see the error of their ways. (that’s not my view, but at least it would be scripturally consistent, in my opinion).
When Fred Phelps’ gang* showed up at an evangelical church in Oklahoma to protest because the church had a publicly acknowledged gay member (a young member of their congregation had been profiled in a Washington Post article about the struggles faced by homosexuals in the Bible belt), the congregation came together to defend one of their own–even though most members of the congregation felt that homosexuality is sinful. And in the process, it sounds like some of the congregation members even came to question that belief. It’s a powerful story about community.
* I’m not going to dignify the Phelps Klan with a link. If you don’t know who they are, suffice it to say they’re about the most hate-filled folks you’ll ever hear about.
I read this July 2004 inteview with author and evangelical Christian Tony Campolo a while back, but ran across it again today. Awesome viewpoint! An excerpt:
We ought to get out of the judging business. We should leave it up to God to determine who belongs in one arena or another when it comes to eternity. What we are obligated to do is to tell people about Jesus and that’s what I do. I try to do it every day of my life.
I don’t know of any other way of salvation, excerpt through Jesus Christ. Now, if you were going to ask me, “Are only Christians going to get to heaven?” I can’t answer that question, because I can only speak from the Christian perspective, from my own convictions and from my own experience. I do not claim to be able to read the mind of God and when evangelicals make these statements, I have some very serious concerns.
For instance, they say unless a person accepts Jesus as his personal savior or her personal savior, that person is doomed forever to live apart from God. Well, what about the many, many children every year who die in infancy or the many children who die almost in childbirth and what about people who are suffering from intellectual disabilities? Is there not some grace from God towards such people? Are evangelical brothers and sisters of mine really suggesting that these people will burn in hell forever?
And I would have to say what about all the people in the Old Testament days? They didn’t have a chance to accept Jesus.
I don’t know how far the grace of God does expand and I’m sure that what the 25th chapter of Matthew says is correct–that there will be a lot of surprises on Judgment Day as to who receives eternal life and who doesn’t. But in the book I try to make the case that we have to stop our exclusivistic, judgmental mentality. Let us preach Christ, let us be faithful to proclaiming the Gospel, but let’s leave judgment in the hands of God.
This Astronomy Picture of the Day is accompanied by this text:
Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of the fuzzy blobs in the above picture is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. The cluster is seen through the foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. It takes light roughly 300 million years to get here from this region of the Universe, so we see this cluster as it existed before the age of the dinosaurs.
Just a small reminder of humanity’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things.