Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Levon Helm, an Epiphany

Just had an epiphanous moment, and the means only shows that these moments are packaged individually in a special way.

Was listening to Fresh Air on NPR (12-11-07) and heard interview with Levon Helm. Helm used to play backup for Dylan and Morrison. He got throat cancer, recovered somewhat, and now has an album out called Dirt Farmer. I loved the song about crossing over the Wild River and went to NPR website to find out more.

Discovered this Helm guy played the character of a recluse in northern Mexico in a
Tommy Lee Jones movie, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada—which I have praised earlier. This blind recluse had only a small part, but struck me as doing a really good job.

Now I want to share with you some of his music. You can go to Itunes and pick up a song or two, or you can go to NPR http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17103316
and hear some of his songs.

I was blown away. Of course, the Lord of Music may have meant this frequency just for me; but then, you might like it too.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thank God You're Not a Woman

“Thank God, you’re not a woman!” were the words that met me at one of my new appointments as pastor. Granted there had been some problems in the church before I arrived; however, none of the problems could directly be attributed to the fact that my predecessor was a woman.

Perhaps there were indirect difficulties my female colleague encountered, but I suspect those were mainly extensions of prejudice against women pastors. I am convinced, for the most part the successful pastorate of a person depends much less on their gender and much more on their ability to get along with others.

I am also convinced that without women pastors, the United Methodist Church (UMC), especially in SW Texas, would be structured much differently today. Perhaps as many as 75 of our smaller churches would be closed for lack of a minister.

So it was of interest recently when Time Magazine reported that 213 women priests were ordained by the Church of England last year. For the first time since the Anglican fellowship started to ordain women in 1994 the number of women ordained outnumbered the number of men (210). [Overall there are 7,001 ordained men in the Anglican priesthood, compared with 1,495 women.]

These numbers prompted me to count the number of ordained men and women in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference UMC. Informally I determined that there are 164 women with a total of 720 ordained ministers (c. 556 men). [These numbers are approximate because they include persons who are retired, and those working in special appointments (non-parish). Also, gender was determined by tallying first names on a “probable gender” basis, e.g. Bob = male; Judy = female. ]

The SWTx Conference is but one of five conferences in Texas; and just a small fraction of the national church. However, its number of women ordained or commissioned this past conference year were eight out of a total of eleven persons. This past year the quantity of those set apart for ministry was rather small; however for several years now the trend of more women than man being ordained has continued (according to my memory)

Presently, two of six District Superintendents in the SWTx Conference are women. And the presiding bishop of the Texas Conference, Janice Huie, is a native of this conference and former DS here. The pastor of the third largest church in our conference is a woman.

To add a new dimension to this gender focus comes a story of Ann Gordon, pastor of St. John United Methodist Church in Baltimore. For five years Ann has been the clergy leader at this church
This past annual conference, she was reappointed to the church with a new name: Drew Phoenix, because she has had a gender-change procedure and is now a male. Reports are that she/he has been warmly received at St. John’s.

But anything but a warm reception awaits the issue of gender change at the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2008. I am sure the conservative wing of the Church is delighted to have new meat to chew on.

Until then, it is very intriguing to me to imagine a new gender-changed pastor coming to a first meeting with a new church member who might exclaim to her/him: “Thank God you’re a man who changed from being a woman.” Or, depending on your prejudice, “Thank God you are a woman who used to be a man.”.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Listening to Life from both Sides Now

For the past year or so, some very interesting reading has been appearing in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference (United Methodist) bi-weekly newspaper, The Witness.

I would characterize the letters to the editor, by Dan Adams and J. David Trawick as examples of progressive and evangelical theology. Dan is a retired minister and a member of our conference. David is pastor of Northwest Hills United Methodist Church in San Antonio.

Recently Dan Adams posted a letter calling for the "desacralization" of the Bible and a deeper consideration of what the Bible says. David countered with a letter which said that the view of desacralizing the Bible was flawed reasoning.

I have just concluded a class based on "progressive" ideas and was privileged to have one-third of the class of a conservative, even fundamental mind set. The other two-thirds could have been labelled moderate and progressive. And the class went very well because a spirit of listening and understanding was followed by all.

Dan and David do us all a great service by their discussions. A great difficulty of polemical thinking is the tendency to circle up the wagons and kill off all the "heathen" out there. That concern prompted the following letter to the editor of The Witness, published last week.

Thanks to Dan Adams (“We should desacralize, critically consider what Bible says,” Sept. 28), J. David Trawick (“View on desacralized Bible follows flawed reasoning,” Oct. 12) and many others for keeping the dialogue going between the progressive and evangelical views in our great body.

Our church can learn from both, so long as we invest time in listening and understanding all sides. One thing I learned from John Wesley and Albert Outler was that Wesley was a conjunctive theologian, not a disjunctive one. Wesley saw value in all sides of a discussion and tried not to eliminate one at the expense of the other. Oh, he had his polemical causes, but for the most part he was very inclusive.

The risk we all face with our passionate disagreements is that we will cease to love one another. The risk is that our common love might turn into uncommon pride and self-righteousness. When the focus becomes “my-way-or-the-highway,” we risk finding ourselves categorized as “sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.”

And that tendency to self-righteousness (to which all sides are vulnerable) is one of the most threatening factors in church unity. It is a function of the Holy Spirit to promote unity in the church. To be outside of the spirit of unity, is to be outside the movmement of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me. I cannot for the life of me find Jesus desiring to be separated from the unclean or the demonized. Even the Pharises and Temple leaders were welcome in his presence when they came to him in a congenial spirit.
Let us listen. Let us strive to understand. Let us reach out, rather than push away; and thus be enveloped by the spirit of God.

A Progressive Bibliography

Here are some materials and books which have been helpful along the way:

Altizer, Thomas JJ and William Hamilton. Radical Theology and
the death of god
. Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merril Company, 1966.

Published in the mid-1960s, this thinking, following Neitzsche, proclaims the actual death of God, as a historical event in our time. Much analysis of subjective/objective faith is done. Altizer finds much compatibility with many contemporary progressives in saying, "Jesus is himself the exact opposite of Christianity."

Bultmann, Rudolf. Primitive Christianity.
Cleveland: World Publishing, Meridian Books,1956.

This work is primariy a look at the various factors that impacted the formation of the fundmental doctrines of the Christian faith during the first two centuries of its development.

__________. Theology of the New Testament.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951,1953,

A two-volumn study on the meaning and message of the Christian message. Comprehensive, classic Bultmann.

__________. Jesus and the Word. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons,1958.

Groundbreaking work on a number of Xn topics: Scripture's authority, the god of the future, prayer, faith, God the Father. To understand where progressive theology is today, one must have some knowledge of Bultmann--not always an easy read.
__________. Jesus Christ and Mythology,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.

One of the greatest Christian scholars of the mid-twentieth century, Bultmann's name is almost a synonym for "demytholigizing" the Scriptures. He was constantly and sometimes visciously attacked by the fundamentalists. Here he clearly spells out his teaching and defends it brilliantly.

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First
. San Francisco,HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

One of the most readable and understandable biblical scholars of our time, who says the Bible is not a divine product, but a human product, telling the stories and testimonies of those individuals and communities who have had, and continue to have encounters with the living Christ. The Bible is "history remembered" and metaphorically recorded. Borg is among those progressive theologians who will become known as those who made the Bible relevant again to modern man.

__________ The Heart of Christianity. Rediscovering
a Life of Faith. San Francisco,
Harper-SanFrancisco, 2003

Vital Christianity is not about "belief". We can believe many wonderful things yet still behave scandalously. In other words, whether one believes in the literalness of Scriptures is fruitless unless there is this a transforming relationship with the living God. And at the heart of that relationship is dynamic love for truth and justice.

Borg, Marcus J. and Dominic Crosson, The Last Week.
the Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

I have only read the first chapter, but this book looks to be an excellent read for Lent, or Holy Week. The authors lay out the conflict between the Roman Empire and the young Christian movement in a way not often considered.

Borg, Marcus, J. and Dominic Crosson, The First Christmas.
What the gospels really teach about Jesus' birth.
New York: Harper One, 2007.

This book strips away the sentamentalism that has gathered around the nativity story for two thousand years, and gives fresh new meaning to the birth of Jesus. A great Advent read.

Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. 502 pp.

In the field of studies about the
historical Jesus, this book stands out. It is readable, scholarly, fair
and clear. Painstaking in detail. Continues in the tradition of Albet Schweitzer. Crossan is a member of the Jesus Seminar.

Davies, J.G. The Early Christian Church. A history of its
first five centuries. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1967.

Published 42 years ago, this book remains a foundational text of early Church history. This book was one of my textbooks in seminary.

Ehrman, Bart. D. Misquoting Jesus. The Story
behind who changed the Bible and why.
San Francisco: Harber Collins, 2005.

I have misplaced my copy of this book, but I remember it as being an
excellent study on the way differing manuscripts of the gospels have come
to be. Scribal interjections, deletion of offensive
passages, harmonizing various verses to fit the understanding of the church,
etc. Ehrman is beginning to make his mark as a top-notch scholar.

Fox, Matthew. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1980.

It has been many years since I first picked up this
book. I remember Fox making a case for the Christ to be an
appelation that transcends Jesus, perhaps even incorporation other earthly
religions. If you remember differently, pleaso commet.

Funk, Robert W. and Roy W. Hoover & the Jesus Seminar.
The Five Gospels. What Did Jesus Really Say? New York:
New York: Macmillan Publishing, Polebridge Press 1993.

A truly marvelous and ground-breaking book in which .c 150
modern biblical scholars opine on the four gospels---considering which verses
are authentically Jesus. It also includes a copy of the Gospel of
Thomas. Not for the more conservative reader.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
New York: Collier Books, 1961

Mitchell, Stephen. The Gospel According to Jesus.
New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy.
London: Oxford University Press, 1923

Ricker, George M. What You Don't Have to Believe to
be a Christian
. Austin: Sunbelt-Eakin, 2002.

Robinson, James M. The Gospel of Jesus. In
Search of the Original Good News. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Robinson, John A.T. Honest to God.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963.

__________. The Human Face of God. Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1973.

Sanders, James A. From Sacred Story to Sacred Text.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press,1987.

Spong, John Shelby . Rescuing the Bible from
San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

__________. Born of a Woman. A Bishop Rethinks
the birth of Jesus. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

__________. This Hebrew Lord. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

__________. A New Christianity for a New World.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Spong, Christine M. Ed. The Bishop's Voice.
New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999.

Tillich, Paul. The New Being. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955.

__________. The Shaking of the Foundations.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948.

__________. The Eternal Now. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

Ward, Keith. What the Bible Really Teaches.
New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2004.

Ward's thesis is that many of those who most loudly proclaim Bible truths, do not actually know the Bible. Rather, they have memorized key verses which support their peculiar perspective, and use those verses over an over in polemical argument. In this book, Ward lays out what the Bible actually teaches about a wide range of doctrinal statements.

[currently working on this list. ca]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Progressive Sustenance

I just finished last night, a ten-week study at our church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right and the Secular Left". I wish I had had the courage and the audience to teach it to some twenty years ago. Impediments, sadly, were my fear and the perception that no one wanted to hear what progressive Christianity (Xnty) had to say.

First, my fear. My impression is that 80% of United Methodist people in southwest Texas are conservative, meaning that a sizable portion are active fundamentalists, a larger portion are involved evangelicals and the rest of that 80% are passive, status quo conservatives. Of these folks, I have been confronted by some

  • with disbelief ["You don't listen to Focus on the Family!"],

  • with outrage ["If you don't believe in demons, you don't believe the Bible".] and

  • with condemnation [You can't be a Xn if you don't believe the Bible is literally true and infallible.]

In my younger days, I was saddled with Jesus saying that it would be better to have a large stone tied around my neck and that I be cast into the lake than for me to tear down the faith of the little ones. I used that teaching to defend my unwillingness to challenge any of the "little ones".

I was wrong; and now at the age of 66 and now standing on the edge of retirement I have come to understand that my fear had more to do with my own need to be "acceptable" and the ill-founded concern for the advancement of my "career", than the fear of being thrown in the lake.

In 1 John 2 the writer delineates three stages of Xn growth: (1) little children, (2) young adults, and (3) mature Xns. So often I and a vast number of educated United Methodist ministers (who ought to know better) have opted to retard the growth of our "faithful" by preaching a harmless, self-centered, salvation gospel to the static congregations in our charge. When the struggles of the"young adults" have arisen, we, for the most part, have smoothed them over and put the children back into their beds. We have ignored the yearning of so many of our faithful to understand the "mysteries of our faith" that are reserved for those who are mature.

My fear to share my understanding of the "mysteries" is rooted in my own cowardice; and perhaps for my own selfish concern for my "career". So much for fear.

Is there an audience in our churches for dialog concerning progressive theology? I think there is. In my just-finished class of 15, at least five of the student were "conservative to fundamentalist", three t0 five were moderate and the others hopelessly liberal or progressive.

I recruited this class by stating my intention to teach a class of "progressive theology"---or for the unsophisticated, "liberal" theology. Perhaps 25 folks expressed an interest. I asked each of them to read the first chapter of Marcus Borg's book, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time". (see Blog Archives, May and the above title) then, if they wanted to take the course, to email me. Fifteen or so did, and we had a great class.

Admittedly, if I had offered this class at some of my smaller, rural churches the class might have been very small, and there might have been even more criticism. But the effort is definitely worth it. We must ask ourselves, how many members of our churches have drifted away because they needed a theology of more substance than what was being offered? How many members of our church have become static and bored with their church relationship, because they are being fed milk, when they need a more substantive food?

In this great church of ours, founded by a man who asked only "Is your heart like my heart?" surely there is a place for our progressive members, within the fold.

[See the blog, Progressive Bibliography, for resources.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Greasy, Smelly, Selfish, Hard-hearted . . .

One of the most grievous things this Bush administration ever did occurred when VP Cheney invited the heads of the major oil companies to his office and secretly drew up the energy plan for the country---secretly. And it's still a secret, but the results are floating to the surface, as gasoline prices hit $3.00 a gallon (on the way to $4.00?). Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Toyota Have announced they will oppose a fuel economy stardard of 35 mpg this year. Honda and Nissan support it. Why are the four largest auto makers in the world opposed to this fuel-saving standard?Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oil tankers are required to be double-hulled so as to help prevent spillage of their cargos. Freighters are single-hulled, so when the Cosco Busan scraped into a bridge in the San Francisco bay, 58,000 gallons of "bunker" oil (whatever that is) spilled into the bay. The fuel tanks could be double-hulled like tankers,but they are not. Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Any person with any heart for animals must find deeply felt emotion at looking at what this oil spill has done to this poor creature. And it will happen again


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

President Bush vetoed a plan to provide insurance to the poorest children in our nation. He said it would be too costly primarily because congress intended to fund the cost by taxing cigarettes (impacting the tobacco corporations). This cost assessment from the man who will spend a trillion dollars [$1,000,000,000,000) on the war in Iraq. The man who spends millions of dollars trying to support a dictatorship in Pakistan. The man who cherishes the tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet, health care for the children is too costly? Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One word tells us why: Greed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A few years ago, there was a movie, Wall Street which starred Michael Douglas. At one point he is giving a speech to the tycoons of finance and he says, "Greed is good." The only greater example of this self-justification, this ethical distortion is exhibited by many of the "wealthy elite" in our culture today.
The dictionary definition of greed is "wanting excessively to have or acquire; desiring more than one needs or deserves; avarice, cupidity (strong desire).
I would contend that greed is not good, rather it is evil. To want to possess more than we need is to "build up treasure here on earth". And one no less than Jesus condemned such behavior. And yet, greed is a prime mover in the motivations of this "richest nation on earth".

Another word has been tarnished and cracked because it hides behind greed: politics. Our political system is broken. Yet the front-runners in both parties have political machines that are masters at manipulating the people. Through the use of false patriotism and fear, the Bush administration herded us into their corral, until, in the last year the American people began to wake up and think for themselves. And we are begining to see that corporations with their super-millonaire CEOs and their armies of lobbyists, control the politicians.

The propoganda mills of the political system are beginning to crank up again. Watch out for the fear words, beware of the "socialized medicine" scare (when you hear that phrase, think "insurance profits" and "pre-existing conditions"), beware of the great danger of the military-industrial complex. Hang on for "swift-boat" type campaigning which no party will claim responsibility for. All this "Limbaugh" type skewed truth is already beginning to surface. It's all coming around again.

To break the power of greed and to turn the page on political dynasties, to support real change . . .

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Support Barack Obama!


this Saturday: Countdown to Change: Barack at the Backyard,

Austin, Texas (see website above)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Michael Bloomberg

I viewed an MSNBC interview of Michael Bloomberg (mayor of NY City), done by John Meacham yesterday. I was impressed [I admit I am easily impressed; and also hungry for a presidential candidate who can win and do the job well].

Bloomberg seems to be an inclusive centrist with the ability to pull people together. Imagine that! People pulling together. He says he is not running for president; however, he resigned from the Republican party a couple of months ago. That act enables him to run a "third party" campaign as an independent. He grew up a Democrat and has good social values (not the same as "social conservative" values).

He is a billionaire with a conscience. He could finance his own campaign. He is fascinating to listen to (meaning he can talk in complete sentences with wit). He has a good vision as to how a president should function.

He will be on the cover of Newsweek this weekend. He may not run as an independent; but, some are saying a Bloomberg/Hagel (Republican anti-war Senator from Nebraska) ticket would be unbeatable.

I have just about given up on the Democrats. I am convinced that Hillary would be crucified by the Republicans. Obama would not stand up to Guiliani (at least, the general public would not think so: intellectual vs. bully). [Yes, I wrote this before Obama came out of his shell Saturday (11-10) in Iowa at the Jefferson/Jackson dinner. So long as he continues to speak to the issues and do battle with Hillary, I will support him. --CA 11-13]
Edwards is too cute. Biden might have great ideas but is unelectable (he really does talk too much; and then there is that perjury thing from the past). What to do. Not a single Republican candidate really is presidential.

So I wait and watch. Bloomberg?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Out Sourcing Frustrations

It's cheaper in the short run, this off-shore customer service project. But I feel certain that it will prove to be more costly in the long run.

Three days ago I called Time Warner customer service because I was not able to connect with the internet. I waited twenty-five minutes, all the time being assured that "all agents are busy but I would be taken care of shortly". Finally an agent came on the line.

I suspect the fellow I was talking to ("Francis") was in India or some other place far away. He spent ten minutes attempting to verify that I was a TW customer. "I don't find you in either of our customer data bases." Reading off my latest bill all sorts of identifying numbers did no good. Finally, he used the serial number of my modem to determine that my modem belonged to someone named "Polanski".

Another ten minutes or so of mystifying instructions (turn off your modem, turn it on, click the standby button, turn off your computer, turn it back on) and the verdict was rendered: I needed a new modem. Francis would transfer me to a local number and they would tell me how to get my new modem.

Okay, Harry came on the line (he sounded like a Texan) and told me I did not need a new modem. He said he could tell by looking at some dials on his computer that my modem was working fine. I thought, "why couldn't I have talked to Harry first?" but then he told me that my router was the problem, and he could not help me since Time-Warner does not issue routers.

Frustrated to the core, I went into the living room and drank a Coke. Fifteen minutes later I returned to my computer, and lo and behold! I had internet.

The Next Day:
I tried to reach Sears to get an automatic garage door fixed. I will spare you the details, but they did not have me in their database either. [Is this a ploy?] This time I spoke to "Aldo" who sounded just like Francis. After fifteen minutes of search around I was told that a repairman would come to my house the next day. I hung up wondering if Aldo had a garage, or if he even knew what it meant to get you garage door track bent out of shape.

Okay, the next day I get a call from someone, saying my repairman needs directions to my house. She asked me to call 800/469-4663 to give directions. If you call that number, you will get ahold of Francis, Aldo or some compatriot; and more than likely they will not have you in their database. After fifteen munutes of being unidentified, I told Aldo I would try to handle it locally.

On my cell phone, there was a "missed call" number this same morning. Suspecting it might be the repair man I called it and got lucky. However, when I told him my problem, he said he could not fix it. "But Aldo in India said you could fix it. I explained the problem very carefully to him." "Sorry but I only work on garage door openers, not garage doors." And, as in an act of consolation, he told me that if he had made it to my house, I would have been charged $65 to hear him tell me that he could not fix my problem. This smells like a racket. First Aldo assures me that the repairman can do the job; then the repairman comes and if he had had good directions he would have charged me $65 to tell me he can't help me.

Get this: in spending around two hours with Time Warner and Sears the last three days, the final word, from both of them was "we can't fix your proglem". I wrestled with their customer service on three different days and came up completely empty. Well, Aldo did say he was sorry.

If my experiences with these off-shore customer service folks is common only a third of a time, I cannot help but think it will hurt the reputation of the companies using them in order to cut costs. Some companies have already returned their call centers to the United States. Even with higher labor costs, in the long run, local help is cheaper that foreign bungling.

And now, I sit here waiting for the Dish TV man to show up. I have a scheduled appointment with him: sometime betwen 8 am and noon today. He has six more minutes to make it on time.

Service Flag

I did not know what a "service flag" was until a friend in my church brought me one to hang in my window. At the time my son was in Iraq. I understand it is tradition, going back how far I do not know, to place this flag in your front window if you have a person serving in the military in harm's way. So I proudly placed the flag in my window. Here is what it looked like while he was overseas.

More importantly is my son for which it stands. Todd Andrew Archer is a Sergeant First Class, having been in the army for 17 years. Initially he was a "tanker" in the Armored Cavalry, a crew member in our M1A2 Abrams Main Battlestation tanks. He injured his ankles three or four years ago and was transferred to a transportation batallion.

"I wish I were in my tank in Baghdad", he said. I thanked God he worked behind a computer screen routing convoys while in Iraq.

Currently he is home from Iraq, located at Fort Bragg, No Carolina. He may go back to Iraq during the coming year. I pray not. But I support him whereever he goes.

Here is a picture of my son in his dress outfit.

Isn't he splendid! I am one of those persons who do not support the war; but who definitely support and love my son. Some can't understand that. They bother me less and less.

Now here is a poem my daughter came across. It is what sparked this entry onto my blog.

by William Hartley Holcomb

The sordid roll of business wheels
Grind on the dirty streets,
Unmindful of our drafted sons
Out on the deep, in fleets;

Old gay Broadway keeps up its pace
From dark-time until light,
Unthinking of the soldier boys
Who hold the trench at night.

The careless come, the reckless go
Unhallowed on their way,
Unheeding of the wounded ones
Or Death s toll of each day;

But, down the street at a doorway drear,
There hangs a strip of red,
With its center white, and one blue star
Like azure from overhead;

And further down is another strip
With two stars shining clear,
While a third with three on its white field
Hangs in a window near;

And we know that out of the world of
The wise and thoughtless gay,
Six strong true men have heard Freedom s
And bravely marched away.

And we know three homes on that same
Where happiness used to be,
Now places keep for three vacant chairs,
Here one, there two, there three;

And we know three homes where anxious
Await the coming morn,
When street boys call out the battle news
Night s wireless wings have borne.

Then doff your hat to the Service Flags,
You man of careless mien
A nobler scroll on Honor s Roll
This world has never seen;

For first in duty, first in war,
Their valor will not cease,
And when they come marching home
They will be the first in Peace.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Four Movies

In the last month, Judee and I have seen four movies:

1. In the Valley of Elah-- Tommy Lee Jones is the father of
a soldier back from Iraq who appears to have been killed
mysteriously. Jones, a small-town law officer, spends the movie figuring out what happened to his son. A father's desire to uncover his son's death keeps Jones walking through a puzzling scenario. A gift the son had sent his Dad from Iraq plays a large role in making a statement about the state of our nation.

2. Michael Clayton --George Clooney is a corporate "fix it" man who takes care of problems that beset large corporations.

3. Gone Baby Gone-- Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Ann Ryan. A baby is kidnapped and the story revolves around efforts to recover her.

4. Rendition --Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep. An international traveler from Chicago, suspected of being a terrorist, is taken into custody and sent to a secret location to be tortured.

****Best of the Lot: ****

Rendition **** Excellent story, good screenplay, good acting, suspense, good subplots, well cast. Meryl Streep always stands out.
Gyllenhaal was very good. Allen Arkin convinced me he was a US Senator. This movie held my attention from beginning to end. A whole new understanding of "the United States does not use terror to gain intelligence" emerges. The 'host country" for interro-gations is not identified for security reasons.

Valley of Elah ***.5 --I admit I really enjoy Tommy Lee Jones (native of San Antonio, I might add). This movie is a good murder mystery, and a commentary along the way on the Iraqi war. The ending really grabbed me.

Gone Baby--** Ben Affleck has some things to learn yet as a director. His brother Casey A did a good job. I may have slept through part of this one.

Michael Clayton-- I saw this movie only two weeks ago, yet I cannot remember anything significant about it. Thus, my impression is not too high; however, after hearing from some friends who rate this show high, and watching several trailers, I must admit I was asleep, or some worse neurological event took place. I am sure that if I had plugged into the story (featuring the behavior of a manic-dperessive) I would have been intrigued. I have decided not to rate this movie at all. It seems I must be careful not to go to the movies during naptime.

Hope A'Waiting: Two movies coming in November that look interesting:

Lions for Lambs--A Robert Redford movie which focuses on the
Iraqi war. Tom Cruise is a senator who appears to be pro-war; Redford is a college professor; and Meryl Streep is a writer.

No Country for Old Men--A Tommy Lee Jones movie (need I say more?). Set in modern day West Texas. Don't know much more except Jones is a lawman.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I found my book for which I have been looking ever since our last move. In June of 06 we moved to San Antonio and ever since I have been looking for my copy of The Five Gospels, the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, 1993, the product of the Jesus Seminar. Today, while rearranging our garage I found it!

That discovery was especially keen to me because I am currently teaching a class at church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right (and the Extreme Secular Left)" and this book will be helpful to share with the class.

JESUS' WORDS. In case you don't know, this book is the product of a group of bibical scholars (some 65 of them; they are known as the "Jesus Seminar") who have analysed the words purportedly said by Jesus in the more popular translations and made determinations as to the probability that the historical Jesus said those words.

It is the contention of most of the scholars of this project that the traditional gospels contain layers of material, some of it is historical, more of it is an expression of the perspectives of the early Christian community.

Marcus Borg says it this way: the Bible is the product of two historical communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement.. As such it is a human product, not a divine product. It tells us of the experiences and understandings of those communities. It is not the "Word of God" but is the early communities' words about their response to God--the laws they developed, thier eithical teachings, their prayers, their hopes and dreams. [To read more of Marcus Borg's work, go to the Blog Archive 2007, May --- "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time".]

What we have then, in all the gospels, are some words which probably are the actual words of Jesus, and actual events. But we also have understandings of who Jesus was, influenced by the years of veneration and worship---and the experiences the community had with the risen Christ (or Christ's Spirit, or Spirit).

The Jesus Seminar scholars have developed a unique way of grading the purported "words of Jesus" to determine if the words are authentically Jesus', or if they have come from the traditional community. In the book one finds four distinctions: (1) Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it. (2) Jesus probably said something like this. (3) Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his thinking. (4) Jesus did not say this. It represents the perspective of a later tradition.

The book is a weighty tome, giving the SV translation for the gospels (including Thomas) as well as detailed commentary supporting their decision re the authenticity of the traditional words.

SCHOLAR'S VERSION (SV). One of the reasons this translation began was due to the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas. Earlier translations were considered to be "wooden" and "tentative". This translation attempts to render into contemprary English the colloquialisms and aphorisms of the Greek texts. Here is an example of the contrast in the translations of one passage:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrits! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves and when others are going in, you stop them.

This translation is from the New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 23.13. Compare it to the Scholar's Version:

You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you! You slam the door of Heaven's domain in people's faces. You yourselves don't enter, and you block the way of those trying to enter.

"Woe" is not a part of the average American's working vocabulary. If a person wants to curse someone, they don't say "Woe unto you!" but are more likely to say "Damn you!".

The New Revised Standard Translation, like many other modern translations, retains the "style" of speech of the King James Version; or, attempts to put Engish words in the same order as the Greek source. This practice leads to a style not compatible with contemporary usage.

Another very important factor in the production of the Scholar's Version is that it is "free of ecclesiastical and religious control, unlike other major translations into English, including the King James Version and its descendants (Protestant), the Douay-Rheims Version and its progeny (Catholic) , and the New International Version (Evangelical)." The SV is not bound by the dictates of church councils (it has not denominational axes to grind, nor "orthodox" doctrines to defend). Its contents and organization vary from the more traditional versions.

ET CETERA. The book (553 pp) is full of essays on topics like: (1) The Seven Pillars of Scholastic Wisdom, (2) The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith, (3) The Gospels in Greek, (4) A Map of Gospel Relationships, (5) Rules of Written Evidence, (6) Who Wrote the Gospels, (7) The Rules of Oral Evidence, (8) The Jesus Seminar at Work (analytical methods).

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. THE FIVE GOSPELS, The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1993.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Peaceful Melancholy

My young athletic doctor was an All-State basketball player for the Boerne Greyhounds some thirty years ago. He gets up at 5:00 am three times a week to play basketball in our high school gymnasium. It is not a good thing to have a former all-state athlete for your physician. His parameters of possibility expand far beyond the normal boundaries of hope.

"Follow my advice and you will die a quick, easy death. Keep going as you are and your death will be slow and painful."

What he wants me to do is slow and painful: run, walk, ride a bicycle, grab the flirtatious hand of the vixen of health. As opposed to sinking into the fraternal order of sofa spuds ("couch potatos" to you not so hip) and enjoying another round of decadent goo and fizz.

So the option is (1) slow and relaxed interminables as a presage to slow and painful death. Or (2) a quick, easy death preceded by pain and deprivation.

It's just a major league quandry framed in a trick question. When I was five years old, my mother presented a minor league dilemma with its own deceiving choice: "Do you want to wear this red shirt, or the blue shirt?" The question offers no permanent choice at all, except to settle mother's anxiety (I might miss the school bus if she doesn't get a shirt on me.) So I chose the red shirt, but tomorrow the blue one was still there.

All through our lives we struggle with the red/blue issue, ignoring the suppressed desire to not wear a shirt at all.

Not to die at all.

We ignore death to the point that it always comes as an unexpected guest. It is the enemy, the darkness against which even the most valiant light dims. The poet laureate of our youth schooled us:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I think not. Rage just doesn't fit the end of the living of these days. Sometime in the next year, ten years, twenty or even thirty, I will die. The thought does not scare me. I have given up control many times in times when the force was undefeatable. ("Just close your eyes and count backwards from 100": "100, 99, 98, 97 . . .") Rage, no.

Give me gentle submission when I bow. Give me a completeful release of the last energy flow. Concern is small for whatever lies beyond that last revival attempt by the caregivers. Let me go gentle into that good night.

And, I sleep best with no night shirt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Expulsions

A drive has taken me here, pushed me here, forced me to sit at the keyboard. Yet, I know not why, nor what to say.

I do not think George W is an evil person, but I may be wrong. What compulsion could be driving the man into a position of attacking another country (Iran) at a time when we can barely sustain our forces in Iraq? There is no way we can sustain an extensive ground war in Afganistan, Iraq and Iran at the same time. No way short of a military draft. Yet he talks as if that is his focus. Evil, no, but possibly tragically possessed with some obsession of manifest destiny.

My early favorite Democrat, Obama, seems to lack the spine to get mean enough to defeat Hillary. Hillary has too many loose ends and too many tight stretches to hold it together. This tragic couple (Hillary & Bill) will be unable to avoid a major melt-down before the election (Nov 08). Watch her start to fade by mid-January.

Edwards will fade, as his money dries up. Richardson can't stop talking about his experiences (and we are tired of listening). So that leaves Joe Biden, another early favorite of mine. The most articulate candidate in the field, he may have learned to measure his words.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Interesting to me, at least, but not the reason I sat here this day.

I am headed to retirement next June (08). The change looks very intriguing to me. Mostly, I hope to have time to research and write: stuff about theology, mental illness, to re-read all of Kurt Vonnegutt's books. To teach some progressive theology classes. To work 20 hours a week in some church, probably in a visiting pastor role. To be able to find a small circle of friends with whom I'll need not maintain a "pastoral" role. To get my blood sugar under control. To help my grandson, grand daughter grow up. To develop a web site that will have lasting value. To get my appetites under control: financial and food.

Well, maybe one of two of those things, before I peek into eternity.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Erik Erikson's Eighth Stage of Man involves the struggle between despair and intergrity. I know that will be a major field of turmoil for me. Despair could mean falling into the easy chair with the latest book of Sudoku puzzles and refusing to come out. Or, it could be a fanatical dive into some messianic effort to set the world right. May I be saved from any resolution; saved for a wholeness that comes from equal parts of ying and yang.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where does the passion of life surface? Have I really developed gills so that the passion for fresh air has been squashed? Little by little, unnoticeably, have I pushed my own thoughts and feelings back into the folds of a dark blanket, for the sake of promoting the growth of parishioner's spiritual weeds? Have I listened with an ear concerned for their tranquility rather than growth? Have I worried more about being controversial, than instructive?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Somehow this diatribe has not brought satisfaction, for there is an incompleteness to it all these days. Standing on the precipice, looking down, then up, I feel certain that the allure of what's-happening-tomorrow will keep me in the race. Hardball, Countdown, Jon Stewart, even Bill Maher will keep me looking around the corner; hoping that George W hasn't blown up the world, or provoked some else into doing it. Pity the man; fear what he might do.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Liberals more tolerant?

Is it true that liberals are more tolerant of conservatives than vice versa? If so why is this the case? Your comments please.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Tripping DC

The last week of August, Judee (my wife) and I spent in Washington DC. It was an extremely inspiring and uplifting venture---of course we did not see any politicians.

But we did get to sit in the gallery of the House of Representatives, and imagine Sam Rayburn dispensing power. We humbly climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and read the engraved words of the Gettysburg address: of the peple, by the people, for the people ....

We slowly walked the trail of the Vietnam Memorial. It is a difficult thing to pause and read the names of those who would be my age today, if only .... We passed hundeds of geese enjoying the waters of the reflecting ponds and scrounging for food from the grass. They will be flying south in a few months I suppose.

We reached the magnificent World War II Memorial with its dual tribute to the Pacific and European theaters. And finally the spire of the Washington Monument, reaching some 55 stories up into the sky, centering the city.

Arlington Cemetary was next. Our shuttle moved slowly through what appeared to be millions and millions of white crosses. Hushedly we walked toward a beautiful green slope of grass. At the top of that hill was Arlington House, one-time home of Robert E Lee. Turning back to the east you could see the Lincoln Memorial to your left, the Washington Monument straight ahead, and beyond it the beautiful dome of the capitol building. Two weeks before he died, John Kennedy stood on that slope and said it was so beautify that he could spend eternity there. His grave with the eternal flame now lies at the foot of that slope.

Granite tablets hold some of the words from his 1961 inaugural speech.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Having just lived a few, too brief moments with Lincoln, these words invoked such a longing that we could have leaders today who could dream such dreams and heal such hurts.

And we watched in silence the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington. Every thirty minutes, 24/7, all kinds of weather that ritual is repeated.

At the capitol building our tour guide explained the interior of the dome, tooks us downs stairs to a room filled with statues donated by each state (Sam Houston represesnted Texas). And, gave us passes to the gallery of the House of Representives (Congress was not in session).

On to the museums: the Air & Space Museum held the Spirit of St. Louis, rockets, space station mockups, the lunar rover, planes from WWI and all the others, even a large model of the Star Ship Enterprise. We saw a 3D Imax movie on the building of the space station; and a planetarium presentation on the universe that was outstanding.

And because the History museum was undergoing renovation, some of the exhibits had been moved to the Air & Space: Dorothy's red shoes from Wizard of Oz, Lincoln's top hat, Mister Rogers' sweater, rocks from the moon, etc.

The Indian Museums was very thorough and informative, even inspiring at times.

We did not get to see the Jefferson Memorial nor the White House (a visitors center is available, the actual White House was not).

Great praises for the DC Metro system. For twenty dollars my young wife bought a ticket that allowed her to travel all over DC all week. My ticket cost $10 (Senior Citizen) and lasted until Thursday. Our hotel (Radisson, Crystal City) was about two blocks away from the Metro Station and we travelled by rail all over DC and Arlington. Never rented a car. But, they do rent cars (Zip Cars) for $7.75 an hour, and I wish I had rented one to go to the Jefferson Memorial. We loved riding the rails and find it hard to understand why Texas is pushing toll roads instead of the rails.

It was a great week.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sexual Integrity

Yesterday (Saturday, August 18) I returned to San Antonio from a trip to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. A group of eight from our church attended the Celebrate Recovery (CR) national Summit 2007. Over 3,500 persons were there.

We are in our third year of CR at our church. It is a 12-step program designed to serve folks with all sorts of hurts, habits and hangups. Sure, CR deals with addictions to alcohol and drugs; but, it is so much more than that. Any kind of hurt a person might be carrying inside, any kind of destructive habit, any relationship-destroying hangup is fair game.

During this Summit, I became aware of a new area that needs to be addressed in our churches: sexual immorality. I attended a group of over 200 men who admitted to be struggling with sexual addictions---things like lust, pornography, sexual infidelty, adultery, etc. I heard confessions of how sexual obsessions had been extremely destructive to lives, marriages, jobs and careers.

I also heard men say they have been "sober" or "clean" from impurities for days, months, even years. I heard men proclaiming a hunger for holiness. Men whose lives had been restored.

I was directed to a book: Every Man's Battle by Steven Arterburn, Ph.D. He is a psychologist whose book has been used as a study guide for those seeking freedom from sexual obsessions.

A study will be proposed to our Adult Ministries and Council on Ministry. Hopefully a study called "Sexual Integrity" can be offered through our church. And, after the eight-week course, a "maintenance share group", and 12-step program hopefully will be started at Celebrate Recovery.

We live in an age where sexually-stimulating imagery and language is presented to us many times a day: in entertainment media, print media, advertisements, in daily conversations, in our choices of clothing. Pornography, in whatever form it is presented tends to restrict the dimensions of our relationships. We as a people have a real need to learn to control and appropriately use the sexual aspects of our life.

I am aware that Celebrate Recovery, and much of the sexual integrity literature that is out there may take a reactionary, rigid, puritanical position on sex. I don't belong in that camp. But, I do believe that sexual addiction (especially lust, pornogoraphy and adultery) can be very destructive to the most precious relationships we share.

As I learn more, I will write more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

We (Pridefully) Are Number One!

This fall at some football game it is inevitable you will see zealous students waving their index finger in the air and proclaiming "We're Number One" over and over. And it will be just as certain that they are not. They may have a good won-loss record, perhaps 7-3, but more than likely they will be second or third in their conference, certainly not number one in the nation.

Rampant, exuberant pride will blind the student body to its losses and propel their unfounded claim. We understand all this and take it with a grain of salt. Kids love their school, want to think of it as great, and, allow some of the "greatness" to filter down on themselves.

But it is harder to understand when adults make such a claim for themselves, when the evidence so clearly points elsewhere.

Witness: Pope Benedict XVI a couple of weeks ago declared that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was the only true church.
Other churches havc elements of holiness, the Pope said, but are defective.

Oh my, oh my! This pronouncement, echoing such claims of a bygone day, came during the very same week when the Los Angeles diocese of the RCC announced it was going to pay $660 million to persons who claimed to be sexual abuse victims of church priests.

Add to that the millions and millions other archbishops have coughed over to those offended by their priests and you have a "defect" larger that a billion dollars, and -- even worse -- thousands and thousands of lives blighted. The only true church? We're number one indeed!

Weekly a small group of men meet in our church. Recently one person noted that pride was one of the deadly sins. Quite a discussion ensued, with such statements as "I'm proud to be an American." and "I take pride in my work." And those meanings of "pride" do abound in our popular usage.

But pride's first meaning in your dictionary (look it up) is "overhigh opinion of oneself, exaggerated self-esteem and conceit". It is this kind of "blowing oneself up" that leads us humans to think we are better than everyone else.

When I was growing up in West Texas there was a church there which claimed it was the only true church. All other churches (including the RCC) were false churches because they had practices which were not found in the New Testament (e.g., using pianos in worship, calling their building a "church", naming their churches after saints, etc.).

Many other churches or religious bodies have asserted their exclusive righteousness, their special standing before God. Ever hear the phrase "chosen race" or "chosen people"? In the Christian church we struggle with the early church's quote of Jesus: "No one comes to the Father except through me." And the Islamic and Jewish faiths have adherents who make a similar claim, "we are the only way to salvation".

It is a childish arrogance to proclaim oneself or one's group as the one group or people on all the earth whom God loves more than others.

Years ago I worked as a caseworker on a psychiatric unit at a state hospital. It was not unusual for us to admit persons with many different delusions. E.g., unwed mothers often claimed to be the virgin Mary. Once we had two different patients, both claiming to be Jesus Christ. Even to them it was obvious that there could not be two of them. When confronted with that contradiction, one of them replied, "Well, I am the real Jesus, he is a fake." And, of course the other patient said the same thing.

Whenever we are led to claim that we are special, while others are ordindary, chances are our claim is based on prideful delusion.

Why do we do this? Do we not all want to be special? Do we not all want to be important? In the Christian Scripture the mother of James and John wanted to insure a seat of importance for her sons in heaven. As disciples of Jesus, they were already important to Jesus, but their mother wanted them to sit in places of honor (Matthew 20.21). She wanted her sons to be number one (and number two, I suppose).

The antidote to this kind of thinking is humility---the opposite of pride. I have often wondered about the relationship between the word "humility" and "humus". The latter is a rich and fertile dirt, but still, only dirt. And, in the Jewish story of creation, God made man out of dirt. To me this suggests that our true satisfaction in life is rooted in the knowledge that we come from "dirt" and to "dirt" we will return.

In a "first-shall-be-last" kingdom, claiming we are number one almost certainly assures that we are not.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Save Me from the Gripers

I know a religious lady who claims to be a Christian who publisihes a gripe about every five minutes of her waking moments. Mostly she gripes about the people around her; and, I am convinced she must gripe about me once I am out of her sight.

We have a lot of "cultural Christians", many, many such, who religiously perform "Christian" rites (associated with the church) but whose life can hardly be distinguished from a non-Christian when they are away from church functions. They even gripe about the preacher, the selected hymns, the choir, the ushers, the temperature in the sanctuary, the other people who come to functions. And, they fail to see the selfish toxin they spread and multiply in themselves. It is difficult to be around them for long.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A story is told about a man who wanted to be a monk in a monastery, so he took the vows and began his novitiate.

"For the first year, you must work daily in the garden, and keep silent."

So he did his daily work without a word. At the end of that time, the Abbot said he could speak two words.

"Hard Bed", said the novice.

He was chastised and told he had to work another year in silence. At the end of that time, he once again was give the opportunity to say two words.

"Bad Food", he replied.

This time he was told he must work two years in silence, in the garden, the kitchen and mopping floors. At the end of that time he was brought before the Abbot again and given two words.

"I quit.", he spoke.

"Well, it's just as well," said the Abbot. "You have done nothing but gripe ever since you have been here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think griping is a very aggressive way, a very negative aggressive way of walking through life. It is possible the griper is not consciously aware of their constant harangue. A griper may be like the preacher who says, "Dear God," fifteen times when he utters a pastoral prayer. [That's the religious version of the secular person who says, "you know" over and over in conversation.] The griper probably does not know how bitter and negative they sound. And they may not even be aware of their words.

But others are. And others are aware that the griper makes a choice not to be thankful for life. The griper plays out his/her life from a cess pool of daily pain and rotting relationships. He does not trust the rule of thanksgiving. Nor is the call to "come into the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving" answered in their life.

David Scholer is a very popular New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer five years ago. It has now spread to both lungs, and he has asthma, diabetes and arthritis. Students say that his most important lesson is the importance of living with ambiguity; and, to ponder Paul's 1st Thessalonians statement, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances."

When you give thanks to God for all things in your life, daily, one-by-one, the good things and the bad things, it absolutely transforms your life. You become a joy and a blessing to those you meet.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Second Life: A Virtual World of Wonder

For the past week I have been exploring Second Life, an internet based world which provides a wide-range of "imaginary/real" experiences. In this "world" I have adopted the name of Hosea Beaumont, and am aspiring to be a Protestant Benedictine Monk, living at the Felix Meritas monastery in the Lill Burn Valley.

Reportedly over seven million persons are members of this cyber world; however only around 30-40,000 seem to be signed on at any one time. The cost is not too high if you are frugal. I bought L$1,000 (Linden dollars--"play" money named after the founders of Second Life, the Lindens) for $4.02 and have spent around 400 so far. Two hundred for a week's rent of a cell in the Cloister at the monastery and other expenses along the way (L$95 for a Benedictine robe).

Each person has an avatar (a representative humanoid, well some do not look like a human) which you get to design yourself with some fairly sophisticated tools. and you can make or buy clothing.

I must admit there are an unusual number of sexy women running around, since there are generous limits as the the size of various body parts you can choose. And much of the clothing is probably what most earth-based creatures wish they could wear (on bodies they wish were really theirs).

So you have to put up with sex and gambling as two primary modes of behavior; however, there is plenty of room to discuss redemption and forgiveness in this world.

Yesterday I discussed God and agnosticism with a young psychological student from Toulouse, France (yes he really was from France---this thing is a world-wide community). Today I debated with a Greek Orthodox follower who was proclaiming his church was right and all others were wrong. I have an acquaintance with a sister here at the monastery who in RL (real life) is a medical student in Munich. I talked with a fellow from Spain and a lady from California yesterday.

Most of the time I just sit in the courtyard and welcome folks who "drop in" to visit the monastery. Some come intending to discuss religious matters. Other times I "transport" to other locations, shopping malls, churches, parks, a recreational midnight walk, even a casino, w here I won L$60 on my third try and immediately quit. Today I took an hour class on how to write behavioral scripts for my avatar.

I hope to build a United Methodist Church (tho I probably won't call it that), preach on Sundays, teach some classes, have a Bible Study or two, counsel whenever, and develop a circuit like Wesley. Small groups are next, on different levels of discourse and accountability. It takes time to develop a group I suspect, but it will really be fun and worthwhile.

So, if you wish to come and see what this is all about, click on this address: http://www.secondlife.com/ and come aboard. If you spend any time there, come on over to the Felix Meritas monastery and say high. I usually spend a little time there in the late afternoons and evenings (beats TV). Oh yes, if you decide to become a Premium Member, somehow I will get L$2,000 as a reward if you mention my name Whatever I get will go toward building a church.

[Late news: in the Sunday, July 1, edition of the San Antonio Express-News there is a story on Virtual Worlds. See it at:

Hosea Beaumont,
aka Conrad


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Note to a New Reader


One of the most difficult things for some Christians to do is to accept the proposition that two different persons can have different understandings of the Christian journey and yet can both be right, or righteous.


God's truth, while absolute for God, is relative to each of us.

Consider for a moment that God has alwasy related to different people differently. From Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah, from Moses and Zippporah to David and Bathsheba, and on and on in the biblical story. God reveals himself differently at different times in different ways. It would be futile for Moses to try to convince David that a "burning bush" was the primary way God communicates.

Consider a lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A ship (e.g. ship # 4 below) sends out a distress call. It is lost and needs direction to the safety of the lighthouse.

Suppose the other ships, in an effort to help, signalled ship #4 to take their direction to safety. Ship #1 would say, "Go Southeast". Ship #2, "Go Northeast". Ship #3, "Go Southwest".

Ship#4 would be hopelessly lost if it tried to go in the same direction as another ship. The moral: Each person must follow their unique pathway to a full transforming relationship with God. To imitate what others advise (no matter how "right" they are) will not bring safety or lasting satisfaction.


Scripture tells us: Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. 1 Cor 13.12

Some persons have a need to have an absolute authority in their life. This is especially true when we are younger, or when we live in a universe filled with confusion, ambiguity and fear and we are not coping very well. There is a tendency to "whittle God down to size", or to imagine that he exists only to meet our particular needs.

A person getting ready to travel by car across the desert needs to notice that their gas tank is only 1/4 full and be responsible for it. To run out of gas some 100 miles into the journey and then ask God for more gas is totally irresponsible behavior. God does not exist just to bail us out of quandries of our own making.

When we have a "whittled down God" we have falsely expanded our partial knowledge of him to a "complete understanding". We think our understanding of God is the same as his mysterious reality. This process leads to idolatry. We worship our partial understanding as if it were the same as the unlimited, all-powerful, mysterious God.
Anytime we take the infinite and make if finite, that is idolatry.

A Sufi parable tells the story of how different blind persons examined an elephant and tried to come up with a description. One, holding onto the trunk, said, "It seems to be like a large snake." Another, stretching his arms around one of the elephant's legs said, "It appears to be like a large tree." The one with the tail in his hands described it as a "whip".

While the person holding its ears, argued for large thick leaves on a tree. All of the ones involved were "right" in their partial understanding of the elephant, but only by putting all their impressions togeother could they come to a fuller understanding of "elephant".

The moral: Each of bring to the table our own "partial" understanding of God. Respectful dialogue can yield deeper and more complete understanding for all. But, when we refuse to be open-minded to other's witness, we build an impenetrable wall around our own self-authenticated god.


In seminary and through my reading these last thirty years, I have learned many things which have changed my Christian stance. There are things I know now, which prohibit me from "believing" some things I once believed. But on the other hand, there are things I have retained from my early Sunday School upbringing which help form the core of my Christian experience.

I would never expect you to put on my perspective for that would be a synthetic coat of faith for you. Neither am I willing to wear your "coat of faith" for that would not be viable for me. But that does not mean that your current faith stance is invalid or wrong. On the contrary, what you currently believe, live and the way you relate to God reflect your interaction with the faith community and with God up to this point in your life. It is vital that you affirm it, while at the same time, stay in dialogue with others in the broader community of faith.

Where your understanding has rough edges, explore and grow. Where it is satisfying and supporting, deepen it and be thankful. One persons faith position is not better than another's, so long as they are both involved in a transforming relationship with God and are engaged in dialogue with the larger Christian community.


Finally, let us love one another. Let us not be threatened by differences. Let us not feel compelled to force everyone to believe the way we do. In love, let us search for the truth of life, and let us be thankful in all we do.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

News Traces

Baptists urge defeat of hate-crimes bill

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), meeting in San Antonio (June 13) passed a resolution asking the "Senate and President Bush to prevent hate-crimes from being prosecutable, saying it would add an extra layer of protection for homosexuality, which they say the Bible denounces". The convention urged President Bush to veto the bill if it passes legislative muster.

The reasoning behind this position is that Baptists have been arrested for "inciting hatred" when openly displaying Bible verses pertaining to homosexuality.

The convention of 8,600 messengers (the smallest annual meeting in thirty years) also applauded a message from President Bush, via satellite, in which he praised the charitable work of the Baptists.

The official stance of the SBC on same-sex relations is that "the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin" but that all Americans "are urged to treat all gays and lesbians with civility and compassion while sharing the Gospel with them". From the San Antonio Express-News, June 14, 2007

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From the San Antonio Express-News, June 2, 2007:
A $27 million Creation Museum has opened in Petersburg, Kentucky, promoting a literal Biblical view of creation. The museum claims the earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosours lived alongside humans, and that the universe was created in six, 24-hour days. Adam and Eve are depicted as white caucasian creatures with their nudity hidden behind a large boulder.
A United Methodist bishop has appointed Drew Phoenix to a pastorate in Maryland. Last year the same pastor was appointed to the same charge under the name of Ann Gordan. Clergy in Baltimore have appealed to the denomination's Judicial Council regarding the transgendered appointment.
Rural Church Struggle. About 52 percent of American churches are in rural areas. That figure repersents around 177,000 congregations. Average attendance is estimated to be twenty.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Benedictine Rule for 21st Century

A month ago, at a conference in Montgomery, Alabama, Bishop Goodpasture of Mississipi spoke of the impact living the Benedictine Rule had on his life. Then this past week, while attending a conference in Corpus Christi, I was led to to a small, slender book entitled Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living. Written by John McQuiston II, a Memphis attorney, the book is a "translation" of the Sixth Century Benedictine Rule into our contemporary context. It appears to offer promise for one seeking to bring order to a chaotic life. Some excerpts:

"The first rule is simply this:

live this life
and do whatever is done,
in a spirit of Thanksgiving.

Abandon attempts to achieve security,
they are futile,

give up the search for wealth,
it is demeaning,

quit the search for salvation,
it is selfish,

and come to comfortable rest
in the certainty that those who
participate in this life
with an attitude of Thanksgiving
will receive its full promise."
p. 17-18

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"... we as finite creatures, can perceive only what we are capable of perceiving. Therefore each person must be dealt with in accordance with his or her unique disposition and capacities." p. 30

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Remember the great value of silence.
Each day there must be time for silence,
even in our prayers and meditation.
There must be time within which we
neither speak nor listen,
but simply are.

... Too much talk is a sign of self-centeredness
and insecurity." p. 43-44

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Here is the Twelve Stages of Humility, in abbreviated form:

"The first stage of humility
is to keep the sacred nature of consciousness
... always alive within us.

The second stage of humility
is to distrust our own will.

The third stage of humility
is to accept our limitations....

The fourth stage of humility
is to be patient and to maintain
a quiet mind.

The fifth stage of humility
is not to conceal our faults.

The sixth stage of humility is to be content
with the work we are given to do.

The seventh stage of humility is to
understand how inconsequential we are.

The eighth stage of humility is to act
in accordance with the plan of our
true guides.

The ninth stage of humility is to
refrain from judgement (and to offer
advice only when it is requested).

The tenth stage of humility is to
refrain from taking pleasure
in other's losses.

The eleventh stage of humility is to
speak gently and briefly.

The twelth stage of humility is to
maintain humble thoughts and demeanor."

The book is filled with wisdom for living a full life. Sacrifice of our heavy dependance on the material world is called for. The challenge is to give up our efforts to save our lives and to lose them in the service of others. --ca

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Readings Traces

A new feature: from time to time excerpts from various sources will be posted here, along with my comments. --ca

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In March 2007 a show on the Discovery Channel, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, was presented. It claimed that a tomb containing the bones of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had been found. Most scholars were very dubious about the claims of those responsible for the show. However, the prospect of finding Jesus' bones raised some interesting questions.

Early Christians claimed that the empty tomb argued for a physical resurrection; and, if physical remains were discovered, some branches of Christianity would be left scrambling for an explanation. But Paul claimed that the resurrection body was a spiritual entity (1 Cor 15.44), not a physical one. Certainly Jesus' resurrection body was unusual. At one point he walks through walls (John 21.19ff). But, the question remains, what difference would it make of our understanding of Jesus--his death and resurrection if physical remains were found. Christian Century, March 20, 2007 p. 5.

This is all hypothetical of course, but the question does not bother me at all. The overwhelming presence of the risen Christ is a primary basis of my post-resurrection understanding of Jesus. This presence is a spiritual presence, not a physical one (at least that's as far as my experience and reason will carry me). If authentic bones were found, I would be interested in solving the mystery of how they got to where they were discovered. But, it would have little impact upon my relationship with God. --Conrad

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A book by this name has just been released. It is written by Pope Benedict 16th. Very intriguing is a review I read (have not read the book, yet) which raises the issue: "how to love and respect what you are being taught to dissect". The pope is speaking to a very relevant concern of Christians today. In the face of biblical criticism and the use of scientific methods to study its origin, authorship, development of theology, etc., how is the modern Christian to develop and maintain "an intimate friendship with Jesus"?

Pope Benedict proposes that we "trust the gospels," read them critically and with love. He asserts that Jesus exploded all existing categories and can be understood "only in the light of the mystery of God." George Weigel, Time Magazine, 5-21-07, p. 49.

I was amazed to find the Pope speaking so openly and positively about biblical criticism. He focuses on the "meaning" of Biblical stories as more important than the results of "over-dissecting" the texts. Reading the Scriptures with love and critical examination show us, as the Pope points out, reality's translucence to God. I have ordered this book. --Conrad

Monday, May 21, 2007

Some Favorite John Wesley Quotations

John Wesley was one of the greatest Christians ever to live. What you will find here are some things he said or wrote about a variety of topics.

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LOVE. For how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love. We may die without the knowledge of many truths and yet be carried into Abraham's bosom. But if we do without love, what will knowledge avail?
Works (Bic Ed 1.107.

MONEY. Gain all you can without hurting either yourself or your neighbor, in soul or body, by applying hereto with uninterrupted diligence, and with all the understanding God has given you. Save all you can. by cutting off every expense which serves to indulge foolish desire, to gratify either desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life. Waste nothing, living or dying, on sin or folly, whether for yourselsf or your children. And then, Give all you can, or in other words give all you have to God.
Works (Bic Ed) 2.278f.
[In another work, Wesley amplifies the use of money to include what is needed for one's business or profession and to provide for necessities of you children (which would include college and other sustaining expenses.--ca]

Scripture. I want to know one thing, the way to heaven--how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book!
Works (Bic Ed) 1.105

Field Preaching. George Whitfield persistently urged Wesly to engage in preaching outdoors; but Wesley did not think it proper. Finally, on April 2, 1739, he wrote in his journal: "At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tiding of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining the city (Bristol), to about three thousand people." Albert Outler believes this experience was as important as the Aldergate experience, for Wesley had finally found his vocation.
Quotation from Journal II (Jackson Ed.), 172-173.

Disagreements. Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ from him and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, "Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?"
Albert Outler, John Wesley, 1964, p. 95.

Serenity Prayer

Perhaps you have never come across the complete Serenity Prayer as written by Reinhold Niebuhr. I had heard the first three verses, but not the complete prayer. Here 'tis:

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God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that you will make all things right
if I surrender to your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with you forever in the next.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Eight Principles of Celebrate Recovery

by Pastor Rick Warren
Saddleback Church

1. Realize that I am not God. I admit I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.

2. Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover.
Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

3. Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control.
Happy are the meek.

4. Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.
Happy are the pure in heart.

5. Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask him to remove my character defects.
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.

6. Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I've done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.
Happy are the merciful. Happy are the peacemakers.

7. Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
8. Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words.
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.

Monday, May 14, 2007

SERMON: Why "Good Friday"?

I was reading on the internet a review of a movie earlier this week when I came upon a warning, in bold print. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD. What that meant was the writer was about to tell me the way the movie came out . So if I didn’t want to know how the story ended, I shouldn’t read any more. Knowing how the story ends, takes away from the suspense and emotion of the movie.

I think the same can be said for the passion story.

I have heard it said that we cannot experience the ecstasy and joy of Easter, unless we experience the pain and despair of the crucifixion. It is an basic part of our human make-up that we try to avoid pain and we seek out pleasure. But it is also true that healing and growth often require pain and sacrifice.

So, tonight, let us listen to the testimony of some of the principle actors in the Good Friday events. We will hear from them as they speak to us on Saturday---the day after the crucifixion, the day before what we call Easter. At that point, they do not know about the Resurrection.

Our first witness is Peter:
“This is the worst day of my life. First, Jesus wanted to wash my feet and I wouldn’t let him. Then I begged him to wash my feet. I had a hard time knowing what was expected of me. Then Jesus asked me to pray with him when we got to the garden. And, of all things, I fell asleep.

The next thing I know the Temple Guard is there, arresting Jesus. I was ready to fight them off, but Jesus said no.Then, early in the morning (or very late last night) I said I didn’t even know him. --- not once, but three times. I was so scared. I wish I’d never been born.And I ran away and hid. Then they killed him on a cross.


And hear from his mother, Mary:
I worried so much for him, especially those last days. There had been times in his life when our family felt like he was going too far. We tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen. When he created that ruckus in the temple, earlier this week,I think that was the last straw.

Today as I watched him dying on that cross, I felt like I was dying too. I wish I could have taken his place. My heart has been crushed. I loved him so, and now he is gone. Any mother knows how I feel.


Then there was the Roman soldier:
I never wanted to come to this country. And when I got here I was appalled to be assigned to execution squad. Once, my son was terribly ill, and having heard about Jesus, I asked him to heal my son. And he did. That is why I found it so hard to understand why these people wanted to kill Jesus.

I watched helplessly as my men whipped him. I saw him struggle as he went to Golgotha. It was incredible. Here he was, seemingly despised and hated by everyone, and he asked his Father God to forgive everyone. Then the earth began to move from under my feet, and the sky was covered with a blanket of darkness. I was surprised when I heard my elf say, “Surely this is the Son of God.” And then he died.


We call this day "Good Friday" because we see all these events with Resurrection Eyes. But Resurrection eyes can see the risen Lord, only with the cross in the background.

As I heard someone say earlier today, “We know how it all turned out.” So for us the horrible things that happened on that day are more easily accepted. We may want to minimize the suffering of Jesus. We may want to run away from that cross and hide, like his disciples did. But we cannot; not if our relationship with him is to have any real meaning.

Here, on this darkest night of all nights, may we meditate and give thanks for the overwhelming sacrifice of love which Jesus give to us.

We call this day Good Friday, because what Jesus did this day and every day of his life, was to erase the condemnation of sin from each of us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.