This blog is an outlet for my thoughts. They don’t always represent the stance of the United Methodist Church. Naturally, I think that they should. 🙂
This blog is an outlet for my thoughts. They don’t always represent the stance of the United Methodist Church. Naturally, I think that they should. 🙂
There’s a beautiful story that I heard not too long ago. The tale recounts the birth of a young man in a small village in Africa. The tribe varies in the telling, but the story is apocryphal, so it is to be expected.
A young woman decides it is time to have a child. She begins the preparations not with the gathering of clothing or building a crib. She begins by going apart from her people to discover the song of this new life. She sits beneath a tree or in the shade of a rock — the locale varies as the tribe. When the song comes to her, she sings it until she knows it like her own name.
Returning to her village, she shares the song with her husband. They sing it together each night before they go to sleep. The child is conceived to their singing. When he is born nine months later, he is surrounded by villagers who have learned the song while waiting for his birth.
He knows the words by the time he knows where to find water and how to find food. He knows the tunes like he knows the sounds of the animals that share the savanna or the arid hills with him and his tribe.
If the child falls, or hurts his knee, someone picks him up and sings his song. As a way of honoring this person as he grows up, the people of the village sing his song. When he comes into manhood, his song is sung by his friends, his tribe as a way to celebrate who he has always been and who he has become.
In the life of the child, there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to a person. (more…)
A child died today. He shot himself after a failed attempt to confront a teacher. He shot two other students before turning the gun on himself. And then, a nation was filled with the clamor of blame.
I have to force myself to stop scrolling after the news stories because the comments sections will be filled with nonsense and trolling. At this writing, the incident is less than 12 hours since the event occurred. And yet, some know all they need to know.Can’t they understand that this was a child. He was a child: A child of God and a person of worth. Call me what you want to call me, but I’m starting there. (more…)
While unpopular in some circles, there are still a great many reasons why I still believe in the UMC. Sure, there are some antiquated ideas in every organization, especially one that goes back a few years like ours does.
Old habits die hard, even in the young leaders who are stepping into the gaps left by absentee Baby Boomers who don’t want to become the very embodiment of the authority they rejected in the 60’s and 70’s. And the Greatest Generation still has a firm grip on the wheel in many respects, whether the generation after them wants to drive for a while or not.
This has led to a difficult joining of hands in our denomination. A very different mix of leaders have been brought together in capacities that aren’t always “official” to figure out how we are going to move forward as a denomination. Some are bishops. Others are leading voices in bright and shining ministries. Others are simply leading voices. With the advent of social media, even pastors serving a hundred members or less can suddenly find themselves at the table sharing opinions.
The strain of leading through this time is incredible, at least from where I sit in the middle. People are pulling back to more conservative positions. Progressives are making plans to leave the denomination as they encounter obstacles on the path to discipleship or even ordination.
So I thought I would share a few ideas about why I still believe in the UMC. Consider this a reminder to those who came before me and a push for the next generations to embrace our history — speckled, spotted, and stained though it may be. (more…)
When the social order of our culture changes within a matter of years and not decades, the Church must deal with the difficulty of orthodoxy in a shifting paradigm. For many, this is a simple matter. Either you are part of the change or you are part of the barriers to that change, depending on your degree of liberalism or conservatism. But how you navigate change matters.
We’ve not done a good job of moving forward to new things. Too often, as a Church, we’ve made the mistake of vilifying the past. We’ve made the mistake of trying to rewrite our history, our traditions, and even our Scripture to follow our new ideas.
A retired pastor breaks the rules of our denomination. A retired Bishop defies the Book of Discipline. A group of pastors seek justice for a same-sex couple by defying a covenant en masse, making it harder for their conference to discipline such a large number of pastors. If removed from their appointments, who would fill their pulpits?
All are claiming that their cause is right and just, and that the rules no longer apply. But we cannot so callously cast aside thousands of years of Scriptural authority, Church law, and, yes, even time-honored tradition.
How does one address the both/and nature of this conversation?
It wasn’t a shock to see “A Jew Named Jesus” as a book title. After all, I’ve been a pastor for several years. I’m also seminary-trained and I understand the history of the Bible. But for this pastor, who has never been immersed in Jewish culture, this book was a phenomenally eye-opening experience. Rebekah Simon-Peter offers a distinct flavor that has been missing from Christian culture and provides an entry point for the open-minded Christian to peer over the shoulder of a Jewish woman who has been found by Jesus.
Like Simon-Peter, I have found the Jesus of the Christian Church to be almost devoid of Jewishness. As she puts it, Jesus has been “stripped of his Jewishness, divorced from his context, and turned into a Christian.” She goes on to note that he was “a very nice Christian, but a non-Jew nonetheless.”
Her task is to rejoin these two cultures insofar as this may be done, by renewing the context, explaining the culture, and sharing her experiences of both Judaism and Christianity and the Jewish Christ.
The author provides a detailed story of her journey from Reformed Judaism to Orthodoxy to Christianity to answering a call to preach the Gospel. By following Simon-Peter’s journey of discovery and revelation, we are able to overhear a conversation between her found Christianity and the Jewishness she carries within her. And the conversation isn’t always easy.
How does one come to worship the Christ who, for her people, has always represented the reason for their persecution at the hands of Christians?
How does one depart the teachings and the teachers of one’s childhood?
How does one experience the Christian Church without the often disjointed, preconceived notions of cultural Christians?
The answer this book provided is this: With careful and precise deliberation, and with the loving support of those within both Jewish and Christian communities who understand that the mysteries of our religious beliefs outnumber the facts of our theological understanding.
Along the way she discovers the absence of Jewishness from Christian images. The perspectives on the central figure of our faith, Jesus of Nazareth, were two dimensional and lacked the Jewish grounding she knew. Simon-Peter offers us a clear reinterpretation of Jesus through the lens of Judaism and Jewish culture.
As I mentioned before, I have always tried to present Jesus as he existed within his culture of Jewish thinking and behavior. But I found some places where I may have missed the mark. Simon-Peter points out the debates between Jesus and the teachers of the Torah, the scribes, and others. I was taught that these encounters were intended to test and to trap Jesus, but I focused on the trap. Simon-Peter notes that
The Pharisees are the subject of many of these compare and contrast sermons. They have been so often preached as shortsighted, small-With minded, religious frauds who cared only about control that the term has become synonymous with “hypocrite.” Just look it up in the Dictionary. To be sure, some of the Pharisees were hypocrites. Even rabbinic writings acknowledge that. Some of the them tried to entrap Jesus and some wanted him dead. Jesus rightly called them on it. But other Pharisees sincerely sought him out, warned him of danger, appreciated his teaching, extended hospitality even when being attacked by him, and argued for open-mindedness.
How did I miss this? No, how did I see this and acknowledge it, and yet fail to incorporate it into the Lenten/Easter dialogue?
But this isn’t just a corrective lens for theology and discourse. Simon-Peter points to the rich heritage of Judaism that flowed from the sons and daughters of Abraham to become the followers of Jesus. She notes that the followers of Jesus from the Gospels and the Book of Acts all come from his Jewish family, friends, and neighbors. Even Matthew, who works for the Gentiles, is a Jew — and hated by his people for collaborating. The Pentecost congregation is made up of believing Jews from many, many countries. The Gospel message delivered by Peter and John is framed in language that points back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
More importantly, Simon-Peter orchestrates the syncopated melodies of Christian culture. She provides deep and personal insights into the harmonies of Judaism’s ancient traditions. The result is a rich and varied symphony. I won’t ever again be able to hear one of the components without realizing the absence of the other.
If you are a pastor with a seminary education, this book is for you. If you are leading a congregation, and you are unaware of the connections between Judaism and Christianity, this book is for you. The average Christian on the street who thinks of Judaism and Christianity as two separate, unrelated religions — oh my word, this book is for YOU.
Disclosure: I was asked to review this book by Rebekah Simon-Peter and her publisher. They provided a digital edition through Netgalley. I am grateful for both the copy of the book and the opportunity to read and review it.
Rebekah Simon-Peter grew up in the rolling wooded hills of Connecticut. Frequent brushes with the wonders of nature, including poison ivy, prompted her to major in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.
After graduation, she worked on acid rain studies while also deepening her religious commitments. Later, she was ordained a United Methodist minister and served churches in Colorado and Wyoming for over a decade.
Now the Director of BridgeWorks, she is a sought after speaker and presenter on matters that build bridges of understanding. She lives in Wyoming with her husband Jerry and dog Amigo.
I was conversing with a friend this afternoon. He related to me that he had been blasted by a fellow blogger for his opinions.
I wryly commented, “Well, as the kids are so fond of saying these days, ‘Haters gonna hate.’ Which means, of course ‘We now routinely assign the emotion of hatred to those who disagree with us.'”
And that’s a sad truth. (more…)
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Okay, it’s really not a secret. Everyone has heard of learning from our mistakes. But do you know the power of teaching from them? I can tell you this: It doesn’t happen much by accident. Let me boil it down for you.
A mistake isn’t just a failure unless you leave it where it fell. If you learn from it, it is a lesson. If you use it to teach others, it becomes a victory.
Now, that sounds like a fortune cookie or a bit of wisdom from a bathroom wall or something Banksy might write on the side of a building in NYC or London. But it works if you are willing to live it. For that reason, I thought I’d share with you some of my recent blunders and how they became learning and teaching opportunities. (more…)
Recently, Candler School of Theology announced that it would be honoring Dr. Eddie Fox, noted United Methodist evangelist and Candler alumnus. The story broke wide when students, faculty, alumni, and others protested the honor based on the fact that Dr. Fox disagreed theologically with the LGBT community at Candler on the issue of homosexuality.
In recent years, no issue has been more divisive than human sexuality. In fact, I firmly believe this issue has created more animosity within the Church and toward the church than any other.
Groups protesting honorees is nothing new. Most of the last few Nobel Peace Prize winners are presumed by some to have blood on their hands or to be less than deserving of the honor or accolades.
But I am disturbed by the pendulum swing from “oppressed” to “tolerant” to “oppressive. I am hearing more and more voices demanding agreement in the name of tolerance, an irony completely lost on many of those with whom I’ve been speaking. (more…)
Twelve years ago, I began my day by feeding my son while my wife went for a walk with some friends and neighbors. A poor parsonage family, we didn’t have cable back then. But we did have an arial antenna that picked up the local NBC affiliate. The Today Show was providing background noise.
While my son finished his breakfast and my daughter was making sounds like she was finally waking up, I saw what I thought was a movie trailer. The scene on television looked like special effects.
No, that’s not right. My brain wanted it to be CGI or models, but I knew it was all too real as soon as I looked at it.
I watched the video of the planes striking the towers all morning. Just before my wife returned, I looked on as the first tower fell. She got home in time for the second tower’s collapse.
We had been planning to go to the circus in Memphis that weekend. Instead, I sent the family ahead on Saturday and stayed to preach one of the most important sermons I thought I would ever preach. I acknowledged our grief. I underlined our anger. And I asked people to think as Jesus would and not with the passion of patriotism.
I had a few people ask me why I wasn’t pushing patriotic fervor like so many of my colleagues. (more…)
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