Thursday, February 19, 2009

God's Tapestry, by W. Eugene March: Chapter 4 "Hearing with Our Hearts"

With March's fourth chapter we move from Part One A New Context: Opening Our Eyes into Part Two A New World: Opening Our Ears and in particular in his fourth chapter we consider anew what it means to hear what God is saying to us through the Bible with our Hearts. I think one thing that March wants us to do is move beyond the preconceived notions we have of the Bible; preconceived notions that are largely the result of what others have told us what to believe about the Bible and not really digging in and letting God speak to us today and tomorrow.

He accomplishes this by reminding us in the first words of this chapter "The Bible, in many places, is shocking!" Now, if you are tempted to say, "Well, yes the Bible is difficult to understand" then you don't quite get the gist of what he's saying hear. It's not that the Bible is difficult, it is that it is shocking, as in, it makes you do a double take. Take for instance Isaiah 29:9-10

Stupefy yourselves and be in a stupor,
blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not from wine,
stagger, but nor from strong drink!
For the LORD has poured out upon you
a spirit of deep sleep;
He has closed your eyes, you prophets,
and covered your heads, you seers.

March goes on to point out that this is not a very complimentary passage, especially when you take it at face value: the religious establishment and the people, including the leaders of the people are without vision or the ability to see? But I think March's deeper point is that for too long this passage and others like it have not been applied to us, but have been used by the religious establishment and political leaders to talk about others, those who may be different from us.

And it is from that perspective that he outlines three new ways to begin to "Hear with Our Hearts" what the Bible is saying to us:

1. What does the Bible say to me versus how do I think the Bible applies to you? This changes things pretty drastically doesn't it? Taking Isaiah 29 for example in what ways am I missing the point? How, as part of the religious establishment, have I misrepresented the Gospel or God's intentions?

2. We need to remember that God always sought to keep hope alive rather than our old standby of leaning on despair or incomplete memories of the past. When considering the Bible and Isaiah 29 in particular: what new thing is God bringing about in this increasingly diverse world we live in? How does God want us to respond to the richness that is spreading across the globe?

3. In the midst of difficulty we are to seek discernment we are to ask God to help us open our eyes. That is, just as God originally spoke the words of the Bible to a particular people in a particular time and place, how do these words speak to us in our time and place? In what ways do difficult passages convict us once more?

Friday, February 13, 2009

God's Tapestry, by W. Eugene March: Chapter 3 "No Longer Number One"

When did North America lose it's hold on being the center of Christianity? Did you even know that we were no longer "Number One" in terms of Global Christianity? Sure, we are a very religious country, even while some claim the more specific "Christian Nation" title; but globally speaking the center of Christianity has shifted South, to South & Central America, Africa, and South East Asia. In March's third chapter he says:

Since 1900 the Christian population of Africa has grown from an estimated 9 million to some 380 million in 2000. In 1900 about 80% of the Christians in the world lived in Europe and North American. In 2000 some 60% of the Christians lived in the global South or East.

Sure, we still have some of the most "famous" pastors and mega-churches and publishing houses and Christian media empires, but as March points out of one billion Christians worldwide "there are approximately three times as many who live outside North America as within it.

So why does it matter that we are no longer "Number One" in Global Christianity? One big reason is that we no longer have the final say in how to interpret the Bible. For the last thousand years the key theologians and Biblical scholars of the faith have come from either Europe or North America. In this next thousand years of Christianity it is just as likely that profound theological thought and Biblical interpretation will be generated in Africa or India and with the wonder of the world wide web, blogs, and other digital forms of communication that our faith will be shaped by someone whose ancestry, culture, worldview and therefore interpretation of the Bible is far different from our own. Or as March says in chapter three:

We as the "forebears," if no longer the "directors," of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world have a responsibility to do some serious thinking about how we are all to live in this world of such enormous religious diversity.

How will we respond to this new shift in the center of Christianity? Will we petulantly pound our fists on the floor and yearn for the past? Or will we embrace an opening up of what our faith will be and broadening our perspective of who we are as children of God?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

God's Tapestry, by W. Eugene March: Chapter 2 "The Diversity Matrix"

In chapter one Eugene March laid out some pretty extensive statistics and demographics to show how diverse the world in which we live today and American in particular are. And as I have noted, just one road in Twin Falls shows off a pretty diverse set of churches, not to mention the little Iranian girl in my son's kindergarten class and his Jewish art teacher from a few summers back.

In chapter two March reminds us of something we all probably knew, but have forgotten. That is, from the time of Christ through the fourth century the Christian movement was a decidedly minority group within Judaism, not to mention the very diverse and pluralistic nature of the vast Roman Empire. He reminds us of this little bit of history as a way of reminding us that how we read and interpret the Bible is influenced not only by the culture in which we find ourselves, but also within the original context of the culture and cultures in which the Bible was written.

His main argument in the second chapter seems to be that in remembering that the early Christian movement was not only a minority but also was highly fractured into many different groups following many different leaders and schools of thought and yet the Christian movement grew in this "diversity matrix" should be good news for us.

I want to highlight this line of thought from March, because all too often contemporary Christians who remember the heydays of the 1950s and 1960s lament the loss of status and growth of the church-of-empire and can't really see any good in smaller less influential churches. But as March points out, perhaps this diversity and lack of status will help us focus again on who matters most; that is Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Is this indeed a time of new growth for the church?

Is this a time when we can really grab hold of who God created us to be?

Can we get past stories of the pews being filled and instead be filled with the Holy Spirit and led into the world with the good news that God so loves the world?

Are we ready to face the new realities in which we find ourselves?

How will God bless us now that we are less concerned with maintaining the status quo and more concerned about discerning God's path for us?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Singing in the Pulpit

Well I really stepped out of my shell this past Sunday in the pulpit. In attempting to connect Isaiah's message of "waiting on the Lord" with being in the midst of Black History month I introduced the congregation to the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by singing part of two verses on my own in the midst of the sermon. I guess I just figured that in introducing a new song if I put myself out there how much easier would it then be for individual congregants to sing out when we all sung it together.

So how did it go? It seemed to come off pretty well, that is I didn't choke and made it through and probably woke a few people up, including my son. Kathy said that when my voice switched from speaking to singing that Eric looked up at her with wide eyes of disbelief. And part of me cannot believe that I did it either. Hopefully it added something to the message and wasn't simply an oddity for the pastor to sing a brief solo.

I guess the next thing, as far as stepping out of my shell would be to preach without notes; which actually is more frightening to me than singing in the midst of a sermon. Why? Well, from my teaching experience I know how easily I go down "rabbit trails" that don't easily connect with the message. That and the time constraint, especially in a congregation where the expectations of music and a lot of it in worship is so highly valued. Who knows, maybe the next step for me will be to go without a manuscript; time will tell.

Friday, February 6, 2009

God's Tapestry, by W. Eugene March: Chapter 1 "A New Game"

Diversity & Pluralism; in the past decade these words have become "code" for political correctness and as a result of been voiced with sneers and ridiculed by many. But the reality of our world is more than just a rhetorical device of the political left; the facts are just too overwhelming. Whether you live in a major metropolitan area or in a small city like Twin Falls, Idaho the diversity of religion, politics, ethnic make-up, etc. is sometimes hard to believe. And for some their disbelief manifests itself in lashing out and wanting to block out anyone else who is different or who is perceived as being "other". Why do we do so? Perhaps because we have so distorted the Bible and our Faith and turned these great things into something that they were not created to be.

In Eugene March's first chapter he lays out some of the statistics of the nation and world in which we live. While the global numbers are amazing, his question about how diverse "your" local community is can be seen just by driving down one road in Twin Falls, Idaho. Take a drive on Eastland Avenue starting at Pole Line and you'll be treated to a smorgasbord of Christianity (an LDS Temple, two Baptist churches, an Episcopalian church, and a non-denominational congregation that has bought out a "superstore"). And it isn't just our various Christian sects in Twin Falls, but there is the Iranian girl in my son's Kindergarten class, and his art teacher a few two summers ago was Jewish. And then there are the many different peoples who enrich our valley through the College of Southern Idaho's Refugee Center.

So it isn't just the big cities and coastal population centers that are exploding with diversity and pluralism, but also, a small city like Twin Falls in the Reddest of Red states in America. So what are we going to do about it? How are we going to respond? Does scripture encourage us to "circle the wagons" or extend a hand of welcome and hospitality to those who are other?

March ends his opening chapter with the following words from Psalm 22:27 "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; And all the families of the nations shall worship before him." As you will come to see, these words of the Lord are meant to inspire us to look at our neighbors in new ways and not necessarily to force them against the sword of conversion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

God's Tapesty, by W. Eugene March: Preface

For those of you who have been following my blog, mostly my friends at FPC, Twin Falls; you know that Kathy has returned from her trip to San Antonio where she attended the annual event of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) and while she didn't bring me back a T-shirt, she did bring home an excellent little book that is chock full of some interesting ideas about our world today.

While she was at APCE she went to one of the booksellers in the conference's marketplace and asked "What do you have that is really new?" and the representative shared W. Eugene March's new book, that it was new and that the author was also at the conference, meaning that Kathy could get him to sign it was good enough reason for her to purchase it and give it to me on her return home. So what did I think of this gift, especially in comparison to Eric's gift of a futuristic ray-gun that makes all sorts of noise and a Texas Ranger badge with his name on it? Well, I couldn't hardly put it down and finished it within a few days. So over the next few weeks I want to share some of the ideas from the book with you.

In March's preface he starts with a story about a phone call from his mother expressing concern over a Presbyterian publication referencing God in feminine language. In response he pointed his mother to passages such as Isaiah 42:14, 49:15 and 66:10-13. His mother, a long-standing and very active member of a Presbyterian church was somewhat astonished at feminine images of God in the Bible and wondered why no one had ever informed her of such things.

From that anecdote March felt propmpted to address the concept of Diversity as so much more than simply a politically correct buzz word. He sets out fromt he beginning, from his story of his mother's phone call, to make it his goal to lay out how the Bible itself embraces diversity from it's very core. So why don't we see the Bible that way, well March suggests it is all up to how we interpret the Bible and it is time to reexamine our interpretive models, especially in light of the world in which we find ourselves.

I hope like me, that you come to see the insights addressed in this book as very wise and important for the world and even a place like Twin Falls, Idaho that has become startlingly diverse. How we see the words laid down in scripture may very well change how we see our place in the world in which God has placed us where we are to love God and our neighbor whomever she might be.

Monday, February 2, 2009


What's a "flapper" well it's not something that you use to turn the lights on and off, that's for sure. A flapper is what Kathy and I purchased today at Lowes so that our master bath's toilet would work again.

Sometime last week while Kathy was gone and I was trying to hold on to sanity the toilet in our master bathroom stopped working. I went to flush and nothing happened and in the midst of everything else I just decided, "Oh Well" we have two other toilets so I'll just not worry about it. I know, I know, HOW GROSS! Well all I can say to that is that there really wasn't much to flush down so I just told Eric we couldn't use that bathroom.

So before Kathy came home I asked her over the phone, and at a safe distance, if she knew what to do. Thankfully she gently let me know that I should have simply gone out to Lowes when it broke, but that we'd tend to it Monday morning. I guess I put it off because I am so not Mr. Fix It. But with a little help from a guy in the plumbing department we found what we needed, paid a little over three dollars for it and by just rolling up my sleeves we once again have a third toilet that works!

I probably should have fixed it earlier, and even though a toilet is not rocket-science it was a whole new experience for me and thankfully when the mission was complete, both Eric and Kathy were there to clap and say congratulations.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mr. Mom Chronicles 7

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Thanks to a lot of help over the last two days and the fact that I just got off the phone with Kathy, who is in Boise waiting for the Shuttle to return her to the Magic Valley, I am beginning to feel the weight of this past week lift.

Yesterday was made so much easier by first having to get Eric to Basketball practice and a game by 10 a.m. Why he likes basketball is a mystery to me. I mean, I never watch it, he never asks to watch it and he hadn't really ever played it until Kathy asked if he wanted to. But he really is excited about it, even if his skills and size make him more of a guard than a shooter. So for about two hours on Saturday Eric did his best on the court of Robert Stuart Junior High's gym and I prayed, thought and pondered about the last week in the stands.

After basketball Judy and Doug Pollow graciously offered to take Eric for an afternoon of play time with their grandson Zane. They had a fabulous time while I rested, got ready for my Sunday School lesson and finally made it through the "Jabba's Palace" level on "Legos Star Wars Wii". After five hours with Doug and Judy both Eric and I were able to have a relaxing evening together.

This morning it was off to church where, thanks again to Doug and Judy I knew Eric was in good hands for worship. Afterwards during confirmation, DeAun Stephens graciously played with Eric in the gym and in a little while we are going to a Geist family Super Bowl party where I will enjoy the company of my peers and Eric will (hopefully behave himself) amid a great group of cousins. Then in a little over five hours from now we will pick Kathy up from the Shilo and her safe return home.

I certainly have been reminded this last week of several important things. First, when friends ask to help, say "yes" and I am sorry for those of you who asked and I said "no" when I should have gratefully accepted your hospitality. Second, even as a pastor I'm still a dad and need to learn patience with my son, especially when parenting alone. So hopefully I'll take more time like I did this afternoon to simply sit on the couch and watch "Star Wars the Clone Wars" episode whatever for the hundredth time for no other reason than to do it with my son at my side. Third, I need to plan ahead a little better so that when these times of parenting alone come along, and there are a few more this year, that I can put aside my church responsibilities with vacation time and simply be Eric's dad and Phil for a few days while Kathy is gone. And a BIG FOURTH, but not last lesson is a reminder of how much I rely on Kathy; how much she does with and for Eric and me to help us both be successful in whatever we are doing and will do in the future.