Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent Is...

Let me set this up for you...

Yesterday (Sunday) was the first Sunday of Advent. Our liturgist had read the first scripture for the day, and about half of the second one. She closed her Bible and then said "oops, I didn't finish that one. Hold on while I get back to it." or something to that effect. Then she said that we could all enjoy that "pregnant pause" while pondering the first part of the scripture lesson.

I love that phrase "pregnant pause"... it's been rolling around in my head all day. I thought about it while my pastor and I, with other friends, talked about the season of Advent and what that means. I am up out of bed at nearly half past twelve because that phrase was chewing at my brain.

Pregnant Pause may be the tidiest summation of advent that we have. It's a little space of time in our lives where we anxiously await the coming of something... a something that is the Best Sort Of Surprise (I feel very A.A. Milne in typing that) because you know that it's coming, and you're excited about it anyway. There are lots of discussions right now, I'm sure, about Advent, and it's meaning. Whether this should be a time of spare, austere, Lenten-style preparation, or a frenetic Black Friday-style preparation. I feel like they're two very different sorts... but maybe neither one is really what Advent is about. When Christ came to us in the simplest, smallest form of hope that we could readily grasp and digest and understand, there was a gift that we didn't anticipate, maybe. A gift of knowing how to prepare for that type of hope. To me, Advent is a lot like waiting for a baby... any baby. It's a time to reflect on all the wonderful things you want the world to be for new little person. A time to take even just a few small steps towards realizing that dream... a little extra kindness. A tiny bit of charity. Some small change, an extra smile. As a mother, I think of the light of Advent the same way I remember the soft, warm light in the delivery room. It's dim, but it's enough to see by. It's not stark, or scary, or threatening. It isn't the blinding light of Easter morning at the tomb... it's the same gentle color as candleglow and rosy sunsets. It's winter firelight, and the welcoming light of home through the window. When a baby is coming, there's lots to do, but it's the kind of work most people seem to enjoy. Dreaming, planning, preparing, hoping. Giving, sharing, opening, making room for someone. You weed out things you don't need cluttering up your space anymore... things you don't use, things that wouldn't be safe or appropriate for a baby, things that are reminders of your life BEFORE you were preparing for a baby. You give it away, recycle it, throw it out. You start to take stock of what you have, and what you'll need, and what you don't want to carry around anymore. And it's a good thing.... because the funny thing about a baby... it's such a tiny package, but as most modern-day parents will tell you, it comes with so much STUFF! Pretty soon, if you let it (or sometimes, in spite of yourself) there's baby-stuff everywhere. And a very little person who isn't ready to take care of themselves not only comes with lots of STUFF... it comes with a whole new set of priorities and responsibilities that you couldn't have imagined in your wildest dreams. They say "a baby changes everything." They are not kidding. Fully grown, 'responsible' adults will allow their entire lives to be reordered by a baby.

Our Awesome God must have known something in offering the world that tiny baby so long ago... what in the world but a baby could embody hope so tidily, awaken our desire to nurture and protect so readily, and cause us to embrace a life-altering course so willingly? Nothing I can think of. A baby is the physical manifestation of every biological and spiritual urge to leave something of ourselves in the world. A baby, even a very important baby, needs to be held, nourished, nurtured and loved or it will not survive, or grow. A baby makes normally rational, orderly, organized people do very irrational, disorganized things. The God who created us and nurtured us; then came to us in the most humble and helpless form we could understand, had hope and faith in us, that we would take that baby into our lives. Every year at Advent, we prepare again to accept that gift. We make a place. In a world of fast-paced and furious events, we can take advantage of that pregnant pause. I believe that if we let it, (or maybe in spite of ourselves) that tiny baby could enter the place we've made, and maybe overtake our priorities and fill our lives with amazing, beautiful baby stuff. Yes, a baby changes everything.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Uh oh, peeps are stirring trouble.

Tracy over at The Best Parts is stirrin' up a heap 'o trouble with a couple of posts about the role of the Church. I pretty much agree with every word of it so I'm going to link to both posts here.

A New Model for Church

Non-Conforming Behavior is Welcome

One of my favorite lines that she quotes from Robert Capone's The Astonished Heart is:

"The model we're looking for should not have a tendency to steer in the direction of self-preservation rather than people-preservation...it must be able to love persons even at the price of hating itself."

Most of the time we steer in the direction of self-preservation. We choose not to start new programs because of financial concerns, we cut budgets, and we choose to stay inside and worship instead of leading out.

And we're able to hang on for another year. Yippie.

At the same time, families are forced to make a decision concerning their giving. Do they give to the church or do they give to another charitable organization? We know which decision they've made as church giving (and membership) has declined over the past thirty years. We also know that in 2006 there was a record set for charitable giving in this country. It's crystal clear that it's not the economy driving the decline in giving to our churches, it's our priorities. If one has $100 to give to an organization, I'm not sure I could come up with a convincing argument to give that money to our church rather than The People's City Mission or The Food Bank. We know that if the $100 goes to the City Mission or The Food Bank, it will put food in a mouth or help someone have a warm place to sleep at night. If it goes to the church, it will pay some utilities. Or administrative costs. Or buy some crafts. Or maybe pay for some insurance. It's easy to see what's uninspiring about giving $100 to the church. The only thing in that list that might speak to people is the craft supplies, but there's a good chance that utility costs or insurance premiums will win the battle for that $100 anyway.

Is that really why some people tithe? So they can pay utility costs? I don't know about you, but like my actions, I would hope that my giving would have an impact. Keeping the church open is not the impact that I'm hoping for. There's a whole bunch of stuff in the New Testament about compassion and love, and these are priorities that aren't met when our focus is administrative and operating costs. What little is left over might go to Christian Education, but it will be just enough for us to say we have a program and not enough for us to say that our program is a beacon that shines in the community.

People will go where they're inspired. Ho hum won't do it. Coffee hour won't do it. Contemporary services, rummage sales, church clean-ups, cantatas, Sunday school, and new church signs won't do it either. If the work of the church speaks to people, they'll go and give as they're inspired. If it doesn't...well, you know what happens.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Financial message that will revolutionize things that have been ready to be revolutionized for a while now

Hi.

Me again.

Maybe you've heard that the church's finances aren't doing so hot this summer.

I've come up with a solution in the last four or five minutes that I think will solve everything. It's called "Metric Tithing" and will revolutionize church giving. It will also revolutionize your finances at home as well.

When people convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, a way of calculating a rough comparison of the two temperatures is to double the Celsius number and add thirty degrees. Thus 10 degrees Celsius is about the same as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd like to relate that practice to tithing.

Let's just say that 10% of your income is $300.00. Let's call that the Celsius or Canadian tithe. We don't use Celsius here in the U.S.; it's used by Canadians. We use Fahrenheit as the numbers are bigger. We don't drink Canadian beer so we shouldn't use Canadian tithing either. We need to double the tithe figure and add thirty. Now our original figure is a nice $630! That's American tithing!

You might be thinking that it's kind of a lot of money, and might be around two thirds or half of your mortgage. If you're in an apartment, it could be your entire rent payment*. That's basically the beauty of the new tithe; it takes money away from you (and you'll just blow it on doctor bills, groceries, and overpriced living arrangements) and puts it in the hands of the church who will blow it on keeping the air conditioning blowing 7 days a week during the summer. Let's face it, the church needs coffee and coffee beans aren't getting any cheaper if you haven't noticed.

We know times are tough for you in the congregation. It shows in your giving and we're not happy about it. Let's quit giving like Canadians and start giving like Americans, okay?


*If you live in the midwest. This does not include you people that choose to exist where housing is much more expensive like on the coast or in Minnesota.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Follow/Worship

Per Merriam Webster:

Follow

1: to go, proceed, or come after 2 a: to engage in as a calling or way of life : pursue b: to walk or proceed along 3 a: to be or act in accordance with b: to accept as authority : obey 4 a: to pursue in an effort to overtake b: to seek to attain 5: to come into existence or take place as a result or consequence of 6 a: to come or take place after in time, sequence, or order b: to cause to be followed 7: to copy after : imitate 8 a: to watch steadily b: to keep the mind on c: to attend closely to : keep abreast of d: to understand the sense or logic of (as a line of thought)

Worship


1 : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power 2 : to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion (a celebrity worshipped by her fans) intransitive verb : to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship

Do we follow or do we worship?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Best Parts

Tracy over at The Best Parts has a cool post today about being people who "follow" instead of being people who "worship."

Which one are we? I think we are a worshipful congregation. Being a following congregation requires taking great risks. It requires bold action. In our current climate of defunding programs, it doesn't appear that following is our priority. Perhaps that will change.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Are we serving others?

This website has a pretty good definition of what ministry is, at least in my opinion. It defines it as serving people's spiritual needs but also their "physical, emotional, mental, vocational, and financial needs."

Whoa. That's a lot of needs to serve.

Now, our pastor serves the church's spiritual needs (and some think that should be the extent of his or her job), but how and when are we going to minister to the other needs? I think for most people the question may be, "where do we start?" We could stand outside handing out $20 bills and chances are good that most people will use the money to fulfill a legitimate need. We give to the food bank and other organizations and that takes care of the physical and maybe even the financial needs of some.

Now we're supposed to serve people's emotional, mental, and vocational needs as well?

Yuck.

When we give to Foodnet or OCWM, the money goes to help those who are distant from us. We send the funds off in the mail and others do the dirty work. We stay in our sanctuary, sing the hymns, and listen to the message. It appears from the definition of ministry that we're to be out and about doing the dirty work as well. And when we look out the front door, we can see there's whole lot of dirty work to be done.

We even know there are people in the congregation that are willing to do this dirty work. They're those who go out of their way to connect with the youth and take them on mission trips. Those that sacrifice their Wednesday nights to lead the youth night. They champion causes and volunteer their time at hospitals and soup kitchens. These are the people who can lead these other ministries, and we know this. However, our church structure sometimes doesn't allow it.

We try to find the right position in the church for them, but our structure is geared towards meetings, reports, and budgets. I went to a staff and board retreat a couple of months ago where we determined our spiritual gifts. Around 70% of those that attended identified their strongest spiritual gift as Administration. Yikes. Administration is necessary, but the church leadership needs leaders and managers. We need people who can show us where those needs in the community are located and how they can be met.

They are the people who will brainstorm and use their creativity for exciting new ideas. We need more individuals who are creative, more individuals with wisdom, and more individuals who see the way we should go. I was reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Stephen Covey says that managers will lead the team through the jungle very effectively, but it takes a leader to climb a tree and tell the others they're hacking through the wrong jungle. We need both of these aspects in order to grow.

For our church or any church to thrive, we can't hunker down in some pretend "survival mode" while we ignore our community at large. We must act with great boldness and we must act with great love.

It is the ministry we are called to do.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy birthday!

Today is the 51st anniversary of the founding of the UCC. This sucks because I totally forgot to send flowers or get a card or buy the church a beer or anything. I'm going to be really busy later on today so I probably won't even have time to call the UCC.

Unrelated: Isn't calling it the "UCC church" kind of obvious and redundant? As far as I know there are no people out there referring to the Church of Christ as the Church of Christ church. Since "church" is a part of the acronym, it's sort of like calling an ATM an ATM machine.

Anyway, Coffeepastor over at Philosophy Over Coffee offers an interesting re-enactment of that historic day 51 years ago. That's a good site to be bookmarkin' and reading in the future. He's a pretty dang good blogger.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cherokee Prayer Blessing

Last night, the contemporary band (it's time to name this band, any ideas?) watched a movie called Whale Rider as it will serve as the theme for our next service (third Sunday in July). It's a wonderful film about the Māori tribe in New Zealand and their struggle for leadership as they try to survive. The movie focuses on the chief and his granddaughter and the notions that each of them have about the future leadership of the tribe. I won't say anything more than that as I don't want to give any of the movie away.

Our choir director, Mary Piercey, is working on her doctoral thesis and has spent several years learning and transcribing indigenous music. We'll be featuring music and prayer from several different peoples from around the world during this service. As this is the only Sunday that we've done this, it may seem like we're lumping everything together for "tribal Sunday," and we admit that we are. However, while it is important to honor each people individually, the inclusion of prayer and art from several different tribes helps to widen our church's exposure to different groups and provides a look at different aspects of the body of Christ that we would not normally see. I'm hopeful that this is only the beginning to including these wonderful songs and prayers in our worship service. The Body is wonderfully diverse.

I'd like to share a prayer blessing that Mary forwarded to me this afternoon, courtesy of this website. Enjoy!

Cherokee Prayer Blessing

May the Warm Winds of Heaven
Blow softly upon your house.
May the Great Spirit
Bless all who enter there.
May your Mocassins
Make happy tracks
in many snows,
and may the Rainbow
Always touch your shoulder.
Give Us Hearts to Understand

Give us hearts to understand;
Never to take from creation's beauty more than we give;
never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed;
Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth's beauty;
never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understand
That to destroy earth's music is to create confusion;
that to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty;
That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench;
that as we care for her she will care for us.
We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security.
We have exploited simply for our own ends.
We have distorted our knowledge.
We have abused our power.
Great Spirit, whose dry lands thirst,
Help us to find the way to refresh your lands.
Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution,
help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.

Great Spirit, whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse,
help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.
Great Spirit, whose creatures are being destroyed,
help us to find a way to replenish them.
Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption,
help us to find the way to restore our humanity.
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
whose breath gives life to the world, hear me;
I need your strength and wisdom.
May I walk in Beauty.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What's broken and which committee will fix it?

I should start by saying that any words that I publish here are the result of my own views, and don't represent any other person or organization. Such is the case with each post regardless of the author. This blog is a soapbox or conversation starter for anyone affiliated with Northeast United Church of Christ or its members and is intended to be an open forum.

To date, our church has spent $4,532.97 for natural gas (our main source of heat in the Midwest for you East coast oil-users). I'm sure some of this cost is for our oven in the kitchen and for hot water, but the lion's share of the money went to heating the church. Considering it's not even July yet, there will be another chunk of money spent on natural gas toward the end of the year. I'm betting that the weather will continue its pattern of totally sucking and November and December will be as cold as the months of January, February, March, and April were. An optimist I am not.

Let's just say that at the end of the year we've spent around $7,000 to heat our church. Who will we say that we've warmed at the end of the year for our seven G's? At this point we'll be able to say it was our congregation on Sundays, our board meetings once per month, our staff during the week, some contractors working on our new entrance, children in our midweek (twice per month) and Vacation Bible School (four times per year), and the occasional meeting and fellowship. Only a few of those activities are truly outreach of any kind. According to our budget, we're only budgeting around $3,000-4,000 for the few outreach programs that we have including the salary for the mid-week director.

$7,000 for heating a near-empty building 365 days per year, and less than $4,000 for our own ministry and outreach? Seriously? Either our communities, neighborhoods, and city are in the best shape in their individual histories or something is dead wrong with our priorities.

Our total Christian Education budget includes the salaries of four individuals who interact with parents, children, and young adults in our church. These people share the gospel with our children and care for them while their parents are spiritually nourished. This budget is less than that of our building and maintenance budget which does not include any money for salaries or outreach at all. If we combine the amount budgeted for building and maintenance with that of administration, that amount is almost double that of our Christian Education ministry. Neglecting our ministry or considering putting it under the axe while grasping onto our physical building is wrong. If we inhabit our current building or no building our ministry and purpose remain. For the poor, for the unloved, for the marginalized, our physical building does not offer hope and healing. Our building does not call us to go and find these people and offer our love and compassion. It is our individual recognition of God's purpose that calls us to do these things, and our sense of community and pooling of our resources that makes them a reality. Oftentimes it is a reality that we never thought possible.

I think it is time for us to be a congregation that puts our own ministry and outreach at the top of our priority list. For too long, we've been content to offer our building for small usage fees and part of our finances to OCWM and have that be the extent of our outreach to the community. Yet in doing this we do not commune with the community, we offer no hope to those without hope, and we offer no love to those who are without love. We leave all of this in the hands of a small few, the diaconate and CE, and say that it must be enough because we have "bills to pay."

Yet if we read the gospel we know that we should do more. This will be our challenge in the coming years in the midst of our financial situation.

We are not called by our faith to make do in order for our building to be warm. We are called to do more in the world.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Saving your church some money (my go at public service)

Let's face it, no church members want to sit around during their monthly board meetings and discuss creative and positive ways to grow their ministry. It's hard. And if it works then a whole bunch of people they don't even know may come in and start sitting in the pews next to them. Before you know it they're in the fellowship hour and taking part in potlucks. These are people who are sometimes poor, young, democrats, or of a different race or sexual orientation. Or they may be all of the above. It's much better if these churches can keep their membership pretty constant so as not to have to deal with new people on their boards and committees who don't understand how things were done in the 1980s and why that worked so well.

Provided that a church does the smart thing and puts a lid on their membership, they may face a situation where some of the members move away, pass away, or leave because they're mad at the pain in the ass leaders who want to grow the ministry. Then they're stuck with all of those problems I talked about before and NO ONE wants that! So as the membership rolls begin to decline we may be talking about a decline in giving. These churches would be wise to introduce smart budget options like these:

1) Start cutting the youth programs. Since most of the people making these decisions don't have young children, this will be an easy decision. After all, their children were perfectly happy playing with sticks and participating in fun youth activities like stripping wax when they were younger. A good place to start is with cutbacks of the youth ministry staff as this is usually the largest expense. Then when the youth ministry staff is unable to meet the needs of the church because they're working fewer hours, you can start cutting programs that are neglected. If you're lucky the church will soon reach an ideal balance of no youth programs and no youth.

2) Begin using utilities at Great Depression-era levels. This is simple to achieve but involves at least one maintenance person or staff person who is willing to put in some low-impact time. The way this works is that one person listens for the heat and air conditioning to turn on and adjusts the thermostat accordingly so it no longer runs. This may take a few adjustments in the dead of winter or dog days of summer, but will definitely be noticed on the church's bottom line! As for the water, the maintenance person should locate the master shutoff for the church and the problem will be solved. If people complain about the temperature in the church suggest that they dress in layers and use their bulletin as either a fan to stay cool or kindling to stay warm.

3) Constantly mention to paid staff that the posts they fill used to be filled by volunteers, and that those volunteers felt privileged to fill those positions. In particular this applies to people filling office, Christian education, and financial roles. Please disregard the fact that it now takes two incomes to make ends meet at home where it used to only take one and people take these jobs to meet household expenses. None of that matters. Hopefully these people finally respond to your passive-aggressive behavior by either quitting their position and/or the church. Problem solved! This would also be a good time to once again bring up the story about how when you tithed sometimes you didn't know where money was going to come from to pay medical bills or rent, but the money always came at the last minute.

Think your church can pull this off? Of course it can! If you make your bottom line the focus of all your boards and committee meetings there's no telling what you can accomplish! I hope you feel free to be creative to expand on these or to come up with your own ideas that are unique to your church. Give me your feedback in the comments, y'all, and let me know how they worked! Best of luck!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Are we ever guilty of this? Oh yeah.



Taken from this wonderful little page.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Moving Forward

So many times in the course of church business we look in the direction of where we came. We do this sometimes with great amazement and awe. How did this small thing that was started so many years ago, build into this? When we look at the history of our churches we see a group of people that met in a school or met in someone's home until they had the money to build a sanctuary. Someone or someones with vision saved and built that sanctuary, constantly thinking of the way forward. The goal was to move out of the living room or school room and have a presence in the larger world. Why? We do this so we can share the love and compassion of God with those in the world.

But like any climb, once we get to a safe spot on the hill or mountain we begin to look down. We use our experiences from the first part of the trek up as a guide to the rest of the way. Maybe that guide only works for the first part of the journey, but the terrain changes along with the grade. What do we do in this case? Do we stop moving forward, moving upward? Some people and some churches think so. They stay in the same model for years and years. Yet while they are using the same models of operation again and again, the society and culture that those models applied to has changed. Now they're really screwed as the only way that the model will apply to anything is to move in the other direction. That direction is back down the hill, and back to where erosion and change hasn't left as big of a mark. Yet.

This happens when we flip open our constitution and bylaws during every meeting to decide what to do in a new situation. We do this even when we encounter situations where our bylaws and policies aren't applicable. If our bylaws and constitution aren't flexible and adaptable to change, they're worthless and probably worse than not having any bylaws at all. They could force us to proceed down the wrong path in ways that are much more treacherous.

If you're unsure of the way forward, you can buy maps and books or hire guides to help you along. These are all very useful, but the only way to learn the new terrain for yourself is to climb it yourself. The people that wrote those bylaws aren't climbing the rest of the way. You are and your judgment is ever bit as good as theirs. They didn't possess any spectacular wisdom or intelligence that you don't have. You are just as capable, and maybe even more capable than they were.

You may be at a point where you are the one that has to think about moving out into the world and establishing a larger presence for the church. I'm sorry, but you're about to discover that several of the bylaws no longer apply to this world. It happens, you know. People don't speak Latin anymore, but we're all managing. We're talking about love, compassion, and the Kingdom of God here anyway, that's much better than what's in your binder.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Hub of Circle of Life...

I sit here tonight,(well, really, this morning, in point of fact) filled with a strange sense of the vastness, the miraculousness, and the fragility of life as we know it. In just a short few hours this evening, I have word that my cousin should be delivered of her daughter any moment, and that my friend's sister, who has been battling cancer for maybe 10 years now, and who had been in pallative care, has died. Here we live, on the needle-fine precipice, as soft as the breath in our nostrils, as fleeting as shooting star. Yet that space is filled with the immenseness of a lifetime's experiences. I have been in this place before... a juxtaposition of life and death that makes your head whip around with awe. How can it go so fast? There is a beauty in the realization of how delicate the balance is... each moment moves another grain through hourglass, a pennyweight from one side of the scale to the other... more beautiful still that we have no notion of the total amount being measured. We can only mark what is passed, and guess and hope at what is yet to be. We have to relish the now, and embrace these small hours because as I am being reminded tonight; the little space of our lives, the gift of it, and the joy of it, is in the uncertainty of it. That is what makes the gift precious. Yes, how strange it all is, and how frightening, and how perfect.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why the mens shouldn't lead the church

10. A man’s place is in the army.
9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.
8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.
7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.
5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.
4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.
1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

Ripped off from here

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Church bloggers

Mark and Jenny got themselves a right purty little blog right over yonder. You can clicky here or on the links over on the right.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Complementarianism

I found this on a pretty cool blog today. People are free to believe what they wish, but in my view tyranny is tyranny and you really can't name it something else. Enjoy that blog.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Was Jefferson a heretic or a believer? Yes.

(Reprinted from my personal blog)

The founder of Beliefnet.com, Steven Waldman, has published a new book called Founding Faith. It promises to be fairly interesting, especially to those who consider ours a nation founded on the teachings of the Bible. Beliefnet offers an excerpt from the book concerning Thomas Jefferson, and it led me to wonder if there would be any possible way that Jefferson would be elected to any public office today.

Sadly, his candidacy wouldn't have a snowball's chance. Those who are upset over lapel pins and which church our candidates belong to would be choking on their communion wafers if they were to read anything written by this founding father. His beliefs (like most of ours) are complex. He edited the Bible (with a razor) to remove the miracles of Jesus, he called the Trinity "mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus," and said that, "Calvinism has introduced into the Christian religion more new absurdities than its leader [Jesus] had purged it of old ones." He went on to say regarding what he called "the insanities of Calvin" that the, "strait jacket alone was their proper remedy."

Wow. Imagine the Evangelicals receiving that mailer in their postbox. And then imagine James Dobson's response.

Yet Waldman also provides a look at a person whose reason led him to faith in Christ and God. It's fair to say that he was anti-religion and pro-God. Some of the quotes Waldman has provided suggest Jefferson was someone who may have believed in Intelligent Design. He saw what he viewed as a complex interconnectedness in the universe and viewed that as a work of Divine Providence. However, it's important to remember that throughout his life, more than any religious view he may have held, Jefferson stressed the importance of reason and study (i.e. I'm sure he'd be dead-set against those who'd like to introduce Intelligent Design in a public high school biology class and would have fought back). Take that, Ben Stein.

I find it difficult not to cheer for Thomas Jefferson as a champion of liberty, religious freedom, and rational thinking. I also find his participation in the horror of slavery contradictory to those values and depressing. That's important. It would be good to take the entire lives of our founding individuals and historical religious and philosophical figures into account as we study and judge them and their ideas. We need to hold them, their views, and the circumstances of their life and times up for study and scrutiny in order to gain a true sense of who they were as they've helped shape who we are. By the way he studied the Bible, Christianity's history, and the teachings of Jesus, I think Thomas Jefferson understood and practiced this.

It may be one of the things that I admire most about him.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I love this song

Plone - One Song