Friday, May 30, 2008

826 National

826 National Just finished reading Michael Chabon's wonderful new book on genre fiction, proceeds from which benefit 826 National, a nonprofit that helps students age 6-18 with expository and creative writing.

Church Then and Now - A Blog by Kurth Fredrickson & Eddie Gibbs

Church Then and Now - A Blog by Kurth Fredrickson & Eddie Gibbs

Jordan Crane's amazing cover for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends

Jordan Crane's amazing cover for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends

Additionally, the subject for the book is fascinating. It contains a series of essays on genre fiction. Very fun, as he covers some favorites, like Philip Pulman's His Dark Materials, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Will Eisner.

Can't say that I have had such fun reading literary criticism for quite some time! And the cover rocks, take a look at the photos.

Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John

Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John

At first, as I was reading Origen, I was thinking to myself, “How differently Origen reads than I do.” Of course, what springs to mind is his focus on spiritual and mystagogical readings of John, his ability to write expansively on just one verse of Scripture, his desire to harmonize disparate passages of Scripture, and his desire to explain the “peculiar” meaning of some texts. Origen is prone to see John’s gospel as a lively symbolic world where nothing means what it says in its plain sense, but must be read closely and spiritually to discern its higher meaning.
Yet, to say that Origen reads differently than I is somewhat facile. Of course he does, given our differences in native languages, his education and social

Thursday, May 29, 2008 . A free, multilingual, and open space to share religious resources resources . A free, multilingual, and open space to share religious resources resources

Resources on this site have been created by individuals and congregations for your use. Most resources are available in a word processor file that can be edited, and as an Adobe Acrobat file that is ideal for printing. Freely sharing locally produced materials is practicing a 'Stewardship of Ideas.' Use these ideas, modify them for your purposes as allowed, share them with others, and in turn share some of your best ideas by uploading them here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Comparing the Gospels

The gospels are endlessly fascinating, and this is not hyperbole. John, in concluding his own gospel, writes, "there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." But apparently not everything Jesus did and said was written down, because the world is not deluged with books containing the deeds of Jesus. However, we do have the four gospels, which is enough difference and puzzlement for many other kinds of books to have been written over the centuries, books on the life of Jesus and the gospels that record that life.

There are as many ways to try and compare and contrast these gospels as there are words to write about Jesus. Christians and theologians have been puzzling over the purpose of having four gospels for quite some time. Some of them have been uncomfortable with the presence of four, so they edited and combined them to form one. For one such example, take a look at the Jefferson Bible, compiled by Thomas Jefferson,

Other scholars, discovering that more than four gospels were written in the period after Jesus death and resurrection, have drawn attention to the divergent narrative and theological elements of such writings as The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas. Again, if these interest you, you might look at the writings of Elaine Pagels on Thomas, or Bart Ehrman on Judas.

You might know by this point, however, that although I pay attention to research into these alternative tellings of the story, I am not persuaded by them. Unlike Ehrman and Pagels, I believe that the four gospels we do have are sufficient, reliable, and together present the best composite portrait of Christ, his ministry, confession, and mission. They are our central texts for common worship. I believe we can trust that those who wrote and then later those who selected these four gospels for inclusion in the New Testament corpus did so with a good sense of the orthodox, catholic (small c), apostolic, and holy nature of these texts. If you are interested in reading on the topic of authenticity, etc., consider Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony .

There are many ways to compare the gospels. One way to compare them is based on content and historical method. The Wikipedia article on this provides a wealth of information:

Another way to compare them is to mention the intended audience. When you write a letter or book, you have an audience in mind. You modify your style, or select the content of what you are writing, based on the audience. I think this question of audience contributes greatly to the ways each of the gospels differs. For example, the intended audience of Matthew is likely the Jewish community, so the opening genealogy of Jesus references the history of Israel. However, in Luke, a book intended for Gentile readers, the historical markers are more secular, mentioning who is governor at the time of Jesus birth.

But if we start to compare, things will get detailed very, very fast. Consider looking at this comparison chart: Fascinating, isn't it?

I tend to think that we are called by God to allow these gospels to meld in our mind so we gain a unified biblical imagination, a composite picture of Christ and who Christ is for us. But we are also called to honor the differences between the gospels, and not prematurely meld them together, just like we are called to honor the differences between each person we meet. I encourage you as a reader of the gospels, therefore, to rejoice in and study these differences, but remember that they are each a window into and presentation of the one, whole Christ, who is our life.

The gospel writers themselves had such an intention. Again, going back to John, he says, " Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
John 20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. " Or Luke, "Luke 1:1 ¶ Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,
Luke 1:2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
Luke 1:3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luke 1:4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What do pastors do?

What do pastors do?

Some of you may wonder what pastors do on a daily and weekly basis. A recent study published in the book God's Potters:Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations, by Jackson W. Carroll, includes a report of a study that I'm including here. Consider sharing this information with youth or adults in our congregation who you believe are called to pastoral ministry. It could help them begin to understand how pastors spend their time and what God's call means for them.

Hours Spent in Pastoral Tasks per Week for Mainline Protestant Clergy

Preaching, including preparation 10
Worship leadership, including preparation 4
Teaching, including preparation 4
Training people for ministry 1
Working to convert others 1
Pastoral counseling 3
Visiting members, sick, and shut-ins 4
Visiting prospective members 1
Administering congregation's work 5
Attending congregation meetings 2
Involvement in denominational affairs 2
Involvement in community affairs 2
Some other task 2
Total 48

This description seems relatively accurate for how I spend time as pastor, with a few corrections. Since our members go to hospitals in three or four different towns, and because we have many shut-ins and sick, my average visiting time is more like 10-12 hours per week. I also spend 4-6 hours per week reading theology or other work related literature. Also, administration takes a bit more than 5 hours per week, maybe more like 7. So my total work week is about 60 hours, give or take. I also spend about one hour per day in prayer, something the study also points out but doesn't include in the list of "tasks."

Hope this is interesting information to share with the congregation. Blessings to each of you in your own work. I love this work and am thankful for the opportunity to serve as pastor.

Friday, May 16, 2008

ELLC Creed

Fascinating catalog of how various communions have appropriated contemporary liturgical text translations

Jeremiah calls a thing what it is

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain
of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns
that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

Applies to our own apostasy today as much as to Israel and Judah and the nations of his era.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ministry: Face to Facebook — Lutheran Forum

Ministry: Face to Facebook — Lutheran Forum

This is my most recent column on the Lutheran Forum web site...

Prayer Desks

Prayer Desks

Prayer Desk

Prayer Kneeler - Prayer Bench - Prie Dieu - Prayer Desk - Meditation Bench

Bible at the Prayer Desk | Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Reading and Praying Scripture

Richard Johnson, editor of Forum Letter ( included this Bonhoeffer quote in their most recent issue, and I thought it most appropriate for those of us seeking to live into the Book of Faith resolution that passed at synod assembly (and may be in process at yours) this year:

"The prayer-desk has disappeared from our offices. Luther, however, had one...Pastors must pray more than the congregation. They have more to pray for. They need the strengthening of their faith and the illumination of their understanding. Prayerful consideration of the Scripture gives us firm footing. It makes us certain of what we should pray for. We need this prayerful refuge when we do not see how we can go on anymore and Satan tries to tear faith out of our hearts. We need it before every hour of decision-making. We need the study of Scriptures when we feel inadequate and unable to pray. It drives us to the cross that Christ bore and brings that which bothers us and from which we suffer into proper perspective.

Every day should begin with meditation on the Scriptures. Before we meet others, we should meet Christ. Before we decide something, his decision should have confronted us... We are neither obliged nor entitled to have something unusual happen in our prayerful reading of the Bible. We do not await special happenings or experiences. We have the commission only to do this work. God intends that the Word of God should be read and prayed over. We leave it up to God what will come of it. In this work the pastor must only be faithful and obedient." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Worldly Preaching: Lectures on Homiletics, Crossroad, 1991)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Note of Comfort for Church Council Members

Almost everyone who runs marathons knows about "the wall." When you run 26.2 miles, the first 14-17 miles aren't so bad. But somewhere between 18-20, lots of runners hit the wall, when their glycogen stores run dry and they experienced extreme fatigue as their body starts tapping into fat reserves for energy rather than glycogen stores.

The wall is a really hard place to be--you just want to give up, quit running, throw in the towel, and walk home. But if it is expected (knowledge is power), it can be prepared for in advance, and if you know what you are fighting, you also know you are fighting through something to a goal (the race finish) that is worth powering through the wall.

I tend to think that the spiritual life includes a number of such walls. As council members, I think it is very likely you are going through one such wall. As a council member, you have to go into gear as a volunteer in a busy organization, which is tiring in and of itself. Additionally, you probably engage in serious and sometimes trying conversations you weren't involved in before you were a council member. You start to analyze things from a new perspective. You could probably add to my list with quite a few more items that are like "the wall." In any event, serving on council inevitably sends you into some different and challenging stages of the Christian life and maturity in faith.

My prayer for you is that you will try to think of this wall like a runner thinks of the wall. First, they train and try to improve their bodies ability to handle the wall. In the spiritual life, this is probably being persistent in prayer, Scripture reading, and holy conversations. Then, a lot of runners take energy shots or beverages along on the ride for an extra jolt. In church, that probably means in the thick of things doing stuff that really gives you life, like trout fishing or middle school lock-ins. Finally, when you are actually in the wall, you keep in mind the goal. You're in a marathon, and you keep your eyes on the prize. It's important for each of us to keep in mind what that prize is. Faithfulness to the church and the ministry of Christ? A specific goal like improving our staffing, building, or??? Each of us will need to puzzle through that one as well. But I hope you have your eyes on the true prize, which is that the work you are doing, even though it is mundane and sometimes challenging, is a ministry that you have been called to by your election as a council member, and it is for the purpose of making the church as clear a proclaimer of Jesus Christ as we can.

And I hope you know you have companions on this journey who want to support you and are available to jog with you through the wall... including myself!

Sunday, May 04, 2008