March 22nd, 2007


Something new for my I-Love-Me Wall.

I got a letter today from the Boy Scout Council, informing me that I am to receive the Venturing Leadership Award at the Council Gala April 15. That's a bit of a big deal, and I'm very honored to be named.

Anybody interesting in attending, get your reservations in. The perceedin's will begin to commence at 2:00 p.m. in Seymour.

Quote of the day

I was getting my oil changed one day in 1997, and some guy at Indy Lube Express said this to me. He must have asked me what I did for a living or something. Anyway, his response blew me away, so when I got home I wrote it down. Found it recently, and here is the immortal gem itself:
"Clergy . . . that's someone who does funerals, isn't it?"

Leave no ox ungored

As I watch what goes on in Christendom, I get discouraged. I keep looking for a group to join in with where I can feel completely at home, but I never find one. There are zillions of groups, but they tend to fall into three major categories, each of which disappoints me.

The Lefty-Loonies

The people running most of the mainline Protestant churches have given up on a specifically religious agenda to pursue a political one. They don't have doctrine, just ideology. They claim the banner of tolerance, but are as dogmatic (and as gentle) with people with whom they differ as Torquemada.

They are making it up as they go along. Their only guide in making it up is that they want to be slightly more outrageous than they used to be. "To travel hopefully is better to arrive," they say. In other words, they don't want to get anywhere, they just want to get away from wherever the ordinary people are, whom they despise.

Talk about "waterless clouds."

The Fundagelicals

Having ripped on the Lefty-Loonies, one might suppose that I would find a home among those denominated variously as the conservative-evangelical, Confessing Movement types. After all, I went to a Holiness seminary, I believe in the Bible, etc. But to tell the truth, though I speak their lingo fluently, their approach leaves me cold.

They, too, are making it up as they go along. In their case, they really believe that they can just pull answers to questions of governance or liturgy or social values out of the Bible without reference to the (whole) history of the Church. The result is that they keep reading their own time and culture back into the Bible and coming up with culture-bound interpretations and declaring them the eternal gospel.

They make me tired.

The Hierarchs of Oz

So, whom does that leave? Well, there are the apostolic succession folks: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican (and various minor groups). I admire them all greatly, but for some reason I just don't find their arguments about what constitutes the essence of Christian this-or-that convincing.

The fact is, some of the things they are most vociferous about defending as having been received from Christ himself or the apostles I can find no evidence for. Their defenses for these positions remind me of the old preacher, who wrote in his notes at one point, "Argument poor: yell like blazes." They, too, have made some things up, but they sternly insist that they haven't.

Who is that man behind the curtain? (Doesn't look like Jesus to me.)

Still looking

I regret that this is such a negative post, but what I'm saying is that my attempts to find a corner of the Church where I could say, "this is it, this is what I was looking for all along," continue to be disappointed. The best that could be said for my search is that I am following the advice of the sculptor who was asked how to carve an elephant. He replied, "Get yourself a ten-ton block of marble, then cut away everything that doesn't look like an elephant."

I just pray that when I'm done whacking on this, I'll have more to show for it than a pile of gravel.

The foregoing is offered with apologies to all my friends who might see themselves in one group or another and be offended. Giving offense is certainly not what I'm trying to do here, and I see good people and good things in all three groups. But I'm still looking for something that I've been feeling the want of for over thirty years, and my frustration sometimes just has to be given a good venting.
hound of heaven

My newsletter column for April

Back when I served as the Spiritual Director of the Southeastern Indiana Emmaus Community, we sometimes had (make that: frequently had) incredibly long Board meetings. There was much to do and many decisions to make. And a perennial cause of our weariness was discussion of the minutiae of the rules: what we call “the model” each weekend Walk to Emmaus is supposed to follow.

Some people couldn’t understand the rules, while some understood them just fine, but simply didn’t want to follow them. “Why can’t we do it like this?” they would ask, again and again. Making things more difficult was the wide variety of church backgrounds present among the Directors. Some of us were from denominations like The United Methodist Church, and were used to a lot of rules. Many others were Baptists, Charismatics, or members of Independent Christian churches, who didn’t have as many rules, or who were used to more leeway in interpreting the rules they had. And so it went, meeting after meeting.

Finally, as we were wrestling with some issue or another, upon which some members were inclined to be stubborn, someone said something about how we weren’t all Methodists, to put up with all these rules. Our Lay Director, a lady from a charismatic background, spoke up. “I’m not used to all these rules, either," she said, "but I believe God blesses obedience.”

I have carried that word with me in all the years since. “I believe God blesses obedience.” Sometimes we like the rules we have to live under, and sometimes we don’t, but you can’t prosper by picking and choosing which rules you’ll follow and which you won’t. God blesses obedience.

Every United Methodist minister is asked several questions upon one’s admission to the Annual Conference, one of which is whether we will allow ourselves to be guided by this advice of John Wesley to his preachers: And do not mend our rules, but keep them -- not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

Paul tells us (Philippians 2:5-11) that Christ showed us the way of obedience, and thus earned God’s blessing:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.