Loose Items from a Tight-Leaf Notebook

I’ve been taking the first part of my summer vacation this past week, which for me usually means a lot of hiking, reading, and napping while trying to avoid doing any yard work. It’s also a great time to catch up on some stuff that the pre and post-Easter rush prevented, so here’s a little list of random thoughts, observations, and reviews I’ve been considering between naps:

  • I dove into a several interesting books. Seeing Black and White in a Gray World: The Need for Theological Reasoning in the Church’s Debate Over Sexuality by Asbury Seminary professor Bill Arnold is a helpful frame for looking at the current crisis in the United Methodist Church. Whereas a lot of people are now blogging and putting together petitions asking for unity at all costs, Arnold argues that there are a certain times that such unity isn’t possible. Sometimes there is no “middle of the road” option. “Sometimes we simply stand at a fork in the road,” he writes. “There is no sense complaining or crying over it. We have only two choices before us.” It reminds me of the old adage that the only things you’ll find in the middle of the road are painted lines and road kill. Sometimes you have to choose and I agree that the UMC is facing one of those times. Asbury Seminary President Tim Tennant has been blogging about this as well and I find his reflection helpful as well. You can check out the series beginning here.
  • Another book I found intriguing is Len Sweet’s Giving Blood, which is all about preaching in the 21st century. Sweet, who loves to invent words, touts the idea of using “narraphors” (narrative metaphors) as the basic tool for preaching in an image-based culture. It got me thinking about my own preaching, which is usually heavy on didactics, and considering some new ways to make it more EPIC (Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, and Connective). I was also struck by his challenge to consider preaching more as a spontaneous event, much like the Wesley’s mode of preaching. I am a meticulous preparer, but it wasn’t long ago that preaching from a manuscript or using any notes was seen as lazy. I’m reminded of Ellsworth Kalas’ admonition to a “spontaneous” preacher in a class he was teaching. When the student said, “I just stand up and let the Holy Spirit tell me what to say,” Kalas replied, “Well, you might consider that you’re not giving the Spirit much to work with!” I think there’s a balance there but it’s interesting to me to consider how to continue evolving in my own preaching.
  • Howard Snyder’s The Radical Wesley is an updated version of his earlier work, newly released by Seedbed. I’ve read a ton of books on Wesley, but Snyder has a way of framing Wesley’s vision and work in a way that is accessible to the modern reader. Snyder believes that “the recovery of some functional equivalent of the class meeting with its intimacy, mutual care and support, and discipline is essential” for a Wesleyan revival of disciple-making in our churches. Our church has begun to move that direction with our emerging emphasis on missional communities. I’m excited to see where that leads us.
  • I’ve been enjoying Season 3 of the BBC’s “Sherlock” on Netflix during the break as well. This is some of the best television you’ll ever see. Fantastic acting, interesting plots, some wry British humor. Each episode is about 90 minutes and you’ll be disappointed when they end. Here’s hoping for more seasons!
  • Father’s Day was yesterday and while dad’s are usually reticent to receive socks and ties for gifts, I actually asked for socks for my present–specifically, hiking socks from Darn Tough, a company out of Vermont. I’ve tried many socks for hiking over the years, from the basic OD green wool sock I wore in my infantry days to Smartwool socks with polypropylene liners. Nothing compares to these Darn Tough socks, however. They’re padded in just the right places, incredibly comfortable, durable, and generate no hotspots. In fact, these socks have a lifetime guarantee–if you can wear out a pair, they’ll send you a new pair, no questions asked. It’s the LL Bean of hosiery! They’re a little pricey (about $17 a pair) but they’ll last forever.
  • Speaking of hiking, I did manage to get out some this week on the local trails. I always enjoy hiking Spruce Mountain as a way of clearing my head and pondering matters substantial and trivial. Jennifer and I also trekked up Stanley Canyon on the Air Force Academy this week, which offers an elevation gain of 1,450 feet in just two miles. It’s really more of a scramble in spots but the views are spectacular. We’re looking forward to hitting some more new-to-us trails as the summer progresses.
  • I’m not a basketball fan, but I found myself interested in the NBA finals. The Spurs demonstrated the ideal of what it means to be a team and I became fascinated with the way that concept destroyed the “Big 3” from Miami. It goes to show you that a motivated, cohesive team will beat a few stars every time, whether it’s on the court or in the church.

I’ll be back at work briefly this week and then head off to Pueblo for the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference. I’m sure there will be plenty to blog about from there. Enjoy your week!

Abraham and the Law of Distinction

“There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.” –Robert Benchley

Hebrews 11:1-16; Genesis 12:1-9

Early 20th century humorist Robert Benchley once proposed what he called “The Law of Distinction,” which goes something like this: “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.” I love how Benchley pokes fun at our human tendency to perceive the world in dichotomous, Manichean terms of black versus white, good versus evil, Republican versus Democrat, Beatles lovers versus Elvis lovers… Well, you get the picture.

We’re really good at putting ourselves and others into categories, often with disastrous results. We all know how “us versus them” thinking, based on false assumptions and stereotypes, can drive a wedge between people that can lead to anything from ridicule to outright warfare. We humans aren’t very good at this kind of categorizing because our knowledge and perception are so limited.

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Babel: Making a Name for Ourselves

The story of the Tower of Babel reminds us that we weren’t made for dominance and isolation, but to scatter God’s glory throughout creation.

Genesis 11:1-9

memorial_dayWell, this is Memorial Day Sunday, the day when we stop and remember those who have fallen in the service of our country. When I was a kid I remember my grandparents, who were teenagers during the war, calling it “Decoration Day.” We spent time on that Monday decorating graves of soldiers, but also of loved ones in the local cemetery. I have been privileged over the years to speak and to offer prayer at many Memorial Day ceremonies in cemeteries across the nation. It’s always a solemn and humbling event.

For most Americans, Memorial Day marks the traditional beginning of the summer and there are picnics to be had, meat to be grilled, and relaxing to be done. The events at the cemeteries are less attended, and many people have a vague understanding of what the day is really about. And yet, this is as important a day as we have on our calendar, for it causes us to remember the sacrifices of brave men and women. But in another way, it causes us to remember with deep reflection the reasons those sacrifices took place.

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Genesis 3: Up the Wrong Tree

Genesis 3

dogs barking up treeWhen I was a kid I used to spend part of every summer at the farm my uncle and aunt owned out in rural Western Pennsylvania. I usually went during the time to put up hay, especially because I was small enough to tuck the bales into the spaces at the top of the barn once we brought the wagon back in. Those were some great times – drinking ice cold whole milk straight from the dairy barn, riding the tractors, and taking a dip in the river when it got too hot.

My cousins liked an evening activity that I never quite understood, however, and that was hunting raccoons at night. If you’ve never been part of this activity, let me describe it to you succinctly—you run at top speed, chasing a barking dog through the woods while shining a flashlight until the dog stops at a tree and barks madly into the darkness where you see…nothing. We never bagged one. In fact, I’m certain I never saw a raccoon on those hunts (and I’m not sure to this day why we were hunting them in the first place, or what we would have done had we shot one). It was great fun for my country cousins, though, and completely pointless to me! Those dumb dogs were constantly barking up the wrong tree, and I think about those nights running through the woods every time someone uses that familiar idiom to describe a fruitless search.

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Genesis 2: The Sequel

Genesis 2 tells us who we are and invites us to turn our lives toward “A New Hope.”

Genesis 2

May the Fourth Be With You…

Well, Sunday was  May 4, a date that has now become an unofficial holiday for Star Wars fans because we can utter the greeting, “May the Fourth Be With You!” (and Methodists everywhere respond, “And also with you!”) I’ve loved these movies (well the first three anyway) since I was a kid. I’ll never forget sitting in the theater as a 13 year-old and seeing that opening scene for the first time. Here it is:

When the Star Destroyer appears and we get that whole idea of its hugeness, you could hear the audience gasp in unison.The effects were unlike anything ever seen in the movies at the time. You felt like you were part of it. I liked it so much that I saw it seven times in the theater!

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