Thursday, June 29, 2006

two week hiatus/soundtrack

Bear Witness
goes on a two week hiatus. Please return in mid-July. For those of you in the Asheville area, I will be teaching a writing workshop at Lake Junaluska on the afternoons of July 11 and 12 . Come and join us. You can register at 828-454-1956. In the meantime, some music...all of the Van Morrison selections are from his new cd, which was a father's day gift, and is phenomenal....what could be better than Van Morrison and Country Music?


Jackson Browne, For Everyman
Dixie Chicks, Landslide
Jim Lauderdale, She Used To Say That To Me
Van Morrison, Things Have Gone To Pieces
Gillian Welch, By The Marks Where The Nails Have Been
Alison Krauss, New Favorite
Willie Nelson, You Don't Know Me
Van Morrison, Once A Day
Gregg Allman, These Days
Darrell Scott, I'm Nobody
Van Morrison, Till I Can Gain Control Again
Buddy and Julie Miller, Keep Your Distance
Emmylou Harris, Satan's Jewel Crown
Crosby, Stills and Nash, Helplessly Hoping
Ry Cooder, Jesus Is On The Mainline
Little Feat, Long Distance Love
Jerry Douglas, Back In Love Again
Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
Leon Russell, Hummingbird
James McMurtry, We Can't Make It Here Anymore

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

our father: a reflection on the lord's prayer

Disciples of Jesus are lifelong learners. We learn to know the scriptures. We learn to praise God. We learn to serve others. Disciples are made not born. We learn to pray. And so, if you have worshipped with us for some time, you’ve become familiar with some words that we pray, each week. We don’t say these words simply because we’ve become accustomed to doing it. We say them because, we believe, they are the best pathway into learning how to pray. Someone has remarked that we are always beginners at prayer.

Many of us want to pray. Many of us feel guilty that we don’t pray more, or more effectively. We know that we should pray. But we wonder, if w are honest: How should I pray?

In Luke’s gospel the first disciples come to Jesus with a request: Lord, teach us to pray. Jesus responds with these words, pray in this way. And then we have our Lord’s Prayer.

It begins with the words, Our Father. The first word, our, is significant. This is a prayer for Christians in community. Our tendency, in the spiritual life, is to see everything about this prayer as personal and private. Nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we find the words I, me, myself or mine. As I was preparing this message I wondered, what would it be like for me, for Ken Carter, to get through the day without uttering these words, I, me, myself or mine? What would it be like if I replaced the words I, me, myself, mine with we, us, ours? I would be closer to the Lord’s Prayer. I would be nearer to Jesus’ desire for the way I ought to approach God and live with others in the world.

It is not my Father. It is our Father.

It is not my daily bread. It is our daily bread.

It is not my trespasses. It is our trespasses.

Not my. Our.

Have you ever come to church on a Sunday morning and you just didn’t feel like praying, like saying these words? That’s okay. Someone else will pray them for you, maybe the person beside you.

Will Willimon, who will be with us to preach in the fall, and Stanley Hauerwas have noted that the disturbing part of the prayer’s beginning is not that it refers to God as Father, but rather that it begins with our. Very often we want to learn to do things on our own, without any help, but the spirituality that Jesus gives us is one that we share with others. Learning to pray as a Christian is not like the model of learning we encountered in school----don’t look on anyone else’s paper during the test! Learning to pray as a Christian is an experience that we share with friends, with family, with people in a congregation. We might want to look back on our spiritual lives and say, with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way”, but that is not the instruction of Jesus.

When you pray, say these words, Our Father.

And this leads to a question: Should we call God Father?

A few years ago I read a book entitled Fatherless America. It is about the absence of males in many American families. The author makes a strong case. I wondered how accurate his argument was, until I came across some research. In the 1980s a team of researchers wanted to investigate how much time middle class fathers spent with their children. First they asked the group of fathers to estimate how much time they might spend with their sons and daughters on a given day; the answer was 15 to 20 minutes. To verify these claims the scientists attached microphones to the shirts of small children for the purpose of recording actual conversations between fathers and children. The results were shocking. The average amount of time spent by fathers with their children was 37 seconds per day.

This was pre-internet, pre-Blackberry, pre-cell phone…practically ancient history, right? I wonder if things have improved since then?

For many, many children, the father is absent, maybe emotionally, maybe physically. And so we ask: How do these realities shape the way we pray Our Father? We can begin by asking what Jesus meant when he prayed this way. The original word, abba, means intimacy, nearness. Jesus spoke the Aramaic language, and there are very few places in the gospels where the Aramaic is remembered. One is his cry from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Another is his address to God: abba. Jesus chose this word for a very specific purpose. Abba was not a common way to address God in Israel. There were female gods in the culture, and there were religions that worshipped multiple gods. There were other names for God in the scriptures that Jesus studied, the Old Testament, names that stressed the power of God, the awesomeness of God. And yet in all of his prayers Jesus chose this name, abba. It was the only way Jesus began his prayers.

So I don’t want to give up on this prayer, even if I can understand how it would be difficult for some to claim. This is the way Jesus invites us to begin our prayers. Not to an absent God, not to a distant God, but to a God who is “closer to us than we are to ourselves”, to borrow the language of Saint Augustine. The importance of Our Father is not that God is male. The importance is in the word, abba. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are invited into the presence of someone who created us, who knows us, who loves us, who lives with us. Paul writes, in Romans 8, When we cry Abba, Father, it is the very spirit bearing witness With our spirit that we are children of God

You and I are children of God. And so we pray, OUR FATHER.

One of the most beautiful images of the father is Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, displayed in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. In one of his last books, Henri Nouwen wrote an extended reflection on the scene: the father, an aging man, dressed in a gold –embroidered garment with a deep red cloak, his face illumined, and if you look closely, his eyes almost blind, his hands placed on the shoulders of the kneeling prodigal, whose face we do not see---is it guilt or shame?

And then we look more closely at the painting and we see that the centerpiece of the painting is the hands that bless, that reconcile, that heal. And if we stay with the hands, one is strong and large, the other is smaller, more delicate. Many view the painting and it is quite clear to them: one is the hand of a man, and the other is the hand of a woman…

The prayer continues: Our Father, who art in heaven. God is not just anywhere. God is in heaven. This God who is near to us, intimate with us, is a cosmic God. And because our God is in heaven we can pray for big things. Now it is okay to pray for a parking place (!), but we are called to pray for the really big things: peace in the world, an end to the war----that is my prayer, daily bread for the starving children on our planet, those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

Our Father is in heaven. A few years ago I officiated at the memorial service for a beloved member of the church. At the graveside her granddaughter came with two helium balloons, to which she had attached notes. She lifted them to the skies during the service. The notes were to her grandmother. She had been told that her grandmother now lived with God, in heaven.

When we teach children to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are teaching them about who God is, and where God is. Our Father, who art in heaven.

And we conclude with the next phrase: Hallowed be thy name. We honor God. God is near, close, intimate, but God is not our buddy, our pal. God’s name is holy, hallowed, different. We don’t take God’s name in vain, or use it casually. It helps us, in a culture that wants to be entertained, to remember that God is not an entertainer. We also do not assume that God will bless whatever we do, as individuals or as a church or as a nation. We pray that we will do the things that God can bless. God is holy.

But we also have to define what holy means. Holy has become a stereotype in our culture. Holier than thou. Holy is arrogance, judgmentalism, sneering at others, looking down our noses at other people.

That is not holiness. Holiness is beauty. Holiness is greatness. Holiness is wholeness. Holiness is love of God and love of neighbor.

When we say the words Hallowed be thy name, we are praying for the time when all will experience the holiness of God, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess. But we are also praying that God’s holiness will live in us, that others will see God’s holiness in our lives.

In many of the earliest Christian communities, and in some traditions today the invitation to this prayer would be introduced with the words, “Now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to pray…”.

What is bold about it? As we learn this prayer by heart, as it shapes our spirituality, we discover that God is intimate, that God is near, but also that God is cosmic, that God is holy. This is how we begin to pray, Jesus says, by coming into the presence of this God, Abba.

Throughout the summer we will spend some time on the other phrases in the prayer. But this morning it is enough to stay at the beginning. It is enough to be in the presence of this God, to feel the touch of his strong and gentle hand upon us, blessing us, reconciling us to himself. We are bold to pray this prayer.

I invite you to say these words, in simple phrases, after I say them: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.

Sources: William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us; Henri Nouwen, The Return of The Prodigal Son. N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer.

Monday, June 26, 2006

a katrina love story

It is summer, and we are making plans for the fall. Just as we were a year ago...and then Katrina hit. But even out of great crisis, God's spirit is present. God has His own plans.

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Read it all

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Pam and I are in Sedona, Arizona this weekend, attending the national conference of the Center of Theological Inquiry's Pastor-Theologian program (see the CTI link under institutions and foundations). I was a participant in this program in its first years of inception, and then was the moderator of a local group, in Winston-Salem, and now am involved in a research group of a group of pastors as the program completes its nineth year. The director, Wallace Alston, was formerly the senior pastor of the Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, and has labored under the conviction that the renewal of the church is related to the formation of a theologically substantive clergy. And so we meet three to four times a year, interracting with pretty complex material, and spending time with amazing theologians. In my experiences with CTI some of them have been Jurgen Moltmann, John Polkinghorne, Don Juel (rest in peace), Bill Schweiker, Robert Jensen, Serene Jones, and Miroslav Volf. One of the things I most like about these gatherings of clergy is that the folks here do not just gather together to complain about life or to gripe about the church. In general, these are pastors, from all over North America, who are growing in their love for and understanding of God, and seeking to be more faithful to their ministries. It is a joy to be around them.

I will write later about some of the folks in this current conference. The theme has been the relationship between the mission of the church and the salvation of the world. Particularly compelling for me were lectures by Robert Jensen (on the relation of church to salvation, and the meaning of Christ's body), Cheryl Bridges Johns (on the Holy Spirit and the marginalized of the world amidst the rise of pentecostalism) and Serene Jones (on the recovery of desire in the mainline church, especially the desire to glorify God). Since Providence UMC's vision is "to be the body of Christ by glorifying God and serving others", I have reflected on what that phrase means in new ways here.

Meanwhile, Sedona is in the vicinity of a huge fire, about ten miles to the north. Many of the parks are closed, but it has relatively little effect on the area we are in; for example, you really cannot see the flames or smell the smoke. There is much danger, however, to those who fight the fires and to those who live in the surrounding canyons, and of course also to the natural beauty that will be scarred.

Tomorrow we return, flying from Phoenix to Charlotte. It will be great to be home again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

globalization a reality: carolina hurricanes win the stanley cup

I understand about two-thirds of what is happening in a hockey match, but the final last night was amazing.

Check out the storm warning here!.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

caroline batchelor on biloxi/katrina

Ken's note: Caroline Batchelor is a member of Providence UMC, and a rising senior at UVA.

"My name is Caroline Batchelor, and on Friday I returned from Providence’s College Mission Trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, a town on the Gulf of Mexico devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August. Our small group of nine was assembled from three different United Methodist churches around the Charlotte area. In Biloxi we worked in several homes, all of which experienced different degrees of damage and all in different stages of rebuilding as the victims still work to bring their lives and homes as close as possible to what they were before the storm.

I remember seeing the news footage of Katrina in August and was horrified at the level of devastation and destruction caused by the hurricane. But to be honest, here we are nine months later, and before last week I didn’t think about Katrina very much. After leaving the newspaper headlines, it eventually left my consciousness as well. But the past week has been not only a reminder of Katrina, but a complete immersion into its effects. As you drive through Biloxi, Katrina is still everywhere. Small FEMA trailers, in which families live as they wait for the chance and the help to slowly rebuild, are spotted in the front yards of almost every house. Debris is still piled along the streets in many places, and some homes, like one in which we worked, still haven’t even been “mucked,” a term I quickly learned describes the first step in the process of tearing down a home destroyed by water damage in order to rebuild it.

Despite the tedious pace at which the Gulf Coast is rebuilding, and the everyday reminders for most victims that they have lost nearly everything except themselves, and if fortunate, their families and the structures of their homes, I witnessed immense hope in the people of Biloxi. Much of this hope, I believe, is the result of the large influx of volunteers that have traveled to the Gulf Coast to help in any way they can. One afternoon as I sat with Cathy, a homeowner with whom we worked, amidst a pile of her belongings still stacked in disarray outside her home, she told me that she believes wholeheartedly that volunteer work is responsible for an overwhelming amount of the progress that Biloxi has made. I think she’s right. Volunteers not only provide the much needed labor that many victims can neither find nor afford, but the love and empathy expressed in the work of volunteers helps rebuild a devastated region in ways that construction crews cannot.

It is appropriate that I share my experiences with you before the offering, because it is the financial generosity of this church that made our trip possible. I know that I and my crew are overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to go to Biloxi, however, the real thanks lies with a handful of patient and brave Mississippians who have experienced the manifestations of your generosity this week. This Sunday morning Linda and Aubrey have new cabinets, Matt has a roof, Cathy has walls, tile floors and door ways, and Alfra and Ruth have one less room infested with mold. This congregation is deserving of their gratitude. Thank you, and please keep Biloxi, and the people of the Gulf Coast in your prayers".

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

when the spirit of truth comes: left behind with the davinci code

Imagine that a Shakespearean play exists, and there are six parts, but the fifth part is lost. In the first four acts there is rich imagery, a powerful narrative, and a crescendo of excitement. There is also a vivid and compelling final act. But there is a missing piece—this fifth act. How do you put on the play? The decision is made not to write the fifth act, for this would freeze all of the characters into a form, and in fact would attribute the play to an author who had actually not written it. Instead, what if we decided to give the key parts to highly-trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearean actors, allowed them to immerse them in the first four acts, and then told them to “work out the fifth act for themselves”.

The New Testament scholar NT Wright asks us to imagine further that the first four acts are the creation, the fall, the story of Israel and Jesus. The sixth and final act is the apocalypse, the revelation. You and I live in the fifth act, in the interim. We are given access to the stories, in scripture, and indeed we enact this drama each Sunday through praise, confession, offering, intercession, meditation, the Word, benediction. We do enact this drama, and a part of the cultural conversation of late seems to be an unceasing inquiry into how best to carry out this drama, and so you see that we have to improvise. What kind of music should we sing? Do I wear a robe, or a suit, or an izod shirt? Well, God didn’t actually spell all of this out in the scripture. If he did we lost that part. We have to improvise.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is talking to the disciples, scene four is ending, and he is telling them, “it is good that I leave, for the spirit will come, the paraclete, the encourager”. The spirit will guide you into the truth. But we have to access that spirit, be open to that spirit, test that spirit.

And that leads us to the question: How do we know if it is God’s spirit? How do we know if it is the truth? We live in a postmodern world, and one of the features of a postmodern world is that truth and fiction are blended. Think of the movies of Oliver Stone about Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. Or the novels of Jan Karon. I know people who have gone looking for that church in Blowing Rock. Or The memoir A Million Little Pieces, that was an Oprah book club choice. Was it truth or fiction? And two hugely popular, semi-religious works, different in some ways but strikingly similar in others: Left Behind and The DaVinci Code.

The Left Behind series, and the DaVinci Code together have sold 100 million copies. As an author of 3 books, I can tell you that there is some envy in me about that. I remember that Pam and I took the royalties from one of my books one year, cashed the check and went to Wendy’s!

But people are reading Left Behind and The DaVinci Code, one about the end of the world, one about the origins of our faith. You see folks reclining at beaches, preparing to hop on airplanes, waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Out pops a book---and it’s either Left Behind or The DaVinci Code.

These books are different in that they come from two very distinct political places, and so they fit neatly into the grooves of the culture wars. But they are alike in that each attempts to fill in the fifth act; after creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, what happens next?

Well, Dan Brown and Tim LaHaye want to tell us. Interestingly, remember, these are novels, right? Fiction. But they are not read as fiction. They are read as the gospel truth. Never mind that rapture is not a word that appears in the Bible. Never mind that anti-Christ is not a word that appears in the Book of Revelation, contrary to yesterday’s Charlotte Observer religion section. Never mind that Jesus is divine and human from the earliest first century manuscripts. Never mind that there is no such subject as religious symbology, and no one at Harvard teaches this discipline.

These are improvisations, but something has gone astray! And so you and I have to go back to the story, and see where it really leads us. Jesus has lived and died and he has been raised. Now he has given us his spirit. The spirit, he says, will guide you into the truth. If you continue in my word, Jesus says, you will be my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. Truth comes from a disciplined search, but not the quest of a skeptical symbologist or a shrewd crytographer, or a weird old guy who lives in a castle!, or a man who is lucky enough to be on the right list.

Truth is never given to the curious, but to the committed. The disciples will know the truth if they remember the story, immerse themselves in it, and they will remember the story if they meditate on the word.

On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. It was his way of saying, “I am leaving you, you have to work this out on your own, but I am giving you my spirit”. The spirit is not a license to go in any direction we choose. The spirit is not a warm feeling that comes over us. The spirit is not lifting our hands high into the air.

The spirit is the indwelling presence of God in the believer. The spirit is a life shaped by love, the greatest gift, a love that is patient and kind, that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude ((1 Corinthians 13). The spirit bears fruit in signs of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5). The spirit is truth when it bears witness to Jesus. The spirit will glorify me, Jesus says, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The spirit is the indwelling presence of God in the believer, but the spirit is also the external and public presence of God in the body of Christ, the church. The Holy Spirit is both public and private, institutional and mystical. And so at times the signs of the spirit can be seen with our eyes and heard with our ears: wind, water, word, banner, bread, wine. And so the Holy Spirit is present at circle gatherings and church council meetings, mission trips and capital campaigns, hospital rooms and Bible studies, at gravesides and at fellowship meals. God’s spirit uses these visible signs to empower and unify his people.

An underlying thread in both Left Behind and the DaVinci Code is that both are influenced by the heresy of gnosticism. The Gnostic heresy held that certain people have a superior knowledge, a secret knowledge, that is for the privileged. My issue with Tim Lahaye is his judgment on the visible church, much of which he assumes is out of the loop in terms of God’s ultimate salvation. We are left behind. And my problem with Dan Brown is that there is a new wisdom (the literal name of Sophie Nueveau) that is apart from the scriptures as we have them and the tradition as it has been passed to us.

After I had given my eight dollars and a half and found a sit in the theater to watch The DaVinci Code last week, a question did emerge for me as the movie unfolded: Who are the descendents of Jesus? Not, orthodox Christians would argue, Sophie Nouvea (new wisdom), but those who have received the Holy Spirit, his spirit. The legacy is the promise of Jesus: I will not leave you comfortless, literally, I will not leave you orphaned.

And the idea of legacy leads to the question of how the faith is passed from generation to generation. Not through a biological bloodline, but through the body broken and the blood shed, through lives of obedience and faithfulness.

What does it mean for us to be obedient and faithful? Well, we have to work that out for ourselves. That is the creative process of life. That is where a baptized imagination is required. There are some churches that will give you a script----here is what you do, this is what you give, this is how you vote, these are people you associate with---but that script is always a human invention. It fixes us in a rigid form, and it does not allow God’s spirit to breathe through us.

You have to work it out for yourselves. Is it okay to consult what others are doing and saying? Yes. Is it okay to watch movies like The Passion of The Christ, almost of third of which came from the vision of an 18th century nun, or The DaVinci Code? Is it okay to read Left Behind? It really is your choice. But don’t confuse a religious bestseller with a movement of the spirit. They really are two different things.

The spirit of truth stands in judgment over our popular culture, although at times it sneaks in----I think of Johnny Cash singing “Hurt”, or Bono singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, or Joan Osbourne singing “What if God Was One of Us?”. There is something inspirational about these, to me. But these songs do not give any answers. They just voice the questions. They are the honest expressions of men and women who want to know how to live, and how to make it through the day, or night. There is a hunger for truth, but the answers are not found in conspiracy theories or end-time scenarios. In fact, these can distract us from the movements of God’s spirit.

No, the hunger is very simply for Jesus, Jesus himself, his body, his blood, given for you and for me. The spirit of truth bears witness to him, glorifies him. And so you and I are called to read and really get to know the first four acts---- we were created by God, we are sinners, our ancestors were slaves who escaped, passed through deep waters, and wandered in the wilderness on the way to the promised land; and A savior lived on this earth, called disciples, performed miracles, ate with sinners, was crucified, died, was buried, and was raised from the dead. For you and me.

Then he gave us his spirit, and said, “work this out for yourself”.

What if you and I are the real descendents of Jesus? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Sources: Rodney Clapp, “Dan Brown’s Truthiness”, Christian Century, May 16, 2006; N.T. Wright, The New Testament and The People of God.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

united methodist doctrine: the extreme center by scott jones

United Methodist Doctrine:  The Extreme Center Cover

Scott Jones is a Bishop in the United Methodist Church; previously he had served as a professor of Evangelism at SMU and as a pastor. I included this book in the midst of the others for the purpose of holding learnings about the present and future church in tension with our heritage as United Methodists. In re-reading this book, I was reminded that Wesley's understanding of grace is worth recovering in our response to the spiritual hungers of this age. Some other learnings:

1. The heart of United Methodist doctrine is soteriology (salvation) , which for Wesley was a "way" or a process.

2. The goal of United Methodist doctrine is discipleship; our beliefs are always shaped by our practices.

3. At its best, United Methodist doctrine occupies an "extreme center", holding in tension worship and service, spiritual formation and social involvement, personal evangelism and political activism. Our culture has a very difficult time holding these in tension (Ken's comment).

4. Wesley distinguished between essential doctrines and opinions. There are some matters upon which Christians disagree, and a "catholic spirit" allows us to recognize this. We recall Paul's word in 1 Corinthians 13 that "we know only in part".

5. The four key concepts of United Methodist theology, all rooted in scripture, are creation, sin, grace and law.

6. Sin is a disease that distorts the image of God in us. Grace is the healing (therapeia psyches) of this sickness, and the restoration of human nature.

7. The process of making disciples includes five steps: proclaiming the gospel; leading persons to commit their lives to Christ; nurturing individuals in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace; sending people out into the world as servants; continuing the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the body of Christ.

8. We cooperate with God in the experience of grace (see Philippians 2. 13).

9. The ultimate goal of doctrine for Wesley was holiness: love of God and love of neighbor.

10. The deep divisions within American Christianity between social gospel and evangelical traditions can be held together by an "extreme center", grounded in the experience of God's grace as the way to salvation.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Apologies for the week without entries....we began early on Monday morning, a week ago, driving to Atlanta, where I taped two sermons with Peter Wallace of Day One. While in Atlanta we saw the Braves....they lost. It is odd that the United Methodist Church moved the 2012 General Conference from Richmond (where the minor league Braves play) to Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida. Name one of the two best-known Florida athletic teams? The Florida State Seminoles (right Skip?)...And I guess Atlanta would never have been an option...

The next morning we drove to Lake Junaluska, through the beautiful foothills of North Georgia. We stopped for lunch at a real "hole in the wall" in Franklin, North Carolina...but it was good! I remembered hiking in the Wayah Bald area near Franklin when I was in college. We then arrived at Junaluska an hour later. That night (Tuesday) we had a meal with about 80 of our closest friends....a loosely configured group of Methodists, pastors, district superintendents, their spouses, etc., at the Jarrett House in Dillsboro, near Sylva and Cullowhee. It is an annual gathering that has no agenda other than catching up with each other...and its an open group....let me know if you want to attend next year. The next day Annual Conference would commence. I began the day, as I usually do, by walking around the lake. It is a very peaceful 2.5 mile exercise, and it is therapeutic for me.

In the meantime, our younger daughter Abby is now a senior in high school, offficially. She told me that she already has senioritis!

I will post more about the annual conference later. For now, I am catching up on the small mountain of email that awaited me in Charlotte. Thanks again for your patience, and for stopping by.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

ancient-future evangelism by robert webber

Ancient-future Evangelism Cover

Robert Webber teaches at Northern Seminary in Chicago, and has explored the relationship between the church's evangelical mission in a postmodern world and the deep tradition that is our inheritance. Reading the above work led me to a number of observations, gleaned from his insights. Again, I am attempting to look at a number of books over the summer that reflect on related disciplines of leadership, evangelism, postmodernism and essence, on the present situation in which a (our) local church finds itself.

1. Evangelism has often produced converts rather than disciples, resulting in "growth without depth".

2. The church's compartmentalization of ministry---into age levels, worship, evangelism, assimilation--is a modernist construction that ignores the holistic process of discipleship.

3. Discipleship can be defined as "a process that takes place over time for the purpose of bringing believers to spiritual maturity in Christ" (13).

4. Conversion in the early church involved changes in belief, belonging and behavior.

5. Medieval Christianity assumed that persons (apart from Jews and some pagans) were Christians, but it lacked an process of catechesis (learning about the faith). The reformers retained infant baptism and joined it to confirmation/catechism.

6. Pietism arose in contrast to the enlightenment's elevation of reason and the mind. The Wesleyan revival may be understood as one of the movements within pietism.

7. The four formative stages in discipleship are inquiry, catechumenate, purification and enlightenment, and mystagogue. These steps correspond to seeking and following, instruction and learning, Lenten self-examination and participation in the Easter celebration of the resurrection, and post-Easter reflection on baptism, communion and service to the poor, ending on the Day of Pentecost. These stages can be likened to evangelism discipleship, spiritual formation and assimilation.

8. Discipleship is a matter of the heart, the mind and the will.

9. The church reaches a secular world through hospitable social networks. These sometimes have the feel of house churches.

10. The major obstacles to community in western culture are individualism, isolation and consumerism.

11. Postmodern evangelism is not so much an argument (rational apologetic) as a display of a reality.

12. Christian spirituality is forming people to live in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus--to live and claim their baptisms. Prominent in the act of living and claiming our baptisms is the renunciation of evil. The great weapons in this resistance of evil are memorization of the Apostles' Creed and The Lord's Prayer.

Next week I will be reading United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center by Scott Jones. I reviewed this book about three and a half years ago [for Circuit Rider Book Reviews], but it merits another reading. I will also be involved in the gathering of the Western North Carolina Conference at Lake Junaluska, so something related to Methodism seems appropriate.

Blessings tomorrow, on the Day of Pentecost!

true confessions

I have never been able to watch The Matrix in its entirety. I don't get it.

I have never read a book by Max Lucado.

I have never eaten in a Taco Bell.

I have never seen an episode of Friends.

I once attended a revival service led by James Robison.

I think The Sopranos is the best thing on television in twenty-five years. The session where Carmella's therapist quoted Doestoevsky....amazing.

I have never been able to read beyond the first paragraph of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I don't get it.

There are more important moral issues than Native American sports mascots. For example, perhaps, reparations to Native Americans.

I once attended a pentecostal service when I was in college. It lasted three hours. I didn't get it.

I think the Left Behind series is an exit strategy for people who don't want to take responsibility for the mess that the world is in.

I am grateful for the focus of Rick Warren on Africa.

I once had a flat tire driving to a Billy Graham crusade.

I have read every word of John Calvin's Institutes, and my life was not enriched in any appreciable way.

I think Merle Haggard was the original rapper.

I think left wing and right wing fanatics should be locked in a room together...oh, I forgot, that is the United Methodist General Conference. Well, the majority of delegates to General Conference.

I don't get the appeal of watching people play cards on television, or people painting walls on television, or people driving automobiles around in a circle on television.

In hell there is a never-ending debate about the merits of contemporary versus traditional worship.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

i was a stranger and you welcomed me

In the midst of the shameless rhetoric regarding immigration, voiced most loudly by Lou Dobbs of CNN, a perceptive piece on what is really happening by Richard Rodriguez. Read it here.