Monday, July 31, 2006

Church & Politics

I know - these are two things dangerous to mix, but let's be honest - we all do it all the time. The U.S. separation of church and state works on a governmental level (i.e. we are not a theocracy) but not on a personal one - we all have our beliefs and morals affected by our faith, and those in turn affect how we vote.

I was watching a news show on PBS the other day and they had a segment about the growth of evangelical megachurches around the country. I'm not a fan of the megachurch model, but I understand how some people are drawn to them. The story showed several congregations around the country who were very proud to show people what they had to offer - including snippets of conservative preachers blasting same-sex marriage and abortion. I don't understand why these are the big issues to preach on, but they are the stereotypical positions for these evangelical churches. So what? These churches are growing - the numbers of them and the numbers of members they have. I'll be honest - that scares me. Not just because they tend to be conservative and I'm not - I don't think they preach sound theology. And I didn't think there was an alternative until I read
this story in the July 30th NY Times.

The story talks with Rev. Gregory A Boyd, a pastor at one of these evangelical megachurches outside Minneapolis/St. Paul who did a preaching series putting down the churches who get too politically involved.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said. [snip]

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

This pastor is by no means a liberal (he admittedly doesn't approve of abortion or homosexuality) but he might really have something with this. I don't know though - maybe I'm just as bad as the conservative, evangelical stereotype but going to other way. I like when my pastor gives a sermon that talks about the reasons a Christian shouldn't be pro-war or why we should vote for certain people who have committed to working against poverty. Those are political choices based on faith values that fall on the liberal end of the spectrum. My faith also tells me that my sexual orientation isn't an issue for God (or Jesus) and I honestly don't know what to do with abortion (I'm fairly anti-abortion but also condemn bombing the clinics and men sticking women with the babies they helped create - it would be a whole different world if men got pregnant).

So, what do you think?? Is there a place for churches to get active in politics? Is this pastor correct in thinking the cross must remain separate to be true?? Is that possible in this day and age?? I recommend reading the whole news story - food for thought if nothing else.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More camp pics

I was having some techinical problems uploading the remaining pictures, so after some tweaking, here they are:

New for this year was canoeing!! Groups could go all together during small group time, or kids could go during their afternoon freetime. They proved to be very popular and I really hope they're back for next year...

This is the "big" creek, which is actually a fork off of the river that runs close by the camp. You can see the water is up to the campers' knees at this point, but it periodically runs even deeper and can get a strong current in flood years. We walk them out 1/3 mile or so to a little swimming area that gets about 8 feet deep. Don't worry - a lifeguard and our camp medic go along for the hike...

Speaking of our camp medic... Here's Angela bandaging a cut knee on the creek hike - which I think was the most major injury we had this year. And look at those white legs - good thing I had my sunglasses with me!

Reflections on Camp - part 2

After three weeks, I've finally had and taken the time to go through my pictures and find some suitable for posting. Hopefully this will help convey the camp experience and you'll begin to see why we love going back each year.

This is a fairly typical activity - playing in the creek! Kids bring shoes to wear in the water (although that's particularly for the "big creek" hike). This small creek runs all the way through the camp and has all kinds of crawdads, minnows, snakes, frogs, etc. which the kids can catch and turn in to the Discovery Center wet and dry aquariums. That way everyone can see what has been found, but the animals remain fairly safe and taken care of. All creatures get released every night, and this is explained to the kids so they start to understand this kind of respect for and care of the animals.

A couple of hours each day are spent in small groups. Activities vary (these kids are going in to the 6th grade so the attention spans are not all that long) and can be anything from games to bible study to crafts or a hike. This is a shot of my small group this year attempting to work together to untangle their knot. It's always questionable whether the kids at this age are ready for this kind of activity or not - some years they get it in a couple of minutes! This year it proved to be quite a challenge, but led to some great conversations afterward.

This is probably my favorite event of 6th grade camp - making our campfire dinner!! Each small group works together and the kids do everything (under supervision) for themselves. Each group gets a cooler with food (hamburger meat, potatoes, carrots, onion, yellow squash, green pepper), a bag of charcoal and aluminum foil. The kids then work together to make a charcoal fire, peel and cut the vegetables, and fill their sheet of foil to make a "hobo dinner" which is then cooked directly on the hot coals. For dessert, they make banana boats (bananas are cooked in foil on the coals with marshmallows, peanut butter chips and chocolate chips - very sweet and gooey and always a hit!) and then everyone helps clean up. It's always interesting to watch the group dynamics as they go through the whole meal. Sometimes the girls will take over tending the fire and the boys will do most of the food prep, while other years they fall into more "traditional" gender roles (although I encourage them to step out of those when possible). Sometimes the kids all whine about how "gross" everything is, and others, like this year, they will just be so excited about getting to do things for themselves and proud when they actually eat things they made.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I can't NOT speak up about all the stuff going on in the Middle East right now. Israel and the Palestinians have been fighting for generations - since biblical times - and the conflict with Lebanon is nothing new either, but things sure seem to be getting a lot worse very quickly. I had hoped that with the agreements over the Gaza strip a few months ago, there would be some easing of the violence, but it has been very short lived.

I am very up front about the fact that I'm a pacifist - I don't think violence is the answer to anything, especially political battles. I believe that this is in line with being a Christian, as Jesus taught us to "turn the other cheek" and "pray for those that persecute you." However, most of the conflict in that area of the world seems to not involve Christians, but Jewish/Israelis and Muslims/Arabs. I will be the first to admit that I'm not near as familiar with those religious traditions as I am with my own and I don't understand the cultural dynamics that also play into these situaions, but I can't believe that God (assuming there is one God common to these religions) would want to see bloodshed and hostility between all of these people.

What's the U.S. role in all this?? Historically, we have always supported Israel and it appears that we are continuing to send military equipment and ammunition to them as they request it. I just don't understand why. With our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 5 years, the world, and especially the Arab world, has been watching us very carefully. Do we think they aren't going to react to our sending Israel more bombs?? It seems dangerously close to another world war to me, and I believe CNN said as much the other day as well. Quotes from W saying things like, "You're either with us or against us," aren't going to help anything either. I'm not even sure that WW3 is appropriate - maybe more like the Crusades part 2. Sadly, it appears that this is becoming more and more of a religious-ethnic divide and I don't see how anyone is going to "win." Many lives are already being lost and/or ruined. With Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, and now Israel/Lebanon, how much can we expect this to spread? How much can the U.S. be involved in before it's spread too thin?

I'm not trying to prophecy gloom and doom for the U.S. or anyone else, but I am definitely getting nervous. So, what do you think? Are we headed for a bigger, more global kind of war? Does God choose sides? Is there room for patriotism in a globalized world??

Where has all the summer gone?

I can't believe it - I'm looking at the calendar and it's already the end of July!!

My apologies fo the gap in writing - between church camp recovery and another trip to Oklahoma City, I haven't been spending as much time on line the last couple of weeks. With summer quickly fading (less than 5 weeks until classes begin again!!), I'm looking over my summer activities and realize I've spent quite a bit of it visiting old friends, which is always nice, and reading fiction. For some of you, this may not be a big deal, but trust me - for me it's a huge thing to get to choose what I read at all, never mind really enjoying something as mindlessly entertaining as a mystery. :)

I've been sucked in this summer by the Stephanie Plum novels written by Janet Evanovich. She's a bounty hunter from Trenton, NJ and while I've always enjoyed mystery/action books I think these have really hit home for me because the lead character is a spunky female and I can relate to her background in many ways - NJ, Italian family, etc. Plus, these books are funny!! I have been amazed at how many times I have actually laughed out loud while reading.

With a little over a month to go, I've now read all 12 of the Stephanie Plum novels (12 just came out in the last month and is REALLY good, but that's all I'm going to say) and am looking for some "last fling" fiction. Anyone got any suggestions? I know there are those of you (Angela) who aren't really into the whole fiction thing, so I'll take recommendations for good non-fiction books as well. Just please, no theology or church history!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cool picture from space

I haven't had time to play around with the pictures and upload them (I'm doing this entry from work and the pics are on my home computer where the editing software resides), so for now, nothing more on church camp. Instead, I'm sharing this picture called "the eye of God" which was already on this computer for some unknown reason. I have no idea who to credit for the picture but it's cool and I'm fascinated with space stuff, particularly at this time when Discovery has successfully gone up to its mission at the international space station.

A lot of people talk about whether or not we should spend so much money on space exploration and why it is or isn't worth it. I have to admit that while I think there are much more pressing matters here on Earth that we could putting that money into, there is something fascinating and alluring about outer space. Some people might call is a big diversion from "real life" on Earth, but I think it's more profound than that. I think looking to outer space gets us in touch with nature and our Creator in a way nothing on Earth can do. It also instills a feeling of hope for the future - that there are so many things we haven't thought of yet, haven't discovered yet, that anything may be possible... What do you think?? Are we wasting our time and money with the space program?? What kinds of feelings does outer space instill in you?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reflections on camp - part one

Well, I'm back from a week long church camp experience. Every year we try to go down to Tahlequah, Oklahoma for this one specific 6th grade camp. WHY?? Partly because we're crazy (but, hey, we like it that way!) and mostly because it's such a great camp. The staff is diverse, friendly, intelligent, and good at what they do. The 6th grade camp curriculum for the OK Conference is called "God in our Midst" and was put together very well - giving lots of ideas and plenty of room for flexibility (which if you've ever worked with 6th graders is a MUST).

I know after working this camp, that I was not cut out to be a teacher - but it is clear to me why some people would love to take that job. Watching kids figure things and learn how to do things for the first time is an incredible thing to witness, especially when they start putting things together about nature, God and life. By the end of the week, I was completely warn out and running low on patience (how do they manage to all ask the same questions over and over??) but satisfied that is was a week of vacation well spent. Most of the kids are from the burbs or the Tulsa metro area and haven't ever done a lot of stuff in the outdoors that isn't their back yards. Teaching them how to play in a creek and catch crawdads, or how to build a charcoal fire and prepare their own dinner is a major highlight in my year. I'll try to put up pictures in the next couple of days and form the rest of my thoughts into cohesive posts....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

You Might be a United Methodist

Many thanks to Rachel for passing on the following entertainment: (note the purple comments are my own thoughts)

You Might Be A United Methodist If
~you don't take Rolaids when your heart is strangely warmed
~you know that a circuit rider is not an electrical device
~The Upper Room is as essential to your bathroom as the toilet paper I think this is a generational thing... I've only seen it at old ladies' homes.
~you felt that the NCAA penalties against SMU football were too harsh or perhaps Duke basketball
~you've ever owned a pair of cross and flame boxer shorts how about a tattoo?
~you sit while singing "Stand up, stand up for Jesus"
~you've ever sung a gender-inclusive hymn and love it!!
~tithing is encouraged but widely ignored don't think this is different than any other denom
~half the people sitting in your pew lip-sync the words to the hymns
~the word apportionment sends a chill down your spine
~you realize pluralism isn't a communicable disease
~your pastor has a hyphenated last name
~names like Aldersgate, Asbury, and Epworth are vaguely familiar what about if they're more than vaguely familiar??
~you consider the monthly potluck a sacrament almost...
~the only church camp song you know by heart is "Kum ba yah" no way - there are tons of camp songs!!
~you've ever attended an Annual Conference and actually enjoyed it
~you have an unexplained yearning to visit Wesley's Chapel in London been there, done that
~your church is named for a geographical location rather than for a saint
~you've never heard a sermon on Hell and don't feel you're missing out
~you realize that VBS isn't a sexually transmitted disease
~your pastor moves every four or five years and you like it that way unless you're the pastor
~there's at least one person in every church meeting who says, "But we've never done it that way before"
~your congregation's Christmas pageant includes both boy and girl wise men
~you accept the fact that the hymn "O, for a thousand tongues to sing" has almost as many stanzas as tongues
~you know that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't a trick football play involving four lateral passes
~you realize that the Book of Discipline is not a guide to getting your child to behave
~you understand that an "appointment" has nothing to do with keeping a lunch date
~you think "UMW" stands for United Methodist Women rather than the United Mine Workers
~you know the difference between a "diagonal" minister and a "Diaconal" minister this may be a little dated sine there aren't any more Diaconal minsters anymore, but how about Deaconesses??
~"Good morning" has the status of a liturgical greeting in the worship service
~you say "trespasses" instead of "debts" in the Lord's Prayer and have no idea why
~your annual conference spends most of its time debating resolutions that nobody reads
~you'd rather be branded with a hot iron than serve on the Nominating Committee now called Lay Leadership and my personal position at Trinity UMC
~you've ever sipped Welch's grape juice out of a plastic shot glass during Communion
~you're asked to donate money to a "special offering" every other Sunday
~you pore over the Conference Journal with the same intensity you would read a John Grisham novel not exactly but you never know whose name you'll see where!
~you have to fight through a cadre of greeters to get into the sanctuary
~when the worship service lasts for more than one hour, the beeping of watch alarms drowns out the final hymn especially on Sunday when the KC Chiefs are playing!

In all seriousness, I'm going out of town for the next week to work a 6th grade church camp in Oklahoma, so the blog will be post free. Feel free to comment all you want on the previous posts (and this one) until I get back. For more info on camp (including the address where you can write to me and Angela) check out Angela's blog listed in my links on the right column of the blog. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!!