Archive for May 2010

Motivational Monday

Summer Reading

I have compiled my summer reading list. This does not include reading necessary for my courses. I will be writing a paper on John’s depiction of the Passion for my Gospels class this summer, and I will be working on my refresher Greek class. Those are the only two major school assignments this summer, which gives me plenty of time to devote to summer reading.

Barth for Armchair Theologians by John Franke

I joined a Karl Barth study group in January and we’re working our way through Church Dogmatics. Unfortunately, I’m in over my head, as I landed in the middle and I have had very little exposure to Barth except through a Contemporary Theology class at college. I’m enjoying the group, and it is stretching me, I just need to get a handle on Barth’s core theology, themes, context etc, so that I can better participate.

Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

Every summer I read either Gone With the Wind or Ripley’s authorized sequel, Scarlett. In some ways, I like the sequel better than the original (though that definitely does not apply to the dreadful mini-series they made for Scarlett). I have also read Donald McCaig’s Rhett Butler’s People, but it was not nearly as engaging as Ripley’s book.

Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans

I have already pre-ordered this. You can see the trailer for the book at Rachel’s blog.

American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile by Richard John Neuhaus

I picked this up on the cheap from CBD when they had their Boxing Week sale. I’ve been following the First Things blogs, particularly Evangel, and I just haven’t gotten around to reading anything by Neuhaus. That will change this summer.

I probably will have time for one or two more. Anybody have any suggestions?

The Hip Youth Speaker

Sadly, I have known several “Ignatius”s.

The “UA” Sermon

The “UA” sermon is probably the most difficult kind of sermon to write and preach. This is the type of sermon that is usually required as part of a ministry assignment in a college or seminary class, and is usually based on content from that class.

What is the “UA” sermon? It is the “unidentified audience” sermon. It is the sermon that is written without the context of a specific congregation and is usually written as a solitary sermon without the framework of an ongoing theme or lectionary ordering.

Recently, I wrote a sermon for my Former Prophets class on 1 Kings 19. The sermon, on zeal and discouragement, was lacking the “heart” that can only come from having a specific audience.
Sure, I wrote it as if I was preaching at a clergy retreat, but it was still vague. What issues are these pastors going through? What issues are they not going through? What would this sermon look like if it were being preached to veteran pastors or to squeaky-clean, straight-out-of-seminary pastors? Would I preach this sermon in a formal manner, or a casual manner? Would I be aiming to be profound and intellectual? Would I be aiming to be relational? Would I really preach this sermon on 1 Kings 19 in isolation? Would I not do a mini-series, and start with Elijah’s zealous work for God in 1 Kings 18?

The “UA” sermon unfortunately cannot encompass all of the above. Even if I changed the “unidentified audience” to a Sunday morning church audience, I would still wrestle with the lack of “heart.” What congregation am I preaching to? What size? What age? Would I preach this sermon in a formal manner, or a casual manner? Would I be aiming to be profound and intellectual? Would I be aiming to be relational? Would I really preach this sermon on 1 Kings 19 in isolation? Would it not be more likely that I would preach a series on Elijah starting with 1 Kings 17 through to 2 Kings 2?

Now I know most preachers have a stash of already written sermons to preach anywhere, anytime. I too have these. Given that the majority of my preaching is for pulpit supply, I always have something ready.
But, whenever I am called to preach, there is lead time, usually a month or more (though sometimes only a week, or worse a couple of days!), but it is that lead time that alters the pre-written sermon. It is in that lead time that I ask the questions above and adapt, rewrite or create a new sermon. I have never preached the exact same sermon twice, it would be impossible.

And so, while I appreciate the exercise of writing the “UA” sermon as a component of my class and overall learning experience, I know that sermon will never be preached in the form submitted for grading. And for that I am grateful, because a sermon without heart; a sermon that is not soaked in prayer (both for direction for what to say, and for the Holy Spirit to minister) is not a sermon. It is not life-changing. It is not edifying. It is a sermon written in the strength of the pastor, rather than in humble worship to the Incarnational one who deserves all glory and honour.

Looking at that last paragraph, I’m struck by the idea that preaching is worship. Hmmm. Going to mull that over for awhile.

Making it What We Want

I guess I’m not postmodern enough.

I struggle with the idea that the meaning of a story, text, play, poem, Scripture passage resides in ourselves and not in the author’s original intention, or in the context of the author’s original audience.

Take Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail about the re-imagining of the Robin Hood story. Now granted, Wente starts by skewering the new Russell Crowe Braveheart meets Gladiator take on Robin Hood:

What explains the enduring appeal of Robin Hood? I’m not talking about the new Russell Crowe movie, which in my view is a waste of time and $12.99. I’m talking about the Robin Hood of my childhood – a handsome outlaw-hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, and hung out in Sherwood Forest with his gang of Merrie Men.

She then talks about current trends in Robin Hood literary criticism:

In 1999, the world’s leading Robin Hood scholar, Stephen Knight, wrote a paper mischievously called “The Forest Queen.” (There are entire conferences devoted to Robin Hood.) Although the paper was actually about Maid Marian, it prompted a call from a curious reporter for the Times of London, who thought there might be a gay angle. Were those Merrie Men, he asked, even merrier than we think? The answer was maybe. As Mr. Knight tells it, “I gave my opinion that one of the political meanings of the story was to read Robin’s resistance to authority as being the resistance of the gay to the straight.”

Would Mr. Knight’s thesis been understood by the original author of the Robin Hood legend? By it’s original audience?

We do the same thing with Jesus. Jesus becomes a hippy-republican-pacificist-warrior-‘manly man’-androgynous-revolutionary-libertarian guru, depending on how we “feel” about him. It’s not about the original audience. It’s not about the author’s original intention. It’s about us. We know best. We are the hermeneutical centre of everything.

As I gear up for my Gospels class with Dr. Olmstead next week, and I read some of the literature of scholars (see: Jesus Seminar) who know for sure that Jesus could not have said what he said, or did what he did, or meant what he meant, I can see why I tend to avoid studying Jesus. As bad as that sounds for a pastor and seminary student, it is true.

I don’t want to reduce Jesus to an historical person who didn’t actually do what he did. Nor do I want to impose my ideal image of Jesus on the Gospels when my ideal image is not what the Gospel writers envisioned as they wrote their accounts of the life of Jesus. But it means that I’ve kept the Jesus of the Gospels at a distance, afraid to come in contact with Him. I have kept him wholly-other, and I think I need a correcting vision of Jesus being indeed “God with Us.”

Thankfully, N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God has helped me immensely. He concludes the book with this:

We come to him as ones unknown, crawling back from the far country, where we had wasted our substance on riotous but ruinous historicism. But the swinehusks — the ‘assured results of modern criticism’ — reminded us of that knowledge which arrogance had all but obliterated, and we began the journey home. But when we approached…we found him running to us as one well known, whom we had spurned in the name of scholarship or even of faith, but who was still patiently waiting to be sought and found once more. And the ring on our finger and the shoes on our feet assure us that…we shall discover again and again not only who he is but who we ourselves are: as unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live. (pg 662)

Motivational Monday

Pentecost Sunday

“…the effectiveness of the church is due not to human competency or programming but to the power of God at work. The church rides the wind of God’s Spirit like a hawk endlessly and effortlessly circling and gliding in the summer sky. It ever pauses to wait for impulses of power to carry it forward to the nations.” Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, pg 114.

“…The church lives in the post-Pentecost era. The waiting is over! The Spirit is come! Rather than praying for the Spirit’s coming, our task is to ‘walk in the Spirit,’ that is, to appropriate the Spirit’s dynamic.” Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, pg 371.


Don’t you hate it when you get a song stuck in your head, and it loops over and over and over and over…?

I’ve been singing along to Glee’s “Don’t Stop Believing” for three days. I’ve tried everything. I’ve even tried replacing it with another song to loop around in my head. But, no this one keeps coming back.

Women in CCM

The Her-meneutics blog over at Christianity Today has an interesting post about female musicians in the CCM and praise and worship scene. The author, Laura Leonard wonders why there seems to be a minority of female artists currently being played on contemporary Christian radio stations.

One possibility suggested is that perhaps the average female listener of the Christian radio stations do not want to hear female artists due to some sort of jealousy.

Another possibility could be traced to a wariness about feminine sexuality:
The most successful women of secular pop music have built their personas around their sexuality. As Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and even Miley Cyrus make up the current pop template, we have been trained to see female performers as primarily sexual creatures, and that framework influences the way we think about all of our music choices. We can enjoy these singers’ catchy hooks, but we hold them at a distance, because we can’t identify too closely without endorsing or adopting their image of femininity.

As a woman who has led worship in several capacities over the years, I will admit that I tend to lean toward listening to male artists, particularly when it comes to praise and worship. I don’t think it has anything to do with jealousy, or with issues of sexuality and modesty.

I also don’t think it has to do with the issue of women in ministry and whether women can lead a congregation, as one commenter at the blog suggested, given that I am a woman who has spent the majority of her Christian life training and working in church leadership.

I think that it comes down to sing-ability. I am not a soprano. And whenever I listen to or try to sing worship songs performed by female artists (Darlene Zschech, for example) I cannot sing in their range. I usually have to drop down an octave. Songs performed or written towards the male voice are much easier for me to sing.

If I examine my listening habits of secular music, I find that there too I listen to mainly male artists. Growing up it was Elvis, Do-wop, Neil Sedaka etc. (No I was not a child of the 60’s. I was child of the 80’s. I just didn’t know that music was written after 1974).

Today, my iPod is filled with Matchbox Twenty, Diamond Rio, The Guess Who, Lonestar and the Barenaked Ladies. The only female artists on my iPod are Tina Turner and Avril Lavigne, both of whom are more rock than pop. I don’t listen to the pop divas (Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Beyonce etc). Is it once again a reflection of sing-ability? I think so.

The other possibility is that it relate-ability. I don’t do beautiful. I don’t do girlie. I don’t do sweet. I have an edge. I have an attitude. And I tend to play just as tough and rough as the boys outside climbing trees, rather than with the other girls playing house and dress-up, (and yes this applies today and not just to my childhood).

Novelty Bibles

I really don’t understand the attraction of novelty Bibles. I understand having different Bible translations, but the same Bible gussied up ten different ways with whatever is hip, cool, fadish, politically motivated, etc, just seems like a marketing ploy to sell more Bibles. Should publishing houses be profiting on packaging the word of God as a commodity?

Last year, Thomas Nelson came out with “The American Patriot’s Bible.” (If we’re going to do this gussied up thing, is a Canadian/Russian/Arab/European Patriot’s Bible next?)
Greg Boyd reviewed it at Out of Ur, and it was less than positive. In particular:
“It’s perhaps not coincidental that the Patriot’s Bible offers no commentary on any passages related to our instruction to love and do good to our enemies… the glory of nationalistic violence permeates this Bible. For example, every book of the Bible opens with a montage of national monuments, symbols, stars and stripes, which include, with few exceptions, images of armed soldiers, bombers and battleships. Most stunningly, each Gospel opens with a scene that includes soldiers struggling to raise a flag under the words “In God We Trust.” All the subsequent books of the New Testament open with a montage that includes a flag waving behind the Statue of Liberty on one side and armed marching troops on the other. It’s quite breathtaking – and I don’t mean this in a good way.”

But that was so 2009. This year we have the “Poverty and Justice Bible.” Dr. Stan Porter reviews it at Christian Week:
…Are the ideas of poverty and justice the most important ideas in the Bible? What happened to grace and sin? Isn’t sin the major cause behind most evils in the world, including injustice and economic abuse? And what about a host of other evils that are overlooked by The Poverty and Justice Bible?…this Bible comes across as a brazen attempt to be politically correct. It’s no accident that this Bible is issued in the midst of a revival of the social gospel. The problem with a social gospel—as evidenced in comments made in this very edition—is that it ends up focusing on the social and loses sight of the gospel. This Bible’s clear social and political agenda is made evident in the introductory insert, where poverty and justice are apparently equated with political activism, green issues and the like…”

I can’t help but wonder if these novelty Bibles speak not only to the marketing of the word of God, but also to how biblically illiterate we have become that we need specific bibles, on specific topics, highlighted in specific colours just so that we can find a “proof-text”. These Bibles are not marketed to “non-Christians”. They are marketed to those in the church, and I can’t help but lament the fact that we have neglected the practice of soaking ourselves in the word of God so that we know not just pithy verses (often wrenched of context), but the grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ that threads through the whole of Scripture (yes, Old and New Testament).