Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The B-I-B-L-E ... yes, that's the book...

In addition to the thoughts stirred up by The Year of Living Biblically, a few other things have been bubbling around based on comments I've heard and or things I've seen lately.

One was Doug Pagitt's practice at Solomon's Porch of making sure that Bible verses are read in context -- no proof-texting allowed. It's sort of like a variation on the old Lay's Potato Chip ad -- you can't read just one. Doug reads an entire section, or chapter, or book(!) to place the thoughts in proper context. Now that would cut out some of my best sermons, which are based on snippets like "Be still and know that I am God." I think A.J. Jacobs did some that same sort of selective scripture obeying when he tried to follow all the biblical laws. Yes, he often looked at the context of the surrounding scripture, but there were times verses were popped out of context and he put them into practice.

Another thing was the idea that, besides a textual context, there's a historical context as well. I know people who read 1 Corinthians 14:34 -- "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches." -- as a biblical mandate for our time. It's a commandment of scripture. But later in that same book Paul tells us, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" and they don't believe that is a biblical mandate for our time. "It's from their culture," they say. I supposed we're not supposed to expect an email from "Aq'uila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send[ing] you hearty greetings in the Lord," either. Or are we? How do we know the context and what is for that time and what is for all time? I guess it all depends on our lens.

Then I got to thinking about who decided what was in the Bible and what was out. Marcion, in the first century, had a fairly limited list -- the Gospels and a few of Paul's epistles. By Athanasius time (4th century), most of the books we have now were in -- except for churches in Asia minor that deleted Revelation. Martin Luther wanted to drop James. And the Old Testament varies depending on whether you include the Apocryphal books or not. Very confusing.

Finally, I watched "Mr. Deity and the Book."

What would Jesus do?! I think Carrie Newcomer's right when she sings "God speaks in rhyme and paradox, this I know is true."

What I also know is true is that Scripture has been a source of solace, inspiration, confrontation, and challenge for me. That's a good thing -- and it solves the problem for me of having to (or getting to, when I feel especially self-righteous and confuse that for true righteousness) speak as God's representative to the sinners in the world and quoting Scripture to get them to shape up. Those who say, "The Bible says it, I believe, that settles it" may find it isn't quite settled yet.

-- Brent

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Emergent, Convergent, Schmergent -- Some Thoughts After Two Days In the Car with Doug Pagitt

This whole emergent church (and Quaker's version of it called "convergent") have been on my mind lately. Mostly because I signed up to be the host staff person of a Center for Congregations' event titled "ReImaging Church" with emergent leader and Solomon's Porch pastor Doug Pagitt. That meant attending his two workshops (one in Indianapolis and one in Jeffersonville, Indiana) and hauling him up and down Interstate 65 and to assorted points in between.

Doug's a good guy to road-trip and eat out with, but that's a whole 'nother blog -- especially about the Mutt (him) and Jeff (me) size difference and the difficulty in getting a picture together and a whole bunch of really lame but funny (at least to us) jokes.

What kept buzzin' around in my head after these two days with this really smart, articulate, forceful guy, comes down to this idea of who gets to say who's in and who's out as it relates to "church." Who gets to speak for God in making these decisions of who's in and who's out? I kept thinking about Kate Young Caley's book The House Where the Hardest Things Happened -- and her family being kicked out of the church they helped found simply because her mother became a waitress at a place that served alcohol. That sounds extreme to most of us -- yet we're perfectly comfortable setting up some other criteria.

His model for Solomon's Porch seems very similar to our Friends in Fellowship Worship Group -- a place of theological hospitality where are more than merely welcome, they are part of the community. This openness seemed to worry some workshop attendees -- and lots of other folks have written about their concerns as well. If you don't stand for something, well, then, how can you be Christian?

I think their question and questioning are sincere, but probably the wrong question. Jesus' invitations (such as "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest") seem pretty open to me -- no theological requirements, no "pre-testing," no conditions at all. Come one, come all.

While Solomon's Porch is just one expression of the emergent movement, it does offer new thinking about what it means to be "church" in the 21st century. Is it the Post-Modern Reformation? I think it's too soon to tell. Regardless, there's much that those of us who are committed to the best in our traditions -- the things that called us to them or keep us in them -- can learn. I urge you to check out Doug's Church Re-Imagined and his forth-coming A Christianity Worth Believing. Agree or not, his ideas will make you think. Which is 'zactly the point.
-- Brent

Also, for those who are Friends/Quakers, we (Nancy and I) will be hosting a "Convergent Friends" dinner here at Ploughshares Farm on the evening of April 6th following Friends World Committee for Consultation -- Section of the Americas' annual meeting. For more information, visit Robin M's blog "What Canst Thou Say."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Living Biblically

Our reading club, The GoodWords Book Club, just finished reading A.J. Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I found it really provocative.

A.J. has an accessible writing style that is filled with irony and wry humor. And the book is wonderful spiritual diary of sorts -- even though A.J. is an agnostic. He explores what it means to take the Bible seriously -- and uncovers the absurd lengths that many of us go to make it say what we want it to say.

Certainly, as I read about how he quit cutting his beard because of a Biblical injunction against such an action and then had his closet vetted to make sure he did not have mixed fiber clothing due to another law, I wondered how many people who say things like "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" choose what parts of the Bible they attach that saying to. I've heard a lot of that kind of language lately in deciding who's in and who's out of church. And to support social stands based on a verse taken out of context. And ... well, I do the same thing, I guess.

The only difference, at least I hope this is true, is that I know I'm reading the Bible through my Quaker lens. And it shows me peace, justice, kindness as the hallmarks of Christian living -- and what it means for me to live Biblically.

A year of living Biblically changed A.J. -- he lived into his Bible-based alter-ego Jacob. And at the end of his year, and after shaving his beard and cutting his hair and going back to chinos and oxford cloth shirts, some of it stuck -- his love for thanks giving and prayer. Reading it changed me, too -- it helped me rethink what I know about the Bible and what I think I know, which parts of the Bible I follow and which I don't (I'll pass on the dietary laws!), and so on. And it reminded me that I need to live Biblically, however I define that, daily -- not just for a year!

Thanks, A.J., or Jacob, or ...


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Betty Butterfield and the Quakers

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
from -- "To A Louse: On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church"
Robert Burns, 1786

I was reminded of that thought by Burns recently after receiving an email from my friend Keith. Now Keith is not his real name -- even though that's what I call him, even to his wife -- and for purposes of this post it's probably best I don't use his real name. That's because, unlike me, Keith is highly respected in the religious community of our fair city and I'd hate to do anything that might harm that reputation. But he is sort of a smart-aleck -- or oworse. And in that spirit he sent me a link to the video that follows -- the religious adventures of Betty Butterefield. Betty is on a search for the right church, and as Keith told me via the miracle of email, she visited the Quakers.

Now my faithful reader (whoever she/he is) probably knows that I'm pretty sure Quakers are the final revelation and true branch of Christianity. Well, I'm not quite that extreme, but I think we've got a good thing going -- when we get it right. And then Betty, talking about Quakers during her discourse on visiting the Unitarians, made me think. And, in spite of her satire, to see ourselves as others see us.

If you're of some other species of Christian (or other faith even) or are just ready for some craziness, you can check out more Betty on YouTube or her site at http://www.bohnsplace.com/betty_butterfield/

-- Brent

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Smoking and the Cross...

Life is strange -- and sometimes it's stranger than at others. Like this afternoon. Nancy and I drove into town to attend some friends' 60th anniversary celebration. Of course, not a card was to be found around the farm, so we had to stop and buy one. Rather, I had to stop and Nancy had to buy the card -- she doesn't trust me to always get something appropriate!

So while she went in to get the card, I sat in the car and read the mail that we'd just picked up. The usual -- credit card offers, mortgage offers, pleas for money. A beat up old Chevy pulled in next to me. The driver was smoking a bedraggled cigarette clasped in his teeth by a cigarette holder. Franklin Roosevelt-elegant he was not. After a few seconds, he yanked the smoking butt from the holder, rolled down his window, and flicked it toward our car. It rolled into a puddle and sizzled out. Then he climbed out of his car and made his way toward the drugstore.

I was peeved. I mean, I don't care if the guy smokes. That's his business. But if doesn't want to stink up his car with a smoldering butt, why's he think I'd want it in the parking lot next to mine? Littering. What a clueless bozo! Shaking my head, I watched him amble across the parking lot headed for the door. As he approached the front of the store, he paused at the back of a vacant van parked there. It's been a rainy, gloomy day here, and the back-end of the van was covered in road dirt. The man paused and drew a cross in the dirt. He admired his handiwork and headed into the store.

I was more than bemused. This doofus litters and then makes the sign of the cross on other peoples' dirty vehicles. What in Heaven's name? And then I thought -- indeed, what in Heaven's name ... does Brent do that's just as goofy and never sees himself? Too much, I'm afraid. I try not to litter and I don't make the sign of the cross or fish or anything else on other people's cars, but I'm sure my sins could find me out just easily in the eyes of people watching me.

So thanks for the lesson, Mr. Cigarette Smoking, Litterbugging, Cross-drawing Guy.


PS If you haven't been to that amazing website http://www.brentbill.com/ in a while, you might check it out -- especially the "Other Good Books" and the "Brent's Books and More Store" pages. Both have been updated and all the books, CDs, and DVDs in the store have been hand-picked by your's truly -- no automated stuff from Amazon!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Up, Up, and Away -- a Movie Recommendation

Did you ever just want to float away -- off into the wild blue wherever and just forget about life and it's troubles? Sure you have. And in "Danny Deckchair," the quirky Australian film, Danny Morgan does just that.

Danny's a cement worker whose aspiring, conniving live-in girlfriend Trudy has taken up a a sportscaster who "will amount to something." Which Trudy maintains Danny never will. So, in the midst of a "barbie" Danny begins tying helium filled balloons to his lawn ("deck") chair. When the local football team, um er, soccer team, scores and his buddies lose their grip on the chair, then Danny is off to see the Wizard -- he's definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Whilst not the greatest film in the world, it was a light, silly, delightful reminder of the things that matter in life -- honesty, being true to oneself and one's friends, and community. It also, because of it's being set in Australia, reminded me of how all of this world's people value those things -- no matter where we live or whether we sit in lawn chairs or deck chairs. G'day, mate.

-- Brent