Summer is in full swing in Florida. Heat. Humidity. Afternoon showers followed by even more humidity. it's summer! I have been working as Organizing Pastor for a new church start near Amelia Island, Florida. We recently made the decision that this work will not continue, so I am seeking another call and wondering what's next. In the meantime, I am doing some interim work for a congregation that has just begun to search for a new pastor.
Just finished Greg Garrett's The Other Jesus. Everyone probably ought to read it.
In fiction, couldn't put down Welcome to the Fallen Paradise by Dayne Sherman. Read it in almost one sitting. Good southern stuff.
John S. Kloppenborg's Q The Earliest Gospel. Interesting, especially the connections between Q and James.
Douglas Ottati's Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, which I heartily recommend, even for those who will need help getting past that word in the title. I'm with him: either we believe and trust grace, or we don't!
Martin Thielen's What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? Turned out to be less than I had hoped it would be, but still helpful. Would be fun to do a short term discussion with a group.
Right now, I'm indulging myself (Yes, I know it's Lent.) by reading the first four years of New Stories from the South, a collection of stories I've been reading at Christmas for years. Finally got the first four years I didn't have and and treating myself.
I live close enough to Gainesville, Florida to have heard more than enough about the Dove World Outreach Center and its plans to burn the Qur'an on Saturday, September 11. We've been hearing about it for weeks. At first, I didn't pay much attention, since somebody's always doing something wacky in Florida. As the date has drawn closer, though, and the media attention (that's another whole issue)has ramped up, it seems that everybody has had something to say about this stunt. At the outset let me say that what the Dove folks are planning is wrong. It's not just insensitive or uncaring; it's wrong. It's wrong primarily because it is not in linen with foundational teachings of Jesus Christ, who came to show us the best example of what human life can be. This week we're being told that the planned burning of the Qur'an is wrong because it endangers American and other troops. I'm sure that's true, and I'm as opposed as anybody to anything that endangers military personnel more than they already are just by being there. But the primary reason this is wrong is not a matter of national security. The primary reason this is wrong is that it does not demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, who came to bring peace and to bring people to an awareness of God's gracious love. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we must constantly evaluate our own lives and the witness they bear to the faith we claim. I do that every day, and encourage others to. I rarely have difficulty finding areas in my own life and witness that need attention. When I'm through with all those areas, maybe I'll think about telling someone else how to live. But I don't expect to be done with my own spiritual formation for a while. I doubt that anything I or anyone else can say will deter the people in Gainesville who think they are responding to a call from God. The primary call I hear from God is to love others with the love of Christ, and to trust that love to do the work God sent it into the world (even through me) to do. I know that radical Islam is a dangerous force in the world. I also know that radical Christianity is just as dangerous. God, help us.
As some of you know, my mom died earlier this summer. She was a difficult person. I did the simple graveside service. It was nowhere near the spectacle she would like for it to have been. It was nowhere near the event most of our family had anticipated. I hope it was faithful. In that service, which was mercifully brief since it was 105 degrees that day, we talked about the assurance that God loves us and wants us to know peace and contentment. My mom never knew much of either of those, and it was mostly of her own choosing. What I tried to share in the service was that it really is the truth that God loves us and wants good for us. If we never find it in this life, as she rarely did (and she is not alone)I cling to the assurance that the way things do in eternity is not up to us, that God will be in charge, and we will know life as we could have known it in this life if we had paid more attention to God's way than we had to ours. Here's part of what I said in the cemetery: "...if what God really does want for us is for us to be happy and to enjoy life as long as it lasts, then where she is now, in the everlasting presence of God, that's all that matters. And God's in charge of that place, and God can find a way to help her experience the happiness and the joy that she was rarely able to find in the past seventy-seven years." I believe that. Most of my family who gathered there that afternoon are pretty life-weary people. They have all had their share of adversity. One of my cousins came to me as we were leaving the cemetery that day. She, herself, has buried a child and a brother, and suffered more failed marriages than I remember. I haven't had any of those things happen so far. It's what she said, though, that I remember. She said, "I really appreciate what you said today. I just wish there were some way we could know it's the truth. It would make all this a little easier, wouldn't it." I've thought about her comments a lot since that day. What I said to her was that I believe what I said was true. I have to. But I can't prove its truth to her or to anybody else. Believing that God loves us and wants us to know peace is the foundation of everything else I believe. If that's not true, I'm up the creek. We all are. I haven't seen that cousin since that day in the cemetery. Probably won't for a while. The fact that she was listening enough to say what she did give me hope for people who do what I do, even (maybe especially) when we do it among those who know us best--or think they do.