Widening the Gap

If you don't see some sort of split for United Methodists on the horizon, you're not paying attention.

In Philadelphia last month, 36 Methodist ministers recited the Declaration of Marriage on the steps of a Methodist church for two gay men in a 25-year relationship. In New York, Methodist clergy members have been triumphantly posting accounts on a blog of the same-sex marriages they have been performing.


What Phil Robertson Gets Wrong

Smart commentary on the Duck Dynasty fiasco.

I won’t quote Robertson’s remarks in full here—they’re easy to look up—but suffice it to say that he implies that if gay men could only open their eyes, it would dawn on them how myopic they’ve been. “I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” The conclusion to draw from this comment, as Katelyn Beaty noted earlier today on Twitter, is “that gay men should just wake up to how awesome women’s body parts are.”

But, of course, that’s just not how sexuality works.


Lakeland Bully Skates Free

Right down the road from where I live, a girl committed suicide after her best friend stopped being friends with her and turned to bullying her. Sheriff Grady Judd threw the book at the bullies, hoping to convict them with charges. The main instigator, who even acknowledged on her Facebook that she didn't care that her former friend had killed herself over some of her comments, had charges dropped against her this week. No matter her involvement, she is now a free girl.

The whole thing is despicable, and so will be the upcoming counter suit filed against the Sheriff.

This quotation really rubs me the wrong way, too. Emphasis, mine.

“I’m very relieved,’’ Katelyn's mother, Roseanne Gill, told Guthrie. “It’s been a horrible experience for me and my daughter and my whole family. This can happen to any child in America, and we have to make sure that we watch our children’s Facebooks. This can happen to anyone, not just my daughter. It could’ve happened to anyone.”

Out of context, a reader might see that quotation and think, "Oh no! That poor girl!"

Now, it's probably the case that the media frenzy that disrupted from Sheriff Judd's charging circus disrupted their lives greatly.  They probably received hate mail and hate visitors.  It probably has been a devastating situation for such a young girl.  But when you bullied and bullied and bullied and then got caught, your response is NOT allowed to be, "Look at what happened to me."

Something happened to the victim.  You're not the victim.  You're the bully. At least be strong enough to admit to that.

Katelyn also remarked "No, I do not feel I did anything wrong." That's unacceptable.  What would have been acceptable? If Katelyn had said, "I'm glad it's all over" or "I'm sorry for what I did" or, as she did acknowledge, "You should stand up to bullying."  These parents are letting their daughter skate by, at least to the public eye, without even acknowledging her culpability.

That's a sick trend in today's world and it is, as Sheriff Judd remarked, despicable.

The Death and Life of Kennedy and Christ

As the time has been leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the death of one of our youngest Presidents, I've been thinking a lot about how I "remember" JFK.  I can't, after all, actually remember JFK; I wasn't alive during his time on this earth.  But I took enough history courses and read enough books and watched enough documentaries to "remember" his legacy. It's sort of like a child "remembering" their baptism when they were baptized as an infant; they can't and don't actually remember it, but they can still remember it.

As I began reflecting on what I know about JFK, I realized that a majority of what I know about his Presidency didn't have anything to do with his leadership.  Frankly, when it comes to US history, I'm far more fascinated by the Civil War and World War II than I am the Missile Crisis, and I'm often frustrated about the anti-communism (little c emphasized) sentiment in America that resulted from that time period. Kennedy, as a President, is something I know little about.

I do know some information about his death, though.

Perhaps it's because his death was so dramatic.  Perhaps it's because we have video testament of the moment he was shot (we don't have that for any other assassinated President), perhaps it's because he's the most recent Presidential assassination in America's history, perhaps it's simply because he's a Kennedy.  I don't know why, but I know more (and frankly, care more) about Kennedy's death than his presidency.

Don't be fooled, America does too.  We are this week remembering the 50th anniversary of his death.  We didn't celebrate the 50th anniversary of his election. Years and years of speculation and fact-proofing have gone into theorizing about whether or not Oswald acted alone or if the entire thing was a government ruse. The drama of it all causes us to remember Kennedy's death more than his life (with the one notable exception of our fascination with his mistresses).

It occurs to me that this might be the case with Jesus as well. One look at the vast array of contemporary worship songs will make that point clear: Jesus's death on the cross and that unbelievable image of self sacrifice for the benefit of humankind is one of the prime pieces of material for Christian story-telling (especially in music).

But is that right and proper in and of itself?  Surely God's work in Jesus of Nazareth to save all mankind through the atonement for sins is an incredibly important part of the story, but is it right to focus so heavily on that while neglecting the other pieces of his life?  Is it right to, within the music we sing, focus so heavily on Jesus's death? What might his life show humanity about who God is and what God has called us to do and, perhaps more importantly, who God has called us to be?

It is dangerous to focus so heavily on the death of Jesus if the cost is that the life of discipleship is lost and forgotten in the midst of the drama. In the midst of a dramatic death, it can become far too easy to overlook the blameless life of Jesus the Christ and his ministry, for instance, to the poor and marginalized.

So too would it be improper to focus solely on the life of Jesus, ignoring the grace that was laid upon humanity through Christ's death on the cross. As many theologians have argued many times before, the wholeness of God is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that wholeness is compromised if one focuses so heavily on one portion of that person and ignores the other.  The fullness of God cannot be interpreted without the fullness of Jesus being recognized.

In America, we focus so heavily on JFK's death because it changed the nation and carried its own fair share of drama with it.  But part of that drama was who he was.  His death, his assassination, cannot be understood apart from his life.

Jesus's death changed the world too. But it ought to be acknowledged that his death cannot be understood in fullness without the telling of his life either.  This is why, perhaps, our four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) focus on the entirety of Jesus's being in their retelling of the story that changed the world.

It's important that Christians don't get too caught up in the drama of Christ's death that they miss Christ's ministry in life.  It's important too that Christians don't get caught up in the ministry of Christ's life that they miss the grace which is Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.

One without the other is incomplete.



The United Methodist Church's new plan to encourage "casual giving." Make sure you watch the YouTube clip on the right as it'll make your day.

I disagree with the idea of "casual giving" as a general discipleship practice if it replaces--in the giver's mind--a tithe, but I'm not completely opposed to the idea.  I am opposed to the marketing strategy though.  What kind of video is that?!? If a teenager singing covers on YouTube can produce a better video than us, what hope do we have of speaking truth into new generations?

Call me crazy and call me negative, but this UMCmarket idea seems like a poorly conceived desperate marketing strategy to raise some money when we don't have any and in its desperation it runs the risk of replacing, within the disciples' minds, the generous tithe they might otherwise offer. In its desperation, it risks compromising intentional discipleship and under-executes to accomplish.

In short, it kind of sums up the state of the UMC.

On Skipping Straight To Christmas

There's a trend in American consumerism and, to be frank, Americana where as soon as Halloween is over (or in some cases before), most of this country turns its attention toward the Christmas holiday.  There are lots of reasons that this phenomenon happens, but the primary one is, to no one's surprise, money. Money, in case you hadn't noticed, rules the American world, what with our obsession with debt and buying all of the things.

Again, it's not a surprise; people spend more money during the Christmas season trying to pervertedly emulate the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus (who, by the way, did not give their gifts to the new Christ child until well after the day of his birth) than any other season all year.  So it is that consumerism leads the way in forcing our culture to effectively skip over Thanksgiving in order to get to Christmas. Get out of our way, turkey, ham is just around the corner. 

This is literally happening, too. Black Friday used to be first thing Friday morning after Thanksgiving.  Then it turned into first thing Friday morning. Then it turned into midnight Friday.  Then it turned into midnight opening Friday with tents up Wednesday.  Now the good deals start Thursday evening (read: stores are open for business).

Americans, then, skip over the one time of year when we are called to stop and be thankful.  The greedy nation becomes even greedier when it skips out on time with family, giving thanks for the blessings one has received in the previous year, just to line up at Target to get that $3 DVD.

This poses a pernicious problem for American Christians.  The most obvious opposition to an attitude that quickly focuses on the thing to come without wading through the current time is the season of Advent.  Advent, in the Christian church, is a period of waiting and preparation.  A season in which Christians await the birth of the Christ child, 'preparing the way,' as the prophets proclaimed. And American Christians, faithful disciples of the consumerist mentality our society grinds into our souls, are deeply at fault in the skipping through the waters which were intended to be waded through.

When we participate in the coming Christmas season before it happens (think Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving, house lights hung and powered on, Christmas tunes on the radio), we are caught in a world in which we forget the journey that those who came before us took.  Foretold by the prophets of old, Christians participate in the coming of Christ through this period of time we call Advent (from "adventus", Latin for "coming").  Christians live into the story in which they are all a part; the story of a people who were promised a Messiah and then went out proclaiming that that very thing would happen as they had been called to prepare the way for the coming Lord.

The world has seasons.  Communities have seasons.  Seasons can be times for change.  Seasons can and should be times for reflections.  Thanksgiving can act as that time for reflection. Christmas can act as that time for reflection, a time when we reflect and give thanks for the good gift humanity was given in Jesus Christ.

But in this current societal (and marketing) trend, American Christians are posed with a unique problem.  In a world that encourages us to step past our tradition of reflecting on thankfulness to get to the greed of what has become a consumerist holiday, American Christians ought to be careful just how much they participate.  We may go to church and celebrate the period of waiting in Advent (or, as the case likely is, we may not), but if we cannot emulate that within our own lives, we lose the richness and depth of our participation in our own story.

Christians are defined by stories.  Faithful Christians today would do well to participate in the stories that define who Christians are instead of being teased and taunted by the cultural stories that desperately want to combat them.



Also: I usually fast forward through commercials.  I watch entire seasons of shows on Netflix.  I download music automatically on my iPhone, when and where I want (well, not quite anywhere...I have AT&T: Less Bars in More Places). I don't wait for anything.  This period of waiting in Advent for the Christian, though, is essential.

Clinton On Obamacare

Ok, so Obama has received a lot of criticism on people losing their healthcare coverage to the same benefited plan with higher premiums or higher deductibles. Seeing my own health coverage change due to ACA was a bit of a wakeup call, too. Bill Clinton, who used to be able to say whatever he wanted but now has a wife with presidential eyes, rightly critiqued the President and his problematic rollout of Obamacare:

"I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got,"

He nailed it.  The President offered it, billed it, assured it, and it failed.  I, in theory, agree with many of the changes that the ACA brings, but the botched delivery of great theories does little for a sick, unhealthy nation.

It's time that Obama work to fix the many, many problems.

Tract Money Tip Is Not Okay to Leave, Christians

So, yeah. This is, most definitely, not an okay tip to leave, Bible belters and tract leavers. If you want to leave this AND leave them a tip for their exceptional service, then whatever floats your boat. But in all honesty, do you think that Jesus would have done something this shady and shitty? Tricking someone into thinking they were getting money, when in reality you were handing them a piece of meaningless paper, which in and of itself is essentially lying? Congratulations. You have accomplished the opposite of what you set out to do. The server now hates your religion even more than they maybe used to.

There are lots of things wrong here:

  • That tract exists
  • Someone thinks that tract is a good idea
  • The client did not tip
  • The client deceived the server with the "tip" 
  • The client was cheap

Look at the results, Christians. What a poor, poor witness. 

You Need to Hear What a Little Girl Says About Her Brother With Down Syndrome

The fact that there is such a thing as a "GodTube" makes me feel a little weird inside, but I'll let it fly for this moment. 

My first (cynical) thought about the video--within the first minute or so--was concerned with whether the video was scripted or not. The more I watched, though, the less I cared about the scripting. It doesn't matter if the parents told this little girl to say these kind things about her brother or not. 

What matters is the way her parents have shaped her to appreciate, tolerate, and love those that are "different."  How many times have you met someone who is hyper-conscious about how they understand people different from them and then you come to understand that they are related to someone who is "different" ? This little girl will be a better human, a more faithful child of God, and minister in a completely unique way because of the relationship her parents have granted her to have with her brother.


Al Mohler on The Gospel Job

I came across this clip of Lakelandite (Lakelander?) and SBC Superhero, Al Mohler on YouTube.  I've watched a lot of the man's work but had not seen this one.  It's worth a few minutes of your time.

Any biblical scholar or Christian, whether liberal or conservative on the homosexuality "issue", must--at some point--come face to face with Paul's apparent understanding of homosexuality as sinful.  We can choose to agree or disagree with Paul, but his words often stand strongly against the practice of homosexuality.  

While I continue to charge that Paul's comments in Romans 1 MUST  be understood contextually with his stern warning in Romans 2 to those who judge (go ahead and take a few minutes to read them both), I find Mohler's statements within this video intriguing.  He does not back down from the Southern Baptist Convention's strong stance regarding homosexuality (that it is sinful and that those who practice it need to be rescued from it); he  takes an opportunity, under fire, to speak a truth to many who have taken the SBC's stance on the subject and done unfaithful work with it.

He acknowledges that the church has done a poor job with this issue (I agree) and that there are people "struggling" within their churches with this "issue"  even if the SBC does not want to acknowledge it (I agree). As he puts it: The Christian Church (defined however you like) has tried to tell the "truth" but has not told the "truth" in a biblical way.  Yes. Yes. Yes, Al. 

Let's put it another way. Forgetting for a second my insistence that Paul's claim that homosexuality is indicative of human sinfulness in a generalized sense must be understood within the context of Paul's second chapter of Romans (the "therefore"  transition is my indicator here), Mohler is stating what many within the evangelical movement need to hear. Mohler is asking the Christian church to remain faithful in the ways in which it preaches the "truth", asking it to rethink its strategy of "homosexuality is a choice" and rid itself of the "certain type of homophobia" it has produced.

While Mohler is still proposing that homosexuality is sinful and needs to be repented of and that the gospel (I'm assuming he's defining it in the same way I am? The grace of God through the risen Jesus Christ) is a remedy for sin, he's calling here, very publicly, for accountability in the way in which this gospel is moved throughout the churches of the SBC.  To the questioner it may seem that Al Mohler has made more ambiguous his once strong stance on homosexuality as sin; he has not.  He continues to assert this principle regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality.  He is simply asking that the church repent of its own sins in calling out the sinful nature of others. 

Like I said, Romans 2. 

This Just In: Church Needs to Look Different and The Same

"5 churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials" In short, millenials are bothered by the churchy language that incites bad theology, cheesy one line salvation, and reliance on literal interpretations of the Bible. This author puts his own return to church this way:

When I returned to church, it wasn’t because of great programs, alluring events or a really cool “café” set up in the foyer. I went back not because of what the church was doing, but rather in spite of it. I went back because I needed community, and because, thanks to a steady dose of medication and therapy, I was finally well enough to root through the cliché to find it.

Community is an obvious church necessity and one, oddly enough, that has also bankrupted the discipleship of many of our churches.  While millenials need to feel and experience a community to become more faithful followers of Christ, the generation before them turned church into an theological (or not, as the case may be) country club. BONUS: the generation before millenials added all those cheesy phrases and decided that they "ran this place" (an actual phrase I heard form an actual churchgoer about an actual church) in the same way that they dressed up for dinner at the club and complained when the bread came out cold.

If you believe, like I do, that church ought to exist as it always has, incorporating quality and necessary elements like worship, sacrament, and community then this nonsense is unnecessary.

Millenials aren't into hoakyness. Raise your hand if you're surprised. 

Millenials want to be loved and love. Raise your hand if you're surprised. 

The only thing I fear: this paring down of church (the attitude insisted upon in this article) to "community" is weak, weak, weak.  It may, in fact, draw more millenials to church in the short run but "community" is only the top layer of what church is.

Xbox One and Microsoft's Wrongheadedness

Nilay Patel, journalist for The Verge, spent some quality time with Microsoft's Xbox team regarding their new Xbox One which is set to hit shelves very very soon. One of the coolest things Xbox does is integrate everything you might use on your TV (gaming system, Hulu, Netflix, Cable subscription) into one input. Unfortunately, in order to integrate your cable subscription they did not partner with a company and rewrite what could be markedly better software for the DVR, the interface simply sits on top: 

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is exactly the same system implemented by Google’s ill-fated Google TV project, which launched to great fanfare in 2010 and has been slowly dying ever since. It’s also the same trick used by Microsoft’s own WebTV platform, which launched to similarly great fanfare in 1996 and painfully lingered on until finally being killed earlier this year. Hacking your own interface on top of the cable box is a great idea in theory, but history suggests different results in practice. I am not shy about expressing my doubts that the Xbox One will fare any better while I’m in Redmond:

Henshaw: We’ve built a really cool technology into Kinect itself, where it is emitting the IR codes…

Nilay: It’s not a really cool technology.

Henshaw: It’s a super cool technology.

Nilay: It’s a super old technology.

Yet my persistent criticism doesn’t seem to faze the Xbox team. If a somewhat clunky TV integration is the price of being the primary interface in people’s living rooms, they’re surprisingly enthusiastic about paying it. "Our goal is to work with what people have today," says Henshaw. "We love Comcast, we love DirecTV, we love Time Warner, we love them all." Whitten agrees. "I actually think those guys do a good job," he says. "I want people to continue to have a relationship with their cable provider. I think that’s a great thing."

This is wrongheaded in every way.  The Xbox One might be successful for gaming and voice innovation alone, but it will not change the way TV is provided.  In the Verge's well done video that accompanies this piece, one of the executives says that you "can't expect someone to go out and spend hundreds of dollars to replace all of their boxes."

I think you can. And should.  The company that does that and does it really well will fully disrupt the TV market and start a revolution.  The Xbox One looks cool, but still serves as a cop out--much like how they integrated the old Windows interface with the new Windows 8 interface. 

NickTip Real Talk: The Blog LIVES ON.

Former student of mine blogs about sports (the Atlanta Falcons and Duke Blue Devils in particular) and rap music. I appreciate his insight into this year's basketball team. 

Duke Basketball has made it back to the top of the recruiting world, and as top-tier recruits have begun to roll in, the future looks brighter than ever. (See Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker) Had Kyrie's infamous toe not been so tragically injured, I am nearly certain we would be the owners of back-to-back titles once again. Perhaps Jabari can lead us to the promised land this year. It should at the very least be the most enjoyable Duke team to watch play in a while.

And also, he and I are 100% agreed here: 

Side note...how goofy is the Duke Basketball Official Poster this year??? It looks like it was made on Microsoft Publisher 97 with all the default font settings. Not to mention "Fast And Furious" as the tag line. Original.

Bonus, he's related to Buster Posey.

Strongest Storm of 2013 Heads for Philippines

Our prayers are with the people of the Philippines as they brace for what looks to be a deeply devastating storm/ 

Some of the most vulnerable people are those living in makeshift shelters on the central Philippine island of Bohol. Last month, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit the island, which lies close to the typhoon's predicted path. The quake killed at least 222 people, injured nearly 1,000 and displaced around 350,000, according to authorities.

I lived in the most privileged country in world and in 2004, my state experienced 3 back to back to back hurricanes that left parts of the state out of power for weeks and several people (including a high school bandmate of mine) dead. We all know what happened in New Orleans not a year later; it killed about 1,800 people and did about $100B worth of damage.

Keep the Philippines in your thoughts and prayers.