Thursday, May 05, 2005

Interesting survey

Found an interesting survey via this link at Off the Beaten Track... it attempts to determine which faiths are closest to your beliefs.  Look what it came up with for me. Good thing I made that switch from Catholicism a few years back, eh?

1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (94%)
3. Orthodox Quaker (90%)
4. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
5. Neo-Pagan (78%)
6. Mahayana Buddhism (76%)
7. New Age (73%)
8. Theravada Buddhism (68%)
9. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (64%)
10. Hinduism (63%)

Of churches and community programs

I just got ahold of a document published by the US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), available online. I haven't had a chance to read it carefully, but one stat jumped out at me as I glanced at it:

Only 57% of congregations report involvement in some type of service or community involvement (broadly defined).

Yikes. Here's the URL:
http://www.huduser.org/Publications/PDF/faithbased.pdf

Our group continues to work. We've met with community officials, and are working with them to create a "plan." Neighborhood cleanups are in the works, as are fund raisers, picnics and programs geared toward helping people get jobs (or better jobs). My mantra these days is that this is all about relationships. If we don't build and maintain relationships with our neighbors, this will go nowhere. Programs will get us nowhere without relationships. And frankly, even if programs alone DID work, our faith should still guide us to focus on relationships.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Enthusiasm

I haven't been this excited about something since I got my first bicycle. Borg really has me thinking... And I'm especially thinking about the injunction in the NT we have the approach of a child (Matt 18:4). I wonder if being childlike includes the unbridled enthusiasm I have at the moment.

I did a search on Google for Borg, the book title and "Methodist" and got 508 hits. Looks like Methodists are talking about this book... I hope I eventually get a reply from one of my pastors regarding the possibility of doing a small group study of the book. I'm so pumped about this book.

Heart of Christianity

I've been reading Marcus Borg's book "Heart of Christianity." My take: it is very well-written, and has spoken to me like no other book on religion (aside from the Bible, of course). Just incredible. I'm sure his ideas will seem heretical to some: he acknowledges that parts of the Bible are metaphorical, that it can and should be understood with a historical and metaphorical approach, and that other major faith traditions (Judaism, Islam, & Buddhism, to name a few) might well be advocating pursuit of "the Way" that Jesus taught... that is, one might be able to get to the Way via other traditions.

I like those ideas, but I realize others will likely reject them outright. I hope that even those who do will take seriously his other main points-- that Christianity is about more than believing the right things so that we can get to Heaven after we die. Christians ought to be about the business of compassion and concern for others in THIS life. Very powerful stuff. This is a book that I just want to shout from the rooftops about. It is also a book that I just knew, even as I was reading it, would end up offending many... that is unfortunate.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More ruminations

O.k., I've taken another break. This one has reasons behind it... the reasons have become more clear over time. They are (in no particular order):

1. I have inadvertently "blown my cover"-- blogs are definitely different when one is writing with friends/family as potential readers. I strongly feel that this shouldn't matter, but I feel equally strongly that at the moment it does matter.

2. I have no real expertise in matters theological. I'm not a role model of any sort. Just a normal, average Joe with a few observations to share. So on occasion I feel "tapped out." I just don't feel like I have a lot of wisdom to share. If it ain't there, it ain't there.

3. The neighborhood work was slowed down a bit by the Easter holiday. Many of those in the group are clergy, and they are understandably busy around that time of year.

BUT, we are on the move again (and hence I'm blogging again).

The "big meeting" is on April 16th, a week from Sat. Very cool. I'm really excited. I'm eager to see things happen.

One thing that is happening in parallel, but not (I don't think) directly related is that there is an empty carpet store/warehouse across the street from my church. This is a relatively new building, and has a massive amount of space. It is currently empty. My church has started exploring the feasiblity of buying it. Part of the process is that we have formed a committee to explore potential uses. Some uses mentioned briefly at our last church council meeting include 1) providing health care services, perhaps by partnering with a local university medical school/clinic, and 2) Youth services/programming. There are many other potential uses, but I'm just ecstatic that this is happening. To be honest, I don't think the timing is coincidental. There is something positive afoot in the neighborhood; God is at work. And there are many good people who are listening hard to Him and working diligently to do His work.

This would be a major investment for the church, we'd incur

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Blogger

Wow, I've had two bad experiences recently trying to get into Blogger to post. They must be overwhelmed with traffic of late.

Not a lot to report... I'm still alive and carrying on the faith. The community outreach project is continuing apace. We are scheduling a big community meeting with the town leadership (including mayor, aldermen, police chief, housing authorities, etc.). Feels good to be making progress.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Prayer

I mentioned in a previous post that I've been thinking about prayer of late. I think to myself "how can I possibly ask God for anything? He knows what I need, and to be honest, I'm horrible at knowing what I need." Let's be honest... how many times have you wanted something really badly, and then later find out that you shouldn't have wished for it at all? I feel presumptuous asking for just about anything-- except guidance and comfort, that is. I'm not talking about praying for a new car here, I'm talking about praying for better health or praying for the health of others. Even then I think "I don't know what "The Plan" is, so should I lobby for a particular course of events?"

But then a pastor and friend of mine mentioned that he believes that God wants to be involved, wants to be asked. That's an interesting thing. So if I pray for someone else to recover from cancer, or that someone find a job, do you think God finds that presumptuous? Or, is that something that God would find delight in, since by asking we are acknowledging that He is the Creator, capable of intervention? I guess maybe I should go back to asking for things again. Otherwise, my prayers are pretty short... variations on "Thy will be done Lord; please grant us comfort and the courage to handle what comes our way."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Walking with God

This is only tangentially related to the theme of the blog (but there IS a connection):

So I've been on a mission to lose weight and become more fit. Like many who live in an affluent society, I've constantly tried to battle weight gain. I've been marginally successful over the years... my weight has never gotten "out of control." Yet, using the BMI as an indicator of healthy weight, I've been overweight. We all know the reasons that is not wise, eh? My weight was just enough of a problem to keep my clothes from fitting too tight (or not being able to wear some things at all), and reminding me from time to time that I wasn't as healthy as I should be.

On Thanskgiving Day last year I decided to get serious about this (again). While in the past I'd tried running as my exercise of choice, I'd finally come to the conclusion that with increasing age, running meant enduring aches and pains. So this time I've chosen walking. I'm walking 4 miles per day (that takes an hour, if I move at a good clip), and reducing portions. No magic diet plans here, just reducing portion sizes and making some wise choices (avoiding really unhealthy, high calorie foods for the most part, though I still endulge every once in a while).

So far I've lost 16 pounds! I honestly can't recall the last time my weight was this low. I feel great. A major benefit is that I can walk at a quick clip without getting winded-- that makes touring new cities on foot a lot of fun, and zipping through airports to make flight connections trivial. Every pair of pants in my wardrobe fits again (well, a couple are actually too big, but I'll consider that a victory). My BMI is now 24! So when I hear the endless stream of news reports about how society is getting heavier and less healthy, I can finally listen without cringing. I can't tell you how good that feels. AND I don't have aches and pains this time around.

And here's another benefit-- I spend an hour a day walking. That is a lot of extremely high quality thought time. While running, I often had a hard time keeping a train of thought (besides "how much longer? I'm really winded!"). Not so with walking. Lots of time for prayer and reflection. So I'm getting healthier AND making time for God. Wow, why didn't I discover this sooner? I feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually. Walking with God is indeed a wonderful thing.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Of Borg and viruses

I've fallen off the new pace of posting... lots of family illness this week (gastro-intestinal variety... not life-threatening, but not pleasant, especially for kids!).

Well, after getting 80% of the way through the Borg book, I've stalled a bit (work and family can get in the way of one's reading). :)

I must say that while I have often thought that parts of the Bible almost certainly aren't factually true, it still looks odd seeing that statement in print. There's something a bit troubling about seeing passages described as embellishments or myths (though I understand the way he is using the word "myth" is a bit different from its use in vernacular).

I also find it interesting that he can dismiss some miracles while retaining others... He's the scholar, but it is interesting that the parting of the Red Sea couldn't have happened, but Jesus restoring sight to the blind by laying hands on them could. Loaves and fishes, no. Curing illnesses, yes. Seems a bit arbitrary. I'm not opposed to the idea that elements of the Bible are not factually true (I personally find that both reassuring and liberating, especially given his distintion between "truth" and factual validity). But some of those distinctions are bit more difficult for me to make. I guess when it comes to the life of Jesus, part of me wants to say "Yes, these things are incredible and miraculous... the fact that we have no corollaries in our direct experience is due to the fact that we have never stood in the presence of the Son of God." His litmus test seems to be that some things are just so outside of our experiences and what we know about the world as to be beyond reason. But God is beyond reason. The notion that Jesus Christ walked on earth and died on the cross is beyond reason. Isn't that the whole point? I don't even like to pray for specific things in life, because I know that I can't even begin to know what God should do. I sat on an airplane that had a frightening aborted landing due to a snowstorm 2 weeks ago, and I didn't even pray for God to protect me. I just said "I'm in your hands, Lord. Thy will be done. If you take me now, please help my family understand." So who am I to discern whether the loaves and fishes story is real?

ON THE OTHER HAND, I found his discussion of Genesis intriguing. I have always thought that scientific research makes the power of God seem greater. Every day, we learn more about the incredible universe we live in. All of that knowledge makes the Creator seem more amazing to me. So I've been troubled by those who so quickly toss out evolution so they can retain the Creation story as literally factually true. Evolution is yet another wonderful part of our world, and guess who made it? Great system. (Thanks, God!)

My favorite part of the book thus far is his discussion of the prophets as social revolutionaries. Wow, that has really opened up a whole new way of looking at the Old Testament for me. And his treatment of Ecclesiastes is really intriguing... I love the comparison to the Tao.

The discussion of the social context in which the Bible was written is very helpful and fascinating to me. No matter where you come down on the notion of the Bible as literally, factually true, I think it is important to learn about the context.

This book hasn't shaken my faith. I don't agree with everything Borg has said, but it has made me appreciate the Bible even more. It has made me want to reread whole sections anew (I'm already working my way through the NT, but I might have to shift to other sections just to explore what he says about them).

Enough for one day. Have a great day!