Sunday, August 30, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • It's foggy. It's sunny. It's foggy again. Summer on the Oregon Coast.
  • Posting for this site may be a little more erratic than usual for the next two weeks -- my wife's visiting her parents in Australia. (And yes, if you did your ministerial training at Avondale College, you probably bought a used car from her uncle, Bill Toepfer.)
  • If you want to know what the future holds, keep an eye on Nigeria. By the year 2050 (if current trends continue), Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo will have 450 million Christians -- roughly the same as all of Europe. And one-fourth of the world's Muslims will live in just three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. (Source: Philip Jenkins, "Nations at Risk" in the September 8, 2009 edition of The Christian Century.)
  • I'm working on an post about some of the ways I expect pastoring to change in the next ten years. If you've some ideas along that line, drop me a line.
  • Traffic was down a bit this week, though I did see an uptick in visitors from California -- and a big surge in visitors from Portland. (Is that you, Mom?) Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom were in a three-way tie for foreign visits. And for what it's worth: the most popular day for visits to this site is Friday.
  • I'll close with this paraphrase of something I read in one of Gladwell's articles: "Just because you're good at the things you can control doesn't mean you're any good at the things you don't control."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This week's lesson: I John 5:1-12

If you're not careful, you'll end up with a Jesus who makes sense.

In John's day, remember, nothing would have been easier or more natural than turning Jesus into a mythic hero -- somebody like Mithras or Osiris. No, all you had to do was tell the people back then that Christianity was just another mystery cult, and they would have caught on immediately.

Likewise, there are a number of templates we could use to build a believable Christ for our day and age. Yes, we could turn him into:
  • a cryptic philosopher (like Yoda),
  • a revolutionary friend of the poor (like Che),
  • a super-patriotic Commander-in-Chief (like Patton),
  • or even a Fairy Godmother (who grants unlimited wishes to good boys and girls).
To be sure, none of these bear much resemblance to the Christ of the gospels -- a Christ who was so puzzling, so disappointing, so different than everyone expected that they had him put to death.

But even if he was only a Christ we'd made for ourselves, at least we could understand him.

And isn't that what we really want?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DIY: dealing with the Press

Sometimes, things at church get messy -- messy enough to attract the attention of local news media.

So what do you do when a TV reporter sticks a microphone in your face and says, "What do you know and when did you know it?"

Some time ago, I attended a workshop on that topic by the Reverend Chilton Knudsen. She's since gone on to be the Episcopal Bishop for Maine -- but at the time she was the Pastoral Care Officer for the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Chicago . . . and that meant she had to deal with the Press when a pastor really fouled-up. Here's her advice:

1. Never say anything you don't want quoted. There's no such thing as "off the record," ever.

2. Never say "no comment." If nothing else, you can always say, "We are very concerned -- and obviously, we're taking this very seriously . . . but we can't say more at this time for legal reasons."

3. Never reveal the names of the people who brought this to your attention. Don't even give a vague description, like "the complaint came from a teen-age girl who attends our school."

4. Never let just anyone and everyone talk to the media. Pick one spokesperson (or one spokesperson and a back-up) -- and remind everyone else they may be a legal risk if they give interviews (or even just a quote).

Bonus advice (and this is from me): Keep a written log of what happens and when -- and update the Conference office anytime something new develops.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • Church workbee this morning. Wedding this afternoon. Tuesday, I'll begin my fourth-year of teaching high school Bible classes. And we've a school constituency meeting on Thursday to discuss the economy's impact on our school's enrollment and budget. Should be an interesting week.
  • As near as I can figure, spiked is a British libertarian webzine -- not the kind of place I'd expect to find an overview of Calvinist thought, but there it is.
  • And for news on what it's like to be a Adventist pastor in the heartland of America, try
  • Traffic to this site returned to normal levels this week. Most visitors were from the West Coast (Oregon, California, and Washington), with a real surge in traffic from Portland. (Shouldn't you people at the Oregon Conference office get back to work?) Foreign visitors tended to be from the United Kingdom or Australia, but I had a smattering of visitors from Finland, Papua New Guinea, Oman, India, the Netherlands, and Brazil. (And yes, I love to use words like "smattering." Smattering. Smattering. Smattering.)
  • I'll close with this quote from Sam Brown: "Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This week's lesson: I John 3:11-24

"I love you," she said, "and I do want to spend the rest of my life with you . . . "


She sighed. "But I'm wondering if there's some way we could ditch your kids?"

"My children?"

"Yes, your children," she said. "As much as I love you, I have to admit you have the most annoying children I've ever met. They're rude. They're crude. And they fight all the time."

"Yes, that's true."

"So why don't we get rid of them . . . and then we could spend all of our time with each other? Just you and me. One-on-one. Nobody else to make things difficult."

"It doesn't work that way," said Jesus. "No, it's a package deal: if you get me, then you get my children too. And if you love me. . . ."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Your canon is too small

Maybe it's just me -- but I'm noticing more and more SDA authors describe themselves as "Pauline" or "Johannine."

And no, it would seem that never the twain shall meet. As near as I can figure:
  • "Pauline" means you emphasize justification; "Johannine" means you emphasize sanctification.
  • "Pauline" means you hold to a forensic view of the atonement; "Johannine" means you hold to some variation of the moral influence theory.
  • And "Pauline" means you take your cue from Andrews University, while "Johannine" means you're probably an alumni of Loma Linda.
Fair enough -- and the fact that both views have co-existed in Christianity for at least a thousand years suggests they both have strengths (and both have weaknesses).

But the writings of Paul and John are both in the same Bible -- and just because I'm a partisan of one doesn't mean I'm free to ignore the other . . .

Any more than I'm free to ignore the "Pauline" thinking I'll find in John's writings -- or the "Johannine" thinking I'll find in Paul's.

No, if John can refer to Jesus as "the lamb of God" . . .

And if Paul can refer to Jesus as "the image of the invisible God" . . .

Then maybe these two groups could do the same?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • Spent Sunday on the road to Sunset Lake Camp and back. Beautiful place. Nice weather. Long day in the car.
  • Rick Warren supposedly remarked that he doesn't use traditional church music in his church because he doesn't know anybody who listens to organ music in their car. If so, that's because he's never met me -- two of my favorite programs are The Organ Loft and With Heart and Voice, both of which can be heard Sundays on KWAX. Oregon's All Classical Radio runs a program called The Organ Trail on Sunday evenings . . . and American Public Media airs one called Pipedreams.
  • Traffic was way up this week, thanks to a link from Spectrum's Sabbath School blog. Outside the Pacific Northwest, the most popular locales for North American visitors were California, Texas, Michigan, and Ontario; worldwide, the most popular were Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Brazil.
  • In her book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes -- and Why, Amanda Ripley points out that 75% of Hurricane Katrina's victims were over the age of 60, and 50% over the age of 75. Lack of mobility was a factor . . . but even more deadly was resistance to change. Simply put, the older you were, the less need you saw to move -- especially if you'd already survived a couple of hurricanes.
  • And I'll close with this quote from Dr. Jonas Salk: "When something is suggested or some evidence is produced, the first response is, 'It can't possibly be true.' And then, after a bit, the next response is, 'Well, if it's true, it's not very important.' And then the third response is, 'Well, we've known it all along.' "

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This week's lesson: I John 3:1-10

I never really got a chance to know my grandfather -- a one-eyed fiddle-player by the name of John Emmett Burch who died when I was six.

But a couple of years ago, one of my grandfather's sister's grand-children dropped by for a quick visit. And even though we are . . . what? Third-cousins? Fourth-cousins?

Anyway, however distant we may be by blood, the resemblance is amazing. We have the same height, the same build, the same hairline, the same chin . . .

And as he pointed out, the two of us even have "the Burch belly." (Don't ask -- let's just say the resemblance was amazing, even when it was embarrassing!)

If you wanted to know what my grandfather looked like, in other words, you could get some idea just by looking at the two of us.

Likewise, most people will never see God -- not in this life, not on this earth.

But they should be able to get some idea of what He's like . . .

Every time they meet one of His children.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things I should not have learned in school

One of the bad habits they teach us in school is to answer questions.

So when a church member raises an issue like the impact of gay marriage on global warming (or vice versa), my immediate response is to raise my hand and shout, "Pick me! Pick me! I know the answer to that one!"

Now in the classroom, this worked.

But in counseling? Board meetings? Or casual conversations?

Not a good idea.

No, I'm slowly learning there are times when the best way to deal with a question is to take a deep breath . . . count to four . . . exhale . . . and say something like, "Interesting question -- why do you ask?"

Back when I was in school, after all, success came from knowing the answers.

But now, it often comes from making sure I understand the questions.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I'm back!

  • I'm pretty much done with summer traveling, and the local weather's back to cool and cloudy -- might as well start blogging again.
  • Just finished reading Garret Keizer's The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin. Keizer draws on the Bible and his own experience for this book on one of my favorite sins. As the title indicates, he's in two minds on the subject -- granted, anger does get him into all kinds of trouble . . . but there's so much to be angry about! Good stuff, worth reading.
  • Am I the only one who's noticed that the natural abbreviation for "Oregon Conference" is ORC? (That means the people who work here are . . . )
  • And I'll close with this quote from Goethe: "Genius consists of knowing when to stop."