Monday, December 18, 2006

The Methoblogosphere Heifer Challenge

Revfife came up with a wonderful idea for a project for the Methoblogosphere to tackle: raising money for the Heifer Project! If you would like to donate, please click on the sidebar. If you would like to add the code to your own blog, you can get it from Revfife's post (just click the link!).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Keillor and the Methodists

For those of you who haven't yet seen it, Gavin has a great post excerpting an essay by Garrison Keillor about the Methodists.

And for more fun, check out the Methodist Blues, also by Garrison Keillor.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Letter of the Alphabet Meme

Songbird gave me the letter "C". So...10 things I love that begin with the letter "C." Here we go!

1) Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (from Bryers) -- There is no substitute.

2) Candles -- Fortunately, Ben feels the same way. When we get married, we are going to have lots and lots of candles around, and not just for decoration, but for burning!

3) Chai Tea -- Again, there's no substitute. I particularly like the Chai Tea Lattes at this coffeeshop near my church. They have raspberry chai, vanilla chai, and other flavors that are quite delicious.

4) Complex Numbers -- I have always had an affinity for them. Not terribly practical (at least for counting purposes), but cool nonetheless.

5) Cheese -- All types, particularly cheddar, gouda, and brie.

6) Caviar -- Ok, now I'm revealing my expensive tastes. Each year for Christmas my dad and I get some in our stockings. Delicious!

7) Cold Winter Days -- There's just something about a cold day that makes me feel good, especially if I don't have any work to do, am in a building with a fireplace, and have a hot mug of tea.

8) the game Munchkin -- They can win by Divine Intervention ;-)

9) Chant -- Very relaxing and soothing...and pretty.

10) Church! -- ;-) The emerging church in particular...but I do like church.

Ok! If you want a letter, respond in a comment and I'll assign you one!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Theological Burnout 101

Maybe I've had too much systematic theology (after wrapping up my major doctrinal paper on sin), but...

...Barth ain't too bad, though he talks in circles and manages to unsay just about everything he's said.

Plus, he was the fodder for a very interesting lecture on election/predestination, especially when it got our professor to declare that "God is going to pursue your #$@ into all eternity!" (in reference to those who do not accept grace in this life...or perhaps in reference to those of us who are handing in precept papers late. Wait...maybe that was our precept leader going to be chasing us down...I don't know. It was late, it was before Thanksgiving break, all of us were tired.) *innocent look*

Maybe I should stop writing this post, and finish my precept paper.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fa-La-La-La-La, La Friday Five

As posted on RevGalBlogPals:

Reverendmother here... those of you who read my blog know I have a love-hate relationship with the 24/7 Christmas music we're subjected treated to in stores and radio (in the U.S. at least). It gets too sentimentally sticky-sweet sometimes, yet I find myself unable to resist it. Nothing says "it's Christmas" to me like John Denver and Rolf the Dog singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." So...

1. A favorite 'secular' Christmas song.

There are two: Sleigh Ride and Carol of the Bells.

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better)

There really isn't one that makes me choke up -- at least none that I can think of off the top of my head. I'll get back to you on this one.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire.

Hahaha....Santa Claus is Coming to Town (as done by the Jackson 5), Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney), and Blue Christmas .

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss.

Only if it's the Muppet's version, the Sesame Street version, or if it's the version by Allan Sherman.

Interestingly enough, if you want to calculate the cost of all these items in terms of 2006 prices, check out this article from Wikipedia.

5. A favorite Christmas album

I like more of the choral CDs, like the one from Kings College. But...I also really like Kenny G's Christmas album. Call me strange.

Oh, but I do have a favorite: the Peanuts Christmas Album!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

'Tis the Season

Tonight is Drew Theological School's service of Lessons and Carols. The Seminary Choir is performing a couple pieces, there is going to be a really neat processional...and a very nice dinner beforehand. The whole university, along with Theological School alumni, is invited, and within an hour Seminary Hall will be overflowing with students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff. It's a fun and festive way of contextualizing the Advent season (and a great break from coursework!) Life in Seminary Hall stops for this one event in which the community gathers to proclaim Christ's coming to earth.

The Christmas season is a funny time for me. I'm never quite ready for it. It's almost as if I am desensitized to it. We see Christmas decorations earlier and earlier every year - always before Thanksgiving and sometimes even before Halloween! I also never feel like I can sit down and adequately put myself in the right frame of mind. I want to prepare - to sit and meditate and cultivate the proper seasonal attitude of grateful and joyful expectation. But, Life is Happening: papers are being written, presents are being bought (though usually at the last minute), concerts and parties are happening...and then boom! Christmas happens, and it's over, and life goes on.

But....wasn't this the way the first Christmas happened? Sure, there were the prophets and the signs of Christ's coming but in reality, who really paid attention? People were busy doing other things, not paying attention to the events of a small backwater province of the Roman Empire. Christmas sneaked right in there. Boom. Christmas happened, and life went on...but the future was forever changed.

I'm not advocating that one should ignore Advent for the sake of shopping, Christmas festivities, and other such happy occasions (even if they don't put us in the "Christmas Spirit"). I think that instead we should be focused on the aftermath of Christmas. Christmas is about more than just Jesus being's about God coming down to intermingle with our earthly reality, and bringing us hope for the future. We need to live as if our futures have been changed...or rather, we need to live as if this hope for the future has the power to transform our current reality.

Ok, so I realize that perhaps reading Moltmann got to me a bit (we just read him for eschatology...), so I apologize for wandering off into the land of Systematic Theology....and this post really is wandering. But heck. It's my blog, I can do whatever I want. So, I hope you enjoy it even though it is a glimpse into my near-the-end-of-the-semester-yet-so-much-more-to-go mind... :-)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Signs of Our Times: My sermon for the first Sunday of Advent

Seven cities in Europe, as part of a project implemented by the European Union, are currently undergoing an experiment. They are getting rid of all their traffic signs. A November 16th article in Spiegel Online, one of Europe’s biggest weekly news magazines, reports: (and I quote) “about 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He [or she] may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow. (Sounds familiar? To continue,) The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They're constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.” Interestingly, removing traffic signs has actually been effective in reducing accidents because it encourages drivers to take more personal responsibility for themselves and their vehicles. The guiding vision for this project is one of (quote) “drivers and pedestrians blending into a colorful and peaceful traffic stream.”

Transplant this idea of no traffic signs to the United States. Although there are times I sorely wish that we could abolish traffic lights (especially when stopped at an unrelenting red light), think about what the absence of traffic signs would do. Think about traffic at rush hour. Think about unregulated traffic in New York City (though to me, I can’t imagine the traffic getting any worse). I can just envision the chaos – the streets messy with cars, pedestrians, bicycles – all going every which way with no sense of direction, no guidance, and no one to restrain aggressive drivers. I see accidents on every corner, pedestrians being mowed down…a traffic planner’s nightmare.

Though they can be an annoyance from time to time, traffic signs serve a very important function. They alert us to potential dangers in the road ahead, denote busy routes, and protect other drivers on the road. Reading and interpreting signs help us get to our destination safely. Without signs, especially when driving in unfamiliar places, we would be lost. Signs point us in the right direction.

Friends, this morning’s text from Luke’s gospel reminds us of the importance of signs in the world around us. To be sure, this is not an easy passage to start the Advent season off with – we all want to get into the Christmas spirit – to feel the joy the season inspires, to spend time visiting with family and friends, and to drink in the holiday cheer. But this passage makes us step back for a moment. It says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” This doesn’t sound like a very happy message – it seems more awe and fear inspiring. Terrifying. Frightening. These signs…do not look good. And Jesus is telling the disciples, to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now I can tell you, I’m not about to go out celebrating if I see the end of the world coming at me, and I’m certainly not going to think that any sort of redemption is near.

However, I don’t think these signs merely point to a cataclysmic second coming akin to what one might find in the “Left Behind” series. Jesus reminds the disciples that these signs signal the nearness of the kingdom of God. The message is more than just doom and gloom and impending destruction. The kingdom of God is already actualized; the disciples simply have to watch for signs of this kingdom in our earthly existence. The foreboding signs indicate the presence of God’s kingdom, and this presence is what gives us the hope for redemption.

One of the professors at Drew Theological School, Dr. Leonard Sweet, puts it this way. When you buy a new car, what happens when you drive it off of the lot? It becomes a used car. Right. Now, what else starts to happen? You start to see this car everywhere. You notice it in parking lots, driving on the highway – it just seems to pop up everywhere you look! Amazing, right? But the thing is: nothing around you has changed. It’s not that people are suddenly buying the exact same car as you, but that you have a different outlook. You are better able to notice these cars that have been there all along! As Christians, we are called to have a similar mindset. We should see the signs of God’s kingdom already present with us along with the signs that tell us that God’s kingdom is needed now more than ever. This passage demands that we pause and take a good look around us, and ponder the “signs of the times” for our own day and age.

So what are the signs in our society that tell us God’s kingdom is at hand? That tell us our world needs God’s presence? One sign arises from all of the media attention given to the release of the new gaming systems by Sony and Nintendo, particularly that of the Playstation 3. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve heard not just how popular these new consoles are (and how much fun they’re supposed to be!), but also how people have come to blows over getting one. A man stole a seventeen year-old’s Playstation 3 at gunpoint in a mall on November 18th. A Super WalMart in California had to be shut down after riots broke out in the crowd waiting outside to purchase one of these units.

These stories show that our society values materialism, the belief that “the one who dies with the most toys wins.” However, Jesus calls us not to be attached to our worldly possessions, because they have no lasting claim on our lives. Our culture’s over-indulgent materialism is a sign to us that God is sorely needed in our society. We need God to reorganize our priorities and our values – to help us take care of our neighbor instead of being concerned with merely ourselves.

This is only one sign that tells us how desperately our world needs the love of Jesus. Almost everywhere we look there are others: the war in Iraq, the destruction from hurricane Katrina, genocide in Darfur, street killings and shootings, and I’m sure you can think of many others. These signs tell us how much God’s presence is needed in a world that is broken, hurting, and suffering.

Yet, there are also signs in our world that point to the presence of God’s kingdom in our time and place. Take the same phenomenon of the Playstation 3. One eighteen year-old in Manchester, NH camped out for 34 hours to acquire one. He had planned to sell it on E-bay to make a profit, but his teacher told him about 2 classmates of his, a brother and sister, both of whom are battling cancer. He decided to donate it to a raffle designed to raise funds for their medical bills and Christmas presents for them. This student gave up his own shot at a healthy profit and instead put his newly purchased Playstation to a better use – helping those who are in need of it. It is in moments like this that we can see God’s kingdom already here on earth, even in the midst of all the greed and other negative values of our culture.

These signs constantly remind us of how much the world needs God and how close God’s kingdom really is to us. These signs are all around us, and at this time of year, when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus, they remind us of why he came to earth in the first place. Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom, and it is our job to be watching for how God’s kingdom on earth is already coming about.

Even more than this, however, is that we are not only supposed to watch for the signs, but we ourselves are called to be signs to other people of God’s kingdom. We are signs of God’s presence among us and the people around us will look for signs of this kingdom in our lives. Just like the teenager who donated his Playstation 3 for a greater cause, Christ calls us to make our families, our workplaces, our schools, and our communities more like God’s kingdom. Through our actions, other people will be able to see glimpses of the kingdom of God.

There a lot of small ways to do this as we prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent season. For instance, instead of buying another Christmas present for someone, make a donation in their name to a local charity. Donate food to the Helping Hands Food Pantry. In a season where heating costs can be a terrible burden, help lighten that load by donating to charities that help low income families with that cost. There are lots of other things that you can do to be signs to other people of the kingdom of God.

In a season where it’s easy to get swept up in the shopping, the Christmas concerts, and the other trappings of the holiday season, our world needs this assurance of God’s presence. Whereas society gives us signs of greed: huge holiday sales, must-have gadgets, and images of piles of presents around the Christmas tree as “signs of the times,” we must be signs to the true meaning of the season: that God in Jesus Christ has come among us to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God. So rejoice! For our redemption, the kingdom of God, is truly at hand. Watch for the signs and be ready. Amen.

BENEDICTION: Friends, the kingdom of God is near to us. Go forth, and be signs to the world that God is here among us. Go out in the name of the one who created you, the one who redeemed you in Christ Jesus, and the one who sustains you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nothing but Nets

As I was perusing UMC conference websites for work at admissions (we're looking for conferences that send out newsletters), I stumbled across an article from the West Michigan Annual Conference about how Sports Illustrated and The United Methodist Church have partnered together in order to provide mosquito nets to help prevent children dying of Malaria.

I dug a bit deeper and found out from an article in Christian Today about how this was a recent partnership.

I personally think it's fantastic that sacred and secular organizations are working together. To me, this seems to be the future direction of ministry. We need to be able to find causes that everyone can get on board with. Who would have thought that Sports Illustrated and the United Methodist Church could find something on which to work together?

If you're interested in looking into this a bit more, go to What's even more fantastic is that this is something that everyone can get on board with - youth, young adults, and older adults - but I think this is something that would particularly appeal to youth and young adults. Go check it out!

Exploration 2006

"Dive in, Make waves!" was the theme of this year's Exploration event. Hundreds of high school seniors and college students gathered in Jacksonville, Florida (which was only marginally warmer than New Jersey) and descended upon the Hyatt Hotel to fellowship with each other and discern God's calling upon their lives. The hotel was beautifully located along a river, complete with palm trees. The hotel itself was wonderful; I don't think I have ever slept on beds that comfortable before. This was definitely a cushy place!

I have never attended an Exploration event, so unlike Beth Quick, I have no basis of comparison. I went, along with three other seminarians from Drew Theological School, to be small group leaders. The small group experience is an integral part of the Exploration weekend, as it (hopefully!) helps everyone (leaders included!) to process the Bible Studies, the talks, the worship experiences, and the workshops. I was blessed to have an amazing group of high school seniors, who were willing to "dive in" with each other right away to talk and share their lives with each other. It was so refreshing to see young people take their relationship with God so seriously, and to be open and vulnerable about their lives.

I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed by the lack of a strong New England presence, although I was encouraged that there were a few from my conference there. We had an annual conference breakfast where for the longest time is was just me and the BU admissions officer. We had a lovely conversation, but I would have loved the chance to really meet the passionate youth there from my conference.

This event gave me hope that although United Methodism is slowly dying in the Northeast, there are embers alive and there is a stronger denominational presence in other areas of the country. I was astounded at the number of young folks from the South and the Midwest! The one youth from my conference I did get to have a brief conversation with jokingly remarked that she couldn't escape from the southern accents.

As I belive I've mentioned before, the worship services were not to my tastes, but I realized that it was good that they had contemporary worship music. For some of these kids, all they've known is one way of worship: traditional hymns. Having contemporary worship allowed them to see that there were other ways out there to worship God, and that contemporary worship can be an authentic way of praising God. Alternatively, I wished that they had done many different styles of worship so that they could have been exposed to a greater wealth of songs, styles, and cultures.

All in all, it was an interesting experience - and an enriching one! It was wonderful to be able to talk with my fellow Drewids about the language, the music, and the workshops. Seeing it from the angle of a leader without having been before was interesting. I noted some things that I might do a bit differently - I know that while the leadership of the event said to us small group leaders that they weren't there to manipulate people into accepting a call to ministry, it seemed like the push of the entire weekend was for people to make that decision. I don't know. Perhaps having come from a place where I was resistant to the idea of odrained ministry gives me a different perspective on this, and makes me read things into the event that weren't there to begin with. I just wish that there was more space available for those in attendance to say "no, this isn't for me" or "no, I haven't experienced God this weekend." Contextualizing God's vocational calling as a calling for your life not just or only to ordained ministry helped with that...but what else should I have expected? After all, this event was about calling to ministry in the United Methodist Church.

I am very glad I went, and that I was able to both minister and be ministered to by my small group and the others I had conversations with. For me, fellowship and community was the strength of this event, and in many ways, it helped solidify my own call to ministry. In the end, it was a win all around. :-)