I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Natural Disaster

This afternoon, like many people, my heart has been with those folks in the southern states who are struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Also, there is flooding in Transylvania, in many of the Unitarian communities there. Peacebang has a post concerning the situation in Transylvania. Scott Wells is focussing on the Katrina situation.

The victims of these disasters need our prayers. They also need "this world" assistance. Scott has a link to the American Red Cross for those who wish to donate. The UUA report linked above has a way to give to the Partner Church Program.

Faith Challenges

I just got back from dropping the boy off at his first day of 2nd Grade. I hope he is handling it better than me. Of course, school is good for him, but I will miss having him around...

One of the great things about being the minister at a neighborhood church is that your kids can go to the neighborhood public school. In my case, this also means that I can walk him from the parsonage to class and then return to the church. The good thing about this morning is that I resumed this daily morning walk. It is a good time to think.

I was thinking this morning about Pat Robertson. For some reason, this Hugo Chavez thing has been bugging me more than usual. As a Christian, I am concerned by the actions of those who are most readily identified by the press with Christianity. I find that they challenge my faith. Sometimes I ask myself, "are they the real Christians? Does my view and experience of Jesus Christ actually matter in the broader debates and faith discussions? Am I really Christian at all?" I am asked this by colleagues in both the UUA (mostly) and the UCC (occasionally). So I always try to have some inkling of an answer.

These are tough questions to ask yourself and yet I do. Robertson and others so often speak with such security and assurance about who is "in" and who is "out", it can be hard to listen to them and not be swayed a bit by their world view. A view, I should add, that I do not entirely understand. In the end, I remain a Christian but, sometimes, I am a very tired one.

Upon reaching my office at the church, I took a moment to read a recent article by Doug Muder in the UU World. I haven't completely digested it yet, but it has already helped me to better understand the perspective of Robertson. I don't agree with it (Robertson's view, that is), but I think I have a better idea of where he is coming from.

I also noticed the picture (in the print version) that accompanied the article. I am still thinking about that, too. Is it supposed to reflect the artist's perception of the reality of liberal vs. conservative families, or is it to show how we would like to see ourselves and how we would like see religious fundamentalists? For those of you who do not have a copy, the "liberal" family is ethnically diverse and the "conservative" family is white. One has a sign reading "We Choose" and the other one reading "Thou Shalt". Doug writes about the two perspecives using those phrases and does a pretty good job. I am still somewhat curious about the compostion of the fundamentalist family, though. Anyway, I found the picture an interesting companion to Doug's excellent piece, calling for a less two-dimensional understanding of religious conservatives. Lots to think about this morning...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Weddings and Such

It is Sunday right after the last of our summer services. Next week we will have a short communion service and then, on September 11, we welcome back all of the folks who have been away. It will be nice to see everybody but, as I mentioned to the congregation this morning, there is something special about the small, intimate affair our summer services are. We never seem to have more than twenty people and sometimes as few as ten. We chat and we take our time with the half-hour service. Still, I think we all miss the kids...

Yesterday, I officiated at the first of what will be quite a string of weddings this year. Congratulations to Jim and Monica Dugan! The wedding was lovely and I was pleased and blessed to get to be a part of it. The Dugan family is affiliated with our church in various ways (many are members). In fact, virtually all of our weddings this year are for folks who are part of the Eliot Church family! This is great. While I have done quite a few weddings, I have never had so many "in house" so to speak. I can only assume that it means great things are afoot for our community...

Anyway, in case anyone was wondering, the Pats did fine in their Friday Game. I am off to Chuck E. Cheese's for my son's 7th B-Day party...Wish me luck!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lonie Paxton

The Patriots are playing the Packers tonight at 8:00 PM. What does this have to do with religion? Well...Check out this article about the Zen-like life of the Pat's "Kicking Battery". Really, you should. I am a big fan of the special teams game and at the heart of it is the clock-work action of Vinatieri, Miller, and, yes, long-snapper Lonie Paxton...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What is Heaven?

What is Heaven? What does it look like? How will I while away eternity? I mean, does it ever get dull? Am I the only religious liberal who asks these questions? I think not! In spite of our best efforts to be the-faith-which-is-concerned-with-this-life, we are still human. It is a fine thing to worry about who we are and how we act right now on earth, but most human beings do wonder about death.

I readily admit that I do not know much for certain in this area. However, I have been thinking about it a great deal. For me, some of the best analogies to heaven have to do with eating. If I were in charge of such things, Heaven would be a place like Carmine’s, where everyone talks at once and the food excellent. Or like the Crab Deck, where everyone talks at once, the food is excellent in its own way, there is football on the TV over the bar and, Yuengling is served in plastic cups (the sunset can be fabulous, too). Obviously, Heaven wouldn’t be any fun without family and friends (and the Pats), so maybe it is a catered event?

Now, I know that theologically there are problems here. There is the whole bodily resurrection thing, for example. Is Heaven wired for cable? Even the St. Peter + harp-player-on-cloud plan doesn’t really make much room for appetizers! Still, if Heaven is a place where we feel connected and happy. If it is a good place that brings us closer to God, then quality dining is a metaphor that works for me. What works for you? I know that there are those who would say prayer or worship provide those peak experiences. There are others who are impressed by the majesty of the sea or the purple mountain majesty. Is heaven an instant, as Julia Sweeney’s priest suggests in God Said "Ha"?

All interesting stuff, I think. Who knows where we will end up in the end...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More on Venezuela

OK, I have never been to Venezuela. I haven't even given it as much thought as I should...

However, I now think I would like to go and hang out for a few days. Here is what Lonely Planet (which is really fun) has to say: Venezuela has epic proportions: it has South America's largest lake and third-longest river, the highest waterfall in the world, and the longest of all snakes. It also has jaguars, armadillos and some of the most spectacular landscapes you'll ever see...If you could channel-surf for landscape, Venezuela would tire out any remote.

I realize that this doesn't quite address the issue of Muslim extremists, but I am sure that the Catholics (96% of the population) and the Protestants (the only other religious group mentioned at LP) will be able to keep those extremists under control. In all seriousness, though, Chavez is a complicated figure. Here is an article from the Christian Broadcasting Network (outlining Robertson's position) and one from Time (criticizing Robertson's Statements). Still, as we read these articles and others like them, it is worth remembering that Chavez was, of all things, elected (in '98 and '00)!

Here is a brief description of Chavez from Lonely Planet:
Chavez is a charismatic populist who hosted his own television show during which he took calls from the public and sang songs, but his government has presided over a turbulent period, and only partly because of its own mismanagement and political clumsiness. Key national institutions, including the media, banks, the church, sections of the armed forces and the nationalised petrol industry, have destabilised the government. In April 2002, following widespread demonstrations, a coup blessed by the US and Spain landed Chavez in detention. Being a military man, he was back in power within three days when the interim government collapsed.
However, this did not put an end to the strife and unrest that were plaguing the country. A nine week general strike in 2003 further deteriorated confidence in Chavez and before long there were calls for a referendum on his rule. After stalling and deferring on the referendum, in August 2004 Chavez won the referendum to serve his term until 2006

Darn folksingers...

Oh yes! check out the pictures at Lonely Planet. Venezuela really is quite pretty...

Check Out Socinian

Fausto has posted a story concerning Pat Robertson. I must admit that I am more than a little disappointed that a member of the Christian clergy would advocate the assasination of anyone, much less the leader of another country. He advocates, apparently, the death of Hugo Chavez in order tp prevent Venezuela from turning into "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism." I am not sure that Venezuela is either of these things right now. I do not believe they are planning to be so any time soon.

Please, tell me there has been some mistake...

Monday, August 22, 2005

I Figured It Out

OK, so it wasn't that hard to delete a post after all. I have added that goofy word verification thing. Primarily I did so because it was there but maybe it will have an effect...

Also, Prophet Motive does not seem to be working at the moment and so (sorry Tom!) I have temporarily replaced it with Wildhunt. This is an interesting Pagan blog (or, rather, a blog for Pagans, written by writer/DJ Jason Pitzl-Waters).

He has an interesting post at the moment concerning a Pagan mom who is sending her child to Catholic school. This is not as unusual as one might think. There are times when the public educational options are not adequate and parents have to struggle to find a solution. You can also, for example, find Catholics and Jews at Christian Academies. It raises some questions about how to teach one's own faith at home while it is being challenged during the day.

In the interest of full disclosure, I went to Catholic School for one year during a time when my family considered itself extremely secular. It was awkward to say the least. As with any situation where people encounter difference, some of my teachers were very tolerant and some were extremely intolerant. I ended up leaving as there were other options. However, others did not have the same opportunities. My heart goes out to that child and to those who are forced to make this kind of compromise. It is a hard thing to do.

Back To Work!

We are well into the annual church start-up phase here at Eliot. The RE Committee is getting down to work, Buildings and Grounds is putting the final touches on their summer projects and, with a little luck, we will be ready for "Opening Day" September 11. Of course, we haven't really been closed. Worship services, led by Dave Schwartz, Dave Miller and myself have continued every Sunday and will right up to the big day. However, September 11 is the first sunday that the kids will be back. Maybe they will bring their parents...

I am always excited when church starts. I hope everyone else is, too. I miss seeing all the people (particularly the kids). I miss the general busyness that comes with a full and active sanctuary. Summer is nice, but pretty slow for me!

An interesting thing has happened over the summer. It appears that the Churches of Christ are now being confused with the United Church of Christ! I am used to it going the other way. UU victims of the mix-up are shocked that such a liberal institution as the UUA is welcome in such a conservative one. Others people (unaware of the actual views of either the UUA or the UCC) are similarly suprised by my liberal social views and those of much of the congregation. I have gotten used to the confusion. If the Churches of Christ need any help explaining the difference, I am sure that their local UCC minister could help them out. Isn't it great that we have so many ways of experiencing Christianity? Seriously, it is great. This "name-issue" has caused me to learn about a tradition I otherwise would have never encountered.

One final note: You may notice that the "comments" are gone. I have been spammed and, sadly do not understand technology well enough to do something else about it. Oh well, there will be plenty of time in January!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Heat Wave

Ok, it is still hot in Natick, but not as hot as it has been.

Actually, the title of today's post comes from a book: Heat Wave, by Eric Klinenberg. In it he discusses the various elements of the tragic and deadly heat wave of July, 1995 in Chicago. I truly love Chicago and was there that summer, working at my then-seminary-now-alma mater, Meadville Theological School of Lombard College (located in neither Meadville nor Lombard but Hyde Park on the U of C campus). I also worked wrapping danishes and doughnuts at my wife's coffee shop ("Classic's Cafe") in the morning. I can tell you, it was really hot.

Most of us that week spent all of our time trying to stay cool. This was an easier thing for some. My wife remembers all of the professors who would dash from their air-conditioned offices to her counter for a cup of (you guessed it) hot coffee, before returning to work. In fact, anyone who could afford an air conditioner had it running constantly (until one of the occasional power outages, that is). The rest of us had to be more creative. To escape, I lived in the M/L basement during the day, where it was a mere 95 degrees. One image that I will keep with me forever is that of the incredibly large numbers of people standing shoulder to shoulder in Lake Michigan. We spent some time there ourselves, along with just about everyone else in the world...one mass of very warm South Side humanity.

Anyway, this book shows what was obvious to anyone who went through that time. Race and class matter in the USA. According to Klinenburg, 739 people above the norm died in Chicago during the week of July 14-20. Many more were hospitalized. Naturally, it was the poor who suffered the most.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the disaster, here is a quote from the introduction to the book.

"More than twice as many people died in the heat wave as in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when approximately three hundred people perished. More recent U.S. environmental disasters, such as California's Northridge earthquake of 1994 and Florida's Hurricane Andrew in 1992, caused the deaths of one-tenth and one-twentieth the heat wave total, respectively."

Klinenberg tries to both examine what went wrong and suggest ways in which we could improve the odds of survivability in the future. Some of it is hard reading (he is a sociologist) but mostly it is clear and compelling. Also, parts of it are really sad.

The events in this book happened ten years ago. Over the summer I have been thinking about how our faith plays a role in disasters such as this. In many ways the heat wave merely underlined and expanded a crisis that continues every day. Are there things that we people of faith--Christian Humanists in particular--can say or do to make the world a better, safer place for all? Can we truly become a nation of people who respect even the poorest and weakest among us?

I hope so. Let's try.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Great Time to Pay Attention...

...to the UCC!

Here at Eliot, thanks in part to our theological leanings and to the denomination affiliation of its last four ministers (myself included), we know quite a bit more about the UUA than we do the UCC. We probably don't pay attention to either as much as we could and (possibly) should. However, the UCC, in particular can get overlooked.

There are some exciting and interesting things going on in the United Church of Christ since their statement in support of the rights of Gays and Lesbians to marry. They have stirred up the Christian world and prompted debates and discussions on a scale that the UUA can only dream about. Of course, with such principled stands comes a period of adjustment. There are churches both leaving and joining the UCC and the ripples have been felt in the National Council of Churches. Check out the United Church News for more developments.

Two Books for Summer

Well, it is still hot, hot, hot, in Natick, MA and I am back from vacation! I am actually very excited about the upcoming year here at church. This month my primary task is to assist the RE program in developing a curriculum and program for the church. Our program must reflect both the traditions of the UUA and the UCC and reflect the congregation's growing interest in community involvement, social justice activities and the world's other religions (keeping in mind that we are, after all, liberal Christians). It ia a challenge for the heart and the head. I am looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Well, I jumped on the bandwagon and read Roadside Religion by Timothy K. Beal. Yes, it is published by Beacon. I wasn't expecting much at first, to be honest. It is the latest in a growing genre of "Finding Jesus/Buddha/God, etc on the Highway" kinds of books. Some have been excellent and others just OK. However, it turned out to be respectful and accessible. Good summer stuff and maybe sermon-worthy in some way after Christmas...

Actually, though. I would love to find a book this accessible about life in America for Muslims. Does anyone know of any? This genre does have some gaping holes that I would like to see filled and this is one of them.