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!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Maryland and Baseball

OK, the family and I just got back from Maryland, where we were showing off Son #3 to the in-laws. Needless to say, they were happy grandparents, indeed! We also, all got sick and had a remarkably long drive back home. It was one that included a stop over in Norwalk, CT. Thank you, Norwalk, for being a nice place to hang out for an evening!

In the car we were talking for a while about baseball and the various regional team preferences. Much of CT, of course, is Yankees territory--which always shocks me--but I get over it as the highway bring me back to Red Sox Nation. However, we came upon a sticky question that we would like to have resolved...

Where are the Mets fans? Do they have any? I am thinking that they must as they manage to field a team every year and sell their tickets. In the past they have been quite good and may be again! However, I rarely see Mets gear in my travels so...what's up? Are there any Mets fans (other that Dad) who read this blog? Where do you live? NYC, perhaps?

Anyway, that is all that I can muster on this first day back, maybe I will post my Easter sermon...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday. At 7:30 this evening we will open the doors of Eliot Church to celebrate communion together. The congregation tonight will be small. While some folks, no doubt, aren't interested in attending, others will not be there merely because of the complications of their schedules. Thursday evening, after all, isn't the easiest time to be out, particularly if one has kids! We will, of course, keep them in our hearts so their spirits will at least be with us.

To me, this evening has to do with the building of community in the face of difficulty, darkness and death. The first last supper wasn't done in anticipation of the resurrection so much as in vague anticipation of a still-undefined tragedy. These few days before Easter (for me) are for reflecting on death and suffering and on how we can reach out to those who journey with us. My thoughts tonight will be with those who are in need. Those needs, for many are physical or financial, but they may be spiritual, too. I will also be thinking of my fellow liberal Christians who also take the time to observe this Holy Week.

Here are some resources on today: Philocrites, BBC, Catholic Encyclopedia

I will leave you with a prayer by Augustine that I will be reading tonight. I found it in "The Thought of God" a Lenten Manual by Palfrey Perkins.

Blessed are all they, our God and King, who have traveled over the tempestuous sea of our mortality, and have at last come into the port of quiet and felicity. Cast a gracious eye upon us who are still in our dangerous voyage; strengthen us when we are exposed to the rough storms of trouble and temptation; defend us from our own negligence and cowardice and from treachery of our unfaithful hearts. And grant, O Lord, that in thy good time, we may bring our vessel safe into our desired haven.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Great Idea #5 Shock and Awe

This Gospel of Judas has gotten me thinking about something that has captured my imagination in the past. I have often wondered if we, as people of faith, might want to stir things up more than we usually do. Of course we make statements and sign petitions around various social issues. We preach, occasionally (sometimes very occasionally) on controversial subjects or take a controversial position.

However, how often to we really challenge the underlying assumptions of our society in more mundane ways? We usually dress, talk and act in ways that ensure we do not offend or call attention to ourselves. Most of us rarely cause a stir and when we do, we often are embarrassed by what we have done. What if we intentionally poked at these things? They may seem small but in many ways, risking our social standing is a bigger thing than we might think.

In this Gospel (which, yes, is Gnostic and I am not) almost immediately we see Jesus being rude:
One day he was with his disciples in Judea, and he found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When he approached his disciples gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread [he] laughed...
This is different from the righteous anger he exhibited at the temple. Here he is being inappropriate in a small way, yet in a way that both angers the disciples and makes them think. Come on, he's laughing during communion!

Really, the whole Gospel of Judas is seen as innapropriate by many. It is rude. It challenges how we are supposed (and are accustomed) to think. I believe that if we read the Bible with fresh eyes, that too is rude. It is refreshingly blunt (Check out Matthew 10:34-40). At its best, it shocks us out of our complacency and makes our minds (briefly, alas) move in new and exciting directions before we once again slip into what Kant called our "dogmatic slumbers". I think we slumber quite a bit too much.

As religious people we need to be inappropriate. William Sloane Coffin once said,
"Every prophet has realized that nobody loves you for being the enemy of their illusions." Yet we are called to be prophets to ourselves and to others. We are supposed to point toward what is real and eternal. We are supposed to be the enemies of our own illusions, large and small, as well.

So I am thinking, really, of rudeness as a spiritual discipline. A little bit of this can be healthy for ones own faith and for others, too. I do not mean that we should cause others pain or be hurtful, but so many of our assumptions about what is important are built on sand. For example, you could try (if you live in the suburbs) NOT raking (or watering, or fertilizing) your lawn. You may have a great deal of previously unrecognised free time and you and your neighbors might have to come to terms with where, exactly, proper lawn maintenance falls in the grand scheme of things. Ministers might want to act goofy from time to time or, even, use the occasional off-color word in public. I have found that our culture has a great many taboos that exist for no reason but to limit self-expression. We have a rich language, we should use more of it.

I, at least, have tried to make this a part of my ministry. Obviously, there are times when my vocation calls for the utmost seriousness. Other times, however, it does not. It takes some work to get out of "stuffy clergy" mode sometimes and (for me) it takes even more work to get back in! However, it is worth it. Religion and faith are funny, sometimes. We should laugh if the spirit moves us.

Monday, April 10, 2006

That Judas Thing

Over at PeaceBang there is a post concerning the "Gospel of Judas" and its remarkable popularity. I, too, watched the entire documentary last night and enjoyed it as much as one can enjoy the documentaries on National Geographic these days. Frankly, I think their standards have slipped a wee bit. I am tired of the re-enactors looking all spooky. At least this one didn't have soem strange guy using crop circles to find the lost arc. Still, if they took those re-enactors out and spent a little more time with the talking heads, it would have been much shorter and much more informative. Incidentally, my favorite goofy part were the antiquities thieves. Oh, and (quite randomly) a statement from Bob Schuller, just so we know this doesn't really change anything. Thanks, Dr. Bob, I feel better already!

The popularity, no doubt, has something to do with the intense marketing. In one day (Friday, I believe), I read an extensive article in the NYT, recieved an email with link, AND encountered stacks of the two new books on the subject (both published by Nat.Geo.) on the "20% off rack" inside the door at Barnes and Noble. Good work, Marketing Team! Imagine the "man-hours" it took to pull it off! As usual, there was plenty about it Saturday, too, as other religion reporters read the Times article, took the kids to Barnes and Noble, and did their own reports.

Having said that, I have read the Gospel of Judas and a goodly portion of the shorter one of the books. (minus the cloak and dagger stuff as I have already seen the movie). It is interesting and-- I find at least--fairly accessible for an ancient text. Also, because it has to do with Judas, it's appeal is somewhat justified. It is just darn different to think of him as a good guy. Of course, a Gen-X commentator on NPR pointed out the obvious, which is that this bears nice similarities to the Gospel of Tim Rice, set so stunningly to music by some guy named Andy Webber...

Anyway, I might just preach on it. Or, more likely, I will preach a sermon about the ancient church and the many different experiences of Jesus people had. THAT is interesting. Regardless of whether this new gospel shakes the foundations of orthodoxy or not (and I suspect not, but then, I don't really have much of an investment in orthodoxy) , it is another example of how rich the human religious imagination can be. This imagination (or "creativity", if "imagination" makes you think of Mr. Snuffleuppagus) is what we seek in our own religious communities. Maybe we don't all agree with the Gnostics, but I do believe that it is good to think for ourselves and to use our experience of the Divine to make sense of our lives in the world. We can do this. Thank God for that.

Preaching on it would also give me the chance to roll in that Bart Ehrman book everyone in the church read last week (I'm serious, it was quite a remarkable coincidence) and continue on a track started before Palm Sunday with a sermon about the edits and history of the Psalms...

Slightly Later:
I am so ashamed! Peregrinato has quite the essay going on just this subject. His is insightful and scholarly. No Sesame Street character, etc... Check it out!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The UCC, Dual Standing, etc...

Now, I'm not saying that my Blogcation is completely over, but...

A few of things have happened lately that have gotten me thinking about the UCC. One of these is Scott Well's "Church Search" that most recently lead him to a UCC congregation. Another is the current readjustments at the Mass. Conference of the UCC. They are changing their structure and laying off a few employees. One of those who is being let go is the Rev. Laura Lee Kent, the Central Association Minister. For you UUs;the UCC has an extra level of management. Laura Lee is roughly similar to a District Executive. I will miss her. She has been a good leader and a great help to this church as we begin to explore our relationship with the UCC. Also, on a personal note, if it wasn't for her kindly badgering I would never have finished my application for Dual-Standing in the UCC.

Yes, that is the third thing. I--for as long as I am the minister of the Eliot Church--am to be treated as one of their ministers. This is an interesting experience and one that has gotten me thinking about the condition of Christianity in the UUA.

Every once in a while a minister or seminarian leaves the UUA for the UCC (here is Pearlbear's excellent post on her journey). Sometimes they retain their fellowship but attend and even join congregations affiliated with the UCC or some other denomination (Society of Friends as been popular in the past). The reasons given often concern the rather unfortunate tendency of many, many UUs to question the Liberal Christian's continued fellowship with the UUA. Strangely, many of my UCC colleagues ask me the exact same question. It came up before my Dual Standing interview as "So...you are Christian and a UU...you can do that?" This was a sincere question, I might add, based upon their own experiences of Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations. I told them that it is certainly possible, but it is hard.

Another reason is, of course, that the other community of faith is just a better fit.

My heart goes out to those who leave. I sympathize with them and wish them the best. However, even with (or because of?) my new affiliation, I will be staying UU for now.

Here is what keeps me in the UUA:
I like the freedom both theologically and structurally. I am allowed to explore my Christianity without having to worry about anyone watching over me to ensure orthodoxy. I also like the fact that the Eliot Church and churches like it are able to participate in the life of the District and of the UUA. I enjoy the challenge of spending time with people who disagree with me and, when they are willing, having good, healthy discussions about these disagreements. I enjoy spending my time with my fellow UU ministers (this is not a small thing).

What I do not like, however, is that sense of superiority that many UUs have about their faith. A sense, I might add, that often implies (or explicitly states) that my faith is inferior to theirs. Interestingly, one of the things I have observed is that my actually being a UU seems to be the most objectionable part. I have spent time with UCC colleagues who serve UU/UCC churches and they rarely have the same experience when attending UU events. They say people are more polite to them. Hmmm.... Maybe I should start telling people I'm a Congregationalist and let them figure out what kind.

Also, there is a triumphalism to some UU rhetoric that is remarkable for a group professing to be liberal. I have written here before about the offical from Beacon street who informed his audience (including me) that the UUA was the only thing between the religious right and total domination. This, no doubt, would come as surprise, not just to the UCC, but to Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the unchurched, etc. Needless to say, they mostly missed this thunderous declaration and continue to do good toil on...

I should say, also, that the UCC has its issues. If you follow the links above, you will see that there is a great deal going on locally that, at least for the short term, will make some things rather confused. Also, our congregation is a mix of perspectives and people best served by both organizations.

So this arrangment works. I meet, from time to time with ministers and laypeople from both groups and I sometimes run into ministers of churches like mine at these meetings (particularly meetings of the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA and the Ecumenically Shared ministries group in the Central Association, UCC). We receive the support we need from the people who speak our theological language, whoever they may be.