Busy Week

April 18, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Sports 

Here’s my crazy schedule for the rest of the week.

Wednesday – 6:30 – 8:30pm – Youth Sunday rehearsal
Thursday – 6pm – 10pm – Trenton Titans playoff game
Friday – 6:30pm – 10:30pm – Trenton Titans playoff game (if they win Thursday)
Saturday – 10:30am – 1pm – Youth Sunday rehearsal

Then Sunday:
8:45am – leave for church
9am – 9:30am – set up for Earth Day adult forum
9:30am – be adult shepherd for ushers for Youth Sunday
10am – Youth Sunday service
11am-ish – as soon as the service is over, run directly to the lounge
11:15am – be the speaker for the 1st 15 minutes of the Earth Day adult forum
Noon – Adult Forum ends, go home
1:30pm – leave for opera (Boheme OperaRigoletto)
1:45pm – pre-curtain talk (always worth the time)
3pm – 6pm – opera
6:30pm – come home, collapse

Unfortunately, I have to miss the post-Youth Sunday service lunch with all participants in order to do the Earth Day presentation.

Updated Environmental Stewardship paper

April 4, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Environment, Religion 

I’ve made a few tweaks to the Environmental Stewardship paper posted previously, at the request of the church’s Green Team.  The new file is attached at the link below.

Download Environmental_Stewardship.pdf (163.7K)

A Little Busy

April 2, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Church has me a little busy right now.

The Green Team has decided that for our Adult Forum on Earth Day, the program will include me first doing the Biblical basis, one of the co-chairs doing the science behind our environmental problems, and a 3rd speaker (I don’t remember who) speaking on what each person can do to help.  We’re going to have lots of handouts (including my paper) and some samples of compact fluorescent light bulbs and such.

To that end, I have until the end of next week (April 13) to get my presentation together.  I have 15 minutes to present what is in my paper.  I’m planning a powerpoint presentation with the verses, and I’ll talk to the rest.

I’m also an advisor for the youth group.  April 22 is not only Earth Day, it’s also Youth Sunday – with the youth doing pretty much everything for the service.  I’ll be helping out with planning and execution of that as well.  At this point, I’ve been appointed “King of the Ushers”.  Hopefully we won’t have a Fall of the House of Usher.

The Tuesday after Easter I have a meeting scheduled with the pastor to talk about a new initiative related to visitors, seekers, and how the church is perceived by them and the community.  That is right up my alley (as my other blog posts have indicated) and I’m really looking forward to this.

The church is in the final stages of calling a new Associate Pastor – Mary Alice Lyman.  She will be preaching on April 15 with a Special Congregational Meeting immediately following to vote on her call.  On April 14 there is a reception in the evening to meet her, and there’s a pancake breakfast on the 15th for the same purpose.

Things should quiet down a bit towards the end of the month.  It’s a good kind of busy.

A Day At Home

February 15, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion 

Today was “new hot water heater” day.

Our old hot water heater was one of the ones manufactured in the mid-1990’s when the one company that made dip tubes (the tube that forces the cold water to the bottom of the tank) used a different plastic.  Many hot water heaters made then had the dip tubes deteriorate in 2 years or less.  There was a national recall to replace the dip tubes that ended in 2000.

Our dip tube finally fell apart sometime in the last 6-8 months.  For a few months now I’ve been finding little bits of white chalky stuff in the bathtub.  I originally thought it was grout, but after talking to the plumber about our “running out of hot water” problem, it was a bad dip tube.  The hot water heater is the same age as our house – 11 years – so we elected to replace the whole thing for about $1000 installed, rather than spend $200 on just the dip tube and have to replace the whole thing in a few years anyway.

The plumber did a fabulous job.  In about 3 hours he drained the old tank, replaced an old screw tap valve for the humidifier with a real valve, and installed the new one.  He was incredibly neat through the whole process – he didn’t leave as much as a drop of solder or a forgotten screw in the basement and he even used drop cloths between the front door and basement.

If you need plumbing in the Mercer County, NJ area, consider JA Margicin.

This afternoon I did a bank run and then wrote up a paper on the theology of good environmental stewardship.  This is pretty heady stuff for a person who isn’t a religious professional (I had a few classes in college, and spent a lot of time around religious pros).  I think it probably relies too much on Bible quotes and doesn’t have enough explanation in between, but we’ll see.  When it’s done, I promise to post it here.

Now I have to feed the cats, and then go outside and put down ice melt on all of yesterday’s snow that didn’t go away but rather melted and froze into a nice smooth surface.  Then I have to change the cat litter and take out the trash.

At least I wasn’t at work!

Help – Environment and Theology

February 5, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

The assignment that I voluntarily took from our church’s Green Team meeting yesterday was as follows:

Dig up the theological basis for environmental stewardship.

Considering that I’m not a professional when it comes to religion (no seminary training here – just some college courses), I could use a little help.

Does anybody have any pointers to documents that can help?  If so, please leave them in the comments.

New Member Class – Day 1

October 22, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Yesterday was also the first day of New Member Classes at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ.  Classes are 9am to 10:30am and will continue on October 28 and November 4.  These classes are run about 3 times a year.

The classes are actually intended to explore membership and prepare you should you choose to join.  It looks like most of the group is headed towards joining.

There are about 20 people in this group.  Yesterday, 14 of them were there (several spouses were off handling soccer duty).  This was a very diverse group in terms of age and some other factors, though not racially.

The format was remarkably similar to the Johnsonburg Reconnecting with Faith retreat.  We all sat in a bit circle (well, oval – it was a big group) with the pastor and the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry (in this case Jill Cifelli) mixed in the group.  Each of us were asked to introduce ourselves and talk about what we do during the day.  Jill started, and because her daytime work is church-related we ended up with each person describing briefly their church search as well as their day job.  Carolyn came with me and explained that she is a practicing Catholic (seems she’d get good at it at some point!) and was there to support me.

After that, we watched the video Who Are We Presbyterians?.  This is a 20-minute video that does a good job of presenting the high points of Presbyterian faith and organization, though it does tend to concentrate a little too hard on diversity.

Then we were asked to talk about what we saw in the video.  A few people who are new to Presbyterianism stated that they really liked Salvation by Grace as compared to their prior church.  A few group members brought up the liberal/conservative divide (it wasn’t me, honest!) and we batted that around for a while.  The jist of that discussion is that this church favors the open discussion of issues while staunchly defending freedom of conscience.  The phrase used was “generous orthodoxy”.  In short – we have people all over the spectrum and we LIKE that, and encourage people to speak their mind.  Rigid control of belief within narrow confines is not required.  Having said that, the church averages out to someplace between the middle and liberal end of the spectrum.  Not quite far enough to be a More Light church, but certainly not at the conservative end.

The one thing that people said over and over is that this church cares more for each person as a PERSON than they do about their particular ideology.  People are not representatives of a theological or political position – they are PEOPLE who happen to have a personal theology and political opinion.  At least 1/2 of the group said that this was an important factor in their choice of Lawrenceville as a church home (and I’m in that list).

One last similarity to the Johnsonburg retreat appeared.  Carolyn put it best on the way home – “There are some hurt and angry people here.”  This makes complete sense to me.  You come to a church as a new adult member for one or more of a short list of reasons:

  • You left the church at some point because you were not spiritually at home, unhappy or even hurt by the church.
  • You drifted away from the church because of disinterest.
  • You have children, and need to find a church home for baptism, sunday school, etc.  Or maybe you want to get married in a church.
  • You’ve recently moved and need to find a new church.
  • You’ve never been involved in a church, but you’ve found the redeeming power of Christ.

Based on the stories that were told, the latter reason may have been a part of one or two people’s reasons out of 14.  The rest of the reasons covered everybody.

I was amazed at the distances that people travel to join this church.  One new member is driving from upper Bucks County, PA.  A few others are coming from Princeton.  I’m coming from Hamilton.  We had one couple where one of the two people cited “it’s the closest church” as the reason for joining.  These folks either came back to the church that they grew up in or had a deliberate search path (not as regimented as mine, but just as comprehensive).  (Side note – just by listening I’ve learned a lot to incorporate in the next retreat.)

At the end of the session, we had a moment to fill out some paperwork.  We have to write a brief biography that will be published in the church bulletin and newsletter after we join – I’m still working on that.  We also had our pictures taken to be put in the bulletin and newsletter.

Next week we have a session on stewardship.  At some point, we’re going to participate in a session of Lectio Divina but I’m not sure which week.  In mid-November on a Wednesday we meet with the session, and then are introduced (and in some cases baptized?) on November 19.

I’ll write up the remaining classes as well.  Keep watching this blog!

Theological Issues I’m Having Trouble With

September 28, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I’m having trouble with a few theological issues.

First of all – my theological background.  I was once a fairly involved member of a Presbyterian PC(USA) congregation.  I was also a religion minor at Rutgers University, and I took several classes on Christianity and the Bible.  I have not gotten any farther than that as far as formal theological education.

Biblical Inerrancy

One thing that conservative Christians (often calling themselves evangelical) list as one of their core beliefs is the idea that the Bible contains no errors.  This is explained by stating that the authors of the various books of the Bible were inspired by God, and therefore there could be no errors.  This leads to the logical conclusion that we must follow every instruction in the Bible.

There are some problems with that.  In some places the Bible directly contradicts itself.  (For one glaring example, take a look at the different accounts of creation in the first two books of Genesis.  For an entire list, look HERE).  Other times, the Bible prohibits things that we clearly allow today (check your clothing – is it made of mixed fibers?).

It gets worse when people start interpreting the words.  I had a very conservative on-campus Christian group tell me once that 2 Corinthians 6:14 (“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do
righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can
light have with darkness?”) meant that I should not be friends with Jews unless I was actively trying to convert them.  Others believe that this passage says that Christians should not marry non-Christians, or even form business partnerships with non-Christians.

Almost all forms of Christianity today pick and choose different instructions that are supposedly from the Bible.  I have yet to find a church that preaches that eating shellfish is sinful.  However, some admit it and others do not.  The PC(USA) is officially a Confessional church – meaning that there are documents called Confessions that the PC(USA) has adopted as official interpretations of Scripture.  Most of these are historical and go back decades at a minimum, and centuries in many cases.  These contradict each other as well.  Presbyterians are exhorted to study the Bible and the confessions and so gain both the tools to make their own interpretations of scripture and the decisions that have been made through the consensus polity of the church.

The problem comes when Person A’s interpretation differs from Person B on an issue that either person considers Very Important.  This could be divorce.  Or homosexuality.  Or how often to celebrate Eucharist/Communion.  Or whether or not the altar is behind the choir or in front of the choir.

Once upon a time, these differences erupted into actual violent conflict – complete with armies (both of which were the Army of the Lord).  Today, it’s fought with words and fought with money.  It’s fought with words like apostasy and intolerance.

For the record, I do not believe in Biblical Inerrancy.  I believe that the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired but that this does NOT mean that their product is perfect.  Further, we do not have an original of each book of the Bible.  We have translations of copies.  Each translator or scribe may have made subtle or not so subtle changes to the text.  Some were accidental and some were intentional.  I do believe that there is such as thing as The Word, but our version of the Bible isn’t it.  The Holy Spirit can act through each of us to aid us in our interpretation of the Bible, the closest thing to The Word that we have, and through that we can approach the original intent.

Diversity of Belief vs. Purity of Belief

With the late unpleasantness in many Protestant denominations many people are concluding that “I can’t stand being in a church that doesn’t believe X”.  Some are using a different form, saying “I can’t stand being in a church that doesn’t accept me as I am”.  I can understand the latter – it goes to personal identity and staying in a place where you are clearly unwanted (or part of you is unwanted) is a bad idea all the way around.  So I’ll concentrate on the former.

Personally, I believe that our beliefs should be challenged.  We must be exposed to different ideas in order to continue to grow spiritually.  Some of those ideas will be tested and rejected.  Some of those ideas will be interesting but “not for me”.  Others will be accepted and become part of our spiritual makeup.

A church where homogeneity is mandated, where the Bible is made into a rulebook rather than a message, in that church the challenge is not there.  Everyone who chooses to be part of that church may be comfortable, but nothing is changing.  Beliefs are the same, year in and year out.  There is no new light.

I would much rather be part of a church where people who hold opposing views are not just tolerated, but encouraged.  Where people can debate the various ideas that they have, and learn from each other.  Chemical reactions happen when atoms build and break bonds, moving from one form to another.  That is my picture of how faith is built – through constant interaction with new and different ideas.

There is a point where it can go too far.  There is a place for a core set of beliefs and behaviors that are tolerated.  But even then, there is room for those who disagree to be present and part of the community.

Put more simply – how can you learn and grow in faith if you aren’t exposed to other beliefs?  How can you spread your message if you don’t associate with those with whom you disagree?

I would much rather belong to a church that chooses to include a few people who don’t check off all of the church’s belief-system check boxes than one that chooses to exclude them.  If I (and others) don’t agree with their beliefs, my faith is strengthened by understanding and rejecting their ideas.

Or maybe I am the person without all of the checks on the list.  Who has 100% of the checks?