A Motorcycle Jump from the Point of View of the Motorcycle

September 29, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

There has been a controversy down in Texas.  The St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX is a rather liberal Presbyterian church.  For example, they advocate for gay and lesbian causes, they have held events around politics and the church with a liberal bent, shoot – they showed Monty Python’s Life of Brian in the church as part of their movie series on Christianity in the movies.  Their pastor Jim Rigby has been brought up on charges for performing same-sex unions.

A professor from the University of Texas at Austin named Robert Jensen approached the church because of events in his life.  He had been a committed atheist for years and years, and was beginning to question that.  So, he approached the church.  St. Andrews in the person of their Session allowed him to join the church, making some small but important modifications in the membership questions that allowed him to answer in the affirmative.  From his writings, it’s clear that he doesn’t quite qualify for membership under the common PCUSA standards.

He then wrote an article in which he qualified his Christian beliefs and explained that his reasons for joining were mostly to open a dialogue with the church.  To his detriment (and somewhat contrary to his later writings) he spoke of how he did not “convert in a theological sense but joined a moral and political community”.  He wasn’t in the church to meet the church’s primary purpose, but rather joined to open lines of communication.

The response was quick.  St. Andrews is part of Mission Presbytery.  A committee was appointed to talk to the church and Dr. Jensen and see what exactly they were thinking.  The report of that committee recommended that Dr. Jensen’s membership be declared voided, that he be placed on the “baptized” roll (an irregular action, since he had been a member of another church in his youth), and that the Committee on Ministry work with the session of the church to develop a “constitutionally appropriate process” for receiving members.  The presbytery voted 156-114 to implement these actions.  Later in the meeting, the presbytery voted to stay these actions pending an appeal by St. Andrews to the Synod of the Sun judicial commission.

Robert Jensen has written a new article (“The Struggle Over What It Means to be a Christian Today  Finding My Way Back to Church … and Getting Kicked Out“) in which he details the whole story, including his past as a member of a Presbyterian church in another state, the joining process and more depth into what in his life caused him to do so, the presbytery meeting where he was kicked out, and where he goes from here.

It’s a bit of a scary story.  I have no doubt in my mind that the church made a mistake in accepting him into membership – he clearly doesn’t have all of the required beliefs.  However, he was treated as cattle in the rest of the Presbyterian process.  In the presbytery meeting, he was not allowed to speak.  That’s right – the main witness for a remedial case was in the room but was not heard from.  In fact, the presbytery told pastor Rigby before the meeting that Dr. Jensen would not be allowed to speak.  He did write a statement (included in his 2nd article) about his faith that was circulated to some members of presbytery.

This is what I meant by my title.  I believe that admitting Dr. Jensen into membership in a Presbyterian church given his views constitutes a stunt on the part of St. Andrews and the session.  It’s like a motorcycle jump – you jump and see whether or not you land safely.  However, in this case the motorcycle itself is sentient and has feelings.  Dr. Jensen, while a willing participant, has clearly been treated as an object – at least by the presbytery.  He was not allowed to speak as a witness in a remedial complaint.  He does not write of any loving words from any presbytery members other than those from his own congregation (perhaps there were some, but it didn’t make enough of an impression to cause him to write about it).

Further, he writes of anger and fear in the room.  He very clearly felt anger from some members of the presbytery (remember, folks – the presbytery is made up of ministers and elders {lay leaders} – exactly the kind of people who should AVOID anger in dealing with a lost sheep).
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THIS IS A PERSON THAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT.  A person deserving of love.  Correction – perhaps.  Guidance – certainly.  Discipline – No, he has not done or said anything that requires discipline except perhaps for lying during his confirmation at age 13, for which he clearly shows remorse.  He came to the church as a person in need of spiritual growth, and he got used as the prop in a stunt, and then treated as an exhibit in a court case rather than a human witness.

I have a similar story to his.  I grew up in a Presbyterian church as a youth.  I’m not entirely sure that I meant what I said and wrote in the confirmation process, when I was just 13.  I left the church for a long time, and I am just now looking to return.  I never lost my faith – instead I put the concept of Christian Community on the shelf.

And I fear the same treatment that he received.  Coming back to a church is scary.  Something caused you to leave long ago – will it happen again?  Will you be subjected to judgment by others for not being holy enough, or not sticking with it for all of those years?  Is your relationship with God what it should be?  What changes in your life (not to mention the lives of your family) should you expect?

We who are “formerly churched” need a lot of love and encouragement to stick with the transition.  We need to be seen as we are – the whole of what we are (or at least as much as we are willing to share).  That includes our flaws, which must be handled as gently as a child’s.  We’re fragile.

I don’t see any reason that what happened to Robert Jensen will happen to me.  I’m much less controversial.  However, I know one thing to be true – if what happened to him happens to me I suspect that it will end my church career permanently.  In that I believe that he is stronger than I am.

And shame on some of the members of Mission Presbytery for the way that they treated this fragile soul.  A person should never be treated like an inanimate object.

(A hat tip to Toby Brown of A Classical Presbyterian for pointing me in this direction.  Toby is a member of Mission Presbytery.)


September 29, 2006 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Admin 

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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.

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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?

Exploring Membership classes

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

I got a letter from the church last night about Exploring Membership classes.

It was a form letter (minus 1/2 point) apparently sent to folks who are new and attending but not members yet.  It invites us to come to these 3 meetings (1.5 hours each on Saturday morning at 9am) to learn about the church’s beliefs, the meaning of membership and what’s going on at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.  (Or something like that – I’m writing from memory.)

There was one nice touch in the letter.  My wife is Catholic and planning to stay that way.  She has been a little nervous about my “new church” experience as it impacts her.  She’s worried that we scary Presbyterians will try to convert her, or look down on her because of her Catholicism.  She was worried about the camp retreat last January – and pleasantly surprised to find them completely accepting of her choice.  In this case, the pastor wrote a note on the bottom of the form letter asking me to convey his invitation to her to attend the Exploring Membership classes with me if she wanted to.  (Plus 1 whole point)
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I’m pretty sure I’m already signed up, so I just have to let them know if Carolyn will attend.

I will be writing about these classes after they happen – check back in late October.

NJ Devils buy Trenton Titans

September 21, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Sports 

As long-time readers of this blog know, I’ve been a season ticket holder for the Trenton Titans hockey team.  They are in the ECHL league – the hockey equivalent of AA baseball.

The Titans have been Philadelphia Flyers affiliates for years and have been owned by the Berman family – business owners from the area.

The NJ Devils have bought a controlling stake in the team.  The team will be renamed to the Devils for the 2007-08 season.
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One good move announced at today’s press conference is that the Devils will be giving free tickets to the Devils’ home opener to all Titans season ticket holders.  Sure, they’ll be nose-bleed seats but that’s more than we ever got from the Flyers.

The Flyers affiliation will continue this year and then presumably end.

Things that Annoy Me

September 21, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

I was a bit grumpy on the way to work today.  Here are a few things that annoy me.

  1. People who spend a lot of time finding fault in other people’s personal decisions, particularly the things that other people do in private.
  2. People who drive across the painted lines in parking lots to get to “their” spot quicker.
  3. Those blister-pack plastic product containers that are really just two pieces of clear plastic slammed together and heated.  The kind that batteries or most consumer electronics cables come in.  The kind that require the use of scissors and inevitably cause cuts on hands.
  4. The fact that my metabolism is slowing down as I get older, forcing me to reduce intake of tasty stuff.
  5. Weeds.
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  7. The fact that grass grows fastest in the spring and fall.  Seems counter-intuitive – I’d expect it to grow faster in the summer.  It’s just not right that shorter days means longer lawn-cutting times.
  8. The fact that election campaign slogans are now at the level of 5 year-olds.  “Linda Stender is a big spender” repeated over and over – Mike Ferguson‘s campaign radio commercial.
  9. The fact that there are NO decent candidates for public office.
  10. There’s just not enough time to snuggle with my wife and cats on cold, rainy days.
  11. The fact that kids today are taught to be afraid of men without visible children.  It bugs me when the kids in my neighborhood stop riding their bicycles just because I’m our riding mine.

Monty Python and Star Trek

September 19, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Film, Television 

I love Star Trek.  I love Monty Python (my first date with my wife was to see “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on campus).

This is great.
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The Church and Stewardship II

September 18, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Yesterday, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville held it’s Ark Sunday.

The sermon touched on stewardship and giving of your time and money.  Unfortunately, the pastor used actual numbers in his sermon, referencing the “person making $100,000 who gives only $50 per week”.  Any time the pastor starts talking about hard numbers in a sermon he’s certain to annoy people.  I’m a bit irked by that remark myself.  My wife and I have decided that our goal is to tithe to charity as a whole, and that donations to the church are a part of that.  So are donations to the church camp, American Diabetes Association, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, etc.  And let’s not forget that we are giving to TWO churches since she is Catholic and a regular attender at her parish.  But enough about tithing.

After the service, we were all invited to cross over to the Ark.  Fellowship Hall was decorated like an ark, with “stalls” for each of the 5-6 church mission area (Youth, Adult Education, Mission, Music and Worship, and two others I can’t remember) to present their information.  The stalls also had snack food at each.  Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, and lots of salads and fixings were served.  There was a Bounce House (inflatable bounce thing) for the kids and a balloon artist.  The whole room was decorated with animals from beanie babies up to big inflatable alligators.

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I came into this Sunday looking to talk to people about where I could volunteer my time.  Unfortunately, the folks in the “stalls” were working harder pushing their snacks than looking for volunteers.  I hope I’ll get more information through the New Member process.

Carolyn and I also talked to a few folks that we’d already met.  Carolyn kept asking whether or not the painted monkeys were designed to look like her.  They really did!  I don’t think these folks quite know how to take Carolyn, but they haven’t really seen me full force either.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 15, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

Ahoy, Matey!

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Christian Unity

September 13, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Now this is an idea whose time has come.

In a time when denominations (including the PC(USA)) are fighting amongst themselves, there is a way to unite Christians.

The Christian Solidarity movement proposes to remind all of us that we’re all basically pulling for the same thing.  They say:

Christian Solidarity is a growing,
transformational movement of churches/ministries towards biblical unity
that though we express ourselves in different ways; we are woven
together by our Lord Jesus Christ.

To join you have to affirm a statement that says in part that the church affirms:

  • The Trinity, One God, three persons
  • Jesus Christ is Lord of all
  • The Bible alone is God’s Holy Word
  • Human nature is fallen and sinful
  • Salvation by grace alone

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Seems like a slam-dunk for Presbyterians.

Each church will show a banner, sign or plaque saying:

One Church
One God
Worship Him Here

It’s about time somebody remembered that while we disagree on the little stuff, we’re together on the big stuff.

(Hat Tip:  RedBlueChristian)

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