Wednesday, February 28, 2007

James Cameron Should Have Made Titanic 2 Instead

Here's a quick way to determine whether the latest archaeological find that threatens to disprove Christianity is real or not: if you read about it in a dusty boring journal of archaeology then ti could be real, but if you hear about it at a news conference for a new Discovery Channel documentary it's not.

It seems there's a new documentary out being pedalled by no less than James Cameron of Titanic, Aliens, etc. This one asserts that archaeologists have uncovered the real burial place of Jesus--along with his wife Mary (Magdalene?) and a son.

Pretty much every reputable scholar--Christian and non-Christian alike--have ripped this thing to shreds. Apparently, these ossuaries (little coffins bones of the deceased were put into back in Jesus' day) have been known about for many years and nobody thought much of them. Names like Jesus, Joseph, Mary, etc. were extremely common Also, these little stone coffins were for the very rich not the poor. And so on, and so on...

A similar hubbub over another ossuary claimed to be final resting place of Jesus' brother James occurred in 2002. That one was determined to be a forgery. Apparently, there was another ossuary found back in the 1940's with "Jesus son of Joseph" on it. Back then similar claims were made, then as now, they were dismissed.

Whether it is the Da Vinci Code or a cable TV documentary, there is money to be made in de-bunking Jesus. There's also a lot of bad scholarship and terrible history too.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Friday, February 23, 2007

What didn't make it into last week's sermon (sort of)

For those interested in where I get stuff for my sermons--keep reading. For those who really don't care where I get it just as long as I'm not boring you to death, skip to the next post.

When I presented last week's sermon, I gave the gist of a couple of ideas that were not original to me. Since I'm doing it without notes and had wandered from the pulpit, I didn't quote them verbatim. In the written versions of the sermons that will be available this Sunday, you can find the full quotations I was working with along with the full documentation for them.

(It may sound a little obsessive to footnote stuff, but I've known a lot of ministers who presented other people's ideas as their own. So, I'm trying to be intellectually honest and to keep myself from the delusion that I actually thought up the really good thoughts I'm quoting.)

Anyway, an article I found helpful is by Barbara Brown Taylor and was in Christian Century a few years back. It's worth reading for her thoughts on Transfiguration. Here's the part I took:

With Moses standing right there, the parallel was hard to miss. Jesus, like Moses before him, was about to set God’s people free, only it was not bondage to pharaoh they needed freeing from this time. It was bondage to their own fear of sin and death, which crippled them far worse than leg chains ever had…So God had planned another exodus for them -- in Jerusalem this time -- where the Red Sea of death would be split with a cross and Jesus would lead his people through.

Here's another good quote from that same article:

To lead our exodus, Jesus had to die like we do: alone, with no particular glory. Otherwise he would have been an anomaly instead of a messiah, and it would have been hard for us to see what he had in common with the rest of us.

Also, as I mentioned in the sermon, I have usually heard the story of the Transfiguration described as a "mountain top experience" in the sense of a spiritual high or epiphany that the disciples did not want to come down from. When you read the text, however, the disciples are "terrified" and the bizarre events sound nothing like my days at church summer camp. I discovered this obvious interpretation (or I guess I should say not so obvious, since I never thought about it this way before) in an article by Dennis Bratcher, a Nazarent minister who runs a pretty nifty web site full of scripture commentary, etc. (Maybe it's only nifty if you have to come up with a sermon every week.)

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Faith-full or Faith-less Candidates?


Paul Waldeman has a very nice op-ed in the Boston Globe about presidential candidates bobbing and weaving when it comes to talking about religion on the campaign trail (Mit romney is getting grilled over his Mormon faith but few others if any actually have to articulate their faith.) Waldeman breaks down the issue as follows:

Listen to candidates talk about religion and they seem to be following two rules:
1) Profess that nothing is more important to you than your religion.
2) Be as vague as possible about your religion.

He goes on to say:

Candidates who tell us how important their faith is to them are hoping that religious Americans will come away with warm feelings about them. But if they aren't willing to discuss just what that faith entails, they're saying they want people to vote for them because of their religion, but they don't want anyone to vote against them because of their religion.

They can't have it both ways: either religion is important to them or it isn't. And if it is, then we as voters have a right to know everything we can about what they believe.

I'm more than a little cynical about how political candidates respond to any issue--much less one as personal as their religion. Any chance of spontaneity or reality has already died the death of a thousand focus groups by the time a candidate utters a word in front of the camera.

To me, the vaguaries of politicians about their respective faiths is a perfect match for the mediocrity of religion in America in general--too strong a statement? I'm not afraid to put it out there. I think most Americans want their religion convenient and despite some notable exceptions, I think convenience trumps about everything else. A religion--like a plasma screen TV or a drive in window--should require little of you. Why should the candidates be any different?

The politicians who come at things from the far right are very open about how their religious beliefs influence their politics--especially about key issues like abortion, gay rights, gun control, cetc. Of course, an argument can be made--and I think it is a strong one--that many of the things popular with candidates who cater to the Religious Right are really political views packaged with religion rather than genuinely religiously informed points of view.

The one exception I've heard to the religious mumblings of candidates was Barack Obama's speech last year to the Call to Renewal/Pentecost 2006 Conference in D.C.--a conference on religious and political responses to poverty put on by Sojourners. It is a truly amazing speech that shows a deep grasp of the role of religion in public life.

It's my cynicism showing, but I expect that Presidential Candidate Obama will not be as articulate on these matters--our political system just wouldn't let him or anyone get away with it. I hope to be pleasantly suprised, but I'm not counting on it..

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dialogue Column 2.20.07--Thoughts on Lent

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY by Rev. Chase Peeples

During my sermon on February 11, I mentioned a line by the poet Molly Wolf. She writes, “If we give God the slightest opening, some corner of the Spirit gets lodged in us like a splinter in the skin…[and] the spirit calls to our own inner selves…”

This line has stayed with me over the last two weeks. In my sermon, I was making a point about our need for sabbath or spiritual rest and reflection. Such spiritual R&R is hard to come by in our culture. Unlike everything else in our schedules, sabbath makes no demands upon us. It can always be put off—unlike the kids’ soccer games, the doctor appointments, the bills and your boss. Yet, in order for all these other things to have meaning, we must make time for ourselves and for God.

I guess Molly Wolf’s words have stuck with me, because they are hopeful. They remind me that God’s grace extends even to my mixed bag of priorities. I tend to think in extremes sometimes: either I carve out three hours every day for prayer or nothing! I set high goals—often unrealistic ones—that often go unmet. This is especially true of my spiritual life. Unfortunately, those unmet goals become a justification for giving up rather than thinking in a more realistic manner. Yet, the “slightest opening” implies that even our frenzied prayers while on the run or our brief moments to breathe and look around possess the possibility for God to speak to us and draw us close.

The love of God is not dependent upon our successes or failures at time management, goal-setting or schedule organization. “The slightest opening…” is room enough for the Spirit of God to touch us. Sure, a larger opening would allow God more room to work, but even the tiny space left in a hardened heart, a worried mind or a grieving spirit is enough for God to be in contact with us.

Wolf’s imagery of the Spirit “lodged in us like a splinter…” is also powerful, albeit a little bizarre. It seems strange to think of the work of God as a splinter. Splinters get stuck in our skin without us even realizing it, that is until they begin to hurt. Once we notice them, we spend all kinds of energy trying to remove that little piece of wood. It is astounding how difficult removing a splinter can be. Is this an appropriate way to think of God?

Although, I want to be careful not to abuse the metaphor, I believe that the image of God as splinter is exactly the way to think of God’s activity in our lives. I’ve found that God is far more likely to come to me in a manner I fail to notice than in a burning bush, an earthquake or an angelic visitation. Only when we feel that tingling sensation, however faint, do we become aware that God is communicating with us. We may seek to shake God loose or even pry God out of our lives, but thanks be to God, doing so is never easy. Should we choose to give in, that little splinter of the divine can call “to our own inner selves…”

Words like “slightest” and “splinter” are good words, because they remind us how God can use the smallest of entrances into our souls to offer healing, comfort and guidance.

This Lenten season, I have issued a challenge to the membership of First Christian Church to be present in worship each Sunday for the next five Sundays (provided you are physically and geographically able to do so). For some folks, this is no big deal. They come every week anyway. For others, this is a bigger challenge, because church does not regularly fit into their schedules. I would offer to the faithful attendee and the occasional drop-in that my point for issuing this challenge is not to pump up our attendance record (although it would be nice to meet some of you that I haven’t met yet). I would also offer to those with and without gold stars for attendance that it really doesn’t matter what your record has been. What matters is worship in Lent 2007 and what you make of it.

As we gather for worship each Sunday morning, everything that happens is geared towards allowing those “slight” openings to occur so that the “splinter” of God’s Spirit can lodge inside of you and me. Each service is an opportunity for your “own inner self” to hear God calling to you. I hope this season—the next five Sundays—you can respond to that little bit of the Spirit inside of you and join your community of faith in the worship of god. See you Sunday.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

The Latest Eye Update

Below is the latest mass e-mail I sent out regarding my condition. It certainly is humbling to get the kind of e-mails I've received detailing the efforts people have gone to praying for me this week. I feel very humbled to have such support and encouragement.

Hey friends and family,

Thanks for the many great e-mails that have come my way. The love and support I've received really mean more than I can say. It makes me wonder what I've ever done to deserve such support and love. I guess it's not about deserving it or not--grace is grace after all.

I went to the doctor this morning and all went very well. The bandages came off and as far as reasonablly can be determined after only 24 hours things look as good as can be. The retina is flat against my eye ball and this bubble is supposed to keep it there. I can see our of my right eye, but due to the oil bubble things are distorted. That will take some getting used to, although truth be told it was only in the last few weeks that I could see around the last bubble, so I'm sort of used to it.

The doctor said that seeing anything at all at this point is a really good sign, so I guess that means so far so good.

I really don't have any pain to speak of, just some mild headaches. I'm also fatigued a bit. These things are small potatoes compared to last time, so I'm thankful.

I'm trying my best not to worry about the future and to take things as they come. Your support and prayers (love energies, chakra rays, etc.) are helping quite a bit on the worrying front.

I'll let you know more as developments occur.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thoughts After Surgery

So, here I am trying to gain some perspective on my day of eye surgery when i read the following quotation in an e-mail from Sojourners.


Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.

- Howard Thurman from Meditations of the Heart.

Hmmmm...

Chase

Ahoy Mates! (eye surgery results)


Well, I'm back from surgery and I'm considering seriously the suggestion of one of my friends to get a really cool eye patch with flames on it or a skull and bones or something. Maybe the Disciples of Christ makes one with a chalice, hmmm.

Anyway, below is the e-mail I sent out to friends and family giving the details of what happened today.


Hey friends and family,
Thanks for the many kind e-mails and phone calls. I've learned a new appreciateion for the support and prayers of loved ones during this ordeal.
The fact that I'm able to write an e-mail the same day as my surgery should give you an idea that so far things are going easier than last time. I'm not laying on my face for two weeks nor am I in anything like the same kind of pain as last time. I'm not even sleeping off anesthesia.
Unlike last time when they gave me general anesthesia and put me all the way under, this time I arrived for surgery and they let me know that it was just going to be loca lanesthesia. Only my eye would be numbed. So they gave me just enough of the good stuff to knock me out for five minutes in order for them to give me the shot just under the eye (ewwwwww!)/
Once I woke up, I was alert through the whole process. I only felt a little bit of pain from the lazers and then from the stitching. It was disconcerting to say the least to be awake while they're poking around in my eye, however, it was even more unnerving to hear the doctor and nurses talking about the weather, sports, current events, etc. while they're doin gsurgery on my eye--FOCUS PEOPLE FOCUS!
At the moment, I have bandages over the right side of my face and I'll know more about my condition tomorrow when the doctor takes them off at his office. By all reports, things went as well as possible today. I am not looking forward to the prospect of being unable to drive or even see well for the next six months or more, but I guess I'll deal with that as it comes. What is more worrying to me is the possibility of never getting my vision back to what it was and therefore being unable to drive. I was hoping to make it at least 30 more years before Jen was forced to drive me around everywhere. I'm just not sure how that's going to work with family and jobresponsibilities. I'll just keep praying for thebest, I guess.
In any case, I feel there is much to be thankful for today. I am really glad to be more or less functioning so soon after surgery and I'm glad the immediate recovery inolves nothing on the scale of last time. I am also extremely grateful for friends and family who care for me. Your prayers, love energies and Reiki healing energy waves mean a lot and I hope you'll keep them coming in whatever form your prayers take. I'll keep you updated as new developments arise.
Grace and Peace,
Chase

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Return of the Retina--the detached one that is


That's right. I'm having surgery again, so the blog may be a little quiet this week. I have much to post, hwoever, so I'll be saving it up and posting it when I'm able. If you are interested in the details, below you'll find the contents of an e-mail I sent out to friends and family today.


Grace and Peace,


Chase


Dear Friends and Family,


I found out today that I will be having a second eyesurgery to correct the same problem--a detached retina. I found out last week that this was a possibility but had hoped things would self-correct--no such luck.Tomorrow morning around 10 AM Central Time I will begoing under the knife again. That's the bad news.


The good news is that this is a different procedure than what they did six weeks ago. Then they putsomething called a "buckle" around the outside of my eyeball--painful as heck. The buckle still remains and will do so indefinitely, so there's no need to do that again. In the first surgery, they also put a bubble of gas inside my eye to push the retina back up against the wall of the eye--sort of like putting up wallpaper I guess. That held out for a while but as of last week stopped working. The really difficult part about that procedure, besides the pain, was thatI had to lay face down for 11 days so the little bubble could float up to the top and do its job. I will not have to do any of that this time.


This time around they are inserting a bubble of some kind of oil that apparently needs no positioning. So, I will spend no time on my face or laying in any other position, besides sleeping off the anesthesia. Also, I could be back at work in just a few days. I will still have to take it easy--no lifting--but I can do more than I could with the previous gas bubble. I can fly on an airplane for instance.


The downside to this procedure is that the bubble will remain for at least six months and it will have to be surgically removed. (The gas bubble just went away on its own.) this means that I will have at least six months of not having very good sight out of my righteye--the eye that normally has the better vision. No driving, trouble reading, weakened vision in general ,etc.


Thinking long term, I'm hopeful this procedure will work and that I will have my sight back to ther elative good condition I normally possess. There is, however, the chance that I will never have my vision back the way it was--no matter what they do--that possibility is thankfully remote, h owever.


Anyway, I'd appreciate prayers, warm thoughts, love energies, healing shakras, or whatever else you can offer. I'll send out another e-mail letting you know how it went when I'm able. For the moment, I'm optimistic things will go well and I'm really glad that I don't have to lay on my facef or two weeks or go through the pain I went through in January. My dad is staying with us for the next fewdays to get me where I need to go and to help with thekids. (Thank God for grandparents!)


Grace and Peace,


Chase

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sojourner Truth and Freedom Songs


In one of the several e-mails I subscribe to that are put out by one justice-seeking religious group or another, I saw the following quotation that seemed to fit well with what I was trying to say in last week's sermon "People First."


"Religion without humanity is very poor stuff."--Sojourner Truth


I guess Sojourner knew a bit about religion without humanity in her days as a fugitive slave and helkping run the Underground Railroad.


Speaking of her, On Tavis Smiley's weekend radio show he had a great segment Kim and Reggie Harris who have spent their musical careers singing Underground Railroad freedom songs. They share some pieces from their new CD and explain why it is worthwhile for white people and black people to listen to these songs today. They also describe the heat they have taken from both whites and blacks for singing these songs. Whites have charged them with just trying to make white people feel guilty for what their ancestors did. Blacks have charged them with holding blacks back by being stuck in the past. I would argue, and I think so would they, that we need to keep singing these songs so we don't forget how easy it was for one group of people to enslave another and to justify it with the Bible.


Grace and Peace,


Chase

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yeats' "Second Coming" and the Iraq War


Despite the fact that I've been posting a bit of poetry lately, I'm really not a big poetry aficionado. I didn't pay nearly enough attention in any of my English classes. My knowledge of Yeats is pretty slim and I don't know much about his poem "Second Coming". I had heard phrases like "the center cannot hold" and "things fall apart" and "the blood-dimmed tide" and "slouches towards Bethlehem" and so on. Really, until I read Monday's op-ed in the NY Times regarding the use of this poem in rhetoric about the Iraq war, I'm pretty sure I didn't know what poem these phrases came from.


I think I had heard the name of the poem before and assumed the "second coming" it referred to had something to do with Jesus, but according to this op-ed and I think it's correct, the apocalyptic event described is not the coming of Christ but a terrible new brand of chaos in a post-religious world.


What the writer of the op-ed, Adam Cohen, points out is that politicians and thinktanks and pundits who quote this poem have no idea how apropos it is for the spiral of violence that is 2007 Iraq. Cohen writes:


Yeats’s bleakly apocalyptic poem has long been irresistible to pundits. What historical era, after all, is not neatly summed up by his lament that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”? But with its somber vision of looming anarchy, and its Middle Eastern backdrop (the terrifying beast Yeats warns of “slouches towards Bethlehem”), “The Second Coming” is fast becoming the official poem of the Iraq war.


Yeats was no Christian. Instead he believed that he lived in a post-Christian era and that the horrors of World War I revealed a coming change in the world order. His poem is less a prediction of what will come and more of a frightened question of what dangers the future would hold. What god would come next? Exactly what kind of power "slouches towards Bethlehem to be born"?


In terms of Iraq, I believe Cohen is right when he points out that the predictions that seemed so certain have not come true and what looms before us is uncertain, so in a sense, Yeats' poem is fitting for the chaotic violence of Iraq and the unknown catastrophes that await us in the future. Here is Cohen again:


The Second Coming” is a powerful brief against punditry. The Christian era was about the ability to predict the future: the New Testament clearly foretold the second coming of Christ. In the post-Christian era of which Yeats was writing there was no Bible to map out what the next “coming” would be. The world would have to look toward Bethlehem to see what “rough beast” arrived.
This skepticism about predicting the future has more relevance to the Iraq war than any of the poem’s much-quoted first eight lines. The story of the Iraq war is one of confident predictions that never came to pass: “We will find weapons of mass destruction”; “we will be greeted as liberators”; “the insurgency is in its last throes.”


Perhaps, before our nation casually and cavalierly starts a unilateral war again, unleashing a Pandora's Box of violence, our leaders will consider Yeats' warning. After all, our many Christian leader certainly have not been taking Jesus' teachings on violence into consideration.


Grace and Peace,


Chase

Poet Molly Wolf's web site

In Sunday's sermon I quoted from a book by Molly Wolf, a great poet. If you're interested in her works or spiritual reflections, here is her web site.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

A Lenton Challenge: Dialogue Column 2-14-07


Dialogue Column 2-14-07

Through a Glass Darkly by Rev. Chase Peeples

Next week, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. I can’t believe it is already here. Lent does come as a bit of a surprise every year, because the date of Easter and the forty days before it (Lent) changes year to year. (The process by which this happens is pretty obtuse. It has to do with the spring equinox and that’s about all I can tell you.) Given all that I have to do being the new minister in a new town, I’ve had the passing thought that Lent is an inconvenience this year. Yet when I consider what Lent is like in any other year, I have to admit that Lent is always an inconvenience—it’s supposed to be an inconvenience! When we take a moment to reflect upon our busy lives—meetings, jobs, getting the kids/grandkids to school, practice and whatever else they’ve got going on, our favorite TV shows, regular errands, etc.—we may realize that our lives can pass us by without us stopping to consider the significance of what we are doing and why. Lent gives us a chance to do just that—to be inconvenienced from our daily busyness in order to concentrate upon what really matters.

Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, writes that contemporary society results in “a succession of passing moments (hyped, but ultimately deadening)” which in turn lead to “spiritual exhaustion.” He goes on to say, “Lent can be a time for reducing some of the chronic over-stimulation which is so much a part of modern living; a time when we protect ourselves a little more from the daily bombardment of images and stimuli, the pressures which keep us trapped on the surface.” In other words, the inconvenience of Lent may help us to be open to God’s life-giving presence that we so desperately need in our lives.

So, how do we make room for this holy inconvenience? A little background on Lent might help answer the question. The term Lent originally meant “springtime,” but it came to indicate the forty days prior to Easter (not counting Sundays). Beginning in the fourth century, the season was used to teach spiritual disciplines and for fasting in preparation for Easter. During the Protestant Reformation, the reformers reacted negatively against the rituals of the Catholic Church, including Lent. During the twentieth century, however, many Protestant churches have rediscovered the beauty and necessity of the Lenten season. As the Christmas season became more and more commercialized and took a more prominent place in American culture, Easter became somewhat of an afterthought. Lent became a way for Christians to remember “the other major Christian holiday” and to reflect upon humanity’s need for God’s grace. Today, we celebrate Lent in order to prepare for Easter and to recognize God’s ability to redeem our failures and to restore to wholeness what is broken.

Beginning on February 21, Ash Wednesday, we will begin our Lenten journey together as church as we look towards Easter and look within ourselves. Traditionally, people have given something up for Lent in order to remember Christ’s sacrifices and to be mindful of the season. Doing so might be a worthy discipline to consider, provided the sacrifice is actually meaningful and can provoke spiritual reflection rather than resentment. Another option for Lent is to take something new on—something you’ve been meaning to do but have not managed to get around to—again provided it’s actually meaningful and causes you to think about your spiritual life.

This Lenten season, I am going to ask the membership of First Christian Church to take something new on. During Lent, I am asking every member of the church who is in town and physically able to do so to be present in worship on Sunday mornings. For some this will not be very extraordinary, but for others it will be a challenge. There are five Sundays in Lent before Palm Sunday and Easter—can you be present at them? Will you allow yourself to be inconvenienced by God during this Lenten season?

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Monday, February 12, 2007

In case you didn't get enough Sunday Morning...


In my sermon Sunday morning, I described the story of Mary Lambart who had been dismissed from teaching the Sunday School class she had been teaching for over fifty years simply because she was a woman. If you're interested in reading the news story about her, check out this story from ABC News.

I also mentioned the very helpful and accessible book by Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil. I like the book, because Kimball lays out very simply the ways adherents of a particular religious belief system move from being a force for good in society to proponents of destructive and violent behavior. You can find out more about the book and about Kimball at his web site.

Peace,

Chase

.

SABBATH: What didn't make it into yesterday's sermon

Yesterday was a good day at church. Once again I had more material that didn't make it into the actual presentation of the sermon. I'm still getting into the preaching groove here in St. Joseph. I normally don't preach with many notes, just the basic outline, even though I actually write out the sermon ahead of time. The sanctuary at First Christian, however, seems to just pull me away from the pulpit more towards the center of the room, so what notes I have brought with me remain behind on the pulpit. (It's not as if I can really read them that well anyway these days.) It's not a bad discipline to preach without notes and I haven't left out anything truly essential--usually I have more material than time allows anyway.

So, here's some tidbits about sabbath that did not make it in.

CONTEXT: I was trying to make the point that in Mark 2:23-28 where Jesus and his disciples are criticized for picking grain on the sabbath, the actual idea of sabbath was no petty concern but a central idea in Israel's religious life and Jewish life today. As I stated, even good religious practice can be twisted to oppress and condemn others. I also made the point that before we are too hard on the Phraisees of Mark's Gospel we should remember the religious conflict between Christians and Jews in the first century and that this is hardly a fair portrait of Judaism then or now. People who use religion to condemn others are present in every religion everywhere--especially among Protestants in America.

MORE CONTEXT: I was also trying to make the side point that all of us need sabbath as a part of our weekly schedule--to rest, to reflect upon our lives, to reconnect with our Creator. We as Christians have much to learn from observant Jews about making time in our crazy schedules to center ourselves and literally get a fresh start each week.

So, here are some thoughts on Sabbath:

Abraham Heschel writes, “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the workdays; for workdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

(Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, (New York: Harper and Row, 1961): 14.)

Heschel also notes that sabbath is "A realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but be in accord. Life goes wrong when the…acquisition of things…becomes our sole concern."

(Heschel, The Sabbath, 1)

Regarding the Sabbath and our need for it, poet Molly Wolf writes, “if we give God the slightest opening, some corner of the Spirit gets lodged in us like a splinter in the skin…[and] the spirit calls to our own inner selves…”

(From Angels and Dragons (Doubleday, 2001) as quoted in Willow Hambrick, “Sabbath Blessings,” Christian Reflection, 2002: 89.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Attack on Elie Wiesel

As someone who has been deeply impacted by the writings of Elie Wiesel, especially his memoir of surviving the Holocaust, Night, I was deeply disturbed to learn that he had been attacked this week. Although the Nobel Prize winner was apparently unhurt, events could have turned out differently and tragically. It is just one more sign--as if we needed another one--that Anti-Semitism and its counterpart Holocaust denial is alive and well.

Peace,

Chase

Thursday, February 8, 2007

When an Apology is not an Apology

I've been reflectiong an op-ed in Tuesday's NY Times by Stacy Schiff about the current spate of apologies and backsliding by politicians for misdeeds ranging from insensitive remarks to extra-marital affairs. These carefully worded NON-apologies are nothing new to politicians, but there certainly have been a lot lately Schaff notes that in this YouTube world even the most private words we utter can end up broadcast to the world--I guess there is a greater volume of things out there for people to apologize for.

One of the lamest was offered by Joe Biden, who blamed a humorless press corps and even his mother for why he described Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American [presidential candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” That's right up there with George Allen's "macacaw" comment.

This last year has also seen similar damage control operations in the guise of apologies have come from Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and other celebrities.

Perhaps it is just a sad fact of our current celebrity driven culture that the act of public contrition becomes a staged drama. Yet, I certainly have been on the receiving end of apologies that met the requirements of social niceties but accomplished little in the way of reconciliation or even sincerity.

My favorite "non-apology" is "I'm sorry if anything I did made you feel uncomfortable or offended." In other words, I'm sorry for your feelings--which are your responsibility--not because I actually did anything wrong.

It seems to me that an essential part of the Christian faith is repentance--admitting mistakes and changing behavior so that the mistakes are not repeated (or at least are repeated less often). Although I believe the grace of God is far greater than we realize, I also believe that taking personal responsibility is essential for any kind of spiritual progress to occur--just ask anyone who is in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse.

Perhaps such honesty is too much to expect from someone in the public eye, but for the sake of our country and society, I hope not.

Peace,

Chase

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Taking it to the Streets

In yesterday's NY Times, there was a great article about churches in D.C. and elsewhere that are holding services in public places for the purposes of reaching out to homeless people. The main one they profiled is called "Street Church" run by an Episcopal minister that holds services each Tuesday in a public park. The service grew out of a realization by church members that even though they offered church services in their building specifically targeted towards homeless people many did not feel comfortable coming. The homeless men and women were often afraid about how they would be perceived or treated and many are aware that they are dressed poorly or even smell due to lack of bathing facilities. When approached for help of one kind or another, the minister and church leaders refer people to social service agencies and ministries. Their goal is to simply be present where the people are.

This article speaks to me, because this service seems very much like something Jesus would do. He was present where the people were who needed him. Often they came to him, but he never shied away from being out among those to whom he ministered.

I love our sanctuary here at First Christian Church. I find it a worshipful space, but I also don't want us to be limited by it in terms of how we will faithfully share the presence of Christ with all who need it in our community. How can we be faithful both inside and outside of our four walls in our mission to be Christ's hands, feet, arms and mouths to those who need to see Christ where they live?

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Dialogue Column 2.6.07


Dialogue Column 2-6-07

Through a Glass Darkly by Rev. Chase Peeples

What a great first Sunday it was for me as your minister. Sure, you all were gracious to me in regards to my sermon. Also, you were polite when I started to recess without waiting for the acolytes. (I realize that I should not cut off people carrying live flames.) I’m thankful for the guidance of elders Dave Tushaus and Jeanne Daffron who kept me going in the right direction. What really made the Sunday great had little to do with me and everything to do with the membership of the church as you demonstrated your efforts to meet the material and spiritual needs of others in our community and world.

It was just wonderful to come downstairs into the fellowship hall and see it decked out in the colors of the Jamaican flag and to smell the wonderful Jamaican food cooking in the kitchen. The food was delicious! Even better than the food and d├ęcor was Carol Mullican’s presentation about the work of the Jamaica mission team. The pictures of the folks they helped were breathtaking. The stories of the medical work done by the team are impressive. I am proud to be the minister at a church that does such exciting work.

When I was considering which churches to send my information to during my job hunt, one of the first things I looked for was whether or not a church was involved in social ministry in their community. I was pleased to discover all of the many ways First Christian ministers not just in St. Joseph but to Jamaica and beyond. First Christian’s work with the Open Door Food Kitchen, InterServ and the collections of needed items gathered and distributed by CWF and other groups were just a few of the things that helped me to know that this church really takes seriously Jesus’ teachings to share our blessings with those in need. Events like the Fall Festival demonstrate the church’s openness to people outside the church. In addition, First Christian’s history of working to provide housing for older members of our community, such as Chilton Place, demonstrates the significant ways the church has impacted St. Joseph. All of these events reveal that First Christian Church is a community that is willing to work hard in sharing the love of Christ in tangible ways and they helped me to know that this church could be the place where I should come as minister.

Sunday, in my first sermon as minister of First Christian, I mentioned that the question I received repeatedly when I came to interview in September was “How will you help our church grow?” At the time, I replied, “I don’t know,” because I didn’t have enough information about the church and the community. Besides, I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all church growth strategy. What I did offer, however, is to work as your minister to help you as a church become aware of your own identity as a community of faith and to work to make sure all who need that kind of faith community in our area know where to find it. That will continue to be how I understand my role as minister in terms of numerical growth.

I also mentioned Sunday that perhaps the question of “How can we grow in numbers?” was the wrong question. Better questions I believe are: “Do we really want to grow?” and “Will we be faithful?” Every church says they want to grow, but many do not really want to do so, not really. Growth means change and change can be painful. Change means giving up some control to new people that come in and that means giving up power. Once people have power, even in churches, they are often reluctant to give it up. If every church that said it wanted to grow really did want to do so, then every church would be growing in numbers. The sad fact that most churches, especially mainline ones like ours are shrinking in numbers testifies to the difference between what church people say and what they really want. We will continue to work on whether or not we as a church really do want to grow in numbers.

In regards to the second question: will we be faithful? I would offer that this is really the more important question to ask. I’ve known of many churches that did whatever it took to draw a crowd but in my opinion they were not faithful to the message Jesus preached of self-sacrifice, humility and compassion towards others. I think that the ministries First Christian has to people in need testifies to the faithfulness of its members. The good news is that there are plenty of other people out in our community that want opportunities to be faithful in just this same way. Many probably do not even realize that churches actually care about such things as poverty, hunger and homelessness, because they have only known Christians who were self-righteous and more concerned with their own understanding of dogma than helping people. One way we can grow in numbers is by letting our friends and neighbors know about the good things we as a church are doing and inviting them to come along---not for the sake of larger numbers but for the sake of having more helping hands to care for the immense needs in our community.

My vision for First Christian Church is that we will be known as THE church in town that makes everyone welcome regardless of who they are and offers each person that comes in our door a place to belong and an opportunity to serve. I hope that this is your vision too.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

How many kids live below poverty in our area?

I was shocked yesterday to read one of the front page stories in the St. Joseph News-Press about poverty in the area. I believe the story said that 18.9% of children in Buchanan County live below the poverty line. THAT'S NEARLY ONE IN FIVE! Astounding.

According to the census bureau, in 2003 13.2% of people in the county live below the poverty line--a bit higher than MO as a whole.

What this means is that our churdh has a lot of work to do in carrying out Jesus' teachings about sharing the material blessings we have been given and advocating for the needs of the low-income people around us. I'm proud of what we are already doing--the amount of social ministry First Christian does is one of the things that drew me here--but I'm eager to discover what other ways our church can help to lower these statistics.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Things left out of my sermon today

Well, today was my first sermon as minister of First Christian Church of St. Joseph and so far so good. Nobody tried to run me out of town. As things got going, I got in the groove and moved away from the pulpit and from my notes. That was fine, except I did leave one part out that I wish I had remembered.

In regards to how Jesus hung out with dispreputable types--the type of folks good religious people want nothing to do with, I've always liked a line in a song by the Dave Matthews Band. One one of their early albums--I think it was Remember Two Things--(it was also on the compilation album A Very Special Christmas 3--see pic) they had a song called simply "Christmas Song." It is a rather remarkable song considering that to my knowledge Dave Matthews and his bandmates are not Christians. It's a beautiful song and at my last church I always played it for the youth around Christmastime. The line I'm thinking of goes.

So I'm told, so the story goes

The people he knew wereLess than golden hearted

Gamblers and robbers

Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers

Like you and me

Rumors insisted that he soon would be

For his deveations taken into custody

By the authorities, less informed than he

Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers

Searching for love, love, love

Love, love, love

Love, love was all around.




So, I guess I blew my chance to score some relevance points with the youth in the church, although I'm wondering if teenagers ae even listening to Dave Matthews Band anymore. Maybe I'm just not hip to what the kids are into these days....


Anyway, all you drinkers, gamblers, drinkers, jokers and soul searchers, that's all for now.


Peace,

Chase

Thursday, February 1, 2007

U2-charist


Spend any time around me at all and you'll find out I'm a huge U2 fan. I love this band. I always have. I always will. Their mixture of great music, spirituality and social conscience feeds my soul. So far I've brainwashed my three year-old and he loves them. My four month-old is getting a steady dose as well.


Knowing this about me, my father-in-law sent me a story about how the Church of England has approved a worship service entirely based around U2 music. If you know their stuff, you already know how their lyrics are often blatantly about God, Jesus, the 'Spirit, etc. One of their signature songs, "40" is based on the 40th Psalm. It's all pretty amazing considering the among of popular success the band has had.


The worship service in the UK is designed to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals which were established as plans to alleviate extreme poverty around the world. You may remember Bono, the band's lead singer, lobbying world leaders to increase their debt relief for the world's poorest nations a few years back.


It's probably a little early for me to propose a worship service based on U2 songs here at my new church. Maybe I could do it for my second Sunday...hmmm...