Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mary and the Beatles

I've been doing reading a lot about the Beatles this week. I was clued into a good slant on the annunciation and the magnificat in preparation for the sermon this Sunday by the Ekklesia Project
Actually, the lectionary doesn't include the annunciation, but I wanted to include it since it is actually when Mary says "Let it Be," and it worked better for where I was going. But, down one of the tangential paths I typically meander when doing sermon research, I found what I think is going to be a great tool: Songfacts. There is a youtube clip of Paul singing the song there, and you can watch all of the Let it Be documentary (both it and the album Let it Be were released after the Beatles broke up, and Abbey Road was actually recorded after Let it Be, so it is typically considered their last album.) on Youtube. So, I'll treat you to the Ethiopians cover of the song, which is also great:

Anywhoo--I noticed on the songfacts page that John Lennon was so put out by what he considered the overt Christian symbolism of the song, that he made sure it was followed on the album by Maggie Mae, which was about a Liverpool prostitute. He also referred to "Let it Be" as "Angels we have heard on high." Paul, apparently wasn't speaking about the Virgin Mary at all (but didn't mind the lyrics being taken however they were by the listener) but instead was referring to his actual mother, named Mary, when he wrote "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: "Let it be." His mother died when he was 14, and appeared to him in a dream when he was going through a difficult period of life. I like that the song can be interpreted into the gospel text, and we are going to focus on the song during some time of lectio divina this Sunday during the service. Questions printed in the bulletin include:
In what ways is God calling me to be a vessel for Christ? What CAN I do to be God’s servant? In what areas of my own life could I echo Mary’s words, “Let it Be?”

In what ways do I ascribe to Mary’s radical song (the Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55)?
“His mercy is on those who have feared him from generation to generation….”
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts….”
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly..”
“He has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich empty away….”

You'll be able to hear the sermon or read the notes on the church blog tomorrow.

Friday, December 04, 2009

John, The Jordan, and Joshua

John baptized in the wilderness at the Jordan river. He drew people to the boundary line of Israel. Perhaps he baptized specifically at the Jordan since it was the boundary. The boundary is where you enter or re-enter. The first time the Israelites had crossed the Jordan river with Joshua leading the generations of wanderers out of slavery, God caused the river to part so the Israelites could cross on dry land. God reminded the people of the miraculous beginning of their journey at the Reed Sea as a symbol that their wandering was over.

John brought people back to the Jordan. The people of Israel needed to be washed from that journey out of slavery and wandering. Though the dry passage over the Jordan allowed the Israelites to remember their salvation, it did not afford them the opportunity to be washed of their past. The people of Israel were still living like slaves in their own land. They were wandering without a leader like Joshua. So, he washed them in the Jordan. He washed them of the residue of slavery. He poured water over their head, and got the dust of the wandering wilderness out of their hair. He proclaimed that they were free and that when they left the water of the Jordan, they were coming forth from their mother’s womb. A new Joshua would come and would lead them.

When the new Joshua came, he told his people how deeply enslavement had pervaded. This Joshua saved them from the slavery to sin and death. He led them toward a promised land that would not and could not be conquered or colonized.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pax Romana, Power, and Christ the King

By the way, the "Living by the Word" segment for this week in the Christian Century by Leonard Beechy is very very good, and inspired this post, but is not available on the internet. Here is a piece from Beechy on the Theolog though--gives you a taste of his writing.

“Jesus Christ is Lord” means something to us today, but it meant something very specific in the ancient world.

To say “Christ is Lord” was to challenge the Roman empire. A common greeting in the time was “Caesar is Lord” There was also a cult of the emperor, a belief that the Roman Leader was a god on earth.

The imperial cult was strong in many of the cities that our that are the birthplaces of Christianity. Cities that had an imperial cult were given special status and benefits in the empire.

The cult made sense to the Roman mind. Who but a god would be able to achieve the things the Roman empire achieved? Jesus lived and the church was born during something historians have called the “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace.

It was a time when the Roman Navy made the seas safe and clear of pirates and robbery The Roman legion patrolled the various regions of the Empire and were kept free of “inter-tribal” wars lawlessness.

Technological improvements were blooming, and roads were being built to serve the population. The average person, the average Jew, was appreciative of the world the Romans had created.

Rome’s goal was to bring about peace on Earth enforcing a peace on earth. Who but a god could bring about this reality?

This is why someone who rebelled against the Roman rule was called a Zealot. Zealots had let their zeal for the ancient prophecies of God cloud their rationality. It was so clear: The Romans had things pretty well under control. This is why the Sanhedrin (the Jewish sacred leadership approved by Rome) was threatened by rumors of his Jesus’ “Kingship.”

So, Pilate’s question to Jesus, and Jesus’ response should be heard in this context. Pilate was concerned about any threat to the Pax Romana when he interviewed Jesus. This is why he was interested in suppressing any “so called king.”

A new king would mean “inter-tribal” battles, (headaches for the Roman legions in the area assigned to keep the area peaceful.)

This is also why Jesus’ response is also to be heard in this context. “My kingdom is not of this world—this is why my followers do not try to stop you from arresting me.”

“My kingdom is not of this world.” I am not here to threaten the earthly rule of Rome. I am not here to invalidate the peace that has been created. I am here to qualify that peace. It is a temporal peace. I am here to establish everlasting peace.

I am here to proclaim a spiritual peace that only God can give.

Jesus had never made any claims to power. He took the opposite route. He made claims to service. He said he’d be the servant of all and if we wanted to follow him we’d take the lowest positions—the positions of slaves.

To display the rule of his kingdom, he got down on his knees and washed his disciples feet. What he was displaying was that everlasting peace—the peace that transcends space and time—is won through gentle acts of serving others.

It comes through opening your eyes to the holiness of those who are rejected by even the most gloriously peaceful empire that had been known.

This is why Jesus’ ministry was among those who had “fallen through the cracks” of the Pax Romana and the Jewish society upon which it encroached.

He defended an adulterous woman from being stoned. He put his arms around tax collectors (who though served the Roman empire, were shunned by their own communities for doing it.) and zealots (who were marginalized by the powerful and “polite” society). He lifted up children, and said they possessed the truth about the Kingdom of God.

Though temporal peace was and may be won by “enforcing the peace,” as the Romans did, Jesus shows us that everlasting peace is achieved through becoming vulnerable.

Vulnerability is finding humility. Vulnerability is taking the role of a servant. Vulnerability is opening up to someone else in love and covenant. Vulnerability is asking for forgiveness.

Jesus went to the cross in the ultimate display of vulnerability. As Paul says in Phil. 2, “He made himself empty.”

This is the ultimate expression of Kingship. Jesus showed that he is the King who brings everlasting peace by pouring out all the power that he possessed. He made himself completely vulnerable, and thus displayed supreme power.

What king has more power, the king who has to guard his power or the king who is so secure that he knows he can pour out his power among his people?

It is our heritage then to serve in the task of creating everlasting peace through acts of service. We pour ourselves out to those who have fallen through the cracks of the Pax Americana. We proclaim the greatest King when we get on our knees and wash feet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Education and the Poor

I was recently impressed with an article I read in the Higher Education supplement in the "United Methodist Reporter." In it two friends and frequent contributors to the UM Reporter raise some poignant issues about the church and the universities that our church has founded. What is the future of the relationship between the church and the academy?
Is there a lasting heritage that our church has imbued into the colleges and universities we built?

Today, my sister sent me a link from the NY Times about the prison education program at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The selective school offers the same professors who teach at the university, which costs $51,000 a year to attend, to the prison population for free. The University is no longer affiliated with the UMC, but they point to the basis for their program being the example set by John Wesley's passion for prison reform.

In the UM Reporter conversation between Andrew and Eric, Andrew raises the issue of our educational institutions' service to the poor. I think the NY Times article gives a great look at a nuanced example. Here is a program that "distanced" itself from the institution in it's 1937 independence from the church, but still indicates an interest in upholding the principles of our heritage.

I love the college environment and the possibilities for spiritual life in that context, and worked at Occidental College for 2 years and UCLA for 1 while I was at seminary. At UCLA, I helped to organize a tutoring program between UCLA and an after school program in Baldwin Village. Students from UCLA would give 3 to 12 hours of their week to helping kids from a pretty gang-influenced part of the city learn to study and cultivate positive habits. The jr. high kids gave their attention and their willingness to learn to the UCLA students.

I think Andrew's diagnosis and desire to see more colleges employ their Wesleyan heritage is right on. He offers further thoughts in a blog post (Oct. 15--couldn't figure how to link it) after the article came out. Good work ya'll.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything Crash

Based on some things going on in my community, I'm going to take the Mark passage from the lectionary to preach with this coming Sunday. This is unusual for me, because Mark 13 is all about the apocalypse, and even though that seems to be a popular subject for preaching in this part of the world, I've typically viewed it as dicey material for sermons. (I did take a Jewish Apocalyptic literature class in college, and have taught bible studies on Revelation in churches--I don't ignore those sections of scripture, but have also viewed them as too prone to be heard literally to be used in a sermon.) Apparently, there is a church in my community that is getting people all worked up about 2012 and the end of the world. The movie 2012 also comes out this weekend.

So, I'm going to delve into Jesus' description of the apocalypse in this passage with special care to work in Jesus' admonition that "no one knows the day nor the hour." Jesus also says that those who claim to know are leading people astray (mark 13, 21-23,) so I'm calling the whole notion of whipping people into a frenzy about the apocalypse a bluff and a con, and questioning the motives of churches that indulge in that kind of stuff. Also, it may do well to dispel some of the theories about 2012, which can be found on wikipedia.

The whole 2012 thing was brought to my attention last year or so by a friend who wondered what I thought about it, being a minister and all. At that point, I hadn't heard of it at all and then found that a movie was in production, etc. etc. Unsurprisingly, the Movie Promotion channel (Discovery Channel) has done a whole slew of shows about 2012 too. (as they did with "the technology of Batman" and "Legends of the Crystal Skull" in anticipation of other movies). I wonder if they get paid by the studios to run those kinds of programming prior to big movie releases?

Jesus speaks of "wars and rumors of wars" and natural disasters as being "merely the birthpangs" of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps our role as Christians is to be a "midwife" for the kingdom. There is also "birthpangs" imagery in Romans 8: 22 that I may link to this text, to speak about "Creation herself, groaning out in birthpangs for her redemption." And the lectionary choice of Psalm 113 also has childbirth imagery as well. "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" We are those who are called to minister to the suffering, to stand in the midst of wars and famines and cataclysms and "share the gospel." (As Jesus says in Mark 13 must happen.)

I'm not referring to "sharing the gospel" as simply telling people about Jesus, I'm referring to it as showing people Jesus, showing people the gospel. "Faith without works is dead," says James.

So, in short, the idea of the apocalypse shouldn't prompt us to sit around and obsess about all the speculations that are proffered by the latest con artist preacher. (I say "con-artist" since preachers should know that stoking the flames of people's fears and anxieties about the End of Days is a cheap trick for cheap faith. If Jesus says that even he doesn't know the day nor the hour, then what would prompt a preacher to have the gall to believe that he or she does. Jesus himself warns against these kinds of cons in the passage. I admit, speculating about the apocalypse has an allure. It is mysterious. It is fun. It is intoxicating. And some people who are intoxicated on speculation about the apocalypse spew out some of the most hateful and anti-Christian things I've heard.

The idea of the apocalypse should instead prompt us to action for the sake of Christ. Jesus says "Be alert!" (Mark 13: 33) Being alert doesn't mean alert and alarmed about latest prognostications about an occasion that we can't possibly fathom, let alone predict. "Alert" means "awake" and "about the tasks that we were left with." That's the summation of the whole passage, in the parable about the man leaving his house to the care of his servants. We don't want to be caught sleeping or daydreaming.

Monday, November 02, 2009

St. Francis moment

Sunday afternoon was sunshine and beauty, so it was easy to "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." My son and I dug in a sandpile, burying his Thomas train and then uncovering it like paleontologists. I remembered being a kid and wanting to dig up dinosaur bones for a living when I got to be a grown up.
I spotted a big grasshopper on the edge of the sand pile.
"Look at that," I told Wesley.
We carefully stepped closer to where we saw the grasshopper land and then blend into the grass. It sprang up again, waist high and landed a few feet away. Again we edged closer. It sprang up again and we followed, repeating the crouching stance of a cat. This time, we asked the grasshopper if he would let us look at him for a minute. I placed my palm up on the ground, and the grasshopper climbed on. I raised him close in front of our faces.
"See his green eyes, and see there under his legs: you can see him breathing!"
Wesley stood and watched in amazement.
"Why is he sooooo so green?" Wesley liked the idea of being green.
"He's green so that he can jump into the grass and be hidden from animals that want to eat him." We looked at the grasshopper longer.
"Look, see his big hind legs? That's why he can jump soooo high." The grasshopper takes the cue as we stand back up, and it jumps off my hand.
"If we had legs like grasshoppers, we could jump over those trees, or right over the church! We could just stand right here and decide, I'm gonna jump over that tree, and do it without even taking a running head start. That's how big we are to the grasshopper, and you saw how high he could jump." I turn around like I'm going to jump over the church, eying the steeple like I'm going to skip right over it, and then I jump as high as I can. Wesley laughs, and then jumps as high as he can.
"Like this?" He says and turns around with his shining eyes pointed at the top of the old pecan tree, and jumps.
"Yup," I say.
Then he runs around and jumps, enjoying his life as a grasshopper.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Will they remember in November?

I've noticed a declining attendance at church over the past couple of months (which are usually "rebound months" from the summer) My DS told me this is happening all over the district. Is it the case for you? Here's how I interpret things for the church.

Pastor’s Perspective: “They’ll Remember in November.”
“The Righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17
The celebrated football coach and athletic director of the illustrious Arkansas Razorbacks, Frank Broyles, always liked to say to his team, “They’ll remember in November.” His point was that a team could gain the attention and accolades that would get them a bowl invitation if they played the last few games of the season (in November) strongly. I’ve noticed that we as Christians might take the same approach to the end of the year in our faith lives, and I hope it is again the case this year.
This summer, we had many people missing from worship, giving was down, and a general malaise took hold of our congregation. Were we particularly uninspired, or is this the general rhythm of faith life? It concerned the leaders of the church when we continued to see the “slump” continue into September, when things usually “pick up” again, and people resume the schedule that includes attending to faith life. Did we suffer because the habits of summer were harder than usual to shake off? Though our October attendance average of 69 is the highest it’s been since May, it is lower than 4 of the 5 months that began our year, and is lower than our average attendance from last year as well. Our Sunday school average attendance of 28 for October is the lowest of the year. Our district superintendant advised us at the church conference this past month that our report of a general malaise in the congregation reflects what she witnesses all over the district in other United Methodist Churches. While this is a relief in one way (“whew, it’s not just us!”) it is also more deeply troubling in another (“what is the matter with the general church?). It is generally true of us humans that we attend to our faith life and the “big, important questions” when things are troubling and uneasy, but when things are going seemingly well, we tend to put our faith life on the back-burner. If there were a terrorist attack or a natural disaster that afflicted us during the week, it would not surprise me to see the church packed to the gills. It is how we are. We turn to faith in times of crisis. This is why some critics of religion call faith a “crutch.” Just as you stick a crutch under your arm when you’ve suffered an injury to your leg or hip, some stick their church life under their arm only when they feel spiritually injured by the hostile world we live in. With this kind of approach, it is perfectly natural to use your faith to hobble along through the world as long as it takes to get over the injury, then you put your faith back in the closet. Is the declining attendance at church a sign that things are going well with our people? If so, I’m glad that your life is untroubled, please come back to church and give thanks to God in community.
The first Sunday of November is All Saint’s Day. On this day, we remember those who have passed away during the year and honor their memory. We believe that our loved ones are held by God in an eternal life beyond death. On Nov.1st we celebrate this “communion of the saints” that is a powerful reminder of God’s saving grace. This grace saves us from a destiny of decay and finality. As Christ conquered his grave, he also conquers ours, and so “gathers us in” to the great fellowship that transcends this earth and our earthly concepts. I’ve had the blessing of conducting many funerals where I have been given the honor of recounting the life of the person who has passed. Sometimes, I have conducted funerals for people for whom their own faith life was not a priority. Generally, the deceased’ loved ones assure me that though I never saw him or her in church, the person who died was kind and generous and loving, and perhaps even “faithful.” Other funerals I have conducted have been for the family members of people I like to call “spiritual redwoods.” They are those whose faith is literally “in fellowship” with others in their church life. As I prepare for these funerals, no “assurances” are necessary on the part of the family members or close friends. They know that I knew who the person was, as did the other members of the church. Their faith was “obvious.” It was “lived” and not only “recalled.” It was in relationship with others. That is how it grew to be a redwood.
So, this is my sermon to those of you who are connected to this church in some way, and who live in the area, and yet do not participate in our weekly gathering for worship and for tending the spiritual life through education and fellowship. If you want to call yourself a Christian, I hope you can be convinced that there is more to faith than what you believe. If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, then you will follow his teachings. His teachings aren’t just applied in your private life—they occur in the community that bears his name. We will indeed remember in November. We will remember the lives of those who have passed not “away” but “into” the everlasting on All Saint’s. When the pastor who conducts your funeral recounts your life, will he or she need to be “assured” that you were a person who was shaped by faith, or will it be obvious? Will your faith life be remembered? Will it be remembered by a community? Will the church in general be remembered by future generations as a powerful force of love and redemption and grace? Will it be obvious? Making it obvious begins with your participation. Let’s make sure they’ll remember November. Let’s finish strongly.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Revealer and Killing the Buddha

I didn't say in advance that I was going to take a month long break, but it looks like I have. To tell the truth, I was not planning on it, but since I have just now drummed up the gusto to actually write, and it happens to be a month since the last post, we'll just call it a month long vacation, okay?

So, I'll make it easy on myself and wade back in to the blogging life with a link and commentary.
I just started reading Jeff Sharlet's The Family tonight. Looks like it's going to be great--more understanding of American religious history and theological nuances involved in the fundamentalist movement than I expected I'd get--and I've just finished the introduction. I checked out the author's blogsite, and was led to from there. First time I've stumbled upon this bit of real estate. Looks very interesting. I'm sure to return. Okay, that was fairly easy. More to come.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Moltmann conversation conversation

Here is the conversation I had with the 5 others from Oklahoma regarding our experience at the Moltmann conversation. Also--Blake Huggins (riding shotgun in the minivan) chewed on things when he got home on his own blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How Moltmann made me excited to be a Trinitarian

When I was in seminary, I read Spirit of Life in Philip Clayton's Pneumatology class. An excerpt from this book really gave me an image of the Trinity that I took along with me:

Where the Word of God is, there is also the Breath of God in which it is uttered. Where God's breath calls created being into life, there is also the Word whcih calls them by their names. 293

After this, Moltmann shows why the Filioque must be abandoned in Trinitarian formulation. I've carried this understanding of the Trinity into the churches I've served and have always found that it resonates with the people and gives them a Scriptural basis for the Trinity in the Creation Story.
I thought of this today because Moltmann said, "We don't believe in the Trinity, we live in the Trinity." I appreciate this and Moltmann's general adoption of the Eastern Orthodox understanding of participation in the Trinity (drawn into the parichoresis of the Trinity as if in a dance. (Part 2 of Spirit Life, called "Life in the Spirit" elaborates on this theme and includes Moltmann engaging Wesley) I see Wesley's theology of sanctification hitting on the same things.

@ Moltmann Conversation

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two places I could really see myself worshipping.

We ministers spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of environment we'd like to worship in. Or, at least this minister does anyway. That's kind of odd, since in most contexts (mine included) we're kind of the master of ceremonies when it comes to creating a space for worship. I choose the hymns, the liturgies, the sermon texts, the sermon, what goes on the altar, etc. etc. I don't control what happens in worship--I believe the Holy Spirit has that responsibility. But, I draw the blueprint so to speak. So, why in the world would I be looking with longing at other communities of faith? I will here refrain from answering my own question. If you have an answer, you let me know.
So, I've before pointed to a places where I'd love to worship. I've also filled you in on my plans for a treehouse church. Probably what you've noticed about these two posts is that I'm a sucker for aesthetics. I fit very squarely into that 2/3 of young people mentioned in that poll in the second link who would rather worship in a Gothic or ancient looking church than a new-fangled technology enabled convention center. The darker and danker, with the lingering musk of incense, the better. So, I'm obviously not one of those who holds to the "we could be in a storefront or a sale barn, or where ever as long as the Spirit is there" kind of philosophy. Well, I don't deny that. I uphold that truth very much--worship happens where people gather and invoke the presence of the Spirit. It doesn't matter where people are, real and meaningful worship can happen. But, I'm also one who loves to be surrounded by beauty. For me and my personality, the Spirit of worship is translated through my physical surroundings. When I'm sitting in the light of a stained glass window and the hymnal I am using is bathed in blue, that's the kind of thing that gets me. I can get past a humble sounding choir. I can make it through an asinine sermon. If I can visually experience worship, then I am there.
Also, it helps if I'm worshipping with a group of people I connect with. That being said, I happened upon a couple of church websites that are both very aesthetically pleasing that lead me to explore churches that I could imagine myself connecting with. Perhaps you do too:
Oh, and then of course there's the church that Jonny Baker belongs to, Grace

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sabbath Rest and Getting Over Ourselves

I'm doing some research for my second sermon in the "Family Ties" Sermon series for the church. I felt good about last week's sermon on food and faith, but unfortunately forgot to record the thing on my ipod, so you have no sermon to listen to over at the church site. Speaking of food and faith, our church farmer's market is going pretty well this year. I've had calls form people wondering when the cantaloupe's are going to be ready, and I've posted some pictures on the church website as well.

I'm preaching the second sermon in the series on "Work, Rest, and Purpose," and it's about how the cycle of work and rest should be observed by people of faith and how this cycle can instill healthy work habits in children. I've never been a workaholic, and I don't think workaholism was modeled for me as I was growing up either. I appreciate a Sabbath and would probably not find myself getting too angsty if I had to quit working and just stay at home all the time. I'd probably make a good "house-husband" if I were ever needed to be one.

Some of the resources I've found on Sabbath and work have been great. I listened to an Adam Hamilton sermon from July on faithfulness in the workplace. He pointed out that we'll spend around 96,000 hours in the workplace in our lifetime, compared with around 2600 hours in worship (even for the regular workers), so the way we are faithful people at work matters a lot more at least in terms of "exposure."

I've also enjoyed the Baylor U. Christian Reflection on Sabbath. Lot's of good stuff there. One thing I just read in the inspirational piece by Milton Brasher-Cunningham is that Sabbath reminds us that we are not indispensable. The world will carry on without us. The scriptures frequently remind the people of Israel that God will see to it that they are provided for on the Sabbath. Milton Brasher-Cunningham contrasts the sense of indispensability instilled in us by our consumer culture that "bombard[s us] with the distorted “truth” that enough is not adequate, overachieving is average, acquisitive is better than imaginative, networking
is building actual relationships, and padding our resumes makes us more
important." He says, "Hearing and heeding the Still, Small Voice is no easy task."

In another piece in that Christian Reflection study,Richard Lowry says that the "Biblical sabbath offers a way to think and act theologically as we confront
the spiritual, ecological, and economic challenges before us. By celebrating
a hoped-for world of abundance, self-restraint, and mutual care,
sabbath traditions critiqued ancient royal-imperial systems that created
scarcity, overwork, and gross economic inequality. These traditions can
serve a similar critical function today, offering words of proportion, limits,
social solidarity, and the need for rest, quiet reflection, and recreation in
the face of never-ending work and consumption. In our world, sabbath
consciousness may be the key to human survival, prosperity, and sanity."

Today our family life committee decided to postpone indefinitely a retreat that we at first had to move from a popular riverside camping resort about an hour away to right here in town on account of a fundraiser for a principal of one of the schools who is battling cancer. The committee didn't know about the date of the dinner that a lot of our churchmembers would be involved in when they first started planning the retreat (which they were planning to center around the "ReThink church campaign." After the committee decided to still hold the retreat but relocate it to town so that the folks involved in the benefit could still be around to help prepare, etc, I was reminded of the Luke passage where Jesus heals on the Sabbath and is confronted by the Pharisees. What better way to spend time focusing our time and energy on rest and relaxation than to be present to a person's healing? Today I heard from one of the leaders of the committee that our list of participants was dwindling because of various other things that have sprung up, and the committee was okay with indefinitely postponing the retreat. Here again I was reminded of the scriptural witness of Sabbath reminding us to remember that "there is a God and we are not It." The world doesn't rely on us or our programs. Things will go on. I was proud of the committee for putting so much work and effort into the task of creating an uplifting and challenging program for the retreat, but if we had actualized it, the work would have been tangled up with the results. Now that the work has been done and the retreat postponed, the committee can either think of the work as a "waste of time" or as a "gift to God." I think that Sabbath rest helps us reorient our work toward God. At the end of a life without Sabbath rest, I think there are often folks on their death bed saying to themselves "What did I do with my life?" "I wasted so much time!" Sabbath grounds us in the notion that our work is dispensable. We can lay aside time to be at rest and we will survive. Not only will we survive, we will flourish!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Garden Update, and a beautiful picture of Julianna

We planted our zucchinis too close together, so some of them had to be taken out. The tomatoes are growing in up the fence, and both are very healthy and full of tomatoes. I've already taken around 20, and there are probably 50 more on the way--and that's just the first of the year. last year I was picking tomatoes at the end of October. (I remember because I got a burn on my hand a couple of days before Julianna was born because I tossed a slice of green tomato into some hot oil.) There is some kind of vine all over the tomatoes and the cannas, but it doesn't seem to be adversly affecting them, so I leave it be. We didn't spray anything on the garden, so I see the vine as added camoflauge from the birds. We havent' had any bird or bug problems. Maybe Lao-Tzu is helping with the birds. She likes to crouch in the garden like a jungle cat. We're growing sweet peppers, and none have come to fruit yet, but the plant is getting big. Our butternut squash are looking good, around 4 or five of them growing now. The sunflowers are a beautiful reddish purple as you can see, and we also have carrots that may or may not be good. Our neighbor said our soil wasn't sandy enough for them here. Then again, he doesn't come to church, so maybe the Lord just isn't blessing his garden like He has mine :) We've got some beans and some sweet potatoes and some russett potatoes too, but I guess we won't know how those have done until we dig them up. We're enjoying the gardening, and Julianna is enjoying the baby food Lara makes her.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

"A Fool Gospel Church"

Just for the record, it's been a couple weeks now, and no-one has noticed that that is what I changed our church's title bar to read on the church blog. I thought it was funny. Maybe it's just me.

Free Study Series on a number of topics

I just found a Bible study series through the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University that I bookmarked and thought I'd share. It is well written and fairly broad in scope. There are topics ranging from aging to children, global wealth to mysticism, sports to pornographic culture, and much more. I came across the study series by way of a particular study called "Prophetic Ethics," which included a session on "The Prophet as Storyteller," which was linked to this week's lectionary readings on textweek. (Thanks Jenny!) Each subject has a number of resources, including art, articles, hymns and worship services, inspirational pieces, book reviews, and a collection of 6 study guides and lesson plans. I know where I'll be looking next time I need an idea for a small group study! You can download all the material for free on the website, or sign up for a free issue in print.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jurgen Moltmann in Chicago Sept. 9-11

This has been a big summer for me! Not only did I get to spend a week with Eugene Peterson at a writer's workshop with 11 other participants (now friends), I am getting the chance to go to Chicago in September to participate in the "Moltmann Conversation" that Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones are putting on. It looks like a great opportunity to hear from someone I consider to be the greatest living theologian. When I was in seminary, I was very impressed with Spirit of Life, which I read as part of my Pneumatology class with Dr. Phillip Clayton. I have carried the notion of the Trinity as the "One Who Speaks, The Word, and The Breath" to the churches I have served, and it resonates with people. I appreciate it because it weaves the Holy Spirit as Breath concept I first encountered in Sallie McFague's Body of God into a whole Trinitarian concept. Moltmann explores this and other characterizations of the Holy Spirit in the book Spirit of Life. Here's the review from Amazon

Moltmann, "the foremost Protestant theologian in the world" (Church Times), brings his characteristic audacity to this traditional topic and cuts to the heart of the matter with a simple identification: What we experience every day as the spirit of life is the spirit of God. Such considerations give Moltmann’s treatment of the different aspects of life in the Spirit a verve and vitality that are concrete and existential.

Veteran readers will find here a rich and subtle extension of Moltmann’s trinitarian and christological works, even as he makes bold use of key insights from feminist and ecological theologies, from recent attention to embodiment, and from charismatic movements. Newcomers will find a fascinating entrĂ©e into the heart of his work: the transformative potential of the future.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 24 Apr 2009 07:58:08 -0400)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bill Viola's The Passions

I'm on vacation this week in Arkansas. We've had fun meeting with old friends and family. It has been relaxing! I ran across an old pamphlet from a visit we made to the Getty one time when we lived in Los Angeles. It was Bill Viola's The Passions. It was a very poignant exhibition. Viola works with high resolution video and then plays back at very slow speeds. He bases many of his portraits on old medieval religious portriats and devotional items. I remember being transfixed by all of the portraits. He had a real technical mastery of lighting and videography. I saw it in 2003, when LCD screens were just coming out, so the colors seemed to really scream out at you.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Collegeville Institute Summary

Don't expect for the summary to be comprehensive. I just mean that I'm sitting here waiting for the shuttle to show up, and I'm the last person to leave, so I thought it'd be a good time to put down some of my thoughts about this experience.

Of course, I'm fortunate to have attended. I now feel like I've gained 12 colleagues. I'm always glad to gain colleagues. Eugene Peterson is now a mentor and a collegue, not just a writer I admire. I'm fortunate to count myself in this regard now, as he's a very quiet and reserved person. He's not someone that you could go to a massive conference and ingratiate yourself to and try to hang out with. He wouldn't be doing much "hanging out" at a conference. So, this kind of environment: rural and slow-paced and in-depth, is the perfect kind of setting to build a relationship with a master writer and really learn something from him.

I've learned that writing, as my friend Katherine said on her blog, "is not complimentary to our pastoral lives, or an avocation tacked onto our vocation. Writing is part of our pastoral lives. We don't need permission to write. We don't even need permission to write words that can't be put to good use. We can (must?) simply weave writing into our pastoral lives - a life that can be lived in freedom, not busyness, if we can find a rhythm that works."

I'm a conversationalist, so I did more hanging out and drinking beers with new friends than hard core retreat writing. This is okay with me, although I also sometimes thought, "well, if I don't write now, then I'm going to be caught up in the multitude of other things when I get home." I just found the opportunity to talk about writing to be valuable too, so that's what I did for the most part. I did add to my writing project on music and the Spirit, and I also did some exercises that were helpful, and then I found myself rewriting something that haunts me.

I had told the folks here at the retreat when we were committing to a writing schedule that we'd hold each other accountable to that I'm not too hard on myself. They all laughed as I had a hawaiian shirt on and a beer in front of me and a open bag of cheetos on the table. I suppose I hadn't needed to say that :) I committed to 1000 words a week, whereas most others committed to a number of hours. I mentioned that I'm not too hard on myself because I was deciding to do a number of words, something more tangible for me than a number of hours that I could just while away and then rationalize that I actually had spent on some tangential element of writing.

I shared the story of tripping Clint (below) as a counterpoint to that image of me as one not troubled by much. It was effective. With that, here it is:

Get behind me Satan.
I remember the undulations of the asphalt on the school blacktop. We had our toes lined up on the spray painted line, readying ourselves for our track meet qualifying race. The undulations were caused by years of busses turning around in the cul-de-sac and lining up to pick up elementary school kids. A crack of the starting pistol, and I saw a flash of legs leap ahead of my own. I struggled to catch up.
The P.E. teacher was probably right. I didn’t run like I was supposed to. Otherwise, I’d probably be able to keep up with the others. My parents told me that when I was a baby, I had to have casts on my legs to straighten them out. My mom told me that when I used to get finished with my naps, she’d know because she’d start hearing the click click clicking of the casts as I knocked my legs together in the crib. I wasn’t supposed to jump on a trampoline as a kid. They were supposedly bad for my hips. But I had never noticed any problems. I guess the P.E. teacher did though.
There was one who was as slow as I was. Clint: sullen, sandy-haired Clint. He never had any shirts with the transformers or anything like that. All his shirts were striped or solid. He didn’t have Nikes or even Reeboks. He wore Velcro shoes with stripes on them as well. He didn’t have much. I stuck out my foot as I ran and I felt Clint drop to the ground. I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t last!
Clint hadn’t finished. He was lying in a heap on the humpy pavement. He was crying and rolling around. He was clenching his leg and grunting in pain. The kids who had finished the race were looking at me. Then Ms. Guinn grabbed me by the ear and twisted it. What made you do that, Nathan? What had made me do what? I was running, and he must’ve run into my leg. He must’ve bounced off my hip like one of those tie fighters ricocheted off the edge of the city wall canyon on the Death Star. She wanted an answer. She was aghast and disgusted at what she had seen, and now she was large and hovering over me like an eagle snatching a fish out of a lake with it’s claws buried deep. “The devil made me do it,” I stammered. Her eyes narrowed. She looked at me like she actually believed me and that Lucifer himself must be there behind me, caressing the shoulders of his favorite pupil and tending my wounded ego. All those kids were looking at me after all. She pulled me inside, with her red fingernails jabbing into my wrist, and slammed me into a chair at the principal’s office while she went and got him and took him outside to check on Clint.
I sat in the office on an orange plastic chair and looked at the ground as the kids filed by and looked at me with scorn. I could feel their looks. There was Sheri, who I had a crush on since the 3rd grade. There was David, my neighbor and best friend, who knew this wasn’t like me at all. He was perplexed but also forgiving and loyal. Then came in Clint, with an arm around Ms. Guinn and the Principal. I’d find out the next day that he had a hairline fracture in his ankle. That moment, sitting on that pavement trying to find an explanation for why I had tripped Clint, that is the moment that personal competitiveness was killed in me.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Name of God

I'm at the Collegeville institute, and in my free time took a look at the New York Review of Books that was sitting on the coffee table. I noticed a review for a new book called

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity (Belknap Press), by Graham and Kantor It looks interesting, and I was curious about the "Name Worshipping" thing, because it reminded me of the movie Pi in which a mathmatician is hounded by some Hasidic Jews who are searching for the number which is the name of God. Turns out the "Name Worshipping" movement was big at Mt. Athos and the story of its rise and suppression reads like a historical novel.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The most un-p.c. firework ever?

Saw this tonight at the firework stand. You might not be able to see it, but there is a Stealth bomber flying over a bunch of Arabs on camelback. Interesting what the Chinese think we'll like, huh?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

5 Stones

I'm preaching on David and Goliath on Sunday. I'm ruminating on why the story describes David choosing 5 stones to meet Goliath when he only uses one to bring him down. I googled the question and could find nothing satisfactory. One Christian mystical interpretation is that the life of David foreshadows the life of Christ, and that the five stones correspond to the five wounds of Christ. Both acts "bring down a giant," in a way.
I didn't find this interpretation anywhere, but wouldn't it make sense that the storyteller would be thinking of the five books of Torah when accounting for the number of stones? The stones packed by David, the warrior for God's people, could symbolize the number of testaments that God has given Israel to "defend herself." The law is the defense of the people of Israel?

Just speculating. Feel free to comment if you have knowledge to share.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's not that I don't believe in God

I just don't believe that God, the God whom I know and love, would instruct humans to commit infanticide. See, I'm trying to concentrate on 1 Samuel 15: 34-16:13, where God guides Samuel to the house of Jesse to select a new king. On the way, God tells Samuel not to worry about physical appearances, (or family tree for that matter, since Jesse's lineage isn't that spectacular, including Canaanites, prostitutes, and others) because God sees what is on the inside of a person. That's how God will select David--by his inward character. (Yet, when David is selected, all the storyteller has to say about him is that he has beautiful eyes and is ruddy and handsome.) The text is rich and beautiful. It is a great beginning for what will be a great story about a king "after God's own heart," a lover and a fighter, a man with the tenderness to write some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, and with the brazenness to face a giant. It is pre-packaged in the lectionary with the mustard seed parable for a great, inspiring sermon about God bringing forth great things from humble beginnings--and how we shouldn't judge something's value by the exterior.
But, what keeps haunting me is the first half of chapter 15, when the reason is given for God's disapproval of the existing king, Saul. Unsurprisingly, the lectionary skips over this little detail to the story. Saul has other faults and foibles (as does David) but the thing that really gets him the pink slip is that God commands him to go and completely annihilate the Amalekites, including "man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” Saul carries out the assignment, for the most part. He spares the king, whom he brings back with him as a captive, and he also spares some of the choice livestock, which he apparantly also intends to burn on the offering pyre. (Or at least that's what he tells Samuel after the fact) So, God decides he isn't worth spit anymore and instructs Samuel to go fetch David, "And God was sorry he had made Saul king over the Israelites."
This isn't the only time God commands his people to slaughter innocents in the scriptures, and it's not like I'd never run across this dilemma before, but it's just sticking with me today. My usual way around this is to attribute these kinds of scriptures to the author's interpretation that God's will is being carried out in the violence, and so the author of the scripture puts the "command" in God's mouth, attributing something to God something that makes sense at the time, but seems utterly repulsive now. This is really the only way I can square some of the violent aspects of the Bible and remain a person who leads a faith community. So, obviously I'm not a biblical literalist. Perhaps it is more appropriate to call me a biblical denialist. I deny this scripture. I don't deny it is there. I'm sorry it is part of scripture. I shake my fist at it. I just don't think it is an accurate revelation of God. I see no redeeming quality to God ordering the massacre of infants. There's nothing that can make it "okay." I realize this may be an easy way out, but it is the only way I see fit to keep the faith and uphold a set of principles that are humane. I hate that it is even there for me to have to wrestle with. Why muddy the waters, God? Thou shalt not kill? Well, perhaps this is just one more reason against bibliolotry. But in this part of the country, it seems like questioning scripture is tantamount to denying God's existence. On the contrary, I think questioning this scripture is tantamount to advocating God's existence.
(I've had to take several brakes from this post over the evening, so I've lost some of the initial fire and angst that prompted it: I watched a stupid movie with Wesley and Lara, Bee Movie, man was that disjointed, I've gotten Wesley and Julianna to bed (Julianna took a good bit of time), and then there was a tornado warning just about 10 miles southwest of us (which moved south, fortunately) so, I don't want to seem flippant about something as heart wrenching as struggling with God and ethnic cleansing, but I've just lost a bit of gas on the issue.
One thing I really wrestle with is the intellectual honesty of subscribing to this "well if it makes my conscience want to throw up, it's probably not an authentic aspect of God, even if it is attributed to God in the scripture" kind of approach to scripture when the "official stance" I take as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church is that scripture contains all things "necessary to salvation." Perhaps salvation sometimes comes in being willing to say to God, "this scripture really sucks and I really hope you're more than what is portrayed here, otherwise you're just some two-bit tribal god who's not worthy of worship or respect. So, God, explain to me why you'd allow people to either a: worship you with you issuing genocide, or b: write about you in this way and then guide a whole church to treat these stories as divinely inspired."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Reading, Summer Camp

I have a stack of books I'm presently reading--it is the summer after all. I just picked up The Brothers Karamazov today at the library. I usually try to read one or two classics each year. Last year I read Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick, both on audio book, by the way. With all the driving I do, it is the best way for me. I really enjoyed Melville's description of the pulpit at the sailor's church in the first few chapters of Moby Dick, and also the winding, encyclopedic steeping in all things whale. As to the narrative of that book, it is spellbinding and rich, and equal to the task of keeping the reader engaged over close to 2000 pages. As to Huck Finn, it was great enough that I was lobbying for Huck or Finn to be considered for boy names had Julianna been a boy. (My first choice, Atticus Rex, was gaining some traction I think with the mother shortly before we found out she'd be a she after all.) Mark Twain's characterization of a revival in Arkansas was so funny I found myself literally slapping my knee in the car. The book also had me obsessing over the word "corn pone." The pictures these two greats painted in my mind are treasures to me now.
I'm also in the middle of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in 10,000 Places. I've actually already read Eat This Book, but I don't think you have to read any of his Spiritual Theology books in order. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm trying to get that one finished before I'll be sitting at a table with him taking writing suggestions in 3 weeks. I recently read Oliver Sacks's (is that right? Sacks's?) Musicophilia on audio (great reading by the way) to give me some insight for my own writing project. I'm also enjoying Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. I really enjoyed Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers, and think it is a bit more funny than Spook, but still Spook is thuroughly enjoyable. She tends to use footnotes as I'm prone to do. Speaking of the way I use footnotes, my own chapter contribution to a Chalice Press book, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God: Young Adults Speak about Sexuality and Embodiment in Faith Life is going to be out in January of 2010. I think the editors were going for knee slapping or eye catching or something with that title, but I'm not too thrilled about it. I let them know, but I think it was someone's pet. My chapter title is called Like A Wild Ass at Home in the Wilderness: Sexuality Fidelity in a Hypersexualized, Consumer Driven Culture. That is, if they don't change it to Getting Ass at Home and in the Wilderness or something like that because they think that will appeal to the edgy postmodern type.
Since I'll be deaning Muskogee District Youth Camp at Camp Egan next week, I guess I've also been reading the curriculum for camp and preparing for that. Our plan for the worship services is going to be cool, I think. I'll take photos and post that later. I'm also going to lead a group of teenagers in teh creation of a Cretan labyrinth. We'll have to gather river rocks for it on the Illinois river, and I've scoped out a good spot. I'm looking forward to it, and hope it turns out like or better than I'm envisoning.

I'm also preaching a sermon series this summer on David, so I'll be spending the whole summer in 1 and 2 Samuel. I think this is the first time I've done an extended sermon series solely on a Hebrew Bible text...I think I did one on Isaiah before, but that's a bit easier. So, it will be a storytelling sermon series this summer. I picked up a couple books I thought might be of value in preparing for it, Tales of the Hasidim, by Martin Buber, and Wise Men and Their Tales, by Elie Wiesel. Anyone have any suggestions for good books, either Biblical Study or contextual stuff, on 1 and 2 Samuel and the character David?

Oh, and Wesley has taken a shine to the Berenstein Bears recently, so I've been reading a bunch of them too. :)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Lara took these great photos with our new camera using the continuous shooting
feature. I like it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oklahoma Annual Conference

I'm at Oklahoma Annual Conference right now, looking forward to seeing some of my good friends ordained tonight. For the first time, I'll get to walk them in with all the big kids. I've also had fun spending time with my fellow bloggers in the Oklahoma Conference. We're a motly crew. Jeremy at Hacking Christianity will be moving right down the road to Checotah this summer. Matt Judkins is an associate at Church of the Servant. Kevin Watson at Deeply Committed is working on a Ph.D at SMU. I enjoyed a text message converstion between Jack Terrell Wilkes and Blake Huggins while I was waiting to give our Young Adult Ministries Council report to the conference. Seems they are about as enthusiastic fans of "Victory in Jesus" as I am. Which, to quote Dr. Doofenschmirtz from Phineus and Ferb, if by enthusiastic you mean repulsed. That fact disappoints my congregation, which loves to sing the song. We still sing it, I just grit my teeth when we do, and do that funny protest of not singing particular parts. There are other bloggers, but I should probably return to the floor. We had a good turnout at our Young Adult Luncheon--about 50. That's the best showing yet.

We're anxiously awaiting news of our votes on amendments 1-32 to the constitution of the UMC. They need to pass with 2/3 votes to be ratified. Judging by the the dialogue, not many of them look very likely here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

See ya Jesus!

In honor of Ascension Sunday, I share with you my favorite Dali painting. I read somewhere that the background is the ecstatic vision Dali had of the nucleus of an atom. I wonder what he could be saying about Christ or this event to combine the two images. Let me know what you think. I interpret it as saying the Christ is the central or elemental reality of know, "through whom all things came into being..." or something like that.
I also like that Jesus' feet are the main focus of the painting. I preached a sermon on this one time called "Jesus Walks" I read that this perspective was a tribute to Mantegna's Dead Christ (below), which he admired and considered a precursor to his own form of art.

I also like that the Shekinah is portrayed in the feminine, as She should be, (at least I'm assuming that's what Dali was portraying by the face of the woman) and that She is fused with the Dove imagery for the Holy Spirit, who is descending as Jesus ascends. They're kind of passing each other along the way, like "okay, your turn!"
Also, Jesus' hands--they look like they are clutched in pain, perhaps. What do you make of them?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yes, I take my design cues from the Swiss Family Robinson

We have a new porch on the back of our house, thanks for a memorial gift to the church for a dear man named Ralph Johnston. (He would always bring us corn on the cobb, garlic, squash, and other things from his garden a block away--now we're trying our own hands at his craft.) I remembered this conch shell I got in the Bahamas a few years ago that was packed away in a box. Now it gets its second use in life (the first, of course, being the home for a snail that Bahamians like on their salads--I didn't care for it, sorry.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Music and the Spirit

I haven't mentioned it yet, but I got accepted to a writer's workshop I have dreamed of going to for 2 years now. This July, I get to spend a week with 10 other writers and Eugene Peterson at St. John's Abby and University in Minnesota.  I had spent a week there right before I started seminary in 2002, and had been impressed with the St. John's Bible project, in which they are working on the first new handwritten Bible for quite some time (by the way, my friend Aidan Hart is one of the illuminators for that Bible.  I spent some time at his then hermitage in Shropshire, England.)
I've decided to write on the subject of music and spirituality.  I'm kind of enlarging a concept I brought up a week or so ago, so if you want to contribute to the converstion that feeds that enlargement, comment on that post, yo.  One last link in this linkomania.  One of my favorites over there -----> 
has been a sight on Reggae and the Bible (Words of Wisdom) .   I appreciate what the kind lady has been doing at that site for a number of years, and took some time today to read her bio.  The way she parallels the words of Scripture with exisitng Reggae lyrics has been a nice appendix for my appreciation of that music over the years, so I sent a long overdue thanks for her attention to the subject.  I was wondering about a song I heard on Pandora, Scientist's A Plague of Zombies  and didn't see it in her body of work, so I did a little homework and sent it along.  I thought I'd include it here for your enjoyment too:  (I couldn't figure out how to get 2 columns within a post.  code anyone?)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Methodism and Membership

the Methoblogworld is buzzing about the upcoming constitutional amendments proposed by General Conference 08, which must pass this year's annual conference by a 2/3 vote.  The usual suspects are coming out against an amendment to strengthen language about membership in the church being open to all (as if we need another psychological barrier to encouraging the whole idea of membership in this individualistic age).  A friend of mine made a rebuttal.  I thought it was well articulated, so here you go.  

Monday, May 04, 2009

My Church's Farmer's Market

Last summer two women in the church came to me with the idea of hosting a farmer's market at our church.  One is a chili pepper and herb grower.  She makes all kinds of chili rubs.  I bought some pear honey for her last year too.  The other woman is an elementary school teacher who had previously expressed interest in promoting good eating habits among children.
Morris had no previously existing farmer's market.  The two women thought it would be a great example of "Radical Hospitality," which is a principle of The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We had been studying the book together as a congregation through a sermon series and a book study.  I thought it was a great idea, and told them so.   They went with it.  By the end of the summer, our parking lot was ringed with farmers with their tailgates open and tables of vegetables.  We opened the church so that bathrooms would be accessible for farmers and shoppers, and welcomed the kids to play with the church air-hockey table.  The market was to be on Saturdays, which meant that our church might not be perfectly clean on Sunday mornings for worship.  The church considering the ramifications of this fact during church council was a good opportunity to for us to reflect on the true purpose of a church.  
We submitted the idea to Bishop Robert Schnase's website that corresponds with the book and study material,
This past week, I was also contacted by someone at The Interpreter magazine who wants to include a photo in that magazine of the market.  
Hooray church.  We plan to continue the program this year.