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June 2004

Time for an Argument

I want to introduce a very controversial topic.

Last week when I was in Birmingham for the CBF General Assembly I went for lunch to Dreamland Barbecue. Though I've had better sides, the ribs were the best I've ever had.

So, let's get the debate going. What's the best bbq?

In Every End, A Beginning

This week I read these words:

No one is perfect, and few people succeed in achieving an unbroken continuity in their lives. Again and again we come up against limits, and experience the failure of our plans for life, the fragmentary nature of our good beginnings and, not least, the guilt which makes life impossible for us. The essential thing in experiences of life like this is the new beginning. If a child falls over it is no bad thing, because it then learns to get up again. Christian faith is faith in the resurrection, and the resurrection is literally just that: rising up again. It gives us the strength to get up, and the creative freedom to begin something once more in the midst of our on-going history, something fresh. 'Incipit vita nova' -- a new life begins. That is the truly revolutionary power of hope. It is revolutionary because it is innovative. With it, we break down the compulsive need for success. With it, we leave behind us the fatalism of non-success. 'Christians are the eternal beginners', wrote Franz Rosenzweig. And that is the best thing that can ever be said about believers, lovers and the hopeful.

Thursday night at the CBF General Assembly I then went to a worship service that was beautifully constructed. It began by showing us how we keep hidden what is really going on and troubling us. It then called us to "Come Away From Rush and Hurry" in a hymn we sang. When we came out of our normal routine we realized that we have issues and problems and griefs and burdens. We were called upon to reflect and journal about these. Immediately as this time of journalling was through, a soloist sang "There is a Balm in Gilead." And we were then guided in prayer to release these burdens and come to understand who we are as the loved children of God who are the presence of Christ. We sang "Amazing Grace" in confirmation of our freedom and the choir sang "Saints of God" reminding us that we are "saints of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's chosen people" who are called "out of darkness into His marvelous light." The anthem concluded with the congregation joining on the chorus of "How Firm a Foundation":

Fear not! I am with You, O be not dismayed, For I am Your God, and will still give you aid. I'll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

And then God's Word was proclaimed in spoken proclamation that started with these themes but called us out of ourselves to be the presence of Christ to the world. The greatest line was "the church is not the place for therapeutic encounter but for prophetic engagement." The service concluded with us singing "Footsteps of Jesus," which was such a beautifully fitting hymn.

The opening quote came from a book entitled In the End -- the Beginning: The Life of Hope by the great German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, which I bought on Thursday and finished yesterday on my flight back from Birmingham. The theme of the book is that the central tenet of the Christian faith is that with every end there is a new beginning. Ours is a faith of hope built upon the hope provided in the life of Christ, particularly the resurrection. As has so often been the case in the last few years, reading a book of theology has opened up my understanding and transformed me. And the reading of this one came in the context of conversations with friends and experiences of worship and prayer that all seemed to be speaking the same message.

Last week a friend said that Christians go into relationships open and vulnerable. And particularly in erotic relationships they make themselves vulnerable because they are wanting to fall in love and are wanting to create a meaningful life. So, they make themselves vulnerable to see if this is the person they can have that with. And these words of the friend connected back with what I read yesterday in the Moltmann. He talks a lot about love making you vulnerable to pain and loss, but that for the person of hope they can rest assured that what has ended is not gone. It is a part of them and of their memory. And those things that are good are eternal. They aren't "everlasting" but they do eternally become a part of who you are and even a part of God. One's grief and pain are a good, because they reveal the depth of what was lost. But mourning can come to an end over time when one realizes that the lost good thing is eternal. And that though this is an end, it is a new beginning that itself has limitless possibilities. This is the Christian hope.

One other thing that Moltmann wrote fits very well with something I posted about a couple of weeks ago:

Can eternal life already be experienced here? Yes indeed: passionate love and the joy in living taste of a livingness that is primal, and strong as death. We can discern this power of life with all our senses: "It's embers are fiery and a flame of the Lord" (Song of Solomon 8:6).

Off to Birmingham

I'm headed to Birmingham today for the CBF General Assembly. I'll be back on Saturday. This year I'm rooming with my former pastor and good friend David Breckenridge. I always enjoy these things, not because of the meetings, but because of meeting new people and reconnecting with others that I usually see only once a year.

The Lovely Bones

This morning I finished Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. It has made the circle of the book clubs in the last couple of years, and I've seen it being read by lots of people. I picked up Mom's copy this spring and thought I'd get around to it at some point. She said she didn't like it much, when she loaned it to me.

It is an odd story. I kinda liked the story and ended up liking the characters. But I didn't really like Sebold's writing. It is hoaky and sentimental and at times tries too hard for the flourish. And the story takes a very strange turn at the end that I didn't think it needed.

So, an okay easy read for the summer, but nothing serious.

Those Damn Fundamentalists

Yes, they are at it again.

Remember a few weeks ago I wrote about the textbook approval process in Texas and how that influences textbooks around the country? If not, read here. Today I got an update on this year's battle -- health textbooks.

Every other year the Texas Freedom Network has worked to keep material in the books and not have it removed by the fundies. For example, last year's effort was to keep evolution in the biology books.

But this year, things are different. The four new health textbooks that are being looked at for approval have recently come in. And this year the fight will be to get things included that are not currently there, a much more difficult fight.

What's not there? Three of the four books do not mention condoms. And the one that does does so only in the context of condom failure. A book on public health does not give our kids instruction on contraception.

I plan on going to Austin this year to testify before the State Board of Education. Check out the TFN website, linked to the left over there, to see what else can be done.


Saw Saved! the other night.

The first half is really great, really funny satire. I laughed long and hard. And think that I'd have to see it a few more times to pick up on everything.

But the second half falls into a lot of high school romantic comedy conventions and isn't as good. The point made in the end is a good one, but I wish they'd stayed with the satire.

A Figment of the Imagination

I once told Jennifer Lunsford, otherwise known as "the girl in Paris" (that's France, not Texas), that she'd have to cure me of my cynicism and find the romantic buried down beneath.

That's a pretty good description of my attitudes toward love. Mary-Casey, Natalie, & Brittany are often writing on this subject, and I'm often having conversations with my teenagers and married friends and single friends on this great human subject.

Since childhood I've been a romantic, though that got buried deep through the cynicism that developed in my twenties. I remember riding back from house-hunting in Fayetteville and shocking Mom by telling her that I didn't think I believed in finding someone to spend one's life with. That was the high point of the cynic.

But then every time the chance for love comes along, somewhere the romantic rises from where he sleeps. Oh, he knows that the western "romantic myth" is a falsehood that provides endless despair to those fooled by it. And he knows that the more recent "evangelical romantic myth" of "the one" that you are fated for is even worse. He has learned from the cynic and the realist that real relationships require lots of hard work. And he has grown over the years through each failed love and each unrequited crush (and there have been many).

But the romantic still hopes that someone will come along that will transform the whole person and make life make sense and provide joy, security, and hope. Yet everytime that it looks as if that is what is happening, life suddenly comes crashing down and the romantic goes back to sleep and lets the cynic and the realist take charge. And he wonders how many more times the heart can stand to be shattered and how many years it will take to repair it this time.


Tim's got a great post on The Chronicles of Narnia and sex that you need to read.

So, I've finished my first post-camp nap and though I'm still tired, draggy, and feel like my head it floating, I've been checking e-mail, reading blogs, and now want to record some thoughts on this week's experience.

Going to youth camp is such a complicated thing. It must be evaluated from so many levels. There is the level of the late night Risk game, which was somewhat weak this year (though Joey dominated with force in his last turn taking out all four other players in one turn). There's the level of "did I continue to be as funny as I've been in the past and maybe even add to my funniness?" And since I've got to have the wildest/ most standoutish costume at the dance, since I've created that expectation, did I live up to it again this year? This list could go on.

But the most significant ways to evaluate seem to be:
1) Did our particular group have a great time and grow together?
2) Did the kids in our group really each have a good time?
3) Did my sponsors have meaningful experiences?
4) How did the community that is the Southwest Baptist Youth Camping Association fare?

First, I think the group did. From the spontaneous music video of Bohemian Rhapsody in the Cici's parking lot to the Ring of Fire performance, I think they really did.

Second, seems so. Natalie said it was the best five days of her life. Sydney said it got her to thinking about God for the first time. Blair & Brooke were more engaged in the life of the group. Etc.

Third, difficult. It was a difficult week for my adults. I hate that.

Fourth, I think the community suffered.

It's always difficult to come home thinking camp was both great and wasn't, but it is on different levels.

The SWBYCA is wonderful group. It started 40 someodd years ago as progressive and moderate churches wanted a different camping choice than what the SBC and state conventions provided. It has, over time, been made up of some of the leading progressive and reform-minded congregations in the region. These churches needed that community as they were engaged in the religious battles of previous decades, making this a community that came through much turmoil with others. And it is made up of pastors, youth ministers, and lay people whom I really love and respect and value.

But we've got some issues. Last year I had a bad camp experience. The ministers got to fighting worse than the adults. And this year I had a negative experience as well.

There seems to be a division between those of us who believe in a more grace-filled approach to rules and a more permissive and free style of entertainment and communication. And there are those who disagree. The low point for me came this week when someone in response to my appeal, "but we don't believe in absolutes" said, "but I think some people are ready for some absolutes."

I thought that I could trust these churches and these people not to have hang ups about allowing kids and adults more freedom with their sexual humour, safe expressions of their sexuality, and to not spend lots of time worrying about rules. I thought this community was better than it is. And when friends disappoint you, it's pretty tough.

Prisoner of Azkaban

I remember November 2001 being at Lucas & Sarah's rehearsal dinner, sitting at the same table as John, Kelly Kiser and her mom, and . . . (I don't remember who else), when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came up in conversation. A bunch of folk were planning on seeing it that night after the rehearsal, but I had caught a matinee before the rehearsal and everyone was envious. I enjoyed that first film because it did a good job of introducing the world. That first book wasn't all that great and, ultimately, the movie wasn't either, because both had this monumental task of creating a new world. The movie so slavishly followed every plot of the book that it lacked the spirit of the story, something Chris Columbus failed at again in Chamber of Secrets.

But Prisoner of Azkaban is a completely different film. And a far better one.

I was initially excited when I heard that Alfonso Cuaron would direct. And that proved to be a good choice, because this film really does a good job of capturing early teen angst, development, and identity problems (yet in the metaphorical way that we Buffy fans valued about that tv show). And I love the humour of the opening shot of Harry playing with his wand.

Immediately you realize you are in a different film. The colours are darker. It's a little grainer. The camera moves more realistically. I found myself jumping at things and being creeped out by a thing or two. This one really captured the sense of magic with all its ambiguity.

I watched it with my new seventh graders and some other youth as part of VBS. It was funny to hear their reactions. They are dedicated readers of the stories and complained when every detail wasn't right, though most did acknowledge this one to be the best. One kid complained this one was too short (2 hours and 15 minutes isn't 2 1/2 hours, I guess?).

Blair kept asking what my favourite scene was. It is the scene where Harry is trying to defend Sirius from the Dementors, the first time you see this sequence of events. It is visually powerful and emotionally raw.

Thinking last night, I realized that the metaphors work for more than young teens. Many of us have dementors in our lives -- those things that can suck our souls (or at least part of them). I think of my many friends who battle depression or other illnesses. Last night was one of those nights (not every night but maybe once a week, or, when I'm better, maybe once a month) when I lie awake trying to go to sleep but the overpowering sense of loneliness keeps me awake. I then toss and turn throughout the night. And awake wanting to stay in bed and not get up and go have fun with kids and teenagers because fun is the furtherest thing from my mind. It's in moments like these when you sometimes feel that there is maybe some part of you that's dying, that being drained away. I just wish I knew the patronus spell for that.

We've come a long way from that night in 2001 when the dazzle of the new world enchanted us. Now we're dealing with serious issues. And Harry's story gets even darker from here.