Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

The end of Abraham Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address, from the Lincoln Memorial in DC. Happy Memorial Day . . . and thanks to all veterans, particularly those who gave their all.


More from Gregory Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion:

All things are inventions of holiness - some more rascally than others (citing poet Mary Oliver, p. 154)

We discover our true selves in love (citing Thomas Merton, p. 143).

God created us - because He thought we'd enjoy it (citing his director of novices, Leo Rock, p. 147).

Missouri Tornados

Bishop Middleton sends the following letter from Bishop Robert Schnaze of the Missouri Conference. Offerings to assist in this and the other recent tragedies can be sent to the church designated U.S. Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #3021326.

"Among those killed in the devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri, were several United Methodists, and every United Methodist Church in the area has members who have lost their homes. All our pastors and church staff are safe. We lost two church buildings, including St. Paul United Methodist Church (a large, strong, vibrant congregation with an average attendance of close to 1000), and we lost the District Superintendent's Office. Several other churches and parsonages received more limited damage. The hospital and five of the seven schools in Joplin were nearly completely destroyed.

"The Missouri Conference Disaster Response team has been active and effective from the earliest hours, and many of our churches have sent trained First Responder teams. Tom Hazlewood from UMCOR was on the ground in Joplin within 24 hours. Many of you have generously offered funds directly to the Missouri Conference and others have expressed your intention of supporting the UMCOR Spring Storms appeal. All of your gifts are appreciated. In addition many have expressed their active interest in sending VIM teams to the area. Please refrain from doing so during the immediate days ahead since only highly trained and professional teams are on-site at this time. However, we shall covet your help during the weeks and months to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May Flowers, May Showers


It has been the wettest year on record since Hurricane Agnes ... and the flowers are beautiful!


Last Saturday, Kristi and Scott were married here at Bethany. Sunday, Ashlynn and Steve were married. Ashlynn is the daughter of our director of children's ministries.

First Dysfunctional Families (4): Redemption for All - Victims and Perpetrators

Genesis 37:2-4, 12-13, 18, 21-27 (story told with kids)

Genesis 44:18 - 45:8

With kids – Joseph hated, sold into slavery by Judah and brothers

Preview, summary of intervening story:
Joseph’s brothers covered up the deed, never telling their father, what had happened, making it appear as if Joseph was killed by a wild animal.

But God was with Joseph in his slavery. He was promoted to running the household of a prominent official, then framed for attempted rape of the official’s wife. In prison, he became the leading inmate. When the Pharaoh, king of Egypt, had a disturbing dream, he was referred to Joseph for an interpretation. Joseph delivered and rose to become the most powerful man in Egypt, other than the Pharaoh himself.

A severe seven year famine came, affecting the entire region, but Joseph had Egypt prepared. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. They did not recognize Joseph, so he began to test them and their family loyalties. “Do you have any other brothers?” “Yes, the youngest one is back home.” “To prove you are not spies, you must bring him the next time you come for grain.” And, when that next time came, Joseph had the younger brother, Benjamin, framed for theft. All the brothers came back to meet with Joseph, still not realizing who he was, and Judah – the one who led in selling Joseph into slavery – took the lead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Members!

Congrats to Danna & Casey (presented by Gregg and Robin) and to David and Bri (presented by Barb), who joined Bethany Church this past Sunday!


I am reading and enjoying Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. It is full of wonderful stories of discovering grace and meeting God among the projects and gangs of Los Angeles. Some quotes from the work of this Jesuit priest:

Meister Eckhart (a mystic and theologian from the 13th and 14th centuries): “God is bigger than God” (26).
Robert Frost: “How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?” (111)
Boyle: “Change awaits us. What is decisive is our deciding” (111).
The season of change is upon us. Perennials make their comeback. Irises bloom. Grass grows (much too quickly!). I’m running behind on the spring yard work, but I enjoy watching – and participating – in the change of season. We can watch it happen, or something can “occur” to us and we can participate in it – planting some new dianthus, getting into a small group, talking about Jesus with a friend. It is time for “deciding”.

Spring Fling

In the news

Students Jack Shellenberger, left and Kaitlyn Boudah and pre-school teacher Aimee Walton lead the four-year old class in a song at St. John Lutheran School. (John A. Pavoncello)
 See the entire article at the York Dispatch.

The First Dysfunctional Families (3): Righteous, More or Less

Psalm 11
John 4 (Samaritan woman, kids)
Genesis 38:6-30 (message)

There are several things that we need to address, by way of background, that will help us approach this difficult passage.

First, the context: this story serves as an interruption in the Joseph story. In chapter 37, Joseph, he of the “technicolor dreamcoat”, is sold into slavery by his brothers, particularly by Judah. The story of Joseph concerns inheritance law and the question of which brother will lead the next generation . . . and Judah and Joseph were the rival heirs apparent. No wonder Judah leaves his family for a while. Now, by the time the Joseph story ends, Judah has a radical change of heart about what it means to be faithful to family, but that is not the story for this week.

Second, “levirate marriage” and inheritance law. The tradition from Moses is that if a firstborn son dies married but without an heir, then the next son takes the brother’s widow as wife and the firstborn of that union replaces the dead firstborn son in the father’s will. Got it? The custom is at the root of a peculiar question posed to Jesus by the Saducees (Mark 12:18-23). They asked about seven brothers, all of whom died (in age order), all of whom married the widow of the first brother, and none of whom left an heir. Their question: In the resurrection, whose wife is she? The question was peculiar because the Saducees didn’t believe in resurrection anyway and because the case they cite is so extreme as to be ludicrous. But, they end up quoting from the Tamar story, “raise up children for your brother” (Genesis 38:8), not just from the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). No wonder Jesus’ response includes the line, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”. Tamar’s story doesn’t end with barrenness but with twins. (See J. Gerald Janzen, 1993, Genesis 12-50: Abraham and All the Families of the Earth, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 155-156.)

Third, this is a great place to be reminded of John Wesley’s comment “There is no personal holiness without social holiness.” Tamar is the one who is faithful to the family, to the demands of the levirate custom. She is the one who builds up Judah’s family. She is the “more righteous” one. But the social context is broken and it is so difficult to read holiness, righteousness, in the story. While the mission of the church remains focused on “making disciples”, we cannot overlook the “transformation of the world”. Jesus addressed social structures in his own time, and we can do it now.

The First Dysfunctional Families (2): Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?

Genesis 16:1-16, 21:1-21
I read this story and shake my head. What made this seem like such a great idea? It has “disaster” written all over it! This isn’t simple surrogacy, which can be complicated enough, the kind turned into comedy in the film Baby Mama (which I haven’t seen). This is slavery. And, Sarai’s “slave-girl” or “maid servant” is given to Abram as a “wife” (16:3). And Hagar never gets asked if she is comfortable with the arrangement. No wonder, once she is pregnant, and now that she is wife, not just slave, she feels that she is better than barren Sarai. Sarai accuses Abram of not maintaining the proper balance in the relationship between the wives. I imagine him asking, “Whose idea was this, anyway?” But instead of addressing the problem itself, he gives Hagar back to Sarai as slave. The entire thing seems so foreign, so wrong, that it is hard to imagine this being part of the story of the “people of God”.

So, let’s take a few minutes to look at ancient cultural and legal traditions. The use of slave girls as surrogate-wife was common in the ancient world, and Sarai’s suggestion both proceeds in the customary fashion and uses the standard legal language associated with the practice. Yes, God had promised Abram an heir, but had not explicitly spoken of that heir as coming through Sarai. She is taking initiative, not a bad thing in itself, and making a personal sacrifice to share her husband (Terence Fretheim, Genesis, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, I:452). She may also be sensing the pressure of her barrenness upon the situation. Barrenness was not only shameful, but provided additional motive, in an already polygamous and male-centered society, for the man to take an additional wife. Giving a slave as surrogate-wife was a common way to prevent a husband from taking a fully equal second wife (Tikva Frymer-Kensky, cited in Talking About Genesis: A Resource Guide, by Bill Moyers with Public Affairs Television, p 94). But, Sarai’s plan was for the child born to Hagar to be Sarai’s. She steadfastly refers to Hagar only as “slave-girl”, and Abraham too never refers to Hagar by name (Frymer-Kensky, 95; Fretheim, 452). Despite the efforts to keep Hagar in “her place”, she develops a clear and powerful sense of her own identity (F-K, 95), over against her mistress, as a mother, and even as a person before God (Fretheim, 453). So much for the plan! Whose idea was this, anyway?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The First Dysfunctional Families (1): Bad Seed, Bad Blood

Genesis 4:1-16

We struggle when we come face to face with stories like these. We ask, “It’s in the Bible? Are you kidding?” It seems more fitting for myth and legend of ancient cultures, and indeed, it has something in common with stories like the founding of Rome – Romulus kills his brother Remus and founds the great urban power and empire. Cain kills his brother Abel, and he founds the city of Enoch, named for Cain’s son. Cain’s descendants (Genesis 4:17-24) are musicians, metal-smiths and another murderer. What is the connection between the “impulse to create” and the “impulse to destroy”? (See Christopher M. Leighton, cited in Talking About Genesis: A Resource Guide, by Bill Moyers with Public Affairs Television, p 53.)

But our struggle with the story is not just the academic one – is it history or myth? Either way, for people of faith, it is Holy Scripture, Word of God. But that brings us to another struggle: The moral ambiguity and, often enough, the moral degradation reflected in these stories. Even God is not without fault, it seems, for regarding one brother more favorably than another. My own response to this tension is two-fold. First, a newsflash: Life is not fair. When my kids complained about parental fairness, which kids do at a certain point in their development, I just reminded them of this fact and informed them that I had no intention of treating them “fairly”, if by “fairly” they meant “equally”. From my perspective, treating two different sons as entirely equal would have been, as Jon Levenson would say, not just an inequity but an iniquity. (See the phrasing, “inequity” and “iniquity”, of Jon D. Levenson cited in Talking About Genesis: A Resource Guide, by Bill Moyers with Public Affairs Television, p 51.) The boys are different, and we treat them differently.