Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Link Dump: What I've Been Reading

Some things I've been reading and considering:

-- Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. on UMC unity (page 3):
"But it is not a form of unity that declares everyone must think alike. Rather, it is the unity demonstrated in the virtues befitting a person who follows Christ: humility, gentleness, and patience."
"We must find the path that leads us to the unity that was present in the early church. We owe it to the Church we love to do this."
I love the phrasing about what we owe the Church. Bishop Hayes is one of my favorite speakers and writers, and while I don't think there is much new here, I appreciate his tone and that he addressed this topic. He also ends with a note about what his role - his calling - as bishop is, which is important.

--Steven D. Bruns on "How the Early Church Engaged With Culture"
"They were expatriates of the Kingdom of God in the Empire of Rome." By the end of this year, I'll have spent about 45% of the last year and half outside of the US, so the expat image really resonated for me.
"It was this kind of group identification that held the early Christians together and encouraged them to continue in the faith... No one was ever alone in the faith. No one was on an exclusively personal journey." This is something I will hold to forever. Yes, faith is personal, but this is also a corporate journey. We need each other.

-- Derek Z. Rishmawy on Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Theories of atonement were one of the things I discovered this summer, and I find this really helpful. I also appreciate that Rishmawy emphasizes that one can work with multiple models for atonement at the same time. He mentions both Christus Victor and moral influence (though Christus Victor more),  though not ransom or governmental, but the focus isn't really on comparison to other atonement models but more a defense of PSA against common criticisms.
Reading through as a sort-of-outsider, it seems like there's a problem with PSA being presented in a way that so lacks nuance as to dangerously distort the theory, but I'm not sure.

-- From the United Methodist Committee on Relief Newsletter:
On the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy:
"We offer prayers of thanksgiving for those whose lives have been restored and we pray for those who continue to struggle for light, for order, for healing, in their lives.
But Lord, let us do more than pray. Let us offer ourselves in service. Guide us to the people and places you would have us serve in your name."

-- Jonathan Aigner on not offering different worship styles:
I agree with a lot of what he has to say, especially about historical elements and the purpose of worship, and I love that he does not equate traditional with old. There are also some things - like the part about falsely equating music with worship - that I think he states better in the comments than in the original post.
On the other hand, for four years I attended a church that offered three services, two traditional (early and late) and one contemporary (same time as late service). The church was large enough that it needed three services -- yes, even early was well attended! -- and having the contemporary and late traditional at the same time meant that everyone had Sunday School at the same time. I think the mixing in SS classes was more important to congregational connection than a single type of service style would have been. But I was also surprised by how many people sometimes went to one service and sometimes went to another, which isn't normal at other churches I've attended.
As someone who almost always goes to early service if a church has multiple services, I also wonder about early vs. late service, even of the same style, in terms of congregational unity. The church I attended for a decade growing up definitely neglected its early service musically compared to the later traditional service, for example.

--If you haven't heard, Frank Schaefer was reinstated. Really this time. Here's the comment I made on Facebook because I've seen people of all opinions misunderstanding this decision:
"It's tempting, I think, to try to see this decision as a statement about the church's position on marriage, but it's not. From the beginning, this has been about upholding the Book of Discipline. Schaefer was reinstated not because the trial court was wrong in finding him guilty, but rather because the trial court's penalties themselves violated the Discipline. This is not a step towards changing the Discipline; it is an affirmation of it."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Bulwark Never Failing

Happy Reformation Sunday! In honor of Martin Luther, here are some thoughts on his most famous hymn, as translated by Frederick Hedge:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood 
of mortal ills prevaling. 
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

We need God. We need God's love, we need God's grace, and we need God's protection. On our own we are not enough. We cannot walk on this path around which "the world, the flesh, and Satan dwell" ("Be Thou My Guardian and My Guide," Isaac Williams) without God's guidance and help. God is our high ground that does not wash away. God is our fortress that will never fail, for the darkness has never overcome the light.

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Church, One Faith, One Lord

Something I didn't quote in my Evensong post last month was the closing hymn, which was "Thy Hand, O God, Has Guided" by Edward H. Plumptre. Before service started, I had a long conversation with the lady sitting next to me about ecumenism, to what extent it's valuable, and what unity in the Body really looks like. Between the discussions we had around the college Christian Fellowship last spring and all the discussion about the United Methodist Church right now, I've been thinking about unity a lot, so this really felt like God speaking.

Thy hand, O God, has guided
Thy flock, from age to age;
The wondrous tale is written,
Full clear, on every page;
Our fathers owned thy goodness,
And we their deeds record;
And both of this bear witness:
One Church, one faith, one Lord.

The Church is not just today. The Church is through all time, those who have had faith in the one Lord. God has been present, guiding God's followers through all time and in all contexts, and we have so much evidence of this - in the Bible, of course, but throughout theological writing, throughout the stories we've heard in and about the church - God is present. There is one God who is everlasting and omnipresent.

When we look around and look at the church, we may see that details have changed. It may seem like everything changes. But there is one Lord, and so there is one Church united by faith in God.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Just a quick post to recommend this two part article by Martyn Wendell Jones:
Holy Relics: The Hymnal, Part 1
Holy Relics: The Hymnal, Part 2

It's beautiful, and it's true, and it's everything I love about hymnody.

Some excerpts:
"The Church's songs convey its beliefs about God, but they also convey its beliefs about God's world.... Our hymnody is an ongoing act of co-creation. The world to come is made manifest through an anointing in language and music."

"To sing is also to fight. The song of the Church is a song of resistance. To open the faded red book and sing is to see otherwise, by the paradoxical light of a sound."

"To sing is to take these two bodies and make them as weightless as words, given without measure to the invisible, inaudible God."

"They sing with millions; they are alone in the dust and cold and darkness of this arid room, and my God, my God, how many are joining them."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

One in Ministry to All the World

World Communion Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year, and this year especially it means a lot. Over the course of 2014, I've worshipped in the UMC in Massachusetts where I'm a a member, nearby Episcopal and Catholic churches, the UMC in the southern plains that I attended in high school, Aldersgate Methodist Church in Singapore, St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Budapest, and a UMC in Budapest. And tomorrow, on World Communion Sunday, I'll be at a church in Bratislava, Slovakia.

World Communion Sunday is a day for us to remember that all around the world, we are one Body of Christ, united around the table despite our differences (even our differences in beliefs about communion!). 

One bread, one Body,
One Lord of all, 
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many 
Throughout the earth
We are one Body in this one Lord.

We partake of one loaf and one cup as ordained by the one Lord. We are united by the grace of this meal, by our proclamation of Christ's death.

Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup,
We proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

This meal goes by many names: the Lord's Supper, reminding us whose table this is, or Eucharist, reminding us that this is a meal of thanksgiving. But for this Sunday, it is most appropriately communion. We do not come to the table alone; we do not take this journey of faith alone. We are part of a global community of faith. We are all the Church.

I am the Church,

You are the Church,
We are the Church together!
All who follow Jesus,
All around the world,
Yes, we're the Church together!

No matter what we believe about this meal, we go forth from the table changed, united, and commissioned to go into all the world and proclaim the good news.

"Lelked által tégy minket eggyé Krisztussal, eggyé egymással és eggyé az egész világ felé való szolgálatban."
("By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.")