Wednesday, October 27, 2004


A quick update on life in seminary since the last time the Lummox spoke:

1. I lost my new cell phone. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. (Incidentally, for those of you who have called me since Saturday at 5 PM--I don't hate you, I've just lost my phone.)

2. Also, I lost my gym membership card, my CD player is broken, and I bought about 5 pairs of nail clippers and lost them all, bought a new one, and then found the old ones again. IRRITATING.

2. Jon Stewart is my new hero. If you haven't seen the video of his appearance on Crossfire, or at least read the transcript, I urge you, urge! you! to do so now. Not only is he one of the funniest comedians in America today, apparently he also has a conscience and a still-functioning sense of moral outrage at how our media in America dumbs down public discourse. Right on, bro.

3. Everything in Adam's room has been turned upside-down. Some say best prank evs. Check out the photos.

4. It's reading week at the Seminary, so I'm sneaking away with some friends--including a large contingent of PTS bloggers (Adam, Nick, Dean) for two nights at Holy Cross Monastery in New York. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Several months ago, I blogged about these GI Joe animated shorts available at Ebaumsworld. (For the uninitiated, they took the old GI Joe cartoon PSAs, and dubbed them over with silly voices and bizarre editing.) They are, in my humble opinion, nothing short of unfettered genius. Well, good news: in the interim, they've made several more. Which are also very very good. (EDITED TO ADD: D'OH! Links should now work. Note to self: sign up for remedial link-creating course at Princeton.)

An excellent way of chasing my hourlong precept discussion of Arianism and Christology.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

BOSS ME AROUND (or, thoughts about church authority)

(N.B.: I’ve been musing about this idea for a while. Modifications/alterations/retractions may or may not follow. Thanks for feedback/thoughts.)

In the fantastic collection of Stanley Hauerwas’ essays, the Hauerwas Reader, William Cavanaugh tells a wonderful story about Hauerwas’ encounter with a Methodist minister in South Bend, Indiana.

I think that Stanley, like the proverbial Italian soldier, spent many years looking for someone to whom he could surrender. He developed strong ties to Broadway Methodist (his church in South Bend, Indiana) precisely because his pastor, John Smith, took his ministry seriously enough to boss Stanley around. When Hauerwas expressed his desire to join Broadway Methodist, Smith asked about his membership status in the Methodist Church. Stanley told Smith that he had been ordained a deacon years ago, but wasn’t sure what had happened to his membership in the meantime. Without blinking, Smith told the famous theologian that he wasn’t much of a churchman, and he would have to attend classes at the church for a year. So he did…what Hauerwas continues to teach is that the church must take seriously the authority given it by the Holy Spirit if it is to save people from the tyranny of their own individual wills.

For a lot of reasons, combining ‘authority’ with ‘religion’ makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Usually people (and I include myself) hear ‘authority’ or ‘authority of Scripture’ as shorthand for a wide variety of theological positions: ‘no women in church leadership’ or ‘gay people = bad’ or 'evolution is incompatible with Christianity' or other, mostly conservative, positions that we’re not fond of. And, frankly, much of the time, that’s fair. Christians misused the idea of church authority for a long time, and that abuse continues in many quarters of the church today. (One’s thoughts turn immediately to the Catholic Church, of course, where bishops used their authority as leaders of the church to protect child-molesting priests and shield them from the law.) But, like the church’s views on sex, I think a lot of churches are in reaction to one kind of church—an authoritarian, bossy, judgemental church—and in their reaction throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think some churches (in practice if not in principle) abandon any idea of speaking authoritatively to people at all, and that is disastrous.

I think this problem is most prevalent in liberal mainline churches, but I’d imagine it’s pretty widespread. One of my professors (the awesome John W. Stewart, not to be confused with the other Jon Stewart, who is also awesome) told us a story in lecture last week. He attended a Presbyterian church service at which a deacon was being ordained. They were proceeding with the service, but right before the ordination, the deacon stopped, and turned to address the congregation, and said, “I just want you all to know, I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.” And the minister looked at him, and said, “Well, that’s OK. We accept all kinds of people here.” And they ordained him as a leader in the church.

Setting aside for a moment the obvious illogic of ordaining as a deacon in the church someone who does not believe the central tenet of the church (Welcome to the Springfield Golf Club! What’s that? Hate golf? No problem!). [I’m pretty I borrowed that example from Camassia, though I’m not sure…], my question is: what kind of message is the church sending by doing something like that? The church is more than a voluntary association; it’s more than a place to hang out Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. The church has to stand for something, has to be willing to say, “This is what we, Christians, are about.” Unfortunately, the nature of saying “this is what we’re about” also requires you, at some points, to say “this is what we are not about.” If the church tries to be about everything, it’ll wind up being about nothing.

Saying ‘the church needs set boundaries’ and ‘the church needs to speak authoritatively to people’ does NOT mean that the church needs to be more authoritarian. That’s quite the opposite of what I’m saying. It’s just that, even if the church has a very clear sense of whom it serves and what its hope is in, unless it is willing to correct people, to steer them towards that sense, it doesn’t matter.

As another of my professors (the great Paul Rorem) is fond of saying, the church is an inclusive community (everyone is welcome) with an exclusive creed (Jesus Christ is lord). It’s always a tenuous job to try to keep those in balance, and many times the church has erred on the ‘exclusive creed’ side. But this does not relieve us Christians of the need to demarcate some kind of boundary for the church.

John Stewart again: a couple came to him. They were not Christians. They hadn’t darkened a church door in years. But they were married, and they’d just had a baby and wanted the baby to be baptized. And Stew says to them, well, do you consider yourselves Christians? And they say, well, no. And he thinks about it, and says, look, I’d love to baptize your child, and I want to, but I cannot do so. Not unless you give me some concrete indication that you yourself have some kind of commitment to the church. And, of course, the couple blew up at him and got quite angry.

Now, I suppose someone could look at that story and just see a hard-hearted or controlling minister. Or worse, someone withholding the grace of God from a helpless infant. I’m open to people making those cases if they want to try. But, in my opinion, I think Stew made the right call (or, at least, a call that was well within the range of acceptable responses). Baptism, for Christians, ought not to be just a ‘thanks-see-ya-at-easter-and-christmas’ kind of commitment. Baptism is part of being ‘born again by water and the spirit,’ and for parents of children being baptized, it entails both a confession of Christian faith on their part and a commitment by the parents to educate their child in the Christian faith. By doing things like, oh, I don’t know, bringing them to church? Teaching them to pray? Reading to them from the Bible? None of which those parents were willing to do.

I like that example partly because it re-frames the usual discussions of church authority. The church is feuding within itself, of course, over many issues relating to authority and Biblical authority—on ordination of women, on sex and homosexuality, even (in some quarters of the church) on evolution. These issues are still open wounds, and for many people (myself included) they’re still quite raw. I find examples like the one above helpful because they show that, even outside the quite contentious questions that all of us know about, the issue of the authority of the church remains quite important and worthy of our attention.

Look, I’m a lazy person. One of the central questions I ask myself (sometimes jokingly, other times not) when I visit a church is, “Is this worth getting out of bed for?” Sometimes it feels like a relief to practice a religion that doesn’t make any demands on you, that doesn’t ask you to be different from the way you are now, or the way you believe now, or the way you think now. You get all the good stuff—God exists, God loves you—without any of the hard stuff. But in the long run it feels disappointing. It feels like you’ve invested in a religion that’s just not worth getting out of bed for. The real Christian message is both “God loves you just as you are…” AND “…but not enough to let you stay that way.” Parts of the church (the parts I’ve been in, anyway) need to recover the second half of that message. Maybe other parts need to recover the first. Both are necessary.


So, just so everybody knows what a colossal nerd I am:

I suspect I may have pulled a muscle in my back...while studying. I think I sat in a chair at an odd angle for a few too many minutes while studying in Starbucks, and now as a result I feel like Grandpa Simpson.

Comment from one Mr. Reno Lauro: "Dude. That's dangerously close to Tri-Lam territory."