REVIEW – The Year of Living Biblically

A.J. Jacobs’ book, (subtitled “One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible”) has been out long enough that there are probably many reviews available, so mine will just be a quick summary of why you can skip it.

It’s contrived. You may be aware of people who can play the handsaw. They can play recognizable songs. This guy is playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I’m sure it took some time to learn to do it, and it’s interesting, but it has very little impact on the musical world.

It seems to me that A.J. Jacobs has made a similar contribution to religion. He spent a year, looking at Biblical law and trying to follow all the rules, no matter how obscure. (His previous book was about his year spent reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica) He did this with the help of some advisors, but not in community. He acknowledges this deficit.

I’m trying to fly solo on a route that was specifically designed for a crowd….This year I’ve tried to worship alone and find meaning alone. The solitary approach has its advantages…But I was doing it [specifically, observing holidays, but I think it sums up the whole exercise] cluelessly and by myself, and it felt empty.

The Guinness Book of World Records is a fun book.In it you can find out some cool things about odd people doing odd thing. Jacobs’ book is similar. He plays the saw, or dances for 72 hours straight. It is not really a faith journey, though some of it allows him to discuss his lack of belief. He does not end up seemingly much further down the road then he was when he began.

Jacobs has a good sense of humor throughout his self-imposed ordeal. I imagine his wife had to have had the patience of Job. Jacobs writing is worth reading, I just wish his wit and energy was put into something a little more substantial.

Mickey Carpenter

Last week when Mickey’s boat was found, I was affected from the loss of someone who meant a lot to me. I wanted to post a remembrance of him because I knew that he meant a lot to others in the United Methodist church. Many people have left comments and prayers that have been forwarded on to Marsha and the family.

As I received information, I had posted it to my blog until I was told that people were taking that information out of context, and with no knowledge of the family or the situation, were using that to create rumors and speculation on other internet pages.

I am sorry that I ever posted anything about it. That people would spread hatred and meanness when what is called for is prayer and encouragement is disturbing. I am sincerely sorry that I was part of adding to the pain that Mickey’s family is going through. I can offer only my apologies and prayers that God will heal our broken world. Come Lord Jesus.

(I will not be posting any comments to this item, in the hopes that any further discussion will simply cease. If you leave a comment, I will receive it, but it will not show up on the website. Thanks.)

NT Wright

The Bishop of Durham came to Music City last night and provided a great synopsis of his book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I haven’t read the book, but Wright has been working through this topic for some time, and it’s present in his work Jesus and the Victory of God. [correction: The Resurrection of the Son of God] You can also find some summaries of his views on the unofficial NT Wright page, and he discussed it in the Serious Answers to Hard Questions video series.

Wright challenges the popular concept of heaven as the final resting place where we will sit on clouds and play harps. His entry point for the discussion last night was from a coffee cup he got at Starbucks:

The Way I See It #230
“Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”
— Joel Stein
Columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

I won’t continue to attempt to speak for Wright. He does a fine job on his own, and I’m sure this book will start discussions about the resurrection in which the church should definitely be engaged.

The atmosphere was not fully like a rock concert, but I admit that I was excited to find that he was walking into the church right ahead of us. There were no concert shirts, but plenty of books which Wright kindly stayed after to sign. Wright was not presenting a new album, in that this was material that he has covered, and was familiar to many who were in attendance, but it was delivered and received well. The audience skewed younger than The Police concert I attended last year.

West End is a large beautiful church and Wright towered over us from the pulpit. He was fighting a cold, but I was sitting close enough that it didn’t have any affect on hearing him. He is an engaging speaker, and to further strain my concert analogy, it was a great set. Wright’s benediction reminded me again of my need to be joyful. The Cubs won, I had a good India Pale Ale and conversation with a friend, and I was blessed by the Bishop of Durham. Not a bad evening.

UPDATE (Hat tip to Gavin Richardson Tennessean Article re: Bishop’s visit.

Race and the church

I am part of a church that is mostly rich white people. We have some people who might be at the low end of the middle class, and we have had a few people of Asian descent, and one woman whose husband is black, but he’s a member of another congregation.

One group that I’m part of, the Ekklesia Project, is also mostly middle and upper class white people. We’ll be discussing some of the reasons when we meet this year at the gathering.

Another group that I’m a member of, though I’m not much of a contributor, is the Emmaus community, and it’s also mostly middle class white people.

And yet another group which I am involved in, which has no name other than coffeehouse theology, is middle class white men. In May we’ll be discussing issues of race as well, using this article by Dr. Gene Davenport as our starting point.

During Holy Week, our church hosts other churches for noon services. There’s a thirty minute worship service, followed by lunch. One of the CME churches in the area led the Good Friday service. Then we ate together, or at least we ate in the same room. A few of their members sat on the side of the room that was largely occupied by members of our congregation, but most from the CME church sat at two long tables. After the meal, we did more socializing, but eating was separate, and I’m not sure how intentional that was from either group. But it was noticeable.

There are members of each congregation that are old enough to remember separate fountains and movie theater entrances. The best hamburger joint in Tennessee (which happens to be here in Henderson) has a walk up window. It’s handy for ordering a quick milkshake, but I’m wondering if that was its original purpose.

I don’t know what to do about this. I have heard that there are efforts by the United Methodist church to work more closely with CME and AME churches, to help us all figure out why we’re still so divided by race and economic circumstances. Locally, I’m going to do what I can to connect Methodist congregations in the county (regardless of whether they’re United, Christian or African) so that we’ll all be aware of one another. Maybe the Holy Spirit will help us to pray together, worship together and eat together a little more often.

Homeschooling, home church, and the internet.

I learned a lot about New Monasticism this week, though as is often the case with discussions regarding theology and ecclesiology, I’m left with even more questions than answers. It was good to sit and eat with Jon and Sparky and talk about NCAA basketball, long drives and what it means to be church.

The coffeehouse theology group that meets once a month also discussed this topic, and we had originally hoped to sit with Jon together, but schedules just didn’t work out. The coffeehouse group helps to sustain and enrich me because the people who gather there are all committed to Christ and to truly working for the body. I hope it enriches the others as well.

In discussing New Monasticism, our discussion also involved home churches. We also touched on the topic of homeschooling, which shares some things in common with home church. One of the things that we can all acknowledge is that the internet has played a large role in growing these movements.

People who had so often felt alone, whether in removing their kids from public and private schools, or in preferring to worship in small group settings, are now able to talk about this with people in other towns, states and countries.

Certainly, the groups existed before the internet was such a cultural force in the world, but they were restricted by the costs of publishing and travel as well as the difficulty of even finding others who were thinking in similar ways.

Now, regardless of your particular interest, you can just google it. You may have to go to the second or even third page, but you will find others with similar interests. This is both blessing and curse, of course, but it’s certainly a phenomenon that we didn’t have 25 years ago.

We have used a very new technology to fortify ideas that are very old. New Monasticism leans heavily on the monastic orders that have been with us for ages. Public schools have only been around for minutes in the days of history. It will be interesting to see the directions that these movements take as they continue to build on the resources the internet provides.

New Monasticism

These folks are Sparky, Katrina, Karlie, and Jon. They work at Windows Booksellers in Eugene Oregon. They are also part of a Church known as Church of the Servant King. Jon is on a book buying trip this week which will bring him through Jackson.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m interested in new monasticism. Every year, when many of us gather for a meeting of the Ekklesia Project I enjoy talking with those members from Eugene, not least because Jon has fabulous taste in cigars and is generous.

Another reason is because the culture in Eugene is probably the furthest you can get from West Tennessee and still be in the same country. It’s interesting. I’m looking forward to sitting with Stock for a few hours.

Annual Conference changes

I’m sure every UM Annual conference is looking at some changes this year. I would guess that whenever General Conference is held, more changes are suggested at Annual conference, but I could be wrong. The “transition team” for the Memphis annual conference has suggested many changes. Several of them are available for viewing at the Memphis conference page. I’ll save you the ridiculous clicking lens noise of that site by direct linking them. I’ll also try and scan the brochure provided by the team and post it sometime this week.

Transition team PowerPoint

Transition team final revision.

Structure Diagram