“Lots of follows but few friends” A Daily Devotion

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends . . .”—John 15:15

The affection and intimacy Jesus had for his disciples offers a model of friendship that is in contrast to much of what passes for friendship in our time. Continue reading

My Top Ten Posts from 2015

winter-header-3

Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2015:

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

“The God of the Far Off” Toward the Ministry of Inclusion

“The Cross and the Church: The Soteriology and Ecclesiology of P. T. Forsyth”

I was ordained forty years ago today

What I Love about the Gospel of Luke

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

“Better Late Than Never” Reflections on women in ministry.

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Rick’s salade niçoise

 And desperate preachers (of whom there seem to be many) and other net surfers brought in a surprising number of hits to my archived material from other years (“Ten Highly Effective Strategies . . .” for example, had a three-day run with over 9,000 hits, which speaks well either of people’s appreciation for satire or for the poor morale of the clergy.) In either case here are the ten most visited posts from previous years on this blog in 2015, which I began in 2009:

 Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

Prayer for a Retired Pastor

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

“Anticipation”: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2016.

Some Winter Posts Worthy of your Time

Winter scene

In my peregrinations around the blogosphere I came across two very wise and well-written posts by ministerial colleagues of mine. I hope you will check them out.

First, the incomparable Mary Luti, whose blog, sicut locutus est, should be on your blogroll, wrote “Why I Teach.” Here’s a sample:

I want students to take someone else’s wisdom for a serious test drive. I want them to rent with an option to buy; to suspend suspicion and develop a bias toward faith in the considered opinions of others; to respect the authority of authorities instead of keeping up the fiction that all ideas have equal value and that all opinions count the same.

Secondly, Emily Heath, a Vermont pastor and top-notch blogger, has a beautiful and bravely personal post called “Falling: Recovery, Silence and the Church.”  Here’s an excerpt:

But the more I thought about it (new Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s openly talking about his recovery during the campaign), the more I felt sad for the church. If an admission of being in recovery can actually help someone in the hardball world of politics, why is it so feared in the very place where redemption should be celebrated? Why aren’t we, people who talk about grace and forgiveness and new life, in the business of teaching people what to do when they fall? Why don’t we acknowledge these things so that we can help people know where to turn when they need help to get back up?

There are mountains of ephemera in the blogosphere, but well-written wisdom, like gold, is where you find it.

(Photo by R.L. Floyd, 2014)

Meeting an on-line friend in the flesh: my travels with Jason

For the last five years or so, I have been in on-line correspondence with Jason Goroncy, a young theologian from Australia who teaches in New Zealand.

What brought us together was a shared interest in P.T. Forsyth, the great British theologian from the turn of the last century.

Jason had a blog entitled the P.T. Forsyth Files that I frequented, where he had posted PDF’s of Forsyth’s main books.  Along the way I noticed the high quality of both the look and the content of the blog, which he renamed Per Crucem Ad Lucem (“from the cross to the light”) after the inscription on Forsyth’s grave in Aberdeen.  Per Crucem Ad Lucem became my favorite blog to visit.

When I first discovered his blog Jason was at St Mary’s College at the University of St Andrews working on his PH.D. on Forsyth.  I knew the place well as my family and I had enjoyed a splendid sabbatical there in the spring of 1995, and while there I worked with Richard Bauckham on the Christian understanding of atonement, in what would become the bulk of my little book When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement.

So I knew about Jason from his blog, and eventually he knew about me from my book.  He tracked me down via my friend Cliff Anderson, the curator of Reformed Collections at Princeton Theological Seminary, who was a fellow blogger with me at Confessing Christ, a United Church of Christ renewal movement.

Eventually, I offered to read Jason’s dissertation and he accepted my offer, and I spent a good deal of the summer of 2009 doing just that.  You can get to know someone pretty well by a close reading of their dissertation, and Jason and I went back and forth by e-mail almost weekly throughout that summer.

I also started my own personal blog in 2009, Retired Pastor Ruminates, and Jason was gracious in promoting it on his blog and using some of my posts on ministry with his students.

In time I invited him to visit us here in Pittsfield anytime he was nearby. And so it came to pass that this winter he registered for the annual Princeton Karl Barth Conference earlier this month, and I suggested he spend some extra time at one end or the other to see us in the Berkshires.

So Jason took the plunge to stay with folks he had never met, and we took the plunge to have him, and the result was a lovely visit and a new dear friend.

Continue reading

My Ten Guidelines for Oversharers

 

Our little family was on one of those cool Hebridean car ferries, traveling from Oban to Mull on our way to Iona, when I first ruminated on the American national trait to share way too much information with total strangers.  My five-year old daughter (this was 1989) had just commented, “Duddy, there are lots of Americans on this boat!”  I was reminding her that, although we had lived in Britain for several months, we were, in fact, ourselves Americans, when we were set upon by two very friendly Mid-Western American women who had overheard our conversation.

Within minutes we knew where they were from and the names of their children, their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren.  And when they discovered I was a minister, they felt compelled to tell me all about their church, their pastor, and all their activities in the congregation.

Perhaps none of this would have struck me as particularly strange if I hadn’t been a foreigner in Britain, but the contrast was evident to me.   Everybody in England had been quite pleasant to us during our stay, but with few exceptions maintained a certain reserve that I actually came to appreciate.

When we left Oxford that summer, I said my goodbyes to college dons and staff, and several remarked,  “But you’ve only just arrived!  We will miss you.”  While I believe they were sincere, I was amused by their heartfelt goodbyes in that they had barely given me the time of day.

I liked it in Britain, but I must confess that I’m an American oversharer, and that I come from a family of oversharers. I was one even before my brain injury, which adjusted my social filters to, shall we say, a more porous setting.

I come by it honestly.  My Dad, of blessed memory, was at times an oversharer.  One Thanksgiving dinner he launched his own campaign of “shock and awe” (shock to the grownups and awe to us kids).  My Uncle Dick was expertly carving the turkey with an electric carving knife (remember those?).  My Dad felt the need to share that a former secretary of his had committed suicide using such an implement, but his telling was not nearly as discreet as mine here.  I suspect that there were lots of leftovers from that meal.

The Internet was made for oversharers.  Blogging or updating one’s status on Facebook  offer hourly temptations.  So in yet another of my high-minded public service offerings, here are my ten guidelines to avoid oversharing:

  1. Never post on the Internet when you are intoxicated.  Trust me on this.  You may wake up to see that cute little red flag with lots of numbers in it on your Facebook page, and smile and wonder, “Which of my carefully crafted witty status updates are all my ‘friends’ responding to?”  Moments later you are mortified to suddenly remember that last post you made right before bed, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  It wasn’t.
  2. Remember the old adage about the difference between major and minor surgery?  “Major surgery is surgery on me, and minor surgery is surgery on someone else.”  The same is true for the difference between interesting surgery, and boring surgery.  And no surgical scars please.  Remember LBJ?   Nobody wants to see your scar.
  3. If you have an interesting story to tell about your friends the Andersons, and you ask your friends the Smiths if they know the Andersons, and the Smiths say, “No,” don’t tell the story.
  4. If your child or grandchild just learned to use the potty that is a grand thing but don’t share it.  Same thing for cute pictures in the tub.  Cute now, but the kid might not appreciate it when he’s 13 and the class bully finds it on the Net.
  5. Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome may well be very preoccupying to you, but it is not of general interest.  In my thirty years of pastoral ministry I patiently listened to people’s accounts of their bodily ailments.  We call it an “organ recital.”  You can and should share such concerns with your pastor and your doctor, but not with the world, and not on the Internet.
  6. Pastors are notorious for telling cute stories about their children from the pulpit.  Everybody loves this, right?  Well, no, actually.  The children usually don’t.  I would ask for permission.  Same policy for posting. Children and other family members have a right to privacy.  I have sometimes observed this rule in the breach, as my children have noted.
  7. When I go on vacation I take lots of pictures, and love to look at them again and again to relive the experience.  This is something that you want to share with all your friends and dinner guests, right?  No.  Pictures of other people’s vacations are not everybody’s idea of a good time.
  8. We live in an age of scientific miracles, and have medications available that can make us feel younger, happier, healthier and, just better.  Nobody wants to hear which ones you are on.
  9. Have a new hobby?  Yoga or origami?  Just because it excites you doesn’t mean it will excite others.  Same for religion.  If someone asks you what you believe, don’t lay out your systematic theology.  Say, “I’m a Methodist.” Or, “I affirm the Nicene Creed.”   A balance between talking and listening is a good anditote against oversharing.  Remember Bette Midler’s character in Beaches?  She says, “But enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do You think about me?”  Don’t be her.
  10. Tighten up you privacy settings.  Not just on Facebook, but in real life.  All of us experience ups and downs in our lives.  Most of us are battered and worn one way or another.  Some of us have had really traumatic events that have left us permanently scarred.  How and when (and whether) we share these parts of our story is something each of us must discern in our own way.  But such sharing implies some level of trust and intimacy, and although the Internet may sometimes give the appearance of allowing that, it is a risky medium for such sharing.   Be careful with yourself and others.

But I’ve shared too much.

(And yes, I know “oversharers” isn’t a recognized word, but it will be.  Just watch!)

A Fire Too Far: Ruminations on New Media and Christian Faith

 

In the days before the Internet and the 24/7 new cycle the announcement by an obscure Florida pastor that his church would be burning copies of the Koran might have attracted a column inch in the back pages of The Gainesville Daily Register, or get picked up as a nutty bit of ephemera by Paul Harvey.

No longer. Terry Jones (wait, wasn’t he with the Pythons?) has had his 15 days of celebrity, outraged pretty much everybody, and been addressed by the President of the United States, among other dignitaries.

Jones has also managed to convince inflammatory Republicans that there actually can be a fire too far. That anybody or anything could even momentarily unite the gladiators on both sides of the culture wars is worthy of note.

I will spare you the obvious pieties about this sad affair. For a thoughtful post on it I refer you to Debra Dean Murphy (who I just discovered and have added to my blogroll) .

What particularly interests me is how new technologies reshape the way Christian faith is perceived. For example, in eighteenth century New England, itinerant evangelists like George Whitefield and Gilbert Tenant changed the face of Puritanism by staging huge public revivals. This shifted the authority away from the settled pastors in local communities to the popular evangelists. Harry Stout has called Whitefield the first “rock star.” Better roads allowed people to travel greater distances, and printing and high literacy facilitated communications about the revivals.

Likewise, the locus for Christian authority in America away from the mainline to conservative evangelicals in the Twentieth century is still a story that remains to be written, but once again it was about the democratization (and vulgarization) of Christianity away from elites, and it was facilitated (once again) by new technologies. For example, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell used television to collect large audiences to promote their particular brand of conservative faith.

So now we are watching in real time the power of social networking (Jones got the kerfuffle started on Facebook) and other media to quickly gather eyeballs if not hearts and minds.

I would like to dismiss “events” such as Jones’ provocation as mere ephemera (just as I mistakenly did with the rise of the Christian right for too many years) but when people’s lives become at stake and the President of the United States feels the need to engage the subject it becomes hard to dismiss.

The rise of instant internet communication has been widely praised for its democratizing tendencies (such as last year’s Iranian “Twitter revolution”), but I wonder if we are now seeing clearly the darker side of instant communication?

Does the quickness and brevity of the new media inevitably shape the message? (see Halden Doerge’s insightful post on patience and blogging. He is speaking only about blogging, but many of the same issues obtain).

I argue that it is the humans who use the communications media who shoulder the moral responsibility for the messages they put out. It is too simplistic to blame the media (although there is a long history of blaming any new media for the decline of civilization, religion, civility, etc.)  The medium is not the message (or not the whole message, at least.)

Christians believe we live in a fallen world, and that everything in creation can be used for ill as well as for good. Should the new media be any exception?

So how should we use the new media?  Perhaps that is a subject that could benefit from some discussion in congregations and Sunday Schools. New media arrive with a false sheen of authority.  Remember when something had authority just because it was “seen on TV?” And remember when early e-mail users forwarded every stupid hoax and rumor as if it were true just because someone had sent it to them? In time the wise learn how to use and not use these tools.

Some choose to forgo the new technologies altogether, and that is a choice one is free to make, but I personally find enough of value in them to want to use them wisely.

Which leads me to ponder whether one of the spiritual disciplines for Christians (and others) in our time might be a healthy skepticism about any information we take in from any source. And ancient habits of silence, meditation, and thoughtful reflection might help us decide what is worthy of our precious God-given time and attention.