Monday, November 28, 2005
God, come to my assistance
Lord, make haste to help me

Tonight I appear before the Charge Conference of First United Methodist Church of Tulsa. For those of you unfamiliar with your UM polity, the charge conference is the governing board that meets annually to review the mission and ministry of the church. The reason for my appearance is to gain their recommendation for ordained ministry. I believe it requires a two-thirds vote.

I totally missed my opportunity to pass out "Vote for Pedro" boondoggle keychains at the service yesterday morning.

Assuming that goes well, I interview tomorrow morning before the District Committee, a board of local clergy. Passing this interview would certify me as a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist church. It would also qualify me for scholarship funds from the conference, to which I say, "Yes, please."

Please pray for me simply to be myself.

For my healing, and the healing of the world.

posted by Peter at 2:53 PM
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Sunday, November 27, 2005
Advent: Day One

Close your eyes. Count to ten. Breathe. Today we begin the Anticipation known as Advent. We await the Incarnation of God in flesh and blood and bone.

Think about the words to “Silent Night” the next time you sing that song. If we're to take the angels' encounter with the shepherds seriously, then this is no "silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright." On the contrary, it is a night of supreme rejoicing: "Glory to God in the highest!" We interrupt this existence of suffering, restlessness and death to bring you the news that the omni-everything God of the universe has infiltrated time and space on a solo reconnaissance mission of humankind in the form of a helpless, powerless baby. This is the day the tide turns. The fool's hope is born. The promise to Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to David will be fulfilled. The longing of all creation will be satisfied. Death will indeed be broken. The dragon is conquered.

Forget “'Twas the Night Before Christmas,” when I have kids, they are getting Elliott's “Journey of the Magi” on Christmas Eve. Those last four lines make me all tingly. “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, / But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / With an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death.” I am deeply relieved at the sight of the baby in the manger. The sight of this seemingly helpless infant changes everything. All of our hopes for a better tomorrow are now born in this manger. What’s all the fuss about Christmas? The infinite God of all creation squeezed Himself into the tiny fingers and toes of a newborn. The Word of God has made His home right here with us. As recorded in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Knowing that it is highly likely that Jesus was not born on December 25, 0 B.C., I have often wondered why we celebrate at this time of the year. Then I learned about the winter solstice. The winter solstice represents the longest night of winter in the northern hemisphere. It is the darkest night of the year. The following days grow increasingly longer and brighter until summer. And this is the very same place that Jesus comes into our own lives, at the moment of our darkest hopelessness. When it most seems that the night will never end, Jesus arrives to make everything new. On the darkest night of the year, here is Jesus to put everything back together that has been broken by sin and death. Why is the Incarnation a big deal? Why celebrate Christmas? Jesus has come!

Maybe our nativity scenes have everything wrong. Maybe the shepherds weren't on some snowy hill. Maybe the three wise men did not show up that night. And maybe we would be quite shocked were we to see an honest depiction of what really happened at the birth of Jesus. I imagine it was a real mess. I imagine Joseph and Mary didn't have sentimental memories of that night. I imagine they were probably on their last fumes of energy and hope, with nothing to go on but the words of an angel months earlier and wondering, "Was that a dream? Did that happen? Was it all my imagination? Was all of that talk about Emannuel, God-With-Us really real? Is this really God?"

And so this season, we celebrate God becoming a man. This season we celebrate God entering human history. This season we celebrate the Incarnation. Because that is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. Yes, Christmas is about peace and love and goodwill toward men, too, but it is first about Jesus, about the grand God of the universe and his ridiculous love for all of us. What better day of the year to celebrate the coming of Jesus than the Winter Solstice, the darkest night of the year, when the day shines longer tomorrow. So Happy Incarnation Day.

Happy Advent.

posted by Peter at 1:19 AM
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Saturday, November 26, 2005
The Clothing of Immortality
The words of Gregory Nazianzen (325-389) on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as found in Life in the Spirit by Thomas Oden:
We call it the Gift, the Grace, Baptism, Unction, Illumination, the Clothing of Immortality, the Laver of Regeneration, the Seal, and everything that is honourable. We call it the Gift, because it is given to us in return for nothing on our part. Grace, because it is conferred even on debtors; Baptism, because sin is buried with it in the water; Unction, as Priestly and Royal, for such were they who were anointed; Illumination, because of its splendour; Clothing, because it hides our shame; the Laver, because it washes us; the Seal, because it preserves us, and is moreover the indication of Dominion (179).

That one little 1600-year-old paragraph makes more sense to me than all of the charismania jargon I ever naively swallowed.

posted by Peter at 12:37 PM
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Thankful for Timothy
I woke up at 6:30 a.m. It was something like a hundred degrees below zero in Griffith, IN. Jackie and I drove the six hours back to Lexington where I caught a 4 p.m. flight to Tulsa via Cincinnati. Arrived at 6:30 p.m. just in time for Thanksgiving dinner with the fam.

On Sunday morning Pastora Irma shared some of her struggles trying to communicate the point of Thanksgiving to some of the Hispanic congregation at La Roca. It's more than Turkey Day. She boiled it down the time to remember when a group of people gave thanks to God for surviving their treacherous circumstances. I really like the sound of that. That's what I choose to celebrate this week.

Speaking of thankful... I'm in Tulsa not just for family but also some denominational interviews on Monday and Tuesday for the candidacy process for ministry. In preparing the paperwork for these meetings, I had write out the most formative experiences of my Christian life. There have been many, but I chose to focus on three relatively recent ones. The first two deal with some severe disappointments that led to some heavy disillusionment with people who call themselves "Christians." Those stories are for another day, as they are not entirely appropriate for a setting such as this.

The story that is important right now is of the six people who stopped my bleeding and of the kindest words I have ever heard. This is the story of the beginning of God's manifest redemption in my life.

When life hit rock bottom, and then a little lower than that, I explored other churches in the Northern Virginia area and found myself at Clear River Community Church. There I connected with a trio of couples, all with young children, who adopted me as one of their own and included me in their small group. Whereas I had once been an active leader and volunteer in church, strong and confident in my faith, now I could not even pray. I was deconstructing all I knew about faith and Christianity and church down to its bare foundation.

Tim and Alexis, the hosts of the small group every Tuesday, would invite me each week to eat dinner with their family before the group came over. On one such Tuesday, 6-year-old Timothy, procrastinating the consumption of his pile of green beans, set down his silverware and stood to his feet and declared, “I am so glad when Peter comes over to dinner!” In this simple confession of a precocious child, I finally heard the overwhelming grace of God.

Whereas I had once been rejected by so-called “Christians,” I now found myself accepted. In the context of this meal shared in the name of Christian community, for the sake of knowing and being known in Christ’s name, I was welcome. It was this group that embraced me in all of my woundedness and nursed my faith. They encouraged me unanimously when I was presented with the opportunity to attend seminary.

I am so grateful to God for providing the harbor of safety that this group came to be in my life. I credit these people with showing me the love of God when I most needed it and guiding me to the place in my spiritual journey where I now find myself.

Today I am thankful I survived the darkness. I am thankful for God's crazy, reckless grace to me.

Today I am thankful for Paul and Erica, Tim and Alexis, Jason and Fiona. And I am thankful for Timothy.

(L-R, Erica, Grace, Fiona, Pastor Jeff, Paul, Noah)

posted by Peter at 1:17 AM
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Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Asbury Podcasting
As a side note, Asbury chapels are now available not only for download (Kentucky and Florida campuses) but also via podcast subscriptions through iTunes.

Simply go to the iTunes music store, click on "podcasts" and then run a search for "Asbury at Worship," and there you'll find the Kentucky chapel messages. Florida is forthcoming.

I highly recommend Dr. Snyder's talk from Kingdom Conference, anything by Dr. Richter and the guest series by Dr. Miroslav Volf.

Next up on my to do list: Podcasting the Rock / La Roca sermons.

Technology is neat.

posted by Peter at 1:00 AM
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Mix Tape Day

Tomorrow Jackie and I hit the road once again for Indiana. Friday we'll be driving back and I'll go straight to the airport and fly for Tulsa, where I'll stay until Tuesday.

Road trippin' - you know what that means? Time for a new mix tape. So, here's a sampling of songs currently stuck in my head:

1. "Se Lest" by Sigur Ros
2. "Can't Even Breathe On My Own" by Half-Handed Cloud
3. "The Bleeding Heart Show" by the New Pornographers
4. "Blood of the Lamb" by Billy Bragg & Wilco
5. "Jacksonville (live on KCRW)" by Sufjan Stevens
6. "Prison on Route 41" by Iron & Wine and Calexico
7. "Florentina" by Quiet, KY
8. "The Sun Fell On You" by the Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers
9. "I Play Music" by Rosie Thomas
10. "Exodus Damage" by John Vanderslice
11. "Kids (Rise from the Ashes)" by Ed Harcourt
12. "Gore Veil" by the Deadly Snakes
13. "You Don't Send Me" by Belle & Sebastian
14. "Crooked Teeth" by Death Cab for Cutie
15. "Joanna" by Peasant
16. "Five-Star Catastrophe" by Quiet, KY
17. "Gideon" by My Morning Jacket
18. "Christ for President" by Billy Bragg & Wilco
19. "Animals are Cut In Two" by Half-Handed Cloud
20. "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" by Sufjan Stevens

posted by Peter at 12:16 AM
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Thursday, November 17, 2005
The Questions
As per a converstaion today with new friend Will.

Some questions that just might be essential to the life of faith in community:

Who is God?

Where is this God working and how?

What do I do in response to that?

posted by Peter at 11:46 PM
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005
On the Waterfront
A group of us gathered last Friday and watched the classic On the Waterfront. I think I was the only one that had seen it before. For me, it sparks all sorts of thoughts about the interface of the Church and the local community.

In one of the opening scenes, a longshoreman has died. He was supposedly about to testify against the corrupt labor union. A priest, Father Barry, tries to console the mourning sister, "If you need me, I'll be in the church." She angrily retorts, "Whoever heard of a saint hiding in a church?"

Later Father Barry gives this speech when another dockworker dies under suspicious circumstances. It serves as the moral tipping point for the story's protagonist, Terry.


Pop, Moose, Luke and the others stand near him. On the deck around the
hold some seventy-five longshoremen have gathered, including Big Mac.
Others look down from the dock and the loft. Terry is in the same
position we left him.

I came down here to keep a promise.
I gave Kayo my word that if he stood up to the
mob I'd stand up with him all the way. Now
Kayo Nolan is dead. He was one of those fellows
who had the gift of getting up. But this time they fixed
him good— unless it was an accident like Big Mac says.

Pop, Moose, and some of the others glare at Big Mac, who chews his
tobacco sullenly. Some of the others snicker "accident."

Some people think the Crucifixion
only took place on Calvary. They better wise
up. Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from
testifying is a crucifixion— Dropping a sling on Kayo
Nolan because he was ready to spill his guts
tomorrow— that's a crucifixion. Every time the
mob puts the crusher on a good man— tries to
stop him from doing his duty as a citizen— it's a


Voice of Father Barry continues.

And anybody who sits around and lets it happen,
keeps silent about something he knows has happened—
shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier
who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead.


Listening, moved. Terry has come up behind her and stands nearby. She
him but barely reacts. He listens intently to the Father's words.


Go back to your church, Father.


(looking up at Truck and pointing to the ship)
Boys, this is my church. If you don't think
Christ is here on the waterfront, you got another
guess coming. And who do you think He lines up


Get off the dock, Father.

Sonny reaches for a box of rotten bananas on the dock and flings one
down into the hatch.


The banana splatters him, but he ignores it.


Terry turns to him. Edie notices this and watches with approval.

Do that again and I'll flatten you.

What're you doing. Joining them—

Let him finish.

Johnny ain't going to like that, Terry.

Let him finish.

Edie looks at him amazed. Terry catches her eye, and then looks down,
embarrassed at his good deed. They both turn to watch Father Barry.


Near Johnny, watching Terry and then looking at Johnny apprehensively.


Every morning when the hiring boss blows his
whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up.

More missiles fly, some hitting the Father, but he continues:

He sees why some of you get picked and some
of you get passed over. He sees the family men
worrying about getting their rent and getting food
in the house for the wife and kids. He sees them
selling their souls to the mob for a day's pay.


Nodding to Barney. Barney picks up an empty beer can and hurls it down
into the hatch.


It strikes Father Barry and blood etches his forehead. Pop jumps
forward and shakes his fist.

By Christ, the next bum who throws something
deals with me. I don't care if he's twice my

Some of the other longshoremen grumble approval.

What does Christ think of the easy-money boys
who do none of the work and take all of the gravy?
What does He think of these fellows wearing
hundred-and-fifty-dollar suits and diamond rings—
on your union dues and your kickback money?
How does He feel about bloodsuckers picking
up a longshoreman's work tab and grabbing
twenty percent interest at the end of a week?


Never mind about that!


Scowling. Terry, nearby, is increasingly moved by the Father's

How does He, who spoke up without fear
against evil, feel about your silence?

Shut up about that!

He reaches for another rotten banana and is poised to throw it. Almost
simultaneously, Terry throws a short hard right that flattens Sonny
neatly. Edie is watching, a deeply felt gratitude in her eyes.


A little way off .

You see that?

Johnny presses his lips together but makes
no sign.


She moves closer to him. He barely glances at her, then continues
listening to Father Barry.


You want to know what's wrong
with our waterfront? It's love of a lousy buck. It's
making love of a buck— the cushy job— more
important than the love of man. It's forgetting
that every fellow down here is your brother in


As Father Barry's voice rises to a climax—

But remember, fellows, Christ is always with you—
Christ is in the shape-up, He's in the hatch—
He's in the union hall— He's kneeling
here beside NolanÑand He's saying with all
of you—


If you do it to the least of mine,
you do it to me! What they did to Joey, what they
did to Nolan, they're doing to you. And you. And
YOU. And only you, with God's help, have the
power to knock 'em off for good!
(turns to Nolan's corpse)
Okay, Kayo?
(then looks up and says, harshly)

Go out and find a copy of On the Waterfront as soon as you can.


posted by Peter at 11:48 PM
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Monday, November 14, 2005
Work of the Spirit
From Thomas Oden's Life in the Spirit:
The Holy Spirit after the incarnation was not creating a conglomerate of isolated regenerated persons but rather a community, a family of the regenerated, an ordered household, an organic body. Ekklesia is called to be a bonded, caring community, a koinonia, a new social creation of grace, the resurrection of the people of God raised up in the light of God's own coming, a peculiar people (56).

I like that... "family of the regenerated."

Have to put that on the Christmas card this year.

posted by Peter at 10:58 PM
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Thursday, November 10, 2005
Collecting Points
Care for something deep and heavy to challenge your view of homosexuality and the church?

Click over to Conversatio Fide, and check out "The Gay Forum" from the recent Generous Orthodoxy conference in Seattle. It's about an hour long, but that's what your trendy iPod is for. It's about a five-person panel discussion about Christianity and homosexuality and brings with each person on the panel briefly giving their story and then taking questions.

My favorite line, as I myself am a former resident of Manassas, VA: "You can't even walk down the street in Manassas looking like a lesbian."

posted by Peter at 2:55 PM
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Quotable: Where God is at Work
From Will Samson:
One of the values our community has sought to inhabit is being involved with those that are doing the work of God, whether they call themselves "Christian" or not. So, by way of example, if a group is working on issues of justice related to mountain top removal, our first question is not "Are they a Christian group?", or, for that matter, "Are they Christians?", but rather "Are they doing the things God would have us do?" This gives us the freedom to join the work of God, even when it is being done by people not yet following God.

posted by Peter at 2:21 PM
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005
The awesome miracle
I finally finished with Charry's By the Renewing of Your Minds last night. This is from the climactic chapter "Sapiential Theology":
Few people start out looking for an intentional devotional life; it is simply too arduous. Something has to intervene in the person's life to awaken desire for another way. God must turn one's head from current pursuits to a new realm of possibilities. For Augustine, reading Cicero's Hortensius propelled him into the pursuit of the spiritual life. Occasionally the Holy Spirit will even use preaching, or simply the presence of someone in another's life. It may come through moral, social or psychological stumbling or pain, or just out of curiosity. For some, as Calvin pointed out, complete self-despair is necessary. God must, however, make himself an object of desire.

For some people this will happen violently, in a dramatic act of conversion. For others it may be slow and not at all clear. Yearning may begin as no more than dissatisfaction with one's work or forms of entertainment, without God in the picture at all. That is why Christians must always be alert for opportunities to be of service to others in the Christian life, and to serve them without presure or lock-step expectations, perhaps thinking of themselves as midwives. It is important that the struggle of coming to God be respected. That God breaks through to us at all is an awesome miracle (242).

The spiritual life is hard, man. I particularly like this idea about respecting the struggle of coming to God. My own conversion was not some violent blitzkreig but rather a day by day ceding of territory. And I wonder how this is true for those around me. And I wonder how often I forget that and disrespect your struggle, that your's is over and done with.

posted by Peter at 9:14 PM
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Thursday, November 03, 2005
From By the Renewing of Your Minds by Ellen T. Charry, an essay entitled "Sermon on the Mount":
Matthew presents the new righteousness as an accessible teaching, although not a facile one. It is propounded with numerous examples and instances so that hearers may begin to apply the new standards of conduct to themselves and extrapolate from those given to others. Although the piety it opposed was based on a system of legal obligations, the righteousness espoused in the Sermon does not assume that legaism per se is problematic. The core of Matthean piety is proactive, not reactive. It entices readers with an understanding of righteousness grounded in other-centeredness--an orientation to the needs of others that sets their welfare above one's own. Matthew's fence around the Law confronts hearers with this stringent standard for self-examination. Other-centeredness is to be cultivated in every aspect of life; it destroys any division between civil and religious obligation. God demands other-centeredness in everything...

Matthew turned attention from correct performance to the agent's self-concept, from behavior to character (80).

posted by Peter at 12:04 AM
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Zao Water

I met Dave while blogging about the Mariners. Turned out we had more in common than we first thought. He works with a church plant in Winston-Salem. I bought his digital camera from him, and we hung out together one weekend in DC awhile back.

Now he and some friends in North Carolina have started a non-profit called ZAO Water for the purpose of providing fresh water to the impoverished nations of Africa. He writes on USS Mariner,
In order to raise funds, ZAO has entered the retail bottled water business (again, as a non-profit organization). We have an artisan well in North Carolina and are working to build our own bottling facility which will allow us to produce millions of bottles of ZAO water every year for retail sale, competing with Dasani, Aquafina, Le Bleu, etc… The price for ZAO water is extremely competitive; $1 for a 15 ounce bottle or $9 for a 24-bottle case. The difference? Every dime of profit that comes from the sale of bottled ZAO water goes directly to providing fresh water for people who badly need it in Africa. You get water, they get water, and everyone wins.

A donor has pledged to match every dollar raised from now until the end of the year up to the $500,000. You can read about that here, and here's the link for ZAO's fledgling webpage.

posted by Peter at 11:49 PM
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