“Torn” – A Book Review

It is not very often that I come across a book that I feel compelled to both recommend and talk about, however, “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay v. Christian Debate” is one of those books.

I wrote my review on Goodreads…You are free to read it there if you so desire or just read it below.

I encourage your comments about the book and the topic, but please know that I will be moderating them to make sure they maintain a level of “love for neighbor” that comes close to Jesus’ love for us.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians DebateTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are very few books on “current” theological debates that I have read in the last decade that have the power that this particular book brings. I truly believe that this one is a “world” changer.

Justin Lee enters into the fray of the most fractious debate among Christians from a narrative standpoint – his narrative. He openly shares his story, his struggles and his ultimate quiet triumph.

I do not believe Lee set out with an agenda in telling this story any more than he set out in life to be the person that he became. Therein lies the power of this book. He shares. He simply shares his story. The reader can respond but will have a very difficult time dismissing what Lee has to say. He is a person who has wrestled with his faith, his church and his Bible and came out of the struggle still able to love and be loved by God, still be in touch with a community of believers and above all else love those around him who will no doubt disagree with him and use that disagreement to fuel the fires of this debate.

As a United Methodist Elder, I know what my limits are and will uphold them based on our Book of Discipline, however, I do believe that this writer has brought us new light to shed upon the debate. The greatest part of that light I would paraphrase by saying, “Stop fighting and start loving one another as Jesus loves you.” It is an incredibly simple sentence but given the “heat” of the Gay v. Christian debate, it will be a very difficult task to carry out. Interestingly enough, this “light” does not, as far as I can tell, go against anything in our Discipline whatsoever.

If there is any one book I would recommend my friends to read…it is this one. Enjoy!

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Dalai Lama and Me

A couple of years ago (even though it seems like a lifetime) I was an adjunct professor at WVU-Parkersburg. Although I taught several courses over five years, the one that I taught the most was “Religions of the World.” It was fascinating for me to teach this course mainly because I did not have a great background in other religions. So, each semester I found myself learning something new and different as I prepared for the course. I also learned quite a bit about how people view religion from the variety of students that I had taking the course. It truly was a fascinating time.

Part of the “Post-A-Day” recommendation for today was to write about the 11th thing on your bucket list. Well, I have never taken the time to write out a bucket list but the recommendation that I read early this morning had me thinking about some things. Later in the day, I was wandering through the Mercer Mall waiting for my eyes to be a little less dilated from an eye exam and I ran across one of those page-a-day calendars called, Insights from the Dalai Lama.  With my unwritten bucket list on my mind, I decided to buy this calendar (at 50% off) as much for fun as it would be for the insight I might gain from reading it AND the insight I might gain from people’s response to me reading it.

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama

Because of my experience with teaching about religions of the world, I think that meeting the Dalai Lama could well end up as number 11 on my bucket list. I could easily put it higher because I think meeting this man would be absolutely fascinating. I don’t think I would put it in the top ten because I really see no reason for the Dalai Lama and I to ever have paths that would cross close enough for me to meet him. Of course, even if they did there is the whole “Why would this Tibetan Buddhist monk want to meet a United Methodist pastor from Southern West Virginia?” that would have to be answered as well. So, I think meeting the Dalai Lama would make a great Number 11 on my bucket list!

BTW – if you are interested, here is the “insight” this humble man shares with us today…”If you are a compassionate person, then you build a compassionate family and then a compassionate community and then a compassionate world.”

Whether you are Buddhist or not – and I am not – I can hardly argue with the truth of that statement. So many times I wish the world would be a more compassionate place but that is only going to happen if it starts with me. I can easily rephrase the Dalai Lama’s words and say, “If I will love as Jesus loved, then truly I would change my family, my community, and the world.”

So, I will probably never meet the Dalai Lama but at least this year I will get to read his wisdom from time to time. (I would say every day but I am absolutely terrible at tearing off the pages of those calendars regularly…don’t know why, I just am.) And perhaps, I will share some of that wisdom on the journey we are all taking home…

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Spread the Light – Save a Life

Imagine-No-Malaria-Logo-3Well, it has happened!

If you text a $10 donation to “Imagine No Malaria” between now and December 26th – simply text “MALARIA” to 27722 – you will receive a confirmation text and then a thank you text that includes a link to a picture of  a burning candle.

I will be making one of those text donations on Christmas Eve during our worship service at First United Methodist Church and then I will be sharing the light of this “candle” as a present to the Christ child who came into the world to “heal the sick…”  It is my small way of showing Jesus I am following him in the revolutionary movement to end malaria by 2015!  It is a disease that can be defeated if we join him.  (Granted, I have to borrow a phone for this one since I have already hit the monthly limit for donations via text!  But that doesn’t matter…what matter is my gift to Jesus!)

My invitation to you is twofold but simple – share this light as you worship on Christmas Eve. (Just make the donation at an appropriate time in worship and share your “light” for all to see!)  Maybe someone will ask you why and you can share the message with them…maybe others will join you as you share beforehand what you are going to do.  Maybe, God will show up in the midst of this and light the world with these candles that show healing.

Also, if you can, please share this message with as many people as possible, however you wish (share on Facebook, send out as an email, tweet a link…I don’t care) prior to your Christmas Eve worship services.  This blog is read by fewer than 100 people but those 100 know another 100 and so forth.  Light has a tendency to spread and this is one time I hope and pray it will spread long and far.

My hope for First UMC Princeton is that we would light enough cell phone candles (27) to join the Holston Conference in their memorial of those killed in Newtown.  We cannot do anything to bring back the lives lost their but we can stop another killer – Malaria!

Finally, I would like to thank the people at “Imagine No Malaria,” “mGive” and “United Methodist Communications” as well as a colleague in our Conference, Adam Cunningham, for helping to make this happen.  These folks are true warriors in the battle against malaria and this shows that they are committed to seeing this disease eliminated by 2015.  My prayers and my work is with them!

Getting Rid of a Killer

My heart and mind is still filled with images and overwhelmed with emotions about the school shooting in Newtown.  As a pastor, I am dealing with parents and others looking for answers where there are none but I am offering them the Hope that this season of Christmas promises and praying that we will see God’s Light in the darkness.

I have had many conversations with people about “how to stop” these kinds of things from happening – fixing our mental health system, stricter gun laws, safer schools, etc.

I want to say that I don’t have the complete answer to solving that problem.  I read a haunting article on the first school bombing which took place in 1927 where 45 students and teachers were killed.  It made me take a very deep breath and realize that this is not a problem of our generation – it is a problem of our human nature.  It is a problem that only the God we find in a manger and on a cross can solve.

Yes…we must do ALL we can to make things safer but we must also do all we can to expose the darkness to the Light so that real change can take place.

At the same time that all this has been happening, I have been meeting with a group of people who wanted to study about how they could have “A Different Kind of Christmas.”  It has been a wonderful study.  We cried a lot as conviction ran through us.  We laughed at ourselves and the ways we get caught up the commercialization of this Holy Day.  We promised to look at ways we really can change the way we celebrate this holiday. We made plans for next year so we would not be facing the same convictions. And…we talked about living simply so others could simply live.

Personally, I have made a commitment to get rid of a killer. Watch this:

At least half of everything I receive at Christmas this year will be going to rid the world of the killer that is malaria. We may not know how to stop a shooter in our schools (yet), but with just ten dollars, I know that I can buy a mosquito net that will stop this other killer from taking the life of a child. I have been “texting” donations during worship. I am setting aside money to send in to “Imagine No Malaria” and I have just been letting everyone I know that this is something that captures my passion.Imagine-No-Malaria-Logo-3

I have even gone so far as to try and get the Imagine No Malaria team to send confirmations of text donations on Christmas Eve that include a picture of a candle, so that we can have “two” candle lighting services at Christmas Eve this year.  (Those of you who go to Christmas Eve services and have cell phones…think about it…let your imagination go for a minute!)  I don’t know if the folks at INM have worked things out with mGive.org yet, but I am still praying that they will.  (mGive, United Methodist Communications and Imagine No Malaria are all great groups…I just pray that they can capture this vision as well.)

INM Logo 2At the end of our “Different Kind of Christmas” study, the group I was with gave Jesus a wonderful gift in my name. Together, our class gathered enough money to buy ten more nets.
It may not sound like a lot to you – but think of it as ten more children getting to live.  Ten more parents not having to grieve.  Ten more people laughing and hugging and celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

I think Jesus would like that!

See you on the way home…and know that on Christmas Eve, I will be texting “MALARIA” to 27722 in order to send another $10 to get rid of a killer that can be stopped.

My Own Prayer for the Day

I have struggled this afternoon to offer my own prayer as well…

Jesus, we stand in a season of hopeful waiting and we see once more the darkness that surrounds us. Shots ring out where laughter and learning should be taking place. Children and their teachers are dead and wounded. All are changed. Nothing is the same.

Forgive us Lord for failing to realize that your children die every day. Some f
rom violence and some from the violent neglect of your people. Forgive us when we only take note when the children are our own.

So long, O Lord, we have prayed for peace, but what if praying was not enough. Make me an instrument of peace, Jesus. make me an instrument of peace so that no children, no parent, no one would grieve because of violence.

Let me pray for the children, Lord. Let me pray for me.

Amen,