Monday, February 20, 2006

Davey and Goliath meet Mister Rogers

I recently found a little book in the bargain shelf at a local Christian bookstore. The book looked corny, but I was intrigued. You can find my review of it on The book was about Mister Rogers, from the PBS children’s series. Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church. He attended seminary at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary many years before I did.

According to the book, there was a struggle whether he would be ordained since he was not pastoring a congregation. To be honest, I don’t think I would have voted to ordain him. All Christians are called to service. Ordination is for particular ministry--the ministry of Word and Sacrament, deacons, and ruling elders. To ordain outside of those particular ministries suggests something less than the priesthood of all believers. Ordination is no longer for the sake of the church, but instead it becomes a reward for theological education or for doing really good works. There should be no hierarchy within the church. The person who digs ditches to the glory of God is doing something just as important as the person who runs a soup kitchen. Ordination is about taking on the yoke of Christ for the care of his church.

But I digress. Fred Rogers was ordained with the understanding that he would develop a children’s program as an outreach for the denomination. Only later would denominational officials call Fred Rogers and inform him that the money did not exist for his program. What a missed opportunity. With Fred Rogers at the helm, Presbyterians could have expressed on television Christ‘s loving words, “Let the children come to me.” The Lutherans had a cool show in Davey and Goliath. It remains one the best investments in children’s religious broadcasting. Why couldn’t the Presbyterians have done that?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sharing the Pain

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA is concerned about the denomination’s plan to divest from Israel. Frankly, I believe that the decision to go down the road was foolish at best. I appreciate the moderator’s concern, and I hope the General Assembly Council heeds his advice to provide guidance. What I find interesting is the Presbyterian News Service’s depiction of the moderator’s nuanced approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The moderator said that, when he visited the children's section of the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, he was able to imagine his own son's name being read among those of the dead. And he said he also remembers that, during his first visit to the Holy Land, four years ago, he visited Bethlehem, a town under house arrest, and noticed that children woke up in the morning and asked whether the curfew had been lifted, much as he had asked about snow days when he was a boy.

Holding that dual tension, he said, requires empathic listening to both stories, and sharing the pain of both parties, rather than simply siding with one.

Now, it’s true that Palestinians have suffered a great deal. The average Palestinian deserves better than to be limited by curfews and walls. However, one overwhelming question comes to mind. Does our moderator believe that the systematic slaughter of Jews and a curfew are morally equivalent? I also find it strange that the moderator must reach into the past of Nazi Germany for a wrong perpetrated on the people of Israel. A modern Israeli might think of a stream of suicide bombers killing innocents. A curfew may provide annoyance for children and be economically devastating to adults. However, many Israelis are willing to bear that cost for security.

The real tension is how can Palestinians exercise freedom -- economic freedom and freedom of movement -- and the Israelis be free from violence. Here is the debate that we are not having as a denomination.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jabez in Africa

I receive Sojourners weekly e-mail update. I read it to learn each week that the "monologue of the religious right is over." Sadly, Sojourners spends so much time telling me that the religious right really isn't Christian that there remains little time to actually engage in dialogue. Occasionally there is an interesting article or a link, and I was intrigued by David Batstone's commentary about the Prayer of Jabez author, Bruce Wilkinson.

Apparently, Wilkinson went to Africa a few years ago to minister to victims of AIDS. Sadly, he appears that he has walked away from the project out of frustration. My entire knowledge of the controversy is from Batstone's commentary. As a result, I don't think it would be fair for me to editorialize.

Despite serious concerns with the theology depicted in the Prayer of Jabez, I hate to see Wilkinson find disappointment. I pray that he has gained wisdom from the experience, and I hope that ministries to AIDS victims in Africa will continue.