Thursday, June 28, 2007

50 years in the same job

The whole concept seems foreign to me, and probably anyone of my generation. But Ronald Gray, music minister at Broadmoor Christian Church just celebrated that milestone.

He is a charter member of the church, founded in 1956 (when 6005 Youree Drive was no doubt in the middle of the sticks). According to the bio from the church, he fell into the job almost by accident. During the summer of 1957, he began as interim choir director. Shortly thereafter, the organist quit and Gray was promoted to Minister of Music and Choir Director.

He never left.

In another interesting tie to the church, Gray and his wife, Donna, were the first couple married in Broadmoor Christian Church.

When you think about all the changes in worship styles and theory in the last 50 years, it seems especially remarkable that he has remained in the position.

It did not go unnoticed by the regional authorities of the Disciples of Christ. They proclaimed June 16, 2007, as Ronnie Gray Day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trials of the Christian Single

As a Christian -- or devout member of any faith -- how hard is it to date people that share those same values? Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News columnist and Crunchy Con blogger, took up the issue yesterday in this post. I found fairly spot on. Although, as one of the commenters noted it has the potential to be the "Depressingest. Thread. Ever."

What do y'all think?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Almighty pandering

Why can't movies with a religious theme be legitimately funny without feeling like their pandering to a predetermined audience?

I saw "Evan Almighty" yesterday, hoping the critics would be wrong. I mean, Steve Carell is a funny guy. And yes, God and the Bible can be funny too. But a lot of it was just flat. Carell gets hit in the crotch multiple times (almost never funny). And the long hair and robes gag is overdone and unnecessary. The movie had its subtle, funny moments playing off of religious aphorisms - in one scene Carell says something to God about having plans and God (Morgan Freeman) starts laughing.

The religious parts of it just seem forced. A conversation about prayer seemed awkward, as if the writer felt it had to be there for some sort of Christian credibility. And as our resident movie expert Alexandyr Kent noted, no one seems to die, despite the massive flood that sweeps through the Washington DC suburbs. That seems a little optimistic even for God.

It does have one rather insightful moment. Carell's wife, Joan (as in, of Arc) has taken the three kids and left Carell to his ark building. While in a diner, God appears to her as a waiter and says maybe God doesn't answer prayer as much as give opportunity. For instance, when you pray for patience, God gives the opportunity to be patient. Or if you pray for courage maybe he gives you the opportunity to be courageous.

At least there was something to think about in an otherwise disappointing film.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Solstice

I almost forgot. Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which is also a holiday for many Pagan or Earth-based religions. Pagan or not, Beliefnet offers some suggestions of how to celebrate the gift of light.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

For your commute...

Life can't get much more everyday than your commute, and the Vatican has decided that can be a place for faith as well. Yesterday it released the "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People, which included a sort of 10 Commandments for the road.

At first, it seems kind of odd and a trivial thing for the church to worry about, but especially as Americans, think about how much time we spend in our cars. A quick glance at the police blotter will tell you driving is dangerous and should be approached with caution. Personally, I'm convinced that prayer is the only thing that's kept me alive so far.

I'm delinquent because I couldn't find a link to the actual document but here are the 10 commandments according to the Associated Press:

The Vatican's "Ten Commandments" for drivers:
1: You shall not kill.
2: The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
3: Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
4: Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
5: Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
6: Charitably convince the young and not-so-young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
7: Support the families of accident victims.
8: Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
9: On the road, protect the more-vulnerable party.
10: Feel responsible toward others.

Photo: John Andrew Prime/The Times

Monday, June 18, 2007

Answered prayers

If you wonder if God answers prayers, see Ethan Powell's website today. A couple of ladies in my office started crying at the news. Awesome -- or should I say awe-full -- stuff.

When pastors leave

Final newsletter columns are often sappy and filled with thank yous and maybe a cheesy anecdote. The Rev. John Deschner of North Highlands United Methodist Church broke that mold by posing three pretty deep questions to his congregation that form a spiritual inventory:

* Looking back over the last two years, has your faith grown? If it has not, what has stopped you?
* Looking back over the last two years, are there new Christians among us, or recovered Christians among us?
* Looking back over the last two years, have you become a better representative of Jesus Christ in the world? Have you been involved in the mission work of this congregation? Have you lived your private life in a way that attracted thanksgiving and admiration from non-believers?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A great example dies

Well, Mrs. Graham died a little while ago surrounded by family. From what little I've read of her, she seems to be a great example of what it means to be a wife and mother. I received a press release with a quote from Billy Graham that I thought I would share:

“Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.

“I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we’ve had in the mountains together. We’ve rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven.”

Sad news from the Graham family

Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham is near death according to their public relations firm. Here's what they just sent out...

This morning, her condition began to deteriorate, with episodes of dropping
blood pressure and irregular heartbeat as she has become less responsive to
family and care-givers.

At her request, Mrs. Graham is being treated at home, with minimal artificial support. Earlier this week she indicated she did not want to be given any more
food or fluids, though she is receiving medication to manage her pain.

She continues to have fluctuating levels of consciousness, but is resting comfortably, with her husband, Billy Graham, and their five children by her bedside.

Confronting the "other"

So how do you talk to someone of another religion -- not just another Christian sect, but someone of a very different tradition -- without arguing or trying to convert each other? It's harder than it sounds, but about 25 people of varying traditions are trying to learn in a class offered through the Catholic Diocese, "Muslim-Christian Dialogue."

I decided to take the eight-week class and after the first night my brain is already churning. It's taught by Dr. Peter Huff, chairman of the religious studies department at Centenary, who teaches classes in comparative religions and has some expertise in this sort of dialogue.

Right after the introductions, we got to what are the two most difficult questions that any Christian has to wrestle with when dealing with Islam:

* What do you do with Muhammad? He claims to be a prophet after Jesus, and most Christian denominations reject that possibility.
* What do you do with the Quran as revelation that Muhammad says came from the God of Abraham through the angel Gabriel (the same angel from the annunciation)?

He said it's easy to come up with two obvious answers. One, Muhammad was right and Islam is the correct path. Or two, it's all false claims and evil. Well, Huff asked the class to think of a third way. What if you said some of what Islam teaches is true and therefore Christians could see the faith as partially inspired by God?

That's certainly not the final answer to the questions, but it's a good starting place as we explore relationships with people different from ourselves. Acknowledge the differences and the similarities and proceed forward in charity. That doesn't mean backing down from your beliefs but just being open to seeing truth dressed up in different ways.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Testing 1,2,3

Apparently, the new trend in starting churches is something akin to a "soft opening" of a store. They'll have a couple of worship services and gatherings - maybe once a month - until a grand opening.

The Simple Church is the newest one in town trying this format. It's being started by the Rev. Justin Haigler, who has been a minister at First Baptist Bossier for several years. Their philosophy is certainly a post-modern take on church: "the Simple Church exists for those who are tired of religion getting in the way of knowing who God is."

But they had one meeting June 10, and plan others for 9:30 a.m. July 15 and Aug. 12 at the movie theater at The Louisiana Boardwalk. Then they'll have the grand opening on Sept. 16 and meet on a regular basis after that. I guess the purpose is - like any business - to generate buzz and interest before actually welcoming the public in general. It's an interesting approach, and maybe it will work...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Welcome new pastors!

This time of year is prime moving time for a lot of folks particularly pastors. And United Methodists like to do it all at once, following their annual conference.

Sorry, I'm a little late getting this out, but 11 area Methodist churches are getting new leaders, the largest of which is Asbury United Methodist in Bossier City. Here's the list released by the conference of their new appointments:

Asbury United Methodist Church, Bossier City: Rev. Douglas de Graffenried
Wesley Chapel, Coushatta: the Rev. Jonathan King
Love Chapel, Haughton: the Rev. Mollie McGee
Longstreet, Logansport: the Rev. S. Kemper Smith
First United Methodist, Minden: the Rev. John Cannon
Ringgold: the Rev. John Dilworth
Lakeview, Shreveport: the Rev. Mark Strickland
North Highlands, Shreveport: the Rev. Burton Blair
Northpoint, Shreveport: the Rev. Steven Fowler
St. Luke’s, Shreveport: the Rev. Terry Love
Springhill: the Rev. Walter Parker

Welcome to all of you who are new to the area. I hope you find a thriving faith community.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ministry of encouragement

In hopes of getting out while there was shade and maybe something resembling cool air, I got up earlyish yesterday to go for a run. I headed out to the riverfront trail and was getting into my groove when I crossed paths with a man, who was obviously in better shape than me. He shot me this big grin, clapped his hands like a trainer and said "good job!"

Isn't that nice, I thought. Only a half mile in, I was still feeling good and didn't think too much else of the man. Four miles later, when it was probably 10 degrees warmer, I was on my way back home, trying to stay motivated for the last little bit. Up ahead I saw the same man running toward me, and I was so thankful for his presence. He smiled again and clapped.

"Good job for both of us!"

"You too," was all I could muster.

He might not think of that as ministry, but it was to me. He encouraged me to find strength and to be thankful for this human community God gave us. So whoever you are, thanks and good job!

Friday, June 08, 2007

What you might not know about Witnesses

Best known for their door-to-door evangelism, Jehovah's Witnesses have come to town for an annual convention. Organizers say between 9,000 and 10,000 people are here for a weekend of worship and instruction.

I mentioned to the media contact that I know very little about the Witnesses and he was happy to fax me a fact sheet. I'm guessing that most of you know little about them outside of that kid in your elementary school class that couldn't participate in class holiday parties. So here's some of what they sent me about their beliefs, along with a little bit from

* They view first century Christianity as their model.

* They see the Bible as infallible and inspired, but say that some pieces are symbolic.

* They believe Jesus is the son of God but not equal to God. They do not believe in the Trinity, which most Christians profess.

* While they don't physically separate themselves from society, they do avoid involvement in government, so service in the Military or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is considered wrong.

* They also try to avoid "being excessive" in worldly wealth or power.

* They see marriage as a lifelong commitment and only allow divorce in special circumstances. Re-marriage is only allowed in the case of adultery.

Plenty of folks have called the denomination a cult and set up websites to condemn it, but I thought I'd at least give you some of their own explanation of beliefs and you can decide for yourself what to make of it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Restoring the whole person

Doctors are sometimes accused of just treating the physical, while ministers sometimes skew to the spiritual aspects of people.

The David Raines Community Health Center is trying to bring the two sides together. At a lunch today, local ministers heard about the numerous health services provided at the clinic in the MLK neighborhood. The presentation emphasized quality care that is open to anyone whether they have insurance or not. Those without insurance pay based on their income.

About a dozen ministers attended, and the staff from the clinic hoped they would spread the word to their parishioners.

"Churches are still the backbone of the community and you can help us," CEO Willie White said. "So many people don't have health care. They just wait and wait until they end up in the emergency room, where it costs us all."

The Rev. Robert Walton of St. Rest Baptist Church spoke to the group and encouraged them to make health a part of their church's ministries. He reminded them of Bible passages that talk about the value of good health and even good teeth.

I'm always encouraged to see churches stepping outside of their four walls. Maybe something creative can come out of this for churches whether its regular health screenings or a commitment to healthier fellowship dinners.

It can help the church on a spiritual and physical level.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

From the mouths of babes

A family friend told me about babysitting her 5-year-old grandson over the weekend. In one of their travels she said Jacob made some comment and she said "trust me."

"I trust you Nana, but I trust God more," he replied.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Welcome to the project

A visiting priest from Massachusetts, Fr. John O'Brien, visited the young adult group I'm a part of last night and as part of the discussion we talked about how the church has evolved over the last 2,000 years. He said that in times of cultural distress (like today) people want to cling to absolutes and black and white but that's not how faith works.

While God may not change, our understanding of God is constantly developing, partly based on the culture/conflicts of the day, he said. Therefore, our human reaction to God (the "rules" of religion) also change. Then he came to the best part. Fr. John reminded us that we can be a part of that discussion. As we grow in faith and understanding and share it with others, we contribute to this "project" of developing theology.

I guess that's what I hoped this blog and my work in general can be about: stimulating and continuing that discussion. How do other people understand God? How does faith intersect with the world? What can we learn from all of that?

Welcome to this piece of the project.

Friday, June 01, 2007

May it be an uneventful season

June 1 marks the official beginning of hurricane season, even though we've technically already had one named storm. I searched for some preventing disastrous storm prayers and came up with these. The first is pretty generic and the second is very Catholic (and kind of scary).

Father, all the elements of nature obey your command.
Calm the storms and hurricanes that threaten us
and turn our fear of your power into praise of your goodness.


O God, Master of this passing world, hear the humble voices of your children. The Sea of Galilee obeyed your order and returned to its former quietude; you are still the Master of land and sea. We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control. The Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy, overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land and spread chaos and disaster. During this hurricane season, we turn to You, O loving Father. Spare us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid and whose wounds seem to refuse to heal with the passing of time. O Virgin, Star of the Sea, Our Beloved Mother, we ask you to plead with your Son in our behalf, so that spared from the calamities common to this area and animated with a true spirit of gratitude, we will walk in the footsteps of your Divine Son to reach the heavenly Jerusalem where a storm-less eternity awaits us. Amen.

God, cops and criminals

Public figures regularly invoke the name of God or some higher power when they achieve some accomplishment or recognition. So I only half paid attention when the new police chief, Col. Henry Whitehorn, thanked God when he took the podium at the press conference last night. But then he came back to the almighty saying that God has a plan.

That caught my attention. He didn't immediately elaborate on the plan, and Channel 12 returned to CSI just after that, so I'm not sure if anything else came up. But I was struck that this is a man who sees himself working for a higher authority than himself, the mayor or even the citizens of Shreveport. I hope so. Because, quite frankly, I'm not sure that the police chief can prevent most crime.

The Rev. Bobby Joe Cooper paid me a visit this morning and without me asking he brought up the issue.

"Every week people are killing each other. The new police chief is not going to stop that. The only solution is Jesus Christ."

Cooper is on to something. He's been walking the streets, evangelizing in hopes of making a difference.

Maybe if we all leaned on some higher power (It doesn't have to be Jesus. All world religions condemn senseless violence, and secular humanists would see it as impractical.) then our city might be safer.