Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today in History: Communion on the Moon?

It is well-known that today in history, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. His words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" have resonated through history as the defining moment when America not only reclaimed the space race, but achieved a first for all of humanity.

But while Neil Armstrong chose to commemorate the moment with a relishing quote, Buzz Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas, chose a different way: communion.

Eric Metaxas, author of Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask), writes in 2009 that he had had a conversation with Aldrin about his communion experience on the moon. He told Metaxas,
In the radio blackout, I opened the tiny plastic packages that contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing [John 15:5]."

I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute they requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madalyn Murray O'Hare [sic], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and the spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the first liquid to be poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.

And of course, it's interesting to think that the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the Moon, and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the "Love that moves the Sun and other stars."
The lawsuit that Aldrin referred to was this one: O'Hair v. Paine, 397 U.S. 531 (1970), in which Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the same atheist activist who fought to eradicate prayer from public schools, cited a violation of the First Amendment. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to a lack of jurisdiction. Instead of reading the Bible verse publicly, he radioed this: "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

Aldrin also wrote an account of his experience in his 2009 book, Magnificent Desolation, which you can read here. It also appears in his 1973 book Return to Earth, and in an August 1969 interview with LIFE Magazine. ( does not allow the copying of book material, but they were nice enough to give the Internet some portions for the purpose of dispelling doubt.)

According to Wikipedia, the chalice used by Buzz Aldrin is being kept at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas, a suburb of Houston near the Johnson Space Center.

Further Reading:
McGuire's Place: First Communion on the Moon

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CMU Workshop Keynote: Patrick Mead—"Alexander Who? Barton What? Why History Matters"

Patrick Mead gave a lesson on church history that genuinely surprised me. Patrick (@TravelingMead on Twitter) is currently the preacher at a unique church in Michigan called Rochester Church of Christ, one that a more conservative church of Christ member might consider "liberal." He considers it loving, meeting people where they are. As you can imagine, plenty of people don't like him.

Churches of Christ teach Restoration movement history all the time as a way of saying "We're better than other churches because we follow the Bible." All I knew before this lesson was that a couple of cool people separated themselves from the Presbyterian church because they wanted to do church as it was written in the New Testament, to go back to the first century. Sola scriptura. That is what happened...sort of.

In 1809, a man named Thomas Campbell was kicked out of the Presbyterian church in Ireland after a committee decided that he used too much Scripture in his sermons and didn't spend more time bashing the churches down the street. In those days, division was actually violent, not like today where we may have disagreements and the most we can do is argue with each other. While this is not in any way Biblical Christianity, it was accepted in the churches to the point that to have someone like Campbell stand up against it was absurd. He was sent to the American Frontier, or modern-day Western Pennsylvania, where the Presbyterian church there decided the same thing about him, although not as strongly. (America was where they sent the crazies with the weird ideas, but aren't we glad about that?)

Meanwhile, his son Alexander had stayed in Ireland with his mother. They had tried to follow, but were shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland, so young Alexander went to the University of Glasgow, where he received his theological education and became a preacher as well. Soon, the same thing was decided about him by the Session—the council in the Presbyterian church—after he put his token in the communion plate (you had to be an approved member and receive a token in order to take communion). When he finally went to the new world to see his father, he hesitated to tell him that he left the church, not knowing that his father had done the same. His father Thomas had written a piece called the Declaration and Address, which he showed his son.

Here are some highlights from it:
  • "That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures..."
  • "That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them...."

Thomas and Alexander Campbell were influenced by the philosopher John Locke's ideas on religious tolerance. They believed that people should be able to read the Bible for themselves and think for themselves, rather than being told by a denomination what to believe and threatened with excommunication if you disagreed.

Interestingly, considering the state of the church today, the "Church of Christ" was used as a collective term for all Christians who profess Jesus as Lord—NOT as a franchised church or new denomination. Thomas Campbell based inclusion into the Christian faith not on doctrinal correctness, as was the spirit of the time, but on inward character. I had always been taught that the churches of Christ decided to follow the commands in the New Testament that others had drifted away from, but according to the Declaration and Address, the main New Testament command being restored was "Love one another," which Jesus tells us is more important than minute details completely. In the Old Testament, Patrick said, there are over 600 laws; in the New Testament: "Love one another." He also referred to 1 Corinthians 13:13, which says:
13 "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
That's right—love should trump faith.

The rest of the lesson focused on Romans 14, which you can read here. It's pretty self-explanatory. The Apostle Paul expounds on the same subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, wherein he says, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know (v. 1-2). Here are some highlights from Romans 14:

  • "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (v. 1-4) (emphasis mine)
  • "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way."(v. 13)
  • "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (v. 19)

Allow me to take this opportunity to make this lesson personal. If you haven't noticed, I like politics. But Christians don't agree on everything. Some believe we shouldn't get involved in the world's affairs, and some take it so far as to believe that it is a sin for Christians to vote. One thing that Christians pride themselves on—and rightly so—is our diversity, and that means intellectual diversity too. I hope I have made it clear in previous posts that I don't think for a second that every American Christian should identify conservative. That would be silly. But while I try not to put a stumbling block in anybody's way—and I know that I have—my friends can return the obligation by recognizing that I have the freedom to live by a philosophy, and that this philosophy does not stand between myself and God or myself and reaching the lost. My part of the bargain is that if it ever became a problem and was affecting somebody's spiritual life, I would give it all up in a heartbeat.

But this is something I enjoy reading and learning about, and I believe that I have the freedom to do so. Tolerance, after all, doesn't mean not having any ideas whatsoever. If it did, there would be nothing to tolerate. And how would we love each other then?

Click for audio of this lesson

Thursday, July 7, 2011

CMU Workshop Keynote: Jonathan Storment - “Passing the Torch: Moses to Joshua”

We kicked off this year’s Campus Ministry United workshop at Harding University tonight with Jonathan Storment’s (@Stormented on Twitter) sermon about this year’s topic—Get Lit: Passing the Torch.

His lesson was entitled, “Passing the Torch: From Moses to Joshua.” Deuteronomy 34 reads that God showed Moses the whole promised land, but he and his followers out of Egypt were not permitted to enter: Moses had to pass the torch to Joshua.

In our ministries, he said, we may not see the fruit of our labor immediately. Someone else may come along and enjoy the results of what you planted and watered. This was illustrated with a story of a mission trip to Afghanistan wherein hundreds were brought to Christ—but not after the lifelong work of decades of missionaries laboring without a single convert.

His main point was about the importance of mentorship. “If you don’t have someone you can think of who is a mentor to you,” he said, “you’re not going to make it.”

That struck me in a personal way, because I don’t have one of those people. I want to be a counselor, but the only counselors in our church right now are men. If this man is right, then I may need to begin seeking out someone who is willing to mentor me.

More coming about the workshop. You can listen to all of the lessons for free here!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Today I played hostess at my house while a group of about ten of my husband's family members came over to eat, and it was a lot of fun. We had burgers, bratwurst, apple pie, and "freedom cake." Like it? It's made of french vanilla cake, whipped cream icing, strawberries, and blueberries.

Later, we went to Nokomis Beach and enjoyed the capstone part of July 4th celebrations: Fireworks.

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3rd, 1776 about what he thought Independence Day celebrations—which he thought would be on July 2nd, the day the Second Continental Congress made its historic vote to declare independence from Britain—would be like. This is what he wrote:

The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.
-John Adams. July 3rd, 1776 

In 1777, the first Independence Day celebration was commemorated with thirteen gunshots, one for each of the thirteen colonies that became independent states. Truly, it is an odd honor for us that most men in America wouldn't be able to do without fireworks on July 4th. I was baffled when I found out that fireworks are illegal in some states in the Northeast. (In Florida, they are only illegal technically, and you may buy them as long as you verbally acknowledge that your purpose in buying them is to scare birds off of your crops.) See? We're being patriotic.

The only thing that took away from the splendor of the fireworks show on the beach was the incessant drumming of a pagan drum circle that was located 20-25 yards behind us, which continued through the fireworks show and long after most everyone had left. A man near us tried to lead us in the singing of the national anthem, and it fell flat on its face because of the drumming. A few people complained verbally but recognized that they had the freedom to do it. Paganism is popular in Sarasota-Venice area because of New College. 

While at first I gave the benefit of the doubt and thought they might be joining in with Independence Day festivities (Earth worshipers are Americans too), I soon realized that they were in their own little world, doing their own thing, alongside a very large crowd that was there for a completely different purpose. So I considered for a second whether we might not do the same thing, since we also place God over country. Suppose we always worshiped on Mondays. If July 4th had fallen on a Sunday, we would have gone to church without question. We might have even had a beach devo. But would we begin obnoxiously singing while something else was going on? Probably not, because we would respect those around us. 

And, if it was us, the police would be called to tell us to be quiet, which has happened before when there was no crowd on the beach.

Basically, the message came off like they were trying to make a point by being separate from the group on a holiday where people enjoy the unity of being Americans. Independence Day isn't like a religious holiday, where you respect the fact that not everybody celebrates your holiday of choice in the way that you celebrate it. Even New Year's Eve, while collective in the sense that everyone around you seems to be excited about ringing in the new year, is not celebrated by people who go by different calendars. July 4th is unique in the sense that every single American citizen has a reason to celebrate, no matter who they are. So I felt that they were seriously raining on the parade.

It made me aware of the fact, though, that Earth-minded people are the opposite of nationalistic (or, patriotic) people; Christians, environmentalists, and pagans all have this in common. There is nothing wrong with putting one's religion above one's country—after all, if you believed it to be true, it would be true for the whole world, wouldn't it? 

For me, though, I think this was the first Independence Day where patriotism finally had value and importance. I never understood why we set off fireworks, and now I do. It was based on an awareness of history, and an excitement about it. My mother-in-law is like-minded: She posted on Facebook that she had the Schoolhouse Rock version of the Preamble stuck in her head the whole way home. Since I know that every Christian has the same debate with themselves in their head every year, my answer for myself is that there is nothing un-Biblical about being excited about history.

What about for you? 

And what do you think about the drum circle?

Freedom, Independence—and Consanguinity

"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free." -Galatians 5:1

Probably every church in America heard this verse today. No, not many of us consider American independence from Britain and general tyranny to be any equal to the surpassing grace we have in Christ— that which looses us of the personal chains that bind us—and I hope that not to be the case with any Christian. But the church my husband and I went to this morning thought it worthy to meditate on it all. Let me explain.

The Interstate was backed up this morning because of an accident which spanned across all three lanes, and they were making everybody get off. We go to church an hour away from our house, so getting off the Interstate was not an option unless we had somewhere else to go. I was glad to be able to go to a church to which Greg had been before but I hadn't. I expected it to be conservative (religious, not political), since Bay Area is pretty warm and open and I've heard that to be somewhat of an anomaly. But that's not what I found.

The lesson, of course, was on freedom in Christ, and about the chains that bind us. The preacher had us write on a strip of paper the one thing that holds us in bondage, and they were made into one of those paper chains you probably made in 3rd grade. Then a few people volunteered to become wrapped in them. As an illustration of the power of God, they were then asked to break free of them—an easy task since the chain was made of paper. The point was that that's how easy it is for God to break our chains.

Afterward, there was a cookout, and the paper chain was left in the foyer for us to "walk all over." I had a great time getting to know new and friendly people. The worship had been surprisingly emotive and free, and the lessons both rich and relevant. I liked this church. Whoa buddy, and then I found out that there was going to be a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a jam session with instruments.

Pause. I'm a member of the Churches of Christ. This doesn't happen. Knowing what a rare opportunity this was, I think I was so excited that I might have actually skipped to my car to run home and get my violin (glad that I actually lived nearby for once). What followed was a casual, educational reading of a founding document (a church that embraces its historical duty to educate? Schwing!) Nobody even tripped over the word "consanguinity" (which, by the way, means the quality of being united by blood).

Rod Meyers of Central Sarasota Church of Christ reading the Declaration of Independence

So then, this guy who was an expert at saying the word "consanguinity" and an expert at preaching proved himself to be even more of an expert at playing the guitar and singing country music. In all, there were three guitars, a harmonica, and the fiddler who thought she could keep up (me). Actually, it was just like being with my family, except that they were Christians. The only time I'm ever called upon to fiddle is with my uncle, who also plays the guitar. Of course, I'm never prepared and it never matters. That consanguinity? I felt it.

To be honest, this was the first time that I've truly felt accepted by a church of Christ for being a musician. I've always felt like it was something I had to hide, like I was the "enemy," even though no one cared to learn that I don't believe in playing instruments in worship at all (my reason is because when I'm playing, it takes away from me worshiping). Even though I started playing the violin long before I ever accepted Christ, I almost felt like I had to apologize for my primary passion; like if I had the opportunity to talk to my childhood self, I probably would have appreciated being informed of the kind of discrimination I would receive as a classical musician in the church of Christ. This acceptance of such a large part of who I am was tremendous for me.

Consanguinity. What does it mean to you?

(Read the Declaration of Independence here.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My New Kitten!

I'd like to introduce you all to my new baby:

(Ugh, sorry for the terrible iPhone picture. My carpet is actually blue.)

His name is Theophilus, and he's 8 weeks old. Since that's such a big name for such a small kitten, we call him Theo.

He lost all his baby fuzz over the 2 weeks we were on the Oklahoma mission trip (we picked him up after we got back), so check out this picture of him at 5 weeks:

How one grows!

By the way, the mission trip was awesome, as it usually is. We had nine baptisms, including our own Coreen. Here is a picture of me with a 10-year-old girl I studied with who decided to surrender her life to Christ:

Since we got back, life has been good, and especially interesting since we now have an energetic kitty to entertain us with his antics. Greg got a promotion at his job, so we celebrated by going out to dinner and going to the beach in Venice.

And that's it! It's nice to be home. Only a few more days until the Campus Ministry United Workshop at Harding University!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gay Marriage? Go Ahead

Last week, New York became the 6th state to allow gay marriage, joining Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Iowa, as well as Washington D.C. and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.

Since I know a lot of people consider this a danger to Christianity's supposed hegemony in America, I thought I might let you know what my thoughts on it are, with two disclaimers: 1. I am not really one of those people. While I hold concern for the individual's soul and the harm that sin causes, God can look out for himself. Really, he can. Even if we eventually have to die for the faith, which I'm assuming is the fear. 2. At some point before I was a Christian, I thought about becoming gay. I also dealt with gender identity issues. That's out there for anyone to know about me. So no, I don't hate gays. In fact, I understand them.

That being said, from a counseling perspective, I think that if two people want to commit to each other, they desire something noble and should go for it. I would encourage it. But I understand that for men, homosexuality often has a dark component: sexual addiction. And commitment and sexual addiction can rarely reside under the same roof—at least not peacefully. Or not permanently.

Here are some statistics on infidelity in straight and gay relationships:

"In a 2004 paper, psychology professor Lawrence Kurdek of Wright State University in Ohio reported that over a 12-year period, 21% of gay and lesbian couples broke up; only 14% of married straight couples did." (Source: GayPASG)

Bear with me while I find a statistic I was taught in a social psychology class that isn't in the textbook. My memory may not be accurate—I will not leave it like this.

Percentage of couples who report one or more instances of sexual infidelity:

Heterosexual relationships: 12%
Homosexual male relationships: 25%
Homosexual female relationships: 7%
(not definitive)

As my (male) social psychology professor, who was going through a divorce at the time, aptly put it, "Basically, wherever there are men, there will be cheating."

Not surprisingly, female homosexual relationships are the most faithful; according to my professor, this is likely simply because they don't have a lot of sex to begin with. My perspective on homosexuality with both genders is that gender identity struggles—like mine—start as a result of sexual abuse. Out of hatred of the abuser (generally male), men become hypersexual, sometimes to the point of homosexuality. Women become asexual out of fear of men, which leads them to seek the safer sex—woman—as a lifelong partner. Since sex requires vulnerability and perhaps a form of re-traumatization, it makes sense that homosexual women would hold back. This is of course in addition to the fact that they have lower libido than men in general. The result is somewhat of a spectrum, with "healthy" lying at neither extreme—i.e., a relationship with both genders.

So that's my idea of it in a nutshell—and it's only that: an idea. There are vast differences between homosexual female and homosexual male relationships. For example, my step father's sister has been married to her wife for a number of years, and they seem very committed to each other. But t
o be honest, I don't think that lesbians are the first thing people think of when they hear the word "homosexual." People aren't afraid of homosexual women, but they are afraid of homosexual men. When you hear about people fearful of those pushing the "gay agenda," they aren't talking about harmless lesbians who are content living peacefully with each other—they're talking about being uncomfortable having a homosexual man as their son's teacher for fear that he might be abused. To the fearful, the real danger is not that gays will get married, but that homosexuality will become normal.

Basically, I could see women getting married, and I'm absolutely fine with it. I fear, though, that homosexual men do not want to get married, and that straight activists are pushing the "gay agenda" on their own. That is, I haven't met a male couple who wants to settle down and commit (although that doesn't mean that they don't exist. If you are one, let me know), and that those who wanted to would have done it already. I wish it were the case that people wanted to get married, because I would support them if they did. But from a counseling perspective, if we can hardly get straight people to get married, what makes us think that gay men will all of a sudden be rushing to the altar?

A like-minded Twitterer summed it up nicely:

What I fear most is that for activists, this isn't about love—this is about politics.