Thursday, June 01, 2006

JC's Bookshelf

William Seth Adams, Shaped By Images: One who Presides(Church Publishing, 1995). I am half way through this one and is a practical theology of the pastor as presider. The author sees presiding as the primary identity of the pastor out of which all other roles stem.

Gordon Lathrop, Holy People: A liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press, 1999). I am finally towards the end of this one. (It's taken me over a year to get this far). The most powerful of Lathrop's concepts is the idea of ecclesia as a transformative gathering of God's people to meet God.

Samuel Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y Politica en Puerto Rico 1898-1930 [Prostestantism & Politics in Puerto Rico 1898-1930] (University of Puerto Rico, 1997) I just started this one. It speaks of the social role that the protestant church played in the political status of Puerto Rico. Its larger contribution is that it gives us an example of what happens when North American protestantism is taken as the normative expression of Christianity by a colonized people.

Alf J. Mapp Jr., The Faiths of Our Fathers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). I am a third into this one. The author explains the theological positions of some of the founding fathers of the U.S.A. This is an important book especially living in a region of the U.S. where many people see the founding fathers as evangelical Christians.

Dan Brown, The Davinci Code (Anchor Books, 2003). I am almost finished with this controversial book. It is well written and a good thriller. The most interesting part to me was its treatment of the idea of the sacred feminine.

Graham Greene, The Complete Short Stories (Penguin Classics, 2005). Greene is my favorite short story writer. He came to Roman Catholism later in life. It seems like in all his stories he struggles with religion in some way.

This is all for now. I will be looking for Volf's book and also for Anderson's. By the way Celebration of Discipline was one of those books that began my journey towards the sacramental life (interesting since it is written by a Quaker).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


So, here's what I'm reading at the moment.

Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. (Zondervan, 2005)
Almost finished with this one, and it has been excellent. Blending theological reflection on St Paul and Martin Luther with family experiences in Eastern Europe and the USA, Volf writes urgently and simply about the importance of giving and forgiving to Christian Faith. Basically a primer on the Christian life from the vantage point of these two practices. Easily approachable and persuasive.

E Byron Anderson, Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves. (Liturgical Press, 2003)
Just begun this one, but it speaks to the place of worship in contemporary United Methodist circles. A bit more dense theologically, but still drawing on the experiences of everyday Christians, especially from case studies of two congregations. A favorite topic for me.

Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. (Blackwell, 2005)
Again, barely started. Reading this for our monthly theological bookgroup. Takes on Richard Dawkins, the brilliant scientist and vivid atheist. McGrath has a PhD in the sciences and is also a theological scholar, so he's the perfect author for this book. More on this soon.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline. (Hodder & Stoughton, rev 1989)
Leading a weekly study of this book. Foster is an excellent teacher of spritual practices, and this book includes the basics. It's proving to be quite valuable for this small group of congregation members.

Andrew Smith, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. (Bloomsbury, 2005)
Smith's postmodern search for the meaning behind America's Apollo missions to the moon puts on a human face as he meets with the men who actually flew to, walked on, and returned from the moon; he also recalls the turbulent late 60s & early 70s from his own memories. An interesting perspective, written by an American expatriate for a British audience.

Terry Pratchett, The Truth. (Corgi, 2001)
Another Discworld novel, that special blend of fantasy and satire. Pratchett is to fantasy what Douglas Adams was to sci-fi; always good for an intelligent laugh. This one satirizes the newspaper industry.

Juan, what about you?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Young & in Ministry II

Why are young people not entering the pastoral ministry?

I ask myself this question all the time. When I go to clergy meetings most of the people there could be my parents and some my grandparents. I look around and try to find new faces and new voices but they are not there.

I believe there are three reasons why in United Methodism we have this situation: lack of a clear theology of ministry, the climate in our churches, and (what I will call) an unclear future.

Methodism has always struggle with its theology of ministry. We were a lay movement in the early days that only by chance became a church. In American Methodism the heavy influence of a lay movement still resonates in our church. How are we to understand the ordained ministry in our setting? I believe that the struggle for a theology of ministry is really a struggle due to a lack of a clear ecclesiology. Are we a church or a movement? And if a movement does it need an ordained ministry? Due to the lack of clarity many young persons, who want to be part of something, see United Methodist ministry as a burden instead of an important vocational choice. Couple our ambiguous theology with issues such as intinerancy and we have more "stumbling blocks" for young people to answer the call.

The church is not set up for the current generation. We still have old patterns of worship and education. In many parts of the U.S. any new ideas are seen as threats to the current order and to the faith in general. The current divisive political climate makes it more difficult for young people in ministry.

With the current divisive climate, where does the church go? I believe our future is bright because God is with the church. I think we need to find ways to talk to one another with respect. There needs to be a realization that although different in ideology we can be one in the spirit. One of the things that I am doing here is Louisiana is to gather all 22 clergy under the age of 35. We are going to caucus and begin plans to support young clergy and to provide a young clergy voice at the Annual Conference, Jurisdictional Conference, and General Conference level. This will allow us to begin to make progress towards a better church and a better defined theology of ordained ministry.

Here it is Josh. It's been a long time coming but what do you think? Could you caucus the young clergy in the Texas Conference?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

young & in ministry?

I've recently been reading's article about the lack of young people coming into ministry.
[Read story]

What makes for this decline? One answer is presented in a recent New York Times article, featuring some of our colleagues from Candler. [Read this story, registration required]

One possible approach is presented by Melissa Wiginton, a VP at The Fund for Theological Education, in a lecture from 2003. [Read the lecture] We were both at the original presentation which Melissa refers to in this article, and I found it quite compelling. If anyone actually reads our blog :) perhaps you'd like to comment on the interaction between these interacting stories and reports?

Juan, I think this matches up with some of the questions we've been asking about vocation, ordination, ministry, and the church.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On a lighter note and other thoughts

I am glad that the World Baseball Classic is going on. Although I have not watched any of it I think is an excellent idea. The fact that Cuba is participating makes it even better. I of course am loyal to my country of birth Puerto Rico. Although it would not be bad if another Latin American country won. I recently heard a commentator complaining about non-americans taking over baseball. I found his comments bordering on bigotry for I believe that sports can have a powerful uniting effect on the nations of the world. We'll see who wins.

On another note. I have been thinking much about commissioning and ordination. Here I am playing with Lathrops idea of the tension between local and universal. Here is my spin. Maybe in United Methodism we have the perfect example of this tension. Commissioning is connected to the local United Methodist ministry. This means that those of us who are commissioned are on a period of service to the United Methodist Church specifically. In living out our vocation locally the church tests our gifts, graces, and fruit of ministry for the universal ministry (i.e. catholic ministry) of the ordained. Commissioned ministry is not related to ordination in general but it is related to United Methodist ordering of ministry that attempts to balance the missional necessities of the church (local expressions) with the importance of catholicity.

I will expand on this soon. I just got home from work and am ready to crash.

on a lighter note....

How about that World Baseball Classic? Juan, I assume you're cheering on Puerto Rico, and I am, of course rooting for Team USA (go Brad Lidge!)...although the Dominican Republic is looking mighty good, too. I'm glad Cuba not only got the US State Department's permission to play, but have advanced as well: perhaps baseball can begin to bridge some of our considerable differences.

So, who will advance to the semifinals?? My picks are Puerto Rico & the Dominican Republic in Pool 2, and USA and Japan probably in Pool 1. But Venezuela and South Korea might be the dark horse picks in each pool respectively.

Anyway, I'm excited to see how this plays out...and especially how it impacts the regular MLB season. How Clemens feels afterwards will probably affect how my beloved Astros do. So here's to the Rocket staying in Houston and feeling good!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Creativity and Activity

In one of my previous posts, "Activity redux," I made this statement:

Moreover, God made human beings and all creation not because it was an elective pursuit which brings pleasure (hedonistic or otherwise)--God makes because that is God's nature to do so. God so overflows with love, care, and creativity that it would be a travesty NOT to create. Out of the rich abundance of the inner divine life (the community of the Trinity, if you will), space is made by the omnipotent, omnipresent God for something uniquely Other to take shape.
As I have been reading through Miroslav Volf's new book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, I found that he had addressed the very subject I was concerned about in a much more attentive and sophisticated way. Apparently my contention that it is embedded in God's nature to create, was argued by neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus. Volf contends that Plotinus treats God as an "it" not as an "I," and that Christians presume God to be a subject, rather than an object, and therefore self-determined.

Volf continues:

Being self-determined cannot be the whole story of divine freedom, however. For then God's freedom would be arbitrary. God would decide this rather than that for no other reason than the inscrutability of divine will. If God were free to create in this way, creation would be as arbitrary as if God flipped a coin to decide whether to create or not.... God's giving is not a whim, however. God gives as creator when the plentitude of divine love turns away from itself toward the nothingness of non-being.... To be moved by oneself in love is to be divinely free. Moved by oneself, one is not compelled; directed by love, one is not whimsical. (p 64)

This is where I think Rick Warren misses the point. Rather than "made for God's pleasure," we are "made from God's love." God's love is what moves (if not compels) God to be in relationship with something that is distinctly Other than the divine self, the Trinity. So though I perhaps was a bit too neo-Platonist for my comfort (or Volf's), I don't think I was entirely incorrect.

The difference is between the gentle persuasion of a lover and the compulsion of a tyrant. "Moved by oneself, one is not compelled; directed by love, one is not whimsical." Thank God we share a life with One who is neither compulsory nor whimsical, but love.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lent in Protestantism

I am still amazed at the growth of liturgical renewal. As a liturgically inclined United Methodist I become frustrated often. I would like our church to become more faithful to our liturgical tradition. Yet when I talk to earlier generations of pastors they all tell me how far we have moved towards the liturgical tradition in the last 30 years. The article regarding Lenten practice in protestantism is an example of this move.

My question now is: Where now? Liturgical practice is now becoming part of churches that traditionally had rejected anything "liturgical." What does it mean that they are embracing some aspects of the liturgical tradition? Where do we, as decendants of a liturgical tradition, take the movement?

It seems to me that although we have become "more liturgical" we have not allowed the liturgy to become formational. In other words the idea of lex orandi lex credendi is not the case in many parts of the liturgical church.

Is this the case? What can we do to allow our congregations to be formed through liturgy? What do you think?

More later.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Vicarious Experience

Out of touch. The church is often accused of being out of touch with reality, with "people today," with the problems and challenges of contemporary living. True, on all 3 counts. The church often uses theology and especially soteriology to escape from what's really going on.

But, we aren't the only ones. (Yeah, cheap shot, but hold on.) Contemporary society is divorced from its essential elements as well. Instead of having an actual hearth fire in my home, we have a gas fire. Though my village is surrounded by farms, I have actually no idea how to even begin growing grain or anything else. My water comes out of a tap, into a filtering pitcher before I drink it: I don't bring it in from the stream or well. And we won't even talk about television or the internet.

In the words of one of my colleages, we've substituted elemental experience for vicarious experience. We don't actually do much of anything. I can't remember the reference, but there's a story in which one character asks another "What do you make?" And the second character starts talking about how he's an investment broker, generating capital...and the first cuts him off, pressing the point--but what do you make? What do you actually do? Even the musically inclined among us are more apt to listen to their iPod than pick up an actual musical instrument like a flute or violin.

Marxist critiques of capitalism suggest that the workers are dehumanized because they become disassociated from the things they actually produce. This phenomena is made manifest today at the opposited end: consumers are disassociated from the creation of the products they consume.

We're out of touch with our faith because we're out of touch with real life: growing, breathing, sweating, bleeding, really alive life. At root, that's why bread and wine, water and oil don't connect with us: because we don't bake our own bread (much less grow our own grain), draw our own water, press our own grapes for wine or oil. Or any one of those. Or any one of the other things that nurture our common life.

To steal Ted Smith's phrase, are we merely engaged in "manic pseudo-activity" or are we actually engaged in constructive, life-giving activity?

What do you do?

Thursday, January 26, 2006


I recently had a conversation about the nature of preaching with my Sr. Pastor. The essence of the conversation related to the growing trend in preaching (especially in the mega church) of speaking to people's needs--e.g. fear, self-esteem, relationships, vocational choice etc.

I do not think the gospel speaks to people's needs in this way. Instead the preacher proclaims the gospel in a "midrashic" way. This approach helps people connect and understand the text in their setting. It speaks to their needs but more importantly it reminds them of their claimed story-- of "the things of baptism"-- as we have been talking about.

Our perceived needs are not ignored in this kind of preaching. What takes place is a re-centering (conversion, transformation) of our lives that allows for all of our lives to be changed. Through the peeling of the layers of scripture we find ourselves, we identify ourserlves and we are faced with our need for God and for God's community called the church.

So, Josh , what's your take?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Activity redux

The point I actually lost in my previous post "activity" was that baptism in particular (and sacraments in general) gives us the essential clue to how God works. God is not a tyrant, judge, sadist...nor is God aloof, disinterested, or vaguely curious.

In The Purpose-Driven Life, which is quite popular on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, human beings are "made for God's pleasure." The image this conjures up is of a whimsical, let's-try-this-today, bored deity who is interested in us only because of the momentary happiness we can bring him. I don't think this describes Rick Warren's intention, but in trying to come up with a pithy encapsulating slogan, this petty image for God is perpetuated.

God is passionately interested in human life. Moreover, God made human beings and all creation not because it was an elective pursuit which brings pleasure (hedonistic or otherwise)--God makes because that is God's nature to do so. God so overflows with love, care, and creativity that it would be a travesty NOT to create. Out of the rich abundance of the inner divine life (the community of the Trinity, if you will), space is made by the omnipotent, omnipresent God for something uniquely Other to take shape. Out of this unfolding of divine activity and love can we begin to see how all life is grace--God's active love.

The creation, human beings--we are not divine playthings, to be toyed with momentarily and then abandoned or destroyed when the fit of creativity ends. We are ends in ourselves, created with an integrity and vibrance and dignity that pays homage to the Creator. And the creative environment in which we find ourselves is all love.

Baptism vindicates this way of seeing God. God pours out love in the form of water and the Spirit, without respect to achievement or awareness or ability, potential or purpose or proclivity. If you are a child, you receive--if an adult, you receive; if you are guilty of horrible atrocities, you receive--if you have lived a saintly life until now, you receive; if you have doctoral degrees in philosophy, you receive--if you are mentally limited by genetics or biology, you receive. We can all receive God's free gift of grace. What we do afterwords, in response, that is conditioned by our human situation, of course. But the receiving begins before we are aware even of the possibilities.

In baptism, we experience an ordinary channel of God's grace; but ordinary doesn't necessarily mean lesser or plain. Baptism is ordinary because God orders it for the good of human life. It is ordinary because it is meant to be accessible to all. And because of that, it is perhaps the greatest. A fellow Candler student once asked me why baptism was looked down on by the church (vis a vis Eucharist): even deacons (and laypersons!?!) can preside. I responded that I thought that meant baptism is more highly valued, not less--we need to make sure it can happen anytime and anyplace, for the benefit of anyone.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Baptism is a beggining. Here the image of being "born again" becomes helpful. Although misunderstood and misinterpreted by many it has some important connotations to the present discussion. Just like a child is born and needs nurture and care to mature and grow; Christians need the same care following their baptism. They are claimed by God and through that claim comes salvation -- wholeness -- but not as a static moment in time but as a dynamic movement that reaches from Christ's death and resurrection to the present and into the future.

Our being sealed with the Spirit at baptism has an effect. The efficacy of baptism in our lives has its basis in God's initiative and humanity's response. Here we have a sort of anamnesis of God's action in the past. For we, like Luther, need to constantly "re-member." In the act of remembering we re-claim and God once again reminds of of God's promise to us.

In baptism promises are kept and made. Those who come to the waters as adults make a profession to the Lordship of Christ. Those who come as infants claim what could be a greater gift: never knowing that they are outside of God's grace. They certainly will need to be reminded. That's the responsibility of the faith community. Just like a family tells its story we tell ours. This is why for both the adult and the child is important to hear the words "remember your baptism and be thankful."

I believe Baptism to be central on what it means to be church. The words of Jesus were not about just proclamation but action. In baptism humanity takes on, claims for themselves, the good news of Christ. The good news here are unlike any other good news. For in baptism we die to our old self, the self centered, egotistical, I can do it self. In baptism we claim that God loves us in spite of who we are. In return Christ indwells in humanity in the person of the Spirit. This indwelling is a new life, no longer centered in self but on Christ, no longer individual but a new communal identity as part of the covenant community of the baptized.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Juan's identified baptism as something which is central to being church. I think that baptism challenges most modern Christians. We too often think of it as a past event, not as something which brings forward or shapes our future.

I had an interesting conversation with my district chair today regarding this exact question. Is baptism something which is a one-time-only event, or is it the beginning of a journey which needs to be recalled so that we can remember which way we are going? Perhaps the analogy is a bit strained, but I think it is the latter.

This is why Lathrop emphasizes, along with classical Christian theologians, the necessity of re-presenting the "things of baptism" in the sermon/homily/message. Baptism is not just a public affirmation of our faith, and/or a cleansing from sin: it is a powerful moment of God-given grace; a joining to the body of Christ; a transformation into a cruciform life-pattern; the initiation of our ministry.

None of these, even the washing or affirmation, are momentary in their significance. These are lifelong events, which may begin or have a watershed moment (if you'll excuse the pun) at the actual time of baptism. Perhaps even a lifetime is too short for the full import of baptism to be unfolded. As I explore in deeper ways (as I grow older) the life of God as it is lived in our world, I can only imagine what is in store for the future. But I know that it begins--not ends--with baptism.

Nature of the Church

What is the nature of the church? In a workshop I attended today we explored the different possibilities for what kind of church our congregations were living in as well as what kind of leadership was needed. The conversation brought out a variety of possibilities for what it means to be church. Part of the struggle was to differentiate what the presenter called the “secular” vision for the church versus “God’s” vision for the church. The presenter wanted to challenge us to look at the nature of the church in theological ways.

Looking at the church theologically forces all of us to place God at its center. There is no theology without God for it is God who is the focus of our theological reflection. We can look theologically at many different things meaning that we are looking at all those things through the lens of God and our specific faith.

Lathrop uses baptism as a way to identify “church” in both broad and specific ways. He then makes “the things related to baptism” the subject of leadership and communication in a faith community. The catholicity of the church and the locality of the church are both dependent on the things related to baptism. Each local faith community lives out their baptism in particular ways and yet they are connected for baptism is the entrance into the church catholic.

I believe the church to be a transformative community. In it God’s grace empowers us to be agents of God love in the world. I see my work as a pastor to be rooted in this transformative community. I as one of its leaders remind the community of our shared story and through the Holy Spirit call the community to personal transformation, and service in the world.

The nature of this transformative community is God-self. God is the initiator. Through the person of Christ God showed humanity a way to restored relationship and through the Holy Spirit we are able to be continually renewed. This Trinitarian emphasis makes community the initial sign of identity for the church.

This is all for now. I will expand on community as the church’s identity later. I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the Quotes

Part of what started this conversation is a desire to re-define the pastoral office for this generation and for the future. As "Liturgical Nerds" that we are we believe that a redifinition does not necessarily need to look to the future but can look to the ancient tradition to help ground us today. What does it mean to be a pastor? How is does a pastor live his/her vocation? These are only two of the questions that seem to be important to the current discussion.

I agree with Lathrop that somehow the pastor's task is rooted in worship. Worship is the center of the Christian community reminding us of who we are and empowering us for Christian living in the world. Yet it seems that few churches see themselves in these ways so I wonder if we need to begin this question not with the pastor or with a theology of the clergy instead we might begin with ecclesiology and go from there.

I am writing as a United Methodist, male, hispanic, serving in a predominately anglo congregation in Louisiana. These influences and environment shape my understanding and are important for you to understand where I am coming from.


Here are two quotes that form the basis of our thinking so far. They are both from Gordon Lathrop's work, and the concern some of our major categories: worship, the church, ministry.

"Three clear tasks are attributed to the presider, probably the bishop, in the ancient Roman church: preaching on the texts that have been read by the reader; giving thanks at the table; and overseeing the collection and distribution for the poor. One might add to these a phrase that comes from the beginning of Justin's report:'We continually remind each other of these things' -- the things that belong to baptism. The presider joins this discussion, helping the assembly both enact and remember the holy bath. These tasks remain the central touchstones of presiding to this day. They can form the basis of a pastoral spirituality, the heart of the practice of presiding, the central vocation of bishops, priests, elders, or pastors: recalling Baptism, opening the Scriptures, gathering a community in prayer around the table, urging and enabling the connection to the surrounding world."
From Gordon Lathrop, Holy People pp 97-98
"In any case, whether employed full- or part-time or non-stipendiary, the presiders will try, in all of their lives, not to betray the vision of the meeting. They will, however, in their own need, listen to the "and also with you" and believe in the church. They will understand themselves as coming with strangers and outsiders, holding out their own hands for the signs of grace. They will walk the streets of their town, not as holy persons in themselves but remembring the resonances of the meeting. They will see pastoral care and blessings spoken at life-passages, especially at weddings and funerals, as extensions of the meeting. They will think of themselves as priests or pastors because the meeting in which they preside is the church's sacrifice that is not a sacrifice, or because the word and sacrament in the community where they preside is God's 'shepherding,' which is not pushing the sheep around but giving away holiness. They will treasure that presiding as their life task. They will wear vestments in the assembly both as the community's clothing, a sign of local appointment, and as the ancient traveling garments of the ones who arrive with apostolic authority.... The leaders of the meeting are for the meeting."
From Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things
These have already gotten our juices flowing...more coming soon.


Welcome to "Liturgical Nerds." We're two recent seminary grads who are now in our first pastorates--one in the US, one in England. We'll be posting our thoughts on life, theology, and practice here on this page.

Hopefully, this will be an exercise in open theology and dialogue; please feel free to comment on anything that's up. We'd love to hear what you think.