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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who is Jesus?

Well, my little Christmas-colored nativity maps have generated much interest. Of course, there are a couple of other stories about where Jesus came from in the Gospels. In Mark, Jesus reminds me of a Clint Eastwood character, coming out of Nazareth with a mysterious past, but clearly identified as the One. In John, Jesus is a kind of blow your mind character who was with God and was God. Luke spends must more time with Jesus in utero, showing destiny perhaps? Matthew, clearly demonstrating Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah. And then there are some non-gospel understandings of who Jesus was. I believe Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet; I don't know about all Jews, but I know Al Franken thinks Jesus was a pretty good rabbi who said a lot of good things, but none of it new. I've heard philospher poet Jim Corner refer to Jesus as a good friend. Product of Aristotelian philosophy that I am, I can't resist semi-completeness by speculating that one could also see Jesus as a fictional character or a villainous cult leader who started a movement to oppress women, gays, and non-believers.

My point is that I hope discovering the factual contradictions of the Nativity stories will spur you to investigate who Jesus is for you. I was just out of college when I read some stuff by Bishop Shelby Spong. He is marvelous for shaking things up. But then I looked into the work of Marcus Borg and really started putting things back together again. I can say with certainty that my faith is stronger and my life is richer as a result. I suspect I would have been stubborn enough to remain Christian without the shake up, but less so.

Question: Who is Jesus?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Nativity Stories

I was discussing this with a friend the other day, and thought it might be worthwhile to post about. There are two versions of Jesus' birth in the Bible. The authors of Mark and John decided it wasn't important enough to write about, but Luke and Matthew have very different stories. So, let's start with Matthew. Matthew 2 has the story about the wise men from the East. It has Herod killing all of the first born, and it has an escape to Egypt. It has no shepherds and no census. Now let's turn to Luke.

Luke 2 has the shepherds and the census, but makes no mention of killing all of the first born. The census is the worst thing Herod does.
That's not to say there is nothing in common between the stories. Both have Jesus born in the City of David, which I suspect was a spiritual necessity. Both have Jesus growing up in Nazareth in Galilee, which I suspect was a historical necessity.

Is this old news? It proves once again that a literalistic view of the Bible is unacceptable, but does it do anything to your faith? What do you take from the stories?

First Fruits from Our New Building

I've written a little about Chalice Christian's new building. This Saturday we are having a service that I don't think we would have conducted had it required renting additional space. Here is the information. Please feel free to forward this to Gilbert/Chandler folks who might be interested.
The Christmas season is traditionally seen as a joyous time of family celebrations. However Christmas may be a very difficult time for those who:

Are grieving the death of a loved one and spending a first holiday without them;
Have recently lost a job and wonder how to pay for gifts;
Carry painful memories associated with the season;
Have no family and will spend the holiday alone;
And those who suffer from depression as the days get shorter.

The emphasis on family and the need to "be happy" can make this a painful time for some people. And it offers the church a unique opportunity for outreach and ministry. There is a time to lament and to grieve. In a Longest Night service, we make a time to remember and affirm that God's light came to those "who walked in darkness" - that the Christmas message of God's hope is for those who are hurting. The "Longest Night" worship service draws its name from the winter solstice - the longest night of the year.

Our Longest Night service will be held December 22 at 6:30 pm. 15303 S. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert Arizona
Reaching those who are not being reached is really important to me. Rev. Linda Miller, our pastor, brought this service to us. I hope to attend, but more importantly, I hope folks who aren't yet a part of our group will attend.

What is your reaction to a church holding a service like this? Does it seem out of the ordinary, or common? Is it something you'd be interested in attending if you could? Keeping in mind those who are not yet affiliated with the church that I hope would come, do you think strangers can help one grieve?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Iranian Reactor built by Russians

Pardon me while I leave the topics of Faith & Politics to wax philosophical about nuclear power.

CNN reported yesterday that Russians were shipping enriched uranium to Iran for its nuclear reactor that was built with the help of the Russians. I was concerned because I don't trust Russians and nuclear power. For example, the Chernobyl reactor was moderated with graphite and cooled with water. That is, the graphite is used to slow down the neutrons so they can cause fission and therefore cause power to go up. The water takes the heat away. So that when there was a power spike and the water boiled off [no more cooling] the power could continue to go up [graphite moderated] until all of the fuel and graphite melted into a big "elephant's foot" underneath the structure. In an American built reactor, the water moderators the reactor, so when power goes up and there is less water (or less dense water) the power is naturally turned down, without moving the control rods.

It appears that the Iranian Reactor is moderated and cooled by heavy water. [1] I didn't think heavy water reactors required enrichment, and neither does source [1], so maybe the reports of enriched uranium really means refined uranium ore. Enrichment usually means increasing the concentration of U-235, which is fissile, as compared with other non-fissile isotopes of Uranium.

The reactor is also very small by U.S. standards. A couple places say that it is 40 MWth. [1], [2]. Compare with Oyster Creek in New Jersey that is 636 MW(e)/1500 MWth, or Palo Verde, with three units each twice the size of Oyster Creek. Megawatts Thermal is the power generated by the reactor, megawatts electric is the power sent down the transmission line. (You should follow the OC link to see how wonder nuclear power is; the website has pictures of daises.)

So, I'm less scared about the Iranian reactor than I was initially when I heard the Russians were helping to design. It seems to be strangely small, but I guess I understand how it is their first reactor. And it does make sense to me that they would want to generate electricity with cheap clean nuclear power and continue to sell oil to the West.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something Pretty

The apparent God is important to me, and this poet captures that idea well.

A Christmas I Never Knew

The sun ascends
into my patio window
from over the Superstition
Mountains; for a short while
a slender beam
spreads into the mass
of tangled branches
of a Mesquite at our back wall.

Are the delicate limb-endings
dancing in a slight breeze?
Or is light tapping from leaf
to leaf, yet perhaps breaking
into creation? Cold is warming:
Advent is trailing into the birth
of Winter’s solstice.

From my lounger, I wonder
about a babe in a manger:
a search for a pearl of great price,
a widow’s mite and gold, incense
and myrrh hidden in the dung
on a stable’s floor.


I dig the way the poet moves you from his back yard to stable floor. Seeing advent as a natural warming is powerful. Kind of gives me chills.

If you'd like to read more of Jim Corner's stuff, his poetry list serve is on the right.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church Size

How big should a church be? Here's a link that says the median attendance for Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations is 75. Here is some statistical fun from this link, 59% of non-Catholic/Orthodox Christian churches have fewer than 100 members, while only 4% have between 500 and 1000 members. But here's the trick, of the 56 million Americans who attend these churches only 16% go to churches of less than 100, the same percentage that go to churches between 500 and 1000 members. A very large plurality, 45%, attend church with between 100 and 500 others.

Of course, this is just about what everyone else is doing. I suppose one way to look at it is that a church should be as big as possible. I wonder if there is an optimum size for an organization that wants to comfort its members, nurture their spiritual growth by providing a vehicle to reach out to the world and make it a better place.