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October 27th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Pricing Out the Poor

Before I get into the meat of this, I want to make a few things abundantly clear. First, I understand that conferences and the like take money to coordinate and put on. I get it. This is the reality of the world that we live in. I also understand that such conferences are not really aimed at people like me, and that is ok as well. I am not arguing that they should be really. For those who attend such conferences, you should continue to do so. I believe them to be educational and uplifting. I write this not as a criticism so much as simply trying to make anyone who reads this aware of the true cost. The price of religion in dollars, in everything from seminary to Bible Study materials, is rising and to the detriment of the faith I think. I do not have a solution to this, but I also know that I hope someone does. All I am trying to do here is to demonstrate the real cost of one conference to illustrate the problem, not to make a critique of anything in specific, but rather to speak to a larger problem in general.
In Dayton, next year, there will be a conference called Spirit and Truth. You should go if you are able. The speaker list is great, and it promises to be an amazing time of fellowship and learning. I want to make perfectly clear that is going to be a great thing in my estimation. I went through and calculated the cost, at the cheapest I could make it, including the gas from my location to there, and came up with the number of $250. This includes the gas (an estimate) from Columbus to Dayton, the hotel, a modest allowance of $5 for  lunch and $8 for dinner, and staying at a no frills hotel that serves a continental breakfast. That really is not that much all in all. This price is for me alone. That is really not a terribly high cost all in all. Here is what that cost looks like to my family however.
The items listed are today’s prices at Walmart. I could do more shopping sales, but this should do to demonstrate. The total of this shopping list is $250.18 delivered curbside and packed into the trunk.
122 ounces coffee
4.6 pound boneless pork shoulder roast
50 ounces frozen ravioli
2 pounds spaghetti
48 ounces plain tomato sauce
43.5 ounces diced tomatoes in juice
48 ounces tomato paste
4.5 pounds cabbage
26 ounces instant mashed
2 pounds carrots
2.25 pounds bacon
5.25 pounds smoked sausage
20 ounces tomatoes with green chilies
32 ounces shredded cheddar
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces pasta shells
42 ounces cream of chicken soup
2 packets brown gravy mix
10 pound ham
45 ounces bread crumbs
32 ounces sliced cheddar
32 ounces shaved honey ham
8 ounces chicken base
96 ounces vegetable oil
32 ounces brown and serve sausage
16 ounces white rice
4 pounds ground Italian sausage
5 dozen eggs
96 ounces various frozen vegetables
60 ounces bread
15 pounds russet potatoes
3 gallons milk
9 pounds ground beef
21.6 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
2 pounds butter
5 pounds flour
This list contains things that could normally be found in our shopping. I did not include the various seasonings as we generally have them on hand. If I were to buy this right now, it would feed us, and feed us well, for quite some time. Where others see $250 dollars for a conference, I see the above list, or something similar. Mind you, if this were done the way I normally shop, it would be more as I would shop sales and purchase some things in bulk through GFS to save even more.  With just a titch of stretching, we could eat well for a month on this list…with some to spare. That is my family of three of course.
Again, to be clear, I know conferences and such cost money. I understand that. I know materials cost money. I know all of this. I guess what I am asking is when you figure out the price of a thing, you do not look at it in dollars, you look at it in something very practical, like food. How much food will this conference cost a person. How much food will this study cost a person. Maybe it puts things into perspective. Maybe I am crazy and am the only one who thinks like this lol.
This is not a plea for people to sponsor me to go to a conference. I do not want that. This is not an attempt at trying to make anyone feel guilty. I do not want that. This is not a lament of being poor, I am ok with that. I am not trying to say anything negative here at all, but rather to show a different way to look at the cost of religion. What this is, hopefully, is a way to try and show what the cost of religion can look like from a very practical point of view.  One might even call it practical theology, and that should be popular with us Wesleyan types.
October 25th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Initial Thoughts on the Judicial Council Oral Arguments

Theologically, it will come as no surprise to anyone who reads regularly, that my theology is rather traditional. I have made the case for this many times, so I do not feel the need to do so again here. What I am going to comment on here is the oral arguments and some of the observations I have from them. This piece will refer to the oral arguments in the One Church Plan alone.
The first striking thing was to hear the CoB talk about the importance of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Especially when so many of them have made claims outside of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Odd how they invoke it when they ant to somehow make this seem historically valid. Their claim that the Creeds have nothing to say about human sexuality is simply wrong. God is creator, the creeds affirm this. God’s design, as articulated by Christ, was “from the beginning”, which means creation. Claiming God as creator claims something about your view of homosexuality, whatever it is. Sorry, but yes, who we choose to have sex with is rooted in the creeds as the Creator God had a design and plan.
The first thing that I noticed is the different approaches in those who were speaking. Those speaking on the side of the Council of Bishops, including the Bishops, focused heavily on emotion, common progressive slogans and tag lines such as “unity, not uniformity”, a history of the Methodist church that seemed to me to be at worst revisionist,  and at best, implied things that simply are not true, at least in whole. Allow me a couple of examples. The argument was made that removing the language about self avowed practicing homosexuals from the chargeable offenses is simply returning the language to where it was before 1980 or so and that before this, the immorality and crime clauses were relating only to criminal acts. Well, this is partly true. It would restore the language to what is was before 1980 or so. The implication here is that before 1980, there was not any teaching about homosexual activities in the church that could be applied as immorality, and this could not be further from the truth. Don Hand is the individual who first proposed the language regarding homosexuality in the Social Principles. In a statement for the United Methodist News Service, and reprinted by the IRD later, he recounts how this came to be. (https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/07/04/don-hand-homosexuality-and-the-1972-social-principles-did-the-conflict-begin-with-the-language/). I encourage you to read the entire thing as it is interesting and significant. I will quote the relevant section however. “At the first session of this conference, a young pastor who had been charged with heterosexual misconduct, tried and convicted, resulting in the revocation of his ministerial credentials was in attendance.” This alone means that the claim made by the CoB that the immorality clause did not refer to sexual misconduct, but criminal misconduct is false. “The next year, 1971, an ordained minister whose credentials had been revoked on the basis of homosexual behavior, came to the annual conference to protest his discontinuance as an ordained minister.” There you have it ladies and gentlemen, a pastor, in the UMC, credentials revoked, for being a “self avowed, practicing homosexual”, before it was ever specifically chargeable. Now, please do read the entire piece by Mr. Hand as it is historically significant to the church. I also suggest this very good piece by Chris Ritter on how we got the language that we have as it to is informative and historically significant. Removing the language from the chargeable offenses and returning the language to what was before 1980 means that a “self avowed practicing homosexual” can still be charged under the immorality clause of the chargeable offenses of the UMC. In effect, it does nothing if we take history into account as the CoB would have us do. I do not know if they were simply no aware of this, if they rely on us not being aware of it, or simply think it does not matter, but there is precedent.
That rather long exploration brings me to part of the problem with the practicality of the One Church Plan. If a self avowed practicing homosexual is ordained, legally, by the church, then I, or anyone I would think, could, citing precedent, bring charges even if the language were removed. What a mess. It would make the church trials now seem like child’s play. How could such a huge oversight be made when so much work and so many hours were put into this plan? The One Church Plan asks us to ignore the past, it does not embrace it, at least not in this matter. I am actually a little surprised, and disappointed, that the traditionalists did not bring this very point up in rebuttal.

One of the more disturbing quotes was the following: “This is not about doctrine, it is about ‘Our Theological Task'”. This is not about doctrine? Really? Sexual immorality, whatever that is going to be defined as, is not about the doctrine of the church? A Bishop literally just said that this is not about the teaching of the church, so I guess sexual immorality just doesn’t matter? I am very concerned by this statement, especially as this has, up until today, been painted as different views of interpretation, that is to say doctrine (the teaching of the church). This is a large pivot from the previously held arguments. Now it isn’t doctrine, it is “Our Theological Task”. If “Our Theological Task” is not about forming the doctrine of the church, then what the bloody hell is it for? It bothers me that somehow the CoB is trying to separate the theological task of the church from the doctrine of the church…that is…well….sorry, I have no other word for it, stupid.
Another quote: “Wesley was very much a yes and person”. Wesley have very strict doctrine. He expelled members from the Methodist societies for poor doctrine and practice. He affirmed the Articles of Religion that we still follow which are full of doctrine. He preached about a gazillion sermons all full of, you guessed it, doctrine. While I am confident that Wesley would not have said that this or that person is forever outside the grace of God, I am equally sure he would not have called their behavior “holy”. The definition of holy given by the CoB, and attributed to Wesley, was to love God and love neighbor. That is true, but again misleading. Love of God is tied to obedience. It’s all through the OT, and repeated all through the NT. To love God, we must be obedient to His word. The question of what does God’s word say about how I should act, and instruct others to act, is the very basis of the practical Wesleyan theology that the CoB claims this plan is a part of. Just as love of God is tied to obedience to God’s word, so is the Wesleyan practical theology that we all claim to love.  The CoB seems to have forgotten that in their defense of the One Church Plan.
In defending the One Church Plan, the CoB affirmed that a local congregation could continue to not allow SSM in their church building. That is all well and good, but the one church plan does require that those very same people accept SSM as being an acceptable union in the eyes of God, at least in some Methodist churches. There is a required cognitive dissonance here that tries to claim it protects the beliefs of traditionalists, and that part is true, but again, the practical theology of Wesley is mot only orthodoxy, it is also orthopraxy. The CoB is saying that you can believe whatever you want to, but you can not practice it in essence. What confusion that is for me…what confusion that would be for the new believers and those who do not yet believe, that the CoB claims to care about.
At the end of the day, I am more leery of the One Church Plan than when I started It takes an incomplete view of our Wesleyan history and calls it the complete view. It claims that, despite forty years of arguing, that this is not doctrinal. It ignores what has come before. It takes us out of line with the church catholic and places us firmly in the middle of a minority sect of Christianity. For a religion that claims to follow Wesley, who was completely Anglican, and who called the American Methodists thoroughly Anglican, this is well outside those boundaries.
September 26th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Augustine, Addiction, and Asses

At my church, we recently had a Narcan training session. For those who might be unaware, this is the treatment used as an immediate counter to opioid overdose in an attempt to save a life. As is my habit, I took some time to reflect upon these things, fully cognizant that as a recovered addict who yet remains in recovery, I have a different view than some. As a quick aside, I have always been interested in the nonpracticing Catholic phenomena. It’s similar to addiction really…yeah I am an addict, but I am not really doing anything related to it…that is what I mean by recovered and yet in recovery. I am not doing anything that involves my actively being addicted, but there is also the reality that it is a part of who I am and what has transpired, but I digress. As I was considering the spiritual implications of this training, I found my thoughts drawn to three interesting places, Saint Augustine, The Articles of Religion, and Balaam’s ass.
The story of Balaam is fascinating really. The Biblical account is fanciful (and in truth, since Shrek came out, I always read the ass’s words in the voice of ‘Donkey’), carries deep meaning, and inspiring in many ways. You can find the story in Numbers 22-25. A very short summary of the story is that Balaam has been summoned by a pagan king to curse the Jews and to guarantee a Moabite victory. God instructs Balaam not to go, Balaam says he won’t, then goes anyway, and God sends an angel to stop him which only the ass sees, and, having God opened it’s mouth, tells Balaam off for it. In fact, the ass veers off the road three times, getting beat each time, all because it saw the angel of God and was trying to save Balaam. Keep this story in mind as we move forward here.
Saint Augustine of Hippo had this really interesting idea. He would write “Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You — man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I want to focus on the thought in bold face type. Our hearts are indeed restless until the rest in God. What then will man do to find rest for his heart? Will we throw ourselves into a job giving all of ourselves to it for the praise that comes with worldly success? Perhaps we will throw ourselves into sex, finding multiple partners, or some form of serial monogamy? Perhaps it is pornography, finding rest in the release of fantasy? Maybe it is an obsessive quest for knowledge? Perhaps it is gambling seeking the rush of winning on speculation?  Maybe it is the local church, doing so much trying to find God that you manage to miss His rest? It can be nearly anything really, and I believe that all of us have at various points in time tried to replace the rest that God will provide our hearts with any number of things. As the community of the faithful, we should understand this better than anyone else. We should also understand that it is not always a matter of sin or moral failing, but rather a side affect of the condition that we are born into that only God can provide true rest from.
The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church has this to say: “Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” This is the condition that all of us are born into. This is the very condition that causes us to seek rest for our hearts in all manner of things that are not God. This is the condition that causes Balaam to beat his ass for veering off the road when the angel is seen. This condition is what causes Balaam to not see the angel in the road. This condition is what causes us to seek that which is not of God.

This corruption of our nature is the very thing that causes some to seek the rest that addiction promises, but does not deliver on. Yes, there are genetic predispositions and the like, but I am not speaking of biology here, nor do I deny it, but rather an speaking of the condition of our very nature that is in deep need of restoration. (Biology and the mental disease that addiction matters deeply in treating it. I am cognizant of this and do not deny it, it is simply not in the scope of this piece. You can read more about the physical aspects of addiction and my struggle with it here.)  This condition pushes to us to all manner of things, other than God, to seek rest for our hearts. Like Balaam, we are all on an ass that is veering us off the road to protect us in the form of God’s prevenient grace working in our lives. For an addict, that grace can very easily look like this.

I have heard Narcan compared to everything from EpiPens, to cancer treatments. I have heard every argument why it is that it should not be easily obtained, should not be distributed widely, and should not be openly available to those who need it. All those arguments amount to one thing…man trying to prevent the grace that God has extended to all of us from taking hold. We all have an ass that has veered us off the road we were on for our own benefit. In many circumstances, we have the chance to be the ass that veers someone off the road for their own good. In administering Narcan, for the sake of this piece, we are doing just that. We are willingly and knowingly becoming the ass that veers our rider off the road so that they may see the angel ahead of them and to allow God to be heard. We have all experienced God speaking in a way, such as through a talking ass, such as through us, that we would have never expected. It is far past the time that we stop stigmatizing another ass because it looks different than ours.
September 24th, 2018 by John Fletcher

Methodists and Mission

I spent Saturday with a group of United Methodists from across my jurisdiction. The event brought together a diverse group of clergy and laity to discuss the pending effects of the Special Session of General Conference in February about human sexuality. By now, those who pay attention to the issues within the UMC on sexuality have not only opinions on the subject, but those opinions have hardened into positions. This was certainly true of this group.

The larger body divided down into smaller groups of 8-10 at round tables for a moderated discussion in the “Circles of Grace” format. We considered 8 questions in a increasing level of depth. It was hard to imagine what the point of these discussions was supposed to be. My best guess was that because the UMC institution and leadership has sold its soul to the “One Church Plan,” with scant perception that it has little chance of passing, they were trying to foster conversations to help us realize that even though we had different opinions across the entire church, we could all sit in a circle together, talk about our feelings, sing Kum Ba Yah together and go home and continue to be united. Unfortunately, we all go home to a church just as dysfunctional and divided theologically, no matter how nice we were to each other.

In fact, it was one of the questions we considered which brought into clear focus for me an issue on which we are painfully divided, which hasn’t received as much attention as others (e.g. Authority of Scripture, Lordship of Christ, etc.): that of mission of the Church. This issue, along with the others, cuts right to the heart of our presenting problems with human sexuality. The question asked was, “What is your sense of the mission/purpose of the Church?” Aside from the obvious mission statement adopted by the General Conference, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we were to each articulate our personal understandings of church and mission, i.e. ecclesiology.

As we went around the table, the diversity of answers astounded me. Not that they were necessarily bad or wrong answers to the question, but further that they seemed to all miss the mark in some shape or form. In seminary, I had a course on this exact topic: Church and Mission, with this description: Studies the work of the Holy Spirit as continuing the work of Christ. Focal points include the effects of redemption in the life of the believer,

in the creation and sustaining of the church and its ministry, and in the eschatological hope for the world through the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

In this course, we discussed the various ideas and purposes for the church, with a special emphasis on the “Great Commission” as articulated in Scripture. Interestingly enough, only a few folks at the table used any of the language within the Scriptural mandates. Now, I make mandate plural because it could be argued that there are five versions of the “Great Commission” found in Scripture. There is one in each Gospel, and then one in Acts. Even so, those who did use Commission language used only the word “disciple,” which comes only out of the Matthean account. The other ideas had more to do with missions of mercy, compassion and hope, which one could argue was implicit in the Johaninne “feed my sheep/love” language, but in our own day and age, this tends to express itself in social justice apart from any proclamation activity.

It was here where their conceptions of mission were most lacking. No one articulated a proclamation part of mission. No one said anything like Mark’s, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” There is a gospel to proclaim, but our people don’t even connsider that as a part of the mission of the church.

Evangelion, evangel, the idea that there is “good news” in Jesus Christ, which the world needs to hear, is so part and parcel to the mission of the church and the accounts of Scripture, that to not have it articulated by any of the folks in my group, all of whom would have a “progressive” understanding of the faith, reminded me about how divided we really are theologically.

Church in the “progressive” stream seems to completely ignore the gospel that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation,” and that “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This is GOOD NEWS! The world is broken, but in the atonement of Christ, the world is being redeemed from death and sin. God is saving a sin-sick world. It is the mission of the church to proclaim this good news to the wider world.

Is there discipleship to follow? Certainly. Are there missions of mercy, compassion, justice and healing to be done? Most definitely. However, these are to be part and parcel with the hope of forgiveness for sin found only in Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the good E. Stanley Jones quote, “An individual gospel without a social gospel is a soul without a body and a social gospel without an individual gospel is a body without a soul. One is a ghost, the other a corpse.” Jesus came into the world to bring more than good teaching and show us how to love. He came to bring us back to God despite the depth and filth of our sinful condition.

Why didn’t these folks have a fuller perspective on the gospel? For way too long the progressive stream of our church has had an incomplete picture of sin. Spending too much time neutering its power in the individual life and poo-pooing its consequences, liberal/progressive Christianity has conceived of a faith that looks more like a social movement. Niebuhr’s famous quote says it well, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

What is the mission of the church? It is multifaceted, but it must include the preaching of the gospel. In order to do so, it must preach that sin has corrupted the world both individually and institutionally. Redemption from sin comes because Jesus Christ has died for us. We may be the hands and feet of that redemption into the broken world through ministries of Discipleship and mercy, but both of those make no sense without the full proclamation of the gospel. The Kingdom of God has indeed come near, and we do bring it, but our message must include salvation from sin and the hope of Life in Jesus Christ. The rest, Discipleship, compassion, love and mercy are what St. Paul would call the “therefores.”

What does this say about where we are in the United Methodist Church today? It tells me that there is a substantial portion of our body that has an inadequate vision of the mission of the church, the nature of the fallen world around, and the power contained in the Gospel of Christ. Are there some folks who go to the other extreme? Are there people who emphasize too highly Jones’ individual gospel over a social one? Certainly, but I wonder if its easier for a classic evangelical (like myself), who tries to hold all of it in tension, to work with the one who knows to preach salvation in Christ, or the progressive who eschews gospel proclamation altogether.

In this case, I’ll stand with Paul, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

September 21st, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Justice, Mercy, and Kavanaugh

If you are a Democrat, you likely think, at least so far as the media is reporting, that Judge Kavanaugh should be thoroughly investigated in light of the accusations made of him. Even though no criminal charges could be filed at this point, it might, in your estimation, disqualify him for service in the SCOTUS.
If you are a Republican, you likely think, at least so far as the media is reporting, that that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh can not possibly be proven at this point and that this is likely political grandstanding. Some are also giving the public defense of since this did not come out until now and there is no criminal charge that it is a non issue.
If you are an independent, you likely think this is yet another perfect example of political dysfunction between the big two parties and yet another example of why the two party system needs to be broken from the outside. You likely think it was crap when Garland did not get an up or down confirmation process because the Republicans found a rule with in the letter of the law to violate the spirit of it. You also likely think that derailing this hearing until after the midterms is the goal and that is the same sort of dirty political maneuvering that has gotten us here and needs to stop.
Personally, I think that this is another example of how the two party system is broken. I also find it increasingly unlikely that Kavanaugh actually did the things accused, and even less likely that there can be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That means not guilty at the very least, and innocent at the best. We can take seriously the accusation s of abused women while at the same time maintaining that people are innocent until proven guilty. I also have deep concerns about the Judges thoughts on executive power and the fourth amendment. All of that said, the Judge is qualified to sit on the SCOTUS near as any evidence can tell, thus he should be confirmed.
There are two very important things here that must be realized. The first thing is that yes, accusations such as this must be taken seriously.
All of this said, I want to propose a thought experiment of sorts if you will. Said experiment is not going to be based upon your political views mind you, but rather I would like to base it on faith and reason. The premise of our thought experiment is that Kavanaugh did indeed do the things he has been accused of. I will not call him guilty in the legal sense, but he is certainly guilty in the moral sense for the purposes of our experiment. The question then is if he did indeed do the things he is accused of, does that disqualify him for the SCOTUS, and really for any federal bench truth be told, when weighed against the evidence of a life worthy of respect since that event?
If the answer here is yes, then his life’s work has been invalidated due to the isolated actions of a teenager. His life becomes ruined retroactively. From a rational sense, there is no evidence of repetitive behavior here, so this indeed seems to be an isolated incident. We know both from history, and likely our own personal experiences, that imperfect men and women that we all are, we are still capable of sound judgement despite poor decisions and also recovery from those poor decisions. An example of a rational argument here might be if he had been caught when it happened, the charges would be on his record and he would not be in this position, so it is simply a matter of justice that be the end result, even decades later. In order to answer yes, you must be able to provide a rational reason that his life become retroactively ruined due to one event. From the perspective of faith, to answer yes, you must find a reason that is cogent with Christian teaching that would suggest that all that has come before must be ruined for one mistake unknown until decades later. An example of a faith based argument here might be that while we believe in the remission of sin, we are not insulated from the consequences of that sin. This is simply a consequence of the sin.
IF the answer is no, then you must be able to make a rational argument as to why it is that he should be able to reach the pinnacle of his career with this in his past. Such an argument might look like this. Since there has been no evidence of other instances such as this, it is a matter of youthful indiscretion and immaturity not realizing the damage that could result and not a serial offense. He is qualified and has not engaged in any other behavior that would adversely affect his career or life for decades, thus it is an aberration in his otherwise good character, and as such does not disqualify him for the position. A faith based argument might look something like because we believe in the new birth and the remission of sin, there is no reason to hold an isolated incident that one can only assume is repented of based upon the pattern of living he has exhibited moving forward from that, that we, as a peculiar people, can forgive even the most grievous of sin because we trust the Holy Spirit to regenerate us and conform us to the likeness of Christ.
OF course again I want to stress that this is a thought experiment based upon if he were guilty. In this case, there is not collaborating evidence that indicates that he is, at least thus far, so we are both right to take the claim seriously, and also right to assume innocence in the absence of evidence. Think about it. Puzzle it out. Find out where you fall. In the coming days I will have another similar thought experiment that I will ask about your results to.
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