Monthly Archives: October 2008

Third party to the sexual identity debate?

[Note: please keep comments civil and on point with my questions at the end. We seek constructive and instructive dialog, not debate or lecture]

David Benkof has a stimulating opinion piece in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on a third way in responding to the gay/straight debate between Judeo-Christians. On one side, folks argue that their gay identity should be embraced (and their same-sex relationships). On the other side, folks argue that the Bible speaks against homosexuality at every turn, thus only heterosexual identity is possible.

Benkof, a man of Jewish faith, suggests a third way in his piece against Soulforce (a group traveling around to Christian colleges to raise awareness of homosexuality as a legitimate part of humanity and the Christian community). He suggests it is possible to have a gay identity but believe that the Bible must be taken seriously and not brushed aside. In his study he does not believe the bible supports gay activity. He is asking that debates about sexual identity include folks similar to himself.

Interesting fellow. You might want to read his wiki entry to get some background. Obviously a controversial fellow for some.

It raises this question: What would healthy, Bible-honoring, dialog look like between those who feel they best identify as gay and those who do not regarding? How would they approach the interpretive act? (Assume for the moment that biblical interpretation is important) How might conservative theologians change their dialogical stance?

I do think one question might be really important. If Benkof believes same sex activity is wrong (and it seems he does) then why does he self-identify by something broken? Is it a parallel when some former alcoholics self-identify as an alcoholic even though they haven’t taken a drink in 20 years? What is the benefit of this self-identification? The drawback?


Filed under Christianity, Identity, sexual identity, sexuality

Pastoral epistles as letter???

In talking to pastors, I’ve been taking the angle that we should look again to the pastoral epistles to see how a senior mentor talks to a junior pastor. What is important? What are the dangers? What kind of encouragement is given to these folk who labor in difficult venues?

I am afraid we have used these letters to create doctrinal positions (e.g., who should lead the church, the nature of Scripture, etc.) but have forgotten the pastoral flavor of these little books.

Take a look at 1 Timothy. Here’s my brief summation of Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1. Remember. (ch. 1) Keep at your work in loving prideful and misguided people (who probably all think they should be the leader). Remember our humble origins and calling (v. 12). The goal here? Don’t shipwreck your faith.

2. Act (ch. 2-3) Your first act? Pray for everyone and pray for peace. Your second act? Live a holy life in keeping with the position. Out of this instruct your congregation to…

3. Be Wary (ch. 4-6) Deception is happening to other teachers. It can happen to you. So, live in truth and focus on godliness. There are 2 deceptions (financial gain (and fame) and knowledge). Some see both as a path to godliness but they are not. There is an antidote: Contentment! Seek only the glory of God and not your own.


You might ask yourself (and your pastor) these two questions.

1. If Paul were writing to you, what would he put in your letter for you to remember, act, and be wary of?

2. Who knows you and your situation well enough to write this kind of letter to you? If no one exists, why not? And what should you do about it?

Okay, that was more than 2 questions…go ask your pastor!


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, self-deception

Pastors and mothers have much in common

Was talking to a group of pastors about their expectations as they entered the ministry. Several were quite eloquent and open about their surprises. Some were surprised at the level of burden and that lack of joy in the work. Some were surprised that the job of pastor wasn’t as eternity focused as they expected. Here’s an amalgam of phrases said by some: “I thought I was going to be dealing with weighty matters, life changing stuff, the stuff of soul care. But instead I’m dealing with policies, criticisms, and other mundane things most of the time.”

When talking to my wife, she so wisely said, “yeah, just like the work of a mother.” You know you are shaping souls and working to grow young boys (in our family anyway) into mature men. But most days you are dealing with socks, runny noses, and whiny, ungrateful kids.”

Yeah, mothers and pastors work for weighty, eternal matters. But day by day it is hard to keep that in focus.


Filed under parenting, pastors and pastoring

Mindfulness and meditation

In my own reading I’ve been exploring the concept of mindfulness and its similarity to meditation, being present, etc. There are biblical corollaries that make this an important topic as so frequently we react to life rather than observe it without giving in to impulsive reactions. Mindfulness and meditation are different but may share some commonalities. For example, healthy biblical meditation includes focusing on the character of God, his word, his creation, etc. It includes being aware of these things rather than judging experience or anxiously running after a feeling. Mindfulness also includes this focus and being present. Consider the opening words in Erica Tan’s recent essay,

According to Germer (2005, p. 7) in Mindfulness and psychotherapy, mindfulness is “the awareness of present experience with acceptance.” Mindfulness is a skill that enables an individual to be aware of the present–feelings, thoughts, situation, other people., and so on–without being reactive.

She goes on to quote Germer again about the opposite of mindfulness,

To be mindful is to wake up, to recognize what is happening in the moment. We are rarely mindful. We are usually caught up in the distracting thoughts or in opinions about what is happening in the moment. (p. 4-5).

In this way, mindfulness is similar to meditation in that both are focused on “noticing” things with our reactivity. Meditation does assume or judge things from God’s point of view in such a way that frees us from worry or fighting the situation. Both include an acceptance but meditation includes acceptance of God’s point of view.

I think mindfulness research in psychology has exploded because of the propensity for us to be constantly and anxiously judging our worlds. We confirm our own fears about what is right, wrong, good, bad. It recognizes that there can be wise thinking about these things but much of our lives are reactive and anxiety based. So, we benefit from the reminder that acceptance of feelings, and experiences helps us to be aware of that there is a “bigger picture” as Tan reminds us. While some may think this acceptance makes us passive or allows us to become unwilling to do something about sinfulness, that is not the point of mindfulness or meditation and would be a mis-use of these tools.

Tan, E. (2008). Mindfulness in Sexual Identity Therapy. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27, 274-278.


Filed under Anxiety, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Mindfulness, Psychology

Comfort is in the eye of the beholder

When you read the lament Psalms are you comforted? Do you feel God’s care for your plight? Over the years I’ve had a number of conversations about this topic. Some find great comfort in reading about God’s concern for his people in the midst of their suffering. Others prefer to hang out in more positive, praise oriented passages in order to meditate on the good things God is doing. Some find more comfort in realism now, others find comfort in expectantly meditating on heaven.

How about you? How about those you might try to comfort in their time of misery? Does empathizing with the depths of trouble being faced (e.g., “Wow, what you are going through is incredibly hard!”) help or does it endanger more depressing thoughts? Does talking of ultimate delivery in heaven help or distance you from your friend? It is key for us to find out as we walk with those going through the valley.


Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, suffering, teaching counseling


Off to NYC to talk to a group of pastors regarding their spiritual and relational health. My basic point: unique stressors of ministry plus unmet personal/professional expectations equals stress responses that either destroy or strengthen a pastor. No rocket science here but I hope to get them thinking about some practical steps they might take to ensure their own renewal. Some Shepherds tend, I’m sorry to say, to focus on the care of the sheep but neglect their own care–thus forgetting they themselves are sheep.

Interested in a summary of research on the unique situation of pastors? Check out the “slides” page for a brief paper written by me last year for a group of us meeting to dream about starting a center for multi-level care for christian leader families.


Filed under Anxiety, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Depression, Evangelicals, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Worldvision AIDS Exhibit

Worldvision has traveling show that you might want to consider attending. Locally, a church in Bethlehem, PA is hosting this 30 minute narrated event next weekend. If you attend (free tix that must be reserved on-line) you will hear the story of one of 3 children as you walk through the event. Was planning on going but the website suggests not bringing kids under 10 and some of the stories should not be heard by those under the age of 13 (due to information regarding sex trafficking, sexual abuse, murder, death, etc.).

Here’s the link:


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, church and culture, sexuality, stories, suffering

The color of poverty

event image

Interested in a evening of good art and consciousness raising about the poor of the world? On the 9th of November (7 pm) Linda Ruth Paskell will be at New Life Presbyterian Church (Glenside, PA)displaying some of her photographs from recent trips to Africa and Latin America and telling stories about what she learned. Check out in a few weeks for more information.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Answer the question!

Here’s a thought. How about a small electric shock each time the candidates answer a question other than the one posed to them? Or maybe the audience could hiss each time they go off topic….


Filed under Uncategorized

Economic crunch and the 2nd greatest commandment

Yesterday I mused about how I didn’t see much change in the spending and consuming habits of those in my area. Yes, Jess, it does appear people are spending to abandon around here. We do have less of the credit crunch I believe since housing developments didn’t boom in this area.

But, let’s consider another related area. When times are tough on the pocketbook, one of the first things to do isn’t stuff for me, it’s donations to others. We know this because nonprofits are registering their lowest levels of donations since the weeks around 9/11 (when we suspect many stopped giving to their usual ministries to give to 9/11 victim families).

There are two possible reasons for this drop in giving: (1) people actually have less income and so give less, or (2) people give less for fear of not having enough income. Probably both are true. The challenge when we face tough times is to keep remembering to love our neighbors and not become fixated on our own needs/wants. It is true that we can love our neighbors without giving a dime but I suspect even our non-monetary giving decreases when our own anxiety increases.

This reminds me of cry of Proverbs 30:8-9: …give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, “who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, church and culture, News and politics