On Christmas, Mythology, and Loving My Cranky Mormon Friend

At Christmas, I posted this on Facebook,

Well . . . a Merry Christmas to my Facebook “neighborhood.” I’m enough of a still-learning student of my faith to view this day as part of a holy and humbling story. Our Christmas mythology* proclaims a birth that represented a counter-cultural and subversive tale written to challenge the hypocrisy and excess of an empire . . .

A long-time friend, once a college roommate, someone I now disagree with about politics and religion and completely agree with regarding the good San Francisco Giants vs. the evil Los Angeles Dodgers, asked about my use of mythology*. How does it apply to the Christmas story? Within the limits of Facebook personal messaging, I tried to give him a brief explanation.

I wasn’t very persuasive.

I suspect my buddy wasn’t much open to being persuaded.

To use inadequate labels, my friend is conservative compared to me. His politics veer toward the “right” while mine embrace the “left.” We are Christians, but as a United Methodist claiming progressive theological views, my faith influences don’t share much commonality with his Mormon beliefs.

For him, I think, the Christmas story is fact. Real. If Jesus’ birth didn’t happen exactly the way it was described in the Gospels, it was close enough. After all, even sacred scripture, inspired by God, may not include every single thing that happened. And so, for me to call the birth of Jesus a myth is to miss the mark. Wasn’t Christmas, as told by Matthew and Luke, an historical event in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose? I suspect my former roommate would confidently add that Jesus’ birth was predicted in Hebrew scriptures, a long-anticipated piece of God’s plan.

My friend is not alone in his beliefs. Continue reading →

How Did Jesus Know?

Luke 7:11-17 – The 3rd Sunday following Pentecost – for Sunday, June 5, 2016

“When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, ‘Don’t cry.’” (Luke 7:13)

Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Naim (oil on canvas)How did Jesus know the widow from Nain was a widow?

As an outsider to Nain, how did he easily and quickly identify her and her situation?

It was real easy to spot her as a woman.

It was relatively easy to see she was part of a funeral procession.

Perhaps from her emotional reactions, most could guess the funeral involved her child.

But how could a “stranger” know she was also a widow?

Her neighbors knew. They also knew that without husband and son, without income and status, she was dependent on Israel’s charitable customs and the limited generosity of other impoverished villagers.

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Last Thursday, I chatted with our only African-American male chaplain before our hospice’s monthly Remembrance Service. I’ve known he was black since the first day I met him.

Last Wednesday, the death-of-spouse grief support group I’ve led since February finished its twelfth and final session. I’ve known since the first gathering that everyone who walked into the room and put on a nametag was a widow or widower. Continue reading →

Three Wrongs and an Invocation

Photo on 10-10-13 at 6.35 PMWhen I was a responsible pastor serving a real church about seven or eight years ago, I was asked to give an invocation at a Fresno City Council meeting.

They asked me to show up at the wrong time.

They didn’t have the name of my church listed correctly on the agenda.

They misspelled my name.

But I forgave them!

And, as I began my “invoking,” I told them I didn’t think God needed an invocation.

You may wonder what an “invocation” is, whether at the Council meeting or elsewhere, but first let me try to explain the Council’s wrongs regarding me.

The agenda listed me as “Larry Patton*.” Wrong. I am Larry Patten. My name is constantly misspelled. I refer to it as the “curse of the General.” General George Patton was a famous soldier of the World War II era. In the 1970s (and now constantly repeated on television), George Scott portrayed him in the aptly named film, Patton. Curse and double-curse. So the name, spelled with an “o” instead of an “e,” has received a fair amount of exposure. Further, it’s more common. The Fresno phone book lists eight (8) Pattens and thirty (30) Pattons. We’re out-filmed and out-numbered.

The agenda said my church was “Wesley Methodist Church.” Wrong. I then served at Wesley United Methodist Church, which meant we were part of the United Methodist denomination. Not Methodist. United Methodist. Since 1968, when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, we had been—taking one word from each denomination—United Methodist. In 1968, I suppose we could’ve made other name choices, like The Evangelical Methodist Church or The Methodist Brethrens or maybe even The Untied Evanmethodicals, but we became United Methodist. Continue reading →