Lake Atitlán :: Guatemala, Central America

One year ago I traveled to Central America to learn Spanish and work with the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador.

I had a life changing summer as I learned a new language, embraced a new culture, and made many new friends — both inside and outside of the church.  I knew little about the countries I was headed to before I left.  However, one friend told me that I HAD to make it to Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) while in Guatemala.  This advice was confirmed when I found Lake Atitlan listed in the book “1000 Places to See Before You Die” while I was packing my bags.

My friends and I made it to Lake Atitlán. We were not disappointed.  The crystal blue water of the lake fills the cone of a collapsed volcano, leading it to be the deepest lake in Central America.  The lake is surrounded by three volcanoes and over a dozen villages in which Mayan culture still holds strong.  Aldous Huxley once wrote of Atitlán, “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”  There is no telling how many photos and paintings have been made of this beautiful place.

While the city of Panajachel is the hot-spot for most tourists in the area, we stayed in the village of Santa Cruz at La Iguana Perdida.  Santa Cruz is only accessible by boat, and our hotel offered us spectacular views in a fun Euro-Hostel setting.  Throughout our time on the lake, we traveled by boat to many of the villages, relaxed, and enjoyed perfect weather.  My friends were also kind enough to spend sunrise and sunset alongside of me and my tripod.

I’ve included some of my favorite photos from Lake Atitlán below.

But before you look at them I’d love for you to know a little more about why I love photography. Lately, I’ve felt the need to more fully integrate my photography with the theological content of my blog.  Perhaps one day I’ll write a post detailing how my photography fits into my work as a Christian and future pastor.  For now, I’ll let this quote from John Calvin explain why I love taking photos, particularly ones of nature:

Wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his [God’s] glory. You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness. The reason why the author of The Letter to the Hebrews elegantly calls the universe the appearance of things invisible (Heb. 11:3) is that this skillful ordering of the universe is for us a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible. (Institutes, I.V.1)

 

Two out of Three

 

Amigos

 

Solo

 

Santa Cruz Dock

 

Sunrise at Santa Cruz

 

An early morning

 

Above Santa Cruz

 

Santa Cruz Night

 

The Myth of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”

This is the first post in a new series: “John Wesley – The man, the myth, the legend “

If you’re a Methodist, you may have heard the phrase “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” thrown around.  It probably wasn’t dropped in the middle of a dinner conversation.  But perhaps your pastor has used it in the pulpit or a teacher mentioned to you that the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” was a method you could use “to do theology”—aka reflection on things pertaining to God.

If you’re not a Methodist, you probably have not heard the phrase “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”  But you probably have used this method to handle theological questions.

The “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” is best described by a line from the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Book of Discipline where it states, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.”

Think about how you may have used this method.  Take the theological question, “As a Christian, is it okay to hurt someone I don’t like?”

To answer this, many Christians would first look to what the Bible says on the issue, for it is primary in any reflection relating to God.

They would then seek to understand what Christians throughout history have said.  Here, they would be looking at tradition.

Next, they would use reason to interpret the Bible, understand tradition, and infer implications where these things may be silent.

Finally, they would think of the question in terms of theirs and others experiences involving violence against people in their community.

This method has its flaws (see the sources section below the interview), but I believe it can be helpful as a basic framework.

However, this four-fold method is not John Wesley’s.  He never used the term “quadrilateral” or made a clear argument for the use of these four criteria.  Rather, the quadrilateral is a modern attempt to understand how Wesley went about doing his theology that many believe is a good model for the church.

These reasons lead me to think that perhaps we should stop attaching Wesley’s name to it.  Labeling it the UMC quadrilateral or the Albert Outler quadrilateral (after the scholar who formulated it) would be more accurate.

Another problem with attaching Wesley’s name to the quadrilateral is that it lends authority to a theological method that is often misused and misconstrued.  These misrepresentations ultimately  lead to a misrepresentation of Wesley and his beliefs.  Since its formulation, the quadrilateral has taken on a life of its own.  Its most egregious misuse occurs when people treat all four sources as being of equal authority, thus belittling scripture.

One day in my Methodism class a student mentioned the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” to Wesley scholar Dr. Richard Heitzenrater.  He promptly responded, “Do you mean the Outler quadrilateral?  The quadrilateral is not John Wesley’s.”

Many people in the class sat stunned as a myth about Wesley that they believed all their life was busted by the man who first cracked the code of Wesley’s diaries.

Recently, I sat down with Dr. Heitzenrater for an interview about Wesleyan myths.  Below is the part of the interview regarding this moment in class:

[Read more…]

New Series: John Wesley – The man, the myth, the legend

When the General Conference of the United Methodist Church comes around every four years, myths about John Wesley show up in full force.

Sometimes these myths show up on the swag handed out. Tote bags and t-shirts that include Wesley mis-quotes like “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn” have been around for decades.

Other times these myths show up in theological dialogue. Many United Methodist Churches defend the practice of inviting anyone, including people of other religions and those who are un-baptized, to the communion table by arguing that Wesley taught and practiced this same exact thing.

And still at other times Wesleyan myths are the basis for the whole conference, such as in 1996 when the theme was the quote by Wesley that has never been found in his works, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials, Liberty, In All Things Charity.”

As I’ve studied Methodism throughout seminary, I’ve found myself drawn to Wesley’s biography and writings. Reading primary and secondary sources surrounding this great man of the faith has proven edifying for my ministry and me.

Yet, in my studies of Wesley, I’ve noticed an unpleasant truth. It’s one that commonly surrounds historical figures—including the likes of Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus.

People love to re-create historical figures for their own purposes.

Re-creating figures in this way is very tempting. After all, what better way to justify or promote one’s own theological, political, or social agenda than to appeal to a historical figure that is beloved by all?

If the beloved historical figure is actually in agreement with what you’re advocating, then appealing to them is a strong strategy.

But if you’re stretching historical evidence, projecting modern questions and ideas into historical contexts, or simply parroting what others have told you about a great figure, then I think there are better ways to make your case.

I like to appeal to Wesley when working out my theology, so I’m often in danger of re-creating him in my theological likeness.

Re-creation can occur willfully or unknowingly. It may be done willfully by proof-texting random quotes from his writings that agree with me or by emphasizing aspects of his early theology I like even though I know he changed his beliefs on the issue later in life. It may be done unknowingly by simply perpetuating claims or quotes that other people have said about him.

Sometimes the perpetuation of Wesleyan myths is inconsequential. If it is in basic agreement with his theology and doctrine, does it really matter if Wesley didn’t actually say, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”?

Other times the perpetuation of Wesleyan myths has great consequences. If the UMC is using Wesley as a main source of argument for certain theological beliefs and practices that he would be in disagreement with, the record should be set straight. Employing false church tradition in our thinking process is not helpful. Clearing the air of misinformation such as this enables the church to decide more faithfully what to think and do in today’s context.

In an upcoming blog series, I will explore some of the common myths surrounding Wesley. You may read some of the debunked myths and find them inconsequential. You may read some of the others and find them of great consequence. My goal in this series is not to crush sacred stories with a sledge hammer for academic fun. My goal is that as you learn more about Wesley you would cultivate a desire to study more about him for yourself.

This series will largely be based on a recent interview I did with Dr. Richard Heitzenrater. Dr. Heitzenrater is known for “breaking the code” of Wesley’s diaries that were written in shorthand. He is also regarded for giving these transcoded diaries as a gift to the church, serving as the General Editor of the Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, authoring 16+ books, and chairing the Committee on Our Theological Task that wrote the present doctrinal statement in Part II of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

I had the opportunity to study “The Life and Times of the Wesleys” under Dr. Heitzenrater last fall at Duke Divinity School. Throughout the class, I loved recording his anecdotes. Two of my favorites are “Anything since the 18th century is just current events” and “Almost every internet source is suspect.” The second quote should lead you to take even my words with a grain of salt.

Up first in this series is the myth held tightly and taught widely…. the myth of the “Wesleyan” quadrilateral.

Post 1: The Myth of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”

Post 2: Things John Wesley never said

What things about Wesley have you heard that you later found to be untrue? What things about Wesley are you still wondering about?

 

My entries for the “Food and Faith” art contest

Recently the “New Creation Student Arts” group at Duke Divinity School held a photo contest with the theme “Food and Faith,” and one of my entries won second place!

The theme for the contest came from the book “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating” by Norman Wirzba.

The exhibit was created to help relay two major ideas from Wirzba’s book.  First, we must acknowledge the fact that our culture often manufactures food in such a way that much of it is wasted, the environment is degraded, and inhumane processes abound.  Second, we must also acknowledge that our faith is sustained by food, particularly the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and that we are called to be stewards of God’s creation.

My three entries were from my trip to Central America this summer.  I featured the bottom two photographs previously in the post Cooking in Guatemala.  The first entry is one that I hadn’t shared until the contest and it ended up winning second place.

The photo features Ángel, the pastor of La Iglesia Evangelica Metodista La Providencia.  It was taken at his house late in July when he had the interns from Duke over for a last supper of sorts.  We were all sharing homemade lasagna and Coca-Cola when a torrential rain storm moved in.  Suddenly, the power went out.  At this point in the trip this wasn’t too rare, so we all kept talking, eating, and enjoying Ángel’s huge smile in the candlelight.  I pulled my camera out because I love to photograph in low-light settings.  I took numerous frames, but when I took this one I knew it was special.  Ángel doesn’t regularly smile for posed photos.

 

Pastor Ángel
“Pastor Ángel” – Ahuachapán, El Salvador

 

Macadamia Nuts
“Macadamia” – Communiad Nueva Alianza, Coffee Finca

 

Tortilleria: Los Comalitos
“Tortilleria: Los Comalitos” – Xela, Guatemala

March 25th: How Jesus & my birthday relate

The way I conceive of my birthday changed forever when I read the paragraphs quoted below.

For the first time in my life, I realized that on the day I was born — March 25th, nine months before December 25th — Jesus entered this world as prophet, priest, and king.  Some churches celebrate this day as the Feast of the Annunciation.

These excerpts are from an article that transcribes a talk that was given by Frederica Mathewes-Green at an Orthodox Christian Pro-Life Event.  On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, she narrated with great clarity and sensitivity the universal church’s position throughout history regarding abortion and why we should be hopeful for the future of the pro-life movement.

Our faith’s affirmation of life from the moment of conception is evident in the passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, and Elizabeth says that her unborn son leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She says, “Why do I deserve such honor, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:39-45) The unborn John the Forerunner recognized the presence of Christ and his mother, and Elizabeth, with prophetic insight, realized what was happening.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not become a human being on Christmas Day, but 9 months earlier, on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would conceive a child. The Forerunner did not become a human being on the day he was born; he was already a prophet and a servant of the Most High, even in his mother’s womb.  Click here to read the rest of The Pro-Life Cause, Orthodoxy, and Hope.