My name is Christopher Gudger-Raines. I am a Licensed Local Pastor of a two-point charge in Morgantown, WV. My wife Meredith also has a two-point charge. We graduated from Drew Theological School in May 2006 and are almost through year #1 of our first appointments. We have no children, but two cats, Daisy and Pippa. Before seminary, I was a US-2, a Time for God worker and a Missionary-in-Residence for Young Adult Programs at the General Board of Global Ministries. I have been blogging since April of 2006.
Why do you blog?
Blogging gives me an audience to whom I am accountable (except no one reads my blog). It helps me stay faithful to regular reflection. Also, as a new pastor, I am learning that communicating my thoughts and beliefs is not as easy as I thought it would be. Blogging helps me articulate what I think, feel and believe.
What has been your best blogging experience?
I love it when my family and close friends comment.
What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
Uhhh…I am a novice blogger. Otherwise, set a weekly standard (1 blog/week for example). This will keep you faithful. Also, find a niche that will give you something regular to work on (a la Lectionary Haikus).
If you only had time to read three blogs a day, what would they be?
Hillbilly Savants…the best blog on Appalachia…started by my childhood buddy.
We Blog Cartoons…clever, thoughtful, funny, British
Blue Ridge Muse…everyone needs a favorite photography blog to frequent…this is mine.
Who are your spiritual heroes?
Dr. David Deci…creator of MUSHROOM here in Morgantown, WV. He’s a professor here at WVU medical school. The guy is a walking encyclopedia of what he calls “street medicine”. He has traveled extensively studying how to give medicine to the homeless. What strikes me is how effective his kindness is. Ericka Parkinson…an old US-2 friend of mine. She was my first mature example of loving God with heart and mind. To care about something (or someone) and to understand it is a goal that I strive for. I am at my best for Christ when heart and mind are working together. Her influence still sticks with me today. Jeff and David Markay…brother pastors from New Jersey (David is now a missionary in Milan, Italy). I knew them at different times in my life. I love their pastoral presence, their deliberate opting for serenity, their self-differentiation and their calm but provocative preaching styles.
What are you reading at the moment?
My dCOM says that I gotta improve my understanding of atonement. So I’ve got 4 books on the topic, two of which I have begun: If Grace is True: Why God will Save Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland; Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross by Hans Boersma. My churches’ Lenten study book is How Good Do We Have to Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness by Harold Kushner.
What is your favorite hymn and why?
Be Thou My Vision…it was in my wedding. It will be in my funeral. As an Irish song, it also belongs in Appalachia, where I belong. One of my goals in life is to be one of those “old men who dream dreams”. It is a hymn of an intimately personal hope, a hope that never dies (“whatever befall…”). I strive to be a light of hope for others, so this hymn fits my life well.
Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've changed your mind?
Religion in public schools. I changed from no opinion to a strong opinion in favor. It seems a tragedy that so many Americans do not know about others’ religions. I am certain that religion in schools can be taught as an academic subject without watering down the “faith” aspect of religion. I witnessed the thoughtful and beneficial teaching of religion in British schools and know that it can be done here in a way that honors the Constitution and enriches our education.
What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?
Right now, I gotta bone to pick with Original Sin. The notion that we are born sinful or that sex is inherently bad is crazy. I think we have inherited Augustine’s guilt, not Adam’s. The notion that my sins are Adam/Eve’s fault is irresponsible; every time I hear that I see the Church Lady going “The Devil made you do it.”. My sins are no one’s fault but my own. And when my baby comes out (no Mom, we’re not pregnant), you better not call him/her sinful.
If you could effect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
Universal Health Care…I keep wanting to say living wage, but living wage still won’t get you past the ER. It is the government’s responsibility to make available to all the basic elements of life so that the pursuit of happiness can actually be pursued. Gates surrounding health care, especially preventative care, are currently making that pursuit impossible for too many. That the church is largely silent on this is an outrage.
If you could effect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church, what would it be?
I am thinking lately that it is an obstacle for Methodists to own so much property. Perhaps only mission agencies should own buildings. How much of our time is spent administering to buildings and increasing our property (prayer of jabez be damned)? Have they become an albatross around our necks? I hear time and again about young pastors who are ready to turn this world upside-down for Christ, living-water-style, who are choked to spiritual death by all the administrative crap that eats at our time. It pains me that a goal of many pastors (me included) is to find a “healthy balance” between administration and ministry. Does this balance honor the spirit that has been entrusted to us as the church? Or does it keep us from kicking the world’s butt-living water style-like we used to do? Sell the buildings. Imagine how prophetic it would be, in this age of mega-church addiction, to sell the buildings and recommit to something more basic and organic. Methodism again becomes a movement, about bringing a full salvation to the entire world. It is clubs and classes, out of the walls and in the streets, the hospitals, the orphanages and the prisons. That’s a church with guts, with no mission statements, but mission strategies…schemes that make right what is wrong in our world. Cut the cord UMC. Cut the cord and remember what is like to be on the frontiers of faith with a gospel that matters.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
Find out first-hand what Jesus appreciated about the throw-aways of society. Get involved in direct service to the less fortunate. Some of the best theologians I have ever met are in homeless shelters and children’s homes. This population of society is refreshing, marked by honesty that is both brutal and astonishingly beautiful.
What, if anything, do you worry about?
I worry about losing the ambition I have as a young person. I thoroughly fear becoming a pastor who has become so inundated with the church that he has lost his zeal for Christ.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?
I would probably pursue music as a career. And in my difficulties with getting ordained, I still ponder the possibility. I am at my most joyous when I am playing music and feel like people can’t know me until we share some common tunes. In my spirit is a constantly playing jukebox of tunes…a 10-gig ipod on constant random shuffle. My wife says I am the only person she knows with a discriminating taste in music who isn’t also a music-snob-dweeb. I like that compliment and try to live up to it.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
I used to live in Cambridge, UK. That has been the best place I have ever lived (which includes NYC). I would return there in a heartbeat. I loved the healthy lifestyle, the cycling culture, the greens where soccer was invented, the punting on the Cam, the trips to Ely, the constant flow of ale and ideas, the buskers, the fact that every corner had a college, a church and a pub.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I like playing with my cats. I am trying my hand at gardening for the first time. I play guitar. I like my blog, too.
What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring.
What talent would you most like to have?
I want to learn to make stained glass windows. I also wish I was a more competent swimmer.
If you could have any three guests, past or present to dinner, who would they be?
I would answer with family, but only 3 guests would force me to leave someone out. Therefore, I will stick with those famous people who would interest both me and my wife.
1. Ann Curry, the most underappreciated journalist going I would ask her “Why do you keep going back to Darfur?”;
2. Arius; I would ask “What is the meaning of Communion?”;
3. Parker Palmer; I would ask “How can I get the most good out of the gifts God has given me?”.