Friday, October 31, 2014

"Heaven Is Not Fear"

Fear is a great motivator. It motivates because it pushes us to take care of number 1 at all costs. Now from an evolutionary perspective there is a place for fear -- but from the perspective of faith there isn't.

With elections just days away in which there possibly be important national and international consequences, the politics of fear are in full swing. Fear is used to either motivate one to vote for/against a candidate or simply not vote.  If both candidates are a threat to our lives, perhaps it's better to stay home.  Now, on Monday I'll post a piece on the importance of voting, but that's for a different day.  Then there is the hysteria out there concerning Ebola. Ebola is certainly a threat in West Africa, but it isn't a threat here in the States. This business about quarantines is all politics and not science, which is why I throw my support behind nurse Kaci Hickox.  I think in the end she will be vindicated by the facts, and the officialdom who wish to keep her under house arrest will be humiliated.  We have much bigger threats at hand from the flu to gun violence. But then again this is the fear issue of the moment. Besides, if we allow fear to govern our response to ebola, we will likely exacerbate the problem and deter willing volunteers to go to Africa to deal with the things at the source.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Orange October -- A Celebration

Last night those watching Game 7 of the World Series got to enjoy watching history in the making. Madison Bumgarner, a twenty-five year old pitcher, pitched five dominant innings of relief to power the San Francisco Giants to their third Championship in five years, to go with two previous dominant wins as a starter (in three World Series he has a .25 ERA -- amazing). Oh, and this series clinching win came on the road in game seven - a fete that hasn't happened since 1979, when the Willie Stargell led Pirates beat the Orioles.  They were a family, and so is this Giants team! 

As a life-long Giants fan who endured years of  unfulfilled hopes and dreams (and a lot of bad teams), these three championships have been wonderful. Bumgarner is a cornerstone to all three.  This one came twenty-five years after the Giants made their first appearance in twenty-seven years (a 1962 series the Giants lost to the Yankees in seven).  That series against the A's, of course was the one interrupted by an earthquake. The Giants were swept by a team with two dominant pitchers. I did get to go to game 4, but alas it was in a losing effort.  Then there was the 2002 series against the Angels, which the Giants lost in seven.   But then came 2010 and a beginning of an amazing run. Maybe it will continue on, but maybe this is it.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Southern White Evangelical Decline -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

The country is becoming more diverse, and thus the cultural leaders of the past are finding it more difficult to retain their influence. In places like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast religion casts a very short shadow. In the South that shadow is much longer, but as Martin Marty shows us -- it too is shortening. This is especially true of the influence of White Evangelicals who have been a cultural and political force in the South.  But is that drawing to a close?  Take a read.  


Southern White Evangelical Decline
Monday | Oct 27 2014
First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida                            Credit: Fbcjax / Wikemedia Commons
Southern Evangelicals Dwindling—and Take the GOP Edge With Them screams a headline in the online Atlantic (17 Oct. 2014). Below it, Robert P. Jones, the adventurous and reliable CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports on the Institute's 43,000 interviews throughout 2013.

I’ll exegete the meaning of the first three words of that headline, and leave the last seven to prognosticators, politicians, and pollsters. Explanation: Sightings on Mondays doesn’t usually “do” political hard news and partisan opinion, thanks to a “division of labor.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Celebrity Preachers Beware! -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21A

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

                Every year it seems that a Christian celebrity falls prey to their own ego. Many will know the recent story of Mark Driscoll and his fall from power. A well known mega-church pastor, he was undone not merely by accusations of plagiarism, but ultimately by heavy-handed authoritarian leadership. His fall was quick and far. Robert Schuller’s “fall” was different – he simply couldn’t sustain his “vision” and so the great and grand Crystal Cathedral ended up in the hands of the Catholic diocese of Orange, serving as its new cathedral. As the pastor of a small church I could take solace in the belief that I am not in a position to be tempted by such visions of grandeur, but is this true?  Are we not all tempted by the need for honor and recognition? Do we not wish to be called doctor or pastor or Reverend?

Monday, October 27, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian (Gregory Cootsona) -- Review

C. S. LEWIS AND THE CRISIS OF A CHRISTIAN. By Gregory S. Cootsona. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 169 pages.

           Like many Christians C.S. Lewis is one of the authors who has traveled with me over a lifetime. From the Chronicles of Narnia to Mere Christianity, he has inspired our imaginations and helped resolve lingering questions of the faith. Fifty years after his death people continue to delve into his books and make pilgrimages to the places he inhabited in Oxford. During my own time in Oxford, I spent a lunch time in the very room at the Eagle and Child Pub, where Lewis gathered with colleagues and friends including J.R.R. Tolkien to talk about their work and drink beer.  If you happen to go to the Magdalen College chapel you can find the stall where he sat while a Fellow there.  Then there is the pulpit at St. Mary the Virgin University Church where he preached his famed sermon The Weight of Glory, a pulpit that also featured such luminaries as John Wesley and John Henry Newman.

                While Lewis remains popular, his popularity is to be found largely among Evangelicals, a community with whom Lewis didn’t share a lot in common.  But, his books and some papers are now lodged in the library at Wheaton College, making him by “adoption” and Evangelical luminary.  One needn’t be an Evangelical or even agree with all or even much of his work to find something valuable. As for me I have found the Chronicles of Narnia more insightful than Mere Christianity or the Problem of Pain, but whatever point of contact, reading Lewis should be a requirement.