Showing posts from November, 2008

Cultural Context -- A Source for Doing Theology

When we think about God, what informs our thinking? What resources do we rely upon? As a Christian, I would say I turn to Scripture. But as important as Scripture might be to my understanding of God, is that all that I bring to the table?

John Wesley's Quadrilateral is often appealed to as a foundation for doing theology -- Scripture/Revelation, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. My own tradition has placed great emphasis, especially in its earliest years on Scripture and Reason. Ours was a reasonable faith -- as should be expected of a tradition informed by John Locke and Scottish Common Sense Realism. We've been suspicious of experience, especially that of the exuberant kind. As for Tradition, well, we've always prided ourselves on being non-creedal (though to be honest, it was a non-creedalism in the sense that creeds have not been made tests of fellowship). That being said, we bring our history, our experience, and yes our rationality to our engagement not jus…

Advent Hope

This is the first Sunday of Advent, a day on which we light the candle of Hope. As we light this candle we begin our journey forward toward lighting that final candle, Christ Candle. But even as we light that candle a month from now, it is only a provisional voice.

Jurgen Moltmann is known for his development of a Theology of Hope. As we consider today what hope entails, perhaps this word might provide some foundation for our conversation.

For a Christian theology of hope, this hope is not a modern phenomenon which must be interpreted religiously, but the subject and the motivation of theology itself. It is not grounded in optimism, but in faith. It is not a theology about hope, but a theology growing out of hope in God. These promises of God have been incarnated in the promissory history of Israel and in the promissory history of Jesus of Nazareth. The writings of the Old and New Testament comprise the history book of God's promises. The Bible tells the story of God's h…

Beyond Tolerance -- Review

BEYOND TOLERANCE: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America. New York: Viking, 2008. xxxviii + 218 pages.

The Niebuhr name carries tremendous weight, and so when the grandson of H. Richard and grandnephew of Reinhold writes a book on interfaith understanding, it’s worth paying attention to what is said. Gustav Niebuhr, a former New York Times religion writer and now a professor religion and public communication at Syracuse University has tackled one of the most vexing issues of our time. That issue is the place of religion in public life. More specifically, the relationships between religious communities in an increasingly pluralistic America.

The commitment to interfaith understanding that permeates this important book is traced back to his grandfather, who sought to unite denominations, and his great-uncle, who spoke out in the 1930s against targeting Jews for conversion. As a journalist he faced a profession that often conflated religion “with a spiritual militanc…

Obama the Realist

It should come as no surprise that someone who has an affinity for Abraham Lincoln and Reinhold Niebuhr is a realist and not an idealist. I know that many Obama supporters believed that his opposition to the Iraq War meant that he was a pacifist. But if you think this, you've not paid attention to what he's said. Diplomacy comes first, but if necessary there is always a military option.

E.J. Dionne writes in today's Washington Post a column entitled "Obama's Bush Doctrine" about the parallels between Obama's perspective and that of an earlier Bush President -- Papa Bush. The choice of Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates -- a protege of Brent Scowcroft -- offers important clues. One could also say that Obama's outreach to Colin Powell is another example. As Dionne points out Obama has been in conversation with Scowcroft and others in that circle -- a circle that Jr. Bush seems to have eschewed to his own downfall.

Dionne notes as well that Scowcroft c…

Prayers for Mumbai

For the past two days or so we've been watching, reading, hearing about the attacks on several sites in Mumbai (Bombay) India, one of the world's largest and most important cities. Those involved in the attacks appear to be an Islamist terrorist group, though the exact identity and whether they had foreign help seems unknown. There has been a history of Muslim-Hindu violence since partition in 1947, but this time the focus seems to be on foreign visitors/expats. What this means for the future is unknown, but, our prayers go out to all involved.

We remember those who are dead, those who may remain hostages, and those seeking to bring this to an end. We pray for calm and peaceful resolution. Most of all, we pray for an end to the use of violence as a means of achieving change.

Terrorism is rooted in the belief that fear is the most powerful emotion. If we're fearful of one another then mutual respect is impossible. If we don't talk, we don't work out differen…

First Christmas -- Review (reposting)

Last year I reviewed John Dominic Crossan's and Marcus Borg's First Christmas. Now that it's Christmas time again, perhaps some of you would like to read the review to see if this would be a resource worth pursuing.


Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007. x + 259 pp.

In the popular mind the Christmas story as symbolized by the crèche involves Joseph, Mary, and the little baby Jesus lying in a manger (feeding trough), surrounded on one side by shepherds and by three kings on the other. Of course there are the requisite barnyard animals standing around like movie extras. Above this scene flies the tiny cherubic angel. That such a scene is at best a conflation of the gospel texts doesn’t seem to matter. It is what we think Christmas is about.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer to the general reader a different reading of the C…

Now Thank We All Our God

The hymn of thanksgiving -- on YouTube. Words provided to sing along.

Now Thank We All Our God
Text: Martin Rinkart; Trans. by Catherine Winkworth
Music: Johann Cruger; Harm. by Felix Mendelssohn
Tune: NUN DANKET, Meter:

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

A Thanksgiving Prayer -- 2008

Today America observes Thanksgiving Day with Parades, Football, and Feasts that feature turkey. We also stop to give thanks for all that has been provided to us, even as we consider our neighbors in need. As we give thanks today, may we also remember the citizens of Mumbai (Bombay), India, who are dealing with a most horrendous set of extremist attacks.

May this responsive prayer from Chalice Worship, provide you with a starting point to give thanks.


Let us give thanks for all God's gifts so freely bestowed upon us:

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea;
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ;

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends;
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve;

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play;
For the brave and courageous,
who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity;

For all valiant se…

The Evolution of Homer Simpson

Scott Paeth noted that this Monday was the anniversary of the publication of theOrigin of the Species(November 24, 1859), Charles Darwin's revolutionary book. With that, he posted this video from the Simpsons.


Missional Dispatches for December

I have titled my newsletter column -- "Pastor Bob's Missional Dispatches." I know, it's too long, but it works. The newsletter came out today, so I thought I'd share this with you.


Pastor Bob's Missional Dispatches -- December 2008
Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, MI

Are you ready to open your gifts? Gifts, you ask? What gifts? Why, your Christmas gifts of course. In just a matter of days, we‟ll gather around trees and mantles and share our gifts with each other. I know that the economy is bad, so the gifts might be a little less extravagant this year. No big ticket items, but that‟s okay, because it‟s the thought that counts – right!

Whatever we may be considering doing in our personal lives, this Advent Christmas season is a reminder of the gracious gifts God has given us. The greatest gift of all, a son in whom the message of grace, love, and mercy has been incarnated, has been given to the world. As Simeon so…

Reflections on the Transition

Barack Obama has been pretty active these past few days. He's been announcing his Economic Team and outlining, at least in general terms, what he will do come January 20. He has made it clear that this is a unique time and it will require that the new team hits the road running. His team looks pretty familiar -- people from the Clinton Administration mostly. Timothy Geithner is currently President of the NY Fed and former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury will take the lead role in the new administration, assisted in the White House by former Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers. Some on the Left may not like these choices, but we're on the edge of disaster and thus need the folks who in some ways helped get us into this mess help get us out. They will be assisted by people like Bill Richardson at Commerce. Now, usually Commerce is one of those places you put your cronies, but in this case, as we work in a more global economy, what better decision than put a diplomat in c…

Hospitality and interreligious Cooperation

If you know someone they no longer will be a stranger to you. Hospitality is a strongly held value in most religious traditions. Hebrews 13:2 is one of those texts that reflects this often forgotten tradition:
2 Don't forget to welcome strangers. By doing that, some people have welcomed angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 -- New International Reader's Version)The other evening when we gathered at the IAGD Mosque for a Thanksgiving service we enjoyed their hospitality. By doing so, we began to bridge the gap between us. We become less than strangers. It doesn't mean that we are giving up that which makes us who we are. I'm not planning on becoming a Muslim or a Hindu (to quote Seinfeld -- "not that there's anything wrong with that). But, in coming together we build understanding and with understanding comes respect.

Having read Eboo Patel's wonderful Acts of Faith, I'm now reading Gustav Niebuhr's Beyond Tolerance(Niebuhr is H. Richard&…

Safety First

I never thought I'd become an auto industry apologist. After all, I'm from California. I've made my "complaints" against people driving SUV's plain before. I always found it odd that half the people driving SUV's on LA freeways seemed to be middle aged white females -- driving alone. Maybe there were kids to haul, but since most families are 1-2 kids, no need to have room for 9!

That being said, I've seen another side of things living here in Michigan -- not that people should drive SUV's, but maybe there is more than one side to this story.

Since it's often said that US made/owned cars are of lesser quality consider this:

In the recent ratings of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Ford, yes, Ford has the most Top rated vehicles with 16. That's 3 more than Honda and twice, yes twice, the number produced by Toyota.

Maybe things are moving forward faster than many think!

The Connected Auto Industry

From Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish is a reminder of how interconnected the Auto Industry is -- not just the Big 3 but all of them. If one fails, even Chrysler, how will that effect everyone else? It's obvious that Congress has no clue as to what is involved, and I doubt most others of us do either.

America's Other Car Industry, Ctd.A reader writes: Regarding Peter Klein, a few points, Ford has owned a majority stake in Mazda for decades. Nearly every vehicle in Mazda’s lineup is platform shared with a Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, or Volvo.Until last year GM was the majority stake holder in Subaru. GM sold off their shares to Toyota. Ditto Isuzu.Mitsubishi has been kept afloat for decades by Chrysler. In the 80’s and 90’s about half of the entire lineup at Chrysler was platform shared with Mitsubishi. Engines and transmissions are still shared today.Toyota and GM share a factory in California. The factory produces the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix…

Inerrancy and Poltics -- Sightings

Martin Marty takes a look at the GOP/Conservative Christian partnership's evaluation of went wrong, why they lost Congress and the Presidency. It will be interesting to see where the Republican Party goes. Once upon a time it was the party of Episcopalians (as Marty notes here), Presbyterians, and like minded folks. This was the party of business. Over the past 30 years it has become home to conservative evangelicals. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are the featured faces, already looking to 2012.

Marty's piece today looks at World Magazine's analysis of what was and what will be -- and whether this will be "inerrant."


Sightings11/24/08 Politics and Inerrancy -- Martin E. Marty"From a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God," the biweekly glossy World (November 15/22) asks at almost issue-length what went wrong with the Republicans in the recent elec…

An Interfaith Thanksgiving

The story of Thanksgiving -- the one we usually tell -- speaks of the Pilgrims, themselves religious outsiders -- sharing a meal with Native Americans. According to the story, the Indigenous people helped rescue the Pilgrims from famine and they joined together in a feast of thanksgiving. I expect that at this meal there was a bit of interfaith conversation!

Last night I participated in a a Thanksgiving Celebration that was sponsored by the Troy Interfaith Group. Our host was the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit. The participants in the program ranged from our Muslim hosts to Hindus. There was a sizable representation of members from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community -- rivals of traditional Islam. There were Methodists, Presbyterians, and Disciples on the Program. We shared in a Jewish prayer of Thanksgiving. Youth were primary presenters. There was a young man from the IAGD who gave a wonderful talk about Mohammed Yunis of Bangladesh. And three young people read prize win…

Those Pesky Bailouts!

Last week the Big 3 did a rather poor job of presenting their case to Congress. But for the most part Congress looked pretty silly. Especially telling was the leadership in this "whipping" from members of Congress that have a vested interest in the failure of the Big 3, Southern states that have given sweetheart deals to Toyota, Nissan, and others to build plants in their states -- states that discourage unionization. Oregon's lumber industry suffered the same fate 20 years ago. It wasn't the Spotted Owl, it was labor costs.

Mitch Albom, columnist for the Detroit Free Press and author of Tuesday's with Morrie, offered a biting rebuttal to the opponents of help for Detroit. Entitled "If I had the floor at the auto rescue talks." He notes that while Congress and apparently Barack Obama want a plan for "viability" from Detroit, no one's asking the same from AIG and the other banks. Indeed, this morning we wake up to learn that the Gov…

Book Meme

I'm sitting here, working my way through my bloglist. I came across James McGrath's post on Exploring Our Matrix. He invited whoever would to join in this book meme.

You simply find the nearest book, find page 123, fifth line, and then post the next three lines (6-8). So, sitting in front of me was Edgar Dewitt Jones' Blundering into Paradise, (Harper and Brothers, 1932).

"It is World Peace Day, the anniversary of the day when the last nation became a signatory of the treaty outlawing war. Flags are flying, bands of music are playing. I hear the little boy asking questions, a habit of little boys everywhere."

Well, that is intriguing isn't it? Might be interesting to share the rest, but that's not part of the meme! So, I'll not tag anyone here, just invite you to join in the fun, if you think this would be worth doing.

Make a Joyful Noise -- A Thanksgiving Sermon

I am sharing with you the sermon I preached this morning at Central Woodward Christian Church. Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, but today for us this was the day of celebration. My sermons appear each work at my sermon blog -- Words of Welcome.


Psalm 100

The news is bad. Jobs are being lost, homes foreclosed, there are wars on two fronts – of course gas prices have gone down. Things have gotten so bad that this might be a good year to cancel Thanksgiving. I mean, how do you give thanks when the world seems to be crumbling in around you? And yet, giving thanks is something we should do only when the news is good?

Whether or not we feel in the Thanksgiving mood, the holiday is upon us and we’re being asked to give thanks. The truth is, if we’re willing to pay attention to our lives, I expect that every day produces something for which we can give thanks. Consider this statement by Jimmy Carter:
When we wa…

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship -- Review

ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship. By Brian Wren. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008. xvii + 213 pp.

If you’re a Mainline Protestant and you have a fairly recent hymnal in your church you’ve probably sung a Brian Wren hymn or two. That is because he has been a prolific producer of progressive, inclusive, and firmly Trinitarian worship materials for some time. Wren is also Professor of Worship Emeritus at the Presbyterian related Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. He is, therefore, both poet and scholar.

Clergy and worship committees are always looking for new and lively worship resources, and with this being the beginning of the Advent-Christmas season it’s likely that there are those still out there looking for something new and appropriate. This could be what you’re looking for. Wren has provided congregations with – as the subtitle notes – “liturgies and prayers” for the season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. They are designed to be inclusi…

Unlocking the Message of the Bible -- Review

UNLOCKING THE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE: Guide to Biblical Interpretation. By Sharon Warner. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008. viii + 86 pp.

I learned much of what I know about Christian education from the author of this book. Any lack of knowledge or proficiency in any particular area of Christian education that I may have, however, needn’t be blamed on her efforts, only on my own stubbornness! You see, Sharon Warner was my Christian Education professor back during my college days. I must say that I wasn’t always receptive to her leadings, but that was then, when I was bit less mature and a whole lot more conservative. Today, Sharon Warner is Professor of educational ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary. With the issue of my connections with the author out of the way, I must say that this is a most helpful and much needed adult study curriculum.

In the very first sentence of the "Descriptive Summary," Sharon makes it clear why this study guide/book is needed at this moment in …

Honest Abe, Churches, and Presidential Faith

If your pastoral predecessors have published their thoughts and sermons, it is good to check out what they had to say. Since the founding pastor of my congregation was a fairly prodigious producer of books, I've been skimming some of what he had to say. Part of my reasoning is that I'm trying to figure out the founding ethos of this congregation. What vision drove it in its earliest days. We are a long ways from the Edgar Dewitt Jones era, but his spirit lives on in many ways. So, you may see a Jones quote here and there as I wrestle with his legacy. Although he wrote and preached decades ago, there is much to ponder.

Jones was a Lincoln enthusiast. He had a large collection of Lincoln papers and memorabilia, which he donated to the Detroit Public Library. He also, as I understand it, wrote quite a bit about Lincoln. So, in a sermon that dates prior to 1932, he shares this insight:

Abraham Lincoln was not a member of any church, but he was naturally religious, and as he…

Soul Searching --- Review

SOUL SEARCHING: The Journey of Thomas Merton. Edited by Morgan C. Atkinson with Jonathan Montaldo. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008. 2008 pp.

I am not a contemplative person. I don’t read much in the spiritual masters, ancient or modern. I enjoy spiritual biographies and singing hymns, but poetry and guides to a life of silence and solitude don’t get my attention. I can spend a few hours in a monastic setting, but I get up and move around quite a bit. Indeed, I need a library and a book shop. So, when a copy of Soul Searching arrived at the door, sent to me by Kelly Hughes, a publicist who supplies me with books, often books that I wouldn’t pick up on my own, I wondered what to do with it. I’d heard of Thomas Merton. I knew he was a Trappist monk, and famous for his spiritual writings, but I’d never read anything by him or even about him. Despite my lack of knowledge of this man and his work, I picked up the book and started to read.

Soul Searching is a companion …