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Showing posts from December, 2008

Public Prayer and the Name of Jesus

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I'll start by saying that I've never taken the opportunity to pray for a government function; in fact, I'm not totally comfortable with the idea in the first place. I've always wanted to preface my prayers, by asking the gathered leaders whether they will actually be listening for God's direction? That said, I have prayed at numerous interfaith gatherings -- so I have some experience in public prayer when others that are not Christians are present.

The question that always arises when one prays on such occasions is how one should frame a public prayer -- that is, when you pray in a public setting do you see yourself offering a blessing on behalf of God as you see God, or are you carrying the prayers of all the people to the divine?

This issue will likely emerge once again when the already heavily criticized Rick Warren takes the podium and offers his invocation at the Barack Obama inauguration. The critics are already after him, believing that Warren's likel…

The Plight of Palestinian Christians -- who know no peace

As we ponder this ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas, one that seems to be headed toward a lengthy foray that will likely do nothing more than further radicalize the Palestinians, make martyrs of Hamas and further undermine the security of the Israelis. As we American Christians contemplate this situation in the Middle East we often forget that this isn't just a Jewish-Muslim issue. There has been a small but significant Christian presence in Palestine for centuries, one that goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Today it takes a number of visages, from Orthodox to Catholic to Protestant. These are the people who worship in the historic churches of the region. But the ongoing conflicts, especially as a result of the ever tightening grip of the Israeli occupation, have led to a continued exodus of Palestinian Christians out of the region. Many of them live in the Metro-Detroit area.

Julie Schumacher Cohen, a Christian and daughter of Jewish Israeli converts to Chr…

Ghost Town -- DVD Review

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Last night we watched the recently released DVD of Ghost Town, a film starring Ricky Gervais as a prickly, a-social dentist, named Bertram Pincus, who has a near death experience, one that allows him to see ghosts -- including a recently deceased philanderer named Frank, played by Greg Kinnear. The ghosts discover he can see them, and they decide they need him to run some errands for them. Kinnear wants Dr. Pincus to break up his wife's engagement, but Pincus will resist the request -- he doesn't like people after all -- but ultimately gives in, and falls in love with Gwen, played by Tea Leoni.

Don't let the title fool you, this is a comedy and not an episode of Ghost Whisperer. It is a comedy, but it does have a little message tucked inside. It's a movie about relationships, about letting go when death takes a loved one, about moving on with life, and about overcoming our reticience to make friends.

Here is a trailer for the movie from IMDb --

If you want to see a re…

Ducks Rule

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I may be in Michigan, but I can root for my Oregon Ducks anywhere.

Last night I got to watch the second half of the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. It was a most entertaining, hard hitting, free flowing football game between #13 Oklahoma State and #17 Oregon. When I turned on the game, it was half time and the Ducks were behind 17-7. Not a good omen, but the Ducks returned the opening kickoff to within the 5 yard line, and from there took it in on a quarterback sneak. That was the first of three Jeremiah Masoli rushing touchdowns.

Last year, the Ducks ran out to a #2 ranking in the nation behind the running and passing of Dennis Dixon. When Dixon went down the Ducks were left without an experienced play caller who could run a system designed for Dixon. That meant that their season kind of collapsed. But this year they ended up #2 in the conference and finished with a 10-3 record. Not bad for a rebuilding year, with a junior college transfer, who started out #3 on the depth chart, at …

On the Road to Armageddon -- Review

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ON THE ROAD TO ARMAGEDDON: How Evangelical’s became Israel’s Best Friend. By Timothy P. Weber. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 336 pp.

Years ago, as a teenager, I came across Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. This was at the early stages of my spiritual explorations, explorations that led me to leave the Episcopal Church for what I thought was a more biblically-sound church. I took Lindsey’s book, and others like it, very seriously. I didn’t know anything about dispensationalism at the time, so I just assumed that Lindsey’s interpretation was the proper one. To me, the biblical message seemed clear: Jesus was coming soon, and the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 was a prominent precursor of his coming to judge the “quick and the dead” (to use an old Episcopal saying). Now, this was 1973 or 1974, not long after Israel had expanded its borders (1967) and defended these new borders (1973). According to what I read in the book, the rapture was supposed to oc…

A Call for a Ceasefire

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I have been writing with deep concern about the escalating violence in Gaza. The death toll has risen well past 300. Gaza is a small, tightly packed area, so even if the Israeli's are not targeting noncombatants, the likelihood of collateral damage is large. There is strong evidence that the Israeli's are preparing to enter Gaza with ground forces. This will likely increase the numbers of civilians killed, including women and children.

I received an email today from Churches for Middle East Peace calling on American Christians to urge our leaders to push Israel to stand down, while insisting that Hamas do the same. I have already signed the letter the organization has prepared to send to President-Elect Barack Obama calling for him to make the peace process a priority. That has become even more imperative at this time, considering the situation we find ourselves in.

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Documents CMEP Calls on President Bush to Work for a Renewed Ceasefire in Gaza

Dispensational Readings of the Bible and the Current Conflict

I hope to post tomorrow a review of Timothy Weber's On the Road to Armageddon (Baker Academic, 2004). The book sets in context the growing conservative Christian support of Israel -- right or wrong. It also helps us understand why they oppose any efforts to partition Palestine.

In the conclusion to the book Weber writes:

For the dispensational community, the future is determined. The Bible's prophecies are being fulfilled with amazing accuracy and rapidity. They do not believe the road map will -- or should -- succeed. According to the prophetic texts, partitioning is not in Israel's future, eve if the creation of a Palestinian state is the best chance for peace in the region. Peace is nowhere prophesied for the Middle East until Jesus comes and brings it himself. The worst thing the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United States can do is force Israel to give up land for a peace that will never materialize this side of the second coming. Anyone wh…

Violence isn't the Answer to Violence

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For decades we have watched the cycle of violence be perpetuated in Israel/Palestine. One side does something, the other responds, and soon the thing escalates. Because of their greater military strength, Israel has often reacted in a disproportionate way. In this case Hamas or militants of some stripe in Gaza, launched rockets -- which they're not able to aim. Most land harmlessly. Israel, responds, with massive military strikes, which kill hundreds, some militants, but others being civilians, even children.

Will this bring peace? The answer is, it hasn't brought peace so far. In fact, it has only worsened the problem. It appears that this operation has been in planning stages for sometime, with the Israeli's looking for some kind of provocation. It's possible that they can destroy Hamas, but as long as the occupation continues, militancy will continue.

As I write this, more than 350 Palestinians have died and more than 1500 have been wounded. The Israeli'…

An Inappropriate Response

The news coming from Israel and Gaza is not good. A truce that had existed between Hamas and Israel ended recently without being renewed. Hamas began rocket attacks, though to this point only 1 person has been killed. Israel, as is often the case, has reacted with zealous militancy, launching air strikes that have killed more than 200, and injured more than 600 more. Some of these people are likely Hamas militants, but many others could be innocents.

As a Christian, I am cognizant of our history of oppression of Jews. This history makes it difficult to condemn the actions of Israel, when taken in self-defense. Still, as a Christian, I cannot, stand back and refrain from commenting on what is an inappropriate and disproportionate response to those attacks.

I pray that both sides will back down, and begin talking again. I also pray that the Israeli's will suspend their blockades that keeps food and supplies from reaching the Palestinians. The Israeli response has done little…

In the Fullness of Time

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In today's lectionary selections, we read this phrase: "In the Fullness of Time" (Gal. 4:4) I used this phrase in my reflection -- extemporaneous message, rather than sermon. I'm not a Calvinist/Augustinian who believes that God foreordains our life choices -- that is, our lives are written beforehand. I am a believer in freewill, a perspective that is in line, I believe with the Jewish roots of our faith. That said, I do believe that God is present and active in the world -- including our lives. Thus, it is appropriate to speak of God bringing things to pass providentially. My being here in Michigan is, I believe, God's desire. Oh, that doesn't mean there are no hardships or difficulties. There is waiting, but also expectancy. In Galatians 4 Paul that Jesus came into the world in the fullness of time -- because of this we are reborn as children of God, and thus heirs of God of God's promises. The Gospel text today, Luke 2:21-40 describes the pre…

Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

I was surfing away, found my way to a Neil Young site that had linked my earlier post and discovered another site that had a Neil song under the Title: "My Kind of Church Music." It's a Unitarian Universalist blog -- UU Way of Life. There I found this YouTube edition of a really beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World sung/played by the late Hawaiian singer/ukulele player Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Take a listen, you'll enjoy it.

Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology -- Review

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CHALICE INTRODUCTION TO DISCIPLES THEOLOGY.   Edited by Peter Goodwin Heltzel. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008. X + 384 pp.

Disciples and theology, those are not words that usually go together. When Alexander Campbell founded Bethany College, he made sure that written into its charter was a ban on theological teachers, and we’ve been skittish about theology ever since. The Disciples are biblical people, who fear the creation of systems of theology, believing that systems become definitive and coercive. At least that’s the tale that’s often told among Disciples.

We’re a non-creedal people, who have the freedom to theologize for ourselves. Of course, even if we don’t have official theological statements, and while we’ve been averse to using the word theology, we have produced theological works, works that have marked our journey as we’ve progressed through the ages. Robert Milligan, Isaac Errett, William Robinson, and others have offered their take on Disciples theology, always mi…

Neil Young -- Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House -- Review

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My Christmas was made by two church members who gave me Neil Young CDs. Cheryl was a bit disappointed that I was more excited about the CDs than the new clothes she got me. Now hers were more practical, but hey, this is Neil.

Both CDs are acoustic -- which is always a great way to listen to Neil. But I'd like to focus on the recently released "Live at Canterbury House" disc, which was recorded in November 1968. Back then Neil was just 23 years old and making his first post Buffalo Springfield performance. Canterbury House was in nearby Ann Arbor (Neil is a Canadian who first came to Detroit to break into the music business).

The CD's title comes from Neil's song Sugar Mountain, which he wrote prior to the Buffalo Springfield days, but is brought into the open here. The music is really good, just Neil and his guitar. It's a very different Neil from the one I recently heard in concert. That night Neil just pretty much played and sang for about 2 and half…

The Road(s) to Heaven

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A basic tenet of many religious communities is that the pathway to heaven runs through them, and them alone. It makes sense. If you believe that your God or your understanding of God is true, then wouldn't people be required to confess truth to get in the door. It's kind of like the password.

But apparently a strong majority of Americans don't think that way. Reading through the online edition of the New York Times I came across a piece by Charles Blow entitled "Heaven for the Godless." Blow is reflecting in this essay on an August Pew Forum poll, recently released, that reports that 65% of Americans believe that other religions are just fine as avenues to heaven. Indeed, atheists might be surprised to know that a majority think they'll be going to heaven as well -- though Blow suggests that they might be dragged "kicking and screaming."

The question is why? Why do so many Americans think others will get there too?

One very plausible explanatio…

The Big Unit is now the Giant Unit!

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I woke up this morning to the news that Randy Johnson, AKA "the Big Unit," is now a member of the San Francisco Giants.

Randy Johnson is a 6'10" southpaw who whips the ball in from way high in the sky and rushes it by you. Even at 45 he's still a dangerous pitcher -- though perhaps not as dangerous as when at that all star game years ago he put one behind the head of John Kruk, moving the big first baseman to move to the other side of the plate. It was one of the more entertaining moments in all star history.

I don't know that Randy will bring a division championship to my beloved Giants, but hey he will strengthen an already strong starting rotation. I mean, you have Tim Lincecum, reigning Cy Young, together with two former Cy Young winners in Barry Zito and Johnson. Add them to Matt Cain, a wonderful pitcher victimized by virtually no run support, and an emerging Jonathan Sanchez.

Might be a fun year, as Randy Johnson goes for win number 300, if only we g…

The Spiritual Danger of Dissing Evolution

I've been reading Daniel Harrell's Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. It is part of a new series edited by Tony Jones for Abingdon entitled Introduction to Living Theology. This is a book written by an evangelical pastor to other evangelicals who are either confused about evolution or have dismissed it as something that is ungodly and damaging to faith. Harrell suggests that the danger to the soul might just come from the denial of evolution.
Harrell is a pastor and not a scientist, so his science is pretty basic -- sort of like my own. But he's done enough reading to be convinced that the scientific evidence supporting evolution is too strong to ignore or deny. In the epilogue to the book he makes his point clear.

Acknowledging that the earth is older than the Bible appears to say or that people emerge3d out of missions of years of evolution rather than in a moment are costly concessions to make. Add to that evolution's implication that God is…

Evolutionary Explanation of Religion

As a Christian (and as a pastor) I confess faith in a creator. At the same time, I accept the findings of science that suggest that we have evolved from a common ancestor of all that exists. In other words, there was a time when our ancestors were not human. I accept the findings that the universe is billions of years old and the earth is also ancient -- giving time for evolution to take place.

The question is, if we have evolved, where does God fit in? And, beyond that, how did religion emerge into existence. What we know of modern religion didn't just burst on the scene fully developed. We know that primitive communities developed religious practices early on -- probably animist in nature. The question has always been why?

Asking questions such as these can be a bit dangerous for pastors/theologians, because it holds out the possibility that religion -- including my own -- are simply biological adaptations, with no ultimate reality standing behind them. I understand the d…

A Christmas Blessing

Day-breaking God, we come to meet you this morning.

We come as the mighty and the lowly,
threadbare shepherds just in from the fields,
stately magi come on a caravan.We gather together around a baby in a manger in a stable behind a small town inn.
We gaze together upon a newborn infant fidgeting in sleep.

We hear the soothing hum of a mother,
the stalwart silence of a father,
the rustle of hay and the footfall of the cattle and the donkey,
the occasional flurry of wings in the rafters,
the almost silent padding of a cat on the floor,
the shifting weight of all of us gathered, watching.What are you dreaming as you squirm in sleep?

What world of possibility inhabits your dreams?

Are you dreaming a future for us?
Are you dreaming endless peace for a war-torn world?
Are you dreaming earth restored to balance?
Are you dreaming a banquet for the hungry?
Are you dreaming healing …

Merry Christmas

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The air is crisp and clear. The clouds are wispy and the sun shining bright on this our first Michigan Christmas.

We wish one and all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

In celebrating Christmas we remember Christ the Lord, the one Luke reports was born in the little town of Bethlehem. Scholars may debate the when and the where, but there is no debating the impact of a birth 2000 years ago on the world in which we live. If only we can live out the Angels song of peace on earth and good will to all.

Coming into the Light

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Republished from Words of Welcome, my sermon blog.


Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:8-20

When you came into the church this evening, you left behind the cold and the darkness of the streets, and you entered the warmth and light of this sanctuary. Upon entering you found friends and family gathered, and you shared Christmas Greetings with one another. In doing this, you experienced God’s light shining onto your life.

Then, as the service started, you began singing the songs of the season, you shared in a Christmas prayer, and you heard scriptures read that declared the good news that God is present in our midst. Yes God has come to us in a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. And, again, you felt God’s light shining onto your life. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what has happened to you this day, God’s light has touched your life.

I know that it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. You get tired and maybe a bit cranky. There’s the traffic and the crowds. Then …

When Jesus Met Buddha

In a piece published in the Boston Globe entitled "When Jesus Met Buddha," historian Philip Jenkins, takes us on an important brief tour of an eastern Christianity most of us know little about. Indeed, the Book of Acts takes us westward with Paul. There are stories and legends of a church in the east, but we western Christians know little of these stories. As a church historian, I didn't have the time or I didn't take the time to explore these stories with my students. I had to get my students westward to America, and American Christianity is the repository of a European Christianity.

But we live in a different world, a global world, where faiths are coming into daily contact with each other. Go to a large city, including the one I inhabit, and you will find any number of religious communities present. Indeed, there is a large Hindu temple going up here in the city of Troy, while a major mosque sits just beyond the city limits in Rochester Hills. There are Ort…

Christians Call for Middle East Peace -- A Letter to the President-Elect

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On Christmas Eve, as the eyes of the Christian world turn to Bethlehem and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we consider those who live in a region torn by violence. We pray for peace and call on the President-Elect to make peace in Israel/Palestine a top priority. Here is a letter produced by Churches for Middle East Peace. I invite you to consider adding your signature.

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December 1, 2008
The Honorable Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, DC 20270

Dear President-elect Obama,

As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone o…