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Showing posts from June, 2010

Pride Goes before the Fall — Lectionary Reflection

2 Kings 5:1-14
Galatians 6:7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Pride Goeth before a Fall

We stand at the edge of a major American celebration. It’s one of those holidays that many preachers, including this one, struggle with. There is this expectation that the church should become a national shrine, with the pastors serving as priests for the nation. But is that our calling, and do these expectations keep us from speaking prophetically? Few of us have the courage and wherewithal of a prophet like Elisha, who not only didn’t fear the people, he didn’t fear the king either. In fact, not only didn’t he fear his own king, but he didn’t fear the supreme commander of his nation’s rival kingdom’s army.

Reading the three lectionary texts together our reflections can go in a number of directions, but what caught my eye was the problem of ego or pride. Naaman is a general, the head of his nation’s army, and yet he also suffers from a skin disease that should make him an outcast. When he learns that there is …

The Future of Hinduism

I live on the edge of a unique world.  I am confessionally a Christian, who believes that Jesus is the Christ of God and the Son of God.  He is Lord and Savior of the World.  At the same time, I am deeply involved in interfaith conversation and activity.  The God I believe exists is a God far bigger than I can conceive and so I'm comfortable sharing life with my friends of other faiths.  One of those friends is Padma Kuppa, a Hindu and an interfaith activist.  We have worked closely together here in Troy almost from the moment I arrived.  She is committed to preserving space in the public square for people of all faiths.  It is from that perspective, as a woman deeply rooted in her faith, but committed to opening the way for others to exist in freedom and in peace, that she writes and she works for a more just and pluralistic world.
Padma wrote a piece for the Patheos Blog that appears on the Washington Post On Faith blog that is entitled "The Future of Hinduism."  I'…

"Make My Day": SCOTUS and America's Gun Fetish

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I have to admit that I'm a Clint Eastwood fan -- though I never got into the Dirty Harry movies from which I took the title of this post.  Yesterday the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down Chicago's 28 year old handgun ban.  In this decision, they extended an earlier decision to strike down the District of Columbia's ban to all jurisdictions.  Though leaving room for regulation, outright bans will not be permitted.  Now, it's important to note that Chicago's ban really hasn't worked well.  Handgun-related homicides remain extremely high in that city, but of course when you have a patchwork set of regulations that cover the nation, it's pretty hard to regulate gun ownership and use in a city the size of Chicago.
What is disturbing about yesterday's decision, to me, is not just the reasoning behind the decision, which props up even more the idea that the 2nd Amendment grants every American the right "to keep and bear arms," but the ongo…

On Not Polarizing Too Much: The Challenges of Prophetic Hospitality (Bruce Epperly)

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As we near the Fourth of July holiday, a weekend in which citizens and residents of the United States of America will celebrate 234 years of independence, we also live at a time of increasing political and cultural polarization.  The political bases of the two parties have moved further and further from the center, so that less that civil statements and actions have come to the fore.  Bruce Epperly writes as a theological progressive and political liberal -- I note that both these terms are considered "unAmerican" in some circles."  Just today, I heard Jeff Sessions ask, with derision in his voice, whether Elena Kagan is a "progressive."  So, where are we as a nation when "birthers" and Tea Partiers seem to have taken hold of the imagination?  Bruce addresses some of these questions in what should prove to be one of his most provocative contributions to this blog.

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On Not Polarizing Too Much: The Challenges of Pr…

Extinction -- Sightings

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Will humanity survive for more than 100 years?  Have we set things in motion so that our children's children's children won't see the early decades of the 22nd century?  Martin Marty reflects upon the prognostications of a scientist who believes that things are set in motion that unfortunately will lead to our extinction as a species.  As Marty notes, for those hoping for Armaggedon to come in our life-time, that news is pretty irrelevant.  As James Watt noted, back when he was Secretary of the Interior, we won't be around much longer, so why preserve our natural resources?  Why indeed?   Well, as Marty says, for the rest of us, what message is there in this?  And is it too late to turn things around?  Take a read, and off your thoughts.
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Sightings 6/28/10


Extinction -- Martin E. Marty
The blue sky above and the blue lake below my window helped inspire hopes on a weekend morning for a beautiful, untroubled summer day. Then a jostling…

A Singing Faith

1 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.


2 Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.


3 Sing to him a new song; play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4 For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.


5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.


7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.


8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.   (Psalm 33:1-8 NRSV)

Tonight a small group of us gathered for a potluck dinner, a tour of the flower garden, and then sing for about 30 to 40 minutes, before closing with communion and a few more songs.  Our group was a mix of ages, but about half were over 65.  We sang all kinds of songs, more contemporary songs, gospel songs,…

Duty Calls? A Sermon

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Luke 9:51-62

The Life of Brian, a Monte Python movie from the 1970s, tells the story of a young man who just happens to have been born the same night and just a few houses down from where Jesus was born. Although Brian doesn’t want to be a messiah, he gets taken for one by the crowd, which is looking for a messiah. They’re not just looking for someone to throw out the Romans, after all, “what have the Romans ever done for us,” besides the aqueducts and the roads, they’re also looking for someone to tell them what to do. Even though Brian keeps telling the people that they have to think for themselves and that he’s “not the messiah,” something his mother confirms, telling anyone who will listen, that Brian is really a “very naughty boy,” the crowds keep coming to seek his wisdom. In the end, Brian gets the same treatment the Romans give to other would-be messiahs. He gets crucified – another contribution the Romans gave to Judea!
Yes, even though Brian just wants to be left alone so he …

What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?

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There sure is a lot of talk about Jesus and imperialism and such, you know with the New Testament seen in political terms -- yes, I know, I do it too -- .  Wait till you read my new book called Ultimate Allegiance:  The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer (due out in Novemberish -- in time for your Christmas shopping sprees -- from Energion Publications)!  And yes, John Dominic Crossan makes a good case for imperialism being a key component of the gospel message.  Scot McKnight raises some questions about all of this as well, suggesting that it may reflect leftist politics (and I may resemble that remark).
But, I think that the Romans need to be given their due -- as Monte Python does in this scene from the Life of Brian.

Oil, the Environment, and the Limits of Human Abilities

I've not written much about the tragic oil spill in the Gulf.  I do believe that it could have been prevented, but there have been a number of factors that have conspired to create this situation. 
First is our propensity to use oil and oil related products.  As Charlie Crist said on the Today show this morning, this disaster should be a wake up call to Americans that we need to change our habits when it comes to oil usage (and he's a Republican).  But consider how we drive -- how I drive.  I drive a small car, but . . . There are all the plastics we use, etc.  Oh, and he said that the judges decision to stop the moratorium on drilling was, to use his own words -- "ludicrous!"  (Again, he's a Republican).
Then there's greed.  Consider that this accident might not have happened had the companies used the same technology used in the North Sea deep water drilling, adding an extra layer of protection of a remote shut off system as required by Brazil and Norway, bu…

The Resurrection of Life

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We have been having a conversation off and on here about the resurrection of the body.  As I've noted before I'm uncomfortable jettisoning a bodily resurrection.  I realize that there are scientific questions that are problematic, but I don't think that its the science that's the problem.  I think its the physicality that is the issue.  Christian theology has from the beginning placed an emphasis on embodiedness.  That's why the Eucharist became so central to the Christian faith -- it was a witness against the Gnostic desire to free the soul from the body.   I think that there is an incipient gnosticism that underlies the popularity of metaphorical interpretations of the resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus' appearances were nothing more than visions or dreams, then we don't have to deal with an embodied state.
In earlier posts I've talked about N.T. Wright's views, but Wright is probably more conservative than am I.  Bruce Epperly gave a progressive the…

The Externally Focused Quest -- Review

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THE EXTERNALLY FOCUSED QUEST: Becoming the Best Church FOR the Community. By Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw. Foreword by Alan Hirsch. Jossey Bass, 2010. xv + 248 pages.

Missional churches are, by the usual definition, externally focused entities. That is, their ministries inside the church are designed to support and empower the ministry that occurs outside the walls of the church. In The Externally Focused Quest, which is a Leadership Network publication, Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw expand on that definition. As with many similar books, the authors begin this book by distinguishing between attractional and missional churches. They remind us that in this new age, ministry seldom occurs because people come to a church building. Most ministry, especially ministry that will touch the lives of large portions of the community will happen outside the walls. To engage the world as it stands, the church must, following the categories developed by Jeff Waldo and other futurists, be attentive to so…

Fire and Fraud: Touchdown Jesus Meets the Cult of Palin -- Sightings

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Having worked at a Christian bookstore during my seminary years, I learned a lot about Christian kitsch, what we called Jesus Junk.   One thing that conservative Christianity figured out early on was how to sell itself.  It didn't just champion capitalism, it embodied it.  No one was better at it than Aimee Semple McPherson, whose talents gave birth to a whole number of imitators.  Well, as Jeremy Biles notes, Sarah Palin has caught the bug, and has combined piety and entertainment and politics together in a way that is almost cultish.  Jeremy Biles takes up the Sarah Palin event and discusses it together with the burning of the TD Jesus in Ohio.  It's an interesting piece, so read and offer your thoughts! *******************************

Sightings 6/24/10


Fire and Fraud: Touchdown Jesus Meets the Cult of Palin -- Jeremy Biles

I recalled C. G. Jung’s definition of “synchronicity” last week when two email messages, each containing a link to a religion news story, arrived to my inbox …

Staying True to the Call-- Lectionary Reflection

Reposted from [D]mergent, a weekly lectionary meditation.
2 Kings 2:1-14 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62

Staying True to the Call

It may be a truism, with lots of qualifications and nuances, but it seems apparent that to be successful in life (unless we’re born with a silver spoon), you’ll have to be persistent as well as be willing to persevere through difficult times and obstacles. At every juncture there will be the temptation to look back and retreat to safety. Both Elijah and Jesus were tempted to take the easy way out, to turn back from their appointed tasks, but both remained steadfast and fulfilled their tasks.
In these two passages, one from the Hebrew Bible and the other from the Gospel of Luke, there is a common theme. The question that is raised in these texts concerns our willingness and ability to remain true to our calling. Are we ready to take up the mantle of the Master? Elijah understands that his day of departure is at hand. Elisha is his disciple, but the question that…

Invictus -- Video Review

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It is hard to believe that has been twenty years since Nelson Mandela was released from his long imprisonment on Robben Island, an event that would transform the nation of South Africa.  Not too long afterward, Mandela was elected President of the nation and faced the difficulty of uniting a very divided nation.  Whites feared retribution and loss of property and businesses that had been established during the long years of government directed Apartheid policies.  Blacks were angry at being denied their rights for so long, angry at having been imprisoned for their efforts to free themselves from bondage to a white minority government.
Clint Eastwood's movie, now out on DVD, Invictus, tells the story of Mandela's decision to use a rugby team's participation in a South Africa hosted World Cup Championship to unite the nation.  The movie, which stars Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, portrays Mandela as being intent on bringing tog…

Does God Know the Future? (Bruce Epperly)

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If God knows everything that has happened and will happen, and God is all powerful, does prayer matter?  This is the question that Bruce Epperly ponders in today's posting.  It is an important question that too often we evade.  So, take a read and engage Bruce in conversation.
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Does God Know the Future? Why Does it Matter for Those Who Pray? Bruce Epperly


When I was a child, my mother posted a magnet on our refrigerator that proclaimed, “Prayer changes things.” I have always taken this motto seriously. While I have many ways of praying – I use words, images, energy, touch, and silence at various times – I pray for things, large and small, knowing that within God’s reign and the interdependence of life, there may, in fact, be no small things.
As a practical and constructive theologian, I am interested in how our beliefs shape our practices and everyday lives. Accordingly, the question of divine foreknowledge is important to me. Does the fact that Go…