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Showing posts from January, 2010

The Power of Love -- A Sermon

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1 Corinthians 13:1-13

    With a sermon title like this, you’d think it was Valentine’s Day!   But that’s still a couple of weeks off.  Or, maybe you think I’m going to talk about an old “Huey Lewis and the News” song from the 1980s.  But, again you’d be wrong – in part because I probably wouldn’t have thought of the song, except Chris Cartwright asked last Sunday if I was going to talk about it in my sermon!   So, even if it’s not Valentine’s Day, and I’m not talking about an old pop song from a movie about time travel in a Delorean car, the questions remain: what is love and what is its power?
    I think you will agree with me that the word love can have a lot of different meanings.  It can speak of romance, but not always.  So, when I say “I love you” to Cheryl, hopefully that means something different from saying “I love the San Francisco Giants” or “I love pizza.”   Love has to do with feelings and emotions, but feelings and emotions can be fickle and fleeting.  You can fall des…

Concerning the Math -- More on the Troy Millage question

I have previously raised questions about the math being used by Troy Citizens United in their campaign to defeat the 1.9% millage increase.  The way the opponents are couching their position, you are led to believe, as I read it, that homeowners and businesses will experience a significant -- 29% -- increase in their tax payments.   What they fail to say, as I read it, is that the reason for the increased millage is that taxable values have decreased, so that taxable receipts will decrease, but costs to run the city and provide services are not decreasing at the same level.  So, despite privatization, wage concessions, and lay-offs, it will be impossible to keep services at the same level as today, without increased revenue.  
One of the issues at hand concerns whose numbers you're going to trust.  Now, I'm new to the city, and I don't know all the players.  Indeed, I don't know who is involved in Troy Citizens United -- though I did see that it was the backer of one of…

GROWING DEEPER in our Church Community by Chris Smith

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Chris Smith, editor/publisher of the Englewood Review of Books is offering a free e-book entitled Growing Deeper in our Church Community.   In it he offers 50 ways we can grow deeper in church community.  It's quite good and challenging.
He writes to offer ways in which we who are disconnected from the community and from God might be reconnected.  We live in a fragmented and polarized world, but there is hope.  Chris writes:
The purpose of this little book is to spark our imaginations with practical ideas of how we can become more deeply connected first with those that God has gathered in our churches and then with our neighbors as well. The ideas here focus on three primary facets of connection that are essential for our churches: connecting with people, connecting with place and connecting with God’s mission. That sounds like something worth pursuing!
Now, before you check out the book site, here is a bit about Chris -- Chris Smith is a member of the Englewood Christian Church commun…

Passage into Discipleship -- Review

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PASSAGE INTO DISCIPLESHIP: Guide to Baptism.  By Christopher W. Wilson.  St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2009.  vi + 105 pp.

    Baptism is an important rite of passage in the life of a Christian, although for some traditions this happens long before the recipient of water is able to own the rite.  In those traditions that practice infant baptism, parents and sponsors promise to help the child grow into being a member of the community of faith.  This usually happens during a rite called confirmation.  Other traditions, including mine, apply the water at a moment in which a person is able to make a profession of faith.  This was once called adult baptism, but the age at which a person is baptized in believer traditions has gotten increasingly younger – generally in late elementary and junior high age rages.    

    Whatever the age one is baptized or confirmed (in some ways, the question has to do with when do we apply the water?) , there needs to be instruction in the faith.  Christopher W.…

Von Daniken, Aliens, and Worship

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James McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion and Clarence L. Goodwin Chair of New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, and fellow blogger, is teaching a course I wish I could have taken in college -- Religion and Science Fiction.  The topic of a recent class concerned the theories of Erich Von Daniken, a purveyor of alien lore.  I remember the books and TV shows back in the 1970s, about the Chariots of the Gods The idea was that many of the amazing buildings and humanly created desert formations owe themselves to alien presences. 
The idea that the pyramids of Egypt or South America had alien designers has intrigued folks for some time.  We wonder how a much less sophisticated culture could do such things.  So, maybe there is a better answer.  It is, of course, not just a premise in Von Daniken's books -- consider the Stargate series and movie -- The ancient Egyptian gods were ancient alien travelers.
So, James asks the question:   So let me ask readers of thi…

The Pandora's Box of James Cameron -- Sightings

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I must admit that I have not seen Avatar.  I know that I'm among the few who has not seen the movie, but that is the truth of it.  But, I must add that my wife isn't interested and my nearly 20 year old son who contemplated film school is in an anti-CGI mood.  My brother, on the other hand, thought it was one of the best ever.  So, what can I say -- at least one member of the family has seen it and likes it.

But, I do realize that there is a lot of buzz about the movie, especially its religious and ecological themes.  Those two go together -- as we're discovering in the bible study I'm leading at church. 

So, since I really have nothing to add to the discussion -- It is good to know that someone does, and Joseph Laycock, a PhD student at Boston University, helps us understand the attraction of the movie, and offers some important critique, in today's issue of Sightings.

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Sightings 1/28/10


The Pandora’s Box of James Cameron
-- J…

A President Speaks On the Union

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Last night the President of the United States spoke to the nation about the state of the union.  I didn't see all of it -- but watched a considerable portion on CSPAN (Here is a link to a transcript).  Before turning to CSPAN I watched for a few minutes the conversation at CNN.  Typical, the Republicans didn't like the speech, more Democratic commentators did.  Gloria Borger was amazed it took 25 minutes to get to health care, but then it appears that Americans are tired of that conversation.  But, as I watched the middle section of the speech, I heard him take up health care -- in context.  He made it clear that we've gotten this close to reform, and so we can't let it drop now.   He admitted that he hadn't done a good job telling the story -- but he put it in context in the speech.  Indeed, he remains committed as ever, but it needs to be seen in context of bettering our economic situation.

The economy was the focus of his attention -- he reminded Congress (and u…

Telling the Truth -- Troy Millage Election

As I drive to and fro across Troy, MI (since I live on one side of the city and pastor a church on the other side of the city), I see these blue and white signs telling us to vote no on the upcoming millage election.  Added to these signs, is the message that this is a 29% tax increase.

If it were a 29% tax increase then this would suggest quite a major increase in taxes, and one that would not be fair, but is this the reality?  Are we really going to see a 29% tax increase or is someone monkeying with the numbers for political gain?  They say that because the current millage rate is 6.5%, a 1.9% increase is approximately 1/3 of that number.  But, is that the way it should be calculated?  I don't think so.  Our taxes are based on assessed home values, and so if those values go down, then so do the taxes we pay. 

The opponents of the millage increase tell us that they don't believe the city manager's projections.   Well, that's fine, but in responding I would suggest tha…

Where Are Today's Niebuhrs?

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Barack Obama, among others, has claimed Reinhold Niebuhr to be a guide.  I have not yet engaged in a thorough reading of Niebuhr's corpus, but I've been dabbling in these works.

Niebuhr was an interesting figure.  He was a pastor (here in Detroit).  He was a social ethicist and professor (at Union Seminary -- although he never earned a doctorate).  He was a friend and mentor to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I'm reading a very interesting work on Bonhoeffer at this moment entitled The Reluctant Revolutionary).  He was an adviser to Presidents and other leaders.  He was, as a blog article by Michael Jinkins of Austin Presbyterian Seminary points out a significant public intellectual.  The question Jinkins asks is this:  "Where are Have all the Niebuhrs gone?"    That is, where are the Christian public thinkers of the stature of Niebuhr, the ones who make it to the cover of Time Magazine?  Too often its the Pat Robertson types that make it there or the Rick Warrens.  Warren i…

The Robertson Paradox -- Sightings

If people are drifting away from religion -- seeing it as irrelevant to life -- why so much attention to the statements of one aging TV evangelist?  That is why would both Jon Stewart and the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas pay attention?  Martin Marty suggests that maybe religion impinges on us more than we think.  He writes today in answer to a query from writer JeffreyWeiss of Politics Daily. 
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Sightings 1/25/10

 The Robertson Paradox?
-- Martin E. Marty

Jeffrey Weiss, who blogs at Politics Daily, sent an e-query to some of us e-columnists, or at least to me, supplementing his blog-list. He raised enough good questions to merit a response. Revisiting the by-now-over-visited tragicomedy of televangelist Pat Robertson on Haitians and the Devil, Weiss wanted to discuss a “paradox:” “From Jon Stewart (a secular Jew, for goodness sakes, who quoted Bible verses on the Daily Show) to the pastor of First Baptist Dallas in Newsweek to, well, you in Sightings,

Editors and Bishops -- the Future of Religious Journalism

Late in 2009 came the word thatDisciples World,the freestanding journal or the Disciples was folding for economic reasons.  Despite the fact that the journal had won numerous awards, it simply could no longer sustain itself financially.  Now, we're trying to figure out what to do next.  Already one blog ([D]mergent) has emerged to try to carry on the message.  That the Disciples are without a standard bearing journal is a bit odd, for we were founded by enterprising editor-bishops.  What does this mean for us? 

As John Schmalzbauer notes in a posting at Duke's Call & Response blog, the times-are- a-changin' for religious publications.  A number have folded and others are in danger -- though a few (Christian Centurybeing among these) are seeing growth in subscribers.   The point of the essay is that editors -- and not just in the Stone-Campbell movement -- have provided leadership in the various faith communities, that often exceed that of bishops.  But what happens to …

Listen for the Word

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 Nehemiah 8:1-10

    Legend has it that when I was a very young child I would stand up in my crib and  preach.  I'd shake my finger and prattle away, speaking to no one in particular.  I can't say that I was a great preacher in those days, but I did make an impression on my grandmother.  She told my mother: “Someday Bob will be a preacher.”  Now, I can't confirm this story since my memory doesn't go back that far, but if it’s true, I hope the quality of my preaching has improved!

   It’s one thing to preach from a crib and another to preach from a pulpit.  In fact, it  does take a bit of audacity to be a preacher.  Take for instance Barbara Brown Taylor’s comparison of a preacher to a tight rope walker:
Watching a preacher climb into the pulpit is a lot like watching a tight rope walker climb onto the platform as the drum roll begins.  The first clears her throat and spreads her notes; the second loosens his shoulders and stretches out one rosin-soled foot to test the t…

Pope says -- Get to it, go blog!

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In March I'll be a participant/presenter at a conference entitled Theology after Google.  The point of the conference is that we must engage the web if theology is going to be transformative.  Philip Clayton has issued the challenge to theologians, telling them that the "trickle down" method isn't working. 


Apparently the Pope has gotten the word too, because according to a report out today, he's issued a statement to priests telling them to get out there in cyberspace and tell the story. 

In his message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Communications, the pope, who is 82 and known not to love computers or the Internet, acknowledged priests must make the most of the "rich menu of options" offered by new technology.

"Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, Web sites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad n…

A Drive through Detroit

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Yesterday, after attending the North American International Auto Show at COBO Hall, we enjoyed lunch in a Greektown pizzaria, having traveled from a Greektown casino garage to COBO on the Peoplemover.  After leaving Greektown, I took a wrong turn, ended up on Gratiot and had to find my way west.  I took a left on Chene Street, and headed back toward the freeways and home in the suburbs.  (Note the picture of a burnt out building, it comes from an intriguing photo record at Detroitfunk.
Detroit is a study in contrasts.  It has a waterfront that is quite nice.  There are grand buildings like the Ren Center, Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Opera House, Fox Theater, and the Detroit Institute of Art.  But there are also areas of the city that are burnt out and abandoned.  We saw both yesterday.
Here is the question we who are citizens of the United States -- what are we willing to do to remake our nation?  Detroit was once a great city, America's industrial dynamo, and yet today, for a v…

Faith Statements and the State

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In December, answering the call issued in Philip Clayton's Transforming Christian Theology, I laid out my own credo (statement of faith) focusing on the seven core Christian Beliefs.  I even issued a meme, asking others, especially fellow bloggers, to do the same -- to offer their own confession.  You can still do it!

A bit later, I came across a sermon preached by Edgar DeWitt Jones, the founding pastor of the church I now serve as pastor.  Jones was a liberal Protestant of the Harry Emerson Fosdick school.  In fact, Jones had Fosdick in to preach at Central Woodward Christian Church when he was on vacation.  In this sermon, apparently preached around 1941, Jones set out his own statement of faith.  He touched on some, but not all of the seven core beliefs. Interestingly enough, he doesn't address the Holy Spirit -- but that is not surprising considering the Disciple emphasis on rational belief.  What surprised me, but perhaps shouldn't, was a statement about the American …

Jesus and the Gun Sights!

Some will take offense to the putting of scripture verses on gun sights, because of possible illicit crossings of church state boundaries.  Others, because it is a possible act of proselytism.    Both are problems, but there's an additional one.

According to a Detroit Free Press article, apparently the defense contractor from Michigan, Trijicom, has been doing this for years, and sees it as a way of offering support to the troops -- by letting them know that they are being prayed for on the home front. 

There is an additional problem, and that problem consists of the all-too-common mixing of Christianity with warfare.  Now, as I've noted earlier, I'm not a full pacifist, but I do believe that Jesus did not link himself with violence or warfare and that to do so in this way is a degrading (even if unintentional) of Jesus and the way of life before God that he lived and proclaimed.  Indeed, it is contrary to the reality of his death, the victim of an imperial occupation army.…

Is the Devil a Black Man -- Sightings

Pat Robertson's interpretation of the Haitian earthquake, as just another expression of the curse that is on the nation due to a "pact with the devil," has gotten a lot of attention --here and elsewhere.  Although typical of Robertson's responses, it does raise issues that many of us would rather not confront -- the depth of racism in our nation.  Spencer Dew, in today's edition of Sightings points out how many European and Euro-American people have seen the person of color as not just an other but as the demonic.  As is always true with Spencer's pieces, this is thought provoking.

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Sightings 1/21/10


Is the Devil a Black Man?
-- Spencer Dew

In what has now become a much-circulated clip, Pat Robertson makes sense of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake as the latest in a string of curses delivered by God to Haiti’s people.  Robertson’s interpretation of this catastrophe, whether we find it repellent or compelling, offers an excellent…