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Showing posts from May, 2010

The Faith-based Initiative and Congregational Change -- Sightings

Over the weekend, I posted my own thoughts on Mark Chaves' Christian Century article (one that is getting picked up later this week by Ethics Daily.  How prescient I was about the importance of the question, was confirmed not only by the offer to repost on Ethic's Daily, but in Martin Marty's Monday Sightings post, for he too has chosen to focus on the Chaves article. 
I invite you to consider the question -- what role should congregations be expected to play in providing social relief?  And how might the government partner?  These and other questions have been raised -- here is Marty's response.
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Sightings 5/31/10



The Faith-based Initiative and Congregational Change -- Martin E. Marty

“Did the Faith-based Initiative Change Congregations?” asked astute sociologists of religion Bob Wineberg and Mark Chaves last April. The answer: No. Chaves, based at Duke University, follows up with a revision in The Christian Century (June 1), “Congregations Say No to…

Jesus Manifesto -- Who is Jesus?

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Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have published a new book entitled the Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ.  (Nelson, 2010).  I received an advance copy, with the proviso that I would, at the very least, on this day, put up their statement about the book's release (see the bottom of the page).
I have yet to read the book, beyond the Introduction, so a review is not yet available from my pen.  But, from that introduction, I deduce that the authors, one a Methodist Historian and Professor of Evangelism at Drew University and the other a conference speaker and author, wish to reclaim the centrality of Christ to the message of the Christian faith.
In the introduction they note that there was a time when the church failed to take seriously the humanity of Jesus, but now in many sectors it is the opposite.  They seek to offer a third way, between left and right poles.  They call for a new engagement with Christology The degree to which they succeed remai…

Remembering the First Memorial Day

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I noticed it on Wikipedia, and then again on David Crumm's blog, Read the Spirit.  In his reflections for Memorial Day, David Crumm, former Religion writer for the Detroit Free Press, reminds us that the first Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day, hearkens back to an event in 1865, when 10,000 African Americans, all recently freed slaves, gathered to mark the graves of Union soldiers, who had fallen in battle in South Carolina.  I'm including part of the conversation in this extended quote.  David has other information that provides context and definition.
Real Story of Our “First” Memorial Day
Here’s why it’s important to remember—and spread word—about the real story of Memorial Day. Yale University historian David W. Blight undertook the groundbreaking research that is changing the way this milestone is understood. He published his findings in a 2002 history, “Race and Reunion.” Even the History Channel’s current “History of Memorial Day” video ignores the stirring 1865 ch…

A Reflection and a Prayer for Memorial Day

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Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer.  Baseball, barbecues, the Indianapolis 500, and memorial observances.  It's easy to forget the real purpose of the day in the midst of all the other activities.  For many today is a day to lay flowers and wreaths, attend memorial observances, and reflect on friends and family who have passed on.
Memorial Day was began as Decoration Day after the end of the Civil War.  Over time it has expanded and became what we know as Memorial Day, being established by law as a national holiday in 1967, with the current positioning on the last Monday in May beginning in 1971.  It has its roots in honoring war dead, and it has expanded over time to be a time of remembrance of all who have died, especially those who die in service to country. 
So, on this day may we stop to remember those who have died, including those who have died in service to country.  On this day, I want to stop to remember two pastors who have influenced my life, both of whom have d…

Give God the Glory -- Sermon

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Psalm 96

Music has the power to stir our souls and enliven our hearts and minds. Whenever Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus is played or sung, nearly everyone stands. They may even join in singing the chorus. It happened just the other day, when Pat concluded his recital with this very piece.
Why do we do this? Is it just habit or expectation? Or is it because this piece of music is so inspiring that we cannot take it in sitting down? What is important to point out is that the Hallelujah Chorus, like Psalm 96, calls forth from us, a declaration that God is sovereign, not just over our personal lives, but as the Psalmist declares, over “all the earth.” And so we sing:
“Hallelujah For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, hallelujah” And then, we proclaim:
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ, and of His Christ; And He shall reign for ever and ever . . . “Hallelujah For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, hallelujah”
In this song of praise, we hear echoes of the …

The Faith Based Initiative and Congregations

I remember back when President George W. Bush proposed and saw implemented his Faith Based Initiative.  At the heart of this proposal was that the government would open up funds to be used by faith-based institutions, including local congregations, so that they could be alternative deliverers of social services.  I remember that our clergy group in Santa Barbara, made this a focus of conversation, dedicating one meeting to exploring it.  I went out and got as much information as I could (I was the President of the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association at the time) to distribute.  We had a guest presenter who was working with faith based initiatives come and speak to us.  We batted it around, wondering what it would mean for us and the communities.  We were in agreement that congregations should be involved in social service, but we were not all certain as to the implications of the project.
Well, it's been nearly a decade since that Office of Faith-Based  and Community Initiativ…

The Left Behind Fantasy -- Review

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THE LEFT BEHIND FANTASY: The Theology Behind the Left Behind Tales. By William Powell Tuck. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2010. xiv +157 pp.

Whether you’ve read them or not, it’s likely you’ve seen or at least heard of the twelve volume Left Behind series of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. In this series of books, a full-blown exposition of Dispensational understandings of the end of the ages is laid out – in fictional form. If you’re well-versed in Dispensationalism, perhaps from reading Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, you’ll understand to what the series title is referring. It is the story of what happens to those left behind when Jesus returns and snatches up the saints of God. For seven crazy years the anti-Christ reigns supreme. But according to this scenario, some of those left behind figure things out and come to Jesus and fight to defend themselves, even as they seek to win others to the faith – in anticipation of another return.
I must say, up front, that I’ve not rea…

The New Religion of Body Improvement -- Sightings

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Being that we've been talking resurrection and what it has to say about embodiment in this life and the next, I found it interesting that today's Sightings piece deals with the issue of religion and body improvement -- or more specifically, body improvement as a religion in and of itself.  There has been in recent decades a fascination within evangelical Protestantism with dieting, exercise, and make up, all in the effort, especially among women, to improve one's looks.  Now, it seems we're taking it to the next level with attempts to improve one's looks through surgery.  Now, I don't begrudge someone wanting to make use of cosmetic surgery, but as we've seen it can become addictive, for once you start down the path of improvement, where do you stop?  When will you be satisfied?  With these questions in mind, let us check out Jeremy Bile's essay.
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Sightings 5/27/10


The New Religion of Body Improvement
-- Jeremy Biles

“T…

Drill, Baby, Drill -- Well Maybe Not

There is (or was) a broken oil well spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The owner of that well, BP, has been trying all manner of ways of plugging this, but nothing like this has been tried at depths like this.  I've not heard much of a cry from the proponents of drilling lately, but hey if we drill for oil in sensitive places, these kinds of accidents are bound to happen.
So, it's time to vent.  First of all, we all must take responsibility for this accident, for it is our desire/need to drive cars that use gasoline that leads to the need to drill for oil in such sensitive places.  I am as complicit in this as anyone, even if I drive a smaller, relatively fuel efficient car. 
Second, I find it interesting as well that many of the same people that are calling for smaller government are the ones crying the loudest for government help.  I'll leave things there.
Finally, I find it interesting that the President is being blamed for not handling this properly.  But, until…

Resurrection and the Nature of Salvation

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We have been thinking about the resurrection of late -- both that of Jesus and more generally.  Resurrection fits in with other related issues, including judgment and salvation.  I'll leave off the discussion of judgment for the moment, except to say that in one form or another judgment does take place.  But more to the point of salvation.  
In today's study groups, we'll be looking at N.T. Wright's consideration of the "Hope of Salvation."  In that context we must ask what salvation entails?  Does it mean, being pulled off the earth to live in some "heavenly estate," most likely disembodied - a sort of Caspar the Friendly Ghost?  For our discussion, I'd like to throw out a statement from Wright's book Surprised By Hope.
As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future.  But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms…

Religion in the Land of None

Having grown up in Northern California and Oregon, I have a good sense of the religious proclivities of the people of the region.  Catholics, Mormons, and Pentecostals (of the 4 Square variety), do well but the rest of us, not so well.  But even there, they make up a small percentage of the population.  Oregon, Washington, and Alaska make up a section of the country where the non-religious have always thrived.  It's a land of individualism.
Keith Watkins, who has guest posted several times here, has written a post that invites conversation.  Keith is a religious historian, expert in the area of Christian worship, and father of the General Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  He notes a presentation awhile back, at which a presenter noted the demographics of the region.
In Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, 37.2% of the population can be called adherents; they claim connections with a church and participate enough to be counted. A slightly higher percentage, 37.8%, a…

Why the Resurrection?

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I have been pushing on the question of resurrection, including its physicality, in a number of recent posts, including a guest post last week by Bruce Epperly.  I realize that this is a question that troubles many in the church and outside the church.  Many progressive or liberal Christians find the resurrection a distraction, or as a commenter put on a previous post, akin to arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  But, is it simply an outdated and distracting doctrine that we are better off leaving behind?  Is Easter, for that matter, a quaint holiday, better served by highlighting Easter Egg hunts and chocolate bunnies?  Is it simply just the sign that spring is at hand?  Or, is it, as it always has been through Christian history, the center piece of the Christian faith?  As theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it:  The Christian faith stands or falls with Christ's resurrection, because it was by raising him from the dead that God made Jesus the Christ and reve…

Divine Power -- Unilateral or Relational? (Bruce Epperly)

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Bruce Epperly follows up on his discussion of the Resurrection with a discussion of divine power.  Is it unilateral (direct and irresistible) or relational (engaged but resistable)?  Bruce prefers a relational understanding of power, one that fits with his progressive theology.  I invite you to read and respond.

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Divine Power – Unilateral or Relational?
Bruce Epperly


Over thirty years ago, my graduate school theology professor Bernard Loomer asserted that there were two primary kinds of power – unilateral power and relational power. Unilateral power is by nature coercive. It gives, but does not receive; acts but does not listen; demands but does not compromise. It sees the other in terms of its wishes, rather than the other’s deepest desires. Creativity and freedom are frowned upon, if not outright abolished. Anything that deviates from the ruler’s edit is, by definition, wrong and subject to severe punishment. In business or parenting, unilateral power proclaims, “my…

The New Physicality of Resurrection

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Last week Bruce Epperly offered an alternate progressive understanding of Resurrection, one that allowed for it to be more than a parable or metaphor, but allows for a sense of physicality.  This post got considerable discussion going, for we struggle with what all of this means.  Part of our issue is that we must, whether we like it or not, recognize that science plays a role in the conversation.  Progressive/liberal Christians tend to have a problem with discussions of reality that rely on supernaturalism.  The assumption is that God does not contravene the laws of nature.  There are a lot of reasons for that position, which I'll not go into here.  But, it does raise questions about the physicality of Jesus' resurrection and that of any post-death experience.
Last night, if you watched it, the conclusion to the Lost series reflected upon life after death and while envisioning a rather inclusive/interfaith understanding, offered a sense of physicality -- even resurrection.  On…