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Showing posts from December, 2010

2010 Book of the Year -- Top 10 List

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There have been many wonderful books published in 2010, not all of which I've had the opportunity to read and consider. Some good books are still sitting on my pile, and some are still being read, and still others I'll never get around to reading.  Among those books that I have had the opportunity to read, deciding which ten books made my own top ten wasn’t easy. I left several books off this list that I found tremendously important – books by Brueggemann, Dunn, Crossan, and Moltmann. But, a choice had to be made, and so I made it.  A caveat here -- every list such as this is a matter of the reader's judgment and sense of importance, as can be seen in the great variety of choices made by "listers."  But this is my list!    


Book of the Year:


Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. 

First among the books that I read this year, the book that stands out above the others, is Ameri…

The Closing of the Year 2010

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At the stroke of midnight tonight a year will end, and a new year will begin.  We will, I'm sure, during the course of the day contemplate the things that have happened over the year -- the vacations we took, the roofs we put on our houses, the elections we participated in, the movies we viewed and the books we read and perhaps wrote.  We will ruefully think of missed opportunities and rejoice in the great things that got accomplished.  We'll remember the big November election that shook up the political establishment and remember that it was a year in which we lost Mr. Cunningham (Tom Bosley) and Mrs. Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley).  Oh, I can't forget the biggest event of my year, something I've waited all my life to see -- the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco and first in franchise history since 1954. 
Looking backward, each of us will have something different to share, even as we look forward to the next year, wondering what to make…

Joy to the World –Spiritual Blessings for All -- Lectionary Meditation for 2nd Sunday after Christmas

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Jeremiah 31:7-14


Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:10-18

Joy to the World – Spiritual Blessings for All


As we meander toward the end of the Christmas season, which according to the commercial calendar began more than a month ago, if not sooner. The carols have all been sung, the presents opened, unacceptable presents have been returned, the trees and decorations have started to come down, and we have begun to focus on the coming new year, when all things become new. The liturgical calendar, however, won’t let us move on quite yet. Yes, according to the liturgical calendar we’re still in the season of Christmas. The texts for this second Sunday of Christmas (unless you decided to skip this day and move to Epiphany a few days early) speak in one way or another of the spiritual blessings that God has chosen to bestow upon God’s people, and the Ephesian letter and the Gospel of John root these blessings quite directly in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, as the prophet Jeremiah says to us – sing fo…

Is Yoga a Form of Hinduism? Is Hinduism a Form of Yoga? --- Sightings

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One of the Big Issues of 2010 concerned whether Yoga was a Hindu practice and thus off limits to Christians.  Interestingly enough, there was agreement from both some Hindus and some Christians that this was true.  Al Mohler on one side said that Yoga was too Hindu for Christians, while a number of Hindus (Hindu American Foundation) said that American Yoga wasn't Hindu enough and therefore Christians should get their hands off the practice so that Hinduism can be put back into this important Hindu practice.  Well, maybe things are a bit more complicated than this, and Wendy Doniger, an expert on Hinduism at the University of Chicago, sorts things out for us!  I may not practice yoga, but if I did, thanks to Wendy, I needn't fear for my soul!  Take a read.
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Sightings 12/30/2010


Is Yoga a Form of Hinduism? Is Hinduism a Form of Yoga?
- Wendy Doniger
Debates about these questions have been making headlines lately. Some American Hindus have argued tha…

Maybe the Story of Noah isn't for Kids!

The story of Noah is a favorite of many Sunday School teachers -- isn't it a wonderful story that Noah built an ark so he and his family, along with a pair of each kind of animal might be spared from the flood. But what we don't tell the children is why this big boat has to be built.
My Disciple colleague from the west side of Michigan, Rev. David Stout, using a sort of Mr. Roger's demeanor, tells the story in a way that turns the tables on the usual presentation -- reminding us that maybe this isn't really a kids's tale after all!  The further question concerns the way we interpret Scripture and understand the nature of God.

Papias and the Mysterious Menorah -- A Review

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PAPIAS AND THE MYSTERIOUS MENORAH: The Third Art West Adventure. By Ben Witherington III and Ann Witherington. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 262 pages.

It’s interesting that leading biblical scholars have recently taken to writing novels, apparently with an eye to communicating their ideas to a wider audience that’s more likely to read a novel than an academic monograph. Marcus Borg did it with his Putting Away Childish Things(Harper One, 2010), a book I reviewed for the Christian Century. In that book Borg shares his own progressive/liberal view of religion and biblical studies. Unknown to me at the time, Ben Witherington, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, together with his wife Ann, a biology professor at Asbury College, has done much the same thing – only they have written a trilogy of books with an archaeological adventure theme. Considering that Ben Witherington has been a strong critic of the Jesus Seminar, of which Borg is a founding member, it shouldn’t surprise read…

Time to Remember the Civil War -- without the spin!

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For the next several years our nation will observe the 150th anniversary of the the Civil War.  We will remember the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, the shelling of Fort Sumter, the formation of the Confederate States of America, the many battles and the more than 600,000 who died as a result of the war (I saw recently that in terms of percentage of population, that figure today would be around 6 million), and finally we will remember the signing of the treaty to end the war at Appomattox and the assassination of the President by John Wilkes Booth.  
The way we remember this event may be determined in part regionally.  I must say up front, that I have lived my life on the West Coast, in Bleeding Kansas, and now in Michigan.  The way I remember and understand this war may differ from one born and raised south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  I know that down there they refer to this not as the Civil War, but as the "War of Northern Aggression."  We can have debates about aspects of …

Public Religion Trends in 2010 -- Sightings

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As we enter the final week of 2010, Martin Marty comments on the top 20 public religion trends as laid out by the Religion Newswriters Association.  Islam makes itself felt, as does homosexuality.  Anyway, I'll just let you read and comment.
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Sightings 12/27/2010



Public Religion Trends in 2010 --Martin Marty

The end-of-year summaries of “public religion” draw frequently on the most extensive press survey each December, from the Religion Newswriters Association, made up of reporters and columnists in the secular media. (A ringer in the Association, I was one of some 300 respondents to a poll by Debra Mason, RNA Executive Director.) It is hard to find trends this time. Muslims and Islam do show up in four of the twenty trends on which Mason reports. First, to no one’s surprise, was the ruckus stirred up by the announcement of plans for an Islamic community center not far from Ground Zero. Feisal Abdul Rauf, who seemed to fit the bill of the often-sought “Muslim …

Understanding the God Gap

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The census report is out and from what I've heard a number of "blue states" will lose Congressional representation, while a number of "red states" will gain representatives.  This, according to the pundits bodes ill for Barack Obama's reelection chances.  I really can't comment on the latter, the next election is two years away, so who knows how this all will work out.  But I'd like to think about some of the assumptions, like the idea that the God Gap we currently see in our political landscape will have long lasting governing implications.
I'm reading American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, and have been reporting from my experiences reading this tremendously important book.  I've reached the section of the book that looks at the relationship of religion to American Politics.  One of the interesting points that the authors make is that prior to 1980 there really wasn't much of a God Gap between the two parties.  Things chang…

Thoughts for the Day after Christmas

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It's the day after Christmas, which this year fell on a Sunday.  I write this late in the afternoon, having shared in worship (read the story of Barrington Bunny from Martin Bell's Way of the Wolf)  and watched a Lion's football game (the won the game at Miami, by the way).   It's a day to sort of sit back, relax, and reflect.  But, even as our culture has now moved on to the next "holiday," which is Valentines Day, we shouldn't let the Christmas season go quite yet. 
I probably needn't remind everyone that the 12 days of Christmas don't end on Christmas Day, but actually begin there.  I say, I shouldn't have to remind folks, but perhaps it is required.  So, what should we do with these 12 days?  How do we keep alive the message of the incarnation in all its mystery?
I recognize with Borg and Crossan that there is much in the infancy narratives that is parabolic, but what does this mean?  Does it mean that the entire story is mere metaphor?  At…

Gloria in Excelsis Deo -- A Sermon for Christmas Eve

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Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds are tending their sheep in the hills near Bethlehem, when to their surprise a choir of angels gathers in the heavens and begins singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo. What a treat that must have been! After all angelic visits don’t happen every day, and it can get a bit boring sitting out there in the fields in the cold of night.
In the spirit of angelic visits, J.B. Phillips tells a wonderful story about the day when a senior angel takes a new recruit on a tour of the cosmos. This rookie angel is quite impressed by the grandeur of the cosmos – who wouldn’t -- but then, as they walk through the multitude of galaxies and stars, the older angel points out a small insignificant star and the planet that orbits around it. To the young angel, this "small rather insignificant sphere turning on its axis . . . looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball.” Why would this senior angel point out this plant? It seemed so insignificant and unimpressive in light of what she had just see…

The Virgin Mary and the Justice of God

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate the birth of Christ.  We don't know when this took place, and while Matthew and Luke name Bethlehem, only they amongst the New Testament writers speak of Christ's birth.  In both Matthew and Luke, a central figure is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is said to be a virgin.  Now, as I mentioned earlier today, this is a concept difficult for moderns to deal with.  But as Barth notes in his writings, maybe there's more to this than our moderns are willing to affirm.
In fact, maybe this concept has signficant implications for social justice.  As Brian, one of our regular commenters noted, a little over a week ago Rita Nakashima Brock, a Disciple and a leading feminist theologian, lifted up the doctrine, noting its social/political implications.  In a Huffington Post essay published December 14th, but pertinent for tonight, she writes: Actually, it is quite possible as a Christian to believe Jesus had a biological father and believe the story of th…

Remembering the Christians of Iraq on Christmas Eve

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Yesterday I was visited again by a member of the Iraqi Christian Community -- known variously as Chaldean or Assyrian Christians.  This man has brought me updates on a fairly regular basis and we have prayed together for the Iraqi Christian Community, which is suffering tremendously since the Iraq War began.  Things were never wonderful for this ancient Christian community, whose roots go back to the very earliest days of the church.  But since the war thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homeland, their churches, businesses, and homes being burned and bombed. 
While many have fled to America or to neighboring countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, the hope should not be that they will need to find safety in foreign lands, but that they might find safety and opportunity in their own homeland.  In fact, my friend has shared with me the desire of the Assyrian Christians to have their own homeland within Iraq -- in the region known as the Nineveh Province.  The biggest op…

Born of the Virgin Mary -- Thoughts for Christmas Eve

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The idea of the virgin birth or the virginal conception runs contrary to our modern understandings.  It is, we might say, simply myth and legend, and not uncommon in the day and age in which the idea itself was born.  A child born without a father -- a nice cover for an unexplained pregnancy.  I understand the skeptics take on this -- from a pure historical or scientific sense, it doesn't make sense.  But what about the theology inherent in the confession.  Is there something in this confession that  we need to hear?
As I'm finishing up for tonight's service, at which time I'll be celebrating with the congregation the mystery of the incarnation, it is a good to think about these things.  And so I turned to Karl Barth for a moment.  Barth wasn't afraid to wrestle with issues like this.  And in the  Dogmatics in Outlinehe writes:
If we wish to understand the meaning of 'conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary', above all we must try to see that …

Salvation Amidst Suffering -- A Lectionary Meditation for the Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 63:7-9



Hebrews 2:10-18


Matthew 2:13-23

Salvation Amidst Suffering
As we moved through Advent into Christmas, we focused on the emergence of light into the realm of darkness. Where darkness sought to rule the day, light ultimately won the battle. It is a struggle that is marked by the observance of the Solstice, which while not Christian aspects of this observance have been drawn up into our observance of Christmas. The message of light breaking into the darkness is seen in the greeting given to the Christ child by the Angelic chorus, and we see it in the star that led the Magi to the Christ child. Yes, the message of the season is that a great light is shining into the darkness, and the darkness, though it will try, cannot overwhelm it. Despite the message of the season that we have been blessed by the unconquerable light of God, this doesn’t mean that the darkness has given up without a fight. The one who brings light into the world may have arrived, but the darkness will do all t…