Showing posts from February, 2011

Liberal Judaism in Decline -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Today's report from Martin Marty on things religious concerns something we in the Christian Mainline know something about -- decline! In this case the community under consideration is liberal Judaism (Conservative and Reform branches), which are experiencing significant decline and wondering about their purpose as communities of faith. With anti-Semitism much less of an issue today (Putnam and Campbell in American Grace say that we like Jews better than any other faith community), so the question is -- what binds liberal Jews together? If you're not Jewish you may wonder why this matters. Marty suggests it matters to non-Jews because Reform and Conservative Jews are the most likely representatives of this community to engage in dialogue. Take a look and offer your thoughts.


Sightings 2/28/2011

Liberal Judaism in Decline -- Martin Marty

“Liberal Denominations Face Crisis as Rabbis Rebel, Numbers Shrink: Struggling for Relevance and Funding” headlined the …

God is in this Place?

The movement of the Spirit that is stirring moderate and progressive congregations, whether they have historically identified themselves with evangelical or mainline Protestantism, is taking form as emergent and missional communities of faith. These terms denote the reality that empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, parts of the church are bursting through old boundaries, emerging from their shells so that they might engage in world transforming ministries. As this happens, these communities are looking again at their core identities and practices, to discern whether they can support this new work of the Spirit, so that both church and society might be transformed.
As the church adapts and moves forward, it will need to stop and engage in acts of introspection. In the course of this work of self-study, the church might be well-served by considering what the stranger might see in our communities? Consider what the person, who doesn’t know much if anything about the God church folk c…

Love Wins!

I've not seen the book yet, so I really can't say much about what's inside Rob Bell's new book entitled Love Wins:  A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever lived (Harper One, 2011).   But, apparently, according to all the buzz, especially on Twitter (where he was trending yesterday), the Grand Rapids-area pastor has become a heretic.   Yes, because he believes that God's love wins, then he must be a universalist who doesn't believe in hell.   As I've said, I've not read the book, but likely the critics haven't either.  All we do know is that there is a video and the video, according to the critics, carries a dangerous message.
Now, being that I'm post-evangelical and don't believe in hell either, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed the video and found its message compelling.  In fact, I find it to be a very powerful statement about the good news we have come to know in and through the person of Jesus.  He …

The Law of Love -- 4th Sermon on the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:38-48

This morning we return to our journey through Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. One of the basic premises of this sermon is that if we want to be disciples of Jesus, then our righteousness, our sense of justice, and our character must exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17). In our last installment we heard Jesus push on our understanding of the Law, by calling on the people of God to internalize God’s teachings so that not only will we live right, but our hearts will be transformed. This morning we continue what we began in the last sermon of this series by listening to Jesus’ call for us to embrace the “law of love.”
As we saw in the last leg of the journey, Jesus says to the people: “You’ve heard it said . . . But I say to you . . .” In this morning’s text Jesus does this two more times. First he speaks to retaliation and then he speaks to loving our enemies. If you look closely, you see that these are two sides of the same coin.

1. Beyond the Law of…

Why Should the Church Bother with Social Media?

Technological advances have always driven change, revolution and reform in church and society.  To give but one example, the printing press made the Reformation possible, or at least allowed the Reformation to spread quickly. With the invention of the printing press came a rise in the literacy rate, which meant that no longer would the people be dependent on a small cadre of religious leaders for their information. Now, the Bible could be put into their own hands, and they had control.
In the last century, first Radio, then Television, and finally the internet made it possible for people to connect in ways that opened up horizons never seen or heard before.  The world, in a sense, became smaller, even as one's grasp of the complexity of the world grew much larger.  No longer were we limited to the printed word, but now the oral and the visual could be shared broadly revolutionizing the way we see the world.  I remember growing up with the Vietnam War broadcast every evening on the…

We're Not Forgotten -- A Lectionary Meditation

Isaiah 49:8-16a

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Matthew 6:24-34

We're Not Forgotten!

One of humanity's greatest fears is to be forgotten. Whether we're extroverts or introverts, we want to know that someone cares about whether we live or die. The words Jesus is said to have uttered from the Cross, words that come to us from Psalm 22, express clearly our fears: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but I find no rest. (Ps. 22:1-2). The promise of Scripture is that God does not forget. Even when we feel alone and despondent, God is present with us. These are words that give hope and solace in difficult times, when we feel as if God has forgotten us. Such words don't make the journey less arduous, but they provide a sense of strength. But the Scriptures that remind us that we're not alone, also remind us that God comes to us in community. The two go together…

Secular Revolutions, Religious Landscapes

I've found it rather ironic that the same people who complain about the "naked public square" in the US, are among the ones calling for the revolutions in the Middle East to be "secular."  As Shatha Almutawa writes in the Thursday edition of Sightings, while religion hasn't been driving the revolutions, religion -- especially Islam -- has been infused into the revolutions.  Many of the protests have taken place after Friday prayers.  Imams and religious teachers have sought to empower the people to claim their freedoms and rights -- even countering claims by the oligarchs that freedom leads to chaos by pointing out that stability and freedom go together fairly well in the West.   President Bush wasn't wrong about the possibilities of democracy in the Middle East.  He was wrong in his belief that we could impose it from outside through military means.  It has to be homegrown, and the seeds of homegrown democracy are being sown.  Almutawa has written an i…


Prefatory Note:  For many years I've been writing and rewriting a book on spiritual gifts.  The book itself is part of my journey, and it has been revised as my own thinking and experiences have developed.  So, from time to time I'll be sharing bits and pieces of the manuscript as a way of encouraging a conversation and also to help me refine and develop an idea that drives my own thinking about church and ministry.
Love of God and love of neighbor are the foundational principles of the Christian faith - even when we fail to abide by them. It is the love of God, which Jesus embodied, that defines the church that is made alive in the Spirit. Without love, all that is done in the name of Christ is for naught (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Thus, the mark of a church that is moving in the power of the Spirit is that it exhibits the kind of love that Jesus lived and taught.
A living and vibrant church is one that is marked by love and is committed to justice and merc…

Starting with Spirit -- A Review

STARTING WITH SPIRIT: Nurturing your Call to Pastoral Leadership.By Bruce G. Epperly. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2011. Viii + 224 pages.

A first call to ministry can be both an exciting and a terrifying opportunity, especially if that first call is a solo pastorate. If you’re a Mainline Protestant pastor you have gone through seminary, an internship, and maybe Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), but now you’re on your own. Hopefully, during this period of preparation the new pastor has received a well-rounded education that will enable this person to step out in service to God and church with confidence, but as every first call pastor knows, this is a season of firsts and you wonder if you’re ready for what will come. In fact, it is a lot like being a new parent – you have the responsibility, but are you truly ready?
Bruce Epperly has written a wonderful book that looks at many of the issues that new pastors face as they enter their calls. Much of the material that is present in the …

Circles and Safety -- Process and Parenting #3 (Bruce Epperly)

The third installment of Bruce Epperly's take on parenting from the perspective of Process Theology takes us to a place all parents have been.  He speaks to the question of safety and risk.  How do we protect our children while allowing them freedom to explore and grow.  He mentions a book that I read many evenings to my own son; it's a book that serves to remind the child that no matter where he or she runs, the parent is there.  Runaway Bunnyis a favorite of parents and small children for it speaks to the kind of relationship we all envision.  It is, of course, also a relationship that God envisions for us to have with God.  I invite you to reflect and comment on Bruce's essay about drawing circles of safety around our children.
Circles and Safety Bruce G. Epperly
In the Celtic tradition, travelers often begin their daily journey with a prayer and the encircling (or “caim”) in which the traveler rotates in a clockwise direction, inscribing a circle with her…

A Bishop's Defense of Government -- Sightings

Is government the enemy?  In some places, like Libya it probably is, but can we honestly say that government is the enemy in the United States?  It may be inefficient and ineffective at times, but is government really the problem?  And as we answer that question it probably is good to remember that even in a representative democracy, ultimately "we the people" are the government. 
This is the question that Martin Marty raises in today's edition of Sightings.   He makes reference to a Lutheran Bishop in Minnesota who decided to stand up and defend the importance of government, including taxation, as an expression of our existence as a people in compact with each other.  I may not always agree with the government, but I'm not sure that anarchy is better.  I may not like every regulation or tax, but the FDA and EPA provide important services that enhance our lives.  But, I'd like to hear what you have to say in response to Marty's essay.


Creating Communities of Faithful Service

Diversity and unity seem so opposite and contradictory. Yet, they are both hallmarks of the Spirit endowed community of faith. Americans are by definition individualists, even “rugged individualists.” We honor those who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Square-jawed John Wayne represents the vision of the “can-do” spirit of American life. As Christians, many Americans have cultivated a similar understanding of the church. We honor those who represent the entrepreneurial spirit. We commend those who are willing to take risks, to try new things, to blaze new trails. There is value in this spirit of adventure, this willingness to go it alone if necessary. But the church is not a gathering of independent individualists, it is a community gathered and formed by the grace and love of God. It is a body, a system that is more than the sum of its parts. It is diverse but it is also one.
The Spirit’s gifts create within the church this unity in diversity. As we discover and begin to und…

Does God Love of Necessity?

When we say, with the author of 1 John, that "God is Love," what do we mean by this?  According to this text, if taken quite literally, it is not simply that God loves whom God chooses to love, but God's essence is love.  It is a divine attribute, just like omnipresence, et al.  So what does this mean, especially as it regards God's relationship with humanity?
First we start with a definition of love and I have found Tom Oord's basic definition to be quite useful in this regard.  To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being. (Oord, Nature of Love, p. 17).  From this basic definition he suggests that love exists in three forms, in spite of love (agape), because of love (eros), and  alongside of love (philia).
Now the question is -- does God love us of necessity or does God chose to love?  Tom Oord suggests that if God is love, then God must love of necessity.  Now some would say, yes God loves wi…

God is Holy so Love Others -- A Lectionary Meditation

Leviticus 19:1-2, 98-18

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

God is Holy so Love Others

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.” That is the way the passage from Leviticus 19 begins. In Matthew 5, as this week’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount concludes, we read this admonition: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (vs. 48). Are these two words of admonition all that different? Indeed, if you look closely, both passages cover similar ground. Both passages speak as well to loving one’s neighbor. In fact, in Matthew, Jesus extends this beyond the neighbor to the enemy. Paul’s word to us may not seem in line with these two admonitions, but perhaps his word concerning building a proper foundation comes into play. The wisdom of God is this: God is holy, so you must love that which is by God’s decree, deemed holy. We belong to Christ, and therefore his life and his witness is our guide to living life fully in the presence of God.
Too often we sepa…

What Were the Ulama Doing in Tahrir Square? Al-Azhar and the Narrative of Resistance to Oppression -- Sightings

It has been a week since the people of Egypt, with the help of the Army, rid themselves of their ruler of 30 years.  Today they stage a victory march in Cairo.  Egypt's revolution came after Tunisia ran off it's dictatorship.  Last Friday we wondered what would happen next.  The answer has been a series of protests in places like Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain.  All three have governments that grant few rights to the people.  At the same time, Iran has cracked down on all opposition.  It appears that something is in the water, and it's not going away soon.  But as we wonder about the future of the Middle East, there is the ever present question of the role of Islam in the future of this region.  The idea that religion will play no role is simply silly.  Islam plays a significant role in these societies, and will continue to do so in the future.  But what will that look like?
Malika Zeghal wrote a piece for Sightings yesterday that offers important insight.  She notes the presenc…