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Showing posts from March, 2011

Opening Day -- The Journey Begins

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I usually write about theology and politics and the like, but today is Opening Day of the baseball season, and I must give acknowledgment the America's pastime!  Of course, for the first time in my life, I get to observe Opening Day of the Baseball season as a fan of the reigning World Series Champions.  Yes, I am a proud and long suffering San Francisco Giants fan, and after disappointments in 1989 and 2002 (I was too young to remember the 1962 World Series), they finally did it, the won the World Series -- and without Barry Bonds.  
So, we start the season today against our biggest rivals -- the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Beard (Brian Wilson) is on the DL, along with the hero of the NLCS, Cody Ross.  World Series heroes Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe are elsewhere, but the rest of the team remains pretty intact. 
There's a svelter Pablo Sandoval ready to go, a pitching staff with few rivals (go Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Baumgarner, and Barry Zito).  Bu…

Ministry as a Shared Vocation

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By recognizing that we are all gifted by the Spirit we find in this realization a call to ministry. This recognition also serves to narrow the gap that often exists between clergy and laity. Yes, clergy do ministry but they are not the only ministers. It is also inappropriate to assume that the work of the laity is any less a form of ministry. I don’t wish to negate the place of the clergy. Pastors serve a very important function in the life of the church, but what they do in church and community is not the totality of the church’s ministry. Another way of asking this question would be: What aspects of church life should be considered off limits to lay people? So, whether we teach Sunday school, visit the homebound, lead grief groups, serve meals to the homeless, march for civil rights, evangelize our neighborhoods, preach; what we are doing is ministry.
Whatever form ministry takes, it is by definition an act of service. The Greek word for ministry (diakonos) can be translated in a va…

A View from the Back Pew -- Review

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A VIEW FROM THE BACK PEW: God, Religion & Our Personal Quest for Truth.By Tim O’Donnell. Kansas City, MO: Linchpin Publishing, 2011. Xiv + 264 pages.
More and more people are identifying themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This new category of religious people is comprised mostly of people who believe in God or at least some “higher power,” but are either dissatisfied with institutional religion or have been hurt by it. They like God, just not the institution. This “new” breed of spiritually-inclined people tends to be eclectic, though their understandings of spirituality often reflect aspects of whatever tradition they may have been born into. In this new age of spirituality, where religious observance and institutional membership aren’t required or expected people feel free to strike out on their own, picking and choosing from among the various religious offerings. In this new world of spirituality, there is no central authority, but because of the entrepreneurial spirit…

A Governor, a Cardinal and the Death Penalty -- Sightings

The Death Penalty remains a controversial subject in American life.  A large majority of Americans support it either on the basis of its alleged deterrant effects or on the basis of justice.  This view is held in spite of the fact that it runs counter to Roman Catholic teachings and that of many Protestants as well.  Although capital punishment remains popular there are signs of change -- in part because people in leadership are paying attention to their own faith traditions.  In today's Sighting's posting, Martin Marty interacts with the recent signing of a bill to end capital punishment in Illinois by the Governor, who cites the influence of words written by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  I invite you to consider these thoughts and add your own.  For my own perspective (I'm a strong opponent of the death penalty),click here.
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Sightings 3/28/2011


A Governor, a Cardinal and the Death Penalty -- Martin Marty

“On that decisive morning of March 9, [Go…

What Do You Worship? (Guest Post)

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Alex McCauslin is a young seminarian and ministry intern at Central Woodward Christian Church.  One of Alex's assignments is to work with our young adults to create a YA community.  In a posting at her own blog, Alex writes about her encounter with a young woman who was cutting her hair.  This conversation about God, church, and worship raises some intriguing questions.  We know that an increasing number of young adults are listed as "Nones."  That is, they simply don't identify with any religious community or tradition.  That doesn't mean they don't believe in God or that they're not interested in spiritual things, they just don't have a "place" to put these beliefs.  I'd like to use Alex's reflections as a starting point for an important conversation about faith, worship, and a world that feels disconnected to what happens in religious communities.
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This experience has been rattling around in my head for th…

In God We Trust -- a Lenten Devotion

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Matthew 5:38-48;

Micah 7:5-7


In God We Trust
I was invited to write a reflection on something that’s on my heart and that I want to share with the congregation. I thought about writing on how Jesus’ call to love our enemies should help define how we understand the nature of God. I’ve chosen a text to include in the day's reading that reflects that concern, but the issue that grabs my attention here is the matter of Trust
It is increasingly clear that there is a crisis of trust that is affecting families, churches, and communities large and small. Although there is a need for healthy skepticism and even suspicion – don’t believe everything you hear or read, especially if it comes by way of an email, but without a certain degree of trust society can’t sustain itself.
The prophet Micah, who declares so beautifully what God desires from us (Mic. 6:8), also writes: “Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace…

Judge Not, Lest Ye . . . 7th Sermon on the Sermon on the Mount

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Matthew 7:1-14

Although many of us enjoy being judge and jury, few of us want to face judgement. We like the words “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and yet it’s almost part of human nature to judge others. Therefore, we find ourselves saying: “Can you believe the way she dresses? It’s embarrassing.” Or, “Did you hear what he said? Well, I just think that’s totally inappropriate!” Or, “Did you hear that Sam went to the casino last week, and he calls himself a Christian?” In case you believe yourself incapable of such words, Jesus has an unflattering word to describe you (and me).
As we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, we come to an invitation to examine closely our lives. Instead of judging others, we hear Jesus calling on us to judge ourselves. Of course, the task of facing our own inner demons isn’t an easy task, which is why very few of us answer this call. But, if we’re going to seek first the kingdom of God, then this is the road we must take.

1. Logs and Splint…

Being Church

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I am leading a study of spiritual gifts in the church using materials I've been working on for more than 25 years -- since seminary really.  I also just began reading Eugene Peterson's new memoir called The Pastor.  I'll be writing a review of the book later on, but near the beginning of the book, in a reflection on the similarities between church and his father's butcher shop -- that should get your attention -- he wrote:
I am quite sure now that the way I as a pastor came to understand congregation had its beginning in the "congregational" atmosphere of our butcher shop.  Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them.  A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged.  It must never be a place where a person is labeled.  It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated.  Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether…

Disaster and the Rhetoric of Sacrifice -- Sightings

The ongoing disaster in Japan has caught the imagination of the world.  It has given the world a new perspective on Japan and its people.  We see people seem to take things in stride, don't loot, follow directions, etc.  Of course there's another side -- a culture that includes principles of honor/shame has made it difficult for the government and corporate leadership to be forthcoming about the real threat of the damaged nuclear plants.  It goes to show you that cultures are complex!  We've also been watching as a small group of volunteers risk their lives to try to fix the damaged plants.  There is a cultural element to this as well that raises questions of how we understand and honor those who sacrifice their lives for others.   Beyond all of this we've heard words about divine judgment from American and Japanese figures.  Yuki Miyamoto, a Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University helps us understand the complexity of the situation in this Sightings piece.…

I'm Thirsty -- A Lectionary Meditation

Exodus 17:1-7



Romans 5:1-11


John 4:5-42


I’m Thirsty
Water is essential to life. The human body is somewhere between 55% and 78% water, and water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface. Although we can go a while without water, eventually we’ll die without water. Water and life – they go hand in hand.
Two of the texts for this Third Sunday of Lent focus on water. Moses has to deal with a people who complain vociferously because they don’t have water to drink, while Jesus finds himself tired and thirsty and sitting next to Jacob’s well. He doesn’t complain, but he does ask for water! As we think about water and thirst we might want to look ahead for a moment to Jesus’s cry from the cross – I Thirst (John 19:28). Paul’s not quite ready to get to the water (Baptism appears in Romans 6), but he deals with the issue of suffering and hope, ideas that are present in the other two texts. Each of these scriptures remind us that no matter how difficult the journey, God is present and faithful.
In th…

Tom Oord's "Defining Love" and "The Nature of Love" -- A Review

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DEFINING LOVE: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement. By Thomas Jay Oord. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010. Xiii +225 pages. THE NATURE OF LOVE: A Theology. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2010. Xii +195 pages.
Christians talk a lot about love. We affirm that God is love. We say that God loves the world enough to send into the world his Son. We treasure the words of 1 Corinthians 13, with its suggestion that while faith and hope will abide, the greatest is love. We even sing, perhaps with an uneasy conscience, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” But, what do we mean when we talk about love? What is our definition? How do we know to discern whether someone is acting in love? In fact, where does love come from? All of these questions are raised and addressed in these two similar, but different, books authored by Nazarene theologian Thomas Jay Oord.
Tom Oord, who is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University and a Ph.D. graduate of Claremont…

Thoughts on Libya

I heard Dennis Kucinich call for the impeachment of the President for authorizing US participation in the military operation in Libya, while John McCain -- President Obama's opponent in the 2008 elections is calling for a more robust engagement (I'm assuming that's boots on the ground).  That's quite a wide divergence of opinion.  My friends and colleagues are of various minds on this issue as well.  I would guess that as usual I will fall somewhere in between.
Like many of the World's people I have been watching closely the events unfolding in a region stretching from Tunisia to Iran.  We are seeing popular uprisings, people taking their lives into their own hands, refusing to simply follow the dictates of the powers that be.  I've found it interesting that many here in America are dismissive of these aspirations, suggesting that Arabs and Muslims aren't capable of democracy -- but were we ready for it in 1776?  Some will say that we're already involved…

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

When is a "natural talent" a spiritual gift? That isn’t an easy question to answer. If you limit yourself to the Pauline lists, you quickly realize that you can’t offer an either/or answer to the question. Could they be natural talents with a supernatural add? Could they be transformed natural talents, where once they were natural but if they are used for sacred purposes we should consider them to be spiritual gifts? It is probably best not to make a sharp distinction between gifts and talents and recognize the mystery of the Spirit’s engagement with our lives. In the mystery of creation, we can recognize that what we call talents are in reality divine gifts of grace. We can use them for our own purposes, or in gratitude to the creator use them in the work of God’s kingdom. A gift’s usefulness to the community faith is rooted in our appreciation of the one who is the true source of all talents and abilities, the Creator.
The biblical discussions of creation witness to the my…