Showing posts from March, 2014

The Answer to Bad Religion is not No Religion! (Martin Thielen) -- Review

THE ANSWER TO BAD RELIGION IS NOT NO RELIGION: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and Believers.   By Martin Thielen.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xv + 160 pages.

            It’s not secret – fewer people are going to church than they used to.  Many give the bad state of religion as their reason for staying away.  People seem to have noticed that there is a lot of hypocrisy among Christians.  They’re too politicized, angry, exclusive, dogmatic, and self-righteous.  They’re simply not pleasant to be around.  So why spend your Sunday’s around such people.  Instead, we can be spiritual without the trappings of religion.  I can understand the sentiment – I’ve known these kinds of people.  I’ve even been counted among them a few times in my life.    But just because some religion is bad, doesn’t mean we have to totally give up on religion!
            Martin Thielen, a United Methodist Pastor serving in Tennessee, and a former Southern Baptist pastor, doesn…

Difficult Paths -- A Sermon for Lent 4

Mark 10:32-34

Jesus took the lead on their journey toward Jerusalem.  Perhaps he was in a hurry to get there, but the disciples lag behind.  They seem to be caught up in the moment.  It could be that this was their first visit to Jerusalem.  There in front of them was the big city and the Temple.  They’d heard about this Temple many times, and when they saw it in real life, it seemed even grander than they had ever imagined.  Remember they didn’t have cameras back then.  But it wasn’t just the grandeur of the Temple that grabbed them.  There were also the rumors that a violent fate awaited Jesus in Jerusalem.  Jesus had even brought up the subject himself.  So, it’s no wonder that they wanted to take their time getting to Jerusalem.  Because they didn’t know what lay ahead of them, they were filled with mixed emotions – both amazement and fear. 
When Jesus realizes that a gap was beginning to form, he stops and takes the twelve off to the side.  Then, for the third time, Jesus explains …

What is the Church?

I have just begun reading A Lover's Quarrel: A Theologian and His Beloved Church, written by Disciples theologian Joe R. Jones -- formerly Professor of Theology (now retired) at Christian Theological Seminary.  I will, of course, be reviewing the book upon completion, but I may also add some posts in the in between times.  As I read the Introduction to the book, I came upon this definition of the church that the author is going to use in the course of the book.  I wanted to share it and make a few preliminary comments.  Before offering his definition, I also should note that language plays an important function in Joe's theological work, as seen in his two volume systematic theology -- A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine (2 Volume Set). The church is that liberative and redemptive
community of persons
called into being
by the Gospel of Jesus Christ
through the Holy Spirit
to witness in word and deed
to the living Triune God
for …

The Niebuhr Brothers for Armchair Theologians (Scott Paeth) -- Review

THE NIEBUHR BROTHERS FOR ARMCHAIR THEOLOGIANS.By Scott R. Paeth.  Illustrations by Ron Hill.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xi + 200 pages.
                Typically, today, when the media goes looking for religious commentators they tend to bring on the likes of a Joel Osteen, a Rick Warren, or an Al Mohler.   There was a time, however, when theological giants played a significant role in public life.   Among the giants at the mid-point of the twentieth century were two brothers, whose influence continues to be felt to this day.  Would that there were theologians of the public stature of Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr today!  We’re fortunate, however, that the voices of the two Niebuhr Brothers continue to make themselves heard today – and not just because of the use of the Serenity Prayer by Twelve Step Programs. 
                The many books that the two brothers wrote, along with numerous interpretive works, allow us to delve into their thoughts on matters t…

Demystifying Catholic Sisters in a Digital Age -- Sightings

For Protestants the idea of becoming a nun can seem like an odd life choice, especially if one chooses  one of the more contemplative orders that essentially remove a person from the broader world.  We respect them, but struggle with understanding them.  An effort called SisterStory has been undertaken to put this calling in a more positive -- cheerful light -- especially in an age when numbers of persons choosing this vocation is declining.  Monica Mercado affirms this story, but believes that this is only part of the story.  The story is, she insists, more complicated.  I invite you to take a read and offer your thoughts.

Demystifying Catholic Sisters in a Digital Ageby MONICA L. MERCADO
Thursday | Mar 27 2014                                                                                                                 Image Credit: max_thinks_sees / flickrEarlier this month, the SisterStory project launched as part of the lead up to the first National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8…

“Forgive Us Our Xenophobia” -- Alternative Lectionary for Lent 5 (David Ackerman)

As we inch closer to the end of our Lenten journey, David Ackerman in his Beyond the Lectionarymaterials invites us to wrestle with our place in the world.  The reading from Deuteronomy seemingly provides divine authorization for ethnic cleansing.  In a world where such actions are being perpetrated in the name of religion or national identity, how should we respond.  In the reading from Romans, we're faced with Paul's guidelines for relating to the state -- at a time of increasing anti-government sentiment in the United States, how should we understand the role of the state.  Then finally, in the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of false Messiahs.  Who in our midst are the false Messiahs?  Can we invest in people expectations that create at least in our mind a false idol?  These are important conversations to take up as we seek to follow Jesus in a complicated and -- can we say -- fallen world?  (My Niebuhrian side is coming out here).  I invite you to consider these readings as …

End of Elite Denominational Headquarters -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Those of us engaged in denominational churches have witnessed downsizing of our judicatories -- national and regional.  Staffs have shrunk and buildings have become more a liability than a help.  There are a myriad of reasons why this happens, some are financial and some are logistic.  In this essay, Martin Marty offers his own insight into these trends.  I invite you to offer your thoughts not only on the edifices but the extra-congregational structures that they represent in relationship to the mission of the church.   

End of Elite Denominational Headquartersby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Mar 24 2014UUA Headquarters seen from Massachussetts State House grounds     Image: Chris Walton / flickrChapels, churches, synagogues, cathedrals and other buildings are often the most visible and stable signs that religious institutions exist. Urban landscapes are still marked by the steeples of downtown churches; suburbs still boast edifices surrounded by green acreage and topped by towers. Change …