Friday, October 30, 2015

Debates, Politics, and Confusion

I haven't watched any of the debates. I have checked in on them on Twitter.  It's always interesting to see what people are saying. I'm not sure that they are all that illuminating. Because someone is a good debater doesn't make them a good leader -- or President.  As I understand it from Twitter and the punditry (I do check in on what the pundits have to say), the Republican Presidential Debate on Wednesday evening was something of a fiasco. But should we be surprised? Having ten people on the stage, with two hours to get the job done, it's not surprising that things went awry.  Candidates have their agendas. Moderators have their agendas. Most likely they will be at cross purposes. If they could winnow things down to maybe five people they might get more done -- or at least have some substantive conversation. The Democrats used their first debate to get down to three candidates. They can have a pretty good conversation about issues, because each candidate has more time to speak.

I once moderated a debate. It was a city council election in Lompoc, California. I was a columnist for a local paper and leader of an interfaith group. The former mayor suggested that it might be interesting to have a conversation with candidates in a church setting.  So, we set it up. I think there were six candidates. I put together a set of questions drawn from input from church members. I asked the same question to each candidate. Then at the end each candidate had a couple of minutes to make a closing statement. It went pretty well.  By asking the same question to each candidate there was no gotcha moments. I think I even sent the questions to them beforehand so they knew what was coming.  No surprises -- just an opportunity to speak to issues of concern.  

Perhaps these presidential debates could use the same format.  Everyone gets to address an issue such as the  national debt or taxes. They would all have the same amount of time. No surprises. No gotcha questions. Nothing specific to a candidate. Of course that doesn't seem to draw an audience. But such a method might take the moderators out of the picture. They're there to ask questions and facilitate the conversation. They might even want to use the green, yellow, red light timing system!  Of course, candidates will say what they want to say. But maybe not!  

Just and idea that might work!!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Eucharistic Presence and the Face of Christ

I have been from time to time reflecting on what it means for the church to worship at an open table. By open table, I mean a table where all are welcome, whether Christian or not, baptized or not. In my mind this stands in continuity with Jesus' own table fellowship. While the Eucharist looks back to the Last Supper for its inspiration/institution, I don't believe that this experience of the Table is the only experience to inform our present practice of Table Fellowship.  

As part of my exploration of the topic, which connects with a grant proposal we're working on as a congregation, I've been reading as widely as possible on the topic. Among the books I've been reading is Claudio Carvalhaes' Eucharist and Globalization. Carvalhaes is Brazilian and Presbyterian. The book is a scholarly one, but is insightful for my exploration.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mormon Options on "Church" and "State" -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

What is the appropriate relationship between church and state? Put another way is there a place for religion within the public square? Some argue that there is an impenetrable wall between the two. Others argue that ours is a Christian nation and that religion has a privileged place. Others of us see things being a bit more fluid. Martin Marty brings to our attention a most interesting presentation by one of the most senior leaders of the Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). On issues like same-sex marriage, Mormons are conservative in their thinking, but Dallin Oaks, a former professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Mormon Apostle, suggests that officials need to abide by the laws they are sworn to uphold. They can seek ways of accommodation of beliefs (delegating authority to others), but not overrule the law.  He calls for mutual respect on the part of all, as a way of defusing and avoiding culture wars. It's a most interesting presentation. Take a read and watch the video of the presentation (or read the transcript).  It is a thoughtful response, and perhaps a path forward for us.  

Mormon Options on "Church" and "State"
By MARTIN E. MARTY   OCT 26, 2015
Dallin H. Oaks delivers his talk, "The Boundary Between Church and State," at the Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference on October 20, 2015, in Sacramento, CA.
“I hate war!” was a clear denunciation voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1936. He was talking about real war five years before he had to lead the United States in the most destructive war in history.

There are lesser wars in respect to which citizens are called to take sides. In recent decades some of the most popular chosen examples are the “culture wars,” which are so attractive among some religious factions. They have proven to be productive of not much more than unproductive polarization and civil chaos.

Now and then, over against them, an informed and articulate citizen is found to utter a meaningful “I hate war!” in respect to culture wars.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Commandments and the Kingdom - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B

Mark 12:28-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

           As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem he found himself engaged in a number of disputations. He had begun to draw large crowds along the way. People were looking to him for answers to their social, cultural, and theological questions. They came to him to be healed as well. If you’re part of the religious establishment (or the political elite) you might be a bit concerned. Insiders are always concerned about outsiders. We’re seeing this right now in the political scene. Without making any judgments on the qualifications of the outsiders in both political parties, they appear to be making life difficult for the establishment.  This situation may give us some insight into how the elite perceived Jesus. Here he is, a Galilean peasant. He lacks proper rabbinic training. He might even be illiterate (most peasants were illiterate, but that didn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have a good background in the Jewish scriptures just because he couldn’t read. Remember that this was a predominantly oral culture). Out of concern for proper order in their society (including the religious side of things), the elite had been testing him and would continue testing him up to the time of his arrest. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Advent in Narnia (Heidi Haverkamp) -- Review

ADVENT IN NARNIA: Reflections for the Season. By Heidi Haverkamp. Louisville:   Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Ix + 100 pages.

They rank among the best known and best loved set of stories. Written with children in mind they have intrigued adults as much as children. Children will be drawn to the stories of talking animals, but adults will be intrigued by the spiritual and theological elements of the stories. I first read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia in high school, and I’ve read them many times since. I would venture to say that this set of stories stand at the top of  Lewis’ works in popularity. Once you are hooked into the stories, you will return time and again to them. If you have children then you will want to share them with your children. At least that was true for me and my son. Although The Magician’s Nephew, which provides a creation story, is the first volume in the series of seven books, most readers begin reading with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is in this volume that we first meet Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan. In this volume we also find metaphorical references to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. 

The early chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe provide grist for Heidi Haverkamp’s reflections on the Advent/Christmas season.  Haverkamp is Vicar of the Episcopal Church of Bolingbrook, Illinois. This collection of reflections for the Advent season emerged from her decision to use The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult series for her church. It was such a positive experience for the congregation that she decided to share it with others, and thus this book. She writes that this book is a “perfect fit for the season of Advent. The snow, a glowing lamppost, the children, the waiting for the return of a savior, and the visit of Father Christmas make it a natural reading partner for this time of year” (p. viii). 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Who Is God . . . Really? - A Sermon for Pentecost 22B

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

We’re only exploring a few passages from the book of Job, but even so you may be feeling a bit unsettled by what we’ve heard so far. The God we’ve met appears to control everything, and that means God is responsible not only for the good things but the bad things. Though it does appear that God uses a hired hand, The Adversary, to do the dirty work. At the same time, we’ve been hearing from Job, who has been suffering greatly despite his claims to be innocent and righteous before God. The question we’ve been hearing all along is: “why me?” And that question leads to another: Who is God?

The Bible is a sacred text, but it is also a very complex book. At times it seems to argue with itself. In many ways the message of Job offers a counter weight to the message of Proverbs. The message of Proverbs is quite simple. If you do the right thing, good things should happen. If you do bad things, then you will reap what you sow. When we read Job, we hear him crying out: “But what about me?” I try to do the right thing, but bad things have happened. His friends have been telling him all along that he must have done something wrong or he wouldn’t be in this predicament. Even God seems to be against him on this topic.

Well, in today’s reading we come the end of the story. And like most stories, the leading character lives happily ever after. The only problem with the ending is that it seems to undermine everything that had gone before. Job is found to be righteous and he gets his reward. Everyone is happy. The only problem is that we’re back where we started – in Proverbs. That’s why most scholars today think that the ending was added later to fit Job better with the message of Proverbs. While this ending may make us feel better about how God is portrayed in Job, we may want to take it with a grain of salt. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Meal Jesus Gave Us (N.T. Wright) -- Review

THE MEAL JESUS GAVE US: Understanding Holy Communion. Revised Edition. By N.T. Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. 86 pages.

From the beginning of the Christian movement in the First Century CE, Christian life has been centered in a sacred meal. The meal has roots in the Jewish Passover, but Christians continue to gather for this meal because it is understood to be instituted by Jesus on the night before his death on the cross. Following biblical tradition, it is understood that Christians should continue with this observance until Christ returns at the end of the age. This meal is called by many names including Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Holy Communion. Some Christians believe that when properly consecrated, the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus (even if the elements retain their outward appearance, including taste, the substance of the elements are transformed into body and blood). Other Christians believe that the bread and wine/juice remain simply bread and wine/juice. What occurs at the Table is a meal of memory. Of course there is significant gradation in between.  While some Christians gather frequently to share in this meal, others do so only occasionally.  This meal is supposed to stand as a symbol of Christian unity, but because of the variety of interpretations and practices Christians it is anything but a Table of unity. Indeed, quite often Christians are quite adamant about excluding each other from coming to “their” Tables.

So, what is this meal that was supposed to unite Christians but instead divides? Many have taken up the task of writing on this topic. Some write many paged tomes, others have chosen to offer brief treatments that can open up the topic to a wider audience. I’ve tried my hand at this, as has Anglican biblical scholar and former Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright. His book The Meal Jesus Gave Us is a revised edition of a book published in the late 1990s. Not having read the original version, I can’t say how it has been updated. Nonetheless, while Wright is known for producing dense academic tomes, this brief treatment of Holy Communion is light and engaging.  The book is, in fact, designed to be a study guide for those seeking a deeper understanding of the meal.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Christians fighting Christians -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

It does appear to be true that we Christians like to fight amongst ourselves. If it's not one thing it's another. These days it appears that the chief topic over which we fight is sex. There are any number of issues to fight over ranging from same-sex marriage to divorce and remarriage. There's also birth control and gender. Martin Marty reflects on our penchant for fighting by taking a look at the recently concluded Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis. Apparently there's not a consensus among Catholics on these topics. But then again that's true of us all isn't it? In any case, I invite you to read and consider Martin Marty's essay for Sightings.

Christians Fighting Christians
By MARTIN E. MARTY   OCT 19, 2015
Morning Mass, Atrium Hall, Philadelphia (Sept. 23, 2015)        Credit: Antoine Mekary/Aleteia / flickr
Cynics, but not only cynics, like to observe, not always inaccurately, that Christians are never happy unless they are fighting—each other. Certainly, their scriptures have notes of militancy. Most of these signal fighting—evils at a distance or evils within the self.

Still, they reflect signs that almost from Day One, or at least during Century One, they were busiest attacking each other. To historians who take the long view, each epoch tends to reveal a focus on a unifying theme, albeit one with numberless ramifications.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From Nature to Creation (Norman Wirzba) - A Review

We hear a lot these days about climate change and what that means for us. We also hear that the Christian or even Western monotheism poses a danger to the natural world. After all, in Genesis the human creation is given “dominion” over the earth and its inhabitants. Unfortunately the word dominion has often been understood to mean – do what you will with the earth. These are simply resources placed at human disposal by God. Of course, there’s another way of reading this mandate. It could be that God was calling on humanity to be stewards of creation, taking care of God’s creation. There are Christians arguing for both of these positions, though too often the voices heard the loudest are those claiming divine approval for doing whatever we please with the earth.

One who would argue for a stewarding model of the earth is Norman Wirzba, a professor of theology and ecology at Duke Divinity School. Wirzba is concerned that too many Christians have looked at this life as something to escape, with heaven as the destination. This has led, he believes to disastrous results – both for nature and for theology. Rather than escape this life, faith should “lead us more deeply into the movements of love that nurture and heal and celebrate the gifts of God” (p. 1). In writing this book, which is published as part of Baker Academic's "The Church and Postmodern Culture" series, Wirzba is calling on Christians to develop “an imagination for the world as created, sustained, and daily loved by God” (p. 3). Without this re-imagining creation as loved by God we will find ourselves participating in the degradation of the earth. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Let Me See Again - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 22B

Mark 10:46-52 New Revised Standard Version 

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

                Wherever Jesus went he touched lives. He raised the dead, restored the ability to walk, gave sight to the blind. He released people from what was understood to be demon possession and removed the stigma of skin disease.  In many cases those whose lives he touched chose to follow him, or at least desired to follow him. Sometimes Jesus sent them back to their communities to share the good news that God was at work in the land.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Called to Witness (Darrell Guder) -- A Review

CALLED TO WITNESS: Doing Missional Theology (The Gospel and Our Culture Series). By Darrell L. Guder. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. Xvi +203.

It would seem that every church has gotten on the missional band wagon. Whether we know what this means or not, we like the idea that we’re a missional people. My congregation deemed itself missional, though it continues to learn what that means. Even my denomination wants to see itself as missional. At our most recent General Assembly a new concept of life together was offered. Thus we are putting "Mission First." Just google the word missional and you will find dozens of conferences, books, and even degree programs.  As with most terms that become popular the meaning of the word "missional" is in the eye of the beholder.

Of course the word has an origin. In fact, it is of fairly recent vintage. So what did the originators of the term have in mind when they coined it? One of the key figures we might want to consult is Darrell Guder, an emeritus professor of missional and ecumenical theology at Princeton Seminary. In fact, Guder may have been the very first person to hold an academic position in missional theology. He is counted among the founders of the movement, so he’s a good person to consult. In Called to Witness, Guder gathers together recent essays and speeches that share his own vision of a missional theology. In the book, Guder attempts to re-engage with the roots of the movement. Therefore, the book allows us to revisit the concerns that led to the emerging of the movement, as well as seek to reconnect mission and theology. Because the book is a collection of previously produced materials focusing on a specific theme, there is considerable overlap/redundancy from one essay to the next. Nonetheless, as one reads through the essays (and readers might want to pick and choose which ones to read), one gets a good sense of what was intended by the creators of this movement.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Questions from God -- Sermon for Pentecost 21B

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

For thirty-seven chapters Job and his friends have been debating the question: “why me?” That’s a question that many of us ask at one point or another. Bad things happen and we want an explanation. Sometimes, as is the case with the answers provided by Job’s friends, the answers don’t make sense. Sometimes we even want to take up the conversation with God, but we’re not sure we’re up to the task. 

Last Sunday we listened to Job as he challenged God to appear in court and answer his questions. He believed he was innocent, but he was also terrified of the possibility that God might actually show up. One of Job’s friends assures Job that he needn’t worry about God showing up. God was too busy to bother with his futile questioning. 

Elihu is the fourth “friend” to enter the debate with Job. In many ways these four friends, demonstrate the principle that with friends like this, who needs enemies! Elihu feels the need to defend God’s honor. He tells Job to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” Just look around at creation, and take in the wonder that is creation. When you take in the grandeur of creation, you’ll know that God’s concerns are much larger than your complaints (Job 37:14, 23).  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

God's Law: Universal Truth According to Religious Sovereign Citizens -- Sightings

I had not heard of the Religious Sovereign Movement that apparently is spreading across the country. It is an attempt to overturn our legal system or at least turn it on its head. As I read this exposition of the movement where all citizens become lawyers (as opposed to priests), interpreting laws as they see fit, I'm led to think of the way we are as a nation as a whole pushing individualism to its extremes. What binds us together I wonder? Anyway, take a look at this essay from the University of Chicago Divinity School and Martin Marty Center offered up by Spencer Dew and his student Jamie Wright. 

God's Law: Universal Truth According to Religious Sovereign Citizens

Credit: Justin Deschamps, aka An Agent for Consciousness Evolution / Stillness in the Storm blog
In May of last year, police in Madison County, Tennessee, made a traffic stop of a kind that has been increasingly common in recent years. Officers pulled over a car with handmade license plates printed with the words “non resident 6-55-502—privilege tax on nonresidents prohibited. Lienholder (my chattel).”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Faith in the Public Square -- A Conversation

With the first Democratic Party Presidential Debate just a few days in the past (I didn't watch, but did catch some of the analysis), and two Republican Party Debates in recent months (I didn't watch them either), it is clear that politics is in the air. So how do we address the question of religion and politics in our current context?  What role does faith and religion have in public life?

If you live in Michigan perhaps you'd like to join me on November 7th for a few hours of conversation about faith and politics and our ultimate allegiance.  We'll talk politics, religion, allegiances (the Lord's Prayer), and ways of being engaged, such as through community organizing. Below you'll find the information you need to attend.  This is sponsored by STEM, a ministry of the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ.

I have written about the topic in two books: Faith in the Public Square and Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer (both published by Energion Publications).  It should be a good conversation, just days after many of us go to the polls!

Are You Interested in the Role of Religion in Public Life?  Dr. Rev. Robert D. Cornwall will teach about a model for Christian engagement in American Public Life as people of faith An ecumenical and interfaith discussion platform 
$30 Registration Fee - includes Continental Breakfast and Lunch

November 7, 2015 9:30 am – 2:00 pm 
Journey of Faith Christian Church, 1900 Manchester Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48108 

STEM: SYTEMATIC TRAINING FOR EFFECTIVE MINISTRIES 584 Sedgefield Dr., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304 248-821-4669 | |

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Room for the Spirit

In presentations and in personal conversation Diana Butler Bass, while writing her previous book Christianity after Religion, spoke of three kinds of people.  There are the religious, the spiritual but not religious, and the spiritual and religious. I place myself in this third category. I believe that we need structure, but without the Spirit the structure is of little value. It is, in the words of Ezekiel 37 merely dry bones.

As I continue my reflections on the Spirit, the church, and mission that was stirred up by the recent Streaming Conference at Rochester College, I decided to reflect again on the message shared by Churches of Christ theologian Leonard Allen, wherein he contrasted the view of Alexander Campbell's friend and confidant Robert Richardson, with his mentor (though the interlocutor was a man named Tolbert Fanning). In the epigraph to chapter nine of Allen's book Distant Voices, titled "Room for the Spirit," we read this quotation from Richardson's 1872 book on the Spirit:
How many professed reformers [there are], to whom the gospel has come "in word only," and who seem unable to make their way out of the cocoon of formalism, which enwraps them and their religion in perpetual immaturity! [p. 63].
As a Disciple I am indebted to the founders of the movement, but that doesn't mean that they were without fault. Alexander Campbell was a creature of his day. He was heavily influenced by the reigning philosophy of the British Enlightenment -- John Locke and Scottish Common Sense Realism -- which left little room for the Spirit. Richardson was a close friend of Campbell's but on this matter he broke from his mentor and friend.  I really like this word from Richardson concerning the difficulty of those committed to "word only" to "make their way out of the cocoon of formalism." What I hear in this is that a commitment to formalism entrapped the Spirit, preventing the Spirit from moving in transformative ways. This leads, in Richardson's view to "perpetual immaturity."  How often do we suppress the Spirit so that we remain in spiritual immaturity?

Leonard Allen writes: 
Richardson recognized that some people went to emotional excess in their religion, but he felt that the opposite extreme -- a Spiritless faith -- was an even greater evil. And so he steadfastly opposed those, including his close friend Alexander Campbell, who tended to reduce the Spirit's influence to the Bible alone. [Distant Voicesp. 67].
After quoting Campbell, who insisted that everything necessary to reconcile a person to God is present in the Bible, and thus "all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate on the human mind is spent," Allen continues: "Such views, Richardson believed, retarded spiritual vitality and growth."

A lifeless religion is of little good to us. It lacks the power to transform lives. It leaves our bones dry. Richardson, unlike Campbell seemed to understand this! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Seats of Power or Place of Service? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21B

Mark10:35-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

                Power is something to be pursued, or so the world tells us. Those who have power can determine their own futures. They can set the agenda. They can dominate others, and therefore protect themselves (or so they think).  As one who lives in a self-proclaimed Super Power, which has the largest military arsenal in the world, I’m aware of the temptation to impose our will upon the rest of the world. Indeed, many voices clamor for a more robust military posture in the world. If we project power, then the other will choose not to challenge us.   

In every walk of life, there seems to be this need to gain power. There is this “will to power” that defines our humanity. At least that is the opinion of Friedrich Nietzsche. Indeed, according to Nietzsche, the will to power is the very essence of life:
[Anything which] is a living and not a dying body... will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant - not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power... 'Exploitation'... belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life.  [Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, s.259, Walter Kaufmann transl. --l]
To live is to seek the power to dominate and exploit.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Baptized With Fire -- Reflections on the Holy Spirit and Mission

This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in a splendid continuing education event at Rochester College (Michigan).  Rochester College is a Church of Christ related school, placing it within the same Stone-Campbell Movement as the Disciples of Christ (my denomination). I want to take a moment to reflect on a few things that I was struck by as I participated in the event.

The two primary presenters were Dr. Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary, and Dr. Leonard Allen, a Church of Christ theologian affiliated with David Lipscomb University (Nashville). The addressed from their different vantage points the theme: "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities." I engaged the conversation as one who is part of the Stone-Campbell Movement but who in some important ways was formed by the Pentecostal Movement. I was especially struck by the contrasting ways in which traditional church of Christ interpretations of Acts, drawing upon Alexander Campbell, read Acts with little reference to the Holy Spirit. That is, there is little expectation that God is going to continuing what we see happening in Acts in the present. Instead the focus is on a very specific formula of salvation rooted in Acts 2:38. My own reading of Acts, likely influenced by my Pentecostal inheritance reads Acts as an account of the work of the Holy Spirit, a work that continues to this day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Questions for God - Sermon from Job for Pentecost 20B

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  
6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:1, 6-12)
And so the story of Job begins. I offer up these opening verses to set the stage for Job’s appearance in today’s reading from the lectionary. Between this heavenly conversation and Job’s bitter questioning of God, righteous Job loses everything he valued and possessed, including most of his family. As Job sat down to ponder what had happened, a group of friends stopped by. Like good church members they want to offer words of comfort and support. At first they sit silently, but after awhile they get frustrated with Job’s complaints. Yes, Job isn’t as patient as we’ve been led to believe. After Eliphaz has his say, telling Job to repent and turn to God because God will hear the penitent sinner, Job cries out to God in bitterness. Why me? What have I done? Why won’t you listen to me? 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Azusa Street Revival: Holy Spirit, Power, Diversity

Introductory Note: I am participating this weekend in Rochester College's annual Streaming Conference. This year the theme is "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities. I was invited to participate in a set of TED talk like presentations. I volunteered to speak of Azusa Street Revival. Below is my presentation, which I will have delivered at some point in the event!


     I have been charged with saying a few words about the Azusa Street Revival, although I am a Disciples of Christ pastor. Before I get there, I need for us to go back to New Year’s Eve 1900, when a Holiness preacher named Charles Fox Parham and the students at his bible school in Topeka, Kansas were praying for a sign that the Holy Spirit had truly fallen upon them.  At just after midnight, as a new century was being born one of Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, began to speak in tongues. With this sign of what Pentecostalism calls the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit the modern Pentecostal Movement was born.  

Friday, October 09, 2015

A Spirit-Filled, Emergent, Missional and Progressive Community of Faith

Note: I am participating this weekend in Rochester College's Streaming Conference, which this year is titled: "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities."  Having written about the Holy Spirit and the Church -- I thought I might share an excerpt from the Introduction to my book: Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, (Energion, 2013)

The movement of the Spirit that is stirring moderate and progressive congregations, whether they have historically identified themselves with evangelical or mainline Protestantism, often see themselves as being emergent or missional. These terms – emergent and missional – can be seen as expressions of a renewed sense of the church as a community called by God to engage the world today in such a way as to bring transformation not only to the church but to the world. These are movements that seek to burst through old boundaries that have stifled world-changing ministry. As faith communities begin to examine and reflect upon their core identities and practices, they have begun to discern how and where they should be engaged.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


JESUS, POPE FRANCISAND A PROTESTANT WALK INTO A BAR: Lessons for the Christian Church.  By Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. 89 pages.

                Protestants and Catholics have a long history of mutual distrust and disdain. Until very recently each saw the other as at best misguided, and at worst a heresy worthy of being rooted out, with violence if necessary. From the earliest days of the Reformation nation states fought each other with religion providing the fodder for the battles. We called these the Wars of Religion. For about a century Catholic and Protestant monarchs fought each other, hoping that their brand might gain supremacy. Animosity continued well into the twentieth century.  Even today there is occasional violence in Northern Ireland that has religious overtones. Here in the United States as recently as 1960 Protestants expressed concern and even fear that the election of John F. Kennedy would cede control over the nation to the Pope. Both conservatives and liberals questioned Kennedy’s loyalty to the Constitution. Things have changed greatly here in the States since 1960. After all, six of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Roman Catholic, with the other three being Jewish. Whatever happened to the Protestant hegemony?

                Protestants may not look to the Pope as their final authority and arbiter of things Christian, but we often have an interest in what the Pope is saying and doing. John Paul II, now a saint, was for many years a beloved figure. His successor, Benedict XVI, never caught our imagination. He was too doctrinaire. He seemed to want to undo all the good things that Protestants embraced after Vatican II. Then along came Pope Francis. He seemed from the very beginning to be a very different kind of Pope. He focused less on doctrine and more on people. He showed a humility not seen of late. People again flocked to see him—and that has continued (though a meeting with Kim Davis during his visit to the United States seems to have tarnished his reputation with some).

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Muslims in the South -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

I had a conversation recently with a gentleman about Islam. He had attended an interfaith event. We talked about Islam, and he shared many of the mean-spirited stereotypes that many hold about Muslims. Unfortunately these stereotypes lead to all manner of irresponsible actions, including the arrest of a teenager who happened to have made a clock. But, he's a Muslim, and Muslims are terrorists. Martin Marty speaks of recent events in the South where Islamophobia is rampant. Unfortunately it's pretty widespread across the country, including here in Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population.  My plea is for a willingness to listen to the other. Don't let the stereotype define your vision!  Take a read of Marty's posting -- as is always true there is much wisdom here.

Muslims in the South
By MARTIN E. MARTY   OCT 5, 2015
Muslims in Irving, Texas, praying for Ahmed Mohamed, 14, who was arrested Sept. 14, 2015, when teachers and police believed the clock he built and brought to school was a bomb                Credit: Jeffrey McWhorter / AP Images
A citizen can look in any direction on almost any day and find confirmation of two observations which have informed many of us who chronicle and comment on inter-group conflicts.

One is Else Frenkel-Brunswick’s comment on the ethnocentric hater: “Even his hate is mobile and can be directed from one object to another.”

The other is John Dewey’s dictum that “people do not shoot because targets exist, but they set up targets in order that throwing and shooting may be more effective and significant.”

Newcomers and “others” become objects of hate, throwing, and shooting.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

All Things Are Possible? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20B

Mark 10:17-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another,[c] “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,[d] 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” 

            Jesus continually turns conventional wisdom on its head. We view the world through a lens of hierarchies. We affirm the trappings of power. We assume that wealth and privilege are marks of blessing. We look at a person of wealth or distinction and assume they must have done something right. At the same time, we often find ourselves looking at those on the bottom of the social hierarchy and assume that they have done something inappropriate. Why else would they be in that position. I confess that this is as true of me as it is of any other person. I don’t necessarily look at the rich with admiration for their virtue, but it is easy to look at the poor and marginalized and assume they have done something wrong. Perhaps they have, but is that the point? At least, when it comes to Jesus and his vision for society? Thus, Jesus turns things upside down, by placing first at the end of the line and those at the back get moved up to the front.