Monday, February 29, 2016

America's Original Sin (Jim Wallis) -- Review

AMERICA'S ORIGINAL SIN: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. By Jim Wallis. Foreword by Bryan Stevenson. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Xxv + 238 pages.

                Racism is America's original sin. That is a very theological diagnosis, but an accurate one. It is a sin that has festered in our midst from the earliest days of European exploration and settlement to the present. It is a sin that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and even today many of us live in denial that one can be infected by this sin. Yet, the evidence suggests otherwise.

                Jim Wallis is a Christian activist who has attempted to address this reality throughout his adult life and ministry. He is aware that his own reality is affected by his own ethnicity. He, like me, benefits from what we have been calling white privilege. He has been involved in this work through the auspices of Sojourners, a leading Christian social justice ministry. Jim comes at this conversation from an interesting perspective. That being his roots in Detroit. Metro-Detroit, which is my home at this time, has experienced deep racial divides that even today are difficult to bridge. He witnessed this growing up and it has influenced his own vision of ministry and engagement in public life.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Come to the Waters - A Reading from Isaiah 55

I am not preaching today, so I simply will share one of the two readings from the Old Testament that have been designated for today for your meditation.

Isaiah 55New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Flourishing (Miroslav Volf) -- A Review

FLOURISHING: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. By Miroslav Volf. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Xviii + 280 pages.

Miroslav Volf is one of the preeminent theological voices of our time. He has a kept a keen eye on the broad religious and cultural issues that play out in the world, with his book Allah: A Christian Response being a masterpiece of theological reflection that seeks to build bridges between Christianity and Islam.  Volf’s latest book, titled Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, continues the kind of work exemplified in Allah and Exclusion and Embrace.  More importantly, this book speaks to the moment at hand. At a time when religion is seen by many as a danger to the world’s existence, Volf offers a trenchant defense of the role religion can play (at its best) in shaping the ongoing globalization of our world.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Politics as Usual?

PicI must admit that I’m a bit puzzled by the current political season? I may be a pastor, but I’ve always been interested in politics. I first got involved in politics as a ten-year-old. It was 1968. My parents were both active in the Republican Party. I got to spend time at the Republican headquarters and stood with the teenagers who lined the road when Richard Nixon came to town. We all wore sashes that declared “Nixon’s the One.” Four years later, as a fourteen-year-old, I went door-to-door for the party’s candidates. I was so interested in politics that I began to dream of a day when I could enter the political ring. I admit I was young and maybe naïve, but I believed that this was an honorable profession.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Where’s the Fruit? - Lectionary Reflection Lent 3C

Luke 13:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Covenant Promise - Sermon for Lent 2C

Genesis 15:1-11, 17-18

We worship a covenant-making God, and as Disciples of Christ we speak of the covenant relationship that binds congregations, regions, and the General Church to each other. Ronald Osborn was one of the leading figures in creating a restructured Disciples church, and he wrote: 
In religion, in marriage, and in the life of a nation, a covenant is a sacred bond sealed with an oath or vow of allegiance. In the community of Christians the pledge is called a sacrament. A Christian swears faithfulness to God. God promises faithfulness to the church. This two-way pledge is seen most clearly in the Christian covenant sacraments of baptism and communion. [Faith We Affirm, p. 59]
When God called on Abram and Sarai to leave their homeland and head toward a strange land, God promised to make them to be a great nation that would bless the rest of creation (Genesis 12:1-3). Three chapters later, Abram is beginning to wonder whether God intends to fulfill that promise. He and Sarai are getting older, and they still don’t have that promised heir, which means that one of the employees is going to inherit.  

It’s clear that Abram is getting impatient with God, and is willing to argue with God if necessary! Isn’t it good news to know that it’s okay to argue with God? 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Walls or Bridges?

You might have heard that Pope Francis and Donald Trump have gotten in a bit of a tussle. Or, rather, the Pope raised questions about whether building walls is Christian. Trump took offense and in true style fired back. I'm going to leave that conversation to others to decipher. My sense is that the Pope's statement has been misinterpreted.  It's the policy not the person that he is addressing, though policies do emerge from a person's vision of themselves and of the world. Since Mr. Trump has made exclusion, deportation, and wall building the center of his campaign, we might want to ask whether his perspective is in keeping with Jesus' call to love one's neighbor.

I appreciated hearing John Kasich's response to the kerfuffle. He suggested there are too many walls and not enough bridges being built.  I think the GOP candidate has put his finger on something important. 

We live at a time when more walls than bridges are being built (and if you've seen the physical bridges that exist in the United States, you know that even the bridges we have are in disrepair!). I won't pretend to have been entirely successful, but I have tried to be more a bridge builder than a wall builder in life. Ultimately bridges are more satisfying than walls, for they bring people together rather than separate them. 

There is a powerful image present in the Ephesian letter, where the author (traditionally Paul) speaks of Christ being the bridge between Jew and Gentile. 
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14).
I remember the powerful images that streamed across the television screen as the Berlin Wall was first breached and then came down. A city that had been divided for nearly a half a century was no more. I think this is a better vision for our country and our world. America is changing. It's more diverse than ever. There is no going back to what was!   

So, I think we have an infrastructure challenge, but it's not a wall. It's a bridge that needs to be built!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Microaggressions in Ministry (Cody Sanders & Angela Yarber) -- A Review

MICROAGGRESSIONS IN MINISTRY: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church. By Cody J. Sanders and Angela Yarber. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Books, 2015.  X + 161 pages.

                There are books you would like to set aside—permanently—but know you shouldn't. This is one of those books. The reason I say this is that we don’t like to think of ourselves hurting others, intentionally or unintentionally. When it is brought to our attention that we may have offended or someone, it’s easy to become defensive. I know, I’ve been there. Sometimes what we think is inconsequential behavior or teasing, can be rather hurtful. Again, I’ve been on both sides of the ledger. It’s no longer appropriate to be overtly bigoted, but that doesn’t mean that subtle bigotry, and sometimes less than subtle, isn’t out there.

                I had never heard of microaggression until this particular book, authored by Cody Sanders and Angela Yarber, showed up in the mail. I picked it up and read a few pages and then set it aside, moving on to other books. Finally, I decided I had better read it and discovered a rather powerful book. My eyes were opened to the presence of numerous microaggressions happening all around me. I recognized it occurring on Facebook and Twitter. I saw it occurring in the church. I discerned it in my own life. Often these microaggressions were unintentional, but they affected the lives of others.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Evolution -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Evolution is a dirty word in some Christian circles. I made my peace with evolution a long time ago, as you can see by my book that goes by the title Worshiping with Charles Darwin, (Energion, 2013). But the question of how religion and science relate has yet to be fully answered. There are, of course, as Martin Marty points out, fundamentalisms of religion and science that will not give room for other's existence, but that need not be us. In this essay, Marty reflects on the recent discovery of the sounds made by gravitational waves. It leads him to a reflection on a speech given by a Dominican priest and scientist years ago that speaks to the messiness of our realities. I invite you to read and reflect on the relationship of faith and science. 

By MARTIN E. MARTY   FEB. 15, 2016
Skulls showing human evolution.                                         Credit: JuliusKielaitis /
Even bigger news this week than U.S. presidential campaigns came from the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of over 1000 scientists who have been working to detect ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves.

Dennis Overbye, in last Thursday’s New York Times, led off with “A team of scientists announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”

The gravitational waves which conveyed the chirps held “power 50 times greater than the output of all the stars in the universe combined,” in the event that seems “destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science.”

Immediately some in the press and on the internet posed this news against the background of polarities: “science versus religion” or “evolution versus creation.” They revisited battles of the 1920s, which have continued ever since.

Those conflicts seem to belong to the “long ago,” but the span of 1920s to the 2010s is rather brief in contrast to that of “a billion light years.” It provides perspective—or does it rob all sentient beings of perspectives which they habitually had brought to such events?

I stopped short of both the 1920s and “a billion light years” to think of a lecture delivered by the late Dominican Fr. Raymond Nogar, a Chicago-area neighbor who did much to advance Catholic and other Christian thought about evolution. During his lecture Nogar said something about the universe as we know it, or at least about our cozy corner in the solar system. Would it freeze? Or overheat?

I forget whether the sun would die or we would get too close to it. This would happen in—was it?—two billion years. In the question period an audience member asked Nogar whether he had said “two million” or “two billion.” He answered “two billion.” The relieved questioner: “Whew! For a minute I thought you’d said two million years.”

I tell such stories as a way of helping frame thought about these themes in a time when they can too easily be reduced to old culture-war side-tracks recalling old Fundamentalist theology versus old Fundamentalist science.

Many Dominican Catholic and Protestant and Jewish theologians have long addressed these troubling and creative issues to positive advantage. They remind us that faith and reason, theology and science, etc. come in many forms and should be re-posed now, 100 years after Einstein, from many fresh angles.

In a review of a reprint of Nogar’s Lord of the Absurd, Patrick Marrin quoted Nogar, whose mode of faith was not that of optimistic Teilhard de Chardin, who was in vogue in Nogar’s prime. Nogar’s mode of faith was, Marrin notes, more like that of Thomas Merton or Flannery O’Connor.

Nogar: “The God of the strange world of Fr. Teilhard is not the one I have come to believe in. His is the Lord of the neat; mine is the God of the messy. His God governs with unerring efficiency; mine provides with inexcusable waste. His God is impeccably regular; mine is irresponsible. His God is the Lord of order; my God is the Lord of the absurd.”

Those are only two options among the two million—or is it two billion?—ways of experiencing faith and delighting in science. Marrin: “The Lord of the Absurd is worth reading as a testament to hope in an age when everything that rises seems stuck between breakdown and breakthrough. Keeping faith is everyone’s prophetic calling.”


Winston, Kimberly. “Darwin Day notwithstanding, evolution debate keeps, well, evolving.” Religion News Service, February 11, 2016.

Overbye, Dennis. “Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory.” New York Times, February 11, 2016, Science.

Masci, David. “On Darwin Day, 5 facts about the evolution debate.” Pew Research Center, February 12, 2016, Fact-tank News in the Numbers.

Marrin, Patrick. “A spirituality rooted in absurdity.” Review of The Lord of the Absurd, by Raymond J. Nogar. National Catholic Reporter online, December 4, 1998.

Nogar, Raymond J. The Lord of the Absurd. Reprint edition. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.

Image: Three skulls showing human evolution. Credit: JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock creative commons.

To comment: email the Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud, at If you would like your comment to appear with this article on the Marty Center's website, please provide your full name in the body of the email and indicate in the subject line: POST COMMENT TO [title of Sightings piece]. ForSightings' comment policy, visit:
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at
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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Holy Spirit I Pray (Jack Levison) -- A Review

HOLY SPIRIT I PRAY: Prayers for morning and nighttime, for discernment, and moments of Crisis. By Jack Levison. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016. Xi + 114 pages.

                It is standard Trinitarian procedure to pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. To pray directly to the Holy Spirit is not unheard of, but it’s not the most common way of praying. Yet, there are valid reasons why one might want to address prayers directly to the Holy Spirit. After all, when one gathers at the Table and blesses the communion elements, one invokes the Holy Spirit, inviting the Spirit to be present in and with the elements that the recipients might be drawn into the presence of God. Nonetheless there are few resources available that invite us to address the Spirit in prayer. Jack Levison, who has written a number of thoughtful books on the Holy Spirit, has chosen to rectify that lack of resources. He has composed a set of prayers to the Holy Spirit, which have been published by Paraclete Press, which sent me a review copy to peruse. 

As the author of a book on the work of the Holy Spirit myself, I am always on the alert for works that speak to the role and work of the Holy Spirit. Since Jack Levison has devoted a great deal of attention to pneumatology, I’ve had opportunity to read his work. My prior experience with Jack’s books is that he seeks to develop a Pneumatology that balances ecstasy with learning and virtue. He challenges Charismatics and Pentecostals to deepen their theology of the Spirit. That same perspective is present in this collection of prayers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Time to Weep - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 2C

Luke 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
                As we continue along the Lenten path, we know that for Jesus the path leads to death. Jesus could flee, but that would mean giving up his ministry. When Jesus went up the mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), he had a conversation with Moses and Elijah about his impending departure. Jesus knew what was coming, and he was ready to face it. From the moment that Jesus descended from the mountain his face was turned toward Jerusalem, a city that tended to deal harshly with prophets.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ancestral Immigrants - Sermon for Lent 1C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Lent is a season of reflection that begins on Ash Wednesday with words of confession, marked by ashes, and accompanied by a word of forgiveness. The journey continues with a word about how the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed and was tested for forty days (Luke 4:1-12). These forty days of Lent mirror the forty years that Israel wandered in the wilderness having their faith tested.

The reading from Deuteronomy 26 invites Israel to bring in an offering of Thanksgiving to celebrate the completion of the exodus from Egypt and the arrival in the Land of Promise. In words attributed to Moses, the people of God are directed to lay down their offerings and recite a confessional statement that begins with the words: “A wandering Aramean was my Ancestor.”   

Friday, February 12, 2016

We gon' be alright: Rap and Reggae as Black Sacred Space -- Sightings (Noel Leo Erskine)

Music is a powerful force. It touches hearts more than minds, but the messages carried by music can be powerful. That's why we sing in church. It helps us connect with God and with one another. Music also has cultural components, which means that not all music touches us in the same way. Rap and Reggae have now been with us for some time, but I came of age prior to the advent of rap. I'm not sure the style hits in the same way as it does others, but I appreciate this essay because invites us to listen to how music can be a vehicle for creating alternative visions of reality.  So, I invite you to read and contemplate this essay from Sightings, written by Noel Leo Erskine of Candler School of Theology.

We gon' be alright: Rap and Reggae as Black Sacred Space
Kendrick Lamar performing in Barcelona at the Heineken Primavera Sound Festival (05.30.14)
Credit: Christian Bertrand / shutterstock
Celebrated hip hop rapper Kendrick Lamar and his album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” are poised to make history at Sunday’s 58th Grammy awards. Giving voice to the underside of Black communities in which marginalized persons seek to establish a sense of identity and dignity, Lamar has already broken a record with his nine nominations. He is now the most Grammy-nominated hip hop artist in a single year.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Days, 40 Prayers, 40 Words (Bruce Reyes-Chow) -- A Review

40 DAYS, 40 PRAYERS,40 WORDS: Lenten Reflections for Everyday Life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xvi + 85 pages.

Lent is a season of forty days, mirroring Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the wilderness. Lent is supposed to be a season of prayer and contemplation, and it is useful to have guides for the journey. Westminster John Knox offers us this guide authored by Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian pastor, writer, and cultural critic. He is a Senior Consultant with the Center for Progressive Renewal and served as the youngest ever Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly. In this brief book, Reyes-Chow brings together forty brief prayers and meditations focusing on forty words. Although the book is offered as a Lenten reflection, it can be used at any time of the year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Where is Your God? Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord, your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”