Sunday, July 31, 2016

Proper Trust - Meditation on Psalm 49

Psalm 49:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Hear this, all you peoples;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
    rich and poor together.
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Go Forth and Catch 'Em All -- Sightings (Kristel Clayville/Emmanuelle Burton)

While I'm not a Pokemon Go player, I'm intrigued by some of what I've read about the idea of augmented reality (as opposed to virtual reality) present in this phone-based game. What intrigues me is the idea of enchantment or re-enchantment present. Richard Beck, a psychology prof at Abilene Christian University has written about the theological implications of the game, noting that this augmented reality allows us to envision and enchanted universe. In this Sightings piece Kristel Clayville and Emmanuelle Burton of the University of Chicago Divinity School speak as well of re-enchantment -- how the game overlays an augmented reality on top of nature.  What implications might this have for the way we see the world and God's presence in that world? 

Go Forth and Catch 'Em All:
Pokemon Go's Contingent Re-enchantment of the Natural World
Kristel Clayville and Emanuelle Burton  JULY 28, 2016
Even if you don’t own a smartphone and have never played a computer game more sophisticated than solitaire, you have probably heard of Pokémon Go by now. The phone-based game boasts 30 million players worldwide, less than a month after its release on July 6th. In that brief time, it has been both praised and blamed for its impact on the larger world. The internet is awash with testimonials from players with depression and social anxiety, who say the game has helped them get out of the house and meet new people; balanced against these are the many news stories about traffic accidents, caused by drivers who are paying more attention to catching Pokémon (the word is a portmanteau of “pocket monster”) than to other drivers. For weal and for woe, Pokémon Go is already having an impact on how its millions of players participate in social space.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Reviving the Heart of Our Democracy

One of the most powerful preachers and prophets for justice of our time is the Rev. Dr. William Barber II. I have met him. I've heard him preach and speak several times. He inspires me to be true to my faith and the call to justice that is rooted in my faith tradition. Last night he spoke to the Democratic National Convention. Yes, he voiced his support for Hillary, but his message is much more the call to being agents of justice. It is a call to be, as he says, the "moral defibrillators of our time," so that we might shock the world with love. Rev. Barber is a Disciples of Christ minister, President of the North Carolina NAACP, and founder of the Moral Mondays Movement. Let us hear his voice calling for the reviving of the heart of our democracy! It doesn't matter what our party affiliation is, the point is attending to the moral imperatives that are the heart of faith and in goal our democracy!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Social Problems and Religion - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Does the public believe that religious congregations including churches and synagogues do a good job in addressing social problems. Survey says that an increasing number say no. This is the message reported by Martin Marty.  I could give anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but is anyone paying attention?  For the past several years I've been involved in congregation-based community organizing. Our coalition was small, but we helped push the state government to better federal funds for foreclosure prevention, turn a vote on medicare expansion, bring to the attention of the broader community the problem of human trafficking, and raise awareness of the need for effective regional transit. My congregation partnered with a small congregation in Detroit to launch a ministry that assists people in making their homes more livable and their neighborhoods safer. I could go on, but this seems a sufficient introduction to Marty's essay, which I invite you to read and ponder!

Social Problems and Religion
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 25, 2016
Meanwhile. . . .

Other things than political campaigns are going on this summer, but they have a hard time gaining notice. Media attention to them crowds out other events and spheres of life. Some of the latter do not suffer: sports, celebrity worlds, markets, etc. do well. Among the obscured ones come those under the category of “religion” or, institutionally, “churches,” “synagogues,” and the like. The Pew Research Center (see “Resources”) measures activity on their front, as Michael Lipka did in his report of July 18.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Listening God

I am attending a conference on liturgical worship.  It’s the Association of Reformed and Liturgical Theology. I’m not sure I’m Reformed in my theology (okay at least a little bit), but I do believe that liturgy is at the heart of the Christian faith. That is, without worship, and liturgy has to do with worship, Christianity becomes little more than either a social club or a service organization. Those might be fine, in and of themselves, but they’re not the essence of Christianity. That would be the God we know in Jesus and experience through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, with that as an introduction I get to the statement that titles this piece. Our plenary speaker for this conference is philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, who wrote an important book on liturgical theology (from a philosopher’s perspective) titled The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology (my review appeared on this blog in August).  In the book and in the presentation he spoke of God as the “Listening God.” In the presentation and in a later conversation he noted that he could find no theologians who spoke of God in these terms. They might speak of the God who responds, but not in terms of listening.  We know from Scripture that God listens. That’s the message that God gave to Moses in the burning bush.   God said to Moses: “I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know their pain.” (Exodus 3:7).

The idea that God listens stands at the heart of worship. Why else would I pray if God does not listen? Of course, often our prayers are more directed at the congregation than God. Still, we pray to God because we expect to be heard by God.
I’m on a mission though. I need to find some theologians who speak not only of a responsive God, but a listening God!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Treasure What Matters - A Stewardship Sermon

Luke 12:13-21

Money makes the world go around. It’s true that in the world of Star Trek no one seems to need money, unless you’re a Ferengi, but it takes money to navigate through our world. The question is, how much is enough? And, how much is too little? Down through the ages we’ve heard warnings about the dangers of greed. One of the best examples is the story of King Midas, who was given the ability to turn whatever he touched into gold. Unfortunately, that meant his food, and ultimately his daughter. So be careful what you ask for!

During this political season we’ve been hearing messages about taxes, income inequality, stagnant wages, the high cost of health insurance, and much more. Money plays a big role in our political debates, in part because it takes money to fund political campaigns.

In the reading from Luke 12, a person in the crowd listening to Jesus’ message asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute with his brother over the dispersal of the family estate. Jesus declines the request, but he does offer a warning: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk 12:15). 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The U.S. Immigration Crisis (Miguel De La Torre): Review

THE U.S. IMMIGRATION CRISIS: Toward an Ethics of Place (Cascade Companions). By Miguel A. De La Torre. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016. Xx + 176 pages.

                The United States has an immigration problem, and it's a problem largely of our own making. Decisions made decades in the past created the climate that has only been exacerbated by more recent decisions regarding the border. When we think about this crisis, we’re focused on the southern border with Mexico, a border that came into existence due to a vision of Manifest Destiny accompanied by conquest. Many solutions to the crisis have been offered, but many are racist, inhumane, and from a Christian perspective counter to the message of Jesus. If there is any hope of finding a true solution that is just, it will take soul-searching, repentance, and a willingness to go in a new more humane and compassionate direction. Hospitality is important—that is the biblical principle of welcoming the stranger but it is not enough. Why? Because hospitality implies possession of the land. Perhaps something else, something more radical, is required of us. That will start with recognizing that we do not own this space.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Finding Hope In Conflicted Times

There is violence in the streets (police shoot black men, and then police get shot). Nations are being torn apart (Syria, Turkey). Political systems seem broken (U.S.A.). I'm generally an optimistic person. Yet, I'm troubled by what is happening around me, especially the political rhetoric of the hour. We seem intent on building walls rather than bridges. The Republican Party concluded it's convention last evening, anointing Donald Trump as its nominee. I didn't watch the speech, but I'm not surprised by what has been reported. It expressed clearly a politics of resentment. It was divisive and angry. The message that emerged from that convention was anything but hopeful.

The message we're hearing from some in the political realm is a nationalist one (Americanism not globalism). It's focused on me first. We've heard preachers at the convention, in their prayers, refer to the other major party as the enemy, while another speaker suggested that the presumptive nominee of that party serves Satan.  I'm hoping for better from next week's Democratic Convention, but there could be a lot of angry words coming out of that convention as well. There is a temptation to match anger with anger, to fight fire with fire. Being a registered Democrat, I'm hoping for better, but I am concerned.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

White Protestant America -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Analyst of trends in religion, Robert P. Jones, of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has authored a new book with the provocative title of The End of White Christian America. I've not yet read the book, but had the opportunity to hear him speak at the 2015 Academy of Parish Clergy meeting, where he detailed some of the trends in American religion that I'm assuming are detailed in the book. This week historian of American religion and commentator on things religion, Martin Marty takes up an aspect of the book---that would be the state of white Protestant America. Marty quibbles a bit with the language, suggesting that we might talk about the end of white Protestantdom (like Christendom), but more focused on the decline of white Protestantism's hold on American society. I invite you to take up the conversation --- what is the future of predominantly white Protestantism in an increasingly diverse nation?  

White Protestant America
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 18, 2016
Image: "Little church on American prairie." David Kay via
“Everybody’s talking about . . . ,” in this case, white Protestant America’s posture and place in politics, events, culture, and more. This summer “everybody” is, or at least quite a few people are, talking and blogging about the capitalized three words: White Protestant America,  referencing the book by Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute (Simon & Schuster).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Making Peace with the Earth (Grace Kim) -- Review

MAKING PEACE WITH THE EARTH: Action and Advocacy for Climate Change. Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Foreword by Guillermo Kerber.  Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches Publications, 2016. Xxiii + 274 pages.

                The question as to whether the earth is experiencing climate change, and whether humanity is to blame, has become a major political hot potato. Even among those who accept that climate change is occurring, are not of one mind as to what should be done. Could we be past the point of no-return? Are the solutions too drastic, and thus unworkable? As for those who deny climate change, part of this may result from a lack of trust in science, as well as the lack of incentive to make the required changes. Indeed, at times it seems as if the only solutions require that we return to a pre-industrial agrarian society. After all, if you agree with the science, but aren’t able or ready to make the necessary changes in life-style, you may find yourself suffering from disagreeable guilt. We may want to be green, but too often our commitment to the cause is rather weak. We may recycle our garbage and turn down the thermostat, and even drive a more fuel efficient car, but is that enough?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Persistent Prayer - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10C

The Insistent Friend (Jesus Mafa) 

Luke 11:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: 
Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
3     Give us each day our daily bread.
4     And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”


                How should we pray? What is the proper demeanor for approaching God? What words should we use? Jesus offers us one example of what prayer might look like. We call it the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us recite it on at least a weekly basis. I’ve written a book about the meaning of this prayer, which I titled Ultimate Allegiance. That’s because I have concluded that the Lord’s Prayer is the Christian version of a pledge of allegiance. The prayer is followed by a series of sayings that speak of persistence in prayer and God’s faithfulness.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What the World Needs Now (Tom Clay)

What the world needs now is love.  That was a sentiment offered up in a 1960s song, as America was torn by racial strife and the Vietnam War. I was only a child when assassins bullets took down first John Kennedy, then Martin Luther King, and then just a few months later John Kennedy's younger brother Bobby Kennedy, just after he had won the California primary and was poised to capture the Democratic nomination for President.  Like I said, I was but a child, and I wasn't really paying all that much attention to what was going on at the time. I lived in small towns/cities and was pretty innocent about such things.  

Now, I'm in my late 50s, no longer a child. Though we might wish that the world has changed, things like racism, bigotry, hatred remain with us. It is true that much has changed and things have improved in many ways, and yet the root issues that divide are still with us. They're deeply rooted in our systems. So, yes we need love today as much as ever before. Indeed, right now, at this moment, as the nation faces dramatic divisions, we need to hear this message again.

With this in mind I want to share this video of the Tom Clay mix from 1971 of the songs "What the World Needs Now" and "Abraham, Martin, and John." I first encountered this version of the songs listening to a friend's 45 rpm record. It was back in the 1970s. It moved me then and continues to move me today. I hope listening and watching will move you as well. Pay close attention to the questions that frame this piece. These are important questions for our time, even as they were in 1968 and 1971. 

Just a note on how this came to be. In 1971 a Detroit DJ named Tom Clay mixed the two songs together with audio clips relating to the message and deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. This video is but one version available on YouTube.   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Clearing Away the Distractions -- Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost (repost)

I'm on vacation this Sunday, so I'm sharing a sermon I originally preached on July 21, 2013. I had just returned from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. At that meeting the Assembly took up an important resolution calling on the Church to be a people of Welcome and Graciousness. At the heart of that resolution was the call to be inclusive of all, especially those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.  Since then Central Woodward Christian Church took up that call and chose to become Open and Affirming. I invite you to read and meditate on this story from Luke, where Jesus pays a visit to the home of Martha and Mary.



Luke 10:38-42

We’ve been hearing a lot about distracted drivers lately.  Everyone is talking on their cell phones or texting.  We thought that hands-free devices would make us safer, but apparently, they’re just as bad.  It’s not about the hands, it’s about where we place our attention. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Prayers Aren't Enough

Paris, Charleston, San Bernardino, Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Orlando, Dallas, Nice. I could go on naming cities that have witnessed violence. Each time we've called for prayers. Indeed, I've prayed for peace and justice. I've prayed that violence would cease. I've prayed that bridges not walls would be built. It's clear that prayer is not enough. We may have to put our faith into action. We may need to get out there and change the world. 

While it's important, where possible, to engage in political life, it requires a lot more than that. It will take recognizing that the sacredness of other lives. It will require that we cease demonizing and dehumanizing each other. I am susceptible to such things myself. If we engage in political banter it comes out. But let us remember that even if we despise the vision of a particular candidate for President, that person is a child of God created in the image of God. We may despise the ideology of ISIS, but the people caught up in that ideology are also created in the image of God. 

I'm on vacation this week. I would rather my reflections for the week would be positive. But American politics, the ongoing issue of racism in America, the stories I'm reading about migration in Miguel De La Torre's book The U.S. Immigration Crisis (Cascade, 2016), and now as I write this the coup in Turkey, among other things keep popping into my imagination. Perhaps I could read something lighter than what I choose to read during vacation, but that is my choice to read heavier pieces. I just wish we had better news.

Still, I'm by nature an optimist. I believe that peace and justice will come. We just may have to work a little harder. We may have to do a better job of seeing God's presence in our neighbor.  That's something I'll be praying about so that my heart will be transformed toward the other. 

And since this is vacation, I have to leave us with a lighter moment from my vacation and that would be my encounter with Cornelius J. Box of the Jiffy Mix company -- based in Chelsea, Michigan.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Conversations about Hard Truths - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Martin Marty's Sightings post this week takes a look at six of seven points made about the current cultural situation in America by Christian ethicist David Gushee.  The original post by David Gushee came out just prior to the 4th of July weekend (a fitting moment for the conversation). Marty takes a look at these hard truths, offers his thoughts, and invites us to consider our own. So, I'll do that -- take a read here and at David's original posting.  So, how bad are things out there? 

Conversations about Hard Truths
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 11, 2016
Image: "God Bless America" written in beach sand with American flag. Image copyright Maria Dryfhout via
David Gushee celebrated July 4th with a much-discussed piece in his “Christians, Conflict & Change” column on the so-frequently helpful Religion News Service.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

From this Day Forward (Kimberly Bracken Long) - A Review

FROM THIS DAY FORWARD: Rethinking the Christian Wedding. By Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xi + 185 pages.

                Even before the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriage, significant discussions were underway about the role that churches and clergy should play in weddings. Some were arguing that clergy should get out of the wedding business, though some suggested (and continue to suggest) that the State should get of the wedding business. Perhaps it’s time for a conversation about such matters. What we need are some good resources. I’ve tried to offer one with my own Bible study guide—Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide. Kimberly Bracken Long also has written a helpful text on the subject, one that is worth engaging closely, which argues that the church should stay in the wedding/marriage business, but it needs to do some serious rethinking of what it is engaging in.      

                The author of From This Day Forward, Kimberly Bracken Long, is the Associate Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary. She’s an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister, and author/editor of a number of books on worship. As I’ve read her previous works I've been impressed by her deep understanding of worship and how we might express our praise of God in a thoughtful and transformative way. With regard to weddings and marriage, From This Day Forward is in essence a companion volume to the collection of wedding services published in 2015. Long co-edited with David Maxwell, the very helpful Inclusive Marriage Services: A Wedding Sourcebook (my review can be found here).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Distractions - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9C

Luke 10:38-42 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

                Mary and Martha—much has been said and written about these two sisters. One is concerned about being the “proper host,” making sure that the meal is served promptly. The other sister seems unconcerned about such things. Instead of helping out in the kitchen, she simply sits at the feet of the teacher while her sister is hard at work in the kitchen. The one sister takes on the traditional female role, while the other takes a more traditional male role. Who are these two sisters and what can we learn from their story?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Public Faith in Action (Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz) -- A Review

PUBLIC FAITH IN ACTION: How to Think Carefully, Engage Widely, and vote with Integrity. By Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Xiii + 233 pages.

                In the United States we talk about separation of church and state. That means that the state has not and cannot establish any particular religion. There is no religious test to hold office, either. These principles are enshrined in one form or another in the US Constitution. This doesn’t mean, however, that people of faith don’t bring that faith into the public realm. Assuming that one’s faith is meaningful, then it will guide our actions in the public square. It will influence our thinking about matters of great importance, hopefully offering wisdom, and providing a foundation for voting and acting in public with integrity. Public Faith in Action is a companion, a further exploration, to a book published in 2011 titled A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. In that book Volf spoke to how Christians might pursue the common good while respecting the pluralistic context in which they would be acting. In Public Faith in Action, Volf along with his co-author and former student Ryan McAnnally-Linz offer their insight into how we can take on important issues in public with integrity.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Cry for Justice - A Sermon for Pentecost 8C

Psalm 82

Who are we as a congregation? If we claim to be Disciples of Christ then what does that say about how we live in the world? That is the question that the Preamble to the Design, which we recited earlier in the service seeks to answer. It’s a covenant statement that binds us as a congregation with our brothers and sisters across the region, across the nation, and across the world. It binds us with others who call themselves Disciples, but it also binds us together with all Christians. Indeed, it defines our “mission of witness and service to all people.”  That statement was adopted in the 1960s as the Disciples entered a new phase of life together. There is a briefer statement that was adopted more recently and it goes like this:
“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”
In April we officially became an Open and Affirming Congregation. By doing this we committed ourselves to welcoming everyone to the Table, even as God has welcomed us. The Elders wrote an inclusion statement that seeks to answer the question posed to Jesus by a lawyer wanting to know the requirements for gaining eternal life. Jesus answered him with the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer’s next question is an important one: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We answered it with a list of people who are our neighbors, some of whom might need some reassurance that they’re welcome at the Table. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Public Faith -- A Review (reposted)

The question of how faith engages public life continues to be asked and answers are sought. Miroslav Volf is one of those who has sought to offer an answer. As I will be posting a review of his latest book, Public Faith in Action on Monday, I thought it wise to share my review of its predecessor. Thus, I invite you to consider that book before considering the second.


A PUBLIC FAITH:  How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good.    By Miroslav Volf.  Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, 2011.  Xvii + 177 pp. 

The never ending question in American life concerns the role religion should play in public life.  That is, in a modern, secular, democratic state that values political pluralism, can faith have a constructive role in public life?   This question involves the way in which people of faith root their public life in their faith.  Theologian Miroslav Volf takes up these kinds of questions in his latest book, in which he advises Christians on the perils, pitfalls, and possibilities of engaging public life from a faith perspective.  To do so, however, requires that persons of faith enter the public sphere understanding the dynamics present – it is a politically pluralistic sphere – and so one must not seek to co-opt the conversation or act coercively.   Neither an “idling faith,” one that is private and inwardly focused, nor one that is aggressively and coercively active is an appropriate response to God’s call to be present in the world. 

             A well known theologian teaching at Yale, and formerly on the faculty of Fuller Seminary, Volf is fresh off the publication of his important engagement with Islam (Allah, Harper One, 2011).  As a Croatian Christian who grew up in the former Yugoslavia, Volf has had a front row engagement with both religious pluralism and coercive secularism.  In Allah, he tries to create a theological space for engaging Islam in conversation, with a view to seeking the common good, on the basis of a common affirmation of the oneness of God.   Here he takes the conversation into the broader context of religious engagement with the public sphere, arguing that there is a place for faith in public life.  Indeed, if faith remains private, both faith and public spheres will be impoverished.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Cease the Violence!

What a horrendous couple of weeks around the world. Dhaka, Istanbul, Baghdad, Medina, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas. Why the violence? Why does the world seem so broken? 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Jesus was a Migrant

In my lectionary reflection posted on Tuesday I took up the question that led Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The parable served to define who was the neighbor. In that reflection I brought up the topic of migration and immigration. Since one of the issues driving the 2016 Presidential election along with the recent #Brexit vote is immigration. I thought I might revisit it. As I noted in my lectionary reflection, I'm reading the book Public Faith in Action by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos, 2016). 

Europe and the Middle East are dealing with major migration issues, largely due to refugees that have been forced from their homes due to the violence that has been visited on places like Iraq and Syria due to the nihilistic vision of ISIS. Many are Christian and other religious minorities, but many are Muslim. Volf and McAnnally-Linz note that in 2014 nearly 60 million people from across the globe lived as refugees. So how should we respond? What is the "Christian" response?  Political answers are complicated -- and there is need to consider cultural and economic issues when determining how to respond. That said, we're not allowed to turn a blind eye to the needs of our neighbor.  

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Reading for the Common Good (Christopher Smith) -- Review

READING FOR THE COMMON GOOD: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish.  By C. Christopher Smith. Foreword by Scot McKnight. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 176 pages.

                When I was a child I loved going to the library. I liked to hang out in the 900s (Dewey Decimal System) – that’s the history and geography section. I was also a member of my elementary school’s Library Club. Very in life I became an avid reader, and continue to be so to this day. While I will dip into fiction books on occasion I’ve always preferred nonfiction, with history and religion/theology being at the top of the list. My embrace of reading has both informed and formed me into the person I am today. Books and magazines and newspapers open up new worlds and new opportunities. Literacy was once the province of a small group of elite persons, but when Gutenberg invented the printing press a new world was born. Indeed, it’s pretty clear that without it the Reformation would never have occurred.   

                Chris Smith is a kindred spirit. He too is an avid reader, and has been since childhood. He too loved going to libraries and discovering its riches. He took his reading inclinations to the point of launching a book review website and book review journal (I have contributed to both). The Englewood Review of Books has become one of those must read sites for all who love to read. In this book, Reading for the Common Good, Smith invites us to expand our vision of what reading is and what it can be. He speaks of reading in terms of the way in which books, as the subtitle declares, can help “our churches and neighborhoods flourish." This is a book about reading with a purpose. It's a book about recognizing the importance of not only being informed, but being formed by the disciplined practice of reading, both as individuals and in community. What is at stake here is the opening up of the larger world so we might participate in its flourishing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor? - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 8C

Van Gogh, Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
                Who is my neighbor? That is the question that elicits from Jesus the famous Good Samaritan parable. The question itself follows upon a question about what is required for one to inherit eternal life, which leads to a conversation about the commands to love God and neighbor. The lawyer wants to know who qualifies as his neighbor. Isn’t that a question we all want to ask Jesus. Jesus tells us that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but what is the criteria upon which that question is answered? Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response. It’s a great parable, but I think sometimes we forget the question that led Jesus to the parable.

Monday, July 04, 2016

We Are Baghdad

Grieving people in Baghdad (CNN photo)
As I write this post, it is Independence Day in the United States. It is also the Muslim season of Ramadan, a season that is about to come ton an end. Tomorrow is Eid al Fitr, the feast that signals that the season of fasting has come to an end. Many of my friends will be gathering to celebrate this important festival in Islam. 

Ramadan is supposed to be a season of drawing to close to God. The Quran stipulates:
The month of Ramadan is that wherein the Quran was sent down as guidance to mankind, as clear proofs of guidance, and as the Criterion. Let him among you who is present fast during that [month]. And whosoever is ill or on a journey, it is a number of other days. God desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you. [It is} so that you may complete the number and magnify God hr having guided you, that haply you may give thanks. [Surah 2:185, The Study Quran]
 Ramadan is supposed to be a season of peace, and yet ISIS and those inspired by it's nihilist vision of a distorted version of Islam have chosen to use this time not to draw close to God, but to kill, destroy, and terrorize. When Paris was bombed, may declared "We are Paris." Americans rightfully grieved the violence in San Berrnadino and Orlando. But is there similar sense of grief at the recent string of violence in Istanbul, Bangladesh, Baghdad, and yes Saudi Arabia (including the holy city of Medina). As a friend asked on Facebook -- where are the declarations of "We are Baghdad" as ISIS attacked Shia Muslims celebrating the end of a day of fasting killing at least 200?

ISIS is on the retreat in terms of territory, and now is turning to random acts of violence intended to terrorize. They're doing a good job of terrorizing the innocents. My Muslim friends are shaking their heads. Their grieving. They're making clear that this is not the Islam that they profess (any more than the Klan represents my vision of Christianity).

So, may we declare this day that We are Baghdad!   Let us grieve with the people who would want to celebrate Ramadan, but are instead forced to grieve. Let us keep our friends and neighbors (even far away whom we do not know personally) in our prayers and work for peace and justice for all. 

Taking Stock of Independence Day

Today is the 240th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, the document that birthed the nation that I call my home. I count myself among those who graduated from high school during the bicentennial year. We made a big deal about being a bicentennial class (as can be seen in the above picture of the color guard, which included me (2nd from left).  Not only did I graduate that year, but in the fall I voted for the first time in a presidential election (I voted for Gerald Ford, while most of my Evangelical friends voted for the "Christian" candidate -- Jimmy Carter -- whom they would abandon four years later for being too liberal).

Sunday, July 03, 2016

God Is Our Helper - Sermon for Pentecost 7C

Psalm 30

This is a weekend filled with celebrations. Tomorrow we will celebrate 240 years of independence. I know this because I graduated from high school in the bicentennial year and my high school is holding its 40-year reunion in a few weeks. There are also several people celebrating birthdays this weekend, with Gloria celebrating her 90th. I told Gloria that if I live to be 90, I want to be as active and healthy as she is! Yes, this is a day of thanksgiving!

We’re worshiping outdoors under the shade of trees and in the shadow of the cross and peace pole, with a large rock standing in the center. People ask why there’s a rock in the middle of the drive way. I’ve heard a number of answers to that question, but here’s a theological one that I’ve come up with. This rock is a symbol of our own confession of faith in Jesus. When Simon gave the good confession – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God – Jesus called him Peter, which means rock. Then Jesus declared that upon this rock, or confession, he would build his church. In other words, this rock symbolizes the foundation of our community.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Ethics of Brexit? - Sightings (William Schweiker)

Even as the Brits try to figure out what's next after the Leave voters outnumbered the Remain voters in last week's referendum, and the rest of Europe seems impatient for the Brits to get on with it.  But what is the broader meaning to this movement? Martin Marty wrote earlier in the week about tribalism and togetherness. University of Chicago Divinity School ethicist William Schweiker invites us to consider the ethical dimension of the vote. What is the meaning of this embrace of "moral particularism" that stands in contrast to the vision that led to the creation of the EU? It's  an interesting piece that focuses on the benefits of being together.  Take a read!

The Ethics of Brexit?
Protesters against the UK's vote to leave the EU, London's Trafalgar Square, June 28, 2016.
Credit: Jay Shaw Baker / Sipa via AP Images
The vote by the people of Great Britain to leave the European Union (EU)—the so-called “Brexit”—had immediate, profound, and troubling results. The UK is in tatters despite the plea of politicians for everyone to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Not only did the world’s financial markets drop and the British Pound tumble, but the credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the UK Government’s bonds to a negative rating. David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, decided to step down. The Labor Party seems in disarray. Many young Brits feel that their future has been stolen from them by the wiles of the aged.