Showing posts from May, 2017

Memorial Day, Mayor Landrieu, and the American Future

Monuments to the cult of the Lost Cause were taken down recently in New Orleans. It's been well over a century and a half since the end of the Civil War, but the wounds inflicted by that period of history remain with us. I must confess that I have no time for the "Lost Cause." The Confederacy was wrong. It was built on immoral foundations. It wasn't "states rights" it was slavery, and the fear that with the election of Abraham Lincoln the "Peculiar Institution" would be set aside. Indeed, it took a bloody war to resolve part of the problem, but the belief in white supremacy has not gone away. People like Jefferson Davis remain symbols of that vision. It is good that New Orleans has finally removed the statues from places of prominence. Martin Marty draws our attention to a powerful speech given by New Orleans' mayor Mitch Landrieu. Since Memorial Day, now behind us, remembered, originally the war dead of the Civil War (specifically Union dead)…

What Does This Mean? - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2)

Acts 2:1-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyren…

A Memorial Day Prayer

This morning I will be offering the invocation and benediction at a Memorial Day Observance in the city of Troy, Michigan. In this prayer I seek to honor the memory of those who died in service to country, even as I offer a prayer for peace.  This is the invocation that will begin the observance. 
************ God of peace,
We come here today to remember women and men who gave their lives in service to this country. We remember them and their sacrifice with grateful hearts.
We also come to this place to remember loved ones who have died and no longer walk with us. They may not have died in service to country, but they have come to our minds and hearts this day. We give thanks for their lives and their influence on our lives.
We not only gather to remember those who have died, we also wish to remember families left behind. We remember and offer our prayers for family members who grieve their loss of loved ones
—parents, spouses, children, siblings.
We come to lay wreaths in their honor.
We …

Waiting - A Sermon For Ascension Sunday (Acts 1)

Acts 1:1-11

The wedding party was standing with me at the front of the sanctuary. The processional music was playing. Everyone was ready to begin. The only problem was that the bride was still standing there in the entrance to the sanctuary. As I stood there at the front of the sanctuary, in sight of the bride, I began to wonder whether my future father-in-law was trying to talk Cheryl out of going forward with the wedding at the last minute. Perhaps he was telling Cheryl: “Surely you can do better than this poor seminary student!” Now, there is a good reason why Cheryl stood there, not moving toward me that had nothing to do with cold feet or parental obstruction, but the delay was unnerving.

Interfaith Friendship

Yesterday I posted a word about the decision on the part of the Troy City Council to designate Troy, Michigan as a Welcoming City. The city of Troy is the most diverse city in Michigan. We are also the safest city in Michigan (I was reminded that it would be good to make that connection). Last night I attended an open house at the Bharatiya Temple, the Hindu temple located in Troy. There are about 1000 families connected to this temple, and it was a blessing to participate in this open house. A few weeks back, Brett and I attended a neighborhood friendship dinner at the Muslim Unity Center in nearby Bloomfield Hills. Prior to that, I attended, as is my custom, the National Day of Prayer observance sponsored by the Troy-area Interfaith Group. This event was hosted by the local Jewish synagogue. That's just May. Not too long ago I had the opportunity it visit through TIG a local Sikh Gurdwara. In less than two weeks, we will, at Central Woodward, be co-hosting an Iftar Dinner with …

Troy, Michigan -- a Welcoming City

With so much chatter about how bad things are (check your Facebook newsfeed for an example), it can be challenging to write something positive. With writer's block setting in this morning, I opened my email and received word from the convener of the Troy-area Alliance Against Hate Crime that the city of Troy, the community in which I live and serve, designated itself a Welcoming City.

Be My Witnesses -- A Lectionary Reflection for Ascension Sunday (Acts)

Acts 1:1-11 NewRevised Standard Version (NRSV) In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…

Reinhold Niebuhr -- An American Conscience

As I watch the news, I am deeply disturbed by the chaotic nature of our political situation. Many Americans chose to throw a monkey-wrench into a broken system, perhaps hoping that it might reset things. In reality, that monkey-wrench has only made things worse. I watch as the nation I live in and love, becomes increasingly polarized. Partisans on both sides of the spectrum speak of the other in terms of good and evil. Perhaps it's my recent reading of 1 John with my Bible study group that has made me increasingly sensitive to this dualistic vision that is present in that letter, but is also present in our political debate. 
So where do we turn for guidance? I wish I could say that there were public theologians who could help us discern a better way, but there is no one with the stature today of a Reinhold Niebuhr. Whether you agree with him or not, he spoke to the great issues of his day, and his voice continues to echo into the present. The very fact, that we're learning th…

Sessions, Drugs, Incarceration

In yesterday's Detroit Free Press opinion section, former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade took up the U.S. Attorney General's new policy on drug prosecutions. This policy is a bit of a "back to the future" policy, in that the tough on criminals prosecutor wants to through the book at alleged drug offenders, going for the maximum penalties allowed by law. As McQuade notes, the policy failed back in the 1980s and 1990s to do anything about drugs, but it did fill up our prisons. If the policy is reinstituted it will once again fill up our prisons, often with elderly prisoners, costing the government millions of dollars. For what?

We tried the Sessions strategy in the 1980s and 1990s and it didn't work. Drugs are still prevalent.  The only difference is the number of people in prison. The federal prison population rose from about 200,000 inmates in 1970 to about 1.5 million in 2010. America is now home to five percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent of its pr…

Democracy’s Darker Side - A Reflection

The following reflection appears in my book Faith in the Public Square,(Energion, 2012). This was written, as you can see, during the presidency of Barack Obama, but I think it speaks to what we're going through currently. I am, like many Americans, concerned about the current state of affairs. I don't think this is a partisan issue, it goes deeper than that. We are struggling to make sense of our national institutions. We are seeing the darker side of democracy, even as we hope for a better day.  I invite you to read and consider the message (and of course, I invite you to purchase a copy of the book, for it speaks to many of the concerns of the day.  (You can order from Amazon by clicking here). *************** 
I believe in democracy because despite its messiness it’s the best political system yet devised. In theory, it empowers us to take control of our lives, but if it’s to work we must take responsibility for our lives and actions. Freedom and responsibility are the two s…

Living with Christ in the World

I am in the midst of a bible study series at church in which we are studying the Letters of John. Although 1 John does appear in the lectionary during Easter in Year B (and I've preached most of the texts), how often do we study these letters in any depth. There are wonderful passages in 1 John that declare that God is love and that we who love God should (must) love one another. These powerful statements about love, however, appear in a document that has strong dualistic tendencies. In fact, it is clear that one should not love the world. Instead, one should conquer the world.  For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  (1 John 5:3-5).Reading 1 John leads me to the current conversations prominent in Christian circles, many of whi…

A Word about Religion - A Lectionary Reflection for Easter 6A (Acts)

Acts 17:22-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our …

Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography (Michael Long & Chris Lamb) -- A Review

JACKIE ROBINSON: A SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero.By Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

I am a fifty-nine-year-old baseball fan, so I know the story of Jackie Robinson, or so I thought. I have known since I was relatively young that Jackie Robinson broke the color line, which allowed players like my hero Willie Mays, along with others such as Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and many more to enter major league baseball. Baseball was transformed as black players entered the system, proving that they were just as good if not better than white players. Even though Jackie Robinson was a Dodger, and I’m a lifelong Giant fan, I have always held him high regard. Jackie Robinson was more than boundary-breaking baseball player, he was a man of faith and a man of deep commitment to civil rights.
Although several biographies have been written over the years, this book by Michael Long and Chris Lamb is the first one I’ve read. While…

Evangelical, Sacramental, & Pentecostal (Gordon Smith) -- Review

EVANGELICAL, SACRAMENTAL, & PENTECOSTAL: Why The Church Should Be All Three. By Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. 140 pages.

Having been an evangelical, a Pentecostal, and an Episcopalian, I was intrigued by the title of this book. As a Mainline Protestant with progressive leanings, I have tried to integrate these three parts of my faith journey into my current faith experience. I came to this book with a certain set of expectations. I was looking to see how the author would explore these three expressions of the Christian faith to see how they fit with my own experience and understandings of the three. Because the publisher is rooted in the evangelical tradition, I expected that the book might reflect that orientation. I was correct in this expectation. The author is an evangelical writing to other evangelicals, inviting them to incorporate the gifts that the sacramental and Pentecostal traditions offer them. If I were to write this book, the orientation might b…

How Life Should End -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

How should life end? We will all die some day, but how will we die? That is a question that many ponder, but few are willing to discuss openly. As a pastor I have some of those conversations. As a son I have been having some of them as well. Such conversations are difficult, even for people of faith. Martin Marty invites us to have that conversation, citing articles in The Economist, which speaks to dying well but without reference to religion. He also cites a Brazilian article that does. Having read recently with a clergy group Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, I am even more aware of the need to be open to the conversation, as difficult as it might be. Part of that conversation will need to include faith. I invite you to read and respond. How should life end?


A Dangerous Witness - A Lectionary Reflection for Easter 5A

Acts 7:55-60 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
****************** Stephen was one of the seven disciples selected by the Jerusalem church to relieve the Apostles of their work serving tables. Ordained along with six others by the Apostles, he seemed to have a mundane job (Acts 6:1-7). In my tradition, we call them deacons, and they a…

Intercultural Ministry (Grace Ji-Sun Kim & Jann Aldrege-Clanton) - A Review

INTERCULTURAL MINISTRY: Hope for a Changing World. Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Jann Aldredge-Clanton. Foreword by Dwight N. Hopkins. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017. Xviii + 208 pages.
Most churches in North America, including my own, are mono-cultural. We are evidence of Martin Luther King’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Many of us would like our congregations to be more diverse, but getting there has proven difficult. We seem to like the cultural accouterments of our congregations. We like our music, liturgy, instrumentation just the way they are. To move toward a more inclusive experience of worship, one that reflects the vision of the heavenly court in Revelation will require great sacrifice. While we might want diversity, the cost seems too steep. It would probably be easier to do this if you were starting from scratch, but for existing churches it remains a seemingly impossible dream.
While not widespread, the…

What Should We Do? - A Sermon for Easter 4A

Acts 2:14a, 36-47

Brett will often ask me “what’s going on in church-land today?” Even if his question is job-related, it is a good question. What is happening in church-land? What does it mean to be church? To use the words of a song by Bill Thomas, do you “see a church with a vision; ... a church with a mission?” [Chalice Praise, 133.]
Although we are still in the season of Easter, the reading from Acts 2 takes us to the Day of Pentecost and beyond. Easter is awe-inspiring, because it invites us to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It invites us to take hold of the promise that in Christ life conquers death. But the story of resurrection continues in the life of the new community which was commissioned to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world, as Jesus directed on the day of his ascension(Acts 1:8), and then formed into a dynamic missional church by the Spirit on Pentecost.

The Stories We Live (Kathleen A. Cahalan) -- A Review

THE STORIES WE LIVE:Finding God’s Calling All Around Us. By Kathleen A. Cahalan. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. Xii + 136 pages.

Maybe you were a lot like me growing up. I tried to envision what my vocation would be when I grew up. Living in Mt. Shasta, California, my next-door neighbor was a Fire Control Officer for the Forest Service. I admired Mr. Gray; so I figured that when I grew up I would be just like him. That was the first of many professions that envisioned. Later, I thought I would like to spend my life as a college or seminary professor. I even went and got the proper credentials for that vocation. In the end, I found a calling as a pastor. I also discovered a calling as husband and parent.
                In religious circles, we often speak of call in relationship to serving in vocational ministry. But what about the rest of life? Could each of us have a calling? And could it be that our vocations will change over time? These are the kinds of questi…

“Shocking” News on Worship and the Public - Sightings (Martin Marty)

When it comes to selecting a church, what do you value most? That's a question that Gallup wanted to test out. Apparently, the results of the poll are quite shocking. It appears that people value sermon content first and foremost, and music last. Do you find these results at all surprising? Here's my question, leaving aside the question of music, what is meant here by sermon content? In any case, it does appear that preaching is still important to a lot of people.