Showing posts from June, 2017

Immigration, Religious Diversity, and Community

Today the Trump Travel Ban goes into effect, making it difficult for people from six Muslim-majority nations to come to the country. It also puts a halt on welcoming refugees. At the same time the President is heralding bills in the House of Representatives targeting undocumented immigrants, and ultimately all immigrants. There is a lot of support for this, but much of it is rooted in fear of the other. There is a strong fear on the part of some in our country, mostly those who are of European extraction, that the nation is threatened by those whose color and religion are different from the majority. But is this fear warranted? Is the national ethos threatened by immigration, or is it being enriched?
Last week Cheryl and I were visiting family in the Fresno area. As we drove south from Fresno, I noticed a large Sikh Gurdwara off the highway. It was almost like a megachurch in size.  I commented on this to my in-laws, and discovered that there is a large Sikh community in the area, an…

Pastors and Political Choice -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

I had seen the headline referenced by Martin Marty in the column for this week. I had also see the chart, in which the majority of clergy in my denomination are aligned with the Democratic Party. I also know from personal experience that members of our congregations spread out across the political spectrum. I am, as many will expect, am aligned with the Democratic Party (I switched during seminary -- Fuller -- because it more closely aligned with my emerging values. However, members of my congregation spread across the spectrum. Some are well to my left and some well to my right, with most hanging in the middle somewhere. I know from my observations of Facebook, where folks stand. As I read the essay, I wonder if, at least clergy-wise, we're more divided politically than theologically? Just a thought? I invite you to read, ponder, and share your thoughts.


Troubling Divine Demands -- Lectionary Reflection 4A

Genesis 22:1-14  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 22 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said,…

For Southern Baptists, a Sudden Awakening and Turn on the “Alt-Right” - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We live in a volatile time, when issues of race and ethnicity have come to the center of our conversations. At a time when 81% of evangelicals supposedly voted for Donald Trump, questions about rationale for voting emerges. My sense is that it's not as simple as many would like to make it. In any case, questions of white privilege and white supremacy remain potent conversation pieces. So, when the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, votes to oppose "Alt-Right White Supremacy," that makes news. After all, the SBC was born of a debate about slavery, and segregationist perspectives remained strong in the denomination. It is, therefore worth taking note when the annual convention decides to take a stand for racial justice, even if not everyone was comfortable with this step. Martin Marty, a thoughtful observer of things religious and public, makes takes a look at the question. As he notes, the sponsor of the resolution, Rev. Dwight McKissic is p…

Father of Nations or a Mother’s Anguished Cry for Help - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 3A

Genesis 21:8-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the w…

Harvest Time -- Sermon for Pentecost 2A

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Last Sunday we heard Jesus issue the Great Commission: “Go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This morning we hear another commission, but it’s more localized. We find ourselves on the far side of the resurrection, and as Jesus travels through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of God’s realm, he realizes the people of Israel are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Because he has compassion for them, he tells the disciples that while “the harvest is plentiful,” the “laborers are few.” The metaphors are agricultural—shepherding and harvesting—but the point is simple. There is work to be done, which means more laborers, more shepherds, more harvesters, are needed. 
Jesus responds to this situation, by asking the disciples to pray that “the Lord of the harvest” would “send out laborers into this harvest.” As the reading continues, we discover that the answer to the prayer …

Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography -- A Review

ELEANOR: A Spiritual Biography.By Harold Ivan Smith. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xi + 239 pages.

Eleanor Roosevelt not only was the longest serving First Lady, but perhaps except for Hillary Clinton, she is surely the most influential First Lady in American History. That she was influential in the political/social realm is not surprising, but that she was a deeply spiritual person, who was committed to the Christian faith as a life-long Episcopalian, and that this faith influenced her social vision, might be surprising. I know that, while I had some sense of her importance as a political figure, not only during her tenure in the White House, but as a delegate to the United Nations, I did not know the extent of her faith. Her faith, her religion, was broad, liberal, and committed to justice. She was a friend of H. Richard Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. She understands James’ declaration that faith without works is dead, as well as Micah’…

Niebuhr and the Human Dilemma

During my seminary days, I wrote a paper for my theology class, arguing against the concept of "original sin." I'm not sure I would reject that vision, but as time has passed, and my idealism has been tempered by realism, I am more and more led to the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr. As I look at the current political landscape, in which power does seem to corrupt absolutely, I have decided to spend some time with Niebuhr's classic social ethics, Moral Man in Immoral Society. Originally published in 1932, four years after he left Detroit for Union Seminary, he takes on our social context and its challenges. I will be sharing other words over the next weeks and months as I meditate on the message of the book, which I may have read long ago, but feel the need to dive deeper into it. So, I would like to just share the opening paragraph of the book, and invite you to contemplate with me its message:
Though human society has roots which lie deeper in history than the beginni…

Hospitality to Strangers and a Laughable Promise - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 2A (Genesis)

Genesis 18:1-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
18 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stoo…

The Epistle to the Ephesians (Karl Barth) -- A Review

THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS. By Karl Barth with Introductory Essays by Francis Watson and John Webster. Edited by R. David Nelson; translated by Ross M. Wright. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. 182 pages.

Karl Barth remains one of the most influential, if at times enigmatic, theological voices nearly a half century after his death. One of the legacies of his work is his engagement with Scripture. Although conversant with the historical critical method of interpretation, he was more interested in hearing scripture as a theological voice speaking not only to an ancient time, but to the present. He was committed to the vision that in Scripture one could encounter the Word of God. He was not an inerrantist or an infallibilist, but he was open to it being a means through which one could hear God’s voice.  Barth first made a mark on the ecclesiastical world with his Romans commentary, which was first published while he was still a pastor at Safenwil, Switzerland. That bombshell of a boo…

I Am with You Always - A Sermon for Trinity Sunday - Year A

Matthew 28:16-20

Today is, according to the church calendar, Trinity Sunday. On the matter of the Trinity, Disciples of Christ are not of one mind. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were Trinitarians, and Barton Stone was not. One of our important second generation Disciple leaders was Isaac Errett, who served as pastor of the Jefferson Avenue and Beaubien Street Church in Detroit during the 1860s. He wrote a pamphlet titled Our Position. In that pamphlet he wrote that while Disciples accept the biblical statements about the “trinity of persons in the Godhead, we repudiate alike the philosophical and theological speculations of Trinitarians and Unitarians, and all unauthorized forms of speech on a question which transcends human reason, and on which it becomes us to speak ‘in words which the Holy Spirit teaches’” [Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union, pp. 297-298].  In other words, we’re going to stick with Bible terms! Of course there are some among us, including me, who like t…

Building Bridges at an Iftar Dinner

Last night around seventy people gathered at Central Woodward Christian Church for an Iftar Dinner, so as to break the Ramadan Fast. This is the second year that we have done this in partnership with our friends at the Turkish American Society of Michigan. We opened the door, they brought a program and delicious food. We hope to make this an annual event going forward.  This year the gathering was even larger than the previous year as we sent out an invitation through the Troy-area Interfaith Group, as well as personal invitations on my part to several community leaders. Once the word got out, people chose to join us from across the area -- as far away as Dearborn.  Even though we didn't eat until after 9 PM, starting with eating a date to break the fast provided by one of my Muslim friends, who just happened to have a case of dates in his car, it was a beautiful, powerful evening that will not be forgotten!

The Necessity of Bridge-Building -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Bridge-Builder. That is a vocation I have pursued. I've tried to be a connector -- not always successfully, but I do believe that it is a worthy vocation. The interfaith group that until I recently I led, claimed its motto that "peace in the world requires peace among religions." Another area that needs bridge builders is the LGBTQ community. Though the war has been won -- the closets have been emptied -- conflict is still present. They key to change has been relationships. Martin Marty takes note of that reality, especially as it is being exemplified in the efforts of Jesuit James Martin, who has a new book out that speaks to the hope that a bridge between LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church, which sees homosexuality as a disordered condition. Let us pray he has success. In the meantime, continue reading! 

God the Creator - A Lectionary Reflection for Trinity Sunday A (Genesis)

Genesis 1:1-2:4a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

The Rule of Faith (Everett Ferguson) -- A Review

THE RULE OF FAITH: A Guide. (Cascade Companions). By Everett Ferguson. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017. Xii + 104 pages.
                I am a member of the clergy in a non-creedal faith community. People in my tradition tend to recoil at anything that smacks of a creed, believing that such things crimp our freedom and end up being tests of fellowship. I understand the feeling, though I’m more comfortable with the historic creeds (Apostles and Nicene) than many in my tradition. While this resistance to creeds is understandable, especially considering the way faith statements have been used to exclude. Nonetheless, it seems to me that having some form of a summary of common beliefs might be helpful, even if we don’t call them creeds. With this in mind, perhaps the “Rule of Faith,” which emerged in a variety of forms early in the life of the church would be helpful to the contemporary church.
One who has deep knowledge of the early church and its development and use of these “rules” is…

One Body, One Spirit -- Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

1 Corinthians 12:3-13

I have a funny story to tell. Somehow, as I was laying out my sermon plans, when I got to Pentecost, I decided to go with the lectionary reading from 1 Corinthians 12. But, for some reason I put down 1 Corinthians 13 instead. Then, when I sat down to do worship planning, I used 1 Corinthians 13 as the guide. I also began contemplating how this message of love fit with Pentecost. It didn’t dawn on me until Tuesday morning that I had the wrong text. When I read through the lectionary selection, I thought it was odd that the lectionary would omit the first two verses. Now, the creators of the lectionary have their reasons for omitting verses of a passage, but what is it about speaking in the tongues of mortals and angels that would be controversial. So, I turned to a lectionary commentary to see why these verses had been omitted. To my surprise, I discovered that I had the wrong text.  But, now everything made sense, including the title of the sermon. That’s how we g…


Yesterday President Trump announced that he would halt implementation of the Paris Climate Accords, and thus remove the United States from the voluntary pact. This accord has been agreed to by almost the entire world.  We hear that the America First party in the White House won the debate. Though the President suggests that the accords are bad for the United States and will cost millions of jobs, the fact that many of America's largest companies, including energy companies supported staying in, as well as our allies across the world, perhaps suggests otherwise.
Here's my take. I doubt very much that the President's rationale holds much water, economically or environmentally. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this is as apocalyptic a moment as suggested by some critics. What it does suggest, however,, is that at least on environmental matters, the United States is ceding leadership to others. That China is poised to fill the gap, largely in self-interest to curb hor…

More Than Words (Erin Wathen) -- A Review

MORE THAN WORDS: 10 Values for the Modern Family. By Erin Wathen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. 173 pages.

MORE THAN WORDS: 10 Values for the Modern Family. By Erin Wathen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. 173 pages.
There is a lot of talk across the land about family values. More often than not, the “family values” that certain groups in society wish to restore look a lot like a return to the 1950s. Now, I enjoy watching re-runs of Leave It to Beaver, but do we really want to return to the day of June Cleaver, in her dress and pearls, mopping up after Beaver and his friends. Often these "values" amount to little more than a return to the way things were in the 1950s, when June Cleaver wore a dress and pearls as she mopped the floor after Beaver and his friends. Unfortunately, many of the so-called “family values” that are being offered up by advocates are tinged with bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and misogynism. Are these really the values we w…