Thursday, July 20, 2017
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Ayn Rand was the apostle of the philosophy of selfishness. By all means, do everything you can to put yourself first. It's a philosophy that has been having a lot of traction lately, in business circles and in political circles. It's linked to a hard-line liberterianism, that both Ron Paul and Rand Paul espouse (among others). While she continues to have many devotees, as Martin Marty notes, some of them have been falling from favor, their selfish behavior getting them in trouble. The question is, can one embrace her philosophy and a Christian one? While Marty doesn't mention the current President, one of the articles he points us to does, suggesting that this is the underlying philosophy of the administration, which again raises questions about how one squares Christian faith with a Randian world view? It makes no sense to me, but I guess some can keep the two together. In any case, take a read, and offer your thoughts.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Genesis 28:10-19 Common English Bible (CEB)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. 12 He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. 13 Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. 18 After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He named that sacred place Bethel, though Luz was the city’s original name.
I have been tasked with writing a lengthy (10,000 words) chapter for a book focusing on the cultural history of religion in the 18th century. It’s due the first of September, and I have only begun my research and writing. That chapter came to mind, as I read this story from Genesis 28. In this passage, we discover that Jacob has a dream in which he hears God reinforce the covenant made first with his grandparents, of which he is now the third-generation carrier. God has promised to bless Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12). Now, God reaffirms that promise, telling Jacob that this land upon which he is lying, is given to him and his descendants. While his descendants will span out in all directions, they will always have this land as their inheritance, even as they serve as a blessing to the peoples of the earth. When Jacob woke up from this dream, he declared that Yahweh (the LORD) was definitely in this place. He recognized this place to be sacred (even if he didn’t at first recognize its sacredness). As we ponder this reading for the seventh Sunday of Pentecost, the author invites us to consider the spaces that are sacred because they are places where God is encountered.
Monday, July 17, 2017
ALWAYS WITH US? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (Prophetic Christianity). By Liz Theoharis. Foreword by William J. Barber II. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. Xxii + 185 pages.
Will the poor always be with us? Is poverty a chronic situation that no matter how hard we try, it can’t be eliminated? If so, is the only option that we manage poverty through charitable action? As Christians, seeking to answer that question, what would Jesus have us do?
Liz Theoharis, the founder and codirector of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice and coordinator of Union Theological Seminary’s Poverty Initiative, seeks to make the case that not only can poverty be eliminated, it is an imperative. Unfortunately, in her experience, Christians resist this message, arguing on the basis of a statement in Matthew 26, that the poor will always be with us, and that Jesus makes it clear that he’s more interested in being worshiped than dealing with poverty (beyond charitable action). She challenges this sentiment in this contribution to Eerdmans' Prophetic Christianity series, which is based upon what appears to be a revision of her Ph.D. dissertation in New Testament at Union Seminary. Central to her work is the idea of "Reading the Bible with the Poor." She uses historical critical methods to engage the text of scripture, but does so in conversation with persons who experience poverty, much like Ernesto Cardenal's "Gospel in Solentiname," recognizing the importance of this too often-neglected voice.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The closest I ever get to sowing seeds is laying down grass seed to fill in the gaps in the lawn. I can’t say I have any expertise in this, or much success, but I try. When I sow the grass seed, I try my best to get the soil just right. I go to the store, pick up top soil or even planting mix. I dig out the weeds and rocks, and put down a layer of that specially prepared soil. I try to buy grass seed designed to sprout quickly and has a long life span, though it rarely works as promised. As Cheryl can attest, I do what I can to make the front yard look nice, but I confess that I don’t have a green thumb.
Friday, July 14, 2017
|Installation of the Rev. Dr. Teresa Hord Owens as General Minister and President of the Christian Church ((Disciples of Christ) on July 12, 2017 at the Indianapolis General Assembly. (picture taken by Don Dewey).|
Like many Disciples from across the country, I have returned home from the 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis. People go to meetings like this with varying hopes and expectations. Some go to participate in business, most of which today involves statements on social justice items, calling on the church to speak prophetically. Some attend hoping to hear good preaching and to join in worship. Others go for the fellowship. To be honest, it's the latter that draws me. If I can renew connections, many of which go back to my college days, and make new ones, then I go home happy. I came home happy.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Should Christians really follow Jesu' dictum to love our enemies, and what does that mean? Audrey Thompson addresses the question of what that means in our contemporary context bringing in to the conversation thoughts from Reinhold Niebuhr, who raises questions about its suitability, along with a blogger who suggested that black first responders should not have stepped in to save Steve Scalise, the GOP congressman shot at a congressional baseball practice. Scalise is a right wing congressman, whose positions are often at odds with the lives of persons of color and LGBT persons. I will simply invite you to read and respond.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
It is Wednesday, and the very last day of the 2017 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since the message of the week has been unity, and the defining text is John 17, I am reposting below a lectionary reflection that I think fits the moment. Take a read, especially if you are Disciple, and contemplate what it means to pursue unity of the body of Christ, and how that is expressed in the mission of God.
John 17:20-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
On the Seventh Sunday of Easter, many preachers/congregations will choose to celebrate Ascension Sunday. The Gospel reading for Ascension Sunday is Luke 24:44-53. The promise of Ascension Sunday is that Jesus, despite leaving the disciples physically, is sending them out on a mission. Luke will pick this up again in the first chapter of Acts, where he recounts the ascension story and tells the gathered community that when the Spirit falls on them, they are to preach the good news to the world beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). The reading for the seventh Sunday of Easter also speaks of mission, though we find Jesus engaged in a final moment of teaching before going to the cross. Thus, for this reading Jesus has not yet died or risen from the grave, and thus isn’t ready to ascend. But, he does pray for the disciples in what is often known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In this prayer he offers up a vision of mission that is tied to unity among the members of his community.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
The health care debate has been raging for years, and it is at a peak right now as a Republican Congress and President seek to repeal and possibly replace the Affordable Care Act. Much rhetoric has been expended on both sides, and much of it is confusing. What is clear is that the general populace, while not thrilled about the ACA prefers it to the current alternatives. One of the "groups" that is caught up in the debate is those persons with disabilities, many of whom are covered by Medicaid, and who could face loss of coverage under current proposals. Courtney Wilder raises questions from the perspective of "Disability Theology." That is, viewing theology from the perspective of those with disabilities. As the pastor of a young man with Down's syndrome, I know how the debate affects his family. I invite you to read this essay and contemplate how people of faith ought to view the debate, recognizing that one can equate living a good life with being illness or disability free. This isn't just a political discussion, this is a spiritual one!
Monday, July 10, 2017
Genesis 25:19-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
The lectionary readings from Genesis this Pentecost season speak to God’s faithfulness to the covenant promise. That promise was this: Abraham and Sarah would be the ancestors of nations, and that their descendants would be a blessing to the nations. There are many twists and turns to this story, beginning with Sarah’s inability to get pregnant, Sarah’s plan to provide Abraham with an heir through a surrogate (Hagar), and God’s commitment to fulfilling the promise through Sarah, which leads to a messy question of Hagar and Ishmael’s future, when Isaac is born to Sarah. So, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert, though God provides support. Then, just when you think the coast is clear, Abraham thinks he heard God command him to sacrifice Isaac. Fortunately, God stepped in and prevented the deed from occurring, or this chapter of the story couldn’t be told.
Sunday, July 09, 2017
Today is Sunday, July 9, 2017. Today Cheryl and I are celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary. We are doing so while attending the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Isn't that a wonderful way to celebrate an anniversary?
While today is a day of celebration, tomorrow offers a time for signing of books. I will be signing copies (for sale through the Thoughtful Christian Bookstore) of my book Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide ( Energion, 2016). I will be signing books along with my friend and colleague Katherine Willis Pershey, who will be signing her book Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, (Herald Press, 2016).
We will be in the Disciples Home Ministries Booth -- in the Family and Children's Ministries area -- from 9:30-11 AM. If you are attending the General Assembly, I hope you'll stop in and purchase copies of both books. They fit quite well together! Katherine's book is wonderfully personal! And she liked my book as well. So, join us between 9:30 and 11 on Monday July 10.
Saturday, July 08, 2017
The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ begins this evening. I will be in attendance. In addition, copies of my book Freedom in Covenant will be available in the bookstore. I invite you to take a read, and if you're a Disciple, I would, of course, recommend you get a copy!
The religious movement that gave birth to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) burst forth on the American frontier early in the nineteenth century. This fact is important if we are to understand the story of who the Disciples are and what they value. What has come to be known as the Stone-Campbell Movement was marked from the beginning by a frontier ethos of freedom, anti-institutionalism, and individualism. You might say that this is a denominational tradition with a libertarian streak. In addition to its frontier ethos, the movement has been marked by its roots in the Reformed tradition, for the founders of the movement were first Presbyterians before taking the steps that led to the creation of a new American religious movement. While Disciples are heirs of the Reformed tradition, they, along with the other two major branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, are marked by their points of resistance. This is especially true regarding demands for doctrinal conformity. As a result, Disciples take pride in being a non-creedal tradition.
Friday, July 07, 2017
Tomorrow evening the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will open. During the days to come we will worship and hear preaching, share educational events, gather for fellowship, and do some business, including electing a new General Minister and President. One of the topics of conversation, whether official or not, will concern our identity and our future. We are small denomination getting smaller. We have some strong founding principles, but do we understand them and embrace them. In preparation for this gathering I am reposting a presentation I made to the Regional Board meeting of the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on October 22, 2016. The presentation is rooted in my book Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015), which I will have available for purchase (and signing if you would like).
Disciples have always valued the principle of freedom. We hold tight to our non-creedal identity and grant each other room to interpret and apply Scripture as we believe the Spirit leads. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can be a Disciple and believe anything you want to believe. That’s a statement I’ve heard over the years, but we call ourselves Disciples of Christ for a reason. If we’re disciples of Christ, then Jesus must have a prominent place in our life together.
Wednesday, July 05, 2017
Yesterday the United States celebrated the 241st anniversary of the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, which essentially created a breach between the colonies and Great Britain. We call our selves a democracy, though we are not a pure democracy. We are instead a representative democracy. Although the Declaration declares that "all men are equal," this statement had a fairly narrow definition, which has broadened with time (and continues to broaden so that humankind is a much better word). Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of the vision of democracy the Founders had in mind. It was to be one without faction. Yet, as Niebuhr writes: "The founding fathers of America regarded “faction” as an unmitigated evil. The American Constitution was designed to prevent the emergence of the very political parties without which it has become impossible to maintain our democratic processes." [Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense (Kindle Locations 1432-1433). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.]. So, parties emerged, with the parties of today not being the parties of the earliest American politicos. The earliest debates pitted those who valued a centralized national government (Hamiltonians) and those who envisioned a more libertarian form (Jeffersonians). One was urban the other rural/agrarian.
Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Today marks the 241st anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, the event that marks the beginning of a national identity separate from Great Britain. It would be several years before the nation would become fully formed with a constitution and permanent government. Nonetheless, it is the 4th of July that we celebrate as the beginning of America’s national identity. While we who are American citizens should celebrate and show our patriotism, but do so lightly and with humility. As a Christian, I affirm the principle that God is not just America’s god, but the God of all nations and all peoples. While Christianity has been the dominant religion in the United States, no form has dominated and no religion is prescribed by the Constitution. In fact, the Constitution never mentions God and proscribes religious tests. The First Amendment forbids the establishment of religion, and grants freedom to all Americans to practice their religion as they please.
As an American citizen, who loves his country, but also recognizes its imperfections and its spotty history (to be kind), I offer these words from Reinhold Niebuhr’s book Moral Man and Immoral Society, which I recently re-read. He writes of the “ethical paradox of patriotism:”
There is an ethical paradox in patriotism which defies every by the most astute and sophisticated analysis. The paradox is that patriotism transmutes individual unselfishness into national egoism. Loyalty to the nation is a high form of altruism when compared with lesser loyalties and more parochial interests. It therefore becomes the vehicle of all the altruistic impulses and expresses itself, on occasion, with such fervor that the critical attitude of the individual toward the nation and its enterprises is almost completely destroyed. The unqualified character of this devotion is the very basis of the nation’s power and of the freedom to use the power without moral restraint. Thus the unselfishness of individuals makes for the selfishness of nations. That is why the hope of solving the larger social problems of mankind, merely by extending the social sympathies of individuals, is so vain. Altruistic passion is sluiced into the reservoirs of nationalism with great ease, and is made to flow beyond them with great difficulty. What lies beyond the nation, the community of mankind is too vague to inspire devotion. The lesser communities within the nation, religious, economic, racial and cultural, have equal difficulty in competing with the nation for the loyalty of its citizens. [Moral Man and Immoral Society, p. 91].
As you can see, Niebuhr puts his finger on a crucial point. Nationalism is potent. We might say that we have a greater loyalty to humankind, but do we? When push comes to shove, how many of us will saw no to the nation? We may not be rabid in our patriotism, but it’s hard to resist the lure of national pride.
What about the church? Might it not be a strong enough counterweight to the draw of nationalism? Niebuhr raises questions about the ability of the church to resist. He continues from above:” The church was able to do so when it had the prestige of a universality it no longer possesses.” He does see one possibility of a force stronger than nation, but while class might one day supersede nation, “for the present the nation is still supreme.” [Moral Man and Immoral Society, p. 91].
Niebuhr wrote this in 1932, in between two wars in which nationalism proved to have great power over the people. It would find its most diabolical expression in Nazism, which sought to purify its national identity by eliminating any groups of people who might sully its national identity—Jews, Gypsies, people of color, gays and lesbians—but back home, when the GIs returned from fighting for the promise of freedom, African Americans found that they would not share in the bounty of honors given to their white comrades.
As we express our patriotism today, let us try to do so with humility. Let us try to remember a higher loyalty. If one is, as I am, a Christian, let us remember that the God we know in Jesus is the God of all nations. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we affirm our ultimate allegiance to God and God's realm. That affirmation serves to temper and restrain any unmitigated loyalty that would accord to the nation unlimited power. In other words, there is room for patriotism, but not nationalism. In doing so, may we reflect upon the diversity of this nation, honoring that diversity as one of the goods that has come about over the decades of national existence.
Monday, July 03, 2017
Genesis 24:34-38,42-49, 58-67 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’
42 “I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,“May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads;may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.”61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
When it comes to marriage, we live in interesting times (I have authored a bible study guide titled Marriage in Interesting Times in case you’re interested in what the Bible might say regarding marriage—it’s not exhaustive, though). With the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality and the growing trend to postpone marriage until couples are settled into careers, and perhaps even purchase a home, among other things, I can safely say that things have changed since I was married nearly forty years ago. But things have changed even more dramatically over the past two to three thousand years, as can be seen in this reading from Genesis. One of the reasons I wrote a bible study guide focusing on marriage related texts is that many Christians struggle with the relationship of the Bible and current trends. We hear people talk about “biblical marriage,” but seem to equate 1950s era family arrangements with the biblical story. So, if we’re going to have a conversation about “biblical marriage” it might be good to know what the Bible actually says (and not just a few proof texts taken out of context).
Sunday, July 02, 2017
We gather each week at the Lord’s Table. We proclaim that this is an open table, because Jesus welcomes everyone to the Table. We gather this morning outside in this circle, which includes a cross representing Jesus and his mission, a peace pole inviting us to embrace the shalom of God, and a rock that honors the memory of a child who did not get to experience our world. In the gospel of Matthew, the rock represents the Good Confession that Peter made, upon which Jesus builds the church.