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Showing posts from July, 2017

How to Become a Multicultural Church (Douglas J. Brouwer) -- A Review

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HOW TO BECOME AMULTICULTURAL CHURCH. By Douglas J. Brouwer. Foreword by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. Xi + 177 pages.
If I have a dream for the church local is that it would reflect the cultural diversity of our community (and the world). It is a tall order, one that many have contemplated, but few have pulled off. So, for the most part, our churches remain as segregated today as they were when Martin Luther King opined about the most segregated hour of the week. While I would love to see multicultural churches (and not just multi-racial churches) become the norm, I’m not sure how to pull it off. Despite the challenges, I will continue to dream that dream. 
There are, of course, congregations that are, at least to some degree, multicultural. One of those Congregations is the International Protestant Church of Zurich, Switzerland. The pastor of that congregation is Douglas Brouwer, a Presbyterian pastor and author of the book under con…

Living with the Living Dead (Greg Garrett) - Review

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LIVING WITH THE LIVING DEAD: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse.New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 248 pages.
                Apocalyptic literature comes in many forms. It often expresses feelings of being oppressed, persecuted, and threatened. These sense is that the end of the world is drawing near. We see it present in the biblical texts, especially the New Testament. The book of Revelation is by design apocalyptic, but Jesus appears in the gospels as an apocalyptic figure and Paul gives us the sense that the end is near. The world is filled with apocalyptic movements, many with religious origins or overtones. Sometimes in pursuit of sophisticated religion, believers set aside or ignore the apocalyptic elements of the faith. Calvin, for instance, chose not to write a commentary on Revelation. Yet the apocalyptic seems to reappear regularly in our cultural and societal conversations. With that we give our attention to the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse.

Climate Change, Faith, and Happiness

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I have been reading, and just finished the book Beyond the Modern Age,by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew. I will be writing a review soon, but considering our political debate about climate change and economic growth, there is something that they write in the concluding chapter that I wanted to share. It's a rather lengthy excerpt, but it is a word we need to hear. I want to note up front that the authors are evangelical Christians with a Reformed orientation. Both live in Canada, which may explain why they are not caught up in the current right wing turn, but it is also a good reminder that evangelical does not mean Trump supporter, climate denier, or devotee of laissez faire economic theory.
So, with regard to climate change, economics, and happiness, they first offer a reminder that we "need to openly, even forcefully challenge the powerful illusion in modern societies that technological progress can save us. A spiritual battle must be fought against worldviews that …

That’s Not the Way We Do Things Here - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 8A (Genesis 29)

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Genesis 29:15-28 Common English Bible (CEB) 15 Laban said to Jacob, “You shouldn’t have to work for free just because you are my relative. Tell me what you would like to be paid.” 16 Now Laban had two daughters: the older was named Leah and the younger Rachel. 17 Leah had delicate eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and was good-looking. 18 Jacob loved Rachel and said, “I will work for you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.” 19 Laban said, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.”   20 Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, but it seemed like a few days because he loved her. 21 Jacob said to Laban, “The time has come. Give me my wife so that I may sleep with her.” 22 So Laban invited all the people of that place and prepared a banquet. 23 However, in the evening, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he slept with her. 24 Laban had given his servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her servant. 25 In the morning, there she was—…

Building a Bridge (James Martin, SJ) -- A Review

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BUILDING A BRIDGE: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. By James Martin, SJ. San Francisco: Harper One, 2017. 150 pages. 

There are many pressing issues confronting the Christian community, ranging from immigration to heath care.  In fact, there are so many issues facing the church that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So, perhaps it is best if we take them one at a time, seeking to find solutions that honor God and honor our neighbors. One of these critical issues facing the church today involves the question of the status of LGBTQ folks in church and society. If the table is open to all, is anyone not welcome?
A little over a year ago the congregation I serve as pastor chose to become "Open and Affirming." This action came after several years of open and at times difficult conversation. We lost people as a result. We took this action as a congregation, and we had the ability to do this, becau…

The Groaning of Creation - A Sermon for Pentecost 7A

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Romans 8:12-25

There are seven parables in Matthew 13. I preached on the parable of the sower last Sunday, and next Sunday Naomi will have five other parables to choose from. That leaves the parable of the Weeds, which is this week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Even though I’m focusing most of my preaching this Pentecost season on the Gospel of Matthew, this morning we’re taking a short break and attending to a word from the book of Romans.
In Romans 8, Paul speaks of two kinds of obligation. According to Paul we owe a debt either to the flesh or to the Spirit. We call the first obligation selfishness, and it leads to death and destruction. The other possible debt or obligation leads to freedom from fear and abundant life. If we embrace the Spirit, we will be adopted as children of God. If we’re children of God, then we are joint heirs with Christ of all the promises of God. That means that we can, with Jesus, address God as “Abba, Father.”

Dangers of Teaching Theology at Christian Colleges

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I didn't know how to title this posting, so hopefully no one is expecting something about being attacked with a knife or something. I was once a theology professor at a Christian College, and am no longer a Theology professor!  It was twenty years ago this summer that I was asked to resign from my position as Associate Professor of Theology at Manhattan Christian College (Kansas). The reason for my resignation is that some in the college's constituency thought I was teaching liberal theology and so they demanded that I be fired. The ax fell shortly after I signed the contract for the year. I can say this, the college honored that contract, paying me not to teach for a year. I didn't want to resign at the time, because I enjoyed teaching and had good relationships with most faculty and a goodly number of students, and even though I was on the left end of the school theologically, I didn't think I was that far afield. But, alas, the die was cast, and my journey took me …

Ayn Rand Mugged -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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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.
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Sacred Places, Divine Callings - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7A (Genesis 28)

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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 hi…

Always with Us (Liz Theoharis) -- A Review

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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 (beyon…

Sowing the Word - Sermon for Pentecost 6A

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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.

ONE -- Initial Reflections on the Disciples of Christ General Assembly

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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.

Love Your Enemies: Moral Absurdity or Genius? -- Sightings (Audrey D. Thompson)

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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.
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Unity and Mission -- #DOCweareone -- Reflection

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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. 
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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 a…

Disability Theology and the Healthcare Debate - Sightings (Courtney Wilder)

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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 …

Family Dysfunction - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 6A (Genesis)

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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…

Marriage in Interesting Times at Disciples General Assembly

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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! An…

Freedom in Covenant -- An excerpt

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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!
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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 …

Freedom in Covenant: A Reflection on Disciples of Christ Identity

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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). 
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            Disciples have always valued the principle of freedom.  We hold tight to our non-creedal identity and grant each other room…

Democracy and Cultural Diversity

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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 De…

Independence Day and the Ethical Paradox of Patriotism

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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 ple…