Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Lost Cause Lost

Hanging on the wall of my study at home is a print of Tom Lovell's The Surrender at Appomattox.  At times I've hung it in my college office and even my church office. It pictures Robert E. Lee signing the surrender document essentially ending the Civil War. In later years, after Lee's death a movement was born known as "The Lost Cause." It was born out of an attempt to reframe the history of the Civil War away from slavery to states rights.  It was also a response to attempts by African Americans to claim rights granted to them by the Constitution, rights that were often denied through Jim Crow laws. It was during the early 20th century and then again during the era of the Civil Rights Movement that statues were erected lionizing Confederate leaders such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Those statues and monuments, many of which stand at the center of city parks or along boulevards around the country are not meant just to honor long dead leaders, but to send a message. That message is simply one of white superiority. That the "Unite the Right" rally was held in a park where the local leaders planned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was also meant to send a message. People of color, Jews, Muslims, people who don't fit the vision of a white dominated America need to remember their place. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pondering Charlottesville

It's now Wednesday. Charlottesville remains a topic of conversation in the country and beyond (I spent a couple of nights in Canada earlier this week and it's interesting to watch coverage of American political life from that vantage point -- let me just say they're concerned that racist nationalism could spill over the border). On Sunday, like many of my colleagues, I condemned white nationalism and called for the church to be a beacon of hope. I knew what needed to be said, I said  it the best I could on short notice, and and my congregation seems to have received it well. I might even say that they expected me to speak to the moment. But where do we go from here? How do we change the rhetoric of our era which is increasingly course and often dehumanizing, a rhetoric that unfortunately has been given cover by the President. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Divine Providence and Family Reconciliation

Genesis 45:1-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So, no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

                We continue with our journey through the Genesis story, which takes us from the call of Abraham through to Joseph’s rise to power, which serves as a means of rescuing the family through whom God is going to bless the nations. I used the term “divine providence” in the title, because the trajectory of the Genesis story has in mind God’s intent to bless the nations through Abraham and his descendants. While I embrace this message, believing it connects the Christian community to Abraham, through Jesus, so that we might share in God’s purpose of blessing the peoples of the earth, I also believe that the future is open. That means we humans can choose not to cooperate. Perhaps that is why the covenant story isn’t a straight-line path. We wander off, and God woos us back on the path forward. God knows where God wants to go, but it will take some cooperation on our part to get there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Come … Why Do You Doubt? -- A Sermon for Pentecost 10A

Matthew 14:22-33

On a day after White Nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and declared their intent to take back American for white people; a day after violence broke out in that city leading to the death of one and the injuring of others, when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters; in a week when it seemed as if we are on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, we gather to worship the God who stands firmly against hate, racism, violence, and the destruction of life. We come here needing to say no to white nationalism and nuclear war. We also come to hear Matthew  invite us to use our spiritual imaginations so we can embrace the “impossible possibilities” of the Bible’s miracle stories, so that we can, as Brian McLaren suggests, “play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world of tomorrow” [We Make the Road, p. 97]. It is in the midst of all of this that we attend to the story of Jesus walking on water and calming stormy seas. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Uncontrolling Love -- A Book Announcement

I want to take this opportunity to share word of a new book titled Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord,  (SacraSage Press, 2017). One of the reasons I want to share word about the book is that one of the 80 essays in this book was written by me. It's titled: "What Use Is God?" In this essay I engage the question of evil, asking how a God defined as uncoercive or uncontrolling can help us deal with life. 
Below is the description of the book take from Amazon. You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the image of the cover or by clicking here. 

You might want to also follow the Facebook page, where you'll find more information about upcoming conversations about the book, including a 24-hour Facebook Live event covering August 24-25..  My time for a 30 minute reflection is scheduled for Friday, August 25 at 3 PM (EDT). 
What if God is not in control? And what if this lack of control isn’t because God is weak or uninvolved? What if, instead, God’s powerful and universal love is inherently uncontrolling?
In this book, more than eighty writers explore uncontrolling love, an idea first suggested by Thomas Jay Oord in his award-winning work, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (IVP Academic). Contributors explore uncontrolling love in practical, political, scientific, personal, economic, biblical, ethical, and philosophical dimensions. Many tell stories and pose questions. Others offer novel ideas to make sense of life or promote well-being. Oord offers introductions to key ideas and concepts.
“This book is amazing! Each essay contains precisely worded insights and thoughtful, practical responses to Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. Essayists cite their own reasons for recognizing, claiming, and articulating what Oord calls “essential kenosis theology.” In an array of accessible vignettes, essayists illustrate Oord’s relational thesis: God’s love is necessarily self-giving and others-empowering.-- Karen Winslow, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University
“Jesus proclaimed God as a loving parent, and this basic approach dominates in the New Testament. But many people revere controlling power more than love. Thomas Jay Oord has reclaimed the good news of the uncontrolling love of God. Many rejoice and respond with uncontrolling love for one another and all God’s creatures. This book embodies the response of the church, lay people and pastors, students and teachers, liberals and conservatives. Readers can join in this work of theology by witnessing to what a loving God is doing in the world.”-- John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Economy of Care and the Future of the World

With one election out of the way, and a new one in the offering, we will come back to the mantra of the Bill Clinton era -- "it's the economy, stupid." Much of the current debate over immigration, climate change, health care, has economic roots. I don't think that Donald Trump is a true populist, but he  got the votes of many working class Americans who voted for Barack Obama in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio. My concern is that both parties are offering economic solutions that are intended to solve 20th century concerns. We're at under 5% unemployment, which is a good number. It's considered full employment. The problem is that we seem intent on bringing back an economy that is no longer feasible. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appealed to so-called blue collar manufacturing workers, promising to bring back jobs either through trade policy or immigration policy. The problem is that most unskilled manufacturing jobs are lost not because of immigration or sending plants overseas. They're being lost to robotics. That isn't going to change. So, maybe its time to rethink the economy, and begin to look to other places for employment that has a future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Fire and Fury Like the World has Never Seen

As a preacher I am familiar with apocalyptic language. One expression of that language is the promise of fire and brimstone thrown down upon the enemies of God's people. Something of that apocalyptic language came to mind as I heard the President of the United States threaten North Korea with what would appear to be a preemptive nuclear strike against that nation, should it continue to threaten the United States.  Many friends and colleagues have already given their opinion on Facebook and Twitter. I prefer to do my writing on such subjects here on the blog. While I have been reticent to engage in the increasingly negative debates that are tearing at the fabric of the nation, I thought I should say something.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Messiness of Divine Providence - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10A

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Common English Bible (CEB)
37 Jacob lived in the land of Canaan where his father was an immigrant. 2 This is the account of Jacob’s descendants. Joseph was 17 years old and tended the flock with his brothers. While he was helping the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, Joseph told their father unflattering things about them. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was born when Jacob was old. Jacob had made for him a long robe. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him and couldn’t even talk nicely to him. 

12 Joseph’s brothers went to tend their father’s flocks near Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Aren’t your brothers tending the sheep near Shechem? Come, I’ll send you to them.” 

And he said, “I’m ready.”

14 Jacob said to him, “Go! Find out how your brothers are and how the flock is, and report back to me.” 

So Jacob sent him from the Hebron Valley. When he approached Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering in the field and asked him, “What are you looking for?” 

16 Joseph said, “I’m looking for my brothers. Tell me, where are they tending the sheep?” 

17 The man said, “They left here. I heard them saying, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. 

18 They saw Joseph in the distance before he got close to them, and they plotted to kill him. 19 The brothers said to each other, “Here comes the big dreamer. 20 Come on now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns, and we’ll say a wild animal devoured him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams!” 

21 When Reuben heard what they said, he saved him from them, telling them, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Don’t spill his blood! Throw him into this desert cistern, but don’t lay a hand on him.” He intended to save Joseph from them and take him back to his father. 

23 When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s long robe, 24 took him, and threw him into the cistern, an empty cistern with no water in it. 25 When they sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with camels carrying sweet resin, medicinal resin, and fragrant resin on their way down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and hide his blood? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let’s not harm him because he’s our brother; he’s family.” His brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.

During this Pentecost season, as we have explored the readings from Genesis, we have seen how the covenant is being passed on from generation to generation. It’s rather messy. Abraham had two sons, but it was the second son whom God chose to be the carrier of the covenant. That son was Isaac, the son of Sarah. Then Isaac had two sons, the younger of whom ended up as the carrier of the covenant. Now we arrive at the sons of Jacob. In the end, there will be twelve sons, but at this moment there are but eleven, with Joseph being the youngest. Joseph, like his father, could be obnoxious, but his father loved him more than the others (in part because he was the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, the one whom Jacob loved more than Rachel’s older sister).

Monday, August 07, 2017

God in the Movies (Robert Johnston & Catherine Barsotti) -- A Review

GOD IN THE MOVIES: AGuide for Exploring Four Decades of Film. Edited by Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston. Foreword by Ralph Winter. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017. Xxxiii + 264 pages.

                As a preacher, I have been known to refer to a movie or two to illustrate a point. Because I am a fan of both the Star Wars films and all forms of Star Trek—yes, even the first Star Trek movie has its redeeming qualities—I have been known to make special use of imagery from these films and the Star Trek TV series. I know that I am not alone in turning to film and TV for inspiration. While my church isn’t so equipped, I know that many preachers even feature clips in their sermons. So, for now I will remain old school and will make do using my own descriptions, even though I have been known to get things wrong (such mistakes are often pointed out to me afterwards by my son who spent a year in film school). Why do we do this? Because film and TV are now prime carriers of culture.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Everyone Ate Their Fill - A Sermon for Pentecost 9A

Matthew 14:13-21

When we gather at the Lord’s Table each week, we pause to remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples, and continues to share with us through the Spirit. Although this meal stands at the center of our faith tradition, the Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus sharing meals with others.  One of these stories involves a meal with more than five thousand guests, who dined on five loaves of bread and two fish, and still everyone ate their fill. 

The “Feeding of the 5000" is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the miracle. Enquiring minds want to know how Jesus did it. Was it a magic trick? Was it a spontaneous potluck? Is it a myth? Despite our inquisitiveness, Matthew doesn’t give any details. Could that mean that the details are irrelevant? Miracle stories, like parables point beyond themselves to the kingdom of God. So, what Matthew wants us to hear is a message about the reign and realm of God. If this is true, then, what is this miracle story saying to us about the realm of God? 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

What's this about Immigration restrictions?

Iftar Dinner at Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy
I grew up in Oregon, one of the least diverse states in the union. I now live in the most diverse city in Michigan, a city that also claims the largest foreign born population. Troy is a relatively affluent and prosperous city, and the immigrant community contributes greatly to that prosperity. While I enjoyed growing up in Oregon, and may return there some day, I have to say that my life has been enriched greatly by my immigrant friends here in Troy, most of whom hail from Asia or the Middle East. Before coming to Troy, we lived in Santa Barbara, California. My son's high school had a significant Latinx majority. He quite enjoyed that mixture. 

I write this as an introduction to my dismay at today's announcement by the President of his full-throated support of an effort to reduce immigration by 50%, reduce the numbers of refugees admitted, and focus on "merit" rather than family connections. The sponsors of the bill suggest that this needs to be done to support working-class Americans, but is that really the reason for it? Or is something else involved? Much of the anti-immigrant talk has been coupled with expressions of white nationalism, a call to protect "our Judeo-Christian" values, which generally means "Euro-American." Now, I am of European American extraction.I value the legacy of my ancestors, but to value that legacy doesn't mean that the quality of my life will suffer because of the presence of people who hail from Mexico or Guatamala, India or Kenya, Syria or Korea . . .   

What is afoot here? What is the fear being capitalized upon?  All I'll say is this, do you see a connection between this announcement and word that the Justice Department's Civil Rights division is hiring lawyers to pursue litigation against colleges and universities who are perceived to be discriminating against white people?  I don't know about you, but I seem to see signs of a connection.

Here is to hoping that members of Congress will see the light, and do what is right.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Beyond the Modern Age (Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew) - A Review

BEYOND THE MODERN AGE: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture. By Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. Xi + 313 pages.

The eighteenth century brought us the Enlightenment and modernity, with the promise that reason, along with science and technology, would make life better, that it would solve our problems. The truth is, in some ways, life is better. As I sit here at my computer, in an air-conditioned house, I surely do not wish to go back and live in the seventeenth century. However, reason didn’t solve all our problems. In fact, “progress” is a mixed blessing. That may be why many have turned to forms of postmodernism, because it seemed to free us from the shackles of a rather gray and confining mechanical world view.  But, in the age of alternative facts, perhaps the promise of postmodernity has proven problematic. I'm not a philosopher, but how should we understand our age, and where it seems to be leading?
Beyond the Modern Age offers an analysis of our contemporary culture and its antecedents (thus the use of the word archaeology) that is undertaken by two evangelical academics of a Reformed stripe, who seem to have a predilection for the vision of Abraham Kuyper. One of the two authors is an economist from the Netherlands and the other is a Canadian. At a timbeyond the Modern Age (Bob e when we hear that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, apparently embracing his populist white nationalism, it is refreshing to hear that not all evangelicals think alike. While I found places of difference, especially regarding their take on sexuality (they’re traditionalists), I found their analysis thought provoking and insightful. As with Miroslav’s book from a year earlier, Flourishing, the authors make the important claim that religion will need to play a significant role in our attempts to deal with the issues confronting us, especially economic and climate related issues.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A Divine Wrestling Match - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9A (Genesis 32)

Genesis 32:22-31 Common English Bible (CEB)
22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” 
27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” 
29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.” 
But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” 31 The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
                It was the night before Jacob was to face his brother Esau, from whom he had fled years before, after taking the blessing that should have gone to the oldest brother. Jacob had dwelt in the land of his uncle, Laban, had amassed a great family and fortune. Truly, he was blessed. Still, there was that matter of his relationship with his brother, and the promise that he would dwell in the land of Canaan. He had sent presents to appease his brother (and as a show of wealth), and he prayed that God would deliver him from his brother’s anger (Gen. 32:3-21). After sending the presents to his brother, he also sent his family across the river Jabbok. Only Jacob remained behind, on the near side of the river, seeking to gather up strength of courage to face his brother and claim what had been promised him. That is where the story gets interesting. It is the place we shall dwell for a moment in time.