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Vesper Time (Frank J. Cunningham) -- A Review

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VESPER TIME: The Spiritual Practice of Growing Older. By Frank J. Cunningham. Foreword by Joyce Rupp. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017), xxviii + 146 pages.
I am growing older. My hair is getting thinner and grayer; my joints can get stiff; I don’t have as much energy as I once did. Then again, I've entered my seventh decade of life, so what should I expect. As I look back on my sixty-one plus years of life, I have a lot of memories, some are good and some are not. Although I’ve not yet retired, I spend time wondering about what is next. What will retirement hold for me? After all, if I’m like growing numbers of older Americans, I might live into my 90s. Being that I find myself in this place in life, a book on the “spiritual practice of growing older” seems appropriate. Indeed, I found Frank Cunningham's book Vesper Time to be insightful and encouraging. He might be writing as one fifteen years or so my senior, but the wisdom present in the book is worth attending to even fo…

The Day Will Come . . . A New Creation -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23C (Isaiah 65)

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Isaiah 65:17-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the wor…

Prayers for Veteran's Day -- 2019

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I have been asked, once again, to offer the invocation and benediction at the Veteran's Day observance in Troy, Michigan. I offer these prayers, modified somewhat from the prayers I offered at the same event in 2017, in honor of those who have served and with a prayer for peace on my heart.
Invocation:
God of peace,
We gather today to give honor to women and men who have served their country with dignity, honor, and courage. We seek to recognize the willingness of our veterans, who have shown a willingness to serve in difficult and often dangerous moments, whether they were drafted or volunteered.
As we gather here today, we pray that a spirit of peace will come upon the nations of this world, so that young women and men will no longer be called away from family and friends and put in harm’s way. We look forward to the fulfillment of the prophet’s words, who spoke of a day when the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall no…

By the Rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137)

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This interpretation of Psalm 137, by Boney M, which draws from a Psalm that speaks of the experience of the Jewish exiles being separated from their homeland, is a bit untraditional, but worth listening to as part of our River Crossings Journey.

As you listen/watch the video of the song "By the Rivers of Babylon" from the 1970s, you can read the opening lines of the Psalm, and consider the idea of exile and being a refugee. 


Psalm 137:1-4New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows[a] there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Berlin Wall -- 30 Years Back

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The Berlin Wall was erected a couple of years after my birth. It fell a few months prior to the birth of my son. For nearly half of my life, the Wall stood as a barrier in Berlin, dividing a free city from one that was not free, all of which was surrounded by a nation ruled by a totalitarian government that was beholden to the Soviet Union. Then came the fall of the Wall.

I remember the night vividly. Along with the rest of the world (including KGB agent Vladimir Putin), I watched as the infamous Berlin Wall was mounted by mostly young people from the West. Where once guards from the East might have shot at them, there was no response. Change was in the air. The Wall which symbolized the divide between East and West, between totalitarianism and freedom was soon torn apart, piece by piece. As the Wall fell so did the Soviet Empire. It would take time for East and West Germany to reunite, but what a powerful day it was.

I must admit there was great euphoria in parts of the world, inclu…

Paula White and the Mainstreaming of American Pentecostalism

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Whatever you might think of Donald Trump making Paula White head of his Faith outreach, the appointment does signal a few things, including the entrance of Pentecostalism into the political mainstream. This has been true for some time, but this is an important move. In part, it is due to Trump's attraction to the prosperity gospel of which she is a major player. What is interesting is that many in Trump's "evangelical" orbit believe that women should "go home." Daniel Hummel gives some context to the rise of Pentecostalism within the Religious Right in this essay at Sightings. On White's background, I recommend reading Kate Bowler's book The Preacher's Wife (a review will be up shortly). While I'm not sure that White represents mainstream Pentecostalism, she is an influential figure. So, take a read!  

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Hurt (Johnny Cash)

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As I was pondering what to post this morning, Johnny Cash's cover of Trent Reznor's song "Hurt" opened my Spotify playlist. I've been thinking about Cash since reading Richard Beck's excellent new book Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash (Fortress, 2019). The song represents Cash at the end of his career. While "the Man in Black" often took on the guise of Rebel, there was, as Richard Beck reveals, another side, one that is vulnerable and regretful. The song was written as a reflection on the battle with addiction, something that Johnny struggled with throughout his life.

Richard notes that there is here an echo of Ecclesiastes declaration "Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity." But there is more here than that in the song and in the video above. Richard writes:

Most listeners and viewers are struck by a profound sense of sadness and loss. Lyrically, the song describes how we eventually, if we live long enough, com…

Waters of Blessing - Contemplating Psalm 104 (River Crossings)

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Psalm 104:1-13 (NRSV)
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
    you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
    fire and flame your ministers. You set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
    at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
    to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
    so that they might not again cover the earth. 10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
    they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
    the wild asses quench their…

Pastor Paul (Scot McKnight) - A Review

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PASTOR PAUL: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church. By Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Xvii + 253 pages.
What might Pastor Paul, who lived and died in the first century, have to say to pastors and churches living in the 21st century? What message might we hear in an age where many churches (including mine) are experiencing decline, even as church growth experts offer us pathways to success that are largely based on modern marketing techniques? Perhaps Paul dealt with critics who used numerical metrics to judge performance, but in our day that is the primary metric. Yes, how many bodies are sitting in the seats? By that metric, many of us aren’t doing well, but are we failures? Or is there a different metric we might pay attention to? Put differently, what metric did Paul (let alone Jesus) use to measure ministry? It’s probably good to remember that both Paul and Jesus ended up being executed by the Roman government, whatever that says about the meaning o…

A House of Splendor, A Home for God —A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 22C (Haggai 2)

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Haggai 1:15b-2:9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1:15b In the second year of King Darius, 2:1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations,…