Showing posts from August, 2019

August 1619 -- Slavery in the American Context

While many Americans would rather not address the reality of slavery in America, it is deeply rooted in our national ethos. The very home that every President since John Adams has lived in was built with slave labor. While slavery was uncommon in the north, its economy benefited from it. This month marks the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves into the American colonies. In August 1619, twenty Africans arrived in Virginia. Over time slavery took hold and became part of the economic engine of the country. It took a bloody Civil War to bring it to a close.
I have not yet acquainted myself with the materials that make up the 1619 project of the New York Times, but historian John Fea provides a helpful introduction to the project and answers conservative critics who are not at all happy with the reminder that slavery has and continues to play a role in our national psyche. Below are the opening paragraphs of John's piece for Penn Live. I encourage y…

Shall We Gather at the River? A Reflection

In the course of the next several months, I will be reflecting on the theme "River Crossings." This is the theme of my sabbatical, which I and the church will be reflecting on in different ways.  I just completed reading the book The Meaning of Rivers, by T.S. McMillan. The book has introduced me to a variety of literature that has inspired my thinking about not only crossing rivers but experiencing rivers as a whole.
The hymn by Robert Lowery, which draws from Revelation 22, has a definite eschatological feel. It invites us to envision gathering at the heavenly river, that flows by the throne of God. It speaks of peace, something we often long for. One of the sections of McMillan's book invites to consider stories that speak of being by rivers. These stories often have a spiritual dimension. 
McMillan writes after having considered poems by Anne Bradstreet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Langston Hughes, noting that in the poetry of each of these three "rivers are remin…

Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet -- A Review (Jon Pahl)

FETHULLAH GÜLEN: A Life of Hizmet. By John Pahl. Clifton, NJ: Blue Dome Press, 2019. Xix + 419 pages.

Several years ago I became acquainted with a Turkish-originated movement that sponsored interfaith dialogue. The members of the group, most of whom are Turkish are also Muslims. I later discovered that this group was part of a movement known as Hizmet, which is Turkish for service. I’ve come to know and respect that members of this movement, at least those whom I’ve encountered. They are faithful Muslims who embrace service to others and interfaith dialog and partnerships. Since these are core values for me as a person, it seemed appropriate to build on the relationships that were developing. Since this is a book that tells the story of the founder of Hizmet, it should not come as a surprise that what I share here will be sympathetic to the movement and its founder.
This book, which was provided to me as a gift from one of the local Hizmet leaders, tells the life-story of the Turkish …

The Prophetic Call -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 11C (Jeremiah 1)

Jeremiah 1:4-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
I was ordained some thirty-four years ago, the day after I received my M.Div. degree. Even though hands were laid on me that day in June and I received the marks of the profession, I nev…

Rivers of Life Considered

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14).
In a few weeks, I'll begin my sabbatical. The theme is "River Crossings." I've been introducing the idea to the congregation through sermons and other means. The theme emerges out of a realization that I'm drawing closer to retirement and that the next few years will be focused in preparing for what comes next, those moments of river crossings. Last Sunday I preached from Deuteronomy 34, a passage in which we find Moses looking out across the Promised La…

Blank Slate -- Review (Lia McIntosh, et al)

BLANK SLATE: Write Your Own Rules for a 22nd-Century Church Movement.By Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Rose Smothers, and Rodney Thomas Smothers. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019. Xvi + 172 pages.
It is common knowledge that the church is struggling, at least in Europe and North America. Younger generations are increasingly less inclined to participate in so-called "organized religion." Older generations want to know why younger generations choose not to come to church. While older generations are often accused of holding up progress, I have members in their 80s and 90s who have been faithful members for there are entire lives, and they are genuinely open to change if it will help. At the same time, they would like to see their own experiences honored and celebrated. So what is the answer? Many books and articles have been written, offering analysis and suggestions for addressing the challenges facing the church as we move through the twenty-first century. If only there was a magic bul…

Great Expectations—Unmet? -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10C (Isaiah 5)

Isaiah 5:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Let me sing for my beloved     my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it. For th…

Envisioning the Land of Promise - A sermon (Deuteronomy 34)

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

When we lived in Santa Barbara, we would occasionally hike to Inspiration Point. It wasn’t the highest spot in the area, but it was high enough so that on a clear day you could see the entire coast. We could see the Channel Islands poking through the fog to the West. We could look south toward Ventura and then up the coast to where the state takes a sharp turn to the north. Of course, we also could look down on the city below. We would look for our house and the church. We would find the schools where Brett attended. We would situate the Mission, the Arlington Theater, the Court House, and Stearns Wharf. Climbing a hill or a mountain gives you a different perspective from what you can see from the valley floor.  
Our climb to Inspiration Point might not compare with Moses’ visit to Mount Nebo, but it gives me a sense of what he might have experienced that day when God took him up the mountain to see the Promised Land. Moses had led the people of Israel out of bondage…

Is Christian Unity Possible?

I am a pastor serving in a denomination that made the pursuit of Christian unity its guiding principle. We have a long history of ecumenical participation. It's what drew me to the denomination. One of my predecessors as pastor of this congregation (in the fairly distant past -- 1920s through 40s) served as president of the Federal Council of Churches, so it is part of our congregational DNA. I am a board member of the denomination's Council on Christian Unity. But I wonder whether what one of our founders called our "polar star" is still our polar star. The denominational entity that I serve as a board member barely survives as denominational dollars continue to shrink and other areas of church life seem more important to the majority of our congregations, clergy, and leaders. 
A number of years ago we tried to tweak our unitive mission declaring ourselves to be a "movement of wholeness in a fragmented world." I actually like that statement. I had it put …

Reforming American Politics (Harold Heie) -- A Review

REFORMING AMERICAN POLITICS: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation. By Harold Heie. Foreword by Richard Mouw. Canton, MI: Front Edge Publishing, 2019. Xx + 426 pages.
The American populace is, to put it mildly, divided politically. We seem more polarized than ever before. The two parties have increasingly moved farther and farther apart. While the general populace is said to inhabit the middle, there is no political middle to inhabit. Some of this reality is rooted in the process of gerrymandering, where partisans have worked hard to protect their seats in government. Thus, in many cases, the only competition for a seat will come in a primary. That doesn’t bode well for working across the aisle. What is happening in the political world seems to be happening in the religious world as well. Thus, just as there are red and blue states, there are red and blue churches/denominations. What is occurring in these two spheres is taking place within families. Dinner ti…