Wednesday, September 02, 2015

David Gushee to Speak on LGBT Inclusion at Central Woodward Christian Church -- October 2-4

The 2015 Perry Gresham Bible Lecture and Clergy Day will have a widely regarded Christian ethicist, author and human rights activist as it's featured speaker this year. Central Woodward Christian Church, 3955 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy, MI, is the Gresham Lectures host and sponsor along with Christian Theological Seminary (CTS).

Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University will address the need to rethink the biblical case for how we open Christian hearts to full acceptance of the LGBT community, so often marginalized and mistreated gay Christians in the life of the church.

Friday from 10 am to 3 pm is Clergy Spiritual Formation Day, looking at how the church can be a place of grace and hospitality, where everyone feels welcomed and safe.  Registration is $50, including lunch and 4.5 CEU credit certificate from Christian Theological Seminary.

Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm is a Community Workshop focusing on "Changing Our Mind: My Argument for LGBT Inclusion in the Churches." This session welcomes clergy and lay, registration being $15, including lunch.

Dr. Gushee will be preaching Sunday morning also.

Registration deadline is September 28, 2015. Download the brochure and registration form (thanks to the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for putting up the downloadable form).

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Healing Faith -Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 15B

Mark 7:24-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”28 But she answered him, “Sir,[b] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus[c] ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

                Healing stood at the center of Jesus’ ministry. Wherever he went he ended up healing people. He was, you might say, a healing evangelist. In many ways Jesus’ healing ministry is scandalous, at least for more progressive/modernist Christians. More preferable is a demythologized Jesus, one who is more community organizer than miracle worker. Standing at the heart of the issue is the problem of miracles and whether ours is an interventionist God. One of the problems presented by an interventionist understanding of God is that God is essentially a gap-filler. On the other hand, why bother with a God who isn’t present nor active in our world and in our lives. An absent/distant God is of little use. Besides, the stories of Jesus the healer remain strongly present in the Gospels (which might explain why some progressives prefer Thomas or Q, since that Jesus is just a talking head who never really does much). If we take the healing portions out of the Gospels (something that Thomas Jefferson famously did), we would seem to lose something important. Jesus’ actions often provide the foundation for his teachings. Without them the teaching moments are disembodied.

Monday, August 31, 2015

LOVING LATER LIFE: An Ethics of Aging (Frits de Lange): A Review

LOVING LATER LIFE: An Ethics of AgingBy Frits de Lange. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. X + 159 pages.

                Although the young continue to set the trends and advertisers (and media) target the 18-35 demographic, the population in the developed world, including the United States, is aging. The largest generation ever is retiring at rapid pace and will like live for several decades past retirement. These new retirees and those following on their heels (myself included) are likely the parents of that preferred generational target. We are aging for two reasons—birth rates are down and we live longer than ever before. If you’ve visited a mainline Protestant or a Catholic Church, you will likely notice many people with gray hair, many of whom are over 80. This growing demographic of aging Americans will likely spend at least a decade or more attempting to remain in control of their own destiny and enjoying as much of life as their bodies and minds will allow. This is mostly true of the younger elderly (65-85), but those entering the oldest cohort of the elderly will face increasing challenges and decline both physically and mentally. For this cohort, control of one’s own life becomes increasingly problematic and thus one becomes increasingly dependent on others.

                As a pastor of a mainline Protestant congregation I am called upon to minister to and with a significant cohort of elderly parishioners. I watch as they seek to maintain agency in life, and for some the challenges that age produces. Even as I minister to/with them I have become increasingly aware of my own aging status. I am within a decade of reaching retirement age myself, even as my mother and father-in-law move into what author Frits de Lange refers to as the Fourth Age (the oldest cohort of the elderly).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Beloved Calls - Sermon for Pentecost 14B

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Every generation since the beginning of recorded human history has had its love songs. You might have a favorite and I might have mine. It’s likely that our differences of generation will influence our choices. Our scripture reading this morning is itself a love song, or at least a small portion of one of the great epic love songs ever written.

As I was thinking about this song, a tune from my teen years came to mind. It’s one of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles hits, and I think it fits the moment. The first stanza goes like this: 
You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs

I look around me and I see it isn't so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know
'Cause here I go again
I love you, I love you
I love you, I love you.
Yes, what’s wrong with singing silly love songs? 

There’s another song from those years that also speaks of love, but in a somewhat different way than McCartney’s song. And it goes like this: 
What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some but for everyone

So, as McCartney so profoundly puts it: “Love isn’t silly at all.”  No, everyone needs to experience a bit of love. For as Paul put it: “Faith, Hope, and Love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Loving our Aging Selves

Like many mainline pastors I have in my congregation a goodly number of older persons. Many have children my age, so they could be a parent to me. I've not reached old age yet, but having reached my late fifties, I am becoming more cognizant of my own aging self. I'm not as young as I used to be! My hair is gray, my joints stiffen up, and the flesh isn't nearly as supple as before. By the world's standards of beauty, I'm past my prime. We can try to stave off aging, but it will eventually catch up with us, whether we're ready for it or not. As I wrestle with my own aging, I must also be attuned to my aging congregants, quite a number of whom are in their 80s. I'm amazed at times how vibrant some of them are. They keep on going. They stay active. But time is not on their side. 

While I've not finished the book yet, so this isn't a book review, I have found Frits de Lange's book Loving Later Life: An Ethics of Aging(Eerdmans, 2015) to be an incredibly enlightening read. I will be reviewing it soon as I'm almost done with it, but I wanted to share an important word that the spoke to me. That word is -- if I am to love the elderly, especially the frail elderly (what he calls the 4th age), then I must love my own aging self. He sets up the whole question of loving the elderly by exploring the ethics of love, including the Golden Rule.  He writes:
In the admonition to love our aging self, the command to love not only offers a normative ethics but may also explain why caring about the elderly is such a difficult thing. My contention is that we do not love our own aging, we do not love growing old, and thus, in general, we do not love old people. There is a deep-seated aversion toward aging -- and consequently toward old people -- that is widespread throughout human culture. Evolution gave us a spontaneous care instinct for the bodily needs of vulnerable babies, but it left us without such an instinct toward vulnerable old people. On the contrary, the idea of old age is horrific disgusting, and tainted by mortality has a long history in Western classical traditions as well as in Eastern cultures. Simone de Beauvoir was undoubtedly correct when she said: "If old people show the same desires, the same feelings and same requirements as the young, the world looks upon them with disgust: in them love and jealously seem revolting and absurd, sexuality repulsive and violence ludicrous." Old people may be stereotyped positively as exemplars of virtue or negatively stigmatized because of their vices. "In any case, either by their virtue or by their degradation, the stand outside humanity." [Loving Later Life, pp. 62-63]. 
If we cannot love ourselves as aging people we are likely unable to love the elderly. Why, because they serve as reminders that this is our future, and we would rather not face that fact. We would rather embrace the lure of being young.  For many people the early retirement years, perhaps up to the mid 80s offer the opportunity for being active and in firm control of one's own life, but eventually we come to that point in life where we lose our ability to control our lives and become increasingly dependent on others. That is, as I've discovered from my many conversations with older persons over the years is very scary. But by loving our own aging selves, we are in a better position to be of support to those who find themselves increasingly dependent on others.  

I will share more on this once I am able to review the book.