The Advent of Hope

It is the season of Advent. We are lighting candles at church marking time with reflections on Hope (week 1), Peace (week 2), Joy (Week 3), and Love (Week 4). These actions in time move us toward the lighting of the Christ Candle, which signals that Christ has come. Every year we repeat this effort. Our eschatology (our view of the future) may come in many forms, some are optimistic and others are pessimistic. Some visions of the future place hope in a land beyond this one, and thus no hope is held out for this world. Others invite us to attend to the needs of this world in the hope that we can participate in the renewal of God's creation. I place myself in the camp of attending to the present world without giving up a sense that there is to more to reality than what we're experiencing now. 
At times like this, with the world situation in a mess (witness the NATO meetings this week, the conflagrations in Syria, the protests and crackdowns in Iran and Hong Kong, the impeachmen…

Christmas Movies and the Religious Dimensions of Story Structure -- Sightings (Russell Johnson)

You can't have Christmas without Christmas movies, whether religious or not. My family puts a priority on watching various versions of The Christmas Carol. You may have your favorites as well. Russell Johnson suggests that even if not always intended Christmas movies tend to have story structure that is informed by basic Christian idioms (mainly Protestant). One element in these stories is the centrality of work and perhaps being workaholics -- representing perhaps insights from Max Weber's connection of Protestantism and Capitalism (though Walter Rauschenbusch would want to challenge that linkage). So what do you think of the whole Christmas movie industry, do you see the religious dimensions he mentions, even in Die Hard?  


The Preacher's Wife (Kate Bowler) -- A Review

THE PREACHER’S WIFE: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities. By Kate Bowler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. Xxi + 338 pages.

Just a word of warning, the title might be a bit misleading. This isn’t a manual for preacher’s wives, just in case you were wondering. The subtitle and the fact that it is published by a university press should be sufficient evidence of that fact.
I approached this book from a certain vantage point. Besides being a preacher who has a wife, my view of this topic begins as a child who grew up in the Episcopal Church before it ordained women. There were pastor’s wives, but no pastors who might be wives. I moved from the Episcopal church as a teen near the time that it first began ordaining women into a church affiliated with a denomination founded by a woman (Aimee Semple McPherson), but which had ambivalence about women in leadership (a lot of talk about the submission of women to their husbands). Over time I ended up in a denominat…

All Are Welcome -- A Lectionary Reflection for Advent 2A (Romans 15)

Romans 15:4-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
10 and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”…

Crossing the Final River -- A River Crossings Reflection

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
Today I return from my sabbatical that began in September and ended this morning. Over the course of the past three months, I’ve read a few books that spoke of rivers and lakes and streams. Some of them spoke of fishing and others spoke of swimming. I spent time cruising the…

Time to Give Thanks -- A Thanksgiving Reflection

Reposted from 2012

The Psalmist calls on the people of God to “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” The Psalmist goes on: “Give thanks to him, bless his name.” Why? “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:4-5 NRSV).
On this coming Thursday, we as a nation will celebrate a Day of Thanksgiving. Some will travel, some will gather with family around a table bountifully filled with food or they may go out for a meal, some will work, while some will shop. There will be football and there will be parades.
For some, this will not seem like a day of Thanksgiving. They may be spending the day alone, far from family and friends. Others may be struggling with life – with foreclosure, job loss, family crisis, death in the family. At times like this, it seems as if there is no bounty to celebrate, no faithfulness of God to draw strength from. As I write this reflection, I recognize that in…

From Judgment to Hope (Walter Brueggemann) -- A Review

FROM JUDGMENT TO HOPE: A Study on the Prophets.By Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Xi + 103 pages.
When it comes to the prophets of Israel, who would be a better choice than Walter Brueggemann, to write a popular introduction for congregational study? After all, Brueggemann has the visage of a prophet. Besides, he has written widely on the prophets; most especially on Isaiah (all three iterations). Thus, we have FromJudgment to Hope: A Study on the Prophets.
From Judgment to Hope is a very brief study guide that introduces us to prophetic writers, whom Brueggemann calls "emancipated imaginers of alternative" (p. vii). In other words, in Brueggemann's mind the prophets aren't predictors of the future or even social advocates (at least not in the way often imagine them). They are emancipated because they are free from "absolutizing assumptions." They are imagers because their bold words offer "an alternative reality that …