Showing posts from June, 2009

Spirituality as Spirit and Spirituality toward Spirit:

A Dialogue with Derrida
Transforming Theology Theoblogging Project

Continuing the project of blogging through Philip Clayton’sAdventures in the Spirit (Fortress, 2008) – Chapter 16

There is a growing segment of the population that considers itself “spiritual but not religious.” By that they mean that they’re spiritual people, but they have no use for organized, institutional, traditional forms of religion. More often than not the object of this rejection is Christianity since it is and has been the primary form of religion in the Western World since the time of Constantine. My conversations with people who embrace this idea take a fairly eclectic view of spirituality – a rather new term (I remember Martin Marty speaking to this several years ago in a presentation made in Santa Barbara). It’s a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, a very individualistic mix of ideas and practices.

It is this debate about spirituality (or spiritualities) that came to mind as I read this secon…

A Week in "Secular America" -- Sightings

This has been an interesting week in "secular America," so says Martin Marty. The headlines range from the WSJ coverage of sex in America to its essay on the demise of the Sunday School -- caused in large part by divorce and soccer Sundays -- to Mark Sanford's trysts and decision to cover himself with a little bit of Scripture (remember that David had his trysts too). Then there's the near idolatry that has gone on with Michael Jackson's death -- what Marty calls America's real religion (idolization of celebrity). Oh, and we've had another suggestion that science proves God's "non-existence," and an Assemblies of God celebrated the two foundations of America -- God and Guns! Amen, Praise God and Pass the Ammunition!!

What a week it was -- and Marty, with all of his wit and insight, offers his analysis!


Sightings 6/29/09

A Week in “Secular” America
-- Martin E. Marty

Internet print-outs overload my “in-buck…

50 Ways to Help Save the Earth -- Review

50 WAYS TO HELP SAVE THE EARTH: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference.By Rebecca Barnes-Davies. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 127 pp.

As the debate about climate change rages on, whatever our position, the challenge to be good stewards of the environment is ever before us. Green is the color of the future – new energy sources, conservation of existing resources, and cleaning of toxic sites. The question is – what can we do as individuals and as churches? According to Rebecca Barnes-Davies, a consultant for Environmental and Social Justice Ministries and a former director of Presbyterians Restoring Creation, there are at least fifty ways that we can go about saving the earth.

Reading a book like this, despite its slim size, readability, and useful graphics isn’t easy. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the feeling that there’s simply too much to do. You read a section, and before long you have this overwhelming sense of guilt. Or, you look at suggesti…

A Gun-Loving Church?

No, we didn't celebrate the American love affair with a blessing of guns or a raffle to give away a hand gun in church today. I expect that is true of most congregations across the nation, but at least church in Louisville, Kentucky did have such a service. Apparently Kentucky has one of the most liberal gun laws in the nation -- you don't need permits to buy guns, whether a rifle for hunting or to buy a handgun -- though you apparently need one to carry it on you. Guns are banned in bars, schools, or jails, but not in churches. It seems that no one anticipated that people would bring guns to church. I sure wouldn't have thought this would happen!

America has long had a love affair with guns. We love our Westerns, where everyone has a gun strapped around his waist (women might carry one, but generally they concealed a small gun in a hand bag). Clint Eastwood's The Pale Rider features a a gun slinging preacher -- though when he must kill to protect his friends,…

Family Dynasties in the Church

I find it interesting that many large churches become family dynasties -- not always successfully. I also find interesting that in many of these large churches, the founding pastors find it difficult to let go.

A while back we learned that there had been a rift between father and son at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Dad had anointed his son as successor, but never really let go of it. I was always a bit perplexed why Schuller Sr. decided to keep the church in the family, and why the son decided to take the job. You would have thought that when Schuller, Sr. retired that the board would look for a pastor who had the requisite credentials and abilities to lead a large church. Schuller, Jr. had been, earlier on, pastoring a smaller satellite congregation in San Juan Capistrano. As far as I know it never really became much of anything. I also always found it interesting that once the younger Schuller took the pulpit he tried to sound like and look like his father -- rather …

Iran in the Shadow of Michael Jackson

Just a few days ago, we were sitting in rapt attention waiting for the latest from Iran. Of course, there was little confirmed information, because the Iranian Government, having turned to martial law, had shut down the foreign media, and its own government controlled media only offering its own narrative. Still, there was information coming out here and there through twitter and YouTube. But, then Michael Jackson died, and now our attention has shifted, and Iran has stepped into the background.

Everything that is coming out of Iran suggests that the government, using a brutal crackdown, has managed to take control of the streets, quash open dissent, threaten the opposition (many of the campaign staff members of Mir Hussein Mousavi are in custody. That may explain why Mousavi has stepped back from the brink. If he's arrested, his staff, family, and friends are likely to face retribution as well. We're also seeing results of an effort that is either using tortured confess…

Reflections on the Human Quest for Meaning

Transforming Theology Theoblogging Project

Continuing the project of blogging through Philip Clayton’s, Adventures in the Spirit– Chapter 15

Having started with the question of the viability of a conversation between science and theology, and whether it was worth the risk for theology to enter that conversation, we have been seeking answers to these questions from a variety of vantage points. We began with the scientific questions, and whether the idea of emergence within science gave some hope to our quest. From there, in part three we considered whether panentheism was a workable theological model for this engagement – and whether it provided a firm grounding for a Trinitarian formulation. We also explored the idea of kenosis, God’s self-emptying, and how that played with God’s relationship to the universe and how it related to our Christological questions. Then in the fourth part of the book, we moved on to the crux of the science-theology discussion – does God act? That is, d…

Disciples -- A Cumulative Review

Disciples: Reclaiming Our Identity, Reforming Our Practice, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2009), ix + 146 pp.

I have been working my way through each of the chapters of Michael Kinnamon and Jan Linn's very important book Disciples. Most Disciples, clergy at least, will know these two names quite well. Michael Kinnamon is currently General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, but years ago now, he stood for the position of General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). While having a plurality of votes, he lacked the 2/3rds majority needed to be sustained. It was a most difficult period of time in the church, but he and we have moved on from there. Jan Linn taught practical ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary -- being a colleague there with Kinnamon -- and no is pastor of a Disciple church in Minnesota.

They write a book that will prove challenging to all who read it -- not challenging in the sense that it is difficult to read or u…

Farrah, Michael, and the Day the 70's Died

I'm a product of the 70s. Born in 1958, the same year as Michael Jackson, I grew up with Farrah on my wall, and Michael's music on my radio. I'm not a big Michael Jackson fan, but he has been ever present somewhere in the background for as long as I can remember. His first hit was with the Jackson 5 -- in 1969.

Farrah was a fixture in commercials -- creaming Joe Namath for a shave or offering her smile as the model of an Ultrabrite smile. Then came a one year foray on Charlies Angels. And off she went. I remember the debates we guys had with the girls we hung around with -- they accused her of having cardboard hair, while trying to emulate her style.

Both of these icons of the 70s died yesterday. Farrah, early in the day at age 62, from cancer. The death wasn't a surprise, considering her long and very public battle with cancer. Michael's death perhaps more surprising, and yet not so surprising. I was living in Santa Barbara during the big 2005 trial and I knew som…

Resetting the American Faith Dialogue

Not so long ago there was an evangelical President who said that Jesus was his favorite philosopher. Many were concerned about the beginnings of a theocracy. Now, we have a President who talks about Jesus a lot more than his predecessor, but who also seems to have a broader understanding of what it means to be Christian in a pluralistic context. Some conservatives, who seem unable to allow for more than one way of being Christian, seem to believe that the current occupant of the White House is being less than honest about his faith. So, what do we make of President Obama's religious tone? Martin Davis comments on this today in a Sighting's post. I welcome your thoughts on this. I personally believe that Obama is a person of deep faith, but also a person who believes that one must live this faith humbly, without assuming that one is the only possessor of truth or a relationship with God. I find this refreshing, but that's me. Take a read and then offer your thought…

Ideology and the Iranian Unrest

I don't know who actually won the June 12 Iranian elections. The winner was announced essentially before the votes were counted and confirmed. My sense is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad either did not win or didn't get 50% of the vote. It is interesting that essentially only 2 candidates are given votes. But that hardly seems likely. One would assume that the other two candidates, one conservative and one more progressive (actuallyl the most progressive candidate) would receive so few votes, especially since Mehdi Karoubi was one of the primary candidates in the last go round four years ago. So, what happened? I find interesting an article in today's NY Times, which notes how President Ahmadinejad, with the support of the Supreme Leader, has gone to great lengths to put allies, friends, supporters into positions throughout the government, both locally and nationally. He has replaced the governors, mayors, and down the line. His allies control the Interior Ministry (overs…

Being Disciples in the Twenty-First Century

Michael Kinnamon and Jan Linn bring their book Disciples: Reclaiming Our Identity, Reforming Our Practice (Chalice, 2009) to a close with a series of challenges, a call to action, and suggestions as to how the church might reform itself so as to be a witness to God's grace and purpose in the 21st century.

Before they get to the challenges and the suggestions they offer what I'm going to call a confession of faith that defines who we are in their mind. I find the litany compelling, for it affirms who we are and makes it clear that we do have an identity:

We believe we are Christians only but not the only Christians;

We believe unity and diversity coexist;

We believe the biblical message is accessible to all who desire to study it;

We take statements of faith seriously without insisting they define the content of the Christian Gospel for everyone;

We believe no one has the right to judge the worthiness of another who professes commitment to the Lordship of Jesus;

We come to the Commun…

The President Speaks on Iran

We do not know where this Iranian uprising will go. It could come and go as quickly as the events of Tiananmen Square in China 20 years ago. There was unrest, but it was confined largely to that one square, and it was quickly suppressed, with much bloodshed. There are many endearing images, images that we who watched it unfold on TV, remember well, but China and the world has gone on pretty much as usual since. Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall fell, and soon after the Soviet Union collapsed. Eastern Europe is much different today than it was two decades ago. It is much freer. But today, Russia has returned to some of its old ways, and it is also offering at least tacit support to the current Iranian regime -- as has China.

President Obama spoke to this issue today in his press conference. He made the strongest statement yet, but made it clear that this is not about America. It's about Iran, and what the Iranians want. For us to become too involved will allow the regime to make…

Can Contemporary Theologians Still Affirm that God (Literally) Does Anything?

Transforming Theology Project

*Continuing to blog through Philip Clayton’s Adventures in the Spirit -- chapter 14

I’ve picked up speed as we near the end of this book I’ve been working my way through for some three months. And the point is becoming clearer – can we speak of a God who acts, really acts? The biblical text speaks in great detail of a God who is ever active – yes, in supernaturalist/interventionist ways, but still truly active, changing the game. And the most important act of all, is the Resurrection of Jesus. Clayton comments: “It would indeed seem strange to believe that God exists but never actually does anything” (p. 217).

Our problem is one that was long ago suggested by David Hume. If by definition a miracle is “an exception to the overwhelming experience of human beings in the world,” then where’s the evidence. If it’s normal experience to see people rise from the dead, how are we to believe these very old accounts? Clayton wishes to offer an answer to H…

Actions Human and Divine: Toward a Panentheistic-Participatory Theory of Agency –

Transforming Theology Project
Continuing project of blogging through Philip Clayton’s Adventures in the Spirit

I’m heading down the last stretch of this rather long blogging project. Just three more chapters until the end. My hope is that we are thinking through the important questions raised by science and philosophy about divine agency.

In chapter 13, Philip Clayton asks the question: Does God act? And if so, how does God act? He suggests that we might start with an analogy to human actions – whatever we mean by divine agency would be similar to that which humans display. Thus, agency is by definition an action that involves –“spontaneity, intentionality, freedom, creativity, novelty. Believing that we can speak of divine agency, he suggests that it’s possible to speak this way only if we use a “participatory account of finite agency” (p. 204).

By participatory agency, Clayton means that the actions of a finite agent are also the actions of the divine agent. This occurs in…

Fatherhood -- Sightings

Yesterday was Father's Day, admittedly a lower level Hallmark/parenting holiday as compared to Mother's Day, but enough about that! We had pie yesterday at church, and that was enough for me!!

Today, Martin Marty offers his opinion on religion and fatherhood -- or rather the lack of attention to religion in a 250 page issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. Does religion play that small a role in the lives and relationships of fathers, or are these social scientists missing something? Marty offers his thoughts.

Sightings -- 6-22-2009

-- Martin E. Marty “Fathering across Diversity and Adversity: International Perspectives and Policy Interventions” is the forbidding theme of the fat, 254-page July 2009 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (Volume 624). I am a Fellow of the Academy; I have written for The Annals and regularly read it.I was first al…