Showing posts from August, 2009

The Meaning of Life?

Having posted on the question of the meaning of work, and pointed to the movie About Schmidt, in my search for a link to the movie I found this clip that I think sets this question up nicely. In this clip, near the end of the movie, Warren Schmidt writes to his "friend," a young man in a far off land whom he has sponsored, reflecting on his life -- and its meaning. He writes this, having lived his life totally wrapped up in work. Now, retired, his wife dead, and his daughter married, what is the meaning of life?

The Meaning of Labor

A week from today the nation will observe Labor Day. Labor Day has been observed in the United States for more than a century -- on the first Monday of September. It came to this nation from Canada, but was established by President Grover Cleveland in 1884, in the aftermath of the Pullman strike. It was created as a means of reconciling with labor.

Next Sunday, I will depart again from the lectionary, and focus my attention on the meaning of work and its being a context for mission. I'll write more later on this end. But as I begin contemplating this sermon, which I'm going to base on Acts 18:1-4.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue …

The Time is Now -- Health Care Reform

The American political system is neither pretty nor efficient. Democracy never is -- not even republican forms. The Founders, so distrustful of the people, tried to throw as many checks and balances into the system (as well as limit suffrage to land owners), have made passage of important legislation difficult.

We stand at the edge of an important set of legislation -- legislation that has been bouncing around for more than half a century. It has emerged in various forms and the one that may emerge from these discussions is likely to be less dramatic than the ones that have emerged before. Remember that Richard Nixon proposed expanding Medicare to include all Americans -- and he was a Republican. This legislation will not be as expansive as that proposed under the Clinton's either.

While it would be nice to have a bi-partisan bill, that's not likely to happen. The only moderates left in Congress are conservative Democrats. The Republican Party has become more and more c…

A Time to Mourn

Today Senator Edward Kennedy is being laid to rest, having succumbed to the vagaries of cancer. His death was different than that of his three older brothers, in that he and his family knew that this was coming. It doesn't make the grief any less real, it's just that the family had time to prepare. One Tuesday, I will preside at the memorial service for a church member. She too had time to prepare for death -- but the grief at a loss is still there.

Today, we wrestle with death -- what it means and how to face it. Rarely is the body present at a service anymore (in part because a growing number are cremated). Services today are very different from earlier days. We tend to have more celebration. I'm okay with that. And yet, have we missed something here? Services are meant to bring closure, but do they? And of course, what do we say?

These questions have emerged anew as I've read Jurgen Moltmann's In the End -- The Beginning (Fortress, 2004). Although not…

What Makes a Good Pastor? -- Theolog article

What makes for a good pastor? What would you look for in one should you be looking for a church? Or if you're on a search committee? Is it education? Is it personality or character? Is it charisma?

Mainline denominations, like the Disciples, generally require a M.Div. as foundational. At a recent General Assembly we made some adjustments, some of which are controversial. I've posted an article at Theolog that raises the question. There is already some good conversation going there. Join in there or just offer your thoughts.

So, click here to take a look.

Facing hopelessness

What does it mean to live in a state of hopelessness? Where does it lead? As I'm reading JurgenMoltmann'sIn the End -- The Beginning (Fortress, 2004) in preparation for attending the Moltmann Conversation in Chicago, I came across this statement. There are two forms of hopelessness. The one is arrogance or presumption (praesumptio). The other is despair, the obliteration of hope (desperatio) . In presumption we take the fulfillment of hope into our own hands, and no longer hope for God. In despair we doubt that there can ever be fulfillment, and destroy hope in ourselves. All despair presupposes hope. The pain of despair lies in the fact that hope exists, but that there appears to be no way for the hope to be fulfilled. Where hope for life is frustrated in every respect, the hope turns against the hoper and eats into him,. 'I looked for work everywhere and was always turned down, Then I got to the point when nothing more mattered', said a young burglar in Berlin. When t…

Ted Kennedy is Dead

As I checked the news this morning I discovered that Senator Ted Kennedy has died at age 77 after battling a brain tumor. Kennedy, the youngest of four brothers, he alone lived and died a death of natural causes. Like two other brothers he ran for the presidency, but did not make it to the end. But what he did was become one of the most effective senators in history, crafting deals that got things done. Health care reform was a key priority, and one can only believe that his absence from the senate has had an unfortunate effect on the debate. Perhaps now, as we honor his life, and mourn his passing that legacy and vision will stand out, and a civil conversation can begin. Of course, for the Kennedy family this is a double loss, for it was only a few weeks ago that Eunice Kennedy Shriver died. A great family, devoted as they were/are to public service have lost two important standard bearers. The nation has lost them as well. We keep the family and the nation in our prayers.

Watchful Prayer

I'll admit that I struggle with prayer -- not the idea so much as the practice. Meditating, contemplation, things like that simply don't work well with me. I want to be reading, writing, thinking, watching. I expect I'm not alone. Indeed, I understand that a majority of mainline clergy struggle with this.

Maybe that's why the chapter on prayer in Jurgen Moltmann's In the End -- The Beginning (Fortress Press, 2004).resonated with me (or it offered me a way to rationalize things). But the key point here is that as we pray, we're called to watch and see -- to perceive outwardly.

He writes about our body language, suggesting that it doesn't speak to watchfulness:

We close our eyes and look into ourselves, so to speak. We fold our hands, so as to collect our thoughts. We lower our eyes, kneel down -- even cast ourselves down with our faces to the ground. No one who sees us then would get the impression that this is a collection of especially watchful peop…

Ramadan has begun -- Reflections

The Muslim holy month of fasting called Ramadan began on Friday and will last for the next month. There are specific guidelines for determining when it starts, but once it starts Muslims are called upon to fast during daylight hours -- and fasting involves refraining from eating or drinking anything -- including even a drop of water -- as well as refraining from sexual activity. After the sun goes down Muslims will gather to break the fast with a meal. Such discipline is not easy to undertake -- I'm not a faster, but I respect those who can keep to this discipline.

I picked up on a piece from David Crumm's site on the beauty of Ramadan. Crumm, who is a former Detroit Free Press religion writer, presents a piece written by Najah Bazzy, which reflects on the spiritual benefits of Ramadan. In the spirit of understanding our neighbors I share this clip.


(A Brief Introductio…

Singing the Lord's Songs -- A Sermon

We did something a bit different today in worship -- we sang parts of the sermon. It was well received. Of course, I have a great partner in my minister of music, Pat Kuhl. Here is the sermon as re-posted from my sermon blog -- Words of Welcome

Ephesians 5:15-20

I. The Call to Sing Praises to the Lord

Do you know what is great about church? It doesn’t matter whether you’re tone deaf or a professional singer, you get to sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord! In Ephesians we hear this admonition: Be filled with the Spirit and “make melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Psalmist also invites us to praise the Lord. Listen to the invitation found in the 150th Psalm, as it appears in The Message:

Praise God in his holy house of worship,
Praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his magnificent greatn…

New Out of the Old

I have always loved the imagery in 2 Corinthians 5, which speaks of the old passing away and the new coming. It's a message of reconciliation that reminds us that God offers second chances. That image coincides with the images emerging as I begin reading Jurgen Moltmann's In the End -- The Beginning (Fortress Press, 2004). I'm dipping back into Moltmann in preparation for attending the Theology Conversation with Moltmann sponsored by JoPa Productions (Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones). Moltmann is, of course, known for his theology of hope and focus on the future of God. He's also been very open about his own life story and conversion during his captivity in a Prisoner of War camp at the end of WWII. In this book, after recounting his own story of surviving a RAF attack on his home city of Hamburg, attacks that killed 40,000 and left the city in ruins, then time in the camps -- he speaks of a theology of catastropheism -- that is, the biblical story is full of catastrophe…

Introducing Christianity -- A Review

INTRODUCING CHRISTIANITY: Exploring the Bible, Faith, and Life. By James C. Howell. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009. xii + 212 pp.

What is Christianity? This is a question that needs to be asked, with answers attempted in each generation. Near the beginning of the 20th Century the renowned German Church Historian Adolph Von Harnack authored a book with this title, acknowledging that even then loud and confident voices were declaring that Christianity had outlived its usefulness (Harnack, What Is Christianity, 2nd ed., New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1908, p. 5). Harnack offered his book as an answer to this challenge. Even before that Friedrich Schleiermacher offered his Speeches to the Cultured Despisers. So, the challenges posed to Christians today are not new, nor do they differ all that much from these previous challenges. A more compelling challenge faces Christians of today – a simple lack of familiarity with Christian faith as it has been lived and taugh…

Lutherans tackle issue of Gays in the Church

Yesterday we were discussing John Piper's suggestion that the Minneapolis tornado was a sign of God's judgment on the Evangelical Lutheran Church for its discussion of same gender relationships, including the possibility of the ordination of openly gay candidates for ministry. Apparently the Lutherans didn't see this as a harbinger of God's displeasure, because a majority of delegates approved both referendums -- one recognizing the right of congregations to bless same-gender relationships. It also affirmed the right of congregations to call openly gay pastors to serve their congregations.

There will, of course, be much discussion within the Lutheran Church. It's possible that some congregations will leave the fold. This is always a possibility when denominations make major course changes.

As one who supports both gay marriage and the ordination of gays to ministry. I rejoice in this decision. I also know that the way forward will be difficult as this church w…

God, the Weather, and Judgment

The other day a tornado hit Minneapolis. It damaged the Convention Center and the Lutheran Church across the street, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was not only holding its convention, but discussing a resolution dealing with human sexuality, and whether a practicing homosexual could be ordained to ministry.

John Piper, pastor of a large evangelical church in the community, and a rather hyper-Calvinist, offered his response, a response that might reflect his Calvinist background, but looked more Falwellian or Robertsonian than what many might have expected from him. After making a rather propositional statement of 5 points, he comes to his conclusion:

Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of …

Finding the Extreme Center?

Many of us are concerned about the increasing polarization of the American populace -- in politics, religion, and more. While there never was a time of perfect peace, it seems as if we've become more and more ideologically-driven over the years. It happens on both left and right. While the extremes are the most vocal -- right now we're seeing it on the right with some of the very vocal, almost violent responses to health care reform proposals. But the left has been there as well -- just on different issues. But, it's not just politics. Our churches are being torn asunder -- for political, social, cultural reasons. Theology is present, but it's not the driving issue (although it provides cover).

There are those who have argued for a purple politics or a purple church, where red and blue come together. I've posted my responses to a proposal for a Liberal Evangelicalism (as expressed in two Alban published books: Lost in the Middle and Found in the Middle!, bo…

Hating the Government?

There is a lot of anger out there. We saw it even before the election. Sarah Palin rose to prominence by channeling it. Now Barack Obama won the election by a nice margin, but that anger never went away. For some reason people "love America" but hate the government. I'm not sure why that is. I realize that from the beginning there has been a certain distrust built in. Thomas Jefferson championed small government and a sort of agrarian libertarianism. That same agrarian populism has emerged in different places over the years -- back in Kansas at the end of the 19th century and more recently in the South and in the Mountain West. Don't take my guns they shout. Conspiracy theories abound.

Richard Beck, a psychologist, a professor, and a Christian, suggests that we all hate something -- but the question that we must answer has to do with where we channel it. Do we channel it toward the Yankees (or in my case the Dodgers) or on the government. In the 1940s it w…

John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century -- A Review

JOHN CALVIN: Reformer for the 21st Century. By William Stacy Johnson. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009. ix + 142 pages.

Not surprisingly, John Calvin’s 500th birthday has led to a flooding of the market with all manners of biographies and studies both academic and general exploring the life and work of this transformative sixteenth-century reformer. Calvin may have come of age after the first wave of reform had passed, but his influence on church, culture, theology, and politics was neither second tier nor second-rate. By most estimations, only Martin Luther surpassed him in impact and influence – and that is likely due to the fact that Luther preceded him as a reformer by more than a decade. Calvin’s legacy is so potent, especially regarding matters of culture and politics, that latter-day observers have either reviled him or revered him. It can be said that there is little middle ground when it comes to considering the person of John Calvin.

The question that faces modern obs…

Faith Community and the President Talk Health Care Reform

I received information today about tomorrow's webcast conversation between religious leaders and the President about health care. Thought I'd pass it on. Note that Sharon Watkins and Cynthia Hale, both Disciples, will be participating in the 40 minute conversation. Unfortunately I will be in a meeting at the time, but I'd welcome any who listen to come back here and offer your thoughts.


FAITH COMMUNITY’S HEALTH CARE CALL-IN WILL INCLUDE PRESIDENT OBAMA AND TWO DISCIPLES LEADERS(Indianapolis, Ind. - DNS - Aug. 18) - Members of the faith community will host a live webcast call-in on Wednesday, Aug. 19 that will lift up a variety of voices in the national debate about health care. General Minister and President Sharon Watkins will be one of the participants on the call, along with Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. President Barack Obama was invited to join the call, and has accepted, making this the fir…

Huckabee goes to the West Bank!

Mike Huckabee wanted to to go to the White House, but ended up on Fox News Network (along with friends Bill, Sean, and Glen). Mike is a sort of populist -- like Sarah -- but he's also a firm fundamentalist. This is seen in his visit to Israel, a stop funded by Right Wing advocates of Israeli control of what some consider the Jewish homeland.

While it is US policy to support a 2-state solution and even PM Benjamin Netanyahu has reluctantly acceded to the possibility. Mike doesn't like it. Can't put a Palestinian homeland in the middle of the Jewish homeland. Just wouldn't be right. Now, he does admit that Palestinians should have a homeland, just not there.

Think about what we're talking about here. We're talking about ethnic cleansing. We're talking about forced migration -- a "Trail of Tears." Mike praises the Israeli's for permitting Muslims to visit the Dome of the Rock, even though it "could be considered an affront." An…

Missional life -- Outside the Box?

Like many congregations mine is talking about becoming missional. We want to move in a new direction, take hold of God's vision for our congregation and our community. It's not easy for a long established congregation, one with a rich history, of moving that way. If you're starting from scratch you don't have the legacies to consider. You just do what needs to be done. I expect that most outside the box congregations, or as Gary Nelson calls them, Borderland Churches, are of recent vintage. We're celebrating 30 years in our current location and 81 years as a congregation that goes by the name of Central Woodward Christian Church. Once we were a cathedral like church -- residing in a neo-gothic building on Detroit's Piety Row. That's no longer who we are, but its hard to let go of legacies!

I'm very interested in the discussions that go on around this topic, especially those that emerge from more liberal or progressive circles. Many mainline chur…

Tasting the Bread of Life -- Sermon

John 6:51-58

On Monday nights, Guy Fieri takes us on a road trip to all the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” across the land that serve great food, at great prices, but without the frills. While Cheryl thinks that he just goes to greasy burger joints, that’s not entirely true. Yes, he does go to places that like to deep-fry things, but he also goes to some rather surprising places – like a drive-in in Boise that serves prime rib, or a place down on Woodward Avenue called the Fly Trap that’s known for its Asian cuisine. The Food Channel, which carries Guy’s show, exists because we like to eat, and as Alton Brown puts it on his show, we like “Good Eats!” Now, I’m not sure what either Guy or Alton would make of this morning’s text. I’m not sure that Alton Brown would declare Jesus’ offer of himself as true food and drink to be Good Eats.

While Jesus told the tempter that there’s more to life than bread, bread is still an important biblical image. In John 6 Jesus tells us that he is true food…

Remembering Geoffrey Bromiley (1915-2009)

If you have read Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Helmut Thielicke, or Kittel's famous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in English, then you have likely benefited from prodigious translation work of Dr. Geoffrey Bromiley, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Bromiley also wrote a number of books -- some on Barth, some on the English Reformation, as well as other topics. Dr. Bromiley was relatively retired by the time that I matriculated at Fuller in 1982. But, I did get to take his Barth Seminar. There's something to be said for taking a seminar like this with the person who translated the works of the one being studied. When it came to interpreting Barth's often dense prose, who better to hear offer an opinion on the meaning of the text than one who had spent so much time ingesting the words of this most important theologian.

I heard someone once say that German theologians would read Barth in Bromiley's translation…

Thoughts on Transubstantiation

As we wrestle with John 6:51-58, the text that I'm taking up tomorrow, and a text that has given many difficulties as to meaning and application, I've been working to some degree with John Calvin's perspective.

To understand Calvin one must understand him in context. On one hand was the Roman Church with its doctrine of Transubstantiation. On the other side were more Radical Protestants who wanted to rid the church of any idea of real presence. Calvin's view of a spiritual presence has been a helpful one for many. But, as we consider his position, and the broader Protestant position (reflected in my own Disciples tradition), it's helpful to have some understanding as to how the idea of Transubstantiation developed.

The doctrine of Transubstantiation is, of course, a reflection of a belief in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament. It seeks to answer how this occurs. There was in the Medieval Catholic Church -- and even earlier -- a belief that through th…

Nourished by Christ's Body and Blood

The Spirit of John Calvin is truly with us in this season of his 500th birthday. Why else would a Disciple pastor spend so much time reflecting on Calvin's views of things -- like the Lord's Supper? The fact is, Calvin, while in no way perfect, has much to say to us on matters of great importance -- including the Lord's Table. I have always been attracted to his perspectives, especially as they were mediated in the 19th century through the Mercersberg Tradition of Schaff and Nevin. I'm nearly finished reading William Stacy Johnson's excellent little exploration of Calvin's views -- John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century (WJK, 2009), which offers important insights for how we might approach Calvin today.

This little introduction leads me to the point of the post -- my continued conversation about the Lord's Supper. Calvin was neither a "mere memorialist" nor did he believe that the bread and wine became in substance the body and blood of C…