Showing posts from November, 2009

Singing the Blues in Advent

A number of years ago I got a blue Guatemalan stole, and so I've convinced my congregations to switch to blue (the new Advent color). According to the Methodist's worship site -- here is the reasoning for using Blue:

The genesis of the introduction of blue into the liturgical colors comes from continued reflection on the calendar of the Christian year, particularly on the season of Advent. Here is how the reasoning goes: Advent is a season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Since this anticipation is characterized by hope -- in contrast to the repentance characteristic of Lent -- the color for the season should not be purple, with its mood of solemnity and somberness, but blue with its hopefulness. Admittedly, there is a some subjectivity in linking colors with certain moods.
There is precedent for the use of blue during Advent. The Swedish Church and the Mozarabic rite (the rite used in the parts …

Don't Give Up on the Church -- Transforming Christian Theology -- ch. 8

Transforming Theology Project
Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.

Don’t Give Up on the Church
Chapter 8

Are you ready to say: “I give up!?” Many a pastor, and many a church member, has said just that. The ranks of the formerly churched are swelling – joining with the never churched folk, many of whom are the children of the formerly churched! I’m not ready to give up, just yet!

With chapter 8, Philip Clayton (with his trusty assistant Tripp Fuller) begin a new section entitled: “Theologies that can transform the Church.” This section follows one that introduced us to the changing dynamics of our culture and context, pointing out that not only are churches in decline, but they are not connecting with their context. Now, in this section, we begin looking at ways that the church can be transformed for action. While many think that the church is not going to be the appropriate vehicle for this effort, Clayton disagrees. He thinks there is a futu…

Feasting on the Word, Year C, vols. 1,2 -- Review

FEASTING ON THE WORD: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Year C. Vols. 1 and 2. By David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009. 467 pp. and 557 pp.

Lectionary preachers have at their disposal a myriad of resources, including commentaries that focus specifically on the texts for each Sunday. Some of these resources are online and many come as books. So large a body of resources is available that one may wonder what to make of another competitor for space on one’s already bulging shelves. That being said, these two volumes of Feasting on the Word, edited by Bartlett and Taylor, for year C are worth having – following in the wake of the publication of four volumes published earlier for preaching Year B of the lectionary. When completed, there will be twelve volumes, four for each year in the liturgical cycle. With these two volumes, preachers will have at hand, commentary for Advent through Transfiguration (volume 1) and from L…

Managing Change -- Transforming Christian Theology, ch. 7

Transforming Theology Project

Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology,Fortress Press, 2010.

Managing Change
Chapter 7

Saying that “everything must change,” is a bit of an exaggeration. Some things change, but not everything! Philip Clayton acknowledges this – but for churches of our era, many of whom resist any amount of change, maybe we need to hear this bit of exaggeration. Having said that, the change that comes our way must be addressed – and even embraced. What is required of us at the moment of great transition is learning to “manage change.” But how? And, by whom? Whether we want the job or not – Clayton suggests that this is a task that pastors will have placed in their laps. Now, not all pastors will want to pick up this task, resisting to the last bone and change, but he suggests that others learn to manage the “upheavals and the transformations” that impact their congregations.

This calling to manage change is being faced not just be congregational leaders,…

A Hymn for Advent -- O Come O Come Emmanuel

It is an ancient hymn, translated in the 19th century into English by John Mason Neale, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," is a much beloved hymn. We will be singing it in worship tomorrow.

Here is a version sung by Victor Vail from YouTube. I don't know of the singer, but he catches well the haunting nature of the hymn.

Advent's Yearning for the Coming One

Advent is a season that gets lost in the broader season called Christmas. While tomorrow we will begin our Advent journey towards Christmas, the "Christmas season" began the day after Halloween, if not before. It's hard to sing Advent hymns, which tend to be penitential, when all around us the songs of Christmas are sounding forth.

Advent though is important, even if it tends to get lost in the rush. I know that some would like Advent to be a buffer against the commercial side of the season, but I'm not sure it is strong enough to do so, in large part because we Christians don't have the discipline to postpone our gratification. We want what we're yearning for to be with us now, not later.

But, since the word advent comes from the Latin word that speaks of "coming," it is appropriate for us to consider the message of the season, to hear the call to prepare ourselves to receive the one whom God is sending.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan speak…

Everything Must Change -- Transforming Christian Theology, ch. 6

Transforming Theology Project

Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.

Everything Must Change
Chapter 6

Continuing the theme of a movement toward a postmodern world, Philip Clayton draws upon the title of a Brian McLaren book – Everything Must Change. While acknowledging that radical change may be in order, Clayton also recognizes that we don’t like radical change. As a pastor I can attest to the truth of this statement. Even minor changes can be resisted with great energy. We like stability – and doing what we know best. But, while some things don’t change, calling into question the premise of McLaren’s book (I think Brian understands that he has pushed the envelope here for emphasis), the world we live in is changing rapidly. The question is, can we as church adapt quickly enough.

You can sense that the church at large is struggling with what to make of the world as it is right now. Some evangelicals have been more proficient in adapting th…

Christian Ethics Must Address the Nation's Real Problems

I am republishing a post by Richard Pierard that merits close attention. Pierard is a Baptist, an evangelical, a social activist, and emeritus professor of history (Indiana State University). I had the opportunity to share a meal with him (and a group of as yet unemployed historians at a conference -- probably 15 years ago. Oh, and the former pastor of the Fort Worth church mentioned here, he's a good friend of mine! Anyway, I publish this with Richard's permission -- from the site --, a site worth visiting often! Again, here is the home page for the site.


When I read on a few days ago that the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina had "defunded" the BaptistCenter for Ethics, I was reminded once again of how little Southern Baptists really understand ethics.

When a Southern Baptist pastor like Wiley Drake in California openly called for God to bring about President Obama's…

A Thanksgiving Psalm

It is Thanksgiving Day, a day to pause and give thanks to God, who is the author of every good and perfect gift (James 1:16). In honor of this day, I would like to share this selection from the 92nd Psalm (verses 1-4, NRSV)

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4For you, O Lord,
have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
Psalm 92:1-4 NRSV

All Good Gifts -- a song for Thanksgiving

Godspell is a play and a movie from another era -- but the songs are powerful, and this one fits for Thanksgiving -- a call to recognize all of God's good gifts. Enjoy

Postmodern believing -- Transforming Christian Theology , ch. 5

Transforming TheologyProject

Philip Clayton,Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.

Postmodern Believing
Chapter 5

With the idea of postmodernism/postmodernity having been introduced in the previous chapter, Clayton and Fuller move on to look at the way we believe in this new postmodern age. He notes that, except for conservative evangelicals, most Christians have difficulty expressing what they believe – an observation that has been well documented by Martha Grace Reese in her series of books on evangelism (Unbinding the Gospel, Chalice Press, 2007). There are a number of reasons why this maybe true, including a privatization of religion in recent years.

But if Mainline Protestants have difficulty articulating their beliefs, there are those who do not. Clayton calls this the “three last gasps of late modernity.” One primary “gasp” is scientism. He doesn’t mean science as science, but the ideology that assumes that science/rationalism provides us with all necessa…

Discerning a Congregation's DNA

It is a time worn adage that it is easier to start a new church than to move an existing church in a new direction. New church starts start out with fairly blank slates. If started by a denominational entity, there will be certain patterns involved, but still there is a lot of freedom to go in new directions. But what about long standing congregations? These are entities that have strong strands of DNA that define who they are and what they are.

While reading Philip Clayton's Transforming Christian Theology, I've also been dabbling in a book by Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr entitled Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-Aligners, (Jossey Bass, 2009). This is a Leadership Network book, written by Southern Baptists, so it has a certain perspective built in, but there are intriguing ideas here. And one that caught my attention -- almost in passing is the reality that churches have identity, and we as leaders may be called to do more refining an…

Origin of Species -- 150 Years Later

Today is the sesquicentennial of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species. It was a landmark publication, setting the world on a new course of discovery and explanation. 150 years later, its effects are still being felt. The book transformed not just science, however, it served to rock the religious world as well. That is because it sufficiently undermined the traditional readings of scripture and theological explanations of the world. Although Darwin became an agnostic, and struggled to reconcile the idea of a loving and just God with the world he had discovered -- one that didn't always seem all that nice -- as well as the loss of his beloved daughter to a premature death, he was never an atheist. He could never go that far.

As Christians who believe that all truth is God's truth, we needn't be afraid of science -- and that includes the findings of Darwin. Darwin was not and is not the final word on evolution, but he set the conversation…

Postmodernity Makes Theologians of Us All -- Transforming Christian Theology ch. 4

Transforming Theology ProjectPhilip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.

Postmodernity Makes Theologians of Us All
Chapter 4

Maybe you’ve heard that we have entered a postmodern age. You may be wondering what that means. It almost sounds apocalyptic, as if we’ve reached the end of the world – what is there after modernity? But, there is a growing consensus that the principles of modernity have failed to deliver and we are now heading into a new age. In part it’s postmodern, because we’re not sure what it will be. The definitions of this age a re so varied, it’s hard to pin down. So, usually we start the conversation by listing the assumptions of modernity, and asking if they hold any longer.

So, what is modernity? Well, according to Philip Clayton, there are three primary features. Ask yourself as you read these, if these describe the way you think of your faith.

“The powers of human reason stand at the center of the picture.” We decide, by way…

Go Horney Toads, I mean Frogs!?

It is nearing the end of the football season and bowl pairings are soon to be decided. On December 3rd, for instance, the annual Oregon/Oregon State Civil War game will decide who goes to the Rose Bowl. In the past the game has offered the possibility of a spoiler, but this year it's for the Pac-10 championship and a chance to beat up on Ohio State! I grew up a Beaver fan, but over time, sort of after attending the University of Oregon, I switched to the Ducks. So, my support will be for the Green and Gold -- come January.But, there is another bowl bid to be decided, and that involves Texas Christian University. Those Horned Frogs are seeking a BCS bowl bid -- for the first time. It's highly ranked, but it seems in competition with Boise State (which beat the Ducks opening night). Probably both teams deserve BCS bids, but we'll see how this plays out. In any case, below is a news release in support of the TCU bid, for TCU is a Disciples-related University. And in …

Let Us Give Thanks

With Thanksgiving Day just a few days from now, it is appropriate for us to stop and give thanks. That was the theme of my sermon yesterday. It was the theme of the Troy Interfaith Group service last night at the Ahmadiyyah Muslim Community's mosque. And it is a theme we should keep alive throughout the week and beyond. With that in mind, I'm reposting a piece I wrote for the Lompoc Record two years ago. I think the perspective fits today as it did then.


Faith in the Public Square

Lompoc Record
November 22, 2007

It's an old hymn, but it says it well:

“Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
Who, from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.” (Martin Rinkart, 1636).
For people of most faith traditions, giving thanks is a foundational spiritual practice. Our songs and hymns and prayers are full of acknowl…

Why the Answers Must Be Theological -- Transforming Christian Theology, ch. 3

Transforming Theology Project
Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology,Fortress Press, 2010.

Why the Answers Must Be Theological
(and What that Means)
Chapter 3

We live, as Philip Clayton has pointed out, in a fast changing world, and that this dynamic of change is something that should be welcomed not resisted. The key is adapting to the changing times. The question is, how do we make these adaptations? What should guide our efforts? Clayton’s answer is – theology.

One must start this conversation by recognizing and affirming an assumption: All people of faith have a theology of some sort. By making this affirmation, we also recognize that theology is not something that is simply done by professionals. It’s not that the work of the professional is bad, it’s just that professional theology is not the sum total – it is simply a resource for doing theology.

So, what is theology? Clayton suggests that we see it as a “world-and-life view” or WLV. We all have WLVs, …

Do Christians Have to Hate Change? -- Transforming Christian Theology , ch. 2

Transforming Theology Project
Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology,Fortress Press, 2010.

Do Christians Have to Hate Change?
Chapter 2

In the previous chapter, Philip Clayton (and sidekick Tripp Fuller) remind us that the world of today is much different from that of a generation or two earlier. In many ways the 1950s was an anomaly, a brief period of hyper religiosity, that may have been drive as much by fear of Communism than anything. It was the age of increased attendance, but also of religious additions to the Pledge of Allegiance and other public instruments. And it simply didn’t last – perhaps something akin to the brief surge in church attendance after 9-11.

The question that the church faces concerns the value of change. Mainline churches, which were dominant a generation ago have felt the effects of change more than other branches of the church. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church has maintained its numbers largely due to immigration – as there are huge numbe…