Showing posts from December, 2009

2009: A Year to Reflect Upon

2009 was a historic year in some ways.  It had several bright spots, some tragedies, and a degree of sadness.  That's probably par for the course.  It's hard to sit down and quickly knock off a list of events that were important.  Each of our lives are different, and so while there have been important national events or world events, there have also been personal ones.

As I think back over the past year, I have to believe that the inauguration of Barack Obama stands at the top of the list.  Oh, I know he hasn't fulfilled all his promises nor has he become FDR reincarnated.  He's not the savior either -- to quote an old song from the 70's, "He's just a man."  But, his inauguration changed the future of this country.  That he is a person of color, with a name that sounds "Muslim," changes the game.  Never again will we assume that one must be white to be elected President.  Hillary Clinton may not have won the nomination in 2008, but here close…

Re-envisioning Jesus

We are concluding our Christmas celebrations -- they go on at least another week -- but the main conversation is over, and we're looking into a new year.  But, if we step back a moment and think about our celebration of Jesus' birth, a question emerges -- what did this child look like?  What features might the baby Jesus have?  And what did the parents look like?  If you look at the creche scenes and the cards, the Holy Family probably looks fairly European  -- maybe even Scandinavian. 

In a book that I reviewed yesterday, Curtiss DeYoung's Coming Together in the 21st Century, a different vision is offered.  DeYoung, who is White, suggests that Jesus, as a 1st century Palestinian Jew, would have been Afro-Asiatic in ethnicity.  We tend to envision the Jewish people as White Europeans, but is that an appropriate sensibility?  So, what if the typical 1st Jew looked a lot different from the typical picture of Jesus, who has blue eyes and light brown hair.  What if, the histor…

Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible's Message in an Age of Diversity -- Review

COMING TOGETHER IN THE 21st CENTURY: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity.  By Curtiss Paul DeYoung.  Foreword by Cain Hope Felder.  Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2009.  xiv + 232 pp.

    You know the old adage: “11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”  Diversity is something Christians talk a lot about, and yet we seem to find it difficult to cross the ethnic, social, gender, racial, color, economic boundaries.  Often we seem oblivious to the obstacles we place before people seeking to come into the community of faith.  One question might be why this is the case, and another concerns what might be done.  Curtiss Paul DeYoung,  a White male from the United States of America teaching at an evangelical university in Minnesota, seeks to engage these questions by offering the church a biblical theology of diversity. 

Coming Together in the 21st Century first appeared in 1995, but much has occurred in the past fifteen years, and thus a newly revised editio…

Pastor Bob's Top Ten Books of 2009

Since I do a lot of book reviewing on this blog, I decided to put together my own Top 10 Book List for the year, as well as declare a Book of the Year.  Now, this list is comprised only of books that were published in 2009 and that I have read.  I know there are other deserving books that I didn’t read -- in fact I've got a couple on the shelf waiting to be read.  And among the books that I've read, I have to say that most were great reads.  But, I've decided to limit myself to ten books that most impacted me this year.  All of these books have been reviewed on my blog and/or in another venue – either online or in print.  

After the book of the year is named, the remaining ten are listed in no particular order.  All ten books are quite worthy of your attention.

Book of the Year:

Bruce and Katherine Epperly, Tending to the Holy, Alban, 2009 (Reviewed in Blog and Sharing the Practice)

Nine more Excellent Books:

Diana Butler Bass, People’s History of Christianity,Harper One 2009 …

Fillibusters and Cloture -- The Basic Facts

In the interest of having a helpful conversation about the political system, it's important to have an understanding of Senate Rules.  Under current rules, it takes 60 votes for cloture -- or a vote to end debate.  That number was set, according to a Senate web site, in 1975 -- after fillibusters were used in the 1960s and 1970s to prevent passage of civil rights legislation.  Before 1975, the number of votes required to end debate was a 2/3rds majority -- or 66 votes.  Under that system, you can see that a small minority had a lot of power, which meant that you had to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to get legislation passed.  And, that number was set in 1917, and it was first put to the test in 1918 in order to end debate over the Treaty of Versailles.  Before 1917, debate was unlimited.  Now, in the last decade or so, we have seen even this 60 vote limit as a political tactic.

With this information about Senate rules, I have two questions to ask my readers.  The first is this …

Moving Forward on Health Care -- A First, Imperfect Step

Much has been made of the somewhat "unseemly" way that health care reform was passed.  The reality is that due to the Senate's arcane rules -- which both parties have used to their advantage when in the minority -- require a fillibuster proof majority to get work done.  During the Bush years, before 2006, Democrats used the threat of a fillibuster to prevent certain Court nominees from coming to a vote.  Now that the tables have turned, the GOP is vexing their power, threatening fillibusters.  This ultimately puts power in the hands of the few -- actually 2 or 3 Senators.  A Ben Nelson can demand certain goodies, because his vote is needed to clear the way for a vote.  If there was no fillibuster, this bill would look very different, would have a public option and might be cleaner.  But the rules don't currently allow for that. It's not a Constitutional Issue, it's a Senate Rules thing.  The Republicans wanted to drag this out, knowing that the longer you dra…

The Family Business -- A sermon

Luke 2:41-52

    Oh, how they do grow up!  They start out as cute little babies, but before you know it, they’re twelve, and that original cuteness has begun to wear off.  12-year-old kids are liable to speak their minds – even to their parents.  So, would it surprise you to learn that Jesus is no different? 

   When last we gathered on Thursday Evening, we found Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by proud parents and some rather dirty shepherds.  We filled the night with carols, such as O Come all Ye Faithful, the First Noel, and Silent Night.  We sang songs of joy and thanksgiving to the one lying in that manger, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes.  Yes, along with the angels and the shepherds, we sang: 
  “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, for his bed a cattle stall;
    Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all.” 

These much beloved songs project an image of a gentle glowing baby, and we all seem to like babies.  Little children like them, as do the oldest among us.  B…

Up in the Air -- A Movie Review

Like many people yesterday, we went to the movies ( I know that lots of us went to the movies because the lot was full).  Our choice of Christmas movies was the Jason Reitman directed and heavily award nominated Up in the Air.  Reitman is the director of the much loved Juno.  He co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced the movie with his father, the famed Ivan Reitman -- drector of Ghostbusters and Animal House, among others. 

The movie stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man whose job it is to fire people on behalf of bosses unable or willing to do so. In the course of this job, the unmarried, uncommitted, Bingham, who is known for his side job speaking about unloading your life's backpack -- so you can travel light, spends most of his life in hotels, airports, and airplanes.   Considering the nature of the movie, it should not surprise you that he makes a stop or two in Detroit, which got some chuckles from our theater!  Living in metro-Detroit we know the patterns of lay off…

The Sacred Meal -- A Review

THE SACRED MEAL.  The Ancient Practices Series.  By Nora Gallagher.  Foreword by Phyllis Tickle.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.

    The Eucharist or Lord’s Supper is central to the Christian faith, and to some traditions it’s more central than in others.  For Protestants it is one of two primary sacraments or means of grace.  It is also an ancient Christian practice, by which we as Christians get in touch with the holy.  While we might not think of it as a spiritual practice – in the same way as prayer or fasting, Nora Gallagher offers us a way of looking at this activity in just that way.  Like the other spiritual practices, it serves “to gradually move us out of one place and into another” (p. 15).

    Nora Gallagher is not an academically trained theologian nor is she a member of the clergy.  She is, however, an Episcopal layperson, Eucharistic minister, a licensed Episcopal preacher, and a writer.  She is best known for writing spiritually defined memoirs such as Things Seen and…

A Progressive Christmas -- a guest re-posting

The following essay was written by Bruce Epperly and originally posted at Transforming Theology.  It is reposted with permission..  I find it to be a helpful reflection on the meaning of Christmas.


Soon we will celebrate the twelve days of Christmas…a time of wonder, miracle, and amazement…a time of incarnational presence….God truly among us, in us, and surrounding us…not coming down from above, but emerging within a world God that has always been God-filled….

Often we Progressives expect too little of God and, accordingly, too little of ourselves as God’s living embodied presence in the world. Years ago, I struggled with the Westminster/John Knox press’s title of one of my books – God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus. I struggled with the word “miracle,” worried that the use of the word would suggest that I believed in supernatural interventions by an otherwise absent God. Today, I believe the word “…

A Christmas Reflection

Last night, as we gathered at the church to celebrate the birth of our Lord, my thoughts traveled back to my growing up years.  For me, although the presents and the dinner were always present and enjoyable, Christmas was always about that gathering for worship.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church -- spending a good part of my childhood and early teen years at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  Over the years I served Christmas Eve as an acolyte, a lay reader, and as a choir member.  When I was very young, we went to the Christmas morning service, been by the time I was in 6th grade or so, we went to the Midnight Mass (the service started at 11 and culminated in the Eucharist around Midnight).  After worship, we would go home, have some hot chocolate, and open one present each.  Then, we'd go to bed, wake up early the next morning, and then be sleepy about 6 p.m.

Even years later, long after I had moved away from Klamath Falls and had left the Episcopal Church, that service was always …

Shepherds on Watch -- A Christmas Eve Sermon

Luke 2:1-20

    When it comes to casting a Christmas pageant, shepherds rank low on the list of desirable parts.  The most coveted roles, of course, are Mary and Joseph.  After that, I expect that the three wise men get top billing.  Being one of the magi is nice, because you get to wear fancy robes and bring gifts to the baby Jesus.  While angels don’t rank with the wise men, at least they have more star power than shepherds. 

    As for the shepherds, they get to wear bathrobes with blankets over their heads – You need to think Linus here.  No crowns and no wings, just blankets and bathrobes.   No gifts and no grand songs to sing.  While the angels hang out in the heavens, broadcasting the good news, they hang out in the hills with the sheep and the dogs.  There’s nothing too exciting about these roles, except that Luke seems to think that they’re important. 

    You might notice that Luke’s birth story doesn’t include wise men, kings, or magi – whatever name you want to give them.…

A Voice of Hope From Below

Although I can't find the link, this essay was published on Christmas Eve, 2006, in the Lompoc Record.  I believe it speaks nicely for the day ahead.


Harry Truman said “the buck stops here,” while George W. Bush declared that he was “the Decider.”   Such states exude strength and power, and it seems that the stronger and more powerful the leader is, the more apt we are to listen (and obey) to their pronouncements.   As history has shown, the demagogue will try to manipulate our emotions and prejudices in order to control us, and the charismatic figure will seek to gain our acquiescence through a cult of personality. 

Since today is Christmas Eve, it’s appropriate to consider a different view of power.  Tonight many Christian communities will celebrate the story of a baby born to a young mother in a stable (Luke 2:1-20).  The backdrop is an insignificant town in a backwater part of a powerful empire.  When read against the stories of the…

It Is Finished -- Well Almost

The Senate gathered this morning, passed the bill, which was a foregone conclusion, and headed home for the holidays.  Now, the tricky maneuvers of merging bills must take place.  I expect that the President will invite the interested parties to a discussion and then it will get passed, he'll sign it, and then they will try to sell it.  That process likely will begin with the State of the Union Address. 

Over the next months the rhetoric will get pretty hot and heavy.  The Republicans will, as they are already doing, going overboard with casting aspersions.  Democrats will remain a fractious lot, but then the Democrats are the only semblance of a big tent -- which is why the debate over health care has been an intramural one.

The vote has been cast and we've moved closer to universal coverage than we've ever been at.  I want to remind the conservatives in the room that John McCain, in the debates agreed with President Obama that access to affordable health care is a right no…

Christmas Eve and other Stories -- Trans-Siberian Orchestra

As we countdown the days until Christmas, here's a bit of music to get you stirred up!

Recognizing Reform | The New Republic

As the Senate gets ready to vote on a health care reform bill, it has become clear that after a century of trying, we will be moving toward reform of the system. But make no mistake, this is only the beginning-- an important first step -- but only the beginning. We will have to modify it over time, so that it works to provide care to most if not all Americans. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear among the populace, which is why the popularity of reform has plummeted. There is fear among Seniors that they might lose some benefits, while younger folks don't see why they need coverage. The fact is, however, that unless everyone gets coverage -- of some sort -- in order to spread the risk, the costs of insurance will continue to sky rocket. People with employer provided coverage are concerned that they may get less coverage in the future -- that is if high end plans get taxed. But this might level the playing field for those who can't get group coverage -- usually self-e…

Searching for God -- Sightings

Martin Marty closes out his offerings for 2009 with a reflection on the recent hubbub over the Pew Forum Report on the nation's recent religious proclivities.  That we've been a nation of seekers and switchers isn't really new.  But the trends have quickened, and the switches haven't just been in in-family (Catholic to Episcopal), but crossing family boundaries.  Marty comments on the statements made by Stephen Prothero in the Wall Street Journal. Prothero sees danger here -- and raises questions as to whether we're just jumping from one religious idea to the next?  Take a look, and offer your thoughts.

By the way, Prothero is author of the excellent Religious Literacy(HarperOne).

Sightings 12/21/2009

Searching For God
Martin Marty

Last week Sightings looked at bearish signs on the front where religion is practiced (a bit less) in post-Christendom.  This week instead of a bear we’ll note the chameleon-like character of religious commitment,…

Before & After by Carrie Newcomer -- Music Review

BEFORE & AFTER.   By Carrie Newcomer.  Burlington, MA: Rounder Records, 2010.

    I had the privilege and pleasure of reviewing Carrie Newcomer’s earlier album, The Geography of Light (Rounder Records, 2008).  That privilege has been given to me once again as a copy of her latest album, Before & After recently arrived in the mailbox.  As I noted in that earlier review, I find the task of reviewing an album to be very different from reviewing a book.  When it comes to vocal music, the words are important, but the song isn’t just about the words. There is melody and there is harmony, the quality of the voice and the way the songs are played.  Some songs are fast and hard driving, other forms of music kind of lull you in with a soft but beckoning call.  

    Carrie Newcomer’s style is soft and inviting, gracious and gentle, a bit of folk and maybe a bit of country-rock (on the lighter side).  The accompaniment of the songs, all written by Newcomer, is largely acoustic (she accom…