Showing posts from July, 2010

Time to Stop Villifying Muslims and Islam

The other day the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, joined Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich in condemning the Islamic center and mosque planned for New York City -- even though the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg welcomes it.  What saddens me about the ADL response, which includes casting aspersions on the project because of its unknown funders, is that I once worked for the ADL office in Santa Barbara, coordinating its "No Place for Hate" campaign -- an effort that was designed to overcome misrepresentations and bring people together.  But the New York situation isn't the only one at hand.  There is an attempt to block the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, TN, an effort that has been aided and abetted by politicians who are running for office on an anti-Islam platform.  Remember that the current Lt. Governor, who is running for governor, has suggested that maybe Islam isn't covered by constitutional protections, because its a cult and not a religi…

Arizona, Immigration, and the Law

We heard just the other day that a Federal Court judge had put a stay on implementation of  much of the Arizona iimmigration law.  This stay is based upon the judge's belief that these aspects of the law overstepped constitutional boundaries, and intruded in federal jurisdictions.  It is a decision that is seemingly unpopular with many, one the Arizona governor Jan Brewer has appealed, and one the local sheriff apparently plans to flout.  But it is one applauded by many religious leaders, especially within the Roman Catholic Church.   

I recognize that the Arizona law is in part a reflection of frustration with the inability of the Federal Government to come to grips with immigration.  There have been attempts to rectify the situation, but there hasn't been the political will to accomplish reform, in part because there is no consensus on what  to do, as well as conflicting agendas.  There are business leaders who are largely Republican that want to broaden access for migrant …

Focus -- A Lectionary Meditation

Hosea 11:1-11
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21


We hear a lot about multi-tasking these days. We watch TV, check our email, talk on the cell phone, text our friends, and carry on a conversation. Of course, truth be told, it’s not easy to do more than one or two things at a time. Think talking on the cell and driving at the same time — and you know what I mean.
One of the major themes that runs through Scripture is that you can’t serve more than one master. At some point you will give allegiance to one or the other. Each in its own way, these three texts speak to the danger of idolatry. We hear Hosea cry out to his people on behalf of God, warning them about the dangers of continually walking away from God and pursuing their own agendas. In the Colossian letter a disciple of Paul reminds Gentiles of where they had come from and who they are now – now that they are in Christ, their focus should be on the things above rather than on the things below. Finally we have Jesus’ parable of the …

Making Sense of Evolution -- Review

MAKING SENSE OF EVOLUTION:  Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life.  By John F. Haught.  Louisville:  WJK Press, 2010.  144 pp.

Here’s something creationists and evolutionary naturalists agree about: Darwin’s theory of evolution leads inevitably to atheism. John F. Haught disagrees. In Making Sense of Evolution, he proposes that one need not choose between God and Darwin.
Haught is most concerned with people such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who define faith in narrow, ultraconservative terms. He challenges them by suggesting that one can be faithful to a religious tradition and also open to modern science. Haught reminds those of us who are people of faith open to evolutionary science that coexistence doesn’t mean living in separate homes (as Stephen J. Gould suggested).
Making Sense of Evolution invites the reader to develop a “theology of evolution.” The key to Haught’s argument is found in the second half of the book’s subtitle: “the Drama of Life.” Science offers one lens on r…

Why Progressive Theology Matters: The God of Possibility (Bruce Epperly)

There is the assumption on the part of many that liberal or progressive Christianity talks more about what it doesn't believe in than what it does believe in.  Bruce Epperly is one of those progressive theologians who is concerned about probing what is possible to believe in today's world.  Today's essay speaks of the "God of Possibility," a piece triggered by the meditation written for this blog by seminarian Dwight Welch.  I invite you to read and engage in the conversation -- Who is the God of Possibility?


Why Progressive Theology Matters: The God of Possibility
Bruce Epperly

Yesterday I received the latest edition of the United Church of Christ Desk Calendar. The cover announced the following: “Imagine What’s Possible. God is still speaking,” – a reminder of the UCC affirmation from Gracie Allen, “never place a period where God has placed a comma.” Imagine what’s possible! Look beyond the data and bottom line, and awaken to…

Progressive Christian Worship -- The Starting Point

Keith Watkins is in the midst of an ongoing discussion of what an alternative worship for progressive churches might look like.  Keith is a theologically liberal/progressive Disciple with strong commitments to the historic liturgical tradition.  In setting out a starting point for our discussion, he asks whether we will start with a "music/message" position, which has been common among Protestants since the Reformation -- that is, we sing and then we finish with a sermon -- or will we choose the "Word/Table" position that has ancient roots.  Being that he is Disciple, a tradition that places great emphasis on weekly communion, it's not surprising (at least to me), that Keith chooses the Word/Table position.
In this week's post he suggests three bases for this choice.
He notes the early Christian dependence on both the synagogue  worship practices using Torah and Prayers, which were then combined with Jesus' Table fellowship practices. Noting dependence on …

Classroom Controversy -- Sightings

Having been asked to resign from a teaching position -- for doctrinal reasons -- I have some sense of the difficulties that face teachers of religon.  All of my teaching experience has been in private, Christian settings, both seminary and college levels.  As Stanley Hauerwas noted in his wonderful memoir, he had a tendency to say things in class, but especially in meetings, that ticked people off -- usually administrators.  I know the feeling!!
In today's edition of Sightings, Martin Marty picks up on the case of an adjunct professor fired from a public university for the way in which he approached the Catholic teaching on homosexuality -- he laid out the Catholic teaching and noted his support of the position.  As Marty notes, this is an intriguing case because it lays out the narrow line that teachers of religion in public universities must walk.  It raises questions of objectivity -- if such a thing can be truly attained -- and more.  It's a most interesting piece, which &q…

Singing in Church

Today, my last day of vacation, we decided to attend a larger, well-heeled Episcopal Church.  It is a beautiful Gothic cathedral in a nearby affluent community.  We went with high expectations and came away greatly disappointed.  I won't go into the details, but our experience today reminded me of the importance of congregational singing, which I believe may be a dying "art." 
My experience this Sunday stands in great contrast to what we experienced last Sunday up in Omena.  Now, I have to note that my music minister is the summer organist up north, and he provides wonderful support to congregational singing.  I need to also say that the people who attend this church love to sing.  So, the service we planned last week featured a lot of singing -- I did a sermon that is rather unique in that each movement of the sermon included hymns.
So, back to the issue of singing, and my observations about its place in worship.
One of the keys to congregational singing is "singabil…

I've Got Nothing against Counting Heads, But . . . !

In my review of Jason Byassee's new book on the Small Church, a book I enjoyed in part because I've been a small church pastor, I took strong issue with the afterword written by William Willimon.  I didn't take issue with Willimon because of his recent emphasis on numbers and church growth, an emphasis that seems somewhat at odds with his earlier books written with Stanley Hauerwas.  Heck, I have no problem with numbers and counting.  Although I pastor a relatively small church, I want to see it grow.  Numbers can be a sign of health -- though if numbers are the focus, then we often do whatever is necessary to market ourselves so we can get people in the door.  No, I didn't take issue with the numbers issue, I took issue with the  snarky tone he took toward small churches, suggesting that small churches were communities only Jesus could love. 
In an email conversation with Jason after I posted the review, he pointed me to his own response to the question of numbers and…

Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Nativism Old and New

Earlier I wrote about my disgust with both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich's demagoguery concerning Muslims in America.  Actually, Palin's rant wasn't as dangerous as Gingrich's.  But both are what some call "Christianists," and in their understanding of "real American" is quite narrow.  The Nativism that is driving the debate in Arizona and in New York is not new.  It has a fairly strong pedigree, that goes back to the early days of the Republic.  It fueled the dispossession of Native Americans from their lands, kept blacks in servitude, excluded Asians, and targeted Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.
Back in the 1850s a political movement emerged that came to be known as the "Know Nothing Party" -- a party that targeted Catholics.  It had some political success and even recruited a former President to run on its behalf in 1856 -- Millard Fillmore.  The response that Abraham Lincoln gave in a letter to friend Joshua Speed dated 1856 spea…

They're Going to take over! -- Anti-Muslim Political Rants

Who would have thought that the decision to build a mosque in Manhattan, a block or so from the World Trade Center site, would take on a national political spotlight.  But, as we know, none other than Sarah Palin has twittered her opposition, and created a word of her own in the midst of the tirade.  Now, I really don't care about Palin's use of the word "refudiate."  The accurate word would be "repudiate," but that's the least of our problems.  It's easy to ridicule Palin, but all that seems to do is endear her more to people across the country -- the ones Palin calls "real Americans."  "Real Americans" are, as you know, Christians.  More specifically conservative ones -- the ones that Richard Dawkins has determined are to be considered real Christians as well.  
Newt Gingrich chimes in by saying that there should be no mosques near ground zero as long as there aren't churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia. There should be no…

The Bricolage Religion of LOST and American Religious Culture -- Sightings

The recently completed LOST TV show offered a six year long odyssey in which the show's creators and writers seemed to be making up as they went along.  I was a faithful watcher for the first several seasons, and then for a number of reasons I wasn't able to stay with it -- though I did watch the finale.  One of the things that the show did was mix in religious themes, but as Benjamin Zeller writes here in a Sightings piece, the religious ideas are not only eclectic but the varieties of religious elements are mixed together in what appear to be rather odd ways.  Thus the Dharma Initiative borrows an Indian religious term to define itself and yet it combines this with a Taoist symbol as its logo.  But that's really not the point -- the point is that Americans are very good at combining religious/spiritual ideas in creative ways, and this isn't all that new.  So, read, consider, and respond!

Sightings 7/22/10

The Bricolage Religion …

There's Still Hope -- A Lectionary Meditation

Hosea 1:2-10

Colossians 2:6-15

Luke 11:1-13

There’s Still Hope

Persistence – that is the message of Jesus’ parable in Luke 11. Just after teaching the disciples an abridged form of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells a parable about a man who wakes up his neighbor at midnight so he can feed a friend who has dropped by unexpectedly – in the middle of the night – and is now hungry. In that culture, if someone drops by, you feed them, but what do you do when the cupboard is bare? You go knock on your neighbor’s door – sort of like Sheldon knocking on Leonard’s or Penny’s door (Big Bang Theory). The neighbor might not get up and help out from friendship, but if you knock long enough, well then perhaps the neighbor will give in, get up, and get the bread. Of course, God isn’t like that neighbor who has to be pestered into helping.
One of the stanzas of the Lord’s Prayer speaks of forgiveness – something that we often approach God desiring. The concern that is present in the minds of …

Serenity Now -- a Seinfeld Thriller

My posts have been rather theological and serious of late, which is in keeping with the nature of this blog.  But, having said that, there is always time and place for a little levity -- if you can call it that.  So, enjoy this "Trailer" of a Seinfeld thriller featuring Wayne Jackson as "Newman."  Enjoy!!

Worship and the Progressive Christian Church -- laying out a new pattern

It may seem ironic that some of the churches with the most conservative theology have the most culturally-connected "worship."   I put "worship" in quote marks, because in some ways -- as planners of church services have a tendency to do -- much of this "worship" borders on pure entertainment.  It uses all of the technology and style of the current cultural moment.   Worship in many progressive or liberal churches -- those in the old Mainline traditions -- have a tendency to be quite traditional and conservative.  The theology might be liberal but the medium is old style and traditional -- with liturgy, hymns and organs instead of guitars, free form worship, praise songs, and preachers in Hawaiian shirts.
So, what might a more culturally engaged, but theologically progressive worship look like?   I reposted a piece last week written by my friend Keith Watkins, which launches a series of posts that will engage this question.  Keith is deeply rooted in litur…

Jesus and America -- Sightings

There has been for who knows how long a debate about the role of religion in American society.  Our coins say:  "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance says:  "One Nation Under God."  People get pretty heated with their opinions.  Personally, I trust in God, but I'm not sure which God is referred to in this statement.  The same can be said for "One Nation Under God."  Which God are we speaking of?  A generic god that all peoples (at least those who at a minimal level say they believe in God) can affirm? 
Martin Marty picks up on the relationship of Jesus and America, a conversation triggered by a 4th of July Hobby Lobby ad.  Until this point, I didn't know that Hobby Lobby was  a big Christian booster, but apparently they are -- and they like to link Jesus to America, sort of.  Anyway, Marty in his Monday essay lifts up the questions surrounding this relationship, and celebrates the fact that there is room to have this debate.  I invite you…

Why Progressive Theology Matters: God is Still Speaking (Bruce Epperly)

There is a verse that appears near the close of the book of Revelation, which suggests that anyone adding to the book faces divine curses.  Some have taken this little message to be speaking of the Scriptures as a whole, so that if you share any revelatory materials beyond this passage, then God will get you.  In other words, God has spoken once and for all and is now forever silent.  But is God forever silent?  Could it be that God might still be speaking?.  Remember that this passage only works because of its placement at the end of the canonical books of the New Testament, a placement that was in doubt as late as the fifth century.  But, if God is still speaking, how is God speaking and what does this mean for us?  Bruce Epperly once again points us toward progressive theology, suggesting that it has resources that might help us hear God's voice today.

Why Progressive Theology Matters: God is Still Speaking
Bruce Epperly

My denominat…