Showing posts from August, 2010

Ending Combat without Bravado

On May 1, 2003, more than seven years ago, President George W. Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific with much fanfare, wearing the flight suit of a Navy pilot.  With the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, the President of the United States, in triumphalist tones declared an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq.  He commended the military and his war planners for their work in swiftly bringing down the enemy in Iraq, as well as destroying the Taliban in Afghanistan. 
President Bush spoke of the noble cause that the Armed Forces had engaged in and commended them for their bold and swift victory (you may remember Donald Rumsfeld announcing the beginning of the war in terms of "shock and awe."
In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment. Yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your cour…

A Good Enough Theology: Evangelical Passion (Bruce Epperly)

What is a "Good Enough Theology?"  And in defining this notion of theology, where might evangelicalism fit?  One of the things about evangelicalism, is that it is a hard term to pin down.  I'm a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical flagship institution, but Fuller is quite different from other institutions in the evangelical community, such as Dallas Seminary or even Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  There are conservative evangelicals and there are those, like me, who want to retain our connection with evangelical sensibilities and would be comfortable with the designation "liberal evangelical."  Then there are those who see themselves as "evangelical liberals," a designation that Bruce Epperly, the author of this series of posts, is quite willing to affirm.  If you are a liberal or progressive Christian, what might you take away from the evangelical mindset that can broaden and deepen your faith?  That is the purpose of Bruce&…

Real Peace, Real Security -- A Review

REAL PEACE, REAL SECURITY: The Challenges of Global Citizenship. By Sharon D. Welch. Foreword by William F. Schulz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008. xix +128 pp.
Peace and security – these are two states of being that most human beings desire. Yes, there are those who seem to relish conflict, or who glory in battle and destruction, but most people want to live in peace and security. The question that humans have wrestled with through the centuries concerns the means to this end, and to this point no one has been able to come up with a solution that resolves all conflicts and brings an end to all conflict and war. It has been assumed by many, perhaps a majority of people, that force is necessary if we wish to secure peace and security. A sizable minority, however, would disagree with this assessment. Sharon D. Welch, provost and professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School, is one who affirms nonviolence, but is also willing to hear out all voices. In Real Peace, Real Security, s…

Resurrecting the Middle Judicatories

Last week I blogged Dick Hamm's essay written for The Columbia Partnership newsletter, entitled "The Death of the Middle Judicatory."  Since then I've spent part of Friday and most of Saturday at gathering of regional leadership.  Our region, which has a rather small number of churches, and which is spread out across the state of Michigan, finds itself in a difficult situation.  How do we provide effective leadership and support across this vast territory when the funds needed to sustain a traditional regional ministry are not present.   We are in a transitional moment, having called upon two of our own to serve as co-regional ministers for the interim, while we discern a way forward.  We know we need strong leadership for the region, but the question is -- what should this look like.  Before we call someone to this task, it's important that we understand not just the needs, but what the regional structures will look like.  Thus, we're looking at reducing boa…

Know Your Place -- A Sermon

Luke 14:1, 7-14

What would Emily Post say? If the President invites you to a party at the White House, where should you sit? If you arrive early, should you go and save that empty seat up front at his right hand? It sure would be great to sit as close as possible to the center of attention, but maybe it would be better to take a seat farther back in the crowd. Of course, proximity to greatness does suggest greatness!
Back in the Soviet era, when Leonid Brezhnev was still running things, Time Magazine would try to figure out who was next in line to succeed him. Since the Soviets weren't too keen on letting out the secret, the analysts at Time would watch where Politburo members stood on Kremlin wall overlooking Red Square during important events, like a May Day review of the troops. The assumption was that the closer you stood to Brezhnev, the closer you were to the top of the list. If you’d moved down a few spaces, well obviously you were on the way out of favor. You know that if Kr…

My Neopagan Pen Pal

I thought that interfaith dialogue had its limits—until I started talking with a Wiccan.
For many, paganism generally and Wicca in particular are synonymous with the occult, even Satanism. The presence of Wiccans at the groundbreaking for an interfaith chapel at a Disciples of Christ-related university brought streams of protests and a flurry of questions from the faithful. People asked/demanded: Why were they present?
This was the same sort of worry that led some Christians to raise concerns about the Harry Potter books and movies. They denounced the series because they feared that exposing children to magic—as if Disney movies hadn’t already done that a generation earlier—might lead them into witchcraft. The concern was that Harry made witchcraft look too good.
While Neopaganism and Wicca have exploded onto the religious scene in recent years—bookstores have shelves of books on these new-old religions—their popularity seems to derive not from an embrace of evil but from their noninstit…

Humble and Hospitable -- a lectionary meditation

Proverbs 25:6-7

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Humble and Hospitable
Success in life requires self-promotion. It also involves reciprocity. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. If you promote me, I’ll promote you. But there are dangers in both self-promotion and mutual back-scratching. They can backfire. You get something of this in the texts for this week. Both the reading from Proverbs and the gospel lesson speak of circumspection, recognizing your place, and not overstepping bounds. Standing in between these two texts, Proverbs and Luke, is the epistle of Hebrews, which commends a life of mutual love and hospitality. Humility and hospitality, two virtues that we would be wise to develop and nurture – not just so we can be successful in life, but so we can live out the promise of the life of faith.
As is often true there is more than one choice of texts from the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the Proverbs 25 passage, one could turn to Jeremiah 2:4-13, but it doesn’t fit the f…

The Death of Middle Judicatories and why that's not a good thing!

Since moving to Michigan I've become ever more deeply involved in the regional manifestation of my denomination.  I've long been active in local clergy and interfaith groups, leading and founding some of them.  But, by and large I've stayed out of the "bureaucracy," leaving that to others.  Part of this previous avoidance can be explained by my physical distance from the center of things.  I did, however, maintain a strong relationship with my regional minister, which proved helpful in difficult times.  But I can no longer avoid my responsibilities.  I may live no closer to the regional office than before, but in a smaller region, and as pastor of one of the regions stronger congregations (even though we're not that large) -- one which contributes an out-sized amount of funding and persons to the regional denominational life -- I now have responsibilities I previously avoided!  (I am now chair of the Ecumenism Commission -- a one person committee at this time…

Hospitality -- A Report from an Iftar Dinner

There is a problem in our midst.  The problem is that fear is running rampant and this fear is clouding our better judgment.  Our fear is causing us to stereotype Muslims, implicating all Muslims in the militant activities of a few.  The only real way of overcoming this problem is for non-Muslims in America to get to know Muslims.  Unfortunately, there aren't that many Muslims living in America, which makes it difficult to get to know Muslim people as people.  There are only about 2.5 million Muslims living in America -- about 1% of the population. 
A recent Time Magazine cover story highlights this problem.  Only about 37% of Americans have met or know a Muslim.  And if you don't know people, that leads to fear.  It also leads you to embrace stereotypes.  It also allows you to become susceptible to demagogues who use something like the Cordoba House/Park51 Islamic Center as a political tool.  The author of the Time article notes:
Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn't approach l…

A Good Enough Theology: Spirit-Centered Progressivism/Embracing Pentecost (Bruce Epperly)

We continue the journey into what Bruce Epperly calls a "Good Enough Theology."  Last week, Bruce looked at the contributions of the Quakers, especially their use of silence and waiting upon the movement of God, for guidance.  This week, Bruce goes in another direction and seeks insight from Pentecostalism, a movement that affirms God's empowering presence now, in this day.  Although it has its own set of problems -- I know of these first hand as a former Pentecostal -- it has also reintroduced into the mainstream of Christianity the experiential side of Christian faith.  It has also reminded us that God is still present and active.  Bruce believes that progressive Christians can profit from attending to the strengths of this movement.  I invite you to read and to share your thoughts.  Oh, and next week he turns to evangelicalism!


A Good Enough Theology: Spirit-Centered Progressivism/Embracing Pentecost Bruce Epperly

Good theology embra…

Muggles, Mudbloods, and Bigotry -- the Lessons of Harry Potter for Today

I've been on a role, as someone recently pointed out, being that I've been writing about anti-Islamic bigotry.  Now not all opposition to the building of the mosque in New York is an expression of bigotry, but there is a definite component to the debate that is full-blown bigotry.  Some of this, of course, is simply politics.  Just as Communists made for a good straw man during the cold war (though socialists seem to be making a comeback), now immigrants and Muslims seem to be a good target.  Several years ago I wrote a column for the Lompoc Record on this topic, using as my example the conversation about muggles and mudbloods that is present in the Harry Potter books and films (this is fresh in my mind because I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on TV last night!). 
As you prepare to read this piece from 2007, I want to add in a quotation shared with me by my good friend and fellow pastor Glen Miles.  It's a quote from George Bush -- from 2002.  I've n…

Shaken to the Foundations -- A Sermon on Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12:18-29

I’m a survivor. Yes, I’ve survived several earthquakes, although none of them have been massive. The largest quake we ever experienced was the Northridge Quake in 1994, but it was centered miles away from our apartment in Rancho Cucamonga. That quake started with a jolt and then a rumble. The moment it struck I didn’t know its intensity or its epicenter, but I knew it wasn’t a train going by the complex. So I jumped out of bed, grabbed Brett, and headed for the door jam. The quake didn't last long, just a mater of seconds, but it rattled my nerves, and it was a while before we got back to sleep. We later learned that it was a 6.7 earthquake that, wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles basin. It led to the deaths of 17 people, injured scores more, and took down important freeway overpasses and numerous buildings in the San Fernando Valley. When I got to work at the library in Pasadena, which was much closer to the epicenter, I discovered I had a mess to clean up – includi…