Showing posts from October, 2015

Debates, Politics, and Confusion

I haven't watched any of the debates. I have checked in on them on Twitter.  It's always interesting to see what people are saying. I'm not sure that they are all that illuminating. Because someone is a good debater doesn't make them a good leader -- or President.  As I understand it from Twitter and the punditry (I do check in on what the pundits have to say), the Republican Presidential Debate on Wednesday evening was something of a fiasco. But should we be surprised? Having ten people on the stage, with two hours to get the job done, it's not surprising that things went awry.  Candidates have their agendas. Moderators have their agendas. Most likely they will be at cross purposes. If they could winnow things down to maybe five people they might get more done -- or at least have some substantive conversation. The Democrats used their first debate to get down to three candidates. They can have a pretty good conversation about issues, because each candidate has mo…

Eucharistic Presence and the Face of Christ

I have been from time to time reflecting on what it means for the church to worship at an open table. By open table, I mean a table where all are welcome, whether Christian or not, baptized or not. In my mind this stands in continuity with Jesus' own table fellowship. While the Eucharist looks back to the Last Supper for its inspiration/institution, I don't believe that this experience of the Table is the only experience to inform our present practice of Table Fellowship.  
As part of my exploration of the topic, which connects with a grant proposal we're working on as a congregation, I've been reading as widely as possible on the topic. Among the books I've been reading is Claudio Carvalhaes' Eucharist and Globalization. Carvalhaes is Brazilian and Presbyterian. The book is a scholarly one, but is insightful for my exploration.

Mormon Options on "Church" and "State" -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

What is the appropriate relationship between church and state? Put another way is there a place for religion within the public square? Some argue that there is an impenetrable wall between the two. Others argue that ours is a Christian nation and that religion has a privileged place. Others of us see things being a bit more fluid. Martin Marty brings to our attention a most interesting presentation by one of the most senior leaders of the Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). On issues like same-sex marriage, Mormons are conservative in their thinking, but Dallin Oaks, a former professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Mormon Apostle, suggests that officials need to abide by the laws they are sworn to uphold. They can seek ways of accommodation of beliefs (delegating authority to others), but not overrule the law.  He calls for mutual respect on the part of all, as a way of defusing and avoiding culture wars. It's a most interesting presentatio…

Commandments and the Kingdom - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B

Mark 12:28-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of Go…

Advent in Narnia (Heidi Haverkamp) -- Review

ADVENT IN NARNIA: Reflections for the Season. By Heidi Haverkamp. Louisville:   Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Ix + 100 pages.
They rank among the best known and best loved set of stories. Written with children in mind they have intrigued adults as much as children. Children will be drawn to the stories of talking animals, but adults will be intrigued by the spiritual and theological elements of the stories. I first read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narniain high school, and I’ve read them many times since. I would venture to say that this set of stories stand at the top of  Lewis’ works in popularity. Once you are hooked into the stories, you will return time and again to them. If you have children then you will want to share them with your children. At least that was true for me and my son. Although The Magician’s Nephew, which provides a creation story, is the first volume in the series of seven books, most readers begin reading with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.It is…

Who Is God . . . Really? - A Sermon for Pentecost 22B

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

We’re only exploring a few passages from the book of Job, but even so you may be feeling a bit unsettled by what we’ve heard so far. The God we’ve met appears to control everything, and that means God is responsible not only for the good things but the bad things. Though it does appear that God uses a hired hand, The Adversary, to do the dirty work. At the same time, we’ve been hearing from Job, who has been suffering greatly despite his claims to be innocent and righteous before God. The question we’ve been hearing all along is: “why me?” And that question leads to another: Who is God?
The Bible is a sacred text, but it is also a very complex book. At times it seems to argue with itself. In many ways the message of Job offers a counter weight to the message of Proverbs. The message of Proverbs is quite simple. If you do the right thing, good things should happen. If you do bad things, then you will reap what you sow. When we read Job, we hear him crying out: “But wha…

The Meal Jesus Gave Us (N.T. Wright) -- Review

THE MEAL JESUS GAVE US: Understanding Holy Communion.Revised Edition. By N.T. Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. 86 pages.

From the beginning of the Christian movement in the First Century CE, Christian life has been centered in a sacred meal. The meal has roots in the Jewish Passover, but Christians continue to gather for this meal because it is understood to be instituted by Jesus on the night before his death on the cross. Following biblical tradition, it is understood that Christians should continue with this observance until Christ returns at the end of the age. This meal is called by many names including Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Holy Communion. Some Christians believe that when properly consecrated, the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus (even if the elements retain their outward appearance, including taste, the substance of the elements are transformed into body and blood). Other Christians believe that the bread and wine/juice rema…

Christians fighting Christians -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

It does appear to be true that we Christians like to fight amongst ourselves. If it's not one thing it's another. These days it appears that the chief topic over which we fight is sex. There are any number of issues to fight over ranging from same-sex marriage to divorce and remarriage. There's also birth control and gender. Martin Marty reflects on our penchant for fighting by taking a look at the recently concluded Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis. Apparently there's not a consensus among Catholics on these topics. But then again that's true of us all isn't it? In any case, I invite you to read and consider Martin Marty's essay for Sightings.
Christians Fighting Christians
By MARTIN E. MARTY   OCT 19, 2015Morning Mass, Atrium Hall, Philadelphia (Sept. 23, 2015)        Credit: Antoine Mekary/Aleteia / flickr Cynics, but not only cynics, like to observe, not always inaccurately, that Christians are never happy unless they are fighting—each other.…

From Nature to Creation (Norman Wirzba) - A Review

FROM NATURE TO CREATION: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (The Church and Postmodern Culture).By Norman Wirzba. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Xii + 162 pages.

We hear a lot these days about climate change and what that means for us. We also hear that the Christian or even Western monotheism poses a danger to the natural world. After all, in Genesis the human creation is given “dominion” over the earth and its inhabitants. Unfortunately the word dominion has often been understood to mean – do what you will with the earth. These are simply resources placed at human disposal by God. Of course, there’s another way of reading this mandate. It could be that God was calling on humanity to be stewards of creation, taking care of God’s creation. There are Christians arguing for both of these positions, though too often the voices heard the loudest are those claiming divine approval for doing whatever we please with the earth.
One who would argue for a stewarding mo…

Let Me See Again - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 22B

Mark 10:46-52 New Revised Standard Version 46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
                Wherever Jesus went he touched lives. He raised the dead, restored the ability to walk, gave sight to the blin…

Called to Witness (Darrell Guder) -- A Review

CALLED TO WITNESS: Doing Missional Theology (The Gospel and Our Culture Series).By Darrell L. Guder. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. Xvi +203.

It would seem that every church has gotten on the missional band wagon. Whether we know what this means or not, we like the idea that we’re a missional people. My congregation deemed itself missional, though it continues to learn what that means. Even my denomination wants to see itself as missional. At our most recent General Assembly a new concept of life together was offered. Thus we are putting "Mission First." Just google the word missional and you will find dozens of conferences, books, and even degree programs.  As with most terms that become popular the meaning of the word "missional" is in the eye of the beholder.
Of course the word has an origin. In fact, it is of fairly recent vintage. So what did the originators of the term have in mind when they coined it? One of the key figures we might w…

Questions from God -- Sermon for Pentecost 21B

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

For thirty-seven chapters Job and his friends have been debating the question: “why me?” That’s a question that many of us ask at one point or another. Bad things happen and we want an explanation. Sometimes, as is the case with the answers provided by Job’s friends, the answers don’t make sense. Sometimes we even want to take up the conversation with God, but we’re not sure we’re up to the task. 
Last Sunday we listened to Job as he challenged God to appear in court and answer his questions. He believed he was innocent, but he was also terrified of the possibility that God might actually show up. One of Job’s friends assures Job that he needn’t worry about God showing up. God was too busy to bother with his futile questioning. 
Elihu is the fourth “friend” to enter the debate with Job. In many ways these four friends, demonstrate the principle that with friends like this, who needs enemies! Elihu feels the need to defend God’s honor. He tells Job to “stop and consider …

God's Law: Universal Truth According to Religious Sovereign Citizens -- Sightings

I had not heard of the Religious Sovereign Movement that apparently is spreading across the country. It is an attempt to overturn our legal system or at least turn it on its head. As I read this exposition of the movement where all citizens become lawyers (as opposed to priests), interpreting laws as they see fit, I'm led to think of the way we are as a nation as a whole pushing individualism to its extremes. What binds us together I wonder? Anyway, take a look at this essay from the University of Chicago Divinity School and Martin Marty Center offered up by Spencer Dew and his student Jamie Wright. 

God's Law: Universal Truth According to Religious Sovereign Citizens

By SPENCER DEW and JAMIE WRIGHT   OCT 15, 2015 Credit: Justin Deschamps, aka An Agent for Consciousness Evolution / Stillness in the Storm blog In May of last year, police in Madison County, Tennessee, made a traffic stop of a kind that has been increasingly common in recent years. Officers pulled over a car with …

Faith in the Public Square -- A Conversation

With the first Democratic Party Presidential Debate just a few days in the past (I didn't watch, but did catch some of the analysis), and two Republican Party Debates in recent months (I didn't watch them either), it is clear that politics is in the air. So how do we address the question of religion and politics in our current context?  What role does faith and religion have in public life?
If you live in Michigan perhaps you'd like to join me on November 7th for a few hours of conversation about faith and politics and our ultimate allegiance.  We'll talk politics, religion, allegiances (the Lord's Prayer), and ways of being engaged, such as through community organizing. Below you'll find the information you need to attend.  This is sponsored by STEM, a ministry of the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ.
I have written about the topic in two books: Faith in the Public Square

Room for the Spirit

In presentations and in personal conversation Diana Butler Bass, while writing her previous book Christianity after Religion,spoke of three kinds of people.  There are the religious, the spiritual but not religious, and the spiritual and religious. I place myself in this third category. I believe that we need structure, but without the Spirit the structure is of little value. It is, in the words of Ezekiel 37 merely dry bones.
As I continue my reflections on the Spirit, the church, and mission that was stirred up by the recent Streaming Conference at Rochester College, I decided to reflect again on the message shared by Churches of Christ theologian Leonard Allen, wherein he contrasted the view of Alexander Campbell's friend and confidant Robert Richardson, with his mentor (though the interlocutor was a man named Tolbert Fanning). In the epigraph to chapter nine of Allen's book Distant Voices, titled "Room for the Spirit," we read this quotation from Richardson'…

Seats of Power or Place of Service? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21B

Mark10:35-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it…

Baptized With Fire -- Reflections on the Holy Spirit and Mission

This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in a splendid continuing education event at Rochester College (Michigan).  Rochester College is a Church of Christ related school, placing it within the same Stone-Campbell Movement as the Disciples of Christ (my denomination). I want to take a moment to reflect on a few things that I was struck by as I participated in the event.
The two primary presenters were Dr. Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary, and Dr. Leonard Allen, a Church of Christ theologian affiliated with David Lipscomb University (Nashville). The addressed from their different vantage points the theme: "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities." I engaged the conversation as one who is part of the Stone-Campbell Movement but who in some important ways was formed by the Pentecostal Movement. I was especially struck by the contrasting ways in which traditional church of Christ interpretations …

Questions for God - Sermon from Job for Pentecost 20B

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power;…

Azusa Street Revival: Holy Spirit, Power, Diversity

Introductory Note: I am participating this weekend in Rochester College's annual Streaming Conference. This year the theme is "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities. I was invited to participate in a set of TED talk like presentations. I volunteered to speak of Azusa Street Revival. Below is my presentation, which I will have delivered at some point in the event!
I have been charged with saying a few words about the Azusa Street Revival, although I am a Disciples of Christ pastor. Before I get there, I need for us to go back to New Year’s Eve 1900, when a Holiness preacher named Charles Fox Parham and the students at his bible school in Topeka, Kansas were praying for a sign that the Holy Spirit had truly fallen upon them.At just after midnight, as a new century was being born one of Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, began to speak in tongues. With this sign of what Pentecostalism calls the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spiri…

A Spirit-Filled, Emergent, Missional and Progressive Community of Faith

Note: I am participating this weekend in Rochester College's Streaming Conference, which this year is titled: "Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities."  Having written about the Holy Spirit and the Church -- I thought I might share an excerpt from the Introduction to my book: Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening,(Energion, 2013)

The movement of the Spirit that is stirring moderate and progressive congregations, whether they have historically identified themselves with evangelical or mainline Protestantism, often see themselves as being emergent or missional. These terms – emergent and missional – can be seen as expressions of a renewed sense of the church as a community called by God to engage the world today in such a way as to bring transformation not only to the church but to the world. These are movements that seek to burst through old boundaries that have stifled world-changing ministry. As faith communit…


JESUS, POPE FRANCISAND A PROTESTANT WALK INTO A BAR: Lessons for the Christian Church.  By Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. 89 pages.
                Protestants and Catholics have a long history of mutual distrust and disdain. Until very recently each saw the other as at best misguided, and at worst a heresy worthy of being rooted out, with violence if necessary. From the earliest days of the Reformation nation states fought each other with religion providing the fodder for the battles. We called these the Wars of Religion. For about a century Catholic and Protestant monarchs fought each other, hoping that their brand might gain supremacy. Animosity continued well into the twentieth century.  Even today there is occasional violence in Northern Ireland that has religious overtones. Here in the United States as recently as 1960 Protestants expressed concern and even fear that the election of John F. Kennedy would cede control over the nation …

Muslims in the South -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

I had a conversation recently with a gentleman about Islam. He had attended an interfaith event. We talked about Islam, and he shared many of the mean-spirited stereotypes that many hold about Muslims. Unfortunately these stereotypes lead to all manner of irresponsible actions, including the arrest of a teenager who happened to have made a clock. But, he's a Muslim, and Muslims are terrorists. Martin Marty speaks of recent events in the South where Islamophobia is rampant. Unfortunately it's pretty widespread across the country, including here in Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population.  My plea is for a willingness to listen to the other. Don't let the stereotype define your vision!  Take a read of Marty's posting -- as is always true there is much wisdom here.

Muslims in the South
By MARTIN E. MARTY   OCT 5, 2015Muslims in Irving, Texas, praying for Ahmed Mohamed, 14, who was arrested Sept. 14, 2015, when teachers and police believed the clock he built and brou…

All Things Are Possible? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20B

Mark 10:17-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a]to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus sa…