Showing posts from June, 2014


Freedom.It’s on our minds this time of year.Most of us wax a bit nostalgic and valorize this great gift vouchsafed to us. A smaller number of folks will reflect on the promise of America’s experiment in democracy and mourn that we have defaulted on much of that promise (more and more, it seems, with each passing day).Langston Hughes great poem “Let America Be America Again” is a landmark of this kind of reflection.
Freedom.It’s even tougher for many in the church.How do we honor this most important day in our nation’s history without capitulating to those who want a rah-rah patriotic service on the Sunday nearest the 4th?It seems unwise (and perhaps harmful to one’s job security) to ignore it.But to turn that service into praise and worship session about America either.That is, well, to be blunt, blasphemy.What then can we do?
I’ve always practiced a minimalist 4th of July worship service and encouraged folks to attend civic functions where the patriotic observances happen.The best I’ve…

On the Need for Creeds

An excellent post from Scot McKnight on a review of Carl Trueman's book, The Creedal Imperative.
The best part of this book, other than Trueman’s occasional zingers at church goofinesses and cultural nonsense, is his chapter on the usefulness of creeds. I found this chapter to be theologically helpful but also pastorally aware (he pastors). Here are his uses of creeds:

1. All churches have creeds and confessions (I'd say they all have "theologies" but not all have "creeds" in a specialized sense). Failure to acknowledge this can be disingenuous. (I agree with that.)

2. Confessions delimit the power of the church. (I don’t like the word "delimit" but I agree with his point.) They mean the church has to answer to something above it! That's a good thing. Too many think they are the first to find something.

3. They offer succinct and thorough summaries of the central elements of the faith. Good creeds do this, but here the Conf…

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am t…

The Difference Between Fellow Travelers and Friends

As someone who had libertarianism poured into my morning milk as a child, I am in some ways still “in recovery.” However, I have lived a long time the American conservative movement, as it grew from obscurity into an intellectual movement, then into a national political triumph, and then as it squandered much of the intellectual capital in the political realm, at the same time as most of the conservative institutions have focused their energy primarily on politics. The breadth and depth of conservative thought has been simplified from a symphony to a one-note samba. We need to have the differentiation of thought to recognize that there are different realms within which we live: the personal realm with family and friends; our community of faith; our professional realm; the economic realm; the local civic realm; and the political. At home and with our closest friends …

The Myth of America’s Golden Age

Image What growing up in Gary, Indiana, taught me about inequality. By JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ July/August 2014

I hadn’t realized when I was growing up in Gary, Indiana, an industrial town on the southern shore of Lake Michigan plagued by discrimination, poverty and bouts of high unemployment, that I was living in the golden era of capitalism. It was a company town, named after the chairman of the board of U.S. Steel. It had the world’s largest integrated steel mill and a progressive school system designed to turn Gary into a melting pot fed by migrants from all over Europe. But by the time I was born in 1943, cracks in the pot were already appearing. To break strikes—to ensure that workers did not fully share in the productivity gains being driven by modern technology—the big steel companies brought African-American workers up fr…

Conservatism and the Therapeutic Society

Image Conservatives active in the business of influencing public policy have been giving increasing attention in recent years to the idea that politics is ultimately an epiphenomenon of culture. What these activists have recognized is that political mobilization and efficiently produced position papers by themselves will not effect lasting change in the way we are governed. The force of a policy proposal will be strengthened in proportion to the extent that it is consonant with the larger representation of our communal aspirations—that representation being what we understand as “culture.” However, the crisis of the West in the modern age has involved the very dissolution of those binding and shared elements that define a culture. Under the pressures of democratization, egalitarianism, and technological innovation, the religious and mythic roots of culture have been replaced by what is eu…

How Churches Became Cruise Ships (2)


In the first part of this article I examined how the radical shifts in the American church paralleled the transformation of the passenger shipping industry in the 20th century. Prior to the 1960s, ships were primarily a form of transportation. When this utilitarian function was disrupted by jet travel, the cruise industry was born by transforming ships themselves into the destination and triggering a rapid increase in the size of the vessels.

Similarly, in the mid 20th century the utilitarian role of the church, transporting people into communion with God, was disrupted by secularism. This led innovative pastors to transform churches into destinations rather than vehicles, and attracting irreligious consumers required much larger churches with previously unimaginable offerings. The megachurch explosion began.

Read Part 1 of “How Churches Became Cruise Ships”

Both the cruise industry and megachurches have been incredibly success…

What Everybody Ought to Know About Team Development

Image 8
inShare Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s novel about a group of boys stuck on an uninhabited island, remains a classic. What at first seemed like an ideal situation for a bunch of kids away from their parents soon became a rather harrowing experience.  Stranded all by themselves, they were suddenly forced to entertain an entirely new set of challenges.

One of the many challenges they faced was how to function as a group. Questions related to roles and responsibilities in the group began to surface. Needless to say, this group of kids could not come to a place of unity. Their disagreements about how live together led them to splinter into two opposing groups, each with their own methods of survival. Unfortunately, the boy’s naiveté and immaturity got the best of them. Their inability to function as a team seriously undermined their ability to face the challenges of their environment.  The boys fina…

Did Walker Percy Really Write the Last Self-Help Book?

So lots of readers (about six) have written me asking for advice on what book they should read to turn their lives around. Here’s my recommendation:  Lost in the Cosmos by the philosopher-physician-novelist Walker Percy. It was published in 1983, and I’m one of the very few Americans celebrating the book’s 30th anniversary. Several posts will be required to lay out even the basics about being lost in the cosmos. This, of course, is the first. Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos is subtitled “The Last Self-Book.” He said he gave the book that title so that it would end up in the self-help section of bookstores. And it did. From Percy’s view, our bookstores are mostly filled with two kinds of books—self-help books and diverting or entertaining books about scandal-ridden law firms or extraterrestrials or vampires or a bunch of sexually obsessive shades of grey. Diversions, of course, get your mind off yourself, relieve your stress, help out in alleviating your fears, your anxieties,…

Is There Sex in Heaven?


We cannot know what X-in-Heaven is unless we know what X is. We cannot know what sex in Heaven is unless we know what sex is. We cannot know what in Heaven's name sex is unless we know what on earth sex is.

But don't we know? Haven't we been thinking about almost nothing else for years and years? What else dominates our fantasies, waking and sleeping, twenty-four nose-to-the-grindstone hours a day? What else fills our TV shows, novels, plays, gossip columns, self-help books, and psychologies but sex?

No, we do not think too much about sex; we think hardly at all about sex. Dreaming, fantasizing, feeling, experimenting—yes. But honest, look-it-in-the-face thinking?—hardly ever. There is no subject in the world about which there is more heat and less light.

Therefore I want to begin with four abstract philosophical principles about the nature of sex. They are absolutely necessary n…