Showing posts from November, 2014

Accepted, Respected, Expected: Profile of Christian Existence

In this country we live in a Christian culture well-described by the late Dallas Willard as promoting a gospel of “sin-management.”Perhaps it’s because it was birthed in frontier revivalism with its dualism of body and soul.The latter was the important thing about us and hence, “soul-saving” (getting people into heaven) was the overriding (only?) task of the Christian.The barrier to this was “sin.”Therefore we became sin-obsessed.We saw ourselves as forgiven sinners (which we are – thank God!).
This was Billy Graham’s burden in his evangelistic crusades and, in a different key, it was the message of philosophical theologian Paul Tillich is his famous essay “You are Accepted” in his book Shaking the Foundations.After quoting Paul’s claim that where sin abounds grace superabounds (Rom.5:20), Tillich writes:“These words of Paul summarize his apostolic experience, his religious message as a whole, and the Christian standing of life” (…

St. Nicholas: what can I say, he was a beast

November 30, 2014 by 0 Comments In church today, our rector handed out a card with a icon of St. Nicholas, similar to the one on the left.

On the back of the card read the following:
Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in Asia Minor. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

OK., that’s pretty cool. He gave away his entire inheritance to those in need. I never knew that. I thought he had elves helping him or something, but I guess I got that part wrong.

The rest of the card really hit me and made me feel stupid and cheated for never having been taught this as a child.

Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from excecution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnaped boy.

Nicholas was a beast. Mother Teresa, Os…

10 Reasons to Follow the Liturgical Calendar

November 24, 2014congregational singing, congregational song, contemporary critiques, corporate worship
Happy New Year! Well, almost. With the arrival of Advent this upcoming week, I’ve been thinking a bit about the benefits of following the Christian year. I’ll admit that this is a tradition I once disregarded with sneers of haughty derision. But over the past decade, I’ve grown to see the liturgical year as one of the more important of our Christian traditions. Here are a few reasons why. It reminds us that we are a people set apart, and as such our lives aren’t oriented around nominal civic holidays and observances. When I was growing up in Baptistland, I never heard of the liturgical calendar. Church just wasn’t organized that way. Oh sure, we had our annual 6-week Christmas celebration, and Easter was a fairly big deal. But next to those, the biggest “feasts” we celebrated were Independence Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day, and Thanksgiving (and in that order). Most of th…

Dis Town

The dumbing down of smart -- and Washington. BY David Rothkopf     
Americans have an uncomfortable relationship with smart. They are perfectly happy to celebrate genius, provided it doesn't make them uncomfortable or require too much of them. They are more concerned that their children get into college than they are that those kids are graded against the kind of tough standards that might ensure understanding of important concepts. Once in college, students often really have to screw up to get a D or an F. I taught graduate school for a number of years, and I practically had to alert psychological counselors if I gave anyone anything below a B.

This phenomenon was once described as "the dumbing down of America." And in recent years, the trend has accelerated. One particularly odious element of it is what might be called pop intellectualism. Big, buzzy ideas are boiled down into short books that provide more cocktail-party conversation than significant concepts that…

Karl Barth on Philosphy and Theology

(from Bobby Grow)

Student: What is the relation of the Church to the world, with its science and philosophy? Why is dogmatics necessary for fruitful contact and conversation?

Barth: You speak of conversation, but what does this mean? Conversation takes place when one party has something new and interesting to say to the other. Only then is conversation an event. One must say something engaging and original, something with an element of mystery. The Church must sound strange to the world if it is not to be dull. The Church’s language has its own presuppositions. The Gospel is good news, news that is not known. Even we Christians will find ourselves in conflict with the Gospel, for it is always news and new for us too. The secularized Church is peaceful, but not a light in the world. The Church must be salt and light, but in order to be these, it must clarify its presuppositions. Thus the necessity of dogmatics! Even philosophers will not listen to a theologian who makes concessions, who …


By on November 28, 2014 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:2 In post-Ferguson America, now more than ever, we must rescue Advent from its Western cultural captivity. I sigh with relief when I’m reminded that Advent isn’t what so many of us think it is. We’ve been tricked by chocolate-filled Advent calendars and blissful Christmas pageants that gloss over the very real evil that makes the Messiah’s coming so very necessary, so very loving, and so very heroic.
Advent isn’t a holiday party. It doesn’t pressure us to conjure up a hopeful face, ring bells, and dismiss the foulest realities we face. Advent isn’t about our best world, it’s about our worst world. I think we eat the chocolate and put on the pageants because we don’t want to face the worst.

But we do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness. Jesus entered a world plagued not only by the da…

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

Advent’s familiar themes of waiting and hopeful expectation have a different ring this year.
“Waiting” works if you live in a world where you know that a little more patience generally would do you good. “Hopeful expectation” has a pleasant enough sound if your life is going reasonably well at the moment.

But how do these admonitions sound–“wait!” “be patient!”–in a context of violence and despair, of deprivation and gross inequality? What does “hopeful expectation” sound like, look like in places where justice has long been delayed, meaning, of course, that justice has been denied?

What if you’re sick of waiting?

What if your patience has run out?

What if you have no hope?

Is it possible that affluent churches in nice neighborhoods (or even churches of modest means in safe communities) often make of Advent an aesthetic:a carefully rendered “experience”–beautiful, tasteful, moving–while missing …

Michael Brown's death and the prophetic fire

In the aftermath of a precious life lsot, a movement emerges BY ,
Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 7:00 PM

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday night at 9 p.m., I (Peter) boarded a JetBlue red-eye in San Diego to fly back to JFK from talking about prophetic witness all weekend at the American Academy of Religion meeting, the annual national gathering of religion educators in North America.

Somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, I watched Fox News and CNN spread images of flaming buildings and smashed windows all across the nation in light of the grand jury’s decision on the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Yet Fox and CNN missed the real story and the real fire…

Rambling through Romans (27): 5:6-11

6 While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.7 It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person.8 But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.9 So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him.10 If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life?11 And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.
Weak, ungodly – that’s how we were in our autonomy, our “damned” independence from God.Yet even then Christ died for us.We weren’t righteous, and far from good (the kind of person someone might actually die for!).But while we were doing our bes…

#ChurchTrending: How Trendy Was St Paul?

0 Sidenotes What do you think?
How “trendy” was St. Paul? An analysis of his life and letters shows us a very culturally-aware and culturally-engaged apostle who was well-traveled, conversant in the idioms and ideas of various cultures, able to interact with popular poetry and philosophy, and eager to use symbolism from sports, war, and theater.+ And yet, and this is perhaps the most important thing to know about Paul as apostle at large, he was remarkably un-trendy in his perspective on honor and power. You see, in Paul’s world, the hottest commodity was honor or reputation. It wasn’t dying with the most toys that mattered – it was dying with the highest number of honors recognized by the most number of people, popularity through status and virtue. Sometimes a concern with honor can be a very good thing, like a business “priding itself” on fine craftsmanship or excellent, trustworthy service. However, good “pride” can all-too-easily turn into greed and self-absorption wrapped up in t…

Honor the Outrage: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 6 and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Image on 11.25.2014
In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul chastises the members of the Corinthian church for taking each other to court. Suing each other was one of the many ways that church expressed and experienced disunity.

We don't know why the members of the Corinthian church were taking each other to court. But scholars are relatively confident that the lawsuits were being brought by the wealthier members of the church against the poorer members.

Given the power structure at play in Corinthian society the legal system "worked" for the wealthy and disadvantaged the poor and less privileged. Thus, lawsuits could be used by the wealthy to get their way.

In his book Conflict & Community in Corinth Ben Witherington describes the situation and its relevance for the problems Paul calls out in 1 Corinthians 6:
From at least the time of Augustus certain people--fathers, patrons, magistrates, a…

Why Atonement?

As an example of an especially articulate use of this analogy for the Atonement, here is Shirley Guthrie (1927-2004), longtime professor of systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary:
If God loves and forgives us already, why atonement at all? Why did Jesus have to sacrifice himself to “pay the price”? Why did not God just say, “I forgive you,” and let it go at that?
We can catch a glimpse of the answer with an analogy in human relationships. Suppose I have done something that deeply hurts a friend, and he says so me, “That’s OK. It doesn’t make any difference. Forget it.” Has he forgiven me? What he has really said is: “I don’t really care enough about you to be touched by anything you say or do. You are not that important to me.” Not only that; he leaves me alone with the awareness of my guilt. He lets me “stew in my own juice,” refusing to help me by letting me know that he suffers not only because of what I have done to him but because he knows how I feel and can share w…

A Missional Diagnostic - David Fitch

1.) Leadership: Do the leaders here know their giftings/spheres of leadership? (Eph 4: 7-16 APEST)Do the leaders here know how to lead in mutual submission one to another as a group?Are the leaders here recognized by the community as the ones given the responsibility to lead in say evangelism? Apostleship? Teaching/organizing? Pastoring/organizing? Prophetic leadership?Are the leaders empowered to lead and to cultivate more leaders on the ground in the neighborhoods.Are the leaders leading? Submission is a posture of leadership not an abnegation of leadership? Does the leadership function within this dynamic?2.) Gathering:How many people are in the relational web of this community? versus how many people show up for worship gathering? To me the first question is probably more important than the second (although the second is not unimportant).Is there a road map/a way for outsiders to know how to enter and become part of this community, and what makes this community what it is?How many…

Compromise, Hell!

by Wendell Berry
Published in the November/December 2004 issue of Orion magazine

WE ARE DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY—I mean our country itself, our land. This is a terrible thing to know, but it is not a reason for despair unless we decide to continue the destruction. If we decide to continue the destruction, that will not be because we have no other choice. This destruction is not necessary. It is not inevitable, except that by our submissiveness we make it so. We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do …

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

Corey Widmer
Oct 03, 2014
I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church comm…

The Conspicuous Absence Of Biblical Values In The Immigration Debate

Written by     (Credit: Icars, Flickr Creative Commons)

Last night President Obama announced a new approach to immigration in which the government will go after “felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

Today, my Facebook feed is predictably filling up with outrage. It’s the same sort of outrage (and often from the same people) I hear whenever a new state legalizes same-sex marriage or whenever a bakery doesn’t want to bake a particular cake or whenever a wedding chapel doesn’t want to perform a certain kind of wedding.

But there is something conspicuously missing in the outrage over immigration.

Biblical values.
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Revisiting The Shack: Ch.10: “Wade in the Water”

Fear of Water

Jesus and Mack take off for their picnic at the lake.Mack is stunned when he learns Jesus intends for them to walk across the lake to their destination. When Mack (understandably) has difficulty taking that first step on to water Jesus asks him what he is afraid of.Mack gives a variety of answers but finally Jesus asks him a seemingly random question:“. . . do you think humans were designed to live the present or the past or the future?”He follows that up by making it personal and inquiring of Mack where he spends most of his time in his imagination.“I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.” (150).
Jesus replies that he lives in the resent and that when he indwells a person he does so in the present. Mack asks Jesus why he spends most of his time in the future.“It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. …

What Makes Up a Christian Imagination?

Interesting list of 12 components of a scriptural imagination.
The human creature is broken to its very core and it is incapable of rescuing itself from its foolish, stiff-necked, irrational, and demented lot in life. The creature is not afraid to be honest about this fact.The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has revealed himself supremely in the life and work of Jesus Christ and chooses to rescue this creature in the most "I'll be damned!" surprising ways. This God is a mystery—to be enjoyed, but never to be mastered. Though this God is often silent, he is never absent.Because Christ stands at the centre of the cosmic order, the created realm can be properly regarded as the beloved world of God and a sphere for creative exploration, requiring no extra justification than sheer wonder in the peculiarities of this world.If the …

Community Patterns for the Church (7 C's)

When my wife and I got married 16 years ago we'd already been dating for 5 years prior. We had a winding dating relationship that was stretched by time zones, career u-turns and simple immaturity (mostly mine) but we continued to hold onto each other despite these challenges. Naively I thought our sheer romantic-will-power would be enough to cultivate a vibrant marriage. I was an idealist that needed to experience the school of hard knocks. The first year was filled with beautiful memories but the assaulting arrows of: demanding jobs, fluctuating finances, existential crisis (mostly mine), complicated outside friendships, the intensity of school, and learning to grow up, was an onslaught to our bondedness. Our emotional love for each other was still strong but a significant shift needed to take place if we were going to build an abundant life for the future. We needed new patterns.

All of life is built upon patterns. In the natural world bees form their honeycombs…