upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

CBS' "In God's Name" Video Online

A few posts ago I recommended a special on CBS called "In God's Name." If you missed it, CBS has now put the entire video online. To watch it, go here and click on "new."

As I celebrate these twelve days of Christmas (yes, believe it or not, Christmas just began!), I intend to celebrate the power of God's Light that splinters our darkness, God's Word that proclaims peace and justice, God's Incarnation found in the weak and vulnerable, God's Love that explodes my preconceptions and prejudices, and God's Grace which is beyond my understanding.

Terrible things are done in God's name. No better time than Christmas can call Christians to re-examine our actions and to correct them. We are, after all, followers of the Prince of Peace.

UPDATE: CBS appears to have removed this video from their playlist. It can be watched on YouTube. Here is the first part...follow YouTube links for the rest.

You can still read about the film at CBS.

The documentary has been put into book form and is available.

Beyond that, I do no know where you can purchase the vide.

Merry Christmas.

"Ring Out, Wild Bells" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This was written in 1850, the same year Tennyson was named Poet Laureate.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Go here to read more Christmas poems.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When God Comes during Prayer

All too often, people pray expecting something miraculous to happen and so they are disappointed when God's voice doesn't speak to them or God's will open before them. Most of us move through life without experiencing a burning bush, supernatural dreams, or visions given to us from the Divine. And yet, we often believe that the devout, the faithful, the true will have these experiences. "What's wrong with us?" we wonder. After all, our scriptures are rife with stories of direct encounters with the Divine. Story after story, we read about God's angels speaking to ordinary people and the prophets talking on a hotline to God. There was a time in my life that I, like many others, wondered what was wrong with my prayer life. It seemed that I prayed and prayed and never heard anything back. At some point I stopped thinking of prayer as a transaction with God or even a conversation with God; I came to experience prayer as time spent with God. This has been one of the most rewarding transitions in my spiritual life. No longer to I expect to leave prayer with any preconceived outcome. I don't pray to get something; I pray to sit with God.

That means that on those rare occasions when something comes to me in prayer, it feels especially sacred. That happened this evening during our Contemplative Advent Service. Each Thursday during Advent, people have been invited to gather together in a time of extended silence and Holy Communion. Our meditations have focused on God's peaceable kingdom. Tonight in the midst of silence and in the flicker of candles, I prayed, "Let me have hope. Let me know peace." Those two lines just came - over and over they came. And the plea itself served as its own answer for me. In uttering (albeit silently) those words simply and without caveats, I named a deeply important yearning. I felt heard and encouraged, almost as if God were saying, "Yearn for these more. You can't need them enough. The world needs this prayer."

Prayer is not a transaction with God. We will be sorely disappointed if we go to God in prayer with a laundry list of to-dos and I wants. God is not the invisible Santa. I know that there are those who say that faithful prayer expects God to act in the world. Yes, that is so, but God may not act according to my agenda and certainly not in response to my demands. Contemplation is the most rewarding kind of prayer that I've experienced. It puts me in the deep silence that comes with communion with God. This silence strips away the words and excuses that function as barriers between the Holy One and me. The silence brings me back to place of deep honesty. And, occasionally, like this evening it leaves me more truly who I am - hurts and yearnings and all - and, surprisingly more whole. Thanks be to God.

"Let me have hope. Let me know peace. Amen."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent Candle #4 - Peace

We light this candle in a spirit of peace. Our world, torn apart by war and violence, cries out for a savior to bring us into God's holy kingdom. And so we await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the little child who lead us along your paths. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill among all people.

In God's Name Airs This Sunday

French filmmakers and brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet ("9/11") have teamed up with CBS to "explore the complex questions of our time through the intimate thoughts and beliefs of 12 of the world's most influential spiritual leaders. It will be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 23 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT)."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Congo in Pictures and a Prayer in Advent

The New York Times is reporting on the conflict in The Democratic Republic of Congo and its attending humanitarian crisis. For a good overview of the problem and for compelling pictures, please read the article.

It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of the pre-Christmas season, especially, I would add, for Americans. I know that stating the problem over and over can feel overwhelming, but clearly most of the world is still unaware of the tangle of complex issues in Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am actually more aware of the poignancy of Advent in light of the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, its difficulty in establishing peace, and the plight of the mountain gorillas caught in the middle. I wait for God to come among us, for a child to lead us, and for God's light to finally break through the tribalism (of all kinds), the greed, the violence, and the ignorance that holds our world captive. Come, thou long-expected Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As anyone who reads this blogs knows, I have a particular interest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the welfare of the mountain gorillas. Anderson Cooper has done a couple of stories on the DRC and the gorillas in recent months. I followed the interview process via blogs at Wildlife Direct. Here is part of a story for CBS that recently aired. For the whole story, go to CBS 60 Minutes:

And here is a part of a story that was aired earlier this year:

Part of my Christmas wish list includes a request for donations for Wildlife Direct, headed by Richard Leakey, that, among many other things, helps fund the work of park rangers in protecting the mountain gorillas. Wildlife Direct is an incredible, forward thinking, solutions oriented organization. If you're looking for a good way to give this Christmas, please keep them in mind.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent Candle #3 - Joy

We joyfully light this candle as we await the birth of the Christ-child. Like Mary, we receive the news of the coming miracle filled with awe and wonder. Like her we sing: My soul gives glory to my God, My heart pours out its praise; God lifts up the lowliest in many marvelous ways. God moves in the world to bring justice for the poor and weak, and God humbles the rich and the haughty. Something new comes with the light of the Lord. Christ is coming. God's kingdom is coming. With this candle we rejoice that God breaks into our world in surprising and life-changing ways.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Contemplative Advent Service Liturgy

Each Thursday of Advent, our church is hosting a moment of silence and Holy Communion to help people quiet their minds and settle their hearts in preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Here is the liturgy for the first service; all those following will be similar. The prayers have been inspired by Henri Nouwen and by Brother Roger of the Taize community. The service itself relies heavily upon Taize; both congregational songs are from the Taize service:

Meditations on the Peaceable Kingdom

During this series of Advent services, we will pray for God’s Peaceable Kingdom. Each week will highlight a different theme: Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. We know that you bring your own hurts and hopes to these services, however, and you are invited to pray to God in any way that is most meaningful for you.

Week 1 - Hope

Please enter in an attitude of prayer.
Messiah Hwv 56 (Complete)
Panis Angelicus
Missa Papae Marcelli: Benedictus - Hosanna
Requiem in D Minor, K 626: VI Benedictus


First Bible Reading – Isaiah 11:1-9
The Branch From Jesse
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Song – Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord,
Whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord:
Be strong, take heart!

Second Bible Reading – Matthew 6:25-34
Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.


"We welcome you, small child of Bethlehem, whose coming we await with quiet attention. ...[E]ncourage us to turn our hopes to your coming. We know that the promise is hidden in the stable in Bethlehem and rooted in the offspring of Jesse; let us look for our salvation there." (Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri JM Nouwen, Compilation, Prayer, and Action by Judith A. Bauer, Liguori Publications, 2004).


The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
forever. Amen.

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Bringing the Light
You may light candles as an act of prayer.

Song of Light - Our Darkness
Our darkness is never darkness in your sight:
The deepest night is clear as the daylight.


Concluding Prayer
Light of all lights and Life of all life, you move among us in the lowliest stations and bring life and justice to those who most need. In the depths of this winter, let us find the offspring of the root of Jesse in such a way that our world becomes a vibrant green even amid the gray of the skies and dark of the early evenings. Raise us up in this growing tree of life to have hope that your kingdom will one day come, perhaps even this day. Amen. (Katie M Ladd)

You may remain in prayer and leave at your own bidding.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Magnum Mysterium
In Dulci Jubilo
Lift Up Your Heads

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent Candle #2 - Love

I received an email asking me to post all of the Advent candle readings that we will be using this year. In respose, I am posting this week's reading for the second candle, which will focus on love. Our overall theme for the season is "God's Peaceable Kingdom."

Advent Candle #2 - Love

We light this candle in the love of God. During Advent God pierces the darkness of the world with Divine light and love. We wait for Christmas Day when the Christ child - God's love for us - will born into the world. The holy infant will grow into God's promised Anointed One proclaiming God's peaceable kingdom in which love will overwhelm the limits of our world. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. And we are God’s children who are invited to walk in the light of the Lord as we wait in love for that glorious day.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Advent Candle #1 - Hope

In the church that I serve, our theme for Advent is "The Peaceable Kingdom." Each week the reading that accompanies the lighting of the Advent candles will highlight our pathway toward God's Peaceable Kingdom. This week we light our Hope candle and this is our reading:

Advent Candle #1 – Hope

We light this candle in a spirit of hope. This Advent season we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child and for God’s kingdom which he brings to us. In a world deeply divided and often arrested by fear, the promised coming of the Christ child and the assurance of God’s kingdom give us hope. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. And we are God’s children who are invited to walk in the light of the Lord as we wait in hope for that glorious day.

About Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath is one of my favorite ritual elements of this season. Not only do I love the lighting of the candles at church, but I have a wreath at home; we light the candles and read a devotion every Sunday. Technically, the candles do not carry any specific theme. They are a weekly countdown to Christmas in the same way that an Advent calendar is a daily countdown. However, several candle traditions have arisen over the years.

While the word "wreath" evokes an image of greenery, the Advent wreath is a ringed set of four candles. With the lighting of additional candles each Sunday, the light of Christ becomes brighter as we move closer to Christmas Day. On Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve evening), a white Christ candle is placed and lighted in the center of the wreath signifying the light of Christ shining in the world.

Traditionally, the candles in the Advent wreath are purple or blue, with purple symbolic of the royalty of Christ and the penitential nature of the season, and blue is symbolic of the hope of the season. A few churches light only white candles for the season. Often times a rose colored candle is lighted on the third Sunday marking the movement past the half-way point along the Advent journey. This is known as the Gaudette candle, which is Latin for "rejoice."

Even though the candles don't necessarily carry any individual significance, sometimes the candles move people along the Advent story by being known as the Prophet's candle, the Bethlehem candle, the Shepherds' candle, and the Angels' candle. They can also be understood thematically as Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It's just fine to come up with your own understanding of the weeks and how the candles in your wreath relate to them.

At our church we are using thematic readings about Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace to fit in with our Advent theme of "Peaceable Kingdom."

Just as Advent calendars are fun for adults and kids alike, Advent wreaths are also a meaningful way for people of all ages to mark the pathway toward Christmas. If you don't have an Advent wreath in your home, they are easily purchased and they are quite affordable. You can buy them through any major religious supplier.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

backpack journalist update on congo

As Christians move closer to the start of Advent, it's easy to let ourselves spiritualize the season in an unhelpful way that negates or diminishes the physicality of the world in which we live. The political, military, and economic powers of this world free or oppress, lift up or press down, empower or disempower. Our faith and our spiritual journeys do not take place outside of this world and the structures that create its framework. We live in this world. We are products of this world. And, we have a responsibility to participate in the redemption of this world.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparation for the Incarnation, Emmanuel - God with Us. As such, rather than fleeing the world of the physical for a spiritualization of the problems, challenges, and solutions of it, Advent invites us further into the mess and muck of this world. That is, after all, what Christmas is - God entering into the poverty and oppression of the world in the form of the weakest among us - a child.

In this light, I lift up again the events in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While there are many positive and wonderful things transpiring there, I think it's important for us also to realize that one of the world's worst humanitarian and ecological crises is also taking place there. Fighting continues in the North Kivu Province in and around Goma and the Virunga National Park. Here is a backpack journalist's video report on the situation.

Let me also add that CBS's 60 Minutes has been filming on how the fighting and the insatiable for charcoal are affecting the gorilla population. You can read more about this upcoming report on Wildlife Direct's website.

books for adults during advent

I've posted a couple of books that are good reads during Advent. Here is a longer list of books that I recommend. They tell about the spiritual journeys of people who have lived great lives, people who are inquisitive about the world and the God who made and continually remakes it, or they are books that invite you onto your own spiritual path. If you know of additional books that I might enjoy reading or if you have suggestions for me to pass on to other people, please let me know.

Thirst - Mary Oliver
Reason for Hope - Jane Goodall
Thomas Merton: Dialogues with Silence
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Long Loneliness - Dorothy Day
40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Christmastide:Prayers for Advent through Epiphany from the Divine Hours - Phyllis Tickle
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas Daily Advent readings from spiritual writers including: CS Lewis, Thomas Merton, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L’Engle, Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, Dorothy Day, and many others.
Bread for the Journey - Henri Nouwen
Living Well - Joan Chittister

Monday, November 26, 2007

"speaking of faith" - a new link

"Speaking of Faith" is a radio program hosted by Krista Tippett through American Public Radio. It's a great program that explores all kinds of expressions of faith. I'm adding a permanent link to it on the sidebar. You can subscribe to the program on iTunes or you can receive the podcast via iTunes as well as through Yahoo. Check it out! It's a great conversation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

good news for conservation in the congo

Yesterday while walking Greenlake with a church member, she said to me, "I think that I have to stop listening to NPR." I asked, "Because it makes you depressed?" She replied, "Yes. It makes me feel so powerless." This conversation was in particular response to a story on NPR about Japan's current humpback whale hunt, which purposes to kill 50 humpback whales along with other whale species. My church member is right; it can be very disempowering.

As a Christian, I believe that it is part of my inheritance as a child of God to care for and protect the environment. I do better some days that others. As a result of my commitment to making the world better, I often post articles about the environment on this blog. Like NPR, however, most of what I post can be overwhelming. Indeed, the environmental crisis is an Earth-sized crisis; it is overwhelming.

Today some good news has been announced about conservation efforts in the Congo. Since I tend to post quite a bit about the Congo, I thought it my duty to share this article from the New York Times about a new reserve larger than the state of Massachusetts that is being established as a joint project between Congolese and American conservation groups as well as the Congolese and American governments. Its aim? To preserve the bonobo (only a distant relation to the U2 singer), one of two closest ape relatives for humans.

For the whole article, read the New York Times.

Humans are in a unique position in affecting real and significant change on our planet. We have the ability - even regular people like you and me - to be creative in how we live, mindful in what we buy, intentional in what we know, and willful about what we do, and thus change the course of the planet. It is, after all, our actions to date that have set it upon its current course. If you, like me, consider yourself to be a child of God, stewardship of the Earth is not just a good idea, it is central to our identity in the Divine. So, here is a little good news to go with your NPR.

Monday, November 19, 2007

artificial v real christmas trees - ahhh, the choice

"Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink." - Lucy Van Pelt

With Thanksgiving this week and the Christ the King Sunday this Sunday, we have moved from "I-hate-that-stores-decorate-for-Christmas-before-Halloween" to "It's-time-to-start-thinking-about-Christmas". It's true. Despite our efforts to hold the commercialism of Christmas at bay, December 2 is around the corner bringing with it the "advent of Advent" and the slinging of Christmas decorations about our houses and churches. Thus comes the annual question of environmentalists and Christians with conscience regarding the tree, "Real or artificial?"

I have asked this question myself. Should I buy a farmed tree and participate in the carbon suck of the tree farm industry or purchase a tree that can be used year after year despite the "tacky" factor involved in the fake tree? After quite a bit of research, I've come down on the issue: I'm getting a real one..and if you get one, so should you.

Online magazine Grist's advice columnist Umbra Fisk aka "Ask Umbra" has written two articles on the issue and has helped to persuade me to the real tree. In an article written in 2004, she tackles the issue of real v articial. During her research, she discovered that articial trees are primarily made in and then transported from China. Almost all artificial trees are made of PVC, which is a petroleum product. And, sometimes lead is used to stabilize PVC. So, run away from the idea of an artificial tree. Northwest Cable News' Wilson Chow spoke with the a representative from Strategic Energy Group and found the same thing. If you get a tree, get a real one.

Some people buy live trees with the goal of planting them after the holiday season. This, in theory, is a great idea. However, if you are like me, you live in a city where planting a tree is not an easy thing to do. Furthermore, it's important when planting a tree to take into account the terrain, the climate, and care of the tree. For most of us a live tree doesn't make practical sense.

Buying a real tree has its complications, that's for sure. If you can, buy local and look for an organic farm. The fewer miles travelled and the fewer pesticides used in farming the tree help reduce the environmental impact of your purchase. If you find a tree outlet that supports a nonprofit organization, that sells locally farmed trees, and that uses organic methods in their farming, tell everyone you know to buy from them! The only way to impact the tree farming industry is to support the farmers who make the move to organic farming. For more about the possibilities for organic trees, see "Ask Umbra's" latest column.

UPDATE: If you're in the Seattle area, Puget Sound Fresh lists the following tree farms as "Claimed Ecologically Sound:"
Fall City Farms - Fall City - King County - 425-222-4553
Cedar Falls Tree Farm - North Bend - King County - 425-888-3216
Stocker Farms - Snohomish - Snohomish - 360-568-7391

If you're looking for organic, Garden Treasures in Arlington, Washington says they carry them.

Looking for a tree and you live outside of Washington State? Here you go!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

the ipcc releases new global warming warming

'(AP) -- The Earth is hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace, a Nobel-winning U.N. scientific panel said in a landmark report released Saturday, warning of inevitable human suffering and the threat of extinction for some species.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said climate change imperils "the most precious treasures of our planet" and called on the United States and China - the world's two biggest polluters - to do more to fight it.

As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, residents of Asia's megacities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding, Europeans can expect extensive species loss, and North Americans will experience..."

Read the whole article here.

Environmental stewardship requires us to make drastic, committed, and sustained changes to how we live. As many congregations complete their stewardship campaigns, how many of us are incorporating stewardship for the earth as primary in our budgeting processes? How are we reflecting care for God's creation at the level of the local congregation? Simple but tough questions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"reason for hope" is a good book for advent

Advent is just a couple of weeks away and people are gearing up for the season. From buying advent calendars to finding the right reading materials, Christians are lining up their spiritual disciplines for the season of preparation.

There are many good books to move us through Advent. From Mary Oliver's book of poems "Thirst", which was released last year to good old reliables like Henri Nouwen to something in between like Parker Palmer's "Let Your Life Speak" there are plenty of books to help people look deeper into their souls and travel farther along their spiritual journeys.

I would like to lift up a book that was released nearly a decade ago - Jane Goodall's "Reason for Hope". Most people are familiar with her work with chimpanzees, but many people are not aware of her walk in faith. "Reason for Hope" outlines many of her mystical encounters with the divine and it also lays out her struggle with faith in the wake of loss and death. She explores good and evil, and she is moved by the capacity for both of these among the chimps she loves. She holds nothing back. In the end, Jane Goodall is convinced that goodness can prevail in this world. She believes in a higher purpose in life. And she believes that we can reach out to our higher purpose by caring for creation.

For something different this Advent, pick up a copy of "Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey" by Jane Goodall. It is available in traditional book form as well as ebook and audiobook forms.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

in the church of england, more women than men becoming ordained

A recent article in the Washington Post reported that last year women surpassed men being ordained in the Church of England, with 213 women ordained and 210 men ordained as priests in 2006. However, there are still five times as many male priests compared to female priests, and even in the incoming class of newly ordained priests, men are receiving paid positions more often than women. The church is currently debating whether women should be able to serve as bishops.

I found this article particularly interesting as a woman clergy person. In recent years a growing number of articles have appeared in backlash against women's rising leadership within the church. This "feminization" of the church is a problem to many men (and many women), and it is cited as one of main reasons that membership is dwindling in many denominations.

Feminization of/and the church is not a new topic used by people (mostly men) who are looking to blame something for religion's lack of ability to transform and renew culture. In the 19th century American Victorian culture, women were looked to and lifted up as having special abilities to mold and nurture spiritual health. However, their sphere of influence was relegated to a "helpmate" position - as mothers, wives, Sunday school teachers, and occasionally missionaries. They were not to be ordained. Women were not to usurp the roles of men or to enter into the sphere of influence set aside by and for men. Women who stepped beyond their allotted roles found themselves facing incredible obstacles. To move out of their sphere was not perceived as advancement for the woman or for women; such movement was understood as a challenge to men's power and to social structure in general.

Women in the early years of the Enlightenment faced similar difficulties. In the Methodist movement, women initially experienced a taste of religious leadership and freedom that was quickly taken from them by the patriarchal structure that was invested in maintaining power and privilege for men. The same is true for women's roles in the early church.

Each time that women move forward in answering their calls to leadership within the church, they are met with resistance. One of the arguments used to marginalize women's leadership rests upon the assumption of male dominance and the inherent division of labor between the sexes. Women who dare to challenge either of these deeply ingrained assumptions strike fear because they shake the order upon which society is built. In consequence they are blamed for the church's inability to transform or renew culture. Rather than welcoming women as people with a new message of change and transformation, they are scapegoated for the church's shortcomings.

And yet, the problem in the church isn't women's leadership; the problem is a lack of leadership in general. The church desperately needs passionate, capable, and prophetic leaders. Men who have difficulties with women's leadership might benefit from a deep investigation into their insecurities and their taken for granted privilege. Men who struggle with "feminized" language in the pulpit might ask themselves how women have withstood centuries upon centuries of metaphors and imagery that don't connect to their lives. Men (and women, I might add) who struggle with women in the pulpit might benefit from an exploration not only of the feminization of religion but of their own ingrained sexism.

It's time that we took a look at our prejudices and our assumptions - it seems that more women are entering seminaries and divinity schools, more women are becoming ordained, and more women are entering positions of leadership. We have to learn how to respond to women in leadership rather than blaming them for the institution's inability to change.

For more information on feminization of religion:
JSTOR (membership required)
Encyclopedia of Religion and Society
Encyclopedia of Religion in America
The Church Impotent

Monday, November 05, 2007

"for the bible tells me so" go see it

"For the Bible Tells Me So" is a new film that was showing this past week in Seattle. Go here to find a screening near you.

what makes a church alive and healthy?

If you're reading this to find out what makes a church alive and healthy then you clearly missed the question mark at the end of the title. I wonder what makes a congregation filled with the Holy Spirit and marked by deep discipleship. What happens inside the lives of the members of healthy, mission-oriented congregations? How do congregations break inertia and begin to move forward with mission and purpose?

Books about church growth and missional leadership are plentiful. Many of them have very helpful things to say, but in the end a book will not save a church (I suppose it's only theologically correct to say that God will save the church). Books do offer us much to ponder. Sometimes they present ideas that we can use to push against as we move toward our own understanding of mission and identity. However, in practice I have found books not very helpful in real and significant transformation.

Changes in worship. Well, this is one thing that congregations latch on to very quickly. "If we just change our music and act hip then we'll grow." It's clear that churches like this equate "health" and "mission" with "growth". Growth is a result of health and mission. Growth isn't the goal; that would make our churches viral! And, I have to say that when I attend a church like this it smells like desperation. If you aren't "hip" then don't act that way. If you're quiet and dark and contemplative, be quiet and dark and contemplative. If you're folksy and easy and have a low Christology, then be folksy and easy and embrace your low Christology! I suppose that's the process theologian in me.

Ronald Heifetz says that organizations tend to "technical fixes" when "adaptive change" is needed. He maintains that organizations too often don't look past presenting problems to the real issue at hand. Changing worship style won't get to the root of problems associated with identity or mission. Reading books won't move a people forward who are, in actuality, happy doing what they're doing (they just want more people doing it with them).

How do we get to the adaptive change that the church needs?

Frankly, I don't have the answer to this question. I wish that I did. All I know is that I just know it when I enter a sacred space and encounter sacred worship. I know it when I meet people who are genuinely alive in Christ and who hunger for God's kin-dom. I know it when a community is open and welcoming of change and newness. I know it when a congregation celebrates the diversity of God's good creation. I know it when mission supercedes personal likes and dislikes, when pettiness is supplanted by holy purpose. I know it when the quest for personal transformation is rooted in a communal quest for corporate transformation. But good Lord, how do we get there?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

phelps loses law suit

"Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case
by Alex Dominguez, AP

A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq."

Go here for the rest of the story.

The church that I serve was picketed by Westboro in 2001 so this article is of special interest to me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

hmmm...my personality is changing

Click to view my Personality Profile page

what does it mean to be "called"

All Christians have a calling in their lives. Most of us will experience a number of "calls" - urges from God that lead us into new places on behalf of the gospel. I don't believe that God asks us to do one and only one thing and then our work is done. God asks us to work for the sake of the gospel throughout the entirety of our lives, calling us again and again onto different journeys.

The language and concept of "call" is very familiar to me growing up in church, in the South, and in a pretty observant home. I'm learning, however, that not everyone is comfortable with this language or the idea that we all have work to do for God's reign. Many Christians unfortunately don't appreciate that all of us in the body of Christ - clergy and lay, men and women, young and old, uneducated and educated, urban and rural - are called by God. All people are gifted and needed, invited and sent by God for the sake of the world.

To be "called" is to recognize that God has a claim on our lives. Too often the church doesn't explain or explore what it means to have a calling or to be called. We simply expect folks to intuitively know what being called means, but they don't. I know people who bristle at the word "call." They've never seen a burning bush. They don't hear God in their head when they pray. They don't experience revelations on a daily basis. How can they know what God is calling them to do? How can they know who God is calling them to be?

I think it's important for us to spend time together in extended silence listening to God's breath in our breath, God's hope in our hearts, God's joy in our joy. Most of us won't have earth-shattering mystical moments...and that's okay. But all of us can experience God tugging at our hearts in such a way that we know that we are being led, urged, invited, called into a sacred and holy life.

Callings can be big and they can seem not so big. We can be called to teach Sunday school or sell our possessions and join an intentional community. We can find ourselves moving closer and closer to a way of life that on one level seems foreign and odd to us and on another level normal and quite reasonable. Sometimes callings challenge everything about us; often they do not.

In my life I have felt an urging in my heart to stop eating meat; and I have. I have felt compelled to live on the earth in a way that honors God and God's creation; I'm still learning how to do that. I have been called away from my home to Washington state for the sake of ministry. I have been called to other countries in order to stir up passions in others for the global church. I have also had callings that I have ignored. Too often I realized this after the fact. God not only calls us over and over, but we can experience multiple calls at once...so, just because you've said "yes" to God about one thing doesn't mean that God isn't already urging you in another way.

All of us are called by God. How are you called for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of creation, for the sake of your community, for the sake of prophecy, for the sake of faithfulness, for the sake of God's realm? How are you called?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

singing for peace at the washington cathedral

At Washington Cathedral, Pop Music, Politics And Prayers for Peace

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; Page C01

It was the coolest of church coffeehouses.

"Thanks for coming to give peace a chance," David Crosby told the crowd of more than 2,500 at Washington National Cathedral, before he and Graham Nash launched into "Lay Me Down."

...Read the whole article from the Washington Post.

-Weirder things have happened, right? Graham Nash, Keb' Mo', David Crosby, Emily Saliers, and John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington came together at the Washington Cathedral to sing and pray for peace. Buddhist monks, protest songs of the 60s, and blues music all helped the congregation witness that God's way is not the way of war. What a night. I can picture a lot of things, but this one is right up there!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

paul and the atonement

For the last month or so I've listened as a friend of mine (who is a Lutheran pastor) lamented that she agreed to teach an adult Sunday School class on atonement. She's been a bit overwhelmed because atonement theology is not uniform in content, but it has has often been understood strictly as substitutionary atonement theology. How, she wondered, could she provide a thorough overview of atonement theology for her congregation? Would she be able to offer sound scholarship in a manner that would be accessible and engaging? She has read and wrestled, and today she taught her first lesson.

Interestingly, one of my fave bloggers, Mystical Seeker, has posted a wonderfully rich post about Paul and atonement. Please read...

Many Christians have found atonement theology, and substitutionary atonement theology in particuar, to be the cornerstone of their faith. However, many of us have found different ways to approach a theology of the cross. I meet inquiring people all the time who find affinity with the teachings of Jesus, but their struggle with substitutionary atonement theology keeps them out of the church doors.

If you're one of those inquirers, read Mystical Seeker's blog on this one. It'll get you thinking.

Shout out, Mystical Seeker!

Friday, October 12, 2007

al gore and the ipcc win nobel peace prize

Al Gore and the IPCC are sharing the Nobel Peace Prize for highlighting the importance of global warming.

Will Christians hear what the rest of the world is? Will we take seriously our particular call to stewardship and make significant and real changes in our individual lives while concurrently demanding policy change at institutional and governmental levels?

MNSBC's coverage of this news article has some interactive learning options for people to explore.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

curing spiritual poverty in churches

How many times have you gone into a church and found it to be - of all things - spiritually poor? Like any group, institution, or human undertaking, church can be creative or boring, alive or dead, forward thinking or stuck in the past, concerned with others or obsessed with itself. Too often our churches have succumbed to depression arising from wistful nostalgia for times gone by or torn apart by conflicts arising from entrenched circles of power with competing agendas. Worship services that should celebrate the realm of God, the power of the Eucharist, and the wedding of Christ and the church feel like nap time. Worships that should offer a prophetic word to stir up in us a passion for justice are luke-warm and inoffensive - the opposite of the gospel (if you've ever read the Bible). Community-oriented gatherings intended to welcome all people feel like cliques where only the "in-crowd" is really welcome. Whether it's depression, conflict, apathy, or narcissism, the result is the same - spiritual poverty. We can't commune with God and proclaim the gospel message when we are seized by spiritual poverty.

Spiritual poverty is something that exists outside of our churches as well. It's unfortunate that too often it takes a personal awareness of one's spiritual emptiness before someone darkens the door of a church, synagogue, or other faith community. It can be a challenge for our congregations to live in the abundance of God's light and life when so many of our congregants are tired, empty, worn out, confused, and depressed.

It's time to fling the windows and doors open on our churches and ask, "Why are we here?" By establishing the church's basic function and sense of mission, we begin the cure of spiritual poverty that plagues too many congregations and too many people. Are we here to be a nice place for nice people or are we here to burn with God's passion for the world? Are we here because we've met nice people who treat us kindly or are we here to become disciples of Jesus? Spiritual health begins with an understanding that we are called into a life-long journey of communing with the Divine. Spiritual vitality is maintained through prayer, study, sacraments, acts of mercy and justice, and other spiritual practices. Just as our bodies aren't healthy if we don't feed them nutritious foods and attend to exercise for their muscles, our spirituality can't be healthy until we find food and exercise for the soul.

Like any cure, attending to spiritual poverty can take time and be a bit painful. Our churches and our own lives may require significant changes in our how we go about things. The way to health takes commitment and practice. It requires us to ask and attend to questions of mission and praxis. Above all, it demands that we set aside "what we want" from church. After all, church isn't about "me"; it's about God. I just plug and play in God's mission.

There is no reason for a church to be spiritually poor if we keep God at the center of our conversation and at the fore of our thoughts. Worship can be alive and contemplative at the same time. Community can be a place for mutual support and care. It just takes a little time and attention.

Questions for churches: Why are we here? Would the world be worse off without the church? If so, why? What difference are we making in God's mission to bring justice and offer mercy? How do we reveal to the world the power of the Incarnation? What are we doing to keep our spiritual vision alive and well?

Question for individuals: Why are you going/not going to church? Are you at church to offer your time and talents? Are you there there only to get something out of church? How are you attending daily to your spiritual vitality and relationship with God? Is God the center of your lives or is God peripheral? Do you expect a 60 minute (give or take a few minutes) to take care of all of your spiritual needs for a whole week?

Friday, October 05, 2007

a joyful church?

I just returned from a two day gathering of clergy of the PNW Conf of the UMC (if you're not Methodist and don't get all the initials, it's not important to the post's content). Bishop Sally Dyck from Minnesota brought us the message for our gathering. One of the many things that she challenged us to do is to explore our role as leaders inside of a church system that can be (and often is) depressed. For such a, well, depressing topic this was a fantastic and fun gathering. I haven't laughed that much with colleagues in a very long time. We prayed, sang, and played.

I'm left thinking about the ways our denomination is depressed and how that illness is played out in my local congregation. But more than that, I am pondering how we might acknowledge this reality in such a way that it liberates us. By naming and facing the feelings and fears that ensnare the church, perhaps we could liberate it and set it off on a course yet to be dreamt.

I believe the world needs the church - as deeply imperfect as it is. There is a power to be experienced in gathering together. There is a joy that can be experienced in covenant community and through the gospel message. This joy, unlike so many other happy things, doesn't arise out of met desires or the comfort of ego. This is a joy that comes from the Source of Life, and it compels us into hard places to difficult work in the world.

I wonder how our church can get to this life of joy. Until we find it, though, new people aren't going to make us their home and our ability to be an agent of transformation will remain quite truncated. United Methodism, the perfect child of Modernity, might need to step away from our preoccupation with effectiveness. Effectiveness is not only boring, but it can be depressing. Maybe we need to latch on to some of the values and practices of the mystics of our faith. Perhaps we could begin lifting up faithfulness over effectiveness, fruitfulness over productivity, community over individualism.

This isn't a coherent post, but this gathering has brought me home full of thoughts and prayers for a church which I love and which I find wonderfully flawed and imperfectly graceful.

How might we better experience and express joy in the church?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

church shelf-life

I've been wondering lately how long a congregation can sustain itself. I mean, when Paul went out there planting churches and growing Christian communities, was he expecting those communities to exist continuously and in tact for all time? Well, maybe Paul did... But I've been reading quite a bit about congregational health, church planting, church growth, and leadership and what I don't see written about is a congregation's shelf-life. Is it reasonable to expect churches to endure 100, 150, 200 years with health and vitality? When did we fall into the pattern of establishing a church expecting it to endure ad infinitum? Or is it possible - across all of our denominations - to adjust our thinking in such a way that we don't bemoan the loss of some local congregations? Could we instead celebrate the power of their witness and rejoice that they've nurtured many individuals over time and also allow these congregations to die with dignity and even... joy?

I'm sure there are congregations out there that are celebrating their 150th anniversary and maybe even their 200th anniversary, but is this a goal to which we should all aspire? Is perpetuity our goal or is faithfulness - even faithfulness of 20, 30, 40 years? Why do all congregations have to last forever? Perhaps they don't.

What does this musing have to do with progressive Christianity? Nothing specific perhaps, but it does have to do with faithfulness, which is fundamental to any real and authentic Christianity. I wonder if we spend too much energy in pursuits that lead us away from faithfulness, from vitality, from lavish grace and prophetic wisdom.

Now, I am not suggesting that we abandon struggling or hurting congregations. Not at all. Congregations - all congregations - deserve to be honored, celebrated, and recognized in a way that best suits them and their true goals. All congregations deserve care and faithful leadership. I am not even suggesting that this "wonder" about end points for congregational life is an "ought." I just wonder...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

humans and our violence exact effects on other creation

Another report has come from the Democratic Republic of Congo about a poached gorilla infant. The animal was poached when park rangers had to flee their work due to escalating violence in the North Kivu province. Poachers hoped for a return of $8,000 for the dead gorilla.

The violence of humans extends far beyond human casualties. As a Christian, I believe that my witness to life and grace includes non-human creation. When I read Genesis, I am less concerned with "original sin" than I am with how our continued sin destroys the creation made by God and upon which God looked and declared "good."

I wonder how we might live in the world if we saw it - in its entirety - as the Garden of Eden, that place where we have been set by God to live in harmony with all of creation. We have a sacred duty, I firmy believe, to be fierce protectors of all of creation. As a result, we have to make difficult choices to step away from lives and actions that exact violence upon God's good earth and precious, precious animals.

It's getting bad out there, folks. What are we prepared to do about it? Once we're expelled from this garden, there's no where left to go.

For more on the poached gorilla, read here:

Congo Park Rangers Find Dead Gorilla
By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Sep 25, 5:38 PM

DAKAR, Senegal - Park rangers in Congo found a dead mountain gorilla after a raid on a suspected ring of gorilla traffickers in which authorities detained two people, conservationists said Tuesday. (More)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

how the news reports on episcopalians

According to the BBC, the Episcopal Church has agreed to halt the ordination of GLBT persons in order to head off a schism in the 77 million member Anglican communion. Yet the New York Times is reporting that the US bishops have done no more than to affirm stances already taken while demanding that foreign bishops (mainly African) cease their ordination of US clergy to serve breakaway churches within the US.

I find it fascinating how two news organizations can take the same experience and interpret it so differently - in opposite ways, actually.

I have been in prayer for the Anglican communion as a whole, but I especially pray for the Episcopal Church and the pressure that it is experiencing. I hope a schism isn't coming, but I hope more strongly that the US church stands as a witness faithful to the gospel as they have prayerfully and earnestly understood it.

Update: The Boston Globe contributes yet another voice with another perspective. It found a more moderate approach to the story.

Monday, September 24, 2007

praying the hours with thomas merton

Lately I've listened as a number of people talk about the difficult time they have living with joy in their lives. The reasons for this difficulty are numerous and differ from person to person, but what seems to be a constant among them is the shear volume of bad news - even apocalyptic news - with which these people feel inundated every day. As I've reflected on these conversations and prayed for these people, I thought that it might be true that other people whom I've never met may also be feeling depressed, disempowered, and overwhelmed. I don't believe that there is an easy solution for our emotional responses to the overwhelming issues of our day. I don't believe in a religion that proffers simplicity. However, I do believe that Christianity is at its best a transformational religion that helps us not only to make it through difficult times, but to exact change upon our times. The first step along this pathway of empowerment, you may not be surprised to hear me say, is living a centered life circumscribed by prayer.

Many Christians claim to pray daily, although most Christians I've counseled struggle with the function and purpose of prayer. People, in their honest and vulnerable moments, admit that they don't know how to pray because they don't know why they pray. The people who share with me this spiritual road block don't believe that God is there at our beck and call; God isn't there just to make us feel better and fix our problems, so what are we hoping to accomplish in prayer. They wonder if all those Christians who claim daily prayer are honest, and, if so, why can't they?

I think we've made prayer too complicated and too simplistic at the same time. Because Protestants pride themselves on extemporaneous prayer, many people get caught up in distressing thoughts about their poetic ability, their creativity, and their theology. Concurrently, we tend to reduce prayer to a list of "give-me" items that we hand to God. Prayer is much easier than this. Prayer is much different from this. Prayer is set apart time for communing with the Divine. During this time, we may lash out, weep, speak casually, listen, or use no words at all. One way to remove our trepidations with crafting prayers is to return to the use of others' words. This way of praying, after all, is how most of Christianity has prayed for 2,000 years. Extemporaneous prayer didn't begin its ascent to prominence, even among Protestants, until the mid to late nineteenth century. It's okay to use the words of others; it doesn't make your prayer any less authentic or any less your own. Using the words of others can free you to rest inside the prayer, free from worrying about the next word and next thought.

One way to sink deeper into prayer is to pray the hours. It's an ancient way of prayer that requires diligence and commitment. When we pray the hours, we not only pray daily, we pray multiple times daily. There are a number of online resources that can introduce you to praying the hours, but one book that I would like to lift up is "A Book of Hours" by twentieth century contemplative Thomas Merton. The prologue includes instructions on how to pray the hours and the book is inviting and welcoming of those for whom this may be their first trip down the road of praying with regularity.

Praying the hours doesn't present God with a laundry list of items. Praying the hours is an invitation into a life lived in communion with God. This act of centering our lives is one way of opening ourselves to both the pain of the world and the joy of life. Both are all around us. Finding balance between them is part of the art of spirituality. It is only after we find a balance in life that we have the ability to move into the world as agents of God's transforming grace and love.

If you pray the hours or give it a try, I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

news from the democratic republic of congo

The BBC is reporting that a truce has been negotiated between rebels loyal to renegade General Nkunda and UN peacekeeping forces. The truce has taken place in Sake, which lies on the road to the capital of the Kivu province Goma, which is on the eastern boarder shared with Rwanda. People have been streaming out of Sake in attempts to walk the 30km to Goma. This region has been the locus of the heaviest fighting in the DR Congo, and is informed heavily by the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. General Nkunda explains his presence as a protective force for the Congolese Tutsis, and there is some fear that as the rebels recede into the hills that Rwandan Hutus may follow.

Just over a week ago I arrived home from the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, I spent time in the province of Katanga - the most stable and economically prosperous area of the country and far to the south of the violence in North Kivu. I asked the people there if they feared a return to armed conflict. They seemed to think that the violence of the eastern portion of the country would not reach down into the southern part of Katanga. However, it is clear that the war is not far from people's minds. I heard it referred to mostly as "the time of crisis."

The United Methodist Church is alive and vibrant in Katanga Province, but it is not able to flourish beyond those boundaries because of instability and violence in the north and east. The church's presence in the south is a vital presence providing food for street children, homes for orphans, food for displaced persons, refugee aid, scholarships for post-secondary education, training and equipment for farming, training and equipment for various women's/girls' trades (sewing primarily), and of course churches for worship. The Democratic Republic of Congo is on my mind and I ask you to pray for that country - its people, its nonhuman animals, and its natural environment suffering from the effects of war and ill use of land. We as the church may not be able to move into the places hardest affected by war and violence at this time, but we can be present through our prayers.

For what UMCOR is doing in the Democratic Republic, click here.
For the BBC's full article, go here.

Here are just a few pictures from my trip to Lubumbashi and Kolwezi, both cities in Katanga. If you would like to use any of the pictures, please contact me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

canon or collection?

I am preparing for Rally Day this Sunday, so what else do I have to do but write in my blog? In my preparation, though, I've been reading a number of books and reviewing several curricula for Sunday School that have me thinking about the difference between understanding the Bible as the "canon" or as a "collection." When it comes right down to it, I must admit that I read the Bible as a collection of works about God's revelation throughout Judeo-Christian history; I don't approach the Bible as a closed revelation. That makes a big difference in my life as a Christian and as a person of faith.

By definition, a canon is a closed unit. When we discuss the canonical works of an author, we are referring to the universe and its inhabitants as imagined and written by that author. That means that articles about those works, fiction by others placed in that universe, or other imaginings do not count as canon. Canon can also refer to a formula used in science; this is a rule followed the same way each time. Canon is actually Greek for rule, normative, standard, or measure. Canon, whether it's in literature or science, refers to a closed circuit of understanding. The same thing is true in a religious canon.

For Christians, the canon of scripture comprises the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. Further discoveries of manuscripts do not lead to a expansion of the Bible. Likewise, discoveries that certain "books" in the Bible are not authentic to their purported authors do not result in the omission of them from the canon. The canon presents all 66 books as the final written revelation of God. Many people - most people, I would suggest - believe that the Bible is not only closed, but, like so many other canons, it presents a unified world. The Bible can be read as a whole - one long and coherent story.

This is not how I read the Bible, however. The Bible offers glimpses of how faithful people over time have understood God at work in their lives, and how they have hoped for God to be at work in their lives. It is not a unified story, but a collection of stories spanning hundreds of years of authorship and, perhaps, thousands of years of oral history. In the midst of this collection I find pictures of God at work, but these pictures do not always complement one another. The gospels, as I read them, do not offer one narrative of Jesus, but four - drawing from the same core stories but focusing on very different understandings of his personhood, his divinity, his ministry, and his life, death and resurrection. In the Bible there are two divergent understandings of "end times." One presents an image of a divine and holy war; the other depicts a heavenly banquet. These are just examples of why the word "collection" better describes the Bible to me than canon.

I think that many people struggle with Christianity because they come to it expecting to find a unified and simple story, but once they dig into the rich scriptures of our faith they find many stories that are complicated and layered. What if we told people right up front that the Bible can be understood in many ways and that it gives us a collection of stories that center around the One God? What if we didn't tell people who Jesus "must" be, but allowed Jesus to emerge in the imaginations and souls of people as they read and grapple with the richness of our scriptures? What if we let salvation take place in people's lives without instructing them on how we think God works - letting God do the work?

These are just questions. I am sure that many people will vehemently disagree with them. What about you? Do you find meaning in the canon of the Bible? Does the word "collection" work for you as it does for me? Would approaching the scriptures as a collection threaten its prominence and influence? Could it withstand a review and a revision? Is it time to add to it newer stories of God at work in the world? Or, does it stand on its own without need for tinkering?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

mother teresa - the role of doubt

By now most people have read about the crisis of faith that struck the great Mother Teresa for approximately fifty years. It seems that just about the time that she moved to Calcutta to work among the poorest of the poor, she lost her connection with God - at least the kind of connection to which she had grown accumstomed, the kind that is personal and intimate. A new book is out - "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light" - that opens to the public a series of her private letters containing her darkest moments of doubt and loneliness.

What is the role of doubt in a life of faith? How do crises of faith affect our belief and our sense of wholeness in life?

For more on the subject, take a look at this article in TIME magazine.

progressive christian radio

I'm back from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's going to take a little time to process my trip and to get back into the swing of things. Life in the US is very different from life in central Africa.

While I'm getting my thoughts together, I thought I'd lift up - for all who are interested - a radio show hosted by United Methodist pastor Rich Lang. It's called "Living Faith Now" and it can be accessed via the internet at www.livingfaithnow.org. Rich's ministry follows in the footsteps of great liberation theologians, process theologians, and those who have ministered with the least and the last. Rich desires to offer a voice within religious dialogue that counters the pro-militaristic, pro-nationalistic, pro-apocalyptic voices that so often dominate Christian discourse.

Rich Lang says, "'Living Faith Now' is an attempt to create a 'public space,' both through live radio and as an ongoing resource on the web, for our congregations, both to hear an alternative Christian spirituality, and to share this alternative spirituality with others...Living Faith Now is an attempt to present an alternative expression of Christian faith. We are engaging the tough issues like homosexuality, militarism, the global economy, and core issues of meaning and purpose and direction in life."

Check it out!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

no blog for a month

This is just a reminder that this blog will be down until the end of August, unless I find that I have both time and opportunity at some point along the way. The VIM team of which I'm a part flies off from Seattle this afternoon for a 35 hour trip to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a night in Lumbumbashi, we board another flight for Kolwezi, where we'll spend two weeks. On our way home, we'll stop in Nairobi for safari. The team leaves after three days; I stay another three, returning to Seattle on Aug 25.

Enjoy the blogging world while I'm away!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

when life is discordant

Each day I begin with giving thanks for the peacefulness of my home. Peace in my home is something that I prize above almost everything else. I know that I don't have a chance of maintaining any balance in life or any kind of healthy spirituality if my home is wracked with chaos, conflict, or strife. Because of this awareness, I work very hard at having a peaceful and joyful home. And, by and large, I am blessed with such a home. Something happened a few days ago that has thrown my domestic bliss into a tailspin and I can feel the effects rippling through my whole experience of life. I am more stressed, less attuned to God around and in me, more apt to be snappy and short with people, less compassionate toward others, and, frankly, a bit sad. Right now, life is discordant.

On Saturday evening one of my pets was taken to the vet. For some time I've been giving him an anti-anxiety pill to help his "inappropriate elimination" problem. It's worked marvels and Georgie hasn't been peeing outside of his litter box. However, the vet wanted to draw some blood before renewing the prescription. When Georgie (George Weasley for those who care) returned home, his brother Fred smelled the vet on him and reacted as one might expect. He hissed, growled, and took an aggressive posture with poor Georgie. While I expected this response, I didn't expect it to last as long as it has or for Fred's behavior to be directed toward the humans in the house.

Fred and George have been separated for George's safety and Fred's sense of safety. Georgie cries and paws at the door behind which he knows his brother is hiding. Freddie, not understanding that the cat on the other side of the door is his litter mate and life-long sleeping pal Georgie, hisses and growls, and George slinks away dejected. It's now Monday evening and neither animal understands what's happening. I am sleeping on the sofa to keep George company while Fred sleeps in my bedroom where he feels secure. I hope this doesn't last until I leave town on Thursday, but I expect that it will.

This is just a little every day kind of event, but things like this can tear us out of balance and put us - at least me - out of whack for a while. Order and peace are important parts of a healthy life. How are we supposed to respond when order isn't possible, when the place we rely upon to be peaceful and life-giving becomes trying and difficult? My heart also breaks because these two wonderful creatures made by God who have always slept together, groomed one another, and played together are torn apart. They both know it. Neither understands it. How is it possible to keep a home steady and calming when confusion and fear have come across the thresshold?

This may seem like a trivial post. It is, after all, not about church leadership, the environment, issues of national importance, or even deep spiritual conviction. It is, however, a reminder to me of how important home and peace are for my spiritual well being. This post brings to the fore the struggle to maintain balance when home and hearth are conflicted and chaotic. I have a blessed life; my home is typically quite happy and I am generally very content. I wonder what others do when life is discordant and home feels no longer like home - even if just for a little while.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

god's kingdom? - four gorillas shot to death

Today in worship we read Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. Each time we pray the Lord's Prayer we ask for our daily bread and for God's kingdom to come. As I pack this week to leave for Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I wonder how much my daily bread really is and whether I mean it when I pray for it. My life is built upon much, much more than me taking only my daily bread. I also am forced to think about how serious I am when I pray for God's kingdom to come on earth. In theory this sounds really marvelous. In practicality it has great implications on my life and on the witness of the church. Over the course of the next month reminders will be all around me of how much I take for granted in my every day life, and how that "taken-for-grantedness" is part of a life lived in excess. Additionally, I will be shown again and again how God's kingdom does come...as well as how it doesn't.

For those who read this blog, you probably know by now that being a good steward of the earth and of non-human animals is a primary call in my life. When I think about how over-consumption in the United States in general and in my life in particular affects the air, the soil, the seas, and the animals, I find myself convicted of a life filled with great sin. I use immensely more than my daily share and I desire to have more than my daily portion. The lifestyle into which I was born and to which I have become addicted is crammed with too much food, too many gadgets, and too much ease. I do mean it when we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "forgive us our tresspasses," but I hope God forgives me more readily than I seem to be able to forgive others.

This month an article was written about the slaughter of four mountain gorillas in the DRC. They may have died as a by-product of the push to mine the wealth of resources in the DRC. They may have been victims of trophy hunting. I doubt they were potential food sources since they were left behind. Mountain gorillas are amazing creatures - proof of God if ever there needed to be one. When will we be able to look upon God's world and see as God does and value the beauty and magnificence of God's creations? When will we realize that our desires - when turned to action - have serious and lasting consequences? When will we and our churches become living witnesses to the the God of life and stand resolute against killings such as this? When will we finally say "no" to the bloodshed - human and non-human - that is happening all around the world, but especially the bloodshed in places like the DRC? When will we finally mean it when we pray for God's kingdom to come and then to see it all around us? When will we treat this world as God's home filled with God's wonders?

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

Here is the article:

"Four Gorillas Found Shot To Death In Congo

July 28, 2007 11:46 a.m. EST

Nicole King - AHN News Writer
Democratic Republic of Congo (AHN) - The shooting death of four rare mountain gorillas has prompted the United Nations to send a mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Park rangers found three females and a male silverback shot to death in the southern part of Virunga National Park earlier in the week.

Residents said they heard gunshots and alerted park rangers, who found the dead gorillas the next morning. Patrols are being increased and guard shacks are being built to provide 24-hour surveillance.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced it will send a mission to the country as soon as possible to offer support. The agency said it plans to work with authorities to find out the reasons behind the killings and to prevent any more in the future.

The four gorillas were part of a group that was frequently visited by tourists. Experts are concerned that the death of the male, who would traditionally act as the leader of the group, will now leave the group disoriented. Two other gorillas that belonged the group, a female and an infant, are missing.

Flora and Fauna International, a society that works for the conservation of threatened ecosystems and species, said just over 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild. The group said seven gorillas have bee killed in the park this year so far."

A baby gorilla has been found alive, although her mother was among those shot to death. Read more...

Monday, July 23, 2007

debates and faith

Tonight YouTube and CNN hosted a debate among the Democrats vying for their party's nomination to become President of the United States. As a Christian, it is important to me that those who lead my nation do so in such a way that cares for the disadvantaged, lifts people from poverty, seeks peace rather than war, protects and conserves the environment, values individual liberty, provides for the wellbeing of all Americans, welcomes the stranger, nurtures the "widow and orphan", educates the young, and creates a just economy. These are the values of my faith. I was delighted that many of the videos submitted by YouTubers got right to the heart of the matter (and I was slightly annoyed at some of the sillier videos selected by CNN).

Too often I hear people in my church and in other places say that they do not participate in the political processes of our country because of a sense of overwhelmin cynicism. Simply put, they just don't expect real and significant change to come through the system currently in place. And, since they also don't expect a new system to arise, they have chosen to step away from the tumble and fray of the political process. While I can certainly understand their skepticism, I find hope in the stories of my faith. They tell me that change is possible. From the stories of the Exodus to Jesus' movement toward Jerusalem, the stories of my faith instruct me that God will use outsiders, the disenfranchised, the despised, "aliens," women, and minorities of all kinds to bring systemic change to structures that have grown stiff and fat with corruption. No candidate - not Democrat, not Republican - will be able to do all that any one of us would like, but that doesn't mean that there aren't better and worse candidates from which to choose. It also doesn't mean that there isn't a candidate out there who might be able to bring significant change, even if it is incomplete change.

Listen to some of the debate questions on CNN.

it's here...harry potter and the deathly hallows

I'm beat. My copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows arrived in the mail on the 21st at about 1:30 PM. At 1:00 AM - 11.5 hours later - I finally finished reading the tale.

My thoughts (without spoilers)? It's the best book of the series even though she leaves a number of questions hanging. The Christocentric/Christological message that has wound its way through all of the books rises to the fore. Rowling manages to do this without being "preachy" or making the book feel too much like a morality tale. I cried at one death. There were a couple of characters that didn't return that I wished could have. Parents may need to get kids younger than 14 y/o to read the book slowly in order to manage their reactions to the deaths. It's a wonderful exploration of death for adolescents...and adults, actually. It is also a great introduction for kids, but they will probably need some help with their emotions.

Main themes? Love, Power, Death, Grieving, Love of Mother for Child, Choice and Free Will, Loyalty and Fidelity, Good v Evil.

I have to start reading it again in order to write something coherent (I also need to get some sleep!).

UPDATE: Listen to JK Rowling read the first chapter!
Part 1

Part 2

Monday, July 16, 2007

solar power, politics, and funding

There is an article in the New York Times today about the struggle that solar power faces in securing necessary funds to advance technological advances needed for it to become a major energy source.

Some people have commented to me that this blog seems more environmentally focused than religiously focused. It is my deep conviction that as a Christian it is part of my call and obligation to be a faithful steward of God's good creation. Further, it is also my belief that our dwindling resources and flailing environment are symptoms of a spiritual problem. We use too much, consume too much, demand too much. Do we do so because we are trying to fill a spiritual void? Have we lost sight that we and all of the earth belongs to God and not to humankind?

This article brings to relief the challenges that exist in moving Americans beyond the reliance on any single supplier of energy. It also shows how the power of the dollar influences this process. Currently, the funding for technological advances in solar power are outpaced by nuclear, biofuel, and coal by substantial amounts, up to three times the amount. How do we want to make stewardship choices...by the power of the lobby?

looking for purpose and meaning

Recently a parishioner told me that she thinks people don't attend church because people don't really have a deep spiritual hunger. Her reflections (and she's a generation older than me) didn't seem to reflect what I see going on in the world, especially among the people of my peer group. As I listened to my parishioner, I couldn't help but think about the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last week and the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this week. Stories like these - and all hero quest stories - seem to be tapping into a great spiritual hunger. I see people looking high and low for meaning and purpose. What I don't see, though, is the church helping in these quests. We have become so entangled in doctrinal disputes (often about what I would consider non-essentials), embroiled in clergy sexual misconduct scandals, and engaged in political conflict that the effort required of people to participate in our church communities isn't worth exerting...at least for the non-churched people I know.

As I listened to this parishioner, once again I realized that there exists between the "Boomer" generation (I hate generational nomenclature) and Xers/Millennials a great divide. One of the differences between these generations is that Boomers believe in their own agency/power to change the world and the Xers/Millennials maintain skepticism of this ability. However, it seems the younger generations hold a hope for our skepticism to be dispelled. When I look at the prevalence of television shows, movies, and books like Heroes, Lost, Kyle XY, Harry Potter, X Men, and many, many others I see a generation searching for meaning in existence and the power to change the world. We want someone to tell us that change is possible and that we have some agency to bring it about. We are trying to find that iconic and archetypal story to which we can cling and from which we can find empowerment.

As a Christian I believe that my faith is grounded in a story of the greatest import. It begins with a people with no meaning and no identity being claimed by the greatest of gods. This God leads them from oppression to freedom, charges them with a sacred duty to be a light to all nations, and calls the misfits from among them to bear again and again the word of this God. Eventually there rose a man who could embody the grace, love, and power of this God who lived among the people sowing seeds of change and nonviolent revolution. Because of his choices, his life, and his works he was killed, but the powers and principalities of this world still could not beat him. Death could not defeat him. Furthermore, my story tells me that the same power that coursed through his veins lives in mine. The same message of justice and mercy that he brought to the world needs to be brought today. The same power that raised him from the dead will raise the entire world, liberating all of creation from the powers and principalities that push down, oppress, ensnare, and disempower. This story is greater than all of the superhero stories and more empowering than all of the hero quest narratives.

Can the church regain our voice to tell this story? Can we leave behind the squabbles that hold us down? Can we re-present the gospel in a world that clearly does want a story not only to hear, but a story in which we all can participate? In essence, can the church be a place where people come in order to find purpose and meaning?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

live earth...all day today!

"The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.
Throughout the country that you hold as a possession,
you must provide for the redemption of the land."
~Lev. 25:23-24.

Today is 7/7/7. This day does not only mark the anniversary of the attacks on the London Underground two years ago; it also is a celebration of and a call to action for saving our planet. Today is Live Earth!

For twenty-four hours, the world will celebrate the wonders of our planet and call humankind to responsibility for caring for it. PSA's, performances, and broadcasts will be sent out from all seven continents throughout the day, with the main broadcasts originating in New York, London, Johannesburg, Shanghai, Sydney, Hamburg, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo. You can watch all day.

Live Earth is brought to us by a wide selection of partners, but it is the brainchild of Al Gore and his organization The Climate Group and Emmy Award Winner and Live Earth Founder Kevin Wall.

Live Earth asks people to commit to making changes at home, at work, while getting around, while shopping, in their communities and to urge changes by their governments. Through its “Answer the Call” campaign, people can make their commitments and find solutions against the climate crisis at liveearth.org, LiveEarth.MSN.com, or by sending a free text message of “SOS” to 82004.

This is Live Earth’s 7-point pledge on the climate crisis and you are asked to sign it at Live Earth's website:

• To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

• To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become “carbon neutral;”

• To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;

• To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

• To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

• To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,

• To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.

The names of people making commitments and signing the pledge through their computers or cell phones on July 7th will be shown on the Live Earth web site, on the screens at the concerts, and on the global TV broadcasts.

Watch, participate, and save the planet!

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