upper room daily devotions

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?

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