I have witnessed the remarkable power of religious communities to bring social capital to bear on behalf of their members. Some congregations are particularly good at bringing low-income, isolated people into a milieu in which they benefit tremendously from contact with fellow congregants who have the connections they need to get ahead. It is as if they’ve stepped into an updraft as they enter the door of the church or temple or mosque, and find themselves swept up toward job contacts, vital information about services and resources, and good role models to follow toward creating better lives.read more
One of the first questions asked of a person planning on becoming clergy is, “tell me about your call to ministry.” God seems to have a wide variety of ways to make “that voice” heard. Some can tell you the day, the hour, and the place when “the unmistakable event” occurred. Others seem to become more and more aware over a long period of time that ordained leadership is what they were meant to be. Even then “the call” can be something grasped and lost.read more
Let’s stop assuming that a collection of individuals constitutes community. It doesn’t. In fact, it usually makes for disaster, as evidenced by the number of conflict resolution experts who are making their living off congregational members who are at each other’s throats. It’s not the fault of congregational members. We need to be teaching what it means to be in community, and that includes practices that are going to make us fit for community. Most of us got our training for community life in dysfunctional families. The moment anything approximating intimacy breaks out in congregations most people simply re-enact largely the unexamined history of our family of origin.read more
Covenant is firmly established in Christian theology, but among mainstream denominations Methodism gives it particular emphasis. Dating from the time of John Wesley and adapted from seventeenth century Puritan ideology, the annual covenant service is an established part of Methodist tradition. In some quarters it has been welcomed as part of Methodism’s distinctive contribution to the World Church. Grounded in both the Old and New Testaments, covenant theology is surely beyond reproach. Or is it?read more
The church sign can be easily read by anyone driving by: “You can’t be a devoted follower of Jesus unless you are part of a local church.” Does the church that posts this sign not trust the people with Jesus’s message? What is the meaning of “incarnation” if not “embodiment” by individual persons of the spirit of the Christ? Is the “Body of Christ” for members only?
The Apostle Paul created the metaphor of the “Body of Christ” as the community of followers. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, he explains the meaning of the ritually-shared meal: “The cup of God’s gracious benefits that we consecrate means that we are involved in the blood of the Anointed, doesn’t it? The bread that we break means that we are involved in the body of the Anointed, doesn’t it? That there is one loaf means that we who are many constitute one body, because we all partake of the one loaf.” In Romans 12:5 he says, “Just as each of us has one body with many parts that do not all have the same function, so although there are many of us, we are the Anointed’s body, interrelated with one another.”read more
Church is not for everyone. Even for those who like it, there are as many distractions as attractions to the spiritual life there. I thought of entitling this “spirituality for loners” because I want to suggest eight ways of experiencing spiritual community outside of church!read more
So what do I mean by a sacred community or spiritual community, or as Peck would call it a true community? I refer here to an intentional community with an identifiable common purpose. Maybe that purpose is simple to grow spiritually as individuals. It is a community where one can transcend oneself and experience a sense of the interconnectedness of life. It is a community in which each member seeks to see and relate to the divine or the sacred in the other.read more
According to Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian novelist, in his magnum non-fiction opus, The Kingdom of God is Within You, the idea that God or Jesus founded the church is “so utterly untrue and unfounded that one is ashamed to refute them.” Only the modern Christian church would even assert such a notion. Jesus could not have founded the church as we presently understand the word. Nothing like the idea of the church with its sacraments and its claim of infallibility can be found in Jesus’ words or in the ideas of other men of his time.read more
Recently there was a debate at the Creation Museum in Kentucky between its founder, Ken Ham, and Bill Nye, the “Science Guy”. If anything resembling scientific evidence mattered to people watching it, they would have been persuaded easily by the Science Guy’s arguments. But even Nye implicitly understood that, for many in the audience, the debate wasn’t about facts.read more
But what our guide told us next has stayed in my memory for the almost twenty years since my visit. With a shrug of his shoulders he explained, “Well, we need a site. An important event—we need to have a site. Do we know exactly where it happened? No. But we must have a site so that we can remember.”read more
Is the lingering importance of “Good Samaritan Jesus” for the religiously unaffiliated a yearning for a more ethically engaged, prophetic Christianity?read more
Since 9/11 Americans have largely accepted the idea that national security requires a trade-off between government power and freedom. However, recent revelations about the extent of government surveillance have raised serious questions about overreach, abuse of power, and the limits of democracy. How should people of faith respond to these revelations? Amid wide-spread public apathy over drone warfare, surveillance, and open-ended wars on “terror,” how can faith leaders provide stronger moral leadership? Do our faith traditions have anything distinctive to say in relation to alleged government overreach, whether by the NSA or the CIA? And how do we assess the ethics of those who expose secret government operations in the name of preventing abuse?read more
Judas Iscariot, the anti-hero of the story of the crucifixion, has been heaped with scorn and ridicule over the centuries. “Judas” is not used as a child’s name because it became the synonym for betrayal, for being a back-stabber. In Christian art, he is portrayed in dark, sinister tones. Events in western Christian history from the Inquisition in the fourteenth century to the expulsion of the Jews from almost every country of Europe at one time or another, to Martin Luther’s call for the burning of synagogues, to the violence and killing frenzy of the Holocaust in the twentieth century are all rooted substantially in Judas and because he was a Jew, applied to all Jews. Even his name is identical with the name by which the entire Jewish nation was known… Judas is simply a Greek spelling of Judah.read more
Contrary to the custom of the period, Jesus accepted women among his followers. Although none of the women are ever identified as “disciples,” certain gospels passages indicate that some of them may have been equal to the disciples, particularly Mary Magdalene. Mark writes that women followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered to him (Mark 15:40-41). Like Mark, Matthew 17:55 refers to women who “followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.” Luke 8:1-3 mentions that Jesus and the disciples were accompanied by women and he specifically mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others, “who provided for them out of their own resources” (meaning that they must have had considerable wealth). Jesus’ death and the events accompanying it mention the presence of women and some of those women witnessed the crucifixion, Jesus’ burial and the discovery of the empty tomb. Pope Benedict XVI considered it an obvious fact that “many women were also chosen to number among the disciples.”read more
My book, BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians, is a “book of common prayer” for progressive Christians. These “Sundays” are described more fully in it.read more
Most people assume that the Bible is filled with stories of supernatural happenings and miraculous interventions. The accounts of miracles in the Bible are generally limited to three cycles of stories: the Moses-Joshua cycle in the Torah, the Elijah-Elisha stories that are recorded between I Kings 17 and II Kings 13, and the Jesus-Disciples of Jesus stories that are found in the four gospels. There is an occasional supernatural tale in other parts of the Bible, but these are the only areas where they are concentrated. Our concentration is primarily on the miracles that are attributed to Jesus in the gospels.
The reported supernatural deeds performed by Jesus during his ministry can be categorized into four groups: cures, exorcisms, raising the dead, and nature control. Interestingly, each type of miracle that is attributed to Jesus in the gospels also occurred in the Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha stories.
When it comes to faith sharing there are two poles. At one end of the spectrum is the witness who is absolutely sure of himself. He is anchored in certitudes and has the truth nailed down. You want answers, he has them. He is bold and brass, if not arrogant and obtrusive. Most people who would read this article are embarrassed by this kind of Christian witness.
At the other end is the Christian who is very hesitant to saying anything at all about her faith. “It is the life I live that matters,” she says, which, of course, is true, but shouldn’t disciples of Jesus want to say something about Jesus, in whom and through whom they have found a transformative path?read more