The Christmas holidays are even trickier for those who give even a token nod to a long-held doctrinal claim
of orthodox Christianity; that a theistic god somehow enters into the human story, rather than arising out of
our own consciousness and human imagination.
How then might a self-professed non-theist celebrate the nativity of a Galilean sage from days long gone
by, and call it holy? It lies in an ancient message that – more often than not – runs counter to the cultural
and political climate; but is central to the character and teachings of Jesus.
Mike McHargue understands the pain of unraveling belief. In Finding God in the Waves, Mike tells the story of how his Evangelical faith dissolved into atheism as he studied the Bible, a crisis that threatened his identity, his friendships, and even his marriage. Years later, Mike was standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when a bewildering, seemingly mystical moment motivated him to take another look. But this time, it wasn’t theology or scripture that led him back to God—it was science.
Full of insights about the universe, as well as deeply personal reflections on our desire for certainty and meaning, Finding God in the Waves is a vital exploration of the possibility for knowing God in an age of reason, and a signpost for where the practice of faith is headed in a secular age. Among other revelations, we learn what brain scans reveal about what happens when we pray; how fundamentalism affects the psyche; and how God is revealed not only in scripture, but in the night sky, in subatomic particles, and in us.read more
More than a decade now, when this holiday season rolls around we can always count on a yearly kerfuffle about what the appropriated season’s greeting should be, exemplifying the continued chapter in the culture “War on Christmas.”
This year we can see the divide between both religious and political party lines.read more
As the Winter Solstice approaches in the north, we notice the changes: the days of light are shorter, the darkness is longer, the weather is cold, the trees are bare, and snow is often on the ground. John Matthews, who has lectured widely on Celtic and Arthurian traditions, has written this lyrical passage about Winter Solstice:
“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land. . . . All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose.”read more
The Christ Child reminds us of the infinite possibilities of life available to us, and we celebrate that vitality in the season of good cheer, gift-giving, and community. Christmas also offers an opportunity to get in touch with our own mystical side, to recreate the Nativity in our hearts. “If we could but mix just a small measure of the child’s naïveté with an intelligent appreciation of the traditional Christmas symbols, myths, and images,” Moore asserts, “we might be surprised at the profundity.” The enchantment of Christmas is a taste of what is possible if human beings could really love each other. The infant in the manger symbolizes new life, the potential all human beings have to be a new kind of being dedicated to agape, a love of the other—whoever that “other” may be.read more
In 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.read more
It’s Advent, and the same old lies about Mary are slipping over pulpits and out of parish letters, Christmas cards, public prayers, TV holiday movies, and late night comics’ jokes.
The subjugation of Mary, the maligning of her as meek, mild, and mindless, has been harmful to millionsAnnunication Dante Gabriel Rosetti B_FourthSundayofAdvent of women over many centuries.read more
In these uncertain times, we may feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world and the deficits of our leaders. The biblical story of Mary metaphorically tells us what to look for from God, “however we understand” our Higher Power.
How did God help Mary—the Mary we seek to emulate in her willingness to bring something new into the world?
God first sent an angel, a messenger from God who told her not to be afraid, explaining what was happening, how God was working out a purpose in her life, giving her vision of her sacred worth, as well as calling her out as an instrument of God’s in-breaking kingdom, or commonwealth.read more
In our post-election reality, there is one part of contemplative practices that I resist the most. I tend to stay in liberal bubbles, lamenting the lack of connection and sensitivity demonstrated by one political party. I default to mourning the dignity that was stripped from many during the Trump/Pence campaign- from minorities of color, to persons of different national origins, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.
It is part of my faith to stand in these convictions. Recalling that Jesus put his life on the line for the marginalized and oppressed, my faith is made real in the world today by the same means.read more
It is amazing how often we fail a most basic mark of the faith.
It is a downright scandal how rarely it is preached.
It’s questionable how directly our religious and moral practices stem from it.
Yet if we believe the direct words of Jesus Himself–you know, God–the very ability of others to recognize our Christian identity is dependent on how we follow this.
We gather in churches. We have elaborate worship and praise. And yet we barely give lip service to the first and foremost of the commandments. When we do, it is often to give exceptions–No, Jesus didn’t really mean that. . .
I’m talking about the Greatest Commandment–love God and love neighbor. Abundantly.read more
“Las Posadas” is an old Mexican tradition enacting the effort by Mary and Joseph to find a place to stay on Christmas Eve. Actors depicting Mary and Joseph wander from “inn” to “inn” asking for a room, with a singing candlelight procession following them through the town. Here I offer my own words for the tune:read more
Have you ever been in the grip of something? Something that wouldn’t let go of you or that you couldn’t let go of?
Have you ever felt possessed or been obsessed by something? Or, after doing something, asked, “Whatever possessed me to do this or that or the other thing?”
What about being gripped by fear? Or overtaken by anger? Or grief? Or anxiety? Or stress? Or lust—that is, an overwhelming desire to have something or someone?
Have you had the experience of being in the grasp of infatuation—that is, something that felt like love but was more like fear of being deprived of the object of your attraction?read more
Most young children are born with a sense of wonder and anticipate discovery around every corner. A shiny penny or a snowflake holds a world of delight. But perhaps because our culture tends to overstimulate and excite our children, boredom begins to seep in as children get older. It’s not uncommon to hear complaints of, “I’ve seen that” or “I know that already” from children who are already closing the doors to their sense of discovery.read more
The best way to enjoy the planet is to get out and do something — not sit and talk about it.
This lesson offers an encouraging reminder for an attitude of enjoyment and appreciation when we experience the natural world in all its forms. To enjoy means to have an inner experience of joy — to be “in joy” as our bodies and minds are engaged in activity.read more
Progressive Christians believe that resisting oppression or cruelty in society has always been both an obligation and an opportunity for those who follow Jesus. It is an obligation because it is a way to test our commitment to the path. It is an opportunity because putting oneself at risk on behalf of another, as a result of one’s compassion, can be one of the most direct paths to an experience of the realm of God or that absolute sense of connectedness.read more
This point, recognizing that we open ourselves to a constant flow of grace as we search for understanding, is inextricably linked to the eighth point in Progressive Christian beliefs: that we are committed to a lifelong path of learning. For as soon as we think we have arrived at the end point of understanding, we close ourselves to that flow of grace. Wisdom teachers of all paths describe gradual awakening or a progressive realization of understanding, marked by moments of clear inner revelation; but if we keep searching, there are ever-new octaves of clarity.read more
The Jesus of the scriptures was a man of action. He was someone who healed, demonstrated compassion, took a stand against injustices, loved unconditionally, and told his disciples to go and do likewise. As followers of Jesus, Progressive Christians are dedicated to treating
their fellow human beings with kindness, caring, and compassion.
No matter what our family looks like outwardly, or whether our family is one of blood or one of choice, family is where we have some of the deepest connections of our hearts. Family is our first and lifelong teacher.read more
This group of lessons introduces children to the beliefs and rituals of five major world religions.
The core value of this curriculum is that children have experiences that open their hearts and give them moments of joy and feelings of unity with nature and with others. These moments can occur through the arts and through the physical body. Therefore, most of the activities involve one or both. The intellect analyzes and distinguishes differences—valuable skills for scientific research and progress. The heart receives and feels unity. One of the goals of these lessons is that children understand that people of different religions have much in common.read more
In “A Joyful Path, Year Two” we focus on some of the main tenets of Progressive Christianity and Spirituality, giving our children the foundation they need to walk the path of Jesus in today’s world. It has stories and affirmations written to help children clarify their own personal beliefs while staying open to the wisdom of other traditions.read more
I think it was the martinis. A wintry cocktail hour, mystified by the St Olaf College choir singing Silent Night and one of my old favorites, Beautiful Savior. The combination brought tears to my eyes. When I was a kid, as I mentioned in my introduction to these reflections, I went to church every Sunday, and an integral part of that service every week was the first verse of that hymn, Beautiful Savior, so it’s pretty well established in my subconscious.read more
Winter has come to Standing Rock in North Dakota. The pipeline is still under construction. 6,000 people are staying on site to protect the water. “Millions” of human beings and all things of nature will be affected if/when the pipeline leaks the toxic chemicals used to move the oil through the pipe.read more
You were my blue humming bird.
Called by the nectar of my flowering heart, oh you could not linger long.
And I remember the time by the great riverside, when you taught me to dance, to dance in the storm.
I’ve been facing alot of challenges this month – I don’t know about you.
The turmoil of election season – and its results – challenged me. Deeply.
The surge in racially-motivated violence in the United States had me fear for the safety of many whom I love – including my own family.
The book I collaborated on received a scathing review from an influential website of professed siblings in Spirit.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s been a good month, too. Beautiful connections with family, friends, and loved ones. A great time at AAR/SBL in San Antonio – a gathering of over 10,000 religion and spirituality scholars who really care about the difference faith and scholarship makes in the world.read more
his past Sunday, many people began celebrating Advent, the season in which the majority of Western Christian churches commemorate the birth of Jesus. As we progress toward Christmas, there will be a many sermons preached about shepherds, wise men, innkeepers who are total jerks, and unplanned visits from angels. However, there is one passage from the birth narrative of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew that I think truly captures the meaning of Christmas.read more
A Not So Obvious Message
For instance, most everyone I know contends that the mustard seed parable (Matthew 13:31-32) is about faith. I think that’s an easy route to take. When you read the parable, on the surface it’s about something tiny growing into a large tree or bush, and it seems to make sense why someone may think it’s about faith. For me the power in Jesus’ teachings is that he posited the NOT SO OBVIOUS, in order to short-circuit and dismantle our conventional ways of thinking and being.read more
The road not taken. The poet Robert Frost’s famous line has been used so often, many think of it as a cliché. But it yet carries poetic power, because many, if not most, if not all of us have roads not taken in our lives, roads whose destinations are hidden from us, just as the lion Aslan explains to the children in The Narnia Chronicles that we are not told what might have beenread more
In John 13:34-35, Jesus states that our very public witness of our Christian identity itself depends on whether or not we love one another. Otherwise, people will not recognize that we are indeed Christians. Jesus tells us to follow his example. Jesus not only gives the commandment to love, but also states that His life has modeled this love.read more
hese are all real people, feral children who, for various reasons, were separated from human beings early in life, and were adopted by families of the animals after whom they are named. None could speak human language. The bird boy chirped and flapped his arm-wings to communicate. The dog girl growled and walked on hands and knees. The gazelle boy could run 50 mph. After they were discovered, they found it impossible to assimilate into the company of homo sapiens, tried to and did escape, the unlucky ones restrained in insane asylums. Genetically, they might be the species homo, but they are not socialized humans. Yes, we need other people. At the most basic level, we need them to learn how to walk, eat, communicate, and just generally be in the company of others. I’m sure that any parent who has raised infants into children can identify with that process.read more
When Yeshua was born, a star exploded in the sky, angels sang, and three astrologers from the East came to honor him. And shepherds came, too. They sat before the manger where the little baby lay. The astrologers placed treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh before the child. One of the shepherds took a little clay bird-shaped ocarina out of his tunic and blew a simple, joyful tune, his fingers dancing over its little holes as he blew through the hole in the bird’s mouth. Then he set it next to the other treasures as a gift to the baby.read more
The Christmas poem, “Immanuel: God Within and Among Us” was written for the Centennial Christmas Cantata to celebrate the centennial of First Congregational Church of Long Beach’s historic building. Below is a the video of the performance.read more