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Showing posts from March, 2016

In Defense of Thomas

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If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, this Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, always features the same Gospel text from John 20. It is the story right after Mary Magdalene has her encounter with Jesus in the garden, featuring the disciples all huddled together in a locked room. Jesus suddenly appears to them, and they rejoice.

Except one disciple was absent. Thomas (sometimes called The Twin) was off doing something else that day. So the rest of the group made it a point to share the good news of the resurrection with him, but he's still skeptical. He even goes so far as to say that unless he can stick his fingers in Jesus' wounds himself, he won't believe. He won't trust the disciples' testimony; he wants to have his own experience of the risen Christ.

Sure enough, Thomas does so. Jesus even holds out his hands and says, "Here, stick your finger in there if you really want to."

Because of this story, we know Thomas by a certain name. I…

Recovering, Recharging, Authoring

As it is for most pastors, last week was a bit busy.

First, it was of course Holy Week, which is always a full one on the calendar. I had to be concerned with extra services and activities, coordinating and planning a packed schedule of ways to help others make meaning of the stories we remember from Palm Sunday through Easter.
I like Holy Week. I treasure the Hosannas and Alleluias, the quiet reflection of Thursday and Friday. But I'm also grateful when it's over and a feeling of relief rushes over me like a spring wind. I feel like I can breathe a little easier while heading down the final stretch of another program year.
But the week brought some added excitement this time around as my book appeared on Amazon. Yes indeed, Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday is a real thing that you can purchase and read. It wasn't quite the ceremonial moment that some other authors enjoy, but as I've shared it on social media I've received many congra…

March 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

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Five items for March...

1. I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates this month. Written as a letter to his son, Coates recounts his experience as a black man living in America. Part history lesson and part contemporary commentary, Coates paints pictures of an entire demographic that experiences fear, desperation, subtle and overt discrimination, and hope. He shows how racism is still alive and well in both personal and systemic forms, in part due to the concept of "race" still being held in place by those in power, and any semblance of a solution going further than declaring oneself "color blind" due to the benefits and privilege that the current system distributes and withholds. I found it jarring, eye-opening, and convicting, and can now join my voice to the many others who are calling this an important work for our day.

2. I also read Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, which tells the story of Addie and Louis, two widowed neighbors who begin spending …

Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday

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Now available through Noesis Press!

Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday, through anecdote, engagement with scripture, theological reflection, and practical application, explores concepts of spirituality, prayer, and spiritual direction for those who are either unclear about these terms' meaning, or haven’t considered them despite a lifetime of religious participation. Over the course of this book, the reader will be introduced to a variety of thinkers including Ignatius of Loyola, Brother Lawrence, Karl Rahner, and Teresa of Avila. Their writings and traditions will help shape a definition of spirituality as seeking a deeper connection with God and understanding of self, wherever we are and in whatever we do. To encourage further consideration of the subject matter, each chapter will include a list of questions for reflection in an individual or group context.

Order your copy on Amazon!

This book is for...

...aspiring scholars wanting to explore the theolog…

Prayer for Palm Sunday

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based on Luke 19:28-40

Faithful God, we gladly line sanctuary pews as the people of Jerusalem lined the roads to celebrate Jesus’ entry; to welcome him as one who will bring needed change to our lives and to the world. We joyfully wave our palms thankful for what he once did and continues to do, enacting and revealing your presence among us. We join the chorus of Hosannas, hopeful for what his arrival will mean for the future.

After the celebration, we’ll be faced with a choice. Will we continue to follow Jesus after the crowds have dispersed and he begins talking about more serious matters of obedience, trust, love, suffering, and service? Will we follow him to the upper room for a final meal, to the garden where he’ll be arrested, to the court where he’s already been convicted, to the cross where his earthly life meets an agonizing, public end? Will we follow him to other places of pain, where people cry out for God not to forsake them; where voices enduring hardship and loss striv…

New Sacred Post: The Spiritual Practice of Shutting Up

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Many people have a certain idea of what prayer is. Call and response. Prayers of unison. Joys and concerns. The Lord’s Prayer recited. Words spoken aloud, usually to petition God for a certain sense of presence or activity on behalf of God’s people. Maybe there are a few token beats of silence, but most faith communities this side of the Quakers speak much, ask for much, state much about what they believe in prayer. Read the rest at New Sacred.

Vintage CC: The Silence of Death

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I wrote this in April 2012 when I undertook a little blogging venture to post something every day during Holy Week. It morphed into the following year's Easter sermon. Anticipating this year's observances brought me back to it. Have a blessed Holy Week, however you travel through it.

When I was a hospital chaplain, I was present for the death of a patient. It was the first time that I experienced such a moment, and it was really by happenstance that I was there. I was making my way around the rooms in the Cardiac Care Unit, making it a point to visit the newest patients first in order to assess their spiritual needs, and this woman, elderly and frail, was among them.

When I entered the room, she had a niece and her husband visiting. She wasn't conscious in the least, hooked up to all sorts of machines and tubes. As I talked with her family, they expressed that they were basically here for the inevitable, having already made the decision to remove life support. There wasn&#…

Small Sips Is Trying to Stay Healthy

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Stay if you must, run if you can. These are strange times for the church in general, and it's a particular kind of strange for members of younger generations who voluntarily go into church leadership. Rachel Johnson, Christian Peele, and Kevin Wright are pretty blunt about the whole thing, noting that this could all go south any day and take our careers with it. But there's hope...maybe: What if God is not done working in this messed up, beat up, washed up vessel? What if, in this new period that is emerging, the church can summon our better angels and move our world a little more toward justice, and mercy, and compassion? What if the church is not dead, but like Lazarus in the tomb, merely asleep waiting to be awoken to a fresh reality made new by the power of God?  Let's be clear, we are not interested in being hospice chaplains to the church. We are not here so that there is someone to turn out the lights after everyone has left. We're here because we want community…

Book Review: Until I Needed the Song by Steve Case

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"So?" Abigail said. "Explain this humanness thing to me again."
"Tell her why you go to high school plays instead of Broadway," Jesus said, looking out the window.
God nodded, "I'd rather see a crooked costume sewn by a kid than a straight one sewn by an adult."
"Imperfection," Abigail said.
"Humanness," God repeated. "Any other questions?"
"Yeah," Abigail said. "Big Bang or Creationism?"
"You really want to know or are you just being facetious?"
"I want to know," Abigail said.
"You know in the Bible where it says And God said 'Let there be Light' and there Was Light?"
"Yeah," Abigail said.
God smiled. "It made a hell of a loud noise."

Pop culture has no shortage of attempts to depict God. The vast majority of them, particularly in comedies, go the easy route and just tap an actor to portray the divine in that classic human way that can be trace…

Extravagant Welcome and the "Spiritual But Not Religious"

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Last week I had a post appear on the UCC's New Sacred blog titled Stop Dismissing the "Spiritual But Not Religious." The basic gist was that there is a prevalent attitude in my denomination (and many other mainline traditions, as people would later point out to me) that people in this increasingly large religious identity group are lazy, entitled, narcissistic, hypocritical, and selfish.

In fact, I saw some of those exact words used in response to what I wrote. I thought that this proved my point. But many remain adamant that the "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) aren't really all that interested in the rigorous side of spirituality, theology, prayer, or belonging to a faith community. They just slap this title on themselves to get out of a conversation.

For some SBNRs, this might be true. And in my post, I acknowledge that.

Just like some people who identify as Christian--even among those who attend worship faithfully every week--might not be very inte…

Prayer for Lent 4

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based on Luke 15:11-32

Faithful God, we take time to remember and confess moments when we have wandered away from your direction and care. In these times we are convinced of our own self-sufficiency; that we are the sole creators of our reality and future. But this thinking has also taught us hard lessons about how much we need you and each other when our plans have gone awry. With our pride wounded and our heads bowed, we have come back to you only to be welcomed with a warm embrace and with great celebration.

We also take time to remember and confess moments when we have been resentful of this same embrace and joy extended to others. How quickly we forget the forgiveness, restoration, and second chances that we have been given, as we refuse to show them to others! Sometimes we want to hoard your grace for ourselves, only begrudgingly distributing it when we feel others have properly earned it.

Yet it is by that grace that we are transformed. By that grace we come to ourselves and r…

New Sacred Post: Stop Dismissing the "Spiritual But Not Religious"

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“Spiritual, but not religious.”

The term has been around for a few years now. In fact, it’s risen to such prominence and is used by so many people that it now enjoys its own checkbox on religious identity surveys.

The term is relatively simple. Many people, particularly in younger generations, don’t see the point in identifying with institutional religion, have no desire to attend or join any religious center, want no part of any particular tradition with all its obligations, limitations, and historical baggage.

The “spiritual but not religious” may believe in or wish to pursue a connection with a transcendent of some kind, but they’d rather do it in their own way through any number of activities or self-directed study.

Sure, there might be some that just claim the label to avoid a conversation, but there’s no easy way to sort one person from another without asking.

Read the rest at New Sacred.

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