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Showing posts from October, 2017

A Church's Two Choices

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This is a pivotal moment for many churches. Maybe I win an award for Understatement of the Year for that sentence.

A lot of congregations are in similar situations: budgets and attendance numbers are shrinking, there are less people to run the programs that people treasure, the culture as a whole doesn't seem to be very interested in making the same sorts of provisions and exceptions for the church's schedule the way it used to.

All the Churchy Experts point to the same causes: demographic shifts, the rise of categories of non-religious people, younger generations not wanting to gather the way their parents and grandparents do, there are many more Sunday morning alternatives to worship than there used to be.

How do churches respond? How do they cope with these shifts around them? Plenty of these same Experts offer a variety of answers, ranging from changing your worship style to greater outreach to adhering to certain theological positions to more emphases on mission, service…

October 2017 Pop Culture Roundup

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Five items for October...

1. I read Confessions of a Funeral Director by Caleb Wilde this month. I've long enjoyed Wilde's blog of the same name, and this was on my shortlist of must-read new releases this year. Wilde writes of his experience in the family business, sharing many individual stories from his time in the profession but also using them to talk about his own struggles with burnout, our culture's fear of death, how we grieve, spirituality, and more. I found myself reflecting on many of my own experiences around funerals and the different ways people approach it. I think this would be a great resource for clergy, but for anyone in general who wonders what goes on behind the scenes in the "dismal trade," as well as those seeking a more well-rounded spirituality of death than what many resources offer.

2. I watched What Happened to Monday this month, a Netflix Original film set in the near future where overpopulation and food scarcity have caused a law t…

Book Review: The Story of Our Time by Robert Atkinson

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While each spiritual and religious tradition includes detailed beliefs and practices that promote the spiritual life, it is only in the mystical branches of those traditions that a deeper path to oneness is laid out. The mystic path is meant to lead us to union with the source of our being. Teasdale implies that we don't have to be part of any one [of] those traditions to have this same deep desire, or urge. It is an all-human trait, or characteristic, to want to seek union with the deepest part of who we are that comes from and connects us to our Creator, or to all of creation. - Robert Atkinson, The Story of Our Time

My denomination's website used to feature a discussion forum where people could log on and engage in conversation with each other about different topics. Some of these were topical, whether of current events or some faith-related issue, while others were more light-hearted in nature where people could swap snippets of their lives and get to know each other.

For…

Vintage CC: Five Tips for Being a Writer

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For reasons I can't divulge just yet, this post from September 2015 has been on my mind lately. In the anticipation of publishing my first book, I tried to nail down what worked for me during the process of finishing the manuscript, and this was what I'd come up with. If you are aspiring to be published yourself or are looking for a shot in the arm while trying to complete a project, I hope this is helpful.

It took me a long time to realize and accept that I'm a writer. I thought that I needed to contribute an article for a notable magazine or website or sign a book contract in order to do that, but that is simply not the case. I'm pleased that some of those things have happened in recent years, but for a very long time I operated under some false assumptions that you can only consider yourself a writer if you achieve some measure of success.

Simply put, writers write. If you write something, you're a writer. And some writers want to write things that reach a wider…

Pastoral Prayer for Those Seeking Peace

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based on Philippians 4:1-9

Faithful God, we can't often understand what peace looks or feels like, but we know when we don't have it. In the hurriedness and uncertainty of our lives, we are unsure if we would even recognize inner comfort when it finally comes. We might be too distracted to notice it, or too worried that we will lose it, or too skeptical to receive it. The lasting peace that you promise surpasses our understanding; we long for it, yet don't know where or how to seek it for ourselves.

And so we bring our frazzled and frantic selves to you, happy to leave them at the altar yet quick to snatch them up again to continue the pace we're accustomed to. Perhaps if we at least offer our deepest struggles, it will at least open our hearts enough for your Spirit to speak gentleness to our weary and wary souls. We hear so often that you are with us, but we need to calm our racing pulses enough to get in sync with the rhythm of grace you are playing into our lives.…

Book Review: Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen

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If American church culture makes perfect sense to you and you fit in seamlessly, don't read this. Seriously, return it immediately, before you spill something on this book and can't get a full refund. Because this book is for the rest of us. In fact, it's full of nonstop good news for the rest of us: the misfits, oddballs, introverts, and analytical types who throw ourselves at God's mercy, saying, "Yes, I believe...but help me in my unbelief." - Brant Hansen, Blessed Are the Misfits

I've been a fan of Brant Hansen's writing for quite a long time. I can still remember my first encounter with his words over a decade ago: a blog post declaring that he and his family were giving up church attendance in favor of a different sort of gathering with other people of faith. At that time, he kept a blog called Letters From Kamp Krusty, where he sometimes poked fun at the strangeness of church culture, at other times tackled more serious issues such as acceptanc…

Small Sips Is on a Committee

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God and our own reflection. You may have heard actor and evangelical figurehead Kirk Cameron call Hurricane Irma a message from God to repent (while, by the way, he was waiting for a plane to evacuate the area). Jon Pavlovitz has a response to him, and offers some thoughts on the relationship between our theology and our own personality:
Maybe we who claim faith should refrain from pretending we understand how this world works when it comes to faith and pain and suffering. Maybe we should admit the mystery, discomfort, and the tension that spirituality yields in painful, terrifying times. Maybe when people are being terrorized by nature or by the inhumanity around them, instead of shouting sermons at them—we should shut up and simply try to be a loving, compassionate presence. Maybe we should stop trying to make God into something as petty, hateful, judgmental, and cruel as we are. Pavlovitz says this all so well that I don't feel like I need to add much. If one's theological…

Who Is Your Pastor to You?

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I'll soon mark 13 years in full time pastoral ministry. I've served two churches over that stretch and ministered to a few hundred people in different contexts and with different needs. Before sitting down to write this, in fact, I hadn't considered just how many people I've related to in some way as a pastor, whether they've been considered members of the church I serve or not.

I suppose that I could make it a point to think hard to try to come up with an exact number, but I don't have that kind of time. The point is that it's been a lot.

The more interesting thing for me to consider is who I've been to each of them, or to put it a different way, how each of them have viewed me in my pastoral role. Depending on how I've needed to interact with them; by virtue of how different relationships develop, I can say with safety and certainty that as a pastor, I have not been viewed the same way by everyone. Different people have needed or wanted me to be…

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