Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day in paradise

Here on the North Shore of Oahu the sun is out, the wind is blowing and the waves are ripping. We are staying down the road from the Bonzai Pipeline which was the place to be for the surfing competition this past week. Today is Christmas Day and after years of being responsible for Christmas church services it was different beginning the day opening gifts with the grandkids and then taking a long walk along the beach. Later we spent some time by the pool and tonight it's fish and shrimp on the grill. Like I said a different Christmas day from all those spent leading church services in northern climes.

Not yet used to the five hour difference in time from the east coast I was up way too early. I read a psalm and the beginning of John's gospel. Then, I read a challenging piece by Christoph Blumhardt in a book of essays entitled Called to Community. Blumhardt was a German pastor who lived in the late 1800's but his writings influenced a whole generation of later theologians including Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He writes simply yet powerfully. His big theme was God's kingdom is now. How can we preach freedom from worry (Jesus said, Do not worry!) when we do nothing to alleviate what people are worried about. Don't just say, Don't worry, simply believe in Jesus to a person who is burdened by life. Don't tell a man who is without a job and worried to get a job to make his wages. Worries can and should cease in the church because we really care for each other. In this way the kingdom comes. In the little flock that is free from the anxieties of life because they live a shared life where each is responsible for the other - there it can be said, Do not worry.

In the world we are full of cares and worries. They are evident even in a paradise like Hawaii. There were warnings this weekend to be on the alert for possible terrorist attacks at Christmas celebrations. In a couple of weeks, I will be preaching on Herod's attempt to kill the baby Jesus. The reality is we live in a world where there is little hope, or peace or love. The little flocks of today are signs  of what the kingdom of God can be and is. There we find the hope, peace, and love that that we celebrate this day in birth of Jesus - fleshed out.

2016 Books

NPR came out with its list of 300 best books of the year. 300! and that is just this year. Who can read that many and still have time to check Facebook? The New York Times did the best 100 books of the year. That is still far from doable for most of us. That is just this year. There are still some good books from years ago that we know we should read. I am still trying to get through those Deuterocanonical books that take up space in the middle of my Bible, the ones Protestants know are there but are afraid to read, i.e., they are not real Scripture.

I don't know how many books I read this year or half read or put down after a few chapters or only read the first few chapters and then skipped to the end to find out how what happened.

These are some of my personal favorites of the year.

House of Prayer #2 by Mark Richard.

Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Ekblad.

Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge.

Kindred by Octavia Butler.

From Nature to Creation by Norman Wirzba.

Torn by Justin Lee.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Silence by Shusaku Endo. A re-read of a classic. Read with Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimora.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyassi.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue - audio book brilliantly read.

Reformations by Carlos Eire.

According to Good Reads the most popular book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the least popular was by Edwin Oakes entitled Theology of Grace in Six Controversies. Almost 200,000 others read Coates while only 3 others read Oakes. I recommend both.

There were others but those come to mind. On our Christmas vacation in Hawaii I am reading Exiles by Ron Hansen, A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman and a history of Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes,  by Sarah Vowell. That is when I am not out enjoying the amazing waves, seafood and scenic hikes with the kids and grandkids.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Some people look for beaches or restaurants or the best hikes when they travel. I look for bookstores. I know it sounds crazy and I get razzed for it - even my wife who knows me well can't believe it when I ask her to look for bookstores on her iPhone. We have done a lot of traveling this year - to New York state several times, and to Portland, OR and to Alaska. There have been some trips in our home state of Florida, as well. Some times we go out of our way to get to a bookstore that is not on the route Google suggests. Asheville, NC is not really on the way to Buffalo, NY but it has a great bookstore. I had to schedule a side trip and an extra day to the Biltmore Estate so my wife would agree to veering off our straight path north. Saratoga Springs, NY has a gem of a bookstore right on Broadway, the main road through town. Bonus: it's close to a cool coffee shop. And of course, I want to mention that one of our sons and his wife and two children live about twenty minutes away. This bookstore is large, with comfortable seating for browsing and here is what I like most: they have selected used or discounted books scattered throughout the store like hidden treasure.  Jacksonville, FL where we live now has two Chamblins locations - a local, used bookstore with shelves of books for browsing and you have to browse because it is hard to find anything you are looking for. Unlike Powells in Portland, a whole city block of new and used books very well organized. I could spend a whole day in there but I am usually with some one else who can't.

Anchorage has Tidal Wave books and Homer has a couple of good bookstores and artist galleries, too. Kodiak used to have a good bookstore: Monks Rock is still a good place to browse books especially if you are interested in the Orthodox Christian tradition and drink coffee. Kodiak has a great library if you are weathered in for an extra day or two.

I could make a trip out of visiting bookstores and have. Flannery O'Connor's homestead is only a five hour drive north of us and the day I stopped by it was closed but I found a bookstore in town. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and wrote about an hour south of us and I have been there and wandered the grounds. I saw the "house" Zora Neale Hurston stayed in when she came for a visit. Even though it was the servant's quarters it still caused quite a stir. Hemingway lived and wrote in the Florida Keys and you can visit his hangouts there.

I have not made it to Parnassus, Ann Patchett's bookstore in Nashville or Oxford, MS where many people visit for football games but I would be looking for Faulkner's home and the local bookstores which I hear are well worth a visit.

College towns are usually good places to find bookstores. Newberg, OR which is home to George Fox University has a couple. Chapters bookstore is the place to go for coffee and books. Conveniently, our son, daughter in law, and newest grandson live near by. Many college towns I know from our travels do not have a good bookstore. Students are directed to Amazon for their purchases, or in some cases, the local Barnes and Noble,which are becoming fewer as Amazon grows larger. College bookstores mostly exist to sell college merchandise like the big one in downtown Gainesville, FL home to the Gators. There is a nice Christian study center with good coffee a street or two over, however.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moments with Mom

I was going to write something wise about aging but I don't feel very wise about aging. Getting older is all around us. I spent some time last week in an assisted living center visiting my mom. Its a reversal of life kids taking care of their parents like they took care of us. My mom's life has shrunk to a very small size. Her room is small and shared with another person. She has half a small room, one small bed, one small chair, one small dresser and few pictures. Maybe a book or two but no tv or newspapers or radio. Her entertainment is bingo and going to meals. She seems fine with that. She remembers things from long ago better than what happened yesterday. She looks at us carefully and smiles glad we are there but if we are not there, then what, I wonder. Does she remember us? Our histories which were contentious at times are forgotten. If I hurt her and I did, she does not remember. It helps me heal, too. We are together as two created persons. Who have the same Creator. Karl Barth wrote that "all human life is surrounded by a certain solemnity. Life is only human, and created, and eternity as the divinely decreed destiny of human beings is only an allotted future. But within these limits it is a mystery emphasized and absolutely distinguished by God himself. As such it must always be honored with new wonder. Every single point to be observed and pondered is in its own way equally marvelous - and everything is equally marvelous in every human existence."  Children of God sharing a moment of eternity.  Is what we are.

Missing the point

Today was the first Sunday of Advent. I love the way the Church year starts four weeks before Christmas. Christmas in our culture starts right after Halloween, then there is Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Buy Online Monday and then only 20 some shopping days til Christmas. Christmas is reduced to what am I buying and getting. We miss the point.

I was reminded today of Light as we lit the first advent candle. The daylight hours are shorter. But, at Christmas the daylight starts increasing again. Again, it happens over and over. So do the lights that decorate the houses in our neighborhood. The Christmas inflatables are out in the front yards and the manger scenes in front of the churches. I saw one leaning against the building as if the Holy Family was tired of all their appearances or just not ready for Christmas Eve yet. Those scenes are part of our cultural mythology of Christmas, too. No one knows for sure when Jesus was born, or how many wise men came, or if Jesus was born in a cave, or a stable or the guest room of a house (where the animals were brought in at night). The birth of Jesus was not celebrated by Christians for a long time. Mark and John barely mention it. It was the cross and resurrection that were the focus of the gospels, the last week of Jesus gets the most attention by far. Good Friday and Easter today hardly get noticed other than it's around the start of Spring Break. Christmas is for buying and getting. Funny, how we give each other gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We storm the malls to get the best buys for ourselves and others. We miss the point.

We talked about hope today as we lit the first advent candle. Where are signs of God's hope in our lives today? we asked. Once we got rolling they were seen as plentiful. But, it helps to slow down, focus attention, and look for them. We prayed too for the hopeless but it helped to know hope is present.

The scripture reading for the first Sunday of Advent was from Matthew 24. Jesus was talking about his coming again and said how no one knew when that would be. It would be a surprise in the night like when a thief breaks into our house when we are sleeping. I couldn't help but think about how many times in churches I heard sermons trying to nail down that date. Telling us to be ready, repent, look to the future, live holy lives. You don't want to be left behind when the rapture comes. I remember seeing those pictures of driverless cars crashing into other cars because the driver was "taken up to heaven".  You gotta be ready although it was never really clear how that happened. The pastor showed a picture of people floating up to heaven - the rapture - and even though I don't see it that way any more I had a knot in my stomach. I had been intimidated often enough by the threat of being left behind. God's word of gospel hope though is not threatening. It's not about who will be left but who will be right. Right with God and that has been taken care of in Jesus, the anointed one, whose birth we celebrate in December. God is going to break into this crazy, messy, hopeless world once more - IN A BIG WAY - and rescue us when we least expect it. Whether we are ready or not. What we need to be is watching. Which is hard to do when we are shopping for gifts all the time.

Ezekiel 38 and 39 talk about Gog and Magog which the prophecy teachers who came to my churches in my youth stood on their heads trying to make sense of what countries they represented today so they could explain how close we were to that day of Christ's coming. Robert Jenson comments that Gog and Magog are symbols of sheer violence and when the darkness is most extreme God shows up and is the Victory for us.  Gospel hope wins out. That's what the Bible keeps telling us.

Advent is here to help us not keep missing the point.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Where hope comes from

The small church started to gather the Sunday after the election. A group stood around the coffee table munching on donuts and muffins talking college football and the upcoming Jags game that afternoon. Some rehashed the election. No one had any new insights as to the outcome. Many in our mostly red city were elated while some were "whatever" and others were crushed. There were tears in our service. Worries about how the election was going to affect the minorities, marginalized and poor.

We heard from Nadia Bolz-Weber via video. "Do not mistake my refusal to be swallowed by fear and despair as acquiescence. It is defiance"

We read the story in Luke 21 about the ruin of the Temple. Some of Jesus' followers were admiring the architecture and Jesus told them plainly that it was as good as gone. Shocked, they wondered when and how they would know the signs of the times of the end. And he said there were times of great confusion and chaos coming and they better be ready to pay a price too. Be prepared, he told them, to say what you need to say when the walls come down. You may be betrayed and hated but I will be with you, Jesus told them.

Ironic scripture text for this Sunday. It was from the lectionary readings for the day. Our pastor preached on it. She got hope out of it somehow. It was a good job. She saw a ray of light in the recent happenings. A shaking out. A waking up. A clearer sense of what we are about. She saw community and faith and a renewed call to justice work.

We listened to a song, Rise Up.  It said, when you can't find the fight in you and you're broken down and tired of living life on the merry go round. We are going to walk it out and move mountains. Unafraid. You and I. A thousand times if we have to. In spite of the ache.

Then, we ate the body and blood of Christ. The person who invited us to the table said, Come if you want, Come if you can, Come if you need grace.

Far as I could tell we all did.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Basic Plan for Getting Through the Next Four Years

First, Pray often.
Read the Sermon on the Mount. Then read it again and again...
Read through St Augustine's City of God (it may take four years). Augustine said, "As far as this mortal life is concerned which is lived out and ended in a few days it matters little under whose rule a human being marked for death lives so long as those who govern do not force him to impiety and sin."
Turn off the news.
Pray some more.
Read a portion of The Imitation of Christ daily and try to practise humility.
Remember the Lutherans: they teach that church and state really don't have much to do with each other.
Pray for my enemies.
Stay active in a church that cares about social justice issues.
And do something about it in the local community.
Laugh. A lot.
Have a glass or two of wine handy.
Be surprised at how fast the years go by.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Is God fair?

Last night we had a good discussion at one of our church small groups. It was about the fairness of God, or not. Does God love everyone the same? Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet was considered as a source. Ezekiel 1 - 24 are directed against Israel and lay out the judgment of God because of their faithlessness in brutal and particular detail. Chapters 33-48 are about the restoration of Israel and the future fellowship God's People will enjoy with God. Those in-between chapters focus on Israel's enemies and how they will be judged for their actions against Israel. They will be judged not for their religious sins like Israel but for their hostility to Israel. Moab delighted in God's judgment of Israel - see, they are not so special after all - and for that they will be crushed. Robert Jenson, in his commentary, suggests the Targum translation where Moab asks, "Why should those of the house of Judah fare differently from all the other nations?" Jenson goes on to make this point, "The root of the world's inveterate and pervasive anti - Semitism has always been and still is offense at the claim that the one who is supposed to be the God of us all has a special love and purpose for some of us, for this particular people. This particular love has made some Christians uncomfortable so they have said that the Church is the New Israel; it has superseded the old Israel and there is no longer any special status of the Jewish people (this is not referring to the politics of the nation of Israel).

No one likes favorites or those who play favorites. That has been Israel's burden.

Christians have used the idea of election as a way to mark off God's love. "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" the Bible says (this is an unfortunate translation given our understanding of love as an emotion. Better is Goldingay's, "I dedicated myself to Jacob and acted against Esau") so the conclusion was reached that God loves some and saves them and rejects others. Christians are God's chosen people today like Israel in the Old Testament.

But God's purposes for Jacob and Esau were separate with different choices and  God loved and chose both. His love is always particular. It is not the same because individuals are not the same. And in the case of Jacob and Esau, God preferred one over the other for his purposes with Israel. The Bible is clear that God is free to make choices as God did with Saul and David. That God's love chooses does not make it unfair even though it often seems so. God's choice in the short term may result in long term benefits. Goldingay again, "This does not imply that Israel ever ceases to be God's first love but it could imply that other peoples could be equally loved in their own way."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Liar, Liar

My wife came home from substitute teaching in a second grade class yesterday. Telling me about her day, she mentioned an informal debate among some children over the election. One boy said he could never vote for Trump. To which a girl replied, how can you vote for Hillary, she is such a liar.

Lying has been a huge part of this election year, both as a theme and as a background. Trump, who has branded Cruz and Clinton as liars so much it's like their first names, while he is hardly a candidate who gets high ratings for truthfulness.  His campaign was built on the lie of Obama's birthplace (not America). I've noticed local elections are getting a lot of mileage out of accusing the other candidate of lying, too. Who would have thought lying would be such a big deal. We should be used to it by now. Fact checkers check every speech and always spot a few lies. We don't expect anyone to be lie - free, do we? Maybe our kids but what kind of role models do they have in the adult world? We teach the importance of honesty and then they listen adults debating politics.

Well, adults think they do better than they actually do when it comes to lying. The NY Times polled over 2500 of their subscribers and asked them if they had told a lie that day. Only 7% said yes. That's right 93% swore to truthfulness at least on the day in question. Makes me wonder what people consider a lie. We have "bald faced lies" and "little white lies". Then, there are the lies we tell because the truth may hurt or get us into trouble like when some one asks us if we like what they are wearing or cooking or listening to. We have many ways to categorize lies. Like we need places to file them because there are so many of them. The really, really bad lies are the only ones that count. We all know what those are, apparently. No one wants to be known as a liar. If that tag sticks, no one will believe any thing you say.

Perhaps we have been caught in a whopper once or twice. Not fun. Told one lie and it spiraled out of control until we had such a big lie that no one but us believed it. Or, we didn't really believe it either but we had to keep telling it. Some times the lie gets so big we say she is living a lie or his whole life is one big lie. We like mysteries for that reason, trying to figure out who is lying. It's not easy but it is interesting.

I think it would be better off if more people, especially politicians, admitted they have lied, or are lying or will lie. Then, we can get to what they aren't lying about. It isn't that big a deal. We all have done it, in fact, we are pretty expert at it. We have had lot of practice. We may not like it when we do. Or when others do it to us. But, if we are honest, we have a problem here. 9 out of 10 of us on any given day believe we have told nothing but the truth all day. We even lie about lying.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween or Reformation Day

Today is Halloween and a great many kids will be on the streets looking for treats. Less well known is that this date is Reformation Day, too. It marks the anniversary of the day that began the Reformation. On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk posted his 95 Theses on the door of the main church in his city in Germany. Or at least that's the way the day is remembered. He may or may not have actually nailed his Theses to the church door but he did write them. He was fed up with some of the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. Remember, that was his church at the time. One of his main points of controversy was the selling of indulgences - kind of a get out of purgatory free card- in order to raise money for a new church building in Rome.  Anyway, that's the day Protestants look back to as the birth of their religion. That day changed a lot of things about religion. Luther was eventually kicked out of the church for his beliefs which were as much theological as directed at church practices. He was against the Mass, papal authority, monasteries, the whole priesthood, and many other main teachings of the Catholic church. He was for Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Jesus Alone and Glory Alone (the five "Solas" they are called). Luther taught our salvation depends upon only faith in Jesus which is by God's grace alone. So, most of the tradition and ritual of the Catholic church was not needed. Although he did not intend to start a church he did. Lutherans and Reformed Christians, following the other main reformer John Calvin, are the ones for whom this day is most important. Otherwise, I wonder if most Christians know what a Protestant is. If you are not Lutheran or a Calvinist and one runs into few of them these days, what difference does the Reformation make? Famous pastors like Rick Warren ridicule the idea of anyone calling herself a Protestant, it's like saying you are a Pilgrim. Today, there is a lot of fluidity among denominations and even among Catholics and Protestants. It is hard to believe there was a time when Lutherans and Catholics fought with each other ( I mean to death!). Luther called the Pope the anti-Christ and said the Catholic church was a temple of the devil.

Today, Pope Francis is in Sweden at an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Reformation. Luther never saw that coming. I guess it is a good thing although Christians are still picking up the pieces of years of squabbling over issues of doctrine and how to do church, and how to live like a follower of Jesus.  Luther was just the first to start a church that was not Catholic but hardly the last. Luther and Calvin had some important insights into Scripture and theology but they also left a bunch of unanswered questions and a shattered Christendom and a lot of people who are confused about the truth claims of Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Strange elections

This is one of the strangest election years in my lifetime. I can't say ever because in the history of elections there have been a number of nasty ones. Elections bring out the best and worst in us. This one has seen it's share of nastiness. It has shown how divided the voters are. Some fear porous borders, Muslims, and a more liberal Supreme Court and look to Trump to fix things. Others find Trump totally unqualified, inexperienced and unfit for the highest office in the land. The race has the Christian community divided, as well, with some high profile Evangelical/ Fundamentalist Christian leaders in the Trump camp. Ironically, Trump is most notably not a model Christian candidate. Politics trumps everything else.

Fed up, some Christians say they are opting out and not voting. Others point to Romans 12 and say it is our duty as Christians not only to vote but to give our allegiance to the government. Even if Trump loses? There have been some Trump supporters calling for an armed revolt if their candidate loses. Having lived in rural NW Florida for the past few years I can testify to an appalling lack of honor or respect shown to the Obama administration. Many of Obama's detractors are in the many churches on Sunday, no doubt. That is not to say my part of the country cannot disagree with Obama. They can protest, march, write editorials, and get out the vote for Trump - all they want. It is their right. I suppose it is also their right to decorate their trucks with Obama Sucks bumper stickers, and shout out for Hillary's imprisonment or worse, and feed off the hate one another has for Obama/Clinton.

I have yet to see a Hillary campaign sign among the hundreds of Trump - Pence signs around this county in rural Florida. Not a bumper sticker either. I don't have a sign in my yard or a sticker on my car - to be honest I am a bit afraid to.

What Christians are missing here is that this is only an election. It does not mean the end of the world as we know it if the other candidate is elected. Each side may claim to know God's will but as Lincoln said we don't know whose side God is on. His purposes are not to be determined by who gets elected. In the meantime, Christians don't come out looking so good after all the harsh rhetoric and fighting.

Some Bible interpreters have questioned whether what Paul wrote in Romans 13 was intended to be a timeless truth and suggest we have to look at it carefully in the historical context of Paul's time. Nero who was a nasty emperor was in power when Paul wrote. Most certainly, Paul was imprisoned and executed under Nero's reign, feeling the sword of the state.  Many other Christians and Jews lost their lives, too. Christians were not understood well and were largely lumped together with Jews. Their vulnerable communities had experienced firsthand the "sword" of the state. With that in mind could Paul have been encouraging Christians to do nothing that would attract the government's attention to them. Live by the rules, he says. Pay what is owed them, he wrote in v 7. He goes on in  v 8 to remind the Christians in Rome of the debt of love we owe to each other in Christ. This is more important than politics, much more, and it is what the church is missing at this present time.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Faith and politics

In Brad Gregory's book, The Unintended Reformation, he argues that the Reformation laid the groundwork for the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion which has led to the increasing secularization of modern society. In our Western societies we are free to believe in whatever we want even no religious belief at all. Or we can choose to believe in yoga, as Susanna Schrobsdorff says she does in a recent Time magazine essay. She is one of the "nones" who comprise 25% of the population according to a Duke study. These are people who don't fit in a religious box or are agnostic or atheists. She says there is a smallish space in her life called faith. Which would support Gregory's thesis. Freedom of religion has come to mean freedom for no religion. Today religion is private and we argue about politics publicly.

A lot has been written about Trump's support among evangelicals in this presidential campaign. It is ironic that a person who has not lived a life based on Christian principles is so popular among conservative evangelical Christians for whom "how one lives his or her life" is so important. Even after recent disclosures of Trump's treatment of women his support remains unchanged among evangelicals and several key evangelical leaders (although some key evangelical women leaders have recently spoken out against him). Still his support among conservative evangelical Christians is several times greater than those who support Hillary. It's been a given for years now that conservative evangelicals will support the Republican party. Their faith lines up closely with the Republican party platform. There is a fear that the Democrats under Hillary Clinton will doom the America as we know it. Trump's vow to make America great again resonates.

Using Gregory's grid it may not be so hard to understand what is going on. Prior to the Reformation there was one church and it's teachings were re-enforced by the state. Essentially, the church had one voice and one way of life it taught. There were limits to what even the Pope could say and do. He was limited by church tradition and what the councils had said. Since the Reformation we have had a plethora of religions and religious teachings. Anything goes as far as what someone can say he or she believes and as long as it doesn't injure some one else it is ok. Whatever you believe it's ok to go and start a church. Even if it's a church of one. And there seem to be lots of them.

Susanna Schrobsdorff's mother was raised Catholic but after she got married she never went to church again until she was dying in her 70s. She stopped by an empty church one day and Schrobsdorff writes, "I don't know if she prayed but I do know that my mother had the certainty that she would go "home" where her parents and my sister were."

There aren't many certainties today. For many people faith is no longer certain even among evangelicals. Trump is certain and offers certainty in every speech he gives. He says he can make everything all right again. Is that faith or politics?

God's will

The Bible is not an easy book to understand. There are some hard sayings there. There was the time when Pharaoh would not let Moses and God's people leave Egypt. God sent plague after plague through Moses to try to change Pharoah's mind. The Bible says Pharoah's heart was hard so he would not let the people go and then it says God hardened Pharoah's heart. In the New Testament Jesus often spoke in parables which were hard for people to understand. Then, Jesus quoted Isaiah in the Old Testament to explain why they were so hard to get. It was because God did not want them understood  by everyone.

In Ezekiel, the prophet is pronouncing the judgement of God against Israel and Judah. In chapter 14, it seems like God deliberately deceives the people so they won't repent and turn away God's wrath.

It's an altogether too common theme in the Bible. The struggle between our will and God's will is not a fair fight. Our will if "free" comes with a warning. There is a limit to all human freedom. God did not set us free to do whatever we want with that freedom. That may not be fair and we don't like anyone impinging on our freedom.

Theologians have called what we read in the Bible predestination. It's been defined in many ways by various theologians but basically it means God calls the shots that matter. The great Reformed theologian John Calvin called it double predestination. God elects some people to be saved and others to be damned. He went further than the Bible does but he was not alone in his thinking. Many other theologians disagreed with Calvinism. One group of theologians absolutely disagreed with Calvin and said God will not violate our free will. If we choose not to believe in God it is our choice, at least. God respects that choice. Other theologians following Karl Barth said predestination was God's decision in Jesus Christ. So, all people are elected to salvation through Jesus. There was no double predestination.

Predestination is a thick woods to get lost in. In the difference between God's will and ours is a huge gap in understanding. It is a mystery but we can say something about it. Given all we know about human choices I hope humans do not get the final say about things that matter. Given all we know about God, I am more than ok with God's will be done. God has given humans enough freedom to show how much of a mess we can make of things. In Christ, God became totally engaged with our history - fallen and finite as it is. God is with us in our history of messes and mistakes. God's goal in our history is not done yet. That makes me hopeful for our world. God is not done with the good work he began in me either. That makes me hopeful for me. May God's will be done.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Saturday, October 7, 2016 at about 3 pm Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on Jacksonville, FL. For days the Governor, Mayor and several officials have warned of catastrophic conditions. They have ordered evacuations. The local news is broadcasting non - stop updating conditions. Some trees are down as well as power lines. Power is out all over. Storm surges flood the coast and record rainfall causes flash floods. Damage assessments have not begun. While no detail of the storm is being overlooked and no warning left unsaid, reports of damage in Haiti are coming online. 900 dead and still counting more, villages destroyed by muddy water. No resources of food, water, basic health care on scene. Power is usually out. It's a story when it comes on. No surprise that Haiti suffers, it is a common story. Earthquakes, cholera, storms, corrupt leadership are a way of life in Haiti. Here we have plenty of warning with utility trucks and bottled water pre-positioned for areas of need. We might miss a day at the beach and Walmart is boarded up for the weekend. The interstate is jammed with cars heading west. Facebook is full of the latest adventures in the storm. The adventure in Haiti is finding sources of money for relief efforts. A hurricane in one place is a major inconvenience while in another place some one's home and garden is washed away and their life hangs by a thread again. It's hard to figure where God is in all this. It's not hard to figure what God wants me to do.

Finding God's Word

At a large soup kitchen in an Episcopal Church in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York about 950 homeless people are fed every day of the week not counting the weekend. One of the women who helps serve the meals was asked about her motivation for serving in this way. She said that it was because Jesus said to feed the hungry. It was as simple as that. In Matthew 25, she said, Jesus said "as you have done this to the least of these you have done it unto me." Feeding the hungry is pretty basic in Scripture no matter what your method of interpretation is.

On April 16 in 1208 Francis and two other men wondered what God's will was for them. They went to the parish priest in their town of Assisi and asked for his help. He took his altar missal in hand since he did not have a copy of the whole Bible nearby. The three men prayed with the priest then he took the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and opened it three times. Reading the passage he opened to in Latin he explained to the men what it said. The first time he opened the missal to the Gospel for Wednesday in the week of the fifth Sunday of Pentecost. It was Mark 10:17-21 which said, "Go, sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The second time the priest opened the missal at Luke 9: 1-6, which said, "and take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money: and do not  have two tunics." The third time the priest opened the missal he found this: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Francis committed these texts to memory and they became the guide for his life. God had revealed to him what he was supposed to do.

At the time of Reformation the main leaders all agreed that they rejected the teachings, rituals, and practises of the Roman Catholic Church. They did not wholly agree with each other about what God's word said. In 1529, the main leaders met at Marburg to iron out their differences. They agreed on fourteen out of fifteen disputed points of theology. They could not agree on the meaning and practise of the Lord's Supper. That sticking point has divided the Church ever since. The divided Church has fought about many other things to this day.

There are many people who see the divisions and differences in the Church as an indication that the Church doesn't speak with a single voice. No one knows for sure what the Church teaches. It depends on which one you go to. And God's word gets lost in the chaos of conflicting voices.

It's not that complicated. Is it?

Monday, September 26, 2016


I have read a couple books on Reformation history this year. I just finished the huge book (900 or so pages) about the Reformation by Carlos Eire, professor of history at Yale. Eire is the author of a memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana, which won the National Book Award. This history professor can write. The title of his book is Reformations with an "s" because there was so much going on during this time that Reformation with no "s" doesn't begin to cover it all. He writes about the main guys like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and a whole bunch of other reformers no one has ever heard of unless they are  Reformation history majors. It makes a great story. Eire tells about what the Roman Catholic Church was doing during this time, too. The Reformation was the date Protestantism got it's start but it wasn't like the Catholics were not doing any reforming on their own.

Before Luther stuck his 95 theses up on the Wittenburg Church door (Eire says it never happened that way but he probably sent them to his superiors), there was only one Church and there had been only one for a long time. Luther who was a Catholic monk and a life long admirer of Augustine had his fill of what he saw as corruption and deficient theology in his church He was especially peeved about the sale of Special Indulgences by the Pope to raise money for the St Peter's building project. That triggered the writing of the theses. The theses by themselves were not revolutionary but Luther was not done. His writings and sermons sparked controversy until the Pope excommunicated him from the Church, the one and only Church at the time. He would have been executed if he didn't have friends in high places. He spent a good bit of his life hiding out, and writing and translating the  Bible into German.

John Calvin was a Catholic, too. All the Reformers were. He was a little later than Luther and from another part of Europe. Calvin was the systematizer and wrote several editions of the Institutes of Christian Religion which lay out the Reformed faith. Luther and Calvin and Zwingli, each important in his own right, did not get along together.  And none of them liked the Jews, Catholics or Anabaptists very well either. Their followers fought each other for years.  Eire says that one of the main take-aways from the Reformation was the fragmentation of the Church. There was little agreement on what needed to be reformed and the Catholics weren't seeking suggestions. The idea at the time was an entire region would be the same religion. So, Germany would be Lutheran, and the Swiss would be Reformed and so on. Of course, the Catholic Church was not giving up any territory so they kept the pressure on. Whoever controlled the government controlled the state religion. The state backed up the reforms of the religious leaders with force. This was a brutal age with Christians fighting for their lives as well as their beliefs.

What were those beliefs? Faith or works was one. The Reformers believed the Catholic system of salvation was based on works. Luther and Calvin argued for faith. They believed most of the rituals and practises of the Catholic church had to go. There was a tendency especially in Reformed territories to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In Eire's masterful account it can be difficult to see what the Reformers really gained. The Protestants got rid of the monks and monasteries, most of the priests and a good bit of the Catholic ritual, the art and the religious icons. The Calvinists got rid of the organs and the music, too. The Anabaptists got rid of infant baptism, and cooperation with the government. They all got rid of purgatory, and the saints, and the veneration of Mary so much of the mysticism and mystery of faith was gone. The various theological positions hardened over time and the followers of the Reformers often were more extreme than the founders were. There was little appreciation for the strengths of each point of view. Charles Williams in his biography of the Holy Spirit in history, The Descent of the Dove, notes that Luther, Ignatius, Xavier and Calvin lived about the same time, "Our Lord the Spirit violently convulsed those souls with himself" is the way he put it. Sadly, they never knew they were on the same team.

The laypeople were in a tough place. Their lives had been turned upside down so they clung to what they knew even if it was their folklore and mythology. They did not know what to think or believe.  They often had to change their thinking as fast as their historical situation changed.

There were reforms needed in the Catholic Church but there was great art and music. Great thinkers like St Gregory, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Theresa of Avila, to name a few. Great followers of Christ like St. Francis of Assisi. And many other spiritual treasures. There was no need to start all over from scratch. The Reformers had insights that the Church needed like Luther's emphasis on grace and Calvin's systematic theology. The Anabaptists who were persecuted without mercy gave us the separation of church and state and a steadfast focus on the Jesus of history. Each one had ingredients that a healthy church needed but each one presumed their insights were all the church needed. People began to think of themselves as followers of Luther, or Calvin or Zwingli or the Pope and not of Christ. They fragmented and fought, argued and cursed each other, they even tortured and killed each other for the sake of Christ's Church. Sadly, their theological differences hardened until they became impermeable.

You can say what you want about the Catholic Church but there  was one church before the Reformation and afterward there were an increasing numbers of churches, most of whom did not get along with each other. Today in our little town which is like towns across America there are lots of churches. Some are known denominations but many are independents. That means they are on their own preaching the truth they know and trying to win the others over to their side. They are not killing each other, at least not literally, but they have drawn very small circles of salvation.  And, of course, the Catholics are no where near those circles.

We have a great heritage in the Church. Our fathers and mothers who have gone before us have all contributed to our knowledge of God and what it means to follow Christ. Tertullian and Origen, Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, Barth and Bonhoeffer, the Wesley brothers, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King among many, many others. The reform of the church will not happen by drawing smaller circles and making bigger walls between Christ's followers. Reform happens as we appreciate and learn from our diversity and use it as a force for unity. In Christ.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dark night of the soul

I preached on Lamentations today. Our pastor was away and some one came to church today just to hear her. Sorry, it's the B team today, we said. It took about five of us but we managed to bring it. I began by noting that Mike Pence was just up the street (literally less than a mile) at First Baptist, Jax. So if any one was looking for him they were in the wrong place. Far smaller crowds but less security at our church.

Lamentations is a book full of darkness. That word comes up a lot. Christian churches don't do darkness well. Barbara Brown Taylor calls most Christian churches "Full Solar Spiritual Centers". They major on the benefits of faith: sure sense of God's presence, certainty of beliefs, divine guidance in all things and answers to prayers. Generally, the sunny side of faith. There is another side. Some times we call it the dark side. Light and Darkness, since the early church people have wanted to divide God's world into two realities with two deities ruling each one. That thinking is still around today.

Lamentations is about a very dark period in the history of God's people. It features the judgment of Judah which resulted in a crushing military victory by Babylon and the exile of most of God's people. Jeremiah, who had predicted this outcome was a mostly despised mouthpiece of God for those predictions. Lamentations is the book that came out of the suffering and pain of the people. There is a brief bit of hope in chapter 3. Four of the chapters begin with a Hebrew word that is usually translated, How? It is a weak translation of a word that means more like, How is this happening to us? God's People? Where is God in the midst of our pain and suffering? Does this mean the end of his promises to us? It sure looked like it. One way to read this book is to remember this is an expression of the way people felt.

It seems like churches can handle a little darkness like when some one comes hurting from a divorce, or a death, or abuse of some kind, depression and other forms of darkness. We offer a community of caring - for awhile. That's the problem we don't do long term darkness well. Eventually, we want to know where is their faith? That should be all they need to turn away darkness.

There is a tradition of Christian spirituality called The Dark Night of Soul. It is associated with St John of the Cross who was imprisoned for his teachings in the mid 1560's. For eleven months he languished in solitary not knowing if he would live or die. He worked out The Dark Night of the Soul. Basically, he said that God allowed his people to go through a long, dark night to strip them of all their illusions, delusions and manipulations of God and his ways. The toxic habits of faith are shed and a new faith begins. Many people who had been raised in conservative churches have found the faith that was given to them was inadequate for the realities of real life in the world. Tossing their faith over they thought they were done with it. But, the desire for God was real, too, So, they begin a process of reconstructing their faith. There is a way to God that emerges out of the dark night. The darkness - my darkness - is not dark to God.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On the road or in the air

We have been traveling for the past two weeks or so. We flew out of Jacksonville, Fl a day before the hurricane hit but not too hard. Stopped over in Portland, Or to visit family and friends and then on to Kodiak, Ak for more family and friends. Flying for all of it's downsides is not bad. For being crammed into a small space with over a hundred other people, the airlines do their best to make you comfortable. There are snacks, entertainments, bathrooms and the occasional turbulence to get the adrenalin going. And it is fast. Just a few hours from one coast to the other. On our way home we got to spend hours in the Portland airport before our flight. What could be better than Peet's coffee and Powell's bookstore? Just before takeoff a man behind us in the waiting area got sick and vomited all over himself. The lady across from me covered her eyes and muttered, I hope he is not on our flight. As it turned out he was - briefly - before concluding it was a bad idea. So, we waited while he post-boarded. It was a minor delay and did not affect our connections. In light of the gridlock in Washington and the anger and hatred spewed at and by our presidential candidates it's slightly less than marvelous that so many people get along so well so much of the time in airports and on airplanes. Even though they have to remove most of their clothes and submit to a stranger putting her hands all over your body. And the lines. Now that you can check in online you still have to wait in line at the airport.  One man in front of us who was a long way from the front told us his sad story about a flat tire on the way to the airport and it looked like he would never make his plane which was scheduled for an on time departure in twenty minutes. Several of his fellow passengers agreed that he should just move on up to the front of the line. Inspired by our plan, he did. The crowds parted like the Red Sea and we followed him with his luggage and there was no violence as he took a stand at the front. I hope he made his flight. It could have been an ugly scene. I guess you always have a choice.

I read a couple good books on the plane. D. L. Mayfield's Assimilate or Go Home about a failed missionary (she calls herself). It's a great read and she didn't fail to get me thinking about God and what God's mission is. The other book was a novel by Salley Vickers called The Cleaner of Chartres, an absolutely compelling read about an orphan who was a servant of all.

I watched a couple good films, too. I recommend Barbershop 2, and Nice Guys which stars Russell Crowe - perhaps not his best work but if you find yourself on a plane, not a bad choice.

Tomorrow I am preaching on Lamentations. So, I suppose my next post will be on that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Growing older

I will reach my "full retirement age" soon. Social Security reminds me of this and then lets me know how much money I will leave on the table if I don't wait a few more years to tap into my benefits. I wonder if they know something I don't know.  I have read a couple good books on aging this year.  Aging Matters is a good one I wish I had read a few years earlier. R. Paul Stevens is the author and he  is positive that we, who are older, have a calling for the rest of our lives. Just recently, a friend about my age wondered if I ever felt dissed by people because of my age. Stevens says that's part of aging, too because aging is a problem in our modern age. Elders are honored in the East but in the West the aged are considered obsolete. Unless you are running for Congress or President.  John McCain is 80 and still admits to a soft spot in his heart for Brittany Spears. Trump gets under Hillary's skin when he questions her health or stamina. Hey, it's ok to have some health issues you've put a lot of miles on that body. I have aches all over and when I did a header off my mountain bike a few weeks ago I took some ibuprofen and I marveled at how much better my body felt - even my teeth felt better. Ian Brown, the Canadian journalist, has a pretty funny book out called Sixty. It's a diary of his 61st year. It's pretty graphic about things we older folks like to keep quiet about but he might be more worried than most of us about how he compares with other people his age. I mean you can still look pretty good in your sixties. I hear comments about how good my legs look when I visit my mom in her memory unit from some of the women in their nineties, who as I said, are on a memory unit.

From the reading I've done, it seems like some people approach aging purely as a physical process - how can they eat, exercise, stay busy, make their money last, enjoy life, as long as they can. Others like Brown are more focused on what they are losing. Stevens deals more with the spiritual side of aging. True, he says, we are transitioning from doing to being. But, that's a good thing. There is more time for prayer, study, reflection, spiritual growth and people who are important in your life. Perhaps, as you get older you don't have to work for pay as much so there is more time for volunteering where you like, or ministry, or being with people older than you are, or younger like grand kids.

Our culture tries to tell us to cram as much as we can in our later years. Get that place or RV you always wanted. Make out your bucket list and start working on that. Some older people find time is heavy on their hands, others seek to make the most of the more time they feel like they have. Aging can be a time to experience"our days" as the gift they are.

Aging has hazards too as Stevens not so gently reminds us. There are special temptations that afflict us as we grow older. They are not new temptations but they affect us in our older years differently. Pride can make us too talkative and we may be losing some of our  filters. Envy is well illustrated by Ian Brown's book when he canvasses the well known who are his age. "Oprah is richer than God...and I am not. It's a slap in the face to think of how hugely influential she is... ok but she is as close to the end as I am...yeah, baby! Christie Brinkley is looking pretty good still but she is getting on just like me."

Many aging people have stored up a brooding anger, Stevens says, making us use our energy to do more harm than help. Of course, there is the picture of the elderly by the seaside resort or playing golf all day or amusing themselves to death with one pleasure after another or just vegging in front of the tv. Unorganized sloth is what Stevens calls it. It's not a time management problem but a soul problem; John Cassian the monk wrote that the old can pass their old age in lukewarmness and in sloth and so obtain authority not from the ripeness of their character but from the number of their years.

Greed infects us as we think about all we might have done, or accomplished or how much time we have left to do it. With more time and maybe more money gluttony beckons us to upgrade our consuming. Last is lust which we know is not a problem for the elderly, right, (there are even meds for that). Someone said old men get married; old women get lonely. Truth is we are sexual beings all our lives. In older age intimacy and affection have an opportunity to grow. It may also be true that "the lights are on but the voltage is low" but love is made in many ways.

Stevens quotes a prayer from an anonymous abbess who knew she was aging. "Lord, keep me from becoming too talkative and thinking I must have something to say on every topic...Keep me from the thought that out of my immense treasures of experience and wisdom I must use it to benefit others.... in the end I may need a few friends.... Keep me from the endless recital of details....grant me patience to listen to the complaints of others but keep my lips shut about my own aches and pains....when my own memory does not agree with others teach me humility and make me less self assured...keep me gentle... not as a saint it's too hard to live with some of them but a harsh old person in the devil's masterpiece...make me sympathetic and not sentimental, helpful and not bossy, help me find merits where I had not expected, talents in people in whom I thought possessed none. And, Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Living robustly in a flattened world

Commenting on Romans 8:31-35 Eugene Peterson writes: The seven questions here thrust us into recognizing a resurrection defined life, the whole world robust with God's eternal, embracing love. Hard as it is for minds flattened by secularism to imagine, this is the resurrection world in which the followers of Jesus live.

Charles Taylor, the author of A Secular Age, says there has been a shift today from God in the center of life to us in the center, an anthropocentric shift is what he calls it. To the modern self there is no greater good than human flourishing. In the past, Christians talked about their ultimate goal as glorifying God. Now it's human flourishing or seeing how God's goals fit into a human centered groove. Faith is more about fulfilling our own potential than what God is doing. God may have a plan for me but for the world - not so much or at least I don't think about it as much as my plan. Second, there is no need for day to day grace in a secular world.  We don't live like that. Grace initially is good but after that we make our own grace. Third, the mystery has faded. The mystery of God, the universe, human life, everyday living. We are confident we can figure life out. From DNA to space exploration, we have this under control. We go to church to find out "how to" do stuff as Christians. There is no mystery there either. God is the architect but we have lost a sense of the incarnation. So, even our relationship with God is impersonal. There are no miracles day to day, God is silent, God does not guide us. Fourth, God is not transforming us. Spiritual formation is less God's work and more our own. We are not so much transformed as evolved. Religion is about an interior life, fulfilling my purpose. The big picture is us not what God is doing cosmically

Modern life is flattened by individualism. We make our own meaning. "I can fix this..." "I advise myself" "I don't really need anybody else"

Modern life is flattened by efficiency. The best thing is the most efficient. It doesn't matter how it affects people. EpiPens increase in price by 600% because it's a business and businesses exist to make a profit. We build bigger churches with more parking and pastors and bigger budgets because we can do more if we have more people. We plug into the latest technology because it makes us more productive even if we have less face to face time. If it's more efficient and more profitable what's to question.

Modern life is flattened by all our choices. I can choose my future and that choice does not have to have a thing to do with the common good. I can vote or not. I can choose a companion on e-harmony. I can choose a college. I can choose another church if I don't like the one I'm going to.

How do we get back to the Resurrection world of glory, grace and mystery? Unplug, unprogram, unwind; quiet down, slow down, simplify; connect with people: feed the hungry, harbor the homeless, visit the sick, comfort the sorrowing, forgive, bear with others who get on our nerves, pray for all.

Note: Charles Taylor's ideas were found in How to Survive the Apocalypse by R. Joustra and A. Wilkinson. The list at the end is a paraphrase of the "alms deeds" by St Thomas Aquinas

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Just Mercy

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson sat on my bookshelf for months. Then, our church decided to read it and discuss it. I read it. I thought it was a book about the Biblical foundations for mercy and why Christians should practise mercy. It is that, partly, but it is told as stories. Stories about people who have been broken by life and often ended up in the criminal justice system. Some times even on death row. Often, they did not do what they where convicted of. Some spent years in solitary confinement just down the hall from the electric chair. There are stories about families not functioning well and others doing what they can to support their incarcerated family member. Stevenson, a lawyer, started working with people who were facing the death penalty. Many were children who were tried as adults and who had already spent most of their lives in prison. These are heartbreaking stories. Powerful stories. Stevenson often says he is a broken man doing what he can do in the midst of brokenness. Seeking some mercy. Just Mercy. Many of the stories are about a broken system. Many stories ask the question, do we deserve to kill? Read this book. It just might change your mind.

Why vote?

Every four years we have another election upon which the fate of civilization hangs. Should the candidate on the Right win it portends a fascist future. If the Left's candidate proves victorious we can say good bye to Christian values. Both sides court the Christian vote. In the case of the Right conservative evangelicals line up to endorse the one who will save Christian civilization or at least give it four more years. On the Left, liberal and progressive Christians hope for a more inclusive and just government. Christian leaders of all stripes encourage their followers to get out and vote. It is a sin not to vote preaches one on the Right while one on the Left sees our vote as a step against injustice. Who is right? Christians are hopelessly divided, angry and see the other side as the enemy.

Every four years is a time for change. A time for hope. A time to make America great again. A time to fix all the problems and turn us around so we are heading the right way. James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World observes that the hope Christians place in politics is remarkable. Given the fact that so little ever changes and that nothing in politics is permanent. Yet, we have come to believe that the best way to change things more to our liking is through politics. If our side was in control (in power) then things would be better. Except, that has never worked out so well. In 315AD when Emperor Constantine was in power Christianity became the religion of the empire. But, instead of the way of Christ and His Kingdom being inaugurated, the people of God became united with worldy power, corruption and violence. Our will was done. Hunter concludes, "the rapprochement between piety and power compromised the church's distinctiveness and thus its inimitable witness to the world."

The Church is not the Republican or Democratic party. It is not the party's chaplain or conscience or the party at prayer. Politics has a job to do and Christians can take part in it. But, Christians are the "Other Place", a community where what God wants to be is partly in view. It is a kingdom where Christ is King that is above and encompasses all the other kingdoms of the world.  God may use politics to accomplish his will but the Church is where the way of God is on view. The way of God is worship, grace, forgiveness, peace, love and servanthood. Politics, not so much.

Christians are bold to say that worship, preaching the Word, observing the sacraments, praying, and singing will do much more than politics to bear witness to the Kingdom. We are forming disciples of Christ not little Republicans or Democrats. We are trying our best to follow Jesus - taking up the cross - serving and submitting to one another - not strategizing how to get our agenda passed.

The Church doesn't have a social strategy, it is a social strategy. The Church doesn't have a social ethic, it is a social ethic (Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon). Some Christians have criticized that statement as a copout. But, Hauerwas and Willimon have written and spoken often about social justice. What they mean is that the Church is bigger than politics and citizenship in the Kingdom trumps all worldly loyalties.

Are there significant issues of social justice that need to be addressed in this election? Aren't there differences between the political parties? Yes, and Yes, of course there are. We can be humble enough to realize we don't have the answers for our problems. We need to keep learning, talking, thinking and praying, preaching the Word, praising, celebrating the Eucharist  because we believe God did Something, is doing Something and will do Something.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Grace notes

I've been reading some books on Grace. It's a big, important word in theology and the Church. It comes from the Greek word, Charis, and translates the Hebrew word for favor in the Greek version of the Old Testament. It's not used all that much in the Bible. Paul uses it the most. He made the word important for Christians. It was a common word in his culture without anything like the meaning Paul endowed it with. By grace, you have been saved. Paul wrote that and pinned his theology of salvation on that one word. Christians have used it ever since. Some great theologians like Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Barth studied Paul's use of grace and put it right at the heart of their theology. It was not as simple as it sounds. There were great controversies in the Church over grace. Edward Oakes writes about some of them in his book, A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies. It's an interesting book but some of the debating about how grace works with our own nature, i.e., are we wired with a need to seek grace or does that make it less gracious if we are, etc, may be important but I'll let others puzzle it out. I know grace when I see it. I know grace when I don't see it and it bothers me that I don't see enough of it these days. But, if I look closely, pay attention, I can almost always find grace every day. I need to keep track and make notes of grace.

The other day at church I heard about a person who formed a committee in her neighborhood to raise enough money to send a student to one of finer private schools in our city. I saw a table full of school supplies that people bought and carried in for a school in our community. I took part in a discussion of racial inequality and how our church can be more proactive in areas of social injustice. I made notes of grace.

There are lots of examples of ungrace in our world today and in our churches, too. We don't have to look to hard for those, unfortunately. Some of our earliest theologians said love is the essence of grace. I believe that. Jesus told us love is the one distinguishing mark of his followers. Paul, echoed that, writing that without love - nothing we do matters.

All is grace

A homeless man hangs out at a Starbucks in the city. Asleep on a bench in layers of clothing seemingly oblivious to the August heat. He sits up. People are around him sipping coffee, using the free WiFi, reading a book before a class at school. He surveys the area, invisible. Middle aged with a full beard he has not showered in a while. He is almost six feet tall and weighs close to 180 although he looks more stout because of the thick clothes he wears. Standing up he puts his hand in his pocket counting his coins. Still short of change enough to get a cup of coffee. He loves coffee but there won't be any today unless he is lucky. A man walks by heading into the coffee shop. Dressed in shorts, t-shirt and a baseball cap he looks like a lot of people the homeless guy sees in a day. Looking up, he mumbles, can you help me, you know a few pennies so I can get a cup of coffee. Surprisingly, the man hears and turns, smiles and says, I sure can. Come on, I will buy you a coffee and something to eat. What do you want, he asks the homeless man as they enter Starbucks. Amid interested glances from those seated inside they join the morning line up. I'll have that he says pointing to a sausage, egg and cheddar muffin sandwich. What will you have the barista asks the man in shorts and t-shirt? Just a coffee. And, what about him? Ask him, he knows. That sandwich he says pointing and coffee, black. What size? The question stumps him. Just like mine, the man in shorts says. He stands there waiting. It'll be down at the end of the counter the barista says, in a minute. The two men wait together. They take their drinks and food outside and sit on the bench talking for a few minutes. Then the man in shorts says good bye and walks off feeling like he has been in church.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Revival at the convention

The Republican Convention is over. It was nothing like previous conventions. Part revival with personal testimonies about how Jesus had helped individuals overcome personal obstacles to glitzy entertainment with loud music and bright light displays. Much has been made of the dismal diagnosis of the current state of life in America. We are beset by dangers at our borders and in our government. Where was the hope? It reminded me of the sermons I heard in my youth, Billy Graham style, where the desperate condition of the world was laid out in graphic language only to learn our only hope was in Christ. The end was coming - all the crises we faced were signs of God's judgment which was coming. Save yourselves, Turn to Christ! was the message. Put up your hand, come down the aisle, pray the sinner's prayer, start reading your Bible and praying and you will be saved. The world may go to hell but you will be saved. The Republican Convention had that flavor. Except, the mess we are in was not God's judgment but the Democrat's ineptitude or worse their deliberate attempt to end America as we know it or knew it. This was a convention hearkening back to the the greatness of former days. There were nods to the great spiritual battle between good and evil like when one speaker compared Hillary to Lucifer. That heightened the stakes in this election. It led to calls for Hillary to be bound in prison or even executed. Thus, good will prevail. There was only one hope and that was to turn to the Republican Champion who was the only one who could defeat our Goliaths. He alone could fix things. We weren't told how - these revelations from on high will come at some point we were told. For now, trust and obey. So while the Convention trafficked in revivalism the answer to our problems was only human. God was trumped by the Republican candidate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Prayer is

"If we invoke some God who shares and sponsors our particular cultures of enmity, then our invocations - and our lives - need correction." Allen Verhey in his commentary on Ephesians

Prayer is not a nod to God before the main event. It is not a moment of silence for the sake of the Almighty before we get down to business. It is not a pretense of piety before the mudslinging begins. Who are we trying to kid? God must be profoundly insulted by our use of prayer and attempted uses of God (read Isaiah 58).

John Calvin said prayer is the "chief exercise of faith." It is the center of life for a Christian. Prayer is a practice, a habit, a routine which are good things. We learn to pray by praying and praying with a community of prayer. It is not a technique we learn to use in order to get what we want.

Prayer is a good all by itself. It is the main event. In prayer we attend to God, Verhey says, and that is it. In God's light we see better.

Learning to pray we also learn humility. We are not gods but limited, finite, sinful creatures who need God's grace moment by moment. We learn to be thankful for God's gifts each day. We learn to care for people especially those persons who our culture shuns. We learn not to trust in ourselves but God.

Karl Barth called the Christian life a life of prayer, a life of invocation. We call upon God in our lives in many ways. We confess, lament, bless, praise, petition and remember who this God is and what God has done for us.

We pray because God invites us to. We pray in response to God's word to us. We pray because God is here "around, beneath, before, and beside us all the time, but if we never actively stop to notice this, to call out a breath of thanksgiving, or petition. lament or praise, then we live falsely, pretending that we live as independent beings." (Martha L. Moore - Keish)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bless us

Speaking of prayer (last post), there is no good reason for public prayer. I mean civil public prayer like at political conventions. Not prayer in church although this genre of prayer is prayer in search of a purpose, too.

If you followed the prayers at the Republican Convention on opening day, and who would? there was confusion about who would pray publicly and then controversy about what was said. There are no winners in public praying. The person invited to pray, and the placement of the prayer and the content of the prayer all have little to do with prayer. The prayer is not an address to God as much as a political statement in prayer form. The prayer itself is often like a mini-sermon full of the pray-ers personal convictions. One prayer I read about from yesterday's opening session referred to Trump as God's personal choice to save us from our enemies who were identified as Hillary and the Democrats. According to this prayer, God is a conservative Republican. It's us versus them and God is obviously on our side.

A better public prayer might take the form of a lament or a confession of sin from the Psalms. Or just the word, Help! Prayer is addressed to God in response to what He has done. It is appropriate to pray for our leaders and our nation especially at a time of national election but we need to be careful that we don't sound like we believe we have God's plans all figured out or that we presume God likes what we are doing to carry out his will. As Lincoln said, we might find out what God's will is and we are not in it.

I read another prayer from the convention that was posted online. It was a good statement of what the praying person wished God would do. But, it wasn't a prayer. She, the pray-er sounded articulate and theologically informed and tuned into the latest national crises and that was the point, I guess. To show how earnest we are, how compassionate and up to date and that our God must be too or if He is not, He is now.

It's best to leave God out of conventions. We do anyway. The only time he is mentioned is in the very brief prayers before and after the really important things.  By then we have laid out our plans for how we are going to save the country. Really, all we want God to do is sign off on them. Bless us, we pray.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Prayer works

I wrote a paper on prayer for a course my first year of seminary. It was a big deal. I didn't know much about prayer when I started and I didn't know much more when I finished. But I had twenty or so pages reflecting what the classic books on prayer said prayer was. Most people struggle with how to prayer and what prayer is says Hans Urs von Balthasar in his readable book on prayer and for my money the best book you can read on the subject. It is simply called Prayer and it is deceptively simple because as easy as it to read it will change the way you approach prayer. We pray to God because he first spoke to us, and is "always on the lookout for us". Prayer is dialogue even if it often feels like a monologue to us. We have our habits of prayer and feel like we have done it when we follow our routine whatever that may be. Von Balthasar wants prayer to be the way we "make as much room as possible, in ourselves, and in our world, for the kingdom of God, so that its energies can go to work." Prayer emerges from contemplation which is a big word that means making time to hear/consider God and the ways he has made himself known to us primarily through Christ and his love for us. God is always on the lookout for us is one way VB puts it or "faith's table is always laid" and we can choose to partake or not. God's love is always there for us revealing itself to us so we can understand and grasp it. It's not up to us. God has even given us the words to pray, i.e. the Lord's prayer. So, we can enlarge our understanding of prayer. Dialogue with God can happen in many different ways and at many different times. Pray without ceasing, Paul says. But, that means contemplate without ceasing. Let what you see, and hear, and read, and sing, and do open your life to the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Theological first steps

One of the first courses I took in seminary long ago was one on John Calvin. It was a deep dive into theology for someone like myself who was theologically illiterate. I was raised a dispensationalist and didn't know there was anything else. My theology was accumulated through years of drifting mentally and spiritually through sermons and Sunday School lessons. I knew I was a sinner, God hated sin but loved sinners if we repented and wouldn't send us to hell if we confessed Jesus as our Savior who died for our sins on the cross. That was my theology. Calvin's Institutes was my introduction into a real Theology. I have read Calvin off and on ever since. His commentaries on every book of the Bible except Revelation still compare favorably to the best modern ones. Most theologians of note still have to deal with Calvin. That is remarkable considering Calvin had little formal theological training. What he knew he studied on his own and study he did sometimes 23 hours a day. He loved the early church fathers and knew them by heart. He loved the Scriptures except for 2 Peter and Jude and he had questions about James. The rest he knew by heart, too.

His life is fascinating. He married late and adored his wife. He lost many of his jobs over theology and his lack of flexibility. His people skills were notably lacking. Yet, he had an opportunity to try to prove his theology in a real world setting. For a while Geneva was his city. He tried to make it a Christian city and that project did not work out so well. He had few friends but many followers who were not always true to his theology.

Calvin lived nearly 500 years ago. It was a world apart from ours. No tweets, texts, or transportation. What he did have was a theology that has stood the test of time.

A good place to start with Calvin is John Calvin by Herman Selderhuis. Then try reading his commentary on the Psalms and chew on the Institutes from time to time.

Trump's theology

Interesting op ed piece in the NY Times on Tuesday, July 5. Peter Wehner  asked, since Donald Trump assures us that the Bible is his favorite book, just what is his theology. Good question. Trump has been meeting with evangelical leaders to solidify his support among that brand of Christians. Conservative, Biblical, and afraid the government of Obama, Clinton, etc, are out to take away their freedoms, Trump says he is on their side. Evangelical leaders like James Dobson is on Trump's side. He said he believes Trump is tender to the Spirit (The Holy Spirit). While few people would find the fruits of the Spirit growing in Trump's garden, the comments of evangelicals demonstrate how desperate they are to find ways to support their candidate. Wehner noted that Trump's worldview is so different from Christ's that Christ is not anywhere in the vicinity.

In Trump's worldview, Jesus was a "loser". He did not win, he was captured, suffered and died an undignified death. He did not call down vengeance on his enemies. He told his followers to forgive and love them. He was a friend to the weak and the poor. He despised the worldly demonstrations of power and he never seemed to have a denarius to his name. One time he paid his taxes by going fishing. It's hard to believe how Trump's worldview could be any more different from Jesus'.

What Trump is doing is not unusual. Politicians have courted the evangelical vote for years and evangelicals have compromised their convictions again and again for political gain. Jimmy Carter, born again, Southern Baptist thought he had fellow southerner Billy Graham's support for his presidential bid only to find Graham had deserted him for Nixon. Graham noted later in life that Nixon had him fooled. The twice married Hollywood star Ronald Reagan had the evangelical support even though evangelical leaders were not hiring twice married pastors or allowing their congregants to watch movies at the time. Evangelicals are free to vote for whomever they want as we all are. Just be honest about why. If you like Trump's politics, say so. Just don't make him out to be holier than he is.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A short history of church fights

When John Calvin took over as the primary Reformer, pastor, teacher and architect of government in Geneva in the mid 1500's the first things he did were write a catechism and a confession of faith. Then he tackled church order - how the worship service would run. He ran into some serious headwinds there. Calvin was doing away with the Roman Catholic institution of mass. He did not like it at all. None of it. So, he came up with a different order. It was centered on the Eucharist and included Scripture, prayer and psalm singing and a sermon, of course. Calvin believed Christians were free to choose their own order of worship. God, he said, did not make any one order determinative in Scripture. Calvin believed strongly that the Eucharist displayed the gospel so well that it should be done every week. Not everyone agreed.  Others thought weekly reminded them too much of the mass. Some argued a couple times a year was plenty. Calvin was not budging. He tried to have the Eucharist celebrated in a different Reformed Church each week. It didn't happen. Eventually, the conflict over the Eucharist led to Calvin's removal from Geneva. It wasn't the theology of the Eucharist that was in question. None of the main Reformers believed the same about the meaning of the Eucharist. But, Geneva was Calvin's city. It was how often the Eucharist was to be celebrated that was argued, often bitterly.

Not a whole lot has changed. Christians still do not share a common understanding of the Lord's Supper. In some churches it is every week and others a few times a year. Some churches do not allow Christians from other traditions to take communion in their church. In some churches wine is served and in others grape juice. The frequency of the Lord's Supper is still hotly debated. Not over theology but often it's over a point of convenience or its is too hard to overcome the inertia of the way it has always been done.  One of Calvin's biographers wrote that Calvin failed to make the Eucharist a weekly celebration not because of theology or ethics but his plan fell apart over politics. He couldn't find a way to persuade people to see it his way. He alienated people and that led to his departure from Geneva. His was a pastoral failure.

Calvin was a great theologian and systematizer. His Institutes of Christian Religion remain one of the few basic books of theology that all theologians after him refer to. He was a hard worker who studied hours a day to the detriment of his health. He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the Bible. He lived at a time when a person could be run out of town or worse, burned at the stake, for an unpopular theological position. Much of his life was spent on the run. He was a man who would have preferred to stay in a quiet room and study and write all day long for the rest of his life. What happened instead was that he found himself at the center of a great theological and political time of upheaval. He believed God had put him there or else how would he have ever wound up there. So he bore it as best he could. Not always well or happily. Obediently, he served God as best he could see how. From our distance it's easy to see how he failed and the mistakes he made. How can we judge? Most pastors still see more damage to their ministries from a decision to push a change like the hours of the worship service, or whether to sing choruses or hymns, or whether to sit in pews or chairs than any error of theology made in a sermon. And they still can initiate a good fight over the frequency of communion, as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unfinished stories

We have started a new thing in church this month as our pastor preaches through Colossians. One person gives his or her "Unfinished Story". It's sort of a reflection on what God is doing in our lives now. It's also a statement that our stories are not finished but God is still at work on us and in us. It's an acknowledgment that salvation is a process instead of a single moment. We are not working on our salvation but God is working on us. The person who shared today had been in full time Christian ministry for years. Then due to a number of failures and misfires he found himself without much faith left. He gave away his church stuff and for the next several years wandered in the wilderness. He tried church a few times but it wasn't working. It's only been recently that he has found some faith again but it is different this time. He talked about living a performance oriented Christianity. That struck a chord with me. Ever since I can remember church has been a lot about performance. Living in front of people and worrying about what they were thinking. Today's evangelical church is all about performances. A big show. It is for the glory of God and his kingdom but how honest is it and how honest can the performers be? The person who shared today was honest and he felt like he could be. That was a good thing. I have found transparency there, too.

Scott Cairns in a Short Trip to the Edge tells a story about Father Iakovos, a monk on Mount Athos in Greece. Once a man interrupted him in mid conversation and asked if Jesus was his personal savior. Nope, he said, I like to share him. Salvation has more to do with all of us than just me.

And not just the church, the body of Christ, but all of creation. The body of Christ is not depicted very well in the media these days. Unfortunately, many of us have been behaving badly and it is those words and deeds that are picked up and broadcast for all to see. There is a lot of stupid stuff going on. But, as Cairns says, we need the body of Christ. Faith must be connected to the community. A solitary faith will never be healthy.

But, to get back to the unfinished story. Salvation is more than a future project (going to heaven when I die). It is a present, moment by moment condition. It is a way of being in the kingdom here and now and not just some day in the future. Cairns says that is what Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of God is within you. Jesus looked around and said some of you will not taste death til they see the kingdom of God come with power. This kingdom life is for now; we can witness it, taste it, savor it's abundance now.

Cairns refers to a deathbed confession of Abba Benjamin of Scetis. Paraphrasing a part of Thessalonians, he said, If you observe the following, you can be saved, Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for all things. Those are words from within the kingdom now.

Cairns goes on to say he wants to replace this perennially hamstrung, broken self with a more promising image. He would like to undergo some lasting repairing of heart and mind, body and soul. Unfinished stories are not finished alone.

The water cooler

(Overheard around a water cooler in heaven)

Hey, did you hear all the whooping and hollering last night?
No, I must have slept through it. What was it about?
Bunch of angels rejoicing.
How come?
Someone said Donald J Trump was born again.
No, really?
Yup. Someone heard someone say they knew someone who said someone led him to Christ.
Jesus, what did he do? You know what he told other rich people.
Ha, I wonder how Donald's famous hair do made it through the needle's eye!
It's not him it's a camel.
I know. But it would be easier for a camel!
Maybe he promised to give away half of all he has.
Who knows what that would be. He won't release his tax records.
He certainly has a lot of ground to make up. Amends to make and stuff like that.
Don't they all.
I guess I will believe it when I see him up here with us.
Don't bet against it. You know what Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Love curriculum from 1 John 4:7-17

Beloved (who are loved by God and each other)
Love is from God (rock of reality)
Love, know God, born of God. No love, no God.
God is Love (basic)
Jesus is the definition of God's Love.
Thus, God's Love is self sacrificing. (Jesus died for us to have life)
God's Love is first. God loved us before we knew what love was or is.
We share God's Love as we love others.
We know God (access God, encounter God, walk with God, talk with God) as we love.
God's Love is reality. Life is meaningless without God's Love. (Good question: Does God exist apart from love?)
God does not love in the abstract but in real time. Ditto for us.
God's Love is made perfect as we love each other.

(thoughts while reading 1 John 4 and D. Moody Smith)

Where was God?

Where is God? What is God doing? What was God doing when I (we) needed him? God wasn't there in the way we expected him to show up. That's what usually happens. There is a randomness to life. A child is drowned by an alligator at Disney of all places. An unattended toddler dies in an overheated car baked in the Florida summer sun. Flash flooding in West Virginia sweeps away a four year old out of the reach of his father. Orlando - why there, that club, that night, those people. We know someone who was there and survived. Why, him, he wonders. Doctors helping others killed by an errant bomb in an Iraqi war zone. So much seeming randomness. When cancer takes the life of an older person we can bear it. But, our faith shakes when it is an eight year old.

The Psalmist asked, where is God? Christians ask, too. After all, we believe in a loving God who is mighty powerful. We believe in a God who created this world we live in. And who has a plan, a purpose which is not always clear to us but we know it to be good. So what happens when the goodness of the plan does not seem good to us.

We hardly know what to think and thinking won't solve all our dilemmas. Neither will talking and it's a mistake to think we know what to say to help someone who is facing down a tragedy of their own. Best to be quiet and be present.

Many others have thought helpfully about the question of where was God? Some have been theologians and many have been writers sharing how they dealt with a personal tragedy (and some have been both). It's surprising what we can learn from times like these. Christians begin by believing in God as our creator. What God created was/is good. There was no other godlike figure who created the bad stuff. God knows it is there. So, God created us and a world where bad stuff can happen. We are created beings which is better than non being. But, our creation comes with a set of understandings, i.e., we are finite, limited, contingent, and we don't get to have all our questions answered. We are also free to live in a good world. Our freedom has to do with how we live here.

Christians believe in sin and although there are many ideas about sin among Christians, we all agree it messes things up.

Christians believe Jesus is a gift of God's grace to help us out of our messes. So, Christians believe life is a gift (we did not have to be in the first place), and Jesus is a gift. We are on the receiving end of life and grace. Not everyone sees that. It's kind of like the Narnia tales by C.S. Lewis: there is a reality on the other side of the wardrobe. That is the reality we live in as Christians. It starts and continues, and ends with receiving.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Empire falls

Sitting in our small storefront church I could see the people making their way to the popular restaurant at the end of our block. There were many more people celebrating Father's day with brunch than church. Too few were gathered to worship and reflect on Colossians 1:15-20 on this Sunday one week after the Orlando tragedy. In one horrific week Orlando had seen the murder of popular singer, an alligator attack at a family entertainment center, and then the massacre at a gay nightclub. It was a sad week in the Florida city known for family fun. What could be said? The President made his now too common somber remarks and told us we must do better to restrict gun violence. One of the presumptive presidential candidates sounded almost gleeful tweeting an I told you so message. Churches, spiritual families, struggled to respond. What makes America great? Our pastor had been in New York City during the week.  A great city, she reminded us of all the sights she took in on a trip with her daughters and her mom. The play, Hamilton, and the Today show and the Statue of Liberty and the fly over of Yankee Stadium - greatness symbolized at the center of all that is important. But, there was nothing to say in response to our week of sorrow. Late night comics were muted and important authors and actors reached for meaningful words. The great corporations advertised on the billboards of Times Square went on making money. Wall Street sold stocks for our retirement accounts and charted moment by moment how they were doing. One presidential candidate has made this election about making America great again. What does that mean? More powerful? Richer? More dominant worldwide? More weapons to make us safe? The answer, our pastor suggested, was not found in the symbols of Empire in the Empire City. It was found in some of responses to suffering and tragedy. Like the life saving labors of first responders and medical personnel working selflessly to help others. Like the countless services of candlelight making a difference in the dark. Like the gifts of money and things offered from hearts touched by some else's tragedy. Like the prayers in gatherings like ours for mercy and grace, for hope. Like the words of Colossians 1 we read that morning... From beginning to end he is there, towering far above everything, everyone....all the dislocated pieces of the universe-people and things, animals and atoms-get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death... (The Message). It's a counter culture song of self giving love. How do we sing it?

Monday, June 13, 2016


There was the smell of death in the air again as we learned about the horrific mass shooting at a night club in Orlando. I received a text message alert on my phone as church was about to start. The numbers of the dead quickly spiraled upwards from a few to fifty. We prayed for the victims and their loved ones. This is becoming too common. Trump tweeted, see I was right about terrorism. And Obama should step down. We learned the shooters name and his Muslim connections. He was American grown born in NYC. He had a history of violence against women, Jews and gays. His Imam condemned his actions. Obama gave a somber speech. The Tony awards began with some heartfelt words against hatred of others. Facebook lit up with calls to prayer and other calls to stand fast against those who would use this latest killing spree to take away our right to bear AR-15's. Later that night I watched episode 5 of Night Manager based on a John LeCarre book. It is about illegal weapon selling. Nations compete for the most up to date and most destructive weapons. There is a brisk trade of the latest weapons between countries both legal and illegal. Do we think this will stop any time soon? Do we think that this latest action will make it any harder for some one with intent to kill to get his hands on a mass killing weapon? The Orlando shooter had been investigated twice by the FBI and still he bought his weapons last week. Roger Cohen in the New York Times wrote today that mass shootings with terrorist connections like this latest one could propel the West to elect right wing governments that promise to clamp down borders and evict "the enemies".

So, there we are - this small band of Christ followers - praying for grace and peace and hope. And taking communion, a meal centered on the death of One who brought Life. I thought of a poem I had read that morning by Scott Cairns.

"Every altar in our churches bears a holy fragment-a bit of bone most often-
as testament to the uncommon and genuine
honor in which we hold the body-
shattered bits of it, even when the habitant has,
for all appearances, gone hence. Each mute relic
serves as a token of death and of life's appalling
ubiquity-even there . It helps to bear in mind
the curious and irreparable harm the
inflicted upon the nether realm when graved
He filled it with Himself, and in so
doing, burst
its meager hold and burst its hold on
of which has made memory of death lately
less grim. Gehenna is empty, and tenders
these days and empty threat. Remember that."

Faith blocks

Getting to church on Sunday we found Jenga blocks in the center of each table. Not unusual since there is often something interactive we are asked to do. But, Jenga blocks. I was stumped. Jenga is the game where you build a tower with small, longish blocks and then remove them one by one until the tower collapses. Good party game but not one I would have expected at church. One of our first speakers, a young man who was new to the church, shared his faith story. Or his lack of faith story. Growing up pretty conservative in a large Southern evangelical church before attending a small, Christian college, he realized after school that his Jenga tower of faith was collapsing. One by one his belief blocks were being removed. He said your faith can survive the loss of one or two or a few blocks - but if it continues your faith will fall in a scattered mess of blocks. It is not an easy thing to rebuild your tower. But, necessary and it can be done. He is doing it.

Blogger, writer, church planter, Kathy Escobar, says she doesn't like the term "losing one's faith".  She doesn't believe faith is ever lost. What seems like a lost faith is better understood as shedding some of our beliefs. As we grow up in a church our Jenga tower of beliefs is being built for us. Then when we are responsible for our own tower we look at it and think it has to go. It no longer works. School, culture, friends, life intrudes and removes blocks. Then, after many weeks of sleeping in or doing brunch on Sundays and little time for prayer, we discover our faith is gone. But, it is really only the trappings of faith. You may no longer have a "system of  beliefs" but you still have a core, a smaller tower of basic beliefs. Kathy Escobar says you don't have to have many  beliefs to have faith. God is love. Jesus heals. In Christ we have hope. We are all created in the image of God. Those are good places to start. A lot of our beliefs are just stuff and really don't matter.  Don't confuse God with politics or sociology or science. Sunday in Church our pastor asked us: what is the core of your faith and we built Jenga towers.