Lao-tzu, as he begins the Tao Te Ching, says that the Way (Tao) that can be accounted for, or explained, is not the real Way. Remember how Jesus used parables, and only parables, to express the deepest concepts behind the Christian life? As I practice my craft of photography, I am surrounded by numbers. F-stop, shutter speed, and length of lens are recorded in the file of each image. I often review these statistics to see if I am handling my camera the way that I should. This work of the thing, is not the same process as the pursuing of light. If any of the numbers are off, I may fail to capture this or that image.

Numbers are important to the craft, but not the art

Pilate's Dilemma

Whatever you speak about this week, take to time to dwell on the Christian’s obligation to be compassionate in all circumstances. All circumstances includes Syrian refugees. The terrorist attacks in Paris have shifted our cultural vision, from pity towards the thousands who are homeless and hungry, to eye-pluckingly-spiteful revenge taking for fear that one or two wolves might be hiding naked among the huddled masses yearning to be free.

Pentecost 28
Sunday, November 22, 2015

People came to hear Jesus teach and they asked each other, “What’s different about that guy?” The Gospel writers, who are already shifting into an institutional mindset, offer this answer, “He spoke with authority.” Actually, what people sensed was the natural flow of Jesus’ passion for God. Later, the book of Acts tells how the church, as an institution, was formed. The Apostles note that a man named Stephen was really doing a lot of service for others, so they ordained him a deacon (literally, one who serves). Luke wants to us to observe how organizational innovations like this helped the early church to grow.

We need to see the embers and nurture the fire

Thinking Apocalyptically

Many people skip the apocalyptic passages of the Bible. Historically, religion in America cycles through periods of high apocalyptic awareness about every fifty years. The most recent peaking being thirty years ago, as captured in the book title, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Occur in 1988. These times are always followed by decades of exhaustion, when main line churches forsake the Book of Revelation like it was the actual plague, not just the messenger. Popular culture takes up the banner that religion drops, so we have Y2K, the Zombie Apocalypse, and the tragic over-response of the Bush administration to 911.

Pentecost 27
Sunday, November 15, 2015

How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind.

Even the smallest creature lives in a relationship with Light

Who does that Young Woman Belong To?

There ought to be a law: One can’t tell the story of Ruth without dealing with the social implications. The time of the Judges, when Ruth is set, is often viewed with nostalgia. Back before the disastrous anointing of King Saul, the land of Palestine was a place where every man did what was right in his own eyes. This is the land of Ronald Reagan and Mad Comics. Whenever we time travel, we have to intentionally open our eyes and think critically. Things are not as wonderful as they seem.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ruth and Naomi Part 1

Some people can summarize their entire life’s story in one line. One thinks of Nixon saying, “I am not a crook,” or the hypochondriac who was buried under the tombstone, “See? I told you I was sick.” For Naomi, in the book of Ruth, the line is, “The Lord has turned his hand against me.” Imagine how hard it was for this woman to live with her own interpretation of events. This is one definition of insanity, when we believe our own internal messages, and those messages aren’t helpful.

Pentecost 26
All Saints Day
Sunday, November 1, 2015

Simone Weil said, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not.” Fortunately, many church leaders know their church’s image is not her reality. Well to do, suburban, congregations often are deluded into believing that their church’s charismatic pastor and modern facilities makes it a great church. Intuitive and theologically aware church leaders know that the congregation’s mission, hope, and strength, lie elsewhere.

Outward beauty has little to do with Gospel

Past, Present, and Future

Psalm 126 is easy to outline: It starts in the past, with praising God, then touches on the present which isn't going so well and needs prayer, then sings about the future (prophesy)

Part 1 -- past & praise

There is a good remembering of the past, and a bad one. The church spends most of its time doing bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 25, 2015

Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie.

Why does honesty matter?

A Fundamental Difference

I think we should pay attention whenever Jesus makes a direct comparison between how his people do things and the standard procedure of the rest of the world. In Mark 10:37, Jesus gets asked a simple question, “When you take over, who are you going to have as your right hand man (or woman)?” It’s the kind of question that we’ll be asking the 2016 field of presidential candidates when it gets winnowed down a bit more, “Who’s going to be your running mate, Jesus?” His two-part answer pleases no one.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 18, 2015

It’s fall, time to set the pastor’s salary. When I reflect back on my career, my most painful moments revolve around this ritual. In my first two situations, the compensation package was literally at the poverty level. I had to plead to get a few dollars above “minimum.” This was in spite of the fact that the churches were doing better than they had under my predecessor. If it wasn’t for the real needs of my family, I would have kept silent at the committee meetings where my salary was under discussion.

How much do I have to pay for this pastor?

Not Far From the Path

I sometimes tell people that the reason I am a writer today, is because I bought a computer in 1984 that had Spell Check installed. In grade school, I would get the weekly spelling test back with three or four out of the ten words marked wrong. As classes progressed and I was given essays and creative writing assignments, they would always come back with some variant of “nice story” or “interesting points” at the top, and then such a multitude of red marks and grammatical mistakes that the net grade barely passed. I didn’t know that I could write, until a mechanism allowed me to stop focusing upon the rules.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two of the most helpful terms in describing church leaders are  Over-Functioning and Under-Functioning.  Over-Functioning as a neurotic state is related to codependency. This was first noted in the study of the family systems that surrounded alcoholics.  The vacuum in family structure and process created by a drinking parent would suck one or more of the children into adult-sized roles. They would take on tasks that were really not their jobs. As they grew into adulthood and left their family of origin, these wounded souls would characteristically over commit.

Not My Job

Ecology

Psalm 8 and the Genesis creation story reveal something that can only be learned from revelation: that our dominion over all creatures, as well as, our responsibility for the environment, is not something humanity gained by evolving into the top position in terms of intelligence, nor have we conquered the earth by our own might, ecological dominion is instead a gift, a matter of grace from our creator. This is why Pope Francis’ voice on climate control is a significant addition to the debate.

Pentecost 22
Sunday, October 4, 2015

Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.

 

What is different about this Pope?

7 Reasons to Pray

In James 5:13-20 seven prayer topics are considered: Trouble, Happy, Sick, Sin, Prophetic (Elijah concerned with political situation), Environmental, and for those who are Lost. But, everything James says is prefaced by a discussion of the prayer-less attitude many have towards life.  In James 413-15 we are cautioned not be drawn into thinking that we have a god-less solution to the troubles of this world.

 

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Time for Honesty

At the heart of every twelve step program, like AA, there is an emphasis on holy confession. We confess the path that our urges and inner demons have put us on. We confess our inability to manage them by ourselves. We affirm our commitment to change our course and walk on a new path. James, being the New Testament’s wisest wisdom book, resonates with these truths.  In James 3:13- 4:10 we are urged to think about the costs associated with following our selfish desires.

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 20, 2015

Imprecise language is the bane of group processes. Whether you are Donald Trump, Bill Maher, or the substitute teacher for the kindergarten Sunday school class, your audience deserves a better word choice.  Unless you are referring to a recent blow on the head, as in to be knocked stupid, the word “stupid” is always a poor choice. Not only is it inflammatory, it distracts us from the choice we must make whenever we talk about motive. I write novels and none of my characters are stupid. Whenever they make a bad decision or commit a felony, the proper word for what they are doing is either incompetence or malevolence.

Leadership demands precise language

Know Your Cross

The news tonight is bound to contain at least one example of a foolish religious sacrifice. It may be a suicide bomber, an IS recruit selling all to go to Syria, or a county clerk going to jail for failing to give marriage licenses. That last example may be a bit controversial, but it is carefully chosen. I think all forms of martyrdom should conform to the rules of civil disobedience. Before I pick up a cross, participate in an act that is likely to cause me harm or imprisonment, or fail to perform the reasonable duties of my workplace, I must ask:

Pentecost 19
Sunday, September 13, 2015

All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well. 

 

During transition, our souls rest on a base of body and relational concerns

Up or Down, a Show of Hands

Most religious beliefs aren’t suited for Yes/No, no qualifiers, interrogations. The Republican field of candidates was asked to indicate by a show of hands whether they would support the nominee if it was not them. Simple question, answer Yes or No.  In the Baptism ritual we ask a series of similarly simple — no grey area — questions. Beyond this, what other assertions deserve this treatment? In James 2:5, a rhetorical question is asked and James assumes that we will answer confidently, “Yes.” That question goes like this:

Pentecost 8
Sunday, September 6, 2015

It’s important not to get caught up in America’s current political polarization. There was a day in which Republicans were promoting the Fourteenth Amendment instead of seeking to get it repealed. Support of particular political candidates, movements, or parties, often gets the church coopted into simply providing the people to serve someone else’s agenda. 

To be sustainable, churches must serve the community

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