The Common Good

Faith and Spirituality

A Prayer for Fred Phelps

Editor's Note: Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church — best known for anti-gay demonstrations that include picketing soldiers' funerals — is reportedly near death. The following is offered as a prayer.

Good and gracious God,
We lift up a prayer
for the misguided –
for those who hate
and belittle
and abuse
in your name.

For those
who wish to see
the hate go on,
the anger be fed,
the world continue
on its unsustainable path
of division and judgement.

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Allegiance

Everywhere we turn, someone or something is vying for our allegiance. Sports teams. Car companies. Television networks. Politicians. Political parties. Flags. Countries. And of course, the church. Many of us will readily admit that Jesus taught our allegiance is to be, first and foremost, to God. That is, until someone steps on our toes and throws our church into the mix. For many, their allegiance to God and their church are so intertwined it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. But what does Jesus have to say about all of this?

From my estimation, God makes it pretty clear that he does not want to vie for our allegiance. Isn't that the whole point of the first commandment? Jump ahead to the New Testament and we find Jesus teaching the same thing. At one point Jesus goes so far as to tell us that our allegiance cannot be divided. Either we will love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. According to Jesus, serving two masters isn't just difficult, it's impossible. To further illustrate this point, he even turns away a would be disciple. From reading the story, this man seems to have a legitimate concern. All he wants to do is bury his father before taking off to follow in the footsteps of this rabbi. But from Jesus' perspective, his allegiance is divided, so this won't fly.

Today is no different. God doesn't want to vie for our allegiance. Yet he must, because our allegiance is divided between church attendance, theological stances, and denominational commitments (among other things), as if these things take precedence over following Jesus. 

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Mob Threats Aside, Pope Francis Will Pray with Victims of Organized Crime

The Vatican said Monday that Pope Francis will preside over a prayer vigil dedicated to victims of mob violence in Italy and their families.

It’s a sensitive issue for Francis after a famed anti-mob prosecutor last year said the pope’s financial reforms were making mob bosses “very nervous” and could expose the pope to assassination plots.

The special service, to be held Friday, is expected to include at least 700 Italians who lost a family member to violence connected to Italy’s various organized crime organizations.

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Chris Thompson: Look Deeper Into Lent Than Just 'Give-Ups'

Date: March 14, 2014
Renowned theologian Walter Brueggemann observed in a Sojourners article, "Lent is 'Come to Jesus' Time": "Lent is a time for fresh decision-making about reliance upon the God of the gospel. Such decision-making in Lent is commonly called "repentance." It's a time to reflect on the way in which God gives new life that is welcome when we recognize how our old way of life mostly leaves us weary and unsatisfied. Lent is a time to face the reality that there is no easy or "convenient" passage from our previous life to a new, joyous life in the gospel. The move is by the pattern and sequence of Jesus' own life, an embrace of suffering that comes with obedience, a suffering which comes inevitably when our lives are at odds with dominant social values."

Exploring A Lenten Practice Of Sabbatical

Date: March 16, 2014
Bob Sabath is a long time tech worker at Sojourners magazine also described as "resident contemplative." In the February issue of the magazine, he interviewed the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault, a traveling mystic and author of eight books on the Christian spiritual life. He asked her this question:

Pastor Mark Driscoll Apologizes for Missteps, Quits Social Media

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has written a letter to his congregation to explain recent controversies, including the marketing campaign intended to place the book, Real Marriage, on The New York Times best-seller list.

Driscoll has been an influential pastor within Reformed evangelical circles for several years, helping to found a church planting network called Acts 29. His own Mars Hill Church attracts some 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states each Sunday.

In recent months, however, reports have emerged that Driscoll plagiarized some of the material in his books. And earlier this month, World magazine reported that Driscoll hired a firm to buy copies of the book he penned with his wife, Grace, so that it would top the best-seller lists.

In a letter posted on Reddit on Saturday, Driscoll apologized for using the marketing strategy.

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Sitting At A Tilted Table

In the days before video games, we had tabletop games that were a lot of fun despite their built-in shortcomings. We had an electric football game with a vibrating field; sometimes, the players would go in circles or simply stop in place. There was a hockey game with long rods that were pushed and pulled to make players advance or retreat, then spun to make them whirl and shoot; occasionally, the puck would wind up in a dead space on the board.

At those moments, you had two choices: Call a timeout, or raise your legs a bit to tilt the table and get the player or the puck headed in the other direction.

Naturally, this was frowned upon. It was seen as cheating — giving yourself an advantage. If you got caught raising the table, you were penalized. A tilted table was considered unfair.

In real life, we all sit at tilted tables.

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11 Reasons Why People Love And Use Social Media

Date: March 17, 2014
One criticism of the digital age is that we are sitting in front of our computer screens, isolated from the world. Even if this is true, social media allows us various levels of social interaction, even from the comforts of our own home. We can meet and interact with people from all over the world, and yes, even build friendships. Many of my strongest friendships are with people I originally met through social networks. Julie Clawson wrote an excellent blog about this over at Sojourners, titled Why N.T.Wright is Wrong About Social Media. The previously mentioned studies from Pew also indicate that:

Why You Ought to Leave the Church

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

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In WikiWorship, Church Members Help Edit the Sermon

Turning part of the message over to church members is the concept behind a new worship model called WikiWorship.

Yes, that’s wiki as in Wikipedia.

It was developed by the Rev. Philip Chryst, pastor of a United Methodist mission in Wilmington, as part of an evangelism course when he was finishing his degree at Duke Divinity School. He’s using it as part of a Lenten series at 9:45 a.m. each Sunday through April 13 in the bar called Hell’s Kitchen.

The week before each WikiWorship, participants submit questions on religion, ethics, life, or God via the mission’s website. Then Chryst chooses one to spur discussion at each service.

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