Church

Boston Marathon’s Holy Ground and Sacred Bonds

Photo courtesy Daniel Burke
Daniel Burke (second from left) with his wife and family after the Marine Corp Marathon in 2007. Photo courtesy Daniel Burke

When it comes to running, America often looks like a country divided between apostles and apostates.

For true believers like Olympian Ryan Hall, marathons assume an almost-biblical importance.

“I have heard stories and had personal experiences in my own running when I felt very strongly that God was involved,” Hall, an evangelical Christian, has said.

Other Americans — athletic atheists, you might call them — roll their eyes and see marathons as a painful waste of a perfectly nice day.

In the Church of Running, I sit somewhere in the back pew.

Atheists Find a Sunday-Morning Connection with Other Nonbelievers

Courtesy of says-it.com
A fake church sign for the Houston Oasis group. Courtesy of says-it.com

HOUSTON — Sunday mornings at Houston Oasis may look and feel of a church, but there’s no cross, Bible, hymnal, or stained glass depictions of Jesus. There’s also nary a trace of  doctrine, dogma, or theology.

But the 80 or so attendees at this new weekly gathering for nonbelievers come for many of the same reasons that others pack churches in this heavily Christian corner of the Bible Belt — a sense of community and an uplifting message that will help them tackle the challenges of the coming week, and, maybe, the rest of their lives.

“Just because you don’t believe in God does not mean you do not need to get together in community and draw strength from that,” said Mike Aus, a onetime Lutheran pastor who is now an atheist and founder of Houston Oasis.

“We are open to any message about life as long as no dogmatic claims are made.”

Fifty Years Later, Church Leaders Respond to King’s 'Birmingham Jail' Letter

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury Press
Jonathan Rieder, author of 'Gospel of Freedom,' said reporters initially ignored the letter. Photo courtesy Bloomsbury Press

Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white church leaders to confront racism, an ecumenical network has responded to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

“We proclaim that, while our context today is different, the call is the same as in 1963 — for followers of Christ to stand together, to work together, and to struggle together for justice,” declared Christian Churches Together in the USA in a 20-page document.

The statement, which is linked to an April 14-15 ecumenical gathering in Birmingham, Ala., includes confessions from church bodies about their silence and slow pace in addressing racial injustice.

“The church must lead rather than follow in the march toward justice,” it says.

How Will I Know I Have Given Enough?

Man asking for help, Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
Man asking for help, Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

As has happened many times after I have given a talk about the Body of Christ’s responsibility to care for their brothers and sisters experiencing impoverished and dehumanizing conditions, I was asked to answerthose questions — the ones in my experience that are always the first to be asked the moment I stop speaking.

“How will I know I have given enough? How does the church balance financial responsibility with service to the poor? Where do we draw the line?”

These questions always come, sometimes spoken in a curious tone by a person whose heart is being convicted, sometimes in an angry accusing tone insinuating I must hate prosperity, sometimes privately as a whisper in my ear or in a personal email filled with insinuations about my sanity. What a preposterous proposal, that the Body of Christ in any particular location should be the first resource to its own community for spiritual, physical, and emotional well being! Don’t I know that such a mission is naïve and impossible to achieve? Most recently it was phrased like this: “I love this idea, but it is difficult to see benevolence funds go towards someone's electric bill when they smell like they smoked five packs of cigs before meeting with us; what do we do?”

Change or Die

argus, artcphotos / Shutterstock
Without reinvention, churches risk dying. argus, artcphotos / Shutterstock

Church is being reinvented. So are technology and education. And all for the same reasons.

Facebook just started moving Google’s cheese with its launch of Home. An army of upstarts in Silicon Valley is challenging the hegemony of Microsoft. Nothing is staying the same; disruption is the path to prosperity.

The reason: the marketplace is highly dynamic. New needs emerge. New products stimulate new needs. New entrants want to make a difference right away. Problems and opportunities multiply faster than bureaucratic pillars can respond.

A Glorious Mess

ANYONE WHO LIVES in Christian community or participates in congregational life knows that it is a holy mess. A group of flawed individuals trying to do "life together" can bring out the worst in one another. But that's precisely where God calls us to be.

In our hyperindividualistic culture, it's often difficult to remember that God has created us to be in community. Christian faith and discipleship, from the beginning, have been shaped not by going at it alone but by engaging in ancient and contemporary communal experiences. The first house churches and the formation of communities among the early desert fathers and mothers, as well as today's megachurches, parachurch organizations, and new monastic groups, all point to how we long to be connected to God and with one another.

Our faith and character are refined by the miraculous gifts of grace, reconciliation, and forgiveness made available to us in community. In such a demanding and disconnected world, it is indeed a miracle when two or more gather to break bread and give of themselves in service to God and one another.

Here are some books to help us along the Way, as we seek to deepen our understanding of what it means to be in communion with Christ and with each other.

In 2009 I was co-leading a new intentional community in Washington, D.C. Our nascent group endured many struggles, including interpersonal issues, conflicting visions and goals, and the involuntary removal of a community member. How I wish The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press), by David Janzen, was available when we first began our journey.

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Pope Francis Says Women Play a ‘Fundamental’ Role Within the Church

Pope Francis on Wednesday said women play a “fundamental role” in the Catholic Church as those who are mostly responsible for passing on the faith from one generation to the next.

While the new pope stopped far short of calling for women’s ordination or giving women more decision-making power in the church, his remarks nonetheless signaled an openness to women that’s not often seen in the church hierarchy.

“In the church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord,” the Argentine pontiff said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

House of Prayer and Dreams

A rendering of the reconstructed cathedral.

WE WERE LOOKING at cathedrals while others were mourning and burying their dead.

It was the first day of the international design competition that would help choose a few architectural plans that might be used to rebuild Notre Dame de l'Assomption, Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince's most famous cathedral. This cathedral was so central to the city that, before it was leveled in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, its turrets could be seen from most places in Port-au-Prince, as well as from the sea, where mariners used a light on the cupola of the church's north tower to help bring their ships home.

During the 2010 earthquake, the Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, was killed inside an administrative building adjoining the cathedral, along with priests and parishioners. It was the images of their crushed bodies and their loved ones wailing around the perimeters of the cathedral's rubble that motivated me, a non-architect and non-Catholic—but a lover of cathedrals—to agree to join a development strategist, a preservationist architect, a structural engineer, a priest and liturgical consultant, the dean and associate dean of two architectural schools, and the editor of a magazine that discusses the dual issues of faith and architecture to help select three out of the 134 moving, elegant, and in some cases totally out-there designs that we had received from architects all over the world. Among the panelists, three of us were Haitian born, and many of the others had either worked in Haiti or in the Catholic Church for years.

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Breaking the Impasse

THE CHURCH IS locked in a polarized debate around same-sex relationships that is creating painful divisions, subverting the church's missional intent, and damaging the credibility of its witness. We've all heard the sound-bite arguments. For some, condoning or blessing same-sex relationships betrays the clear teaching of the Bible, and represents a capitulation to the self-gratifying, permissive sexual ethic of a secularized culture. For others, affirming same-sex relationships flows from the command to love our neighbor, embodies the love of Jesus, and honors the spiritual integrity and experience of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The way the debate presently is framed makes productive dialogue difficult. People talk past one another. Biblical texts collide with the testimony of human experience. The stakes of the debate become elevated from a difference around ethical discernment to the preservation of the gospel's integrity—for both sides. Lines get drawn in the ecclesiastical sand. Some decide that to be "pure" they must separate themselves spiritually from others and break the fellowship of Christ's body. Then the debate devolves into public wrangling over judicial proceedings, constitutional interpretations, and property ownership. Meanwhile, the "nones," those who are walking away from any active relig-ious faith, find further confirmation for their growing estrangement.

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CrossFit: A Secular Church?

Photo by CrossFit Fever / Flickr
Photo by CrossFit Fever / Flickr

The first Christmas after my daughter was born, I got a two-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness as a gift. Included in the membership was one personal training session.

My trainer bristled with annoyance at my “fad diet” when I told him we were going Paleo for three months. Then he showed me to the elliptical machine and told me that he lost weight by drinking sugar-free Kool-Aid all day and ordering off of the light menu at Taco Bell.

Obviously, our philosophies weren’t in line. But I was still able to get some cardio, weights, and an occasional spin class in at the gym. No hard feelings. But staying motivated and committed to working out while staying home with a toddler has been hard.

That might be because I haven’t tried CrossFit.

I think CrossFit is like secular church. It offers more than weight loss or fitness. It speaks to our innate desires for community, purpose, and transformation.

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