After 36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant, I came to a startling conclusion the other day.
Not startling to you, perhaps. I might be the last person to get the memo. But the conclusion drew me up short.
My conclusion: Religion shouldn’t be this hard.
As you make your winter reading list or shop for gifts, consider these 2013 books from Sojourners magazine staff and contributors. Or, buy yourself a gift for 2014.
Desmond Tutu tells a story of when he was nine or 10 years old and he stood with his mother outside a building where she worked as a cook. This was 1940s apartheid South Africa, where black people were considered inferior in all respects. A lanky, white Anglican priest named Trevor Huddleston walked by in a long cassock, saw his mother, and doffed his hat to her.
The white man would have been expected to ignore the black woman, who amounted to nothing in her society. With one simple gesture, he went out of his way to tell her that her society had it all wrong and that she was equally valued and loved.
That moment made a profound impression upon Tutu, who wrote about it in his book, Made For Goodness.
What seem like very small, ordinary acts often have immense and lasting impacts. And every interaction that we have — even with a stranger on the street — can leave some sort of mark, either helpful or hurtful.
Somehow I’ve had the good fortune until recently not to know who Theresa Caputo, (AKA the Long Island Medium) was. The long and short of it, in case you’ve been similarly privileged, is that she has a reality show and claims to speak to dead people. She also has a book, which I saw in the airport bookstore, and tours extensively (including where we are on vacation). Before I knew who she was, just looking at her book cover and the related press around her, I assumed she was the latest in a long string of prosperity gospel preachers.
Not exactly, but kinda.
It got me thinking about what folks like this have in common, be they prosperity-preaching ministers, self-help “Jesus light” media darlings, or channels for the dearly departed from Jersey Shore. Following is a list of traits they all seem to have in common.
For some months now, I have been ruminating on the writer John Podhoretz’s eulogy in Commentary magazine for his sister Rachel Abrams upon her death, from stomach cancer, at age 62. Commentary effectively being the Podhoretz family house organ, and the Podhoretzes effectively being the mythological family of the origin of neoconservatism, the essay would be of interest to anyone interested in cultural and religious sociology — or at least to me.
I, too, come from a family that has also tended to think of itself in somewhat mythological, contrarian terms — This is what Langstons are like — so a meditation from the heart of another large, bustling family is an immediate and natural draw for me.
But lay that all aside. The eulogy wins, and haunts, because it is the passionate remembrance of a sister by her brother. Despite their being part of a prominent East Coast family, its focus is relentlessly on the small acts of family and home that transfigure quotidian existence. Podhoretz dwells lovingly on Rachel as a housewife, a lifetime foul-mouth, an exuberant and dedicated mother, an artist, and finally a writer who let loose with political commentary in her late fifties as online blogs began gathering steam.
“I loved you, Rachel,” he concludes poignantly, in words I could read over and over. “I liked you. And oh, oh, oh, how I admired you.”
So much of that poignancy is derived from direct address to his sister, who is no longer there to receive it. Having just hit 45, Dante comes to mind: midway-through-the-journey-of-our-life-I found myself within a dark wood for the right way had been lost. Who can know how our days are numbered? The lesson for me is that I should tell of how I love my brother John, even as he lives.
Within the evangelical Christian universe, few things are more damning than being labeled 'Legalistic.' The term evokes images of strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, unforgiving judges, and worst of all —unpopularity.
When churches, schools, pastors, institutions, and communities are viewed as legalistic, they are demonized and shunned — sometimes rightfully so.
One disturbing trend I’ve noticed — especially among young believers — is to assume that everything associated with a few of legalism’s attributes: structure, requirements, consequences, and work, is legalistic — it’s not.
They’re rarely at worship services and indifferent to doctrine. And they’re surprisingly fuzzy on Jesus.
These are the Jewish Americans sketched in a new Pew Research Center survey, 62 percent of whom said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry and just 15 percent who said it’s about religious belief.
But it’s not just Jews. It’s a phenomenon among U.S. Christians, too.
Meet the “Nominals” — people who claim a religious identity but may live it in name only.
After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?
If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.
Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?
Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer.
After hardline Islamists voiced opposition to the Miss World contest now being staged in Muslim-majority Indonesia, a rival World Muslimah beauty contest exclusively for Muslim women will announce its winner on Wednesday in the capital of Jakarta, though the U.S. candidate suddenly dropped out.
“Muslimah World is a beauty pageant, but the requirements are very different from Miss World,” the pageant’s founder Eka Shanti told Agence France-Presse.
“You have to be pious, be a positive role model and show how you balance a life of spirituality in today’s modernized world,” she said.
So, here's the thing. I just met Rev. Alfred Williams. He's a retired UCC pastor. At 81, he's still preaching and teaching. He's still asking great questions and pushing congregations to do the same. When I am his age, I hope to be as passionate. Hell, I wish I were as passionate now. With that introduction, I want to share this sermon that he preached on Aug.18 of at Ladera Community Church.
I think this sermon serves to blow apart some of our assumptions about generational differences within church leadership. He preached on Mark 8:27-33.