Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sara Kay in Cedar Rapids

Spiritual. Jazz. Blues. Folk. Rock. Earthy. Warm. Moving. Ecofeminist. These are a few words that have been used to describe the music of Sara Kay. In fact, Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan says, "Sara Kay is a brilliant new gift to music-lovers. Her imaginative lyrics dance around a warm, acoustic center to create songs to stir the spirit." Think Jennifer Knapp mixed with Susan Werner. Or Ani Difranco mixed with Peter Mayer. Or Etta James mixed with Lost and Found. Okay, she's kind of all of these yet still different. She has her own original style - and she offers something fresh to the spiritual music scene. This summer she hopes to have her first album finished. In the meantime, you can listen to her on YouTube or in concert. And speaking of Sara's gigs...This Sunday, Sara will be celebrating Creation Sunday with a special two-hour setlist that will include many of her new original songs as well as some fun cover songs. All are welcome to this free show!

Sara Kay LIVE
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
153 Cherry Hill Rd. NW
Cedar Rapids, IA

Here are a few sneak peaks at some of Sara's songs that she is working up and recording for her new album: Victory, Eve's Fruit, Holy Gardener, Ode To Lillehammer, Mary's Song, Hard Times, We Move, Missouri, Mask of God, Journey, Of Lament and Hope, Source of Life, Be Open, Resurrection, and God Is Here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

All Creation Blues

Mike Blair sang this blues song, "All Creation Blues," when we were out at Holden Village. Seems like a good video to post on Earth Day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sacred Journey: "Sacred Waters"

Sacred Journey, a multi-faith spiritual journal, has published my poem "Sacred Waters." Check out their stuff. It feeds the soul and nurishes the hope. In a world where religions often divide us against each other, Sacred Journey is a good example of a place where religions can connect us more deeply. In fact their tagline says, "Embrace the wisdom that springs from religious traditions around the globe and explore the richness of different forms of prayer and spiritual practice." Good stuff. Click here for more.

"Sacred Waters"

God is a river
Meandering through the ebbs and flows of life
Led by the structures of the shore
Yet pushing boundaries beyond limitation

God is an ocean
Filling the deepest depths
Surrounding and supporting each creature
Providing the sacred ecosystem of life

God is a pond
Resting calmly in the distance
Inviting all to enjoy a drink
But not forcing or drowning any

God is a rapids
Bouncing and churning
Bringing us swifltly along
So we may enjoy the ride

God is a puddle
Sitting very still
A small part of the other waters
A sacramental reminder for all who pass

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Day Sunday Resources

1. Hymn: "God of the Water and Land" (Tune: Lord of all Hopefulness) from Sara

2. Hymn "All-Present, All-Visible" (Tune: Immortal Invisible) from Sara

3. Hymn: "Ancient Spirit, Modern Wonder" (Tune: Come Thou Font) from Sara

4. Hymn: "This Is My Father's/Mother's World" (Updated) from Sara

5. Hymn: "God of Movement" (Tune: Hyfrydol) from Sara

6. Video: "For the Beauty of the Earth" from Brian

7. Video: "All Creation Moaning for Redemption Blues" from Brian

8. Creation-Focused Prayer of Confession from Brian

9. Creation-Centered Translation of Psalm 8 from Brian

11. Call to Worship (Psalm 23) from Brian

12. Call to Worship (Psalm 150) from Brian

13. Creation Creed from Brian

14. Earthkeeping (Small Group Study) from Kim Winchell

15. Complete Creation Sunday Service from Jeanyne Slettom

16. Collection of Worship Materials from the EEN

17. Collection of Worship Materials from the PC(USA)

18. Collection of Worship Materials from the NCC

19. Creative Ideas for Creation Sunday from the ELCA

20. Historical Voices on the Sacredness of Creation


The new Rob Thomas song, "Someday", is excellent. It's a reminder that every day is a new day to start all over again. And each moment is a moment that is pregnant with hope and possibility. Ultimately, someday is now. Check it out:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Language of God: The UCC Message Continues

The United Church of Christ did an ad campaign in 2004. One of the best outcomes was all the press that the UCC got after NBC and CBS refused to air the ad. They banned the ads because they were too controversial and contained "advocacy advertising." People were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the networks in their decision. Clearly, many controversial ads have been shown on these networks over the years. But apparently the UCC went too far. They dared to say that everyone is welcome in the UCC. Even racially mixed people. And elderly people. And young people. And LGBT people. Etc. That message was just too much for NBC and CBS. Click here to watch the bouncer ad, the one that was deemed the most controversial. That ad doesn't go near as far as Jesus went in his day and time. This guy was one controversial dude. He welcomed women as leaders, prostitutes as friends, tax collectors as dinner guests, Pharisees as dialogue partners, etc. If CBS and NBC would have been around then, they wouldn't have even watched the promo draft to consider such controversial material. It's just too radial.

Now the UCC is back. This time they are bypassing network television and going for the Internet. With everyone on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., it's a wise move. The UCC is taking their message to the place people are: online. The new video is called "The Language of God." And it has already gone viral on social networking sites and in the news media. So, the message of an open and inclusive Church, committed to social justice, continues to spread. There's a great need for such a message in our time of anti-government violence, reactionary fundamentalism, and angry shock jocks. Yet there will be some people who will make fun of the UCC's message. But there's nothing funny about peace, love, and understanding (thank you, Evis Costello). It's a message and ministry that is needed. And it can be found in UCC churches - and many other congregations - in every community.

Several years ago, Barack Obama described the UCC's inclusive vision: "UCC churches across the country open their doors to millions of Americans each Sunday, and they accept, love and counsel all who enter. This spirit of inclusiveness has served as a model for me in my time in the Senate, and the love for one's fellow man that the UCC stands for is the foundation of my work." Obama gets it. Too bad the networks didn't. Oh well. The new ad bypasses the networks and reaches out through the net. Hopefully this message gets out and makes a positive impact.

Check out the video below for the newest installment from the UCC. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings about the new ad in the comment section.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brian's Ordination Celebration

It's party time. Of sorts. My ordination will be celebrated at 4:00pm on May 16th, 2010 at Zion UCC. All are welcome. Come for the beauty of rural NE Iowa - and stay for the ordination celebration. Rev. Dr. Dick Eick will be preaching and Sara Kay will be providing music. The Spirit will be in the house! Plus, there will be food. Immediately after the service, there will be a reception in the fellowship hall. Good times guaranteed...Well, if you like green space, good food, live music, and churchy things!

Here is a survival guide in case you're coming and want an insider's perspective on the best places to go: If you're looking for a park, check out Backbone State Park, Pikes Peak State Park, or Effigy Mounds National Park. If you want some great food, check out Shera's Algerian-American restaurant in Elkader or Mabe's Pizza in Decorah. If you need a place to sleep or a boat to cruise, check out Boatels. Okay, I better stop listing cool stuff before this sounds like an ad for vacationing in Iowa.

It takes a village to make the celebration of an ordination possible. Thank you to the “cloud of witnesses” who helped me to grow in faith and life: Jesus, Sara Klosterboer, Jan Brandsmeier, Curt Brandsmeier, Kris Butterbaugh, my extended family, Zion UCC, Dick Eick, Carol Eick, Pilgrim Heights Camp, Summer Games Bible Camp, EWALU Bible Camp, Kelley Foehrkolb, Dale Goodman, Kristen Corr, Gerson Neliwa, Tjeripo Musutua, Simba Circle, Faith UCC, Dee Lundberg, Eden Theological Seminary, Evangelical UCC, Faith Aloud, Holden Village, Pub Theology, Saint Paul UCC, Bob Molsberry, Lutheran Senior Services, CPE Group, Howard Kaplansky, Brian McLaren, Sojourners Magazine, Generate Magazine, Jim Wallis, WovenWord Press, U2, Susan Werner, Peter Mayer, Indigo Girls, Barack Obama, Thick Nhat Hahn, Castlewood State Park, Joretta Marshall, Clint McCann, Nadine Aydt, Joe Rowley, Jessica Rowley, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, David Weiss, John Philip Newel, Emergent Church folks, Center for Process and Faith, and the wider body of the United Church of Christ. There are also countless other people and organizations that I didn’t list because of the inherent limitation of lists. But my deep gratitude is extended to all of you, named and unnamed. All of your ministries are known by God. Thank you all for your influence, support, and faithfulness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Christian Fight Club: A Reflection by Jenn Simmons

A reflection on the NY Times article, "Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries."

After learning about “Christian Fight Clubs” I have been given some serious consideration to Jesus’ strength. Over the past few weeks, I have been asking myself, what does strong really mean? The gospels are full of stories of Jesus disrupting the political systems, reaching out to outcasts, and living outside the ‘normal’ systems. All this time, I thought that was the making a strong leader. Reading about Christian Fight clubs, it seems many people are drawn to a Jesus who was physically strong. These men display that strength by participating in or watching men hit one another.

In an article in the New York Times, Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries, I was struck by this statement, “The outreach is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility.” I believe there is room in the church for expressions of kindness and compassion and strength and responsibility.

Feminist movements have been critical of a worldview that oppresses females and creates false expectations of males. If churches ‘recruit’ males based only on their physical strength and not their emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being, churches have missed an opportunity to be church. Churches ought to be places that offer healthy holistic ministries instead of continuing to create false expectations of males and females. The only way the church can be the church is for us listen to one another, male and female, and to develop ministries that support healthy expressions that tend to our wholes selves.

I am also afraid if we jump on the bandwagons of our day we may forsake the identity of the Jesus movement in an effort to be ‘cool’ and attract members. Church communities can be a place to share common interests, but what happens when they become the main focus of the ministry? What happens when people show up for a violent expression of physical strength and are not offered ministries that help nurture the whole person?

Jesus ministry was about strength. He fought for the rights of the outcasts, unloved, and socially banished by staying the course and not giving up. Through non-violent efforts, Jesus turned the political systems upside down. Jesus sought to offer care for anyone who came to him and believed. He reached out to their emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual selves with kindness, compassion, strength and responsibility. As the church, we ought to follow in Jesus’ example and seek to offer holistic ministries to all people.

Jenn Simmons graduated from Eden Theological Seminary where she received a Masters of Divinity and from Texas Christian University where she received a B.A. in religious studies. She has served as a youth minister several years with positions in Texas, Illinois, and Missouri. While in seminary, she had an opportunity to serve as children’s chaplain at Lydia’s House and as a chaplain at Lutheran Senior Services. Currently, Jenn is the associate pastor of Webster Groves Christian Church in Saint Louis, MO.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Is The "Emergent Church" for Whites Only?

Sojourners is running an interesting cover story ("Is The Emergent Church For Whites Only?") about the racial diversity - or the lack thereof - in the Emergent Church. This is something that was brought up a few years ago in a saterical article called "Frightened Black Family Flees Emergent Church." It's also a topic that was discussed when my graduating class discussed the Emergent Church during my senior year at Eden Theological Seminary. There are many important questions that could be asked. And many valid reponces to those questions. The important thing is to be able to have these conversations with a passion for justice mixed with a dedication to charitability. It will be interesting to see what develops from the Sojo article in the coming weeks. The cover design alone is already creating buzz on the web. Hopefully a "sacred conversation on race" will emerge.

Calling Tony Jones To Account

Tony Jones wrote a blog post named "Calling Kevin DeYoung to Account." In this post he argued that DeYoung mis-characterized the Emergent Church and several of the members of the Emergent Church. It seemed like a fair challenge to DeYoung. And the cool thing is that DeYoung apologized for his words. A good ending to the story.

Now it's time to call Tony Jones to account. Actually, that seems too harsh. Let me re-phrase that. I'd like to invite Jones into a spirit of greater respect and collegiality. The problem is that Jones mis-characterizes and belittles the Mainline Church. Jones' post about Kevin DeYoung makes it obvious that he doesn't like it when the Neo-Reform folks misrepresent and belittle the Emergent Church. (Plus, in a post today, it's clear that he doesn't like it when his allies offer critiques.) So, I'm just asking that Jones doesn't do the same thing to the Mainline Church. I will include four examples of Jones' words in order to make clear what I am talking about.

First, in a panel discussion at a recent book expo, Jones said: "Liberals, like those at Claremont, are ideologically rigid and not open to dialogue." I have found this to be untrue. My experience of "liberal" seminaries is that they are very open to a diversity of perspectives. Many, if not most, are ecumenical, having faculty and students from a wide variety of backgrounds and theological traditions. When you sit in class at Mainline seminaries, you often will share a table with Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Unitarians, etc. Every single class is an act of ecumenical dialogue that requires openness to diversity. In fact, one of my former professors at a "liberal" seminary, Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, is now the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. The only thing Kinnamon was rigid about was the absolute need for respecting and listening to people with different perspectives. In fact, I would say Kinnamon's graciousness in ecumenical dialogue is something that should be a model for all Christians who want to live in a more peaceful world and Church. And, yes, Kinnamon is a "liberal," Mainline Christian. So, I don't think it's charitable or fair for Jones to claim that liberal Christians are "ideologically rigid and not open to dialogue." In my experience, it's liberal Christians who have been the most willing to include people with a variety of different perspectives. This is true of Claremont, too. The tagline itself at Claremont is: "The world is changing. And so is Claremont." "Liberals" can be open, fluid, changing folks.

Second, Jones implied that the use of inclusive and expansive language by "liberal" Christians is "bizarre." While sharing his experience at Hanover Church of Christ near Dartmouth College, Jones wrote: "I recognized the opening prayer, hymns, and the robes on the ministers. But as we got more deeply into the worship service it seemed like I was in some kind of Bizzaro Church. During the Lord's Prayer the opening words were 'Our Mother, who art in Heaven.' Other prayers were addressed to the 'Great Spirit.' Several of the hymns had the same tunes that I remembered but slightly different words — all reference to maleness and warfare had been purged." (100). It's uncharitable to say that a church that uses inclusive and expansive language is a "Bizzaro Church." The Bible includes a variety of images for God, including Father (Matthew 6:9), Mother (Psalm 131:2), Rock (Isaiah 17:10), Water (Jeremiah 17:13), Vine (John 15:1), etc. The use of expansive language is meant to be faithful to the diverse images of God found in Scripture. In fact, God's very name, "I Am Who I Am" (Exodus 3:14), suggests that God is enigmatic and our words about God are only models and metaphors. So, expansive language attempts to use a plurality of images for God in order to avoid making any one image of God into a idolatrous, graven image. Plus, inclusive and expansive language is also used in order to bring about the reformations that feminist theologians, such as Ruth Duck, have been discussing for decades. This is too important to simply cast aside as something "bizarre" that "liberal" churches do. Churches who use inclusive and expansive language do it to as a sign of their commitment to Scripture and justice. This seems faithful, not bizarre.

Third, Jones wrote that the United Church of Christ, a Mainline denomination, is "notoriously left-leaning" (9). Obviously, in the context of his book, Jones is using this label as part of a dualistic, straw man argument against "Conventional Christianity" (i.e. Mainline) and in favor of "New Christianity" (i.e. Emergent). One of the problems with this label is that it's a gross misrepresentation of the UCC. This is a denomination that includes conservatives, moderates, and progressives. Plus, the UCC is made up of a vast array of polities, theologies, perspectives, and peoples from many different contexts: Evangelical, Reform, Congregational, Frontier Christian, Black Church, Rural America, Feminist, Queer, etc. So, the UCC is a pluriform denomination that is actually quite difficult to stuff in a simple box. Each congregation is different. Each congregation is diverse. And so the denomination is impossible to classify in the reductionistic way in which Jones tried to label it. It's just not accurate to call the UCC "notoriously left-leaning." A better description might be to say that the UCC is a "notoriously 'big tent' denomination." Barack Obama described the post-partisan and inclusive vision of the UCC well: "UCC churches across the country open their doors to millions of Americans each Sunday, and they accept, love and counsel all who enter. This spirit of inclusiveness has served as a model for me in my time in the Senate, and the love for one's fellow man that the UCC stands for is the foundation of my work." The UCC, like Obama, is committed to honoring the diverse perspectives around our common table of ideas. Honoring diversity is good for public discourse in politics and the Church.

Fourth, in a rant on his blog about ordination, Jones said that the Mainline Church is "tribal," "abusive," and "sinful." He says it's tribal because Mainline people pick one theological flavor and one type of people and stick with this tribe forever. (As if the Mainline Church or any denomination is one monolithic bloc.) He says it's abusive because Mainline denominations have ordination requirements that he thinks are too strict. (As if ethical standards and communal discernment isn't important.) He says it's sinful because it's tribal, abusive, bureaucratic, etc. (As if any human institution isn't influenced by sin, including the Emergent Church.) And it's not just me who has noticed Jones' uncharitable words in blog posts like this one. The Senior Minister of the American Church in London, John D’Elia (a personal friend of Jones), wrote the following about Jones' recent barrage of criticism against the Mainline Church: "What gets me is that you have demonstrated a rash and bitter level of dismissiveness to those of us who choose this path. In your anger at the bureaucracy of large denominations and institutions, you’ve lashed out not only at them, but also at the men and women of faith and calling who participate freely in the opportunities for ministry that they offer. You sneer at it as simply being loyal to the tribe, and you rarely pass up a chance to mention the availability of health insurance or pensions. Shame on you for not being able - or worse, willing - to understand another person’s experience...What if there’s nothing wrong with trying to be a good steward of a family’s health, whether physical or financial? What if, for example, serving Christ in a denomination that provides a health plan isn’t a sin or a ‘sell-out’ at all, but rather a prudent way to be a good steward?" D'Elia is simply asking Jones to honor different ways of doing ministry. It seems that in our world, there is still room for the structure, accountability, and support of denominations.

Hopefully these four examples of Jones' words illustrate his pattern of mis-characterizing and belittling Mainline Christianity, without discrediting all of his other good and faithful work. But that's the point. His uncharitable banter hinders his message. Sometimes it seems like Jones uses polemic, adversarial, and provocative statements in order get attention. Many of his comments are valid points. But some of these comments are sensationalistic banter. The issue is that it's difficult to hear the valid points when they're mixed with such sensationalism. Michael Moore also brings up valid points in his films, but the films are so infiltrated with sensationalism that it's hard for some people to take his points seriously. That is what I see happening with some of Jones' blogs and books.

Many people in the Emergent Church, including Tony Jones, have good and faithful ideas that are important for others to hear. But those points can be made without a polemic, adversarial, and provocative stance. Brian McLaren is an example of someone in the Emergent Church who does this well. McLaren makes his points without the need to belittle others. I think his approach is a much better way to reach an audience. As the old saying goes, "Honey attracts more flies than vinegar."

We need to be partners, not adversaries. The Mainline Church needs the Emergent Church. And the Emergent Church needs the Mainline Church. We have much to teach each other - and learn from one another. Let's figure out a way to form a generative friendship instead of an unproductive standoff. I honestly feel like I am both Mainline and Emergent. That is why I am so passionate about bringing these two "sides" together. I care deeply about the Church and think that the Mainline and Emergent Churches have much to contribute to the future of Christianity. So this blog post is my plea for a spirit of greater respect and collegiality. And maybe someday we could even reach the level of collaboration. After all, Apostle Paul reminds us that we are all different members of the one Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Provocative, Subversive, and Beautiful Message of Easter

Greed, injustice, and death do not have the last word. God provides us with persistant hope and transformation. Something new and unexpected is always upon us. Every kind word, honest business practice, work of art, etc. is a sign of the resurrection. It's all a sign that love, justice, and mutuality will win. Interested in more? Do yourself a favor and watch this video of Rob Bell talking about the resurrection. It's good stuff.