Saturday, July 31, 2010

Post-Seminary Reading List

A colleague of mine has posted a request for a reading list for recent seminary graduates. This sounded like something worth exploring. So I developed a list of ten resources that I have found to be very helpful since graduating from grad school. All of these resources are more current and practical than the books we typically read in seminary. I suppose when the rubber hits the road, it's natural to want to read books that will help improve one's practical skills more than one's theoretical knowlege. So here is the reading list I would recommend (after being out of school for two years):

Transforming Christian Theology by Philip Clayton

Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass

I Refuse To Lead a Dying Church by Paul Nixon

Feeding The Fire: Avoiding Clergy Burnout by Bruce and Kathrine Epperly

Seasons of Ministry by Bruce and Katherine Epperly

How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins

Living Buddha Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren

Eucharistic Prayers for Inclusive Communities edited by Bridget Mary Meehan and Sheila Durkin Dierks

Generate Magazine

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Emergent Buddhism

The Emergent Church is familiar to people who read blogs like this one, but how about Emergent Buddhism? Same concept. Different religion. It's all about making religious traditions more relevant to changing times and contexts. And, honestly, ya gotta love Mr. Happy's rapping. Check it out:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Brains: Left-Wing and Right-Wing

Remember a few years ago when everyone was talking about the differences between people who were "right-brain" (analytical/objective) and "left-brain" (artistic/subjective) in their worldview? Well, it turns out that it's not that simple. We're actually "whole-brain" people with characteristics from both "sides" of our brain. But a new study at NYU and UCLA has found something really interesting about the differences between "left-wing brains" and "right-wing brains." Yup, it looks like people with different political beliefs might actually be wired differently.

Apparently, people with "left-wing brains" tend to more readily accept new information and change their mind based on that new information. They also navigate nuance, ambiguity, and conflict more easily. These are the folks you want around when you're brainstorming new ideas or looking for donations for groundbreaking scientific research. There are gifts to having a left-wing brain.

Conversely, people with "right-wing brains" are more likely to persist in their beliefs despite new information. They also tend to be more focused on one particular issue or idea. These are the folks you want around when you need to make a decision and stick with it or if you want a more consistent conversation partner. There are gifts to having a right-wing brain, too.

Obviously, real life is too complex for these two simplistic options. Most people fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two poles. But it's still interesting to look at the trends. If we're all just wired differently, then it seems like we all need to be more understanding of people who are different than us. It doesn't always have to be a good-vs.-bad type of thing. Right-wing brains just operate different than left-wing brains. Perhaps, we need each other in order to be more effective employees, voters, family members, etc. We can help balance each other out. And perhaps all this "can't we all just get along" stuff is part of having a "left-wing brain"!

What do you think about this study? Do the results seem accurate to you? How do you think the results can help us to work together better?

Faux-Pression and the Cult of Victimhood

Tim Wise is a writer and speaker about race that we have grown to appreciate over the years. While we don't always agree with everything he says, we do learn something each time we come across his work. His article, "FAUX-PRESSION: RACISM AND THE CULT OF WHITE VICTIMHOOD," is one of those works. In fact, it's so interesting, that we're going to quote it in its entirety. Please feel free to read it over and share your opinions in the comment section.
To hear conservatives tell it, there's a one-sided race war going on in America, and white folks are the targets.

First, it was Glenn Beck insisting that President Obama's health care reform bill was little more than a plan for slavery reparations. Then came Rush Limbaugh, seeking to one-up even this preposterous claim (what kind of reparation would require one to get sick in order to get paid?) by arguing that the president is deliberately trying to wreck the economy so as to pay white people back for centuries of oppression. Not to be outdone, other right-wing commentators have gone so far as to suggest that the tax on the use of tanning beds, which is part of the health care bill, is a racist slap at whites, and the result of Barack Obama's deep antipathy towards those of us with insufficient melanin.

Into this breach of white hysteria have recently come two additional stories, spun for maximum effect by the right and its media mouthpieces at FOX News. To wit, the so-called scandal surrounding the Justice Department's handling of voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, and the recent allegation that a black official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Shirley Sherrod, deliberately mistreated a white farmer who was seeking government help.

As it turns out, we now know that the uproar about Shirley Sherrod had no merit. Conservative blogger Andrew Brietbart posted incomplete video of a speech in which Sherrod appeared to admit mistreating the white farmer. But neither Brietbart nor FOX News thought it worth noting what was in the rest of the speech: namely, the part where Sherrod explained how her initial reluctance to do all she could to assist the farmer had been unfair, and how once she realized it, she went all out, and helped the white family save their property. In other words, the story was about not discriminating. But in the hands of the right, Sherrod was cast as a bitter racist out to hurt salt-of-the-Earth white farm folks, evidence be damned.

Likewise, the New Black Panther Party debacle is based more on falsehood and conservative rumor-mongering than anything substantive.

In the case in question, the so-called intimidation of white voters by black militants led to a successful civil injunction against the leader of the Philadelphia New Black Panther chapter, brought to fruition by the very same Obama Justice Department that the right claims has gone easy on the group. This, in spite of the fact that not one voter ever stepped forward to indicate they had been intimidated, or threatened, or blocked from voting. Even the Civil Rights Commission's leading conservative Republican says the right-wing feeding frenzy over the matter is unwarranted. In fact, the Commissioner, Abigail Thernstrom, claims that the plan to push the story was part of a concerted (and even openly articulated) effort by some of her own conservative colleagues on the commission to bring down both the president and his Attorney General, Eric Holder.

However, as phony as these stories are, there is actually a more important point to be made regarding racism, how we do (or don't) understand it, and how media choose to cover it as a subject.

The fact is, while media and the public get caught up in debates about supposed individual cases of "black racism," real evidence of institutional racism against people of color goes largely ignored. So, for instance, while FOX spends hour after hour discussing the phony claims of voter intimidation against whites by the New Black Panthers, virtually no one (and certainly not FOX) sees fit to mention the actual denial of the right to vote to millions of black men — one in seven nationally, and as many as one in four in several states — because they are ex-felons. Despite serving their time and paying their debt to society these people of color are disallowed their voting rights forever. Not by white thugs standing outside a polling place, but by perfectly legal actions taken by state legislatures many years ago, for blatantly racist reasons, and which the courts have said are acceptable despite their racial impact.

So too, while pundits debate whether Shirley Sherrod did or did not discriminate against a white farmer, virtually no attention is paid to the already proven discrimination by the Department of Agriculture against black farmers going back decades. And in the case of this institutionalized anti-black bias, which has been acknowledged by the USDA's own Commission on Small Farms, not one of the white employees responsible for mistreating black farmers (by providing worse loan terms or refusing assistance given readily to whites) was ever fired. This, even as Shirley Sherrod was terminated on the basis of phony evidence. While a settlement has been reached between the black farmers and the Obama Administration, Congress has held up payment, thereby continuing to injure thousands of African Americans: an injustice about which few are even aware.

So while conservatives scare white America with tales of black anger and revenge fantasies, fanning the flames of racial resentment, the reality of systemic discrimination against people of color continues unabated and worse, un-discussed in most mainstream media and political commentary. In this way, the cult of white victimhood grows, out of all proportion to the level of actual anti-white injury, while the truth of real victimization against black and brown folks remains unremarked upon. Once out of sight, real racism then remains out of mind. And the likelihood of remedying it becomes ever more remote.

And that, after all, is exactly how the right likes it.
Tim Wise is the author of five books on race and racism. His latest is Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Leo Tolstoy's Three Questions

Every once in a while we find it helpful to remember Leo Tolstoy's Three Questions. It's a great story that explores what's truly important in life. Because of it's simple depth, the main point deserves to be soaked in more than rushed through. It can be summarized by quoting the three questions and some of the answers to those questions. Here is a summary, in case you, too, would like to meditate on it:
What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Remember that there is only one important time and it's now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future. The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at you side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Politics, The Media, and WWE Wrestling

After 9-11, I started to really pay attention to politics, policy, and news. I even occasionally watch C-SPAN to see for myself what USAmerican politicians are saying and doing. And I find myself disappointed at much of what I see. There is just too much silly banter, untruthful rhetoric, and entertainment-driven fighting.

The best place to see this silliness revealed is the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. The Daily Show deconstructs the news and political scene to show the how puerile and asinine some aspects of politics and the media have become. And the Colbert Report reconstructs the news and political scene in a satirical way that manages to show just how ridiculous things have gotten. The deconstruction and reconstruction that these shows provide, call out every time the Emperor is wearing new clothes. In other words, the Daily Show and Colbert Report help to point out when pretence, vanity, incompetence, etc. are clouding our media's and politicians' ability to serve our nation effectively. Needless to say, this is important work. It helps us see the dark underbelly of the media and Washington. Thankfully the segments on the Daily Show and Colbert Report are bathed in enough dirty jokes to keep us from crying. But the truth still gets out. These jesters reveal the truth through jokes. They keep us laughing as we see how shock jocks like Glenn Beck are destroying our national discourse, how partisan rhetoric is creating dangerous gridlock, how profit-driven reporting is frustrating the media's ability to provide political accountability, etc. And while all of this is going on, people that need real results just have to go on waiting - and assuming that our elected officials are largely incompetent and ineffective.

An example of the problem of incompetent government is the Obama Administration. He was elected because people wanted to have hope that things really could change. And he surged a large part of this nation with that hope. But it only took a few months in office for us to realize that even Obama's post-partisan pragmatism couldn't get results in the current political and media culture. One by one, many of Obama's ideals and policies that inspired us in the election, got ground up into dust once they were exposed to the toxic culture in Washington. The result was that the "system" chewed up our hope and spit back our cynicism toward government and distrust of the media. Politicians still choose rhetoric over depth, partisanship over dialogue, gridlock over results, posturing over openness, dishonesty over truthfulness, etc. The media still chooses money over accountability, glitz over investigation, soundbites over nuance, shouting over conversation, etc.

Politicians and the media just look ridiculous too much of the time. Much of what they do reminds me of the posturing and pageantry of WWE wrestling. And it's just as silly, pointless, and predictable. Seriously, how different is it to hear Hulk Hogan talking about the evils of The Macho Man, than it is to hear two politicians shouting during a senate debate or the campaign season? It sounds like the same thing. Sometimes I swear they even borrow some of the same storylines. But this stuff makes money - and lots of it. Politics, the media, and WWE wrestling bring in tons of money operating the way they do. Why change something that isn't broke? Sure it might be broke for most of the nation, but it's not broken for them. After all, someone needs to pay for their butler, maid, and gardener. Meanwhile the rest of us beg for crumbs from their table.

At some point, every little kid realizes that WWE wrestling isn't real. When that happens, it's a sad day in the life of a child. It's just as traumatic as realizing that Santa isn't real. But it's an important part of growing up and adjusting to reality. Perhaps it's time for all of us to more fully realize that politics and the media aren't real either. They're just as fake and contrived as WWE wrestling. And it's just as painful for us to realize that - and adjust to that reality. But it's an important part of growing up as a nation. As Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." It's time we put an end to childish ways and demand that politicians and the media treat us like adults. There are many practical ways to do this. Here is a brief list of concrete actions we can take:

1. Be an informed voter, electing people who will treat us like adults.
2. Read important investigative books like Unscientific America and The Family.
3. Watch C-SPAN to see what is being discussed in Washington.
4. Watch smart satirical shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
5. Cut through the lies and spin by reading websites such as Factcheck.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Everyone Is A Theologian-In-Residence

Many people have talked about the importance of empowering lay people to be theologians. In other words, making sure that theology is something that everyone does. And that sounds good. Every person should be encouraged to think about God and Scripture - and reflect on how God and Scripture matter to daily life. That's what theology is. It's not some esoteric, heady thing that only monks, pastors, and professors do. Theology is what every person of faith is called to do. Every time we think about how Scripture applies to our lives or we think about how God might be acting in our lives, we're doing theology. It's that simple.

The problem comes when vocational pastors and professional theologians claim the title "Theologian-In-Residence." This title dis-empowers others (especially the laity) by claiming that only special people are the true or good theologians. It seems to me that this antiquated title needs to be retired. All people who think about God's activity and vision for the world are theologians. All people who think about how Scripture applies to daily life are theologians. Since every person of faith does this, then every person of faith is a "Theologian-In-Residence." A pastor can't claim that title any more than the elderly lady who has been coming to the same church for 80 years. A professor can't claim that title any more than a young man who picks up a Bible for the first time and wonders "What if?" A person with an advanced degree in theology can't claim the title any more than the quilters group or grounds crew in a congregation. Everyone is a "Theologian-In-Residence."

The role of vocational pastors or professional theologians should be to "equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12). This means they should be empowering others to think theologically for themselves. Pastors and professors should be hosts of conversation, facilitators of dialogue, encouragers of growth, etc. Their work is equipping others. The hope is that every person can contribute to the collective wisdom of the community because every person is a true "Theologian-In-Residence." Enacting this idea can be done through dialogical sermons, conversational Bible studies, lay-led book studies, shared ministry, etc. The important thing is making the space for all people in a community to safely and effectively share their own theological gifts and perspectives. Admittedly, it's more messy. A nurse, lawyer, teacher, bus driver, martial artist, etc. will all bring different perspectives. As will a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, etc. Everyone will have a different perspective. But it's the diversity of perspectives that helps to grow the collective wisdom of a community.

Do you agree that everyone is a "Theologian-In-Residence"? If so, how can pastors and professors more effectively encourage all people (including "regular" people) to be theologians? Please feel free to add add your voice and perspective in the comments section.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sara Kay and the Sugar Daddys

Sara (the Sara from this blog) sang last night with the Sugar Daddys for the first time. It was a fun show! Everyone in the band is outstanding. If ya like rockin' jazz, be sure to check them out. They are continually on tour. Here is a sample:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creative Transformation: Online Edition

The new edition of Creative Transformation is now out! It's an outstanding magazine in general, but the new one is especially good. It contains articles by theological rock stars such as Philip Clayton, Bruce Epperly, L Callid Keefe-Perry, Thomas Jay Oord, Joan Lucas, etc. The content includes: Theology After Google, Book Reviews, Theo-poetics, Comics, Hymns, and other cool stuff from the perspective of process theology. It's a timely edition about timely topics, such as the future of the Church. Check it out. Pass it along. And then tell the editor, Jeanyne Slettom, how much you like the new online edition. I even make an appearance in the Critics Corner, reviewing Feed The Fire and Four Seasons of Ministry. Go process theology!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Psalm of the Survivor (Song of the Blackbird)

O God, where were you?
Did you not see?
Did you not care?
Could you not stop it?

I was victimized and terrorized
My enemy was not supposed to be my enemy
So my enemy wounded my soul even more deeply
The violence denied my joy, masked my beauty, and stole my hope

My enemy violated me in ways that blocked out the sun
And brought forth the rain, wind, and thunder
It shook and cracked my foundation
And did damage that could never be totally repaired

Suddenly, in the midst of that storm, Jesus became a kindred spirit
He, too, was beaten bloody by his enemies
He, too, was in a fight that was not fair
He, too, prayed for God to protect him from abusive powers

Jesus and I cannot mystify the violence that was done to us
It was wrong
It should have been different
It must never happen again

Our silence will not protect us
That is why I must cry out for justice
For me
And for Jesus

We know the pain of being strung up on our crosses
Such torture and humiliation tamps out everything that resembles real life
The suffering caused by our enemies isn’t virtuous or character-building
And it wasn’t part of God’s will for our lives

Salvation doesn’t come from violence
It never has
It never will
Salvation comes from resurrection

Resurrection is love, not fear
Resurrection is compassion, not control
Resurrection is advocacy, not passivity
Resurrection is resistance, not acceptance

Resurrection celebrates acts of resilience in the aftermath of violence
Resurrection squeezes out hope from places where it may not typically thrive
Resurrection opens up the process of forgiveness for the sake of wholeness
Resurrection senses God’s presence in moments of healing and strength

Resurrection is the song of the blackbird
Sung from the rawness of shadow and pain
Yet managing to find a tune of hope in the discord of despair
A song written on the journey from the depths of hell to the heights of heaven

The song of the blackbird is for people like Jesus and me
People who refuse to let our enemies steal our lives
People who know the power of resurrection firsthand
People who praise God for every scrap of salvation that comes our way

The song of the blackbird declares that there is a balm in Gilead for me
It inspires me look back with disgust instead of hatred
It empowers me to look forward with purpose instead of emptiness
It calls me to prayerful anticipation of a better future

God joins me as I boldly sing the song of the blackbird
And I will sing that song as long as I have the breath of life
It’s the most sacred hymn I know
It’s a hymn of survival that even blackbirds like Jesus and I can sing

O God, I trust in your steadfast love
And rejoice in your salvation
You have brought me moments of resurrection
And those moments grow longer and more powerful each day

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hymn Sing: Worship With All Music

What do ya do when the pastor is out of town? Or when there's an extra week in a month? Or when ya just want to do something different in worship? Well, you could host a good ol' fashion hymn sing. Wait, you might say, don't we always sing hymns? Yes, but not as every part of worship. It can be really fun and spiritually moving to have an entire worship service of just music. It seems like music goes deeper than spoken words alone. As an old adage says: “Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” Music takes us deeper in all kinds of ways. So give it a try some time. And if you do, check out Ephesians 5:18-20 for some words of guidance: “…be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to God in your hearts, giving thanks to God at all times and for everything in the name of Jesus Christ.” While there are many ways to do a hymn sing, here is one sample service:

GATHERING MUSIC

Instrumental music will play as we gather.

WELCOME & ANNOUNCEMENTS

CALL TO WORSHIP “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” (verses 1, 3, 4) NCH 4

The chime will be rung after we sing “Joyful, Joyful.”

CENTERING MUSIC & CANDLE LIGHTING As we prepare for worship, all are invited to meditate on the music in the room or the music in their heart. The candles will be lit during this meditative music.

INVOCATION “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 7) NCH 277

HYMN “God of Change and Glory” (verses 1-3) NCH 177

MISSION MOMENT

TIME WITH YOUTH

SCRIPTURE
Psalm 150

SERMON “For the Beauty of the Earth” (verses 1-3) NCH 28

HYMN “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” (verses 1, 2, 4) NCH 476

PASSING OF THE PEACE “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” (verse 1) NCH 478

When the music stops, we’ll pass signs of God’s peace with those around us.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE “O For a World” (verses 1-5) NCH 575

THE PRESENTATION OF OUR GIFTS “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (verse 1) NCH 423

Our gifts will be shared after the first verse of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

DOXOLOGY
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
To God the Spirit now we raise
Our joyful songs of thankful praise. Amen.

PRAYER OF DEDICATION “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (verse 2) NCH 423

BENEDICTION “This Little Light of Mine” (verses 1-3) NCH 525

GOING FORTH MUSIC

Instrumental music will play as we depart the sanctuary for the fellowship hall.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bringing Many Names to Worship

Last Sunday we did a worship service based on Exodus 3:13-15. This is the burning bush story, where God reveals God's name, "I Am Who I Am," to Moeses. This mysterious, expansive name for God is a powerful reminder that we cannot easily understand God in all of God's holiness. God can't be easily classified or put into neat theological boxes. God is always more than we can imagine. So, we used Brian Wren's song "Bring Many Names" to help remind us that God is beyond simplistic naming. There are many names we can use for God. And the only way we can avoid breaking the second Commandment of creating a graven image for God, is to create so many graven images that the diversity of images themselves testify to the multiplicity of God. To help emphesize this theme, I developed a "call to worship" that gives voice to some of the many names for God. Here is our "call to worship":

One: Creator, we gather to praise your ongoing creation.
Many: Potter, we gather to celebrate your handiwork.
One: Wellspring, we gather to drink in your sacred waters.
Many: Holy Spirit, we gather to bask in your abiding presence.
One: Mother Hen, we gather to be protected under your wings.
Many: Lord, we gather to claim you as our ultimate authority.
One: Deliverer, we gather to be led away from our troubles.
Many: Advocate, we gather to lifted up by you.
One: Rock, we gather to be steadied by your firm foundation.
Many: River, we gather to be led along the banks of life.
One: Liberator, we gather to be released from all that oppresses us.
Many: Great Physician, we gather to experience your healing power. Amen!

These images are just a few of the many different images of God we could have used. It would be fun to hear even more. What images of God and names for God are especially meaningful for you?