Sunday, August 29, 2010

Imagine If "We" Were Muslim

Imagine if Muslim Americans were doing all the things that "we" are doing to them.

Imagine if Muslim Americans protested against the building of a church because of its ties to what they define as "questionable" Christian groups.

Imagine if Muslim Americans wanted the freedom of religion revoked from a moderate Christian group who was seeking to build a community center.

Imagine if Muslim Americans wanted to violate the rights of local and state governance by trying to block the construction of a building by Christians who followed all relevant laws.

Imagine if Muslim Americans appeared on national television to villainize a respected Christian leader.

Imagine if Muslim Americans lumped all Christians together with the most violent and extreme people who claim the name Christian.

Imagine if Muslim Americans wrote letters to the editor about all the violence and hatred in the Bible as a way to discredit Christianity as a whole.

Imagine if Muslim Americans questioned the finances behind the construction of a "Christian" building before fundraising ever actually started.

Imagine if Muslim Americans said that Christians have the right to build a community center, but still argued that they shouldn't do it because of the "insensitivity" of the project's location.

Imagine if Muslim Americans decided to proclaim who was and wasn't a "moderate" Christian, without consulting Christian leaders or experts.

Imagine if Muslim Americans appeared on cable news to discredit Christian theology without having a comprehensive understanding of it.

Imagine if Muslim Americans tried to argue that the president of the USA was Christian as a way to defame both the president and Christianity itself.

It looks different when the names are switched. Perhaps it's time to tone down the rhetoric and call for a deeper conversation about Cordoba House.

Standing by Our Muslim Neighbors

I wrote a letter of support for Cordoba House and our Muslim neighbors last week. This letter was adapted and co-signed by Christian and Jewish religious leaders of Iowa City. They include: Rev. Denny Coon, Rev. John McKinstry, Rabbi Jeff Portman, Rev. Paul M. Shultz, Rev. Mel Schlachter and Pastor Dorothy Whiston. The letter was picked up by the Iowa City Press Citizen and published today. Hopefully this letter will provide words of compassion and siblinghood in the current cacophony of misunderstanding and animosity in our nation. Click here to read the letter. Then feel free to pass this letter on to others. May we all stand by our Muslim neighbors in love and support as we celebrate the goodness of all our religious traditions. Peace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fabricating Our Perception of Beauty

Dove produced a 74 second film that explores the process of modeling. A woman walks in. Makeup is caked on. Photos taken. Photoshop alters the photo. The altered picture is placed on a billboard. In the end, the girl on the billboard doesn't even look like the original model who walked in the door. As the end of the film says, "No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted."

Please watch this video. Then show it to a group of teenagers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting to Know Islam

What is Islam? Well, if you're not a Muslim, it might be hard to know. But as debates about Cordoba House continue and rallies in New York rage on, it's becoming increasingly important for all of us to know more about this often misunderstood religion. To explore Islam, check out one of these excellent books - or the video. Each one presents a different angle of Islam. The more we learn, the more we can help build a more peaceful and pluralistic world.

"No god but God" by Reza Aslan

"Red, White, and Muslim" by Asma Gull Hasan

"The Muslim Next Door" by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

"Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" by Bruce Feiler

Friday, August 20, 2010

Publically Supporting Cordoba House

We would like to cut through the spin of opportunistic politicians and profit-driven pundits in order to offer some reflections that we hope will help our communities see the beauty of the Cordoba House project, sometimes mischaracterized as “the Ground Zero Mosque.” We would also like to reassure our Muslim neighbors who may be sensing an upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiment that we stand with them in friendship and in defense of religious freedom.

Cordoba House is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA. This Amendment protects the freedom of religion for all Americans – no matter our religious perspective – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, etc. If the builders of Cordoba House, a Muslim community center, aren’t guaranteed this Constitutional right, then the freedom of religion for all people is threatened. This is something to take very seriously. It is understandable that at the very mention of 9/11, Americans of every religious background are stirred emotionally, but to allow the pain of 9/11 to usurp the religious liberty of all Americans would be to encourage and empower the violence of religious extremists.

Cordoba House is being built by The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, two organizations that seek to improve the relationship between Islam and the West. In the weeks after 9-11, we asked these moderate Muslims to step forward and speak out. Now that they are coming forward in such important ways, we should welcome their efforts with open arms.

Cordoba House is being organized by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who works to improve relations between Muslim Americans and other Americans. In fact, in 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Many people, including University of Iowa alum and progressive Muslim author, Reza Aslan, consider Rauf to be an important leader of Islam in the USA because of his commitment to pluralism and peace. Imam Rauf is a model for us all.

Cordoba House is named after Cordoba, Spain, a city where Muslims, Jews, and Christians thrived together successfully for many years. This name is significant because it reminds people that, in the words of Feisal Abdul Rauf, "Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth." We should hold Cordoba up as an example for the USA. Our nation should be a place where all people, no matter their religion, can live together in peace and prosperity.

Cordoba House is a community center that will feature a fitness center, culinary school, childcare services, etc. It will also feature a prayer room. Such a building would be similar to a JCC or YMCA. These kinds of organizations provide services that are good for the entire community. Cordoba House has met all of the local and state ordinances and building codes; to block its construction would not only violate our nation’s provision of religious freedom, but also violate the recognized rights of local and state governance.

Cordoba House would share the neighborhood with a Mosque, Masjid Manhattan, that has been in the area for over 30 years. Clearly, Islam has been a part of the heritage of New York for a long time. Muslims are not exotic outsiders to be feared. They are friendly neighbors to be treated like we would like to be treated. The Torah and Gospels remind us to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” And that includes our Muslim neighbors.

Cordoba House is a product of moderate Islam. It has nothing to do with fringe, fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is political fundamentalism that has declared war on everything and everyone that stands in the way of their political agenda. Conversely, the form of Islam that is promoted by the sponsoring organizations of Cordoba House would be committed to a spiritual and peaceful form of Islam. It's important to remember that Islam, like every other religion, has a lot of diversity. We must not hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of extremists that claim their religion any more than we would want to be held accountable for the actions of extremists that claim our religion.

We strongly support not only the Constitutional right of the building of Cordoba House, but we also strongly support the moral imperative of standing beside people who work to build a more peaceful and pluralistic world.

Sincerely,

Rev. Brian Brandsmeier, Iowa City, IA

Sara Klosterboer, Iowa City, IA

Rev. Deanna White, Chauncey, OH

Rev. Gregg Brekke, Rocky River, OH

Jon Trouten, Iowa City, IA

Dr. Philip Clayton, Claremont, CA

Rev. Becky Turner, Saint Louis, MO

Jill Dempster, Cedar Falls, IA

MaryAlice Kirk Suter, Saint Louis, MO

Mary McInroy, Iowa City, IA

Melvin Bray, Atlanta, GA

Tripp Fuller, Redondo Beach, CA

Kristine Butterbaugh, Martelle, IA

Sabrina Wagoner, Belleville, IL

Alison Dix, Mount Vernon, IA

Kris Grover, Elkader, IA

Nicole Farrar, Corbin, KY

Dana Isaacson, Waupaca, WI

Rosalba Juarez, Green Bay, WI

Rabbi Jeff Portman, Iowa City, IA

Carl Fongheiser, Iowa City, IA

Deb Scott-Miller, Iowa City, IA

Jake Vitense, Tipton, IA

(If you'd like to add your name, please just leave a comment that says you'd like to be added.)

Sabbath Eucharist Liturgy

Sabbath Invitation

One: Everyone is welcomed and invited to celebrate the first holy Sabbath on this holy Sabbath.

All: It was evening and it was morning. The sixth day. The heavens and the earth were formed with all of their beauty. On the seventh day, God had completed forming the earth, so God rested from all the work that God had been doing. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it, God took a break from all the creative work that had been done throughout earth, which God had brought into being to fulfill its sacred purpose.

Sabbath Prayer

One: Blessed are You God, Source of the Universe, who made us holy with Your wisdom and love, and gave us Your holy Sabbath, in love and kindness, to be our practice, as a reminder of the Creation. It is the holiest of holidays, marking the Exodus from Egypt. For out of all the peoples on earth, You chose us, led us to freedom, and made us holy. Plus, You gave us Your holy Sabbath, in wisdom and love, as Your gift to us. Blessed are You, God, who sanctifies the Sabbath.

All: Holy One, as Your children, we are invited to honor the Sabbath, observing Sabbath throughout the generations, as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between You and Your children forever, that in six days You made the heavens and the earth, and that on the seventh day You stopped and rested.

One: Holy One, help us to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy. Remind us that we should labor for six days and do all our work, but the seventh day is Sabbath for You, our God. Remind us not to do any creative work -- not us, our families, our friends, our co- workers, our animals, nor the neighbors and strangers who live near us. Because it was in six days that You, Holy One, formed the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that they contain, and then rested on the seventh day.

All: You blessed the Sabbath and made it holy, and then gave it to us, in love, so that we may rest and take delight in it. Help us to honor your holy Sabbath on this day and every Sabbath.

Sabbath Blessings

One: Blessed are You, God, Source of the Universe, as we gather on Your Sabbath to bless other reminders of your love for us.

All: Blessed are You, God, who provides bread, manna, and other foods for us so that we may have strength on our journeys through life. While we eat this bread, remind us how bread symbolizes our life as Your people. As many grains are gathered into one bread, may we, in all our differences, come together as children of Your one cosmic family.

One: Blessed are You God, Source of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. We celebrate the bread of life that You provide. Amen.

All: Blessed are You, God, who provides wine to gladden our hearts and sweeten our bitterness. While we drink this wine, remind us how wine symbolizes our life as Your people. As grapes are chosen and then fermented into wine, so are we chosen by You and then transformed into vessels of joy.

One: Blessed are You, God, Source of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. We celebrate the cup of joy that You provide. Amen.

All: Blessed are You, God, as we gather at Your Table, on Your Sabbath, to enjoy Your bread of life and cup of joy. May this meal be blessed because it comes from You, the Blessed One. Amen.

Sabbath Meal

One: As Jesus gathered with others to celebrate the Sabbath, we now gather together to celebrate the Sabbath.

All: As Jesus shared bread and wine with others, we now share bread and wine with one another.

One: As Jesus welcomed everyone at his table, we welcome everyone around this table.

All: Let’s share God’s gifts together. Amen.

(All are welcome to come forward to eat the bread and drink the wine.)

Sabbath Thanksgiving

One: Blessed are You, God, giver of the gifts that we have just shared. May Your Sabbath give us rest. May Your bread give us strength. And may Your wine give us joy. For all these gifts, we thank You, Holy God.

All: Blessed are You, God, for continuing to bless us with these gifts, as you have done with Your people throughout the generations. Thanks be to You. Amen.

(This Eucharist liturgy is based on Genesis 1, Didache 9, the Gospels, and the Kiddush.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

America Needs The Cordoba House

I'm tired of hearing this phrase: "Of course they have the right to build there, but it's just insensitive." What?! Why?! Islam is not Al-Qaeda. In fact, the Cordoba House is being built by moderate, pluralistic Muslims. They should be met with nation-wide support. After all, we asked moderate Muslims to speak out after 9-11. But now that they are stepping forward, we're pushing them back. This isn't okay in our nation. We're better than that. Or should be. It's time to ignore the opportunistic politicians and pundits who are using this "issue" for their own political gain. It's time to honor the freedom of religion in First Amendment and the voice of moderate Muslims in our nation. And it's time for a revival of civil discourse throughout the United States. The first step in these goals is building the Cordoba House. But not only in New York City. We need a Cordoba House in every community.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Facts about Cordoba House

Cordoba House is being built by The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, two organizations that seek to improve the relationship between Islam and the West.

Cordoba House is being organized by Feisal Abdul Rauf, who works to improve relations between Muslim Americans and other Americans. In fact, in 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Many people, including Reza Aslan, consider him to an important leader of Islam in the USA because of his commitment to pluralism and peace.

Cordoba House is named after Cordoba, Spain, which is a city where Muslims, Jews, and Christians thrived together successfully for many years. This name is significant because it reminds people that "Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth" (What's Right With Islam by Feisal Abdul Rauf).

Cordoba House is a community center, not simply a Mosque.

Cordoba House is going to be built two blocks away from "Ground Zero," not at the location of "Ground Zero."

Cordoba House would share the neighborhood with a Mosque, Masjid Manhattan, that has been in the area for over 30 years. Clearly, Islam has been a part of the heritage of New York for a long time.

Cordoba House is a product of moderate Islam. It has nothing to do with fringe, fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is political fundamentalism that has declared war on everything and everyone that stands in the way of their political agenda. Conversely, the form of Islam that would be promoted at Cordoba House would be committed to a religious and peaceful form of Islam. It's important to remember that Islam, like every other religion, has a lot of diversity.

Cordoba House is protected by First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clergy Burnout Roundup

"Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work" by Paul Vitello:

"Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen...a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off."

"No Rest For the Holy: Clergy Burnout a Growing Concern" by David Gibson:

"Indeed, unlike doctors or police, for example, pastors are supposed to be people who have dedicated their lives to a spiritual goal and are not expected to focus on themselves and their own welfare in the here and now...In religious communities, each congregant tends to have a different view of what a cleric should be -- preacher, fundraiser, counselor, spiritual exemplar, etc. -- but few have any real conception of what the job entails. 'Some congregants think their clergy work one hour a week preaching, and maybe another hour to prepare,' said Proeschold-Bell."

"Soul Care and the Roots of Clergy Burnout" by Anne Dilenschneider:

"Pastors who are effective and get things done are considered 'successful.' Denominations...focus on results that can be measured (e.g., increased membership and the congregation's financial well-being). Yet numerous studies over the past 20 years reveal that this approach is, literally, killing clergy and, by extension, churches and denominations."

"Congregations Gone Wild" by G. Jeffery MacDonald:

"The American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling...As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy...The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century...clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly."

"The Church’s Unholy Addiction" by Stephen Lewis:

"What I find surprising is a prevailing belief among many clergy and congregations that one pastor is equipped and able to attend faithfully to the needs of an entire faith community. What I find most alarming is an underlying assumption that clergypersons are somehow endowed by God with special capacities to address adequately their congregants’ needs and desires. I am distressed by what appears to be a deeply held belief among congregations and clergy that God calls pastors to a way of working that leads to the demise of their health and the neglect of their families as signs of their faithfulness to a 'higher calling.'"

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Congratulations

Congrats to the 13 couples from Missouri who got married yesterday in Iowa City. It was an honor to co-officiate at your ceremonies. May your beautiful weddings lead to happy marriages. And may your marriages lead the way to a future where all gay and lesbian couples can get legally married all over the world.








Monday, August 9, 2010

Secular and Religious Hope

It's time for a brief rant. It's tiring to listen to secularists blame the religious for all the ills of the world. And it's tiring to listen to the religious blame the secularists for all the ills of the world. Get over yourselves. We've all had our share in making the world a worse place by inspiring prejudice, violence, misunderstanding, etc. Secular movements such as Maoism, Nazism, and the Khmer Rouge employed bad secularism. Religious movements such as the Spanish Inquisition, Al-Qaeda, and Dominionism employed bad religion.

The only answer to bad religion is better religion. That is why we should all celebrate good religious leaders like Reza Aslan, Brian McLaren, and Susan Talve.

The only answer to bad secularism is better secularism. That is why we should all celebrate helpful secular leaders like Greg Epstein, Kate Braestrup, and Jon Stewart.

All of these people are in the "good column" because they inspire helpful values like civility, pluralism, and understanding. It's time to learn from the bad stuff of our common history and let people like these move us all into a better future. Together. That is our best hope.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Love Supreme: Jazz, Justice, Democracy

Otis Moss III is an outstanding pastor, preacher, and person. Here is a video of him talking about the ethic of love. Moss takes this topic in a powerful and interesting direction. Check it out here:

Is The Gospel of Matthew Anti-Jewish?

The author of Matthew seems to be very anti-Jewish. But I don’t think that means it’s an anti-Semitic text. Since it was written by Christian Jews, that would mean it would be a text written against its own people. There are deeper elements at work. Unfortunately, it has had an anti-Semitic effect throughout history. So it's time to explore the nuances of this Gospel’s “anti-Jewish” meaning.

As is true of all writing, the Gospel of Matthew was composed in a particular context. Matthew was probably written about 80-90 CE. This would place the Gospel in history just 10-20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Losing the temple would have been a tragic event. Jews understood the temple as the dwelling place of God (e.g. Psalm 26:8). Psalm 48 provides an image of the city of Jerusalem and the temple as a sign of God’s protection, love, and justice. This destruction would have been deeply traumatic on many levels. The city whose citadels show God as a “sure defense” had been ruined (Psalm 43:3). Matthew describes the location of the temple after its destruction by Titus and the Romans as a “desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place” (24:15).

Since Rome devastated the sacred city and compromised the holiness of the temple, the Jewish people needed an alternative spirituality. It was that need that uniquely positioned the Pharisees. They were a progressive, reform movement within Judaism that suggested that God could be worshiped in local synagogues. Unlike the priestly Sadducees who were part of “the establishment” of temple life, the rabbinic Pharisees were a separatist group that suggested people could gather around the Torah in synagogues. Suddenly, this fringe group provided the Jewish community just what it needed: a new theological understanding. As the Pharisees grew in influence, they began to shape Judaism according to their values. One of these values was the oral Torah, which was a way to bring the spirituality of the temple into everyday life. This understanding allowed Jewish families to have holiness in their own houses through home-based Torah and ritual observation. As the Pharisees began to reestablish Judaism, they developed the Yavneh Academy in 90 CE. Thus, the Gospel of Matthew would have been written at a time when the Pharisees were attempting to establish a new Judaism. Herein is the tension for Matthew, a different kind of Jew altogether.

The author of Matthew was a Christian Jew with yet a different vision of Judaism that s/he wanted to get established. Matthew’s community was a reform movement that was competing with the Pharisees’ reform movement. This was an intramural battle within Judaism. This battle got heated. The Pharisees wrote a "Prayer Against the Heretics" to oppose those who they considered apostates. Basically it was meant to chastise the Christian Jews. At the same time, the author of Matthew wrote his own version of a "Prayer Against the Heretics" by writing against the Pharasitic Jews. This intramural battle raged because the Pharisees were establishing a new understanding of the Torah in the form of the Oral Torah, as Matthew was trying to establish Jesus as the new understanding of Torah. The lines were drawn. Two different perspectives on Torah were at odds. Instead of appreciating the dignity of difference, Matthew wrote a polemical Gospel against the Jews, calling them “false prophets” (7:15), “lost sheep” (10:6), “wolves” (10:16), “chief priests” (21:23), etc. In the words of Duling: “It is clear that Matthew's objection to Pharisaic leadership is expressed chiefly in a clash over the right interpretation of the Torah and its proper observance. For Matthew, Jesus is the instructor, the teacher, but more: the very fulfillment of the Torah and its prophets. He is the new Moses. Indeed he is the new revelation” (335).

The following are examples of Matthew’s attack on “the Jews”: 5:17-20 (Jesus’ law is better), 21:28-22:14 (rejection of Jewish leaders), 23:1-36 (seven bitter woes to the Jewish leaders), 26:47-27:44 (Jewish leaders arrest and kill Jesus), etc. The nastiest words of this whole polemic are placed into the mouths of the Jews themselves: “His blood will be on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Here, Matthew lets Rome off easy and blames the Pharisaic Jews for the death of Jesus. Anti-Jewish? No. Venomous? Yes. It was obviously a brutal family feud.

The positive aspect of Matthew's polemic Gospel is that once it’s understood in its historical context, its rhetorical hatchet-work need not be repeated or taken authoritatively. We understand the history. We see the battle. We need not repeat either. The important message in this text for modern Christians is the challenge to not be so judgmental in our own lives. It's always easy to castigate people we disagree with. An example of this today would be the silly banter between Republicans and Democrats. We should know better. We don't have to repeat the mistakes of the author of Matthew. We can disagree, but we don't have to use all the nasty rhetoric. And we certainly don't need to take an intramural squabble and use it to continue awkwardness between Jews and Christians today. It's been 2,000 years. It's time to let it go!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"On The Way" is On The Way

Sara Kay (the Sara from this blog) is planning on having her album done by March of 2011. It has been a long time in the making. But she is finally ready. Sara has been re-working her previously written material as well as writing a few new songs. The songs are driving-yet-acoustic, warm-yet-edgy, spiritual-yet-grounded, and progressive-yet-ecumenical. And they are ready to be laid down. Or whatever cliched saying is popular for recording an album!

Most of the songs bring Biblical texts to life in relevant and modern ways. For example, her song "Victory" is based on Psalm 3, which is a Psalm about war. After hearing stories about people battling cancer, Sara wrote "Victory" as a song of war against cancer. Some of the lyrics include: "Healing and strength, God / We ask for your blessing / Lead us like Esther to victory / You are our hope / and in You we take comfort / Grant us the will / and the courage we need." Basically this song is about finding Divine hope in the midst of a war against "the enemy" of cancer." And that is how Psalm 3 is brought to life. In all of her songs, Sara hopes to connect the Word of God (Scripture) with the World of God (real life).

The title of the album is "On The Way." It has this name because Sara believes that as we move through life, God moves with us. No matter where we are, or who we are, God's abiding presence is with us. Throughout life, Sara has noticed God's activity in surprising places and times. She has faith that God will continue to be present in all of our lives as we grow - and as the Church continues to emerge.

Sara calls this album "emergent music for an emerging church." Many of her songs have been inspired by writers such as Brian McLaren, Philip Clayton, and other leaders in the Emergent Church. She hopes that her music will help to provide the soundtrack for the Emergent Church as it continues to develop. But it's not just for the Emergent Church crowd. Sara's songs would be equally "at home" in the new congregations of the Emergent Church as well as the established congregations of the Mainline Church.

After hearing for many years that "there isn't any 'Christian music' for progressive Christians," she decided that she needed to write some music herself. So, if you're looking for music that is deeply spiritual yet theologically progressive, then this is the music for you. No longer can people say that there aren't any progressive Christian songs! At the same time, this ain't traditional churchy music by any means. This is folk-rock-blues with a spiritual edge.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for "On The Way" by Sara Kay in March 2011!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ten Classes Every Seminary Should Offer

The seminary that I graduated from gave me a good theological education. We studied church history, denominational history, theologians from history, etc. When graduated, I felt as though I had a solid introduction to theology. But it was all quite academic. Which I loved. I read theory, philosophy, and theology just for the fun of it. So, that wasn't a big challenge for me. The challenge was connecting what was important to my professors, and the authors that we read, with what is important to congregations. Seminaries explore very different topics than congregations. So that brings up an important set of questions. Is the purpose of seminary to prepare students for academic careers? Or is the purpose of seminary to prepare pastors for ministry? That's a very dichotomous choice, I realize. Some people may suggest that seminaries could or should do both. That would be the old "both/and" approach to my question. But I don't think it's that easy.

Denominations, seminaries, and churches in Mainline Christianity are crumbling, cracking, and collapsing. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has hit crisis mode. Denominations can hardly afford to exist. Seminaries are out of money. And churches are hemorrhaging members and closing their doors. It's a stark situation. I'd rather face the crisis now - when we are still able to address it effectively - instead of waiting until it is too late. It's time to rethink how we "do" denominational structure, seminary education, and church ministry. It's not an exaggeration to say that everything must change. Many people are talking about this emergency. And those who aren't should be. We should all be engaging the work of Philip Clayton, Phillis Tickle, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, the Ooze, the Emergent Church, etc.

As someone who cares about the Church and it's future, I consider myself part of their movement. I don't even know what to call the movement. And it doesn't really matter. Call it anything. The important thing is to be part of it. As the faithful readers of this blog know, we have written much about movement. So, here is our latest installment. It's our advice to seminaries. Please include practical and spiritual classes along with the academic and historical classes. In order to be practical about our theory, here are ten classes that would help seminaries do just that. Add classes like these and become part of the movement!

1. Creative Preaching

Explore, discuss, and practice a diversity of styles of preaching, including dialogical, theatrical, black church, etc. No more lectures for bored congregants.

2. Weddings, Funerals, and Other Special Occasions

Explore, discuss, and practice ways to host meaningful worship experiences for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, healing services, etc. It's time to jazz things up a bit.

3. Spiritual Practices

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective spiritual practices, including lectio divina, honoring Sabbath, meditation, etc. We need to mix theological prowess with spiritual depth.

4. Technology in the Congregation

Explore, discuss, and practice effective ways of using modern technology, including projectors, Skype, blogs, social networking websites, website development, etc. The world is changing - and the church must change with it.

5. Pastoral Visitation and Counseling

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective techniques for pastoral visitation and counseling, including Family Systems Theory and Narrative Therapy. The Church needs healing pastors.

6. Conflict Mediation

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective techniques for compassionately mediating or proactively avoiding conflict in modern congregational settings. This is just part of the gig.

7. Church Administration

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective administrative skills as they relate to modern congregational settings. This goes beyond being able to use a calculator and send an e-mail.

8. Modern Theologians

Explore and discuss how modern theologians such as Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Peter Rollins, Sara Miles, etc. are important for modern congregational settings. While historical theologians give us context on the past, modern theologians give us context on what's going on right now. Plus it might be helpful to put down the static books and start reading dynamic blogs.

9. Modern Church Leadership

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective leadership styles and skills as they relate to modern congregational settings. Changing times demand different skills.

10. Being A Healthy Pastor

Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective ways that pastors can promote and maintain their own physical, mental, and spiritual health as they serve modern congregational settings. Lead us not into the temptation of overworking, but deliver us to better health.