Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Six Marks of Progressive Worship Music

Bryan Sirchio, an independent songwriter and clergyperson, suggests six aspects that he thinks should be included in progressive Christian worship music. Please read through the list and see if you agree with it. Are there things that should be added? Are there things that should be removed? What would be included on your list?

Here is Brian Sirchio's list:

1. An Emphasis on Praise, Justice, and the Full Range of Human Experience

2. Inclusive Language

3. Progressive Theology

4. An Emphasis on Both the Individual and the Community

5. Emotional Authenticity

6. Fresh Ideas, Images, and Language

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Song for Memorial Day

"White As Snow" is a song by U2 that is hauntingly beautiful. It has a quiet, raw power that has to be experienced. The first time I heard it I was drawn into the emotional spirit of the song and couldn't stop listening. I knew it had to be about a particular event or experience. Thankfully I came across an article that described the context of the song. Bono said it's written "from the point of view of an active soldier in Afghanistan" who is "dying from a roadside bomb." The soldier is reflecting on his life in the moments just before his last breath. The lyrics start out with the soldier thinking about his home and family: "Where I come from there were no hills at all / The land was flat, the highway straight and wide / My brother and I would drive for hours / Like we had years instead of days." There seems to be a longing for those simple things we all take for granted. Then the lyrics turn to the soldier's thoughts on the immediacy of his death: "Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all / Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon." The symbolism is powerful. Poppies are symbolic of death and are featured in the World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields." In that poem poppies became the symbol of remembrance of soldiers who had been killed. The first stanza reads: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below." Bono is clearly emphasizing the soldier's sense of sadness by saying that poppies are the only thing growing on the ground. All of these rich lyrics are bathed in music that picks up on elements of the tune, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This 19th century hymn is about God's promise to heal the world through the messiah. Part of that healing is taking away humanity's pain and death. The lyrics read: "O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death's dark shadows put to flight / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel." The move from death to praise in this hymn is mysteriously significant. Perhaps this hymn is Bono's hope for the soldier. Or perhaps it's the hymn that the soldier hears while entering Heaven. In either case, the musical elements of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" overlaid in "White As Snow," makes this meaning-filled song even more arresting. It's a powerful memorial song for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Role of Education in the Progression of Society

Carter G. Woodson wrote a book in 1933 called The Mis-Education of the Negro. It's amazing how relevant much of this book remains. It's a good read for anyone involved in education. Here's a powerful quote about the role of education in the progress of society:
"They have been taught the facts of history, but have never learned to think. Their conception is that you go to school to find out what other people have done, and then you go out in life to imitate them...If we do the same thing from generation to generation, we would not make any progress...The world does not want and will never have the heroes and heroines of the past. What this age needs is an enlightened youth not to undertake the tasks like theirs but to imbibe the spirit of these great heroes and answer the present call of duty with equal nobleness."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: "If Darwin Prayed"

Process theology and open theism both describe a life where God invites us on a holy adventure through our evolving, interdependent world. Instead of controlling everything/everyone through coercion, God beckons people through persuasive love. Instead of predetermining an end/plan for the world, God works with the changing world to bring forth God's vision of greater love, justice, and mutuality. Instead of hiding away in some heaven light-years away, God's abiding presence is with us - and all creation - along the journey of life every single day. Instead of acting once upon a time in the Bible, God continues to act in each new moment of life. The attributes of God based on process theology and open theism could go on and on. The point is this: it's pretty cool theology. One of the reasons that it's so cool is because it combines an understanding of the world that is evolving, an understanding of God as a Being that brings forth creativity in the evolutionary process, and a deep spirituality that invites us to experience God's abiding presence within all of life.

Sounds good. No problem, right? Well...not quite. The problem is that most hymns, liturgies, devotionals, etc. still use traditional language and imagery for God. It's rare to find practical resources for a spirituality that is based on process/open theology. In fact, I have heard a few colleagues say, "I like process theology better than any other theology, but I just don't know how to use it in a church." And that is a valid concern. It's hard to make the transition - especially without many useful resources.  Another problem is that many people simply can't go to church if they hear nothing but an ancient worldview reflected. They want to connect their spirituality with the worldview they live in right now. In short, many people want an evolutionary spirituality.

Bruce Sanguin's new book "If Darwin Prayed" is filled with prayers that exude, enliven, and embody an evolutionary spirituality. Imagine if someone combined Scripture, process theology, open theism, and quantum mechanics into something so practical as a book of prayers. That describes this book. At a time when such resources are so rare, this book is like a cold drink on a hot day. It's refreshing in ways that have to be felt to be truly appreciated. So here is a taste:
Come, friends of Spirit
let us gather in gratitude,
opening to the chaos of life;
the mistakes,
the messes,
and the muddles.
But let us also open
to the order of things -
the magnificent
and the marvelous pattern of it all -
and to beauty that is beyond our minds
to be comprehended
but not to be apprehended by.
Let us calmly celebrate
that we are held
by an order that emerges from the chaos,
and by a chaos that loosens suffocating structures,
and let us learn to trust
that this play of Order and Chaos
is Spirit
dancing its way
into a sanctified future.
Amen.
Now that is a prayer that Darwin - and modern people - can pray with heart and mind! You don't have to separate science from religion. You don't have to separate sacred from secular. You don't have to separate your "church brain" from your "real brain." Instead, you can combine all of these aspects of your life into a holistic spirituality that nourishes the heart, body, soul, and mind. While each prayer focuses on a different Scripture and theme, all of the prayers help develop and deepen an evolutionary spirituality.

The prayers are organized by lectionary themes (e.g. Christmas), liturgical elements (e.g. Eucharist), and special occasions (e.g. Mother's Day). One of the surprise gifts of this book is the theological reflection that Sanguin offers on each of these sections. Not only do you get a lot of amazing prayers in each section, but you also get some brief-yet-stimulating reflection on the evolutionary spirituality of the major elements of the Church's life.

"If Darwin Prayed" is for anyone who wants to explore and experience a deeper spirituality in our continually evolving world. Because of the poetic way these prayers are written, they could be used for anything from personal devotions to congregational worship to seminary training. Hopefully this wonderful book is the beginning of an "evolutionary Pentecost" (xxvi)!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Racist Dove Ad?

A picture is worth a thousand words:

I don't know what the point of this ad was supposed to be, but it looks like Dove is suggesting that their product makes women skinnier and whiter. Is it better to be skinny? Is it better to be white? Yikes! No matter the intended message of this ad, it just looks rather...um...inappropriate.  And that's to say the least. It might be a good idea to have a diverse team look over these ads before they are published for the world to see.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Recovering from the Rapture

So the rapture didn't happen yesterday. Not like I expected it to occur. But still, in a strange way, I was a little disappointed that nothing at all happened. It was just a sunny, beautiful Saturday. I hung out with my family, watered my grass, and grilled out steak. So, I guess, exciting stuff did happen. For me, life doesn't get better than that. It's the simple pleasures that bring life so much joy. Seriously, if we don't soak up the joy in life's little stuff, then we will miss life entirely. We'd spend our lives running from one major event to another without taking the time to notice or enjoy all the awesome stuff that happens between the big things. The reality is that life is 90% little things. So, if we want to enjoy 90% of life, we need to squeeze out every ounce of happiness that we can from ordinary, everyday events. Life is more rapturous if we don't wait for the rapture.

Alanis Morissette's song "Incomplete" is a great reminder to live life in the moment - and not to rush through life:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Discovering Heaven in the Act of Forsaking It

Since a few folks thought the rapture was supposed to happen today, here's a thought-provoking parable about judgement day by Peter Rollins:
Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the Earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at the designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels, “The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff.”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice, “Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying, “It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to embrace the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant.”

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

Review: "Creation Made Free"

Creation Made Free is a book edited by Thomas Jay Oord that explores the intersections of open theism and modern science. Thirteen different theologians reflect on different aspects of this topic, so this book is beautifully nuanced. (I'm very biased in favor of edited books because of the diversity of thought.) While this book diverges from its focus on science from time to time, it's theological reflection is refreshingly insightful and evocative without being overly academic or pedantic. Therefore this book is worth a brief-yet-comprehensive review/overview.

Karen Winslow argued that "the earth is not a planet" in the Bible (26). When the authors of Genesis write about "all the land" they are not talking about planet earth. Instead they are describing the limited part of the world that they knew.  So, for example, the big flood would not have destroyed the entire earth in a global sense, it would have simply destroyed the entire world of the author. Winslow uses this info to make her ultimate point: the scientific knowledge of the authors of Scripture was very different than the scientific knowledge of modern people. The authors were writing out of a different context as well as writing for a different context. Therefore Winslow said: "To try to force the Bible into categories of modern science creates an unnecessary opposition between theology and science" (24). After removing the awkwardness between the science of the modern and ancient worlds, she drives home her point about what that means for our reading of Scripture today: "Recognizing and appreciating what the Bible does not say is as important as understanding what it does say" (27).

Thomas Jay Oord tried to reconcile science and open theism by suggesting that God works through the process of evolution in a way that is "slow, indirect, and sometimes painful" (36). He suggests that Jesus revealed a God who is "self-sacrificial and non-coersive" and therefore "does not overrule or dominate creatures" (35). God gives humans - and all living things - freewill and agency. This freedom brings with it the risk of evil happening since God doesn't force anyone or anything to do the right thing. While God is the most powerful being in the universe, God doesn't invade the integrity of other creatures out of God's self-giving love for the creatures. Here Oord tried to walk a fine line between process theology and his own open theism.

Michael Lodahl wrote about how Christianity is more open to the scientific worldview than Islam due to Islam's higher understanding of God's sovereignty. Islam tends to be committed to the absolute sovereignty of God. While the Quran gives humanity some agency over their lives (58), the Quran is also understood as a perfect revelation by an all-powerful God to a passive people. Lodahl then argued that such an understanding of God "surely undercuts the scientific endeavor" (65). He then went on to argue that Christianity is able to support the view of open theism because the incarnation (God in the form of a dynamic human) and Holy Spirit (God's presence in our midst). For Lodahl, open theism makes Christianity more supportive of modern science than theologies like Islam that hold to the idea that God's power is absolute.

Anne Case-Winters argued that God's ongoing presence in the world means that the world is continuing to be created and re-created by God. For her, the "incarnation is not the exception to the rule but the sign of what is really the case about God's relation to the world" (71). God has been and always will be present and active in the world. This point is important for Case-Winters because she argues that God creates and sustains the world through "the processes of the natural order" (82). In and through all things, God beckons each creature way from evils and toward their best potential. In some ways, this essay seemed to be suggesting that process theology is better than open theism.

Brint Montgomery wrote about how "God functions as Cosmic Mind after the creation of an ordered, material universe" (97). This essay was the least relevant and evocative in the book.

Clark Pinnock argued that God creates and re-creates the world through the process of evolution. He rejects the idea of "episodic divine interventions" because it brings back a "god of the gaps" (103). Instead he upholds the idea that God is continually active and creating. He wrote: "Evolution is opening the future up as God is calling the universe to reach beyond itself to a new creation" (108). Because God is always re-creating the world, each moment is "pregnant with hope" (110). Pinnock ends with an evocative thought: "Ours is a world capable of becoming the kingdom of God. The purpose of our lives is to carry forward the values of the divine project. Sin is the refusal to participate in it. One can think of the omega point, not as a rigid goal, but as God's vision for the world and what the process can become" (110).

Craig Boyd suggested that the earth isn't a perfect, static world, but instead, it's a good, dynamic creation where God is continually at work. For him, evolution is the story about how God creates and re-creates the world. As creatures act and react, God needs to adjust and readjust the vision for the journey forward. He ended by writing: "Creation is more like a song that begins with a simple melody. As it continues, the musicians improvise here and there with variations on the theme...God's song of creation is a song open to possibility, novelty, and ever-increasing goodness and beauty" (124).

Gregory Boyd argued that "evolution may be seen as a sort of warfare between the life-affirming creativity of an all-good God, on the one hand, and the on-going corrupting influence of malevolent cosmic forces on the other" (127). Boyd's reflections were the most judgemental, including two places where he said readers need to agree with him in order to be biblical (132, 139). This essay went too far down the doctrinaire rabbit hole.

Alan Rhoda wrote about God's decision to give humans freewill and the subsequent openness of the future because of that choice. Instead of a determined future, there is a "branching array of possible futures" (151). Rhoda goes on to propose analogies that describe God's relationship to the world: Theatre Director (brings out the best in the actors), Discussion Leader (helps students explore wisdom), Persian Rug-Maker (adapts the design as needed), Master Composer (helps autonomous musicians to find harmony together), and Expedition Leader (brings tools and resources - including the ability to change plans). Rhoda then used game theory to suggest that God plays games with many different people, with many different skill levels, so the strategy that God uses to play the game is different in each new game. The one constant feature in this game theory analogy is that God wants to find a win-win for every game. Clearly all of these analogies are used to illustrate the creativity and rationality of God with humanity.

Alan Padgett argued that God's knowledge is supreme (without knowing the future) and God's providence is powerful (without being coercive). In this essay, Padgett adds some much needed nuance to the discussion of God's foreknowledge and sovereignty.

Richard Rice used his essay to suggest that God's forgiveness of humanity demonstrates God's ability to resourcefully bring about transformation. God isn't naive. Bad things happen. But God is able to forgive people for their sins and then bring about change for the better. This means "the future is always open to new possibilities" (214). By emphasizing God's ability to bring about transformation, "Open theism keeps open the possibility of a future in which God's purposes for all God's children are fullfilled" (217). In the end, forgiveness is the foundation for hope.

John Sanders wrote about how we come to know, understand, and describe God through our embodiment as creatures. There are many different kinds of metaphors for God in the Bible but most of them are personal, relational metaphors. He then argued that "mutual relationships are the ideal form of relationship between God and humans" in Scripture (233). People seem to relate best to images of God as personal. Sanders used a quote from John Calvin to make his point: "God cannot reveal Godself to us in any other way than by comparison with things we know" (219). Humans relates well to a humanly God.

Dean Blevins argued that the continuously emerging world is a result of the ongoing transformations that God brings about through God's loving relationship with the world. Out of God's love for the world, God is intimately involved in the world, even at the quantum level. Our relationship with God is based on "co-relationality" and a "co-determinative" process whereby the world is co-created with God. In this process, God is aways leading us toward creative transformations in the future.

Creation Made Free is a great book for exploring Christianity's relationship to science, introducing open theism in general, or comparing process theology to open theism. If none of those topics seem worth exploring, then this would be a very boring book. But if any - or all - of those topics sound intriguing, then this book just might be an edge-of-your-seat theological thriller. Since I experienced this book as a thriller, I hope there will soon be a sequel!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Theology Nerd Book Survey

Here are my responces to Tripp Fuller's book survey:

1. A book you get excited just looking at: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
2. Your favorite book by your favorite living theologian: A Christian Natural Theology by John Cobb
3. A classic you can’t leave behind: She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson
4. Best book to cross your eyes in 2011: Apocalypse Now and Then by Catherine Keller
5. Favorite book to give a budding theology nerd: Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
6. A book you can’t wait for: The Predicament of Belief by Philip Clayton

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spaghetti Amore Recipe

Ingredients:

1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup of onion
1 lb. of ground beef
10 3/4 oz can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (plus water)
10 3/4 oz can of condensed tomato soup (plus water)
15 oz can of tomato sauce
1 cup of Merlot wine
8 oz of whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup of mozzarella cheese

Preparation:

(1) Combine tomato sauce, cream of tomato soup, and cream of mushroom soup in a mixing bowl.
(2) Chop red pepper, green pepper, onion, and garlic clove. Then add to mixing bowl.
(3) Cook spaghetti noodles. Drain noodles. Then add to mixing bowl.
(4) Brown the hamburger in Merlot wine. Drain hamburger. Then add to the mixing bowl.
(5) Stir everything in the mixing bowl.
(6) Combine everything from the mixing bowl into a 9x13 casserole pan.
(7) Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of the mixture.

Baking:

Bake uncovered in a 9x13 inch casserole pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review of Sara Kay's CD "On the Way"

Brian Newcomb has reviewed Sara's CD "On The Way" (our music project). Here's an outtake from his article:
Given the plethora of music coming from Christian music labels with a largely conservative theological value system, there's a growing hunger among UCC and other forward-thinking, mainline, progressive congregations for music, art, and liturgy to help us in our worship and celebration. To borrow the title of an old favorite book, we're not only looking for "Kind Words for Our Kind of Faith," but yearning for trustworthy resources, well-grounded and robust theological expressions that voice our values, fit our openness and culture-friendly worldview, and our desire to respond to the needy world around us with meaningful acts of compassion and justice/peace making.

One such artist, responding to this great longing is Sara Kay with her debut album, "On The Way." She recently posted on her Facebook page that the 15 songs of this recording were inspired by the writings of Brian McLaren, author of "A New Kind of Christianity," the post-evangelical writer often described as a seminal force in the emergent movement. The spouse and partner of UCC pastor Brian Brandsmeier in Iowa City, Iowa, Sara Kay invites us on the opening track to engage our faith and our world, to listen to our own inner story, to "Be Opened" to all that life in God has to offer.

Performed mostly on piano or acoustic guitar, these are intimate solo recordings of Sara Kay playing her folk/pop melodies, her strong, comfortable singing voice and use of language that bespeaks a progressive Christian witness. In "Resurrection," she emphasizes the living presence of Jesus in the lives of believers when they speak the truth, act kindly and offer hope to another. But she goes on to side with the weak and vulnerable, those easily overlooked.

"Eve's Song" offers an alternative reading of the Genesis telling of "the Fall," a reminder that it's our choices that make us human. We are invited to step beyond our naiveté to give shape to a paradise in God's created world, and evolve into our potential.

For "God of Water and Land" and "God of Movement," Sara Kay has written new, inspiring texts for familiar hymn melodies, but often she has written an original musical setting for lyrical reflections on a biblical text or person. Three songs echo the Psalms, "Goodness and Mercy" recalls the familiar 23rd, "Of Lament and Hope" takes on the cries for deliverance in Psalm 13, and "Victory" ties the words of Psalm 3 to a struggle with breast cancer.

Sara Kay is an artist that brings strong progressive theological values to her songs, with accessible musical settings seemingly designed to allow their use in local congregations.
Click here to go to Sara's website or click here to listen to her songs.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Making God in the Image of Caesar

Alfred North Whitehead has an interesting quote about how some Western thinkers tried to make God in the image of Caesar:

"When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers. The code of Justinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit [imperialism]. The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. In the official formulation of the religion it has assumed the trivial form of the mere attribution to the Jews that they cherished a misconception about their Messiah. But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finding Unity-In-Diversity with Apostle Paul and Jon Stewart

Reflection based on Galatians 3:23-29.

“Our identities have become wholly dependent upon rejecting each other. After all, who am I if not, not you?”

This quote from Stephen Colbert is funny because it’s true. So it’s actually kinda sad. Listen to the attack ads. And cable news shows. And partisan commentators like Sean Hannity and Michael Moore. They would all have us believe that we’re all enemies.

We’re all-too-often told that there are only two sides to everything. Democrats vs. Republicans. Liberals vs. Conservatives. Pro-War vs. Pacifist. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. And the list goes on and on. It’s all about “us” versus “them.”

Partisan, polemic rhetoric is destroying civil discourse in our nation. And it seems to get uglier with every election.

Thankfully, we have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to help us out. Their “Rally to Restore Sanity” was an event to say, “Let’s ignore the 20% of Americans who are loud and extremist, and honor the 80% of Americans who hold common values.” So let’s honor the spirit of the 80%!

Divisiveness is not new. Apostle Paul was facing major divisiveness in Galacia. That’s the background of Galatians. Basically, there were two “sides” that were fighting against one another: Pagan Greeks and circumcised Jews. And you didn’t cross the tracks…unless it was to kill someone.

So in the Galatians letter, Paul used a baptismal liturgy that the Galatians heard when they where first baptized – as a way to help remind them of their baptism – and their unity in Christ. “There is no longer Greek or Jew; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female. For all are one in Christ Jesus.” That was their baptismal liturgy. Pretty radical stuff.

With this liturgy, Paul reminded the Galatians that the cultural dichotomies which only served to estrange and divide the community were annulled. Especially, in this town, it was important to bridges the Greek-Jew divide. All the dichotomies were abolished through their baptism in Christ. Paul declared that all people were "heirs according to the promise."

I envision Paul freaking-out because in his mind, Jesus is going to return at any second. So, the important thing is not the rules and regulations of the law – or the cultural divides. Instead the truely important thing is understanding God’s love for all people. And, for Paul, he drives this home through their unity in baptism.

The good news that Paul shares in Galatia is that God’s propensity to include, transcends humanity’s propensity to exclude. The divisions don’t ultimately matter. God matters. And God has already embraced them – and embraced all people. So, through God, both "sides" already have unity-in-our-diversity.

How might the baptismal liturgy of this text be addressing us? What might Paul’s vision of unity look like in our communities?

Our culture is just as dichotomous as Galatia. It seems that we are all forced to join one of two sides on everything, and then subsequently rally around our common disdain for “the other.”

I’ll never forget watching the show “Meet the Press” a few Sundays after the 2004 elections. The topic was politics and religion. And the guests were Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Al Sharpton and Jim Wallis. As the conversation shifted from introductions to civil liberties, the lines were drawn and war was quickly declared in this group of ministers. At one point, the fighting got so intense that the moderator, Tim Russert, had to jump in and say, “Peace, peace, peace. I think we need to take a commercial break.” With that statement, Mr. Russert, the secular presence on the show, had to teach these popular ministers about peace. In this case, by being a referee in this religious brawl.

And, ironically, a few days earlier I had just finished reading the book “Resident Aliens” by Hauerwas and Willimon. In the book, they argue that Christians are the “good presence” in a “bad world.” But Tim Russert’s call for peace during that morning’s war, shattered that idea. These ministers were a “bad presence” on an otherwise beautiful Sunday morning. After the show was over, I left for church with heartburn of the soul.

It seems that frequently metaphorically, and sometimes even literally, humanity follows the words of Esther 9:5: “The people struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them.” All we have to do is read a newspaper or watch cable news to be reminded of the “Esther 9:5” mentality in the world.

What could it mean to live towards a Galatians 3:28 vision in an Esther 9:5 world?

I think it means moving towards unity-in-diversity, but not forcing false uniformity. Our particularities – our differences – will still be present. I will always be a white male. At least, I think so! But that doesn’t mean we can’t be united. We can honor our differences and celebrate our commonalities.

In Paul’s letter to Galatia, he tells them that they have oneness in Christ. Baptism in Christ obliterates the divisiveness of our differences and calls us into harmony. Different notes are needed to make harmony work. Diversity is needed. It’s not the enemy. And we’re certainly not the enemy of one another – despite what we’re told on TV.

This isn’t an idealist dream. It is possible. I have seen it happen time and time again.

At Evangelical UCC in Saint Louis, I worshiped God with Jews and Christians of all ages as we sought to tear down the walls of separation between us.

At a Christian lobbying event in Washington DC, I joined Catholics, Evangelicals, Unitarians, and Progressives as we talked our senators into supporting a minimum wage increase.

At height of the anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding the Cordoba House (“Mosque at Ground Zero”), Jewish and Christian leaders in Iowa City came together to publically show our support for our Muslim neighbors.

At the National Mall, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert gathered over 200,000 diverse people together to rally to restore sanity – to restore civil discourse in our nation.

At a time of deep division in Galatia, Apostle Paul brought Greeks and Jews together.

Unity is possible. Good and faithful people call us back to it every time we stray too far.

What if instead of bemoaning our differences, we decided to appreciate them. It seems as though it’s the tension, balance, and diversity that makes our nation great. And it’s the thing that makes the Church operate as God intends. We each have our parts to play for the common good. The challenge for each of us is to make room for the gifts of the people that we see as “other.”

Jewish theologian Jonathan Sacks says that “Difference does not diminish; it enlarges. Only when we realize the danger of wishing everyone should be the same…will prevent the clash of civilizations…We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference.” That is worth soaking in. “We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference.” That was Paul’s main message to Galacia, too. So, perhaps, the liturgical reminder that Apostle Paul would give us today would be: There is no longer Greek or Jew, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Pro-War or Pacifist, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice – for we are all one in God. We are all one global family.

Through Paul and Jesus, we know that God has a preferential love and care for all people.

Through Stewart and Colbert, we know that we can disagree without thinking the other person is Hitler.

We can be united right now. In fact, by the grace of God, we already are. So let’s be living sacraments of our sacred unity. And living testaments to the real possibility of a Galatians 3:28 world.

From our classrooms to our board meetings. From family reunions to strangers on the street. From the dairy farms in Iowa to the high rise apartments in Chicago. The journey of unity moves on!

From Apostle Paul to Jon Stewart to each one of us, the journey toward unity moves on.

Let the baptismal waters of unity - and the Spirit of God - lead us onward.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three Cheers for Rape?

Hillaire Soignet, a Silsbee High School cheerleader, was raped by a star athlete of the school, Rakheem Bolton. The assult happened on October 2008. 

This story is all too common. According to Amnesty International, a woman is raped every 6 minutes. In fact, it's the most common crime against women. It's also common for the woman to go through more pain than the person who actually rapes her. Women who are raped have to deal with the trauma of the rape, the trauma of speaking up, the trauma of testifying in public, the trauma of dealing with doubters, the trauma of being teased, the trauma of seeing the rapist again, etc. At the same time, it seems all too often that the guy gets away with claiming it was a "misunderstanding" - and gets away with a lesser charge, if he is charged at all. But the story of the cheerleader gets more interesting.

In January 2009, after months of theraply, Soignet returned to the squad. Meanwhile, the guy who raped her pled guilty to misdemeanor assault, was given two years of probation, and was allowed to play basketball again.
 
So when Soignet re-joined the squad, she was faced with the dillema of cheering for the very guy who had previously raped her. As the guy stepped up to the basketball line to shoot a free throw, the cheerleaders begin to cheer his name. But Soignet decided to fold her arms and refused to cheer on the man who raped her. Immediately, school officials removed her from the game, berated her for not cheering, and then permanently kicked her off the cheerleading team. 
 
The cheerleader sued the school - and lost. After a series of appeals, the Supreme Court finally decided not to hear the case. While she vows to fight on, the court system has (for now) ruled against her. To make matters worse, the school district is now suing her for $45,000 in order to recover the legal fees they paid in defending themselves in what they call a "frivolous" case. The message from the school is clearly that a girl should cheer on her rapist.
 
The story of the cheerleader being objectified and shunned by a star athlete is similar to the story of the King who objectified and shunned the Queen in Esther 1:1-22. King Ahasuerus demanded that Queen Vashti appear before him so he could show off her beauty. However, Vashti rejected the idea of being objectified as a sex object and "refused to come at the king’s command" (1:12).  Ahasuerus got angry about her refusal and "his anger burned within him" (1:12).  He then consulted with a team of lawyers to find out how he could get his way. One of the hot-shot lawyers said, "Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus" (1:16). So, in other words, it's an affront to every man if a woman refuses to be objectified by a powerful man. The lawyer then goes on to say that this just can't happen. He says that if other women hear about the queen's refusal to be objectified, then all of the women of the kingdom might soon refuse to be objectified (1:17). He warns the king that "there will be no end of contempt and wrath" (1:18). The lawyer then builds a case against Queen Vashti so she will lose her crown. In the end, he wants to make an example out of Vashti so that "all women will give honour to their husbands, high and low alike" (1:20). King Ahasuerus obviously goes with this lawyer's idea. He makes it the law of the land and sends out a decree stating that "every man should be master in his own house" (1:22).  
 
The cheerleader refused to be objectified (and violated) by the star athlete - and refused to cheer for him in public. The response from the authorities in the school district was quick and brutal. The cheerleader was removed from her position on the squad and reprimanded for her "inappropriate" behavior. The legal system then backed them up. Apparently the message from Silsbee High School is the same as the message from King Ahasuerus's Kingdom: "Every man should be master in his own house" (1:22). In other words, powerful men should always be able to force women to do whatever they want them to do. Men should control women. So, really, rape isn't such a big deal. It should be allowed. After all, men are the ones who decide what happens to women. Right? No. That message must be rejected, resisted, protested, and changed.
 
Hillaire Soignet and Queen Vashti both chose to stand up to injustice. They both rejected powerful men's demands of objectification. They both resisted pressure to comply with these men. They both publicly protested these men's actions. And they both worked to change the way women are treated in the future. For that, Hillaire Soignet and Queen Vashti should be celebrated as heroes.
 
Being silent would have been easier. Silence is seductive because all it asks you to do is nothing. It's easy to do nothing. But being silent is like being complicit. It accepts the status quo. Therefore doing something - like folding your arms as a cheerleader - is a powerful act of resistance. So is a queen's refusal to be objectified by a king. We need more cheerleaders and queens like these women. And we need to join them so we can help the star athletes and kings to become better men. 
 
It's time that we all fold our arms when it comes to sexual injustices against women. And let's cheer on all those who work to ensure the safety of women and health of men.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eucharist with Osama Bin Laden

Tripp Fuller shares a story of trying to love an enemy and pray for someone who persecuted us (Matthew 5:44):


People Of Possibility from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Only Love Can Drive Out Hate

Osama bin Laden has been killed by the collaborative work of the US military, intelligence community, and President Barack Obama. While I celebrate the end of bin Laden's career of terror, I cannot celebrate his death. I cannot celebrate because I am worried about a few things. I fear his death will make him a martyr. I fear his death will inspire retaliation. I fear his death put the military and government officials who are abroad at greater risk. I fear his death will add to the cycle of violence in the world. And, in the end, I fear that Martin Luther King Jr. is right:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why Is Your Heaven So Small?

Who is going to heaven? Moses? Jesus? Muhammad? Mohandas Gandhi? Albert Einstein? Martin Luther King Jr.? Mother Teresa? You? Me? Do we have to believe certain things before we can get into heaven? Do we have to pray in a specific way? Do we have to eat in particular way? Do we have to be "perfect"? Do we have to be on the "right" team (Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, etc.)?

It seems like there are so many angry voices that make quick judgements about who is going to heaven - and who is not. These folks say that if the rest of us aren't like them, then we're going to hell. According to this argument, God likes the same people as them - and also hates the same people. It's like the ultimate trump card in the game of "who's right." I'd like to declare an end to that game.

Why call an end to the "heaven-is-for-people-like-me-game"? First of all, heaven shouldn't be used in such a manipulative way. Second, they don't get to decide what heaven is - and who gets in. Third, God is the only one who is able to pass final judgement. And, finally, God judges us through a lens of love.

According to the Scripture that I read, God is love - not exclusivity. For example, I John 4:7-8 says: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Plus, in Psalm 108:8, it says: "God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." So God isn't some cocky junior high kid running a popularity contest. Or some judgemental fundamentalist pontificating about the evils of other people. Or some angry atheist declaring that everyone else is wrong. Instead, God is love. Abounding is steadfast love. And in God's house "there are many rooms" (John 14:2). Room enough for people like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, you, and me. There is even enough room for those who would argue that there isn't enough room. Heaven doesn't have to be so small.

Sometimes music says it better than words alone. So here is a great song by Susan Werner called "Why is Your Heaven so Small?" The lyrics are below the video. Enjoy!



excuse me sir, what did you say?
when you shout so loud, it's hard to tell
you say that i must change my ways
for i am surely bound to hell

well i know you'd damn me if you could
but my friend, that's simply not your call
if god is great and god is good
why is your heaven so small

you say you know you say you've read
that holy bible up on your shelf
do you recall when jesus said
judge not, lest ye be judged yourself

for i know you'd damn me if you could
but my friend, that's simply not your call
if god is great, and god is good
why is your heaven so small

with your fists that shake, and your eyes that burn
what makes you do these things you do?
i would not be surprised to learn
someone somewhere excluded you

but my friend, imagine it if you would
a love much mightier than us all
o if god is great and god is good
why is your heaven
so small