I am the author of this book in which I share my reflections and visions for the denomination I serve as a pastor. In a time when questions are beingI am the author of this book in which I share my reflections and visions for the denomination I serve as a pastor. In a time when questions are being asked of the identity of churches, I offer this as a means of furthering the conversation.
The title conveys what I consider to be the two key elements of the Disciples. We are a people who highly value our freedom (we were born on the frontier). But, to stay together we must find unity -- and the means is through affirming our covenant relationship. ...more
What if Jesus, the Pope and a Protestant walked into a bar? What would happen if Jesus invited a Catholic and a Protestant to sit down for a drink orWhat if Jesus, the Pope and a Protestant walked into a bar? What would happen if Jesus invited a Catholic and a Protestant to sit down for a drink or two? There was a time when Protestants and Catholics not only didn't consider each other to be Christians, but thought of each other as tools of Satan. We fought wars of religion in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, with both religious families seeking to impose their own brand on the nations of Europe and then by virtue of that on their colonies around the world. Since John Kennedy's election in 1960 and Vatican II the feuding has largely come to a close. It's really not so inconceivable that the Pope, especially this Pope, would sit down with a Protestant pastor and have conversation.
Pope Francis has brought to the Catholic Church and the Christian world at large the persona of grace and humility that is often lacking among Christian people. Whether you agree with him on issues, there's something about him that makes him attractive to even the staunchest of Protestants. Seeking to engage with Francis' expression of the Christian faith, Presbyterian Pastor Paul Rock and Religion writer Bill Tammeus (a Presbyterian and elder at Rock's church in Kansas City, MO), brings this little book to our attention. The heart of the book is a series of sermons that Rock preached (with two of the sermons preached by members of Rock's pastoral staff at Second Presbyterian Church).
This book contains seven sermons together with a set of discussion questions for each session. The purpose is to engage Francis' message so that Protestants might find a wisdom and insight for their own lives.
We begin with a session titled Unusual Pedigree, which invites us to consider the uniqueness of his personality as well as his ministry among the world's outcasts. The second session focuses on his leadership style -- one of humility and graciousness. In "Being There," offered by associate pastor Don Fisher, we're invited to consider Francis' commitment to justice for the marginalized, especially the poor, but with that a call to build relationships with others. Engagement might be a good way of describing this vision.
In the chapter titled "Set Free," we hear the story of a man killed in World War II, a man who was not Catholic, and therefore couldn't be buried in the church yard. When the friend who took the person to this church in France to be taken care of, a search was made of the graves outside the fence, but the friend was not to be found. When the friend looked for the priest, he found the very same man with whom he had left his friends years before. The priest took him to the grave, which was within the fence. When asked how the grave got inside the yard, the priest told him he had moved the fence. That's a powerful story of inclusion.
Youth Minister Laura Larsen offers a sermon titled "Selfie" that speaks of the call to do something out of the ordinary, to act silly, and offers insight into the Pope's willingness to engage in silly things. He's not worried about being embarrassed by wearing a seemingly silly hat. Are we?
In "Dumbing Down," Rock returns to the story of humility and the Pope's willingness to let go of respectability. Am I? In this sermon Rock meditates on the affluence of his own congregation and the need to be come incarnational. Finally, while we may find many similarities, there are important differences. Thus, in the sermon Exploring Our Differences, we're invited to consider those differences and what it means for the journey ahead.
This is a fast read. Sermons, after all, should not be ponderous tomes! But there is deep insight. It would work as an interesting study series for a congregation who finds Francis a wonderful expression of the Christian faith!
Who is God? If you believe in God, as do I, what characteristics do you apply to this God? What is God’s identity? Depending on whom you ask you mightWho is God? If you believe in God, as do I, what characteristics do you apply to this God? What is God’s identity? Depending on whom you ask you might hear that God is distant and capricious. Or you might say that God is loving and gracious. How you choose to live in relationship with this God may depend on your vision of God. If God is angry and capricious you likely will live in fear (and I don’t mean reverence). If you believe God is loving and gracious you may seek to draw close. There is another issue involved in this conversation and that has to do with the degree to which God is involved in history. That is, does God control things? If so, how much does God control and how much freedom do we have to determine our fate? The theological term here is providence, which speaks to the degree to which God’s hand rests on history.
A traditional understanding of providence assumes that God is in control and not only that but God already knows the outcome of history. Before we ever act, the future is already decided. We can’t really change things—at least from the divine perspective. We might think that we’re acting on our own, but in reality it’s all settled. That is, unless you embrace an open-relational view of reality. This vision comes in a couple of forms, including Process Theology and Open Theology. The latter has its location within evangelical circles, mostly Wesleyan in nature. Among the most prominent of these “Openness of God” theologians is Tom Oord, who is nearing the end of his tenure as a professor at Northwest Nazarene University. One of the features of Tom’s work has been his stress on the place of love in our theological understandings. In fact, his book The Nature of Love, (Chalice Press, 2010) has been a constant companion in my own theological and pastoral work.
In the Uncontrolling Love of God, Tom builds on this work to lay out both a relational understanding of divine providence and offer a theodicy (defense of God in the face of evil). After all, we all want to make sense of our realities, including the presence of evil and tragedy. Even people of deep faith wonder about God’s presence or apparent absence in moments of distress. If God is all powerful, then why doesn’t God act? The answer that Tom Oord seeks to offer here is rooted in the premise that love is the defining characteristic of God’s nature. Thus, the answer could be found in God’s nature. This conversation, however, takes place within the context of Tom’s own theological foundations. As an “Open Theology” advocate, he argues that God does not know the future in its fullness. He seeks to understand providence in conversation with the recognition that the future remains unwritten. God has intentions but there is still the place of randomness to account for, and that includes our input into the realities of life. This book is, as the author notes, an attempt to offer a “plausible explanation for how God acts providentially amid randomness and freedom” (p. 25).
The full review appears on my blog -- October 1, 2015. ...more
As our communities become more diverse and religious pluralism makes itself felt more strongly, it is increasingly the case that persons with differenAs our communities become more diverse and religious pluralism makes itself felt more strongly, it is increasingly the case that persons with different religious beliefs and values are deciding to make a life together. This has, of course, always been true, but the numbers are growing quickly and the variety of couplings as well. Once it might have been the case of a Methodist and a Presbyterian trying to figure out which church to attend, and at the most extreme case a Catholic and a Protestant. Until recently it was expected that the non-Catholic spouse would convert. Today, it might be Christian-Jewish or even Christian-Buddhist.
One choice for couples is to essentially set aside religion. Choose "neutrality." You do yours, I'll do mine. That may work for awhile, but what if there are children? What then? Perhaps it is best to have the conversation up front. Of course, couples could choose to go with one tradition or another, or maybe choose a third, but that works mostly within a broader faith tradition. Or a couple could decide very intentionally to celebrate both.
Robert LaRochelle has created a brief but useful guide for couples (and those who work with them) to discuss and consider how to be united at home when the couple brings into the fold more than one faith tradition. He brings to the conversation not only his experience as a pastor but as one who was once a Roman Catholic married to a Roman Catholic, with Roman Catholic children. In this and in previous books Bob has shared his wisdom from Crossing the Street.
This book is part of a series of study guides that invites group participation, so it is useful for that purpose, but can easily be used by individuals or couples. In the course of the book, Bob brings to our attentioni the changed religious realities, names the issues, discusses the variety of religious expression, common variations among couples, lifts up strengths in interreligious relationships. Then he moves to some strategies for building strong relationships, and finally lifting up the promise of a Home United.
Bob's perspective on this issue is that not only is it possible to have strong united families when there is religious difference, but that these differences can enrich the family life. As a pastor I understand the value of a family sharing the same faith tradition. I can understand why we try to affirm it. But the reality is that this will not be true for all, and our goal is to build strong families.
One thing to note as well is one of perspective. With the coming of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, same-gender couples will be facing the same issues. Bob is one, like me, who assumes that what applies to heterosexual marriages also applies here.
If this is you -- you're living in or contemplating an interreligious partnership -- then by all means read it. Clergy -- do the same!...more
Charles Darwin is a figure that dominates modern life. He’s a figure who polarizes our culture, even if we haven’t the slightest idea what he taught.Charles Darwin is a figure that dominates modern life. He’s a figure who polarizes our culture, even if we haven’t the slightest idea what he taught. To some he is a hero of science and saint to those who hold reason in highest regard, but to others he is the devil incarnate and the epitome of atheism’s dangers. Philip Kitcher’s new book, Living with Darwin, is a readable and challenging treatise that will prove disconcerting to just about everyone involved in the current debates, including those of us who seek to build bridges between evolution and faith.
Philip Kitcher is a philosopher – John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University – and a writer of numerous books dealing with science and religion. He is both sympathetic to religious claims and a partisan for reason. He is a Darwinist at heart, even a secularist, and yet he understands why religion holds such importance in the most modern of cultures.
The book raises the question of why Darwin is such a controversial personage. Why is evolution seen as such a threat? Yes, he was buried with honors in Westminster Abbey in the shadow of Newton’s own monument, but what of the Darwin who holds center stage today and has become such a reviled figure.