What is worship? That is a question those of us involved in church life often ask, especially we who are clergy. Joyce Ann Zimmerman had to wrestle wiWhat is worship? That is a question those of us involved in church life often ask, especially we who are clergy. Joyce Ann Zimmerman had to wrestle with that question for many years as she was in engaged with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies grant program. Applicants to a worship renewal grant program for congregations were asked to define "authentic worship." She discovered from examining the data that this was a difficult question to answer. Thus, many turned to John 4 and simply said authentic worship was that which was done in "spirit and truth." Eventually they changed the question and a broader spectrum of answers emerged.
In this book Joyce Ann Zimmerman, a Roman Catholic theologian and educator, who serves as the director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, OH, provides an introduction to the meaning and practice of worship. She's not focused on definition, but instead invites the reader to ponder the meaning and practice of worship. She does, however, provide guidance on this journey. She starts with the data as to whether worship is "withering or greening." She lifts up the concerns of the day and notes that while worship includes liturgy, liturgy is more formal and thus is not the equivalent of worship. It is an expression but worship can happen in community and alone, in formal settings and in informal ones.
Having laid out the data and introductory elements, she moves on to the biblical story, sharing how Scripture understands and expresses worship. She focuses on the Psalms, and Revelation. In the third chapter, whe turns to her own Catholic resources, especially the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy that emerged out of Vatican II. Protestants might wonder the value these resources, but it is good to remember that Vatican II launched liturgical renewal not only the Catholic Church but in Protestant ones as well. In this section we look at Baptismal identity, the Eucharist, and the call to "full, conscious, and active participation.
In the fourth chapter, she asks the question of whether worship makes a difference in our lives. She notes that the word "Mass" comes from the Latin Missi, which describes the dismissal. From worship one goes forth in the world. The question is -- what is the relationship between what happens in the worship service/liturgy and our daily lives. In this context she speaks to issues of justice and mission. This final chapter is an important one because brings the previous conversations together -- reminding us that worship involves an encounter with God that should transform lives -- or it really isn't true worship. In other words, it's not the style or the accouterments that matter -- it's what happens in the heart.
While not offering a "definition," she does offer a description, which I think brings things together very nicely:
"Worship is surrendering ourselves before a loving and merciful God whom we encounter any time we open ourselves to the abiding Triune Presence, a surrender and an encounter played out in relationships and circumstances of daily living that reflect our ethical choices and commitments, our concern and care for others." (p. 152).
It is not a definitive book on worship covering all aspects of worship -- for that I suggest reading Ruth Duck's Worship for the Whole People of God. It is, however, a most helpful primer that can engender important conversations within congregations. She is Roman Catholic and so she reflects that perspective. All in all, it's a book I would heartily recommend. ...more
It is my book, so I'm biased! Though brief, I believe that this engagement with Karl Barth's theology of biblical authority can be helpful to those stIt is my book, so I'm biased! Though brief, I believe that this engagement with Karl Barth's theology of biblical authority can be helpful to those struggling with how to read the Bible as a word from God without being caught up in literalism....more
The question of the status of the LGBT community within the Church is a vexing one. Traditionally Christianity has held up the premise that sexual relThe question of the status of the LGBT community within the Church is a vexing one. Traditionally Christianity has held up the premise that sexual relations are to be confined to marriage, and marriage is the domain of a man and a woman. This premise has been grounded in understandings of biblical texts, theological reflection, culture, and understandings of the orders of creation. The traditional paradigm is collapsing, and therefore the church is in the midst of a time of crisis. If the traditional model doesn't work, what should we put in its place?
In recent years there has been a great abundance of new books that wrestle with this question. Several books by evangelicals have appeared in the past two years that open the conversation up in new ways. One of those contributions is this book by David P. Gushee, an evangelical social ethicist. For a number of reasons David Gushee has had a change of mind on this topic, and has come out as a strong advocate for inclusion. In Changing Our Mind, Gushee shares how this change occurred and offers his rationale for why the church as a whole should follow his lead.
This is not a heavy read, though it will be a challenging one for many in the church. It will challenge both traditionalists and some revisionists. For one thing, he suggests that the way forward will require civility and patience. Speaking of traditional texts as clobber scriptures, while understandable, is not an effective strategy. For traditionalists, he wants them to understand that there are Gay Christians. Because of the closet, many have not known this to be true, but they're in our midst.
That is because while he embraces the full inclusion of LGBT folks in the church, he remains true to traditional values regarding the appropriate place for sexual relations to occur. In other words, it's not an anything goes kind of vision. Instead, he suggests that the idea of life-long covenant marriage be extended to LGBT persons. That will require, therefore, a commitment to one partner and one gender identity.
In the course of the book, he takes up texts that either are used in opposition to LGBT inclusion or that define marriage only in terms of male-female partnerships. He addresses the question of the orders of creation and notes their often problematic uses. Ultimately, this is a call for the church to recognize that the principle of exclusion is dangerous -- to body, soul, and spirit. It is an invitation to take up a new path.
For those of us who already embrace the change, this book should prove to be helpful in bringing others along. For those who are on the fence this may be the book that gets them to the other side. For those who have dug in their heals, if they are open to reading, perhaps their eyes will be opened to new realities. Whatever the case, this book has message whose time has come! Take and read!! ...more
In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus most often used parables to convey his message. The question is -- what did Jesus mean when he told the parables and howIn the Synoptic Gospels Jesus most often used parables to convey his message. The question is -- what did Jesus mean when he told the parables and how do we interpret them today? One of the major questions moderns have asked concerns whether parables have just one meaning or could they have multiple meanings? Since preachers like me often turn to the parables, this is an important question. In other words, are we limited to a specific, historical-critical determined meaning? Or might we follow the lead of interpreters like Augustine and interpret them allegorically. After all, Jesus did just that in his interpretation of the parable of the sower.
Richard Lischer has written a wonderful book on reading the parables. Although this book appears in the series Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church, he prefers the use of the word reading over interpreting. The word interpretation conveys to many the sense of a fixed understanding, but reading "reminds us that no parable of Jesus has ever found its definitive, unassailable interpretation" (p. 2). With the medieval and postmodern interpreters, Lischer inists that no parable has one fixed meaning, but is capable of being read (as has been true down through history) in a variety of ways.
In chapter 1 Lischer takes us into the issues facing us as we read the parables, including defining the various forms a parable takes from simile to example story. In chapter two he explores four theories of reading the parables -- 1) they obscure the truth; 2) they teach many truths; 3) teach one truth; 4) they undermine "the truth." In chapter three he takes us into the way in which Mark Matthew, and Luke use the parables. Then in chapter four, he looks at the way the parables speak to the human condition from derangements to the surreal. Then chapter five he looks at how the parables look when read from the perspective of the poor. Finally, in chapter six he takes the parable of the Good Samaritan and shows how Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Luther, Calvin, Martin Luther King, and the commmunity of Solemtname read the parables. This last section was quite fascinating as it illustrates how one parable can elicit such a variety of perspectives.
This is a book I will be turning to as a preacher as I engage the parables of Jesus. It is not an in depth treatment of the parables, but a guide to reading the parables in new ways -- together with a variety of communities. It is not, he notes that every parable can be read in any way we wish, but that parables should be read with discernment in ways that speak to the community to which we (the preachers) are addressing. It is probably the best treatment of the parables I have encountered. ...more
I don't know why it took me so long to pick up this book, published more than two decades ago, but it has proven to be revelatory. Catherine Mowry LaCI don't know why it took me so long to pick up this book, published more than two decades ago, but it has proven to be revelatory. Catherine Mowry LaCugna provides us with a thoughtful and provocative exposition of the Trinitarian faith, showing that the immanent Trinity (God in God's self) cannot be known except through God's economy of salvation. She demonstrates with great coherence that we know God's being (ousia) in God's persons as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Because we know God in terms of persons, who are in relationship, our faith should be relational -- and egalitarian.
This provides historical and theological accounting, but ends with an important chapter on living in the Trinity, for we know God as Trinity in God's work of salvation in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
What is morality? Answers will depend on who gives them. For William Barber, morality has to do with justice. A Disciple pastor and president of the NWhat is morality? Answers will depend on who gives them. For William Barber, morality has to do with justice. A Disciple pastor and president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, William Barber has become best known for his leadership of the Forward Together/Moral Mondays movement.
If you have hard him speak and preach, you will have heard William Barber speak of a Third Reconstruction emerging in America, especially in the South. The first reconstruction took place following the end of the Civil War, when white and black leaders joined together to form what he calls fusion governments that lifted up recently freed slaves into a new position of leadership in the community. That reconstruction gave way to a new era of segregation, exclusion, violence, poverty, and Jim Crow. A Second Reconstruction emerged in 1954 with the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, overturning "separate but equal laws" and culminating in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. But that Reconstruction ended with the murder of Martin Luther King and Richard Nixon's embrace of a southern strategy that turned the Party of Lincoln into the part of retrenchment. Finally, the Moral Mondays movement signals the beginning of a new fusion politics in the south, one that brings together concerns about voting rights, women's rights, labor rights, health care for all, and LGBT rights.
"Forward Together" from Chalice Press brings together the speeches given by Rev. Barber to the Moral Mondays participants, including those who had volunteered to be arrested, before marching to the state capitol building. Beyond the Moral Mondays speeches, Barber and his editor Barbara Zelter, there are several speeches given to the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Rally 8, to Equality NC and the NAACP National Board on the importance of allying the cause of justice with LGBT concerns. He makes it clear that the attempt to create a wedge between African Americans and Gays will not work. There is a speech on the relationship of civil rights and labor rights made to a union convention. Finaly there is an article for Sojourners that summarizes the movement.
As he nears the end of the book, he offers up a summation of the vision:
"Perhaps the only way to conclude this piece is to say we have learned that there is a deep hunger for the recovery of our moral compass, for language in the political debate that is not bound by the restraints of mere left and right, Democrat and Republican; that many people still desire to see the light of justice; and that the prophetic clarion call can also sometimes awaken those who thought they were your enemies to b your friends in the struggle." (p. 164)
While his political orientation puts him in the Democratic camp and his opponents in this primarily come from Tea Party backed politicians including the recently elected Senator from North Carolina, he speaks of this not in partisan terms but moral and human terms.
The message of the book is powerful and inspiring. It is a call to action, and if one wishes to understand the issues and the importance of building a broad coalition, Barber's book will prove inspiring. ...more
Does the study of church history really matter? Being a church historian by training and having taught church history I have had to offer an answer toDoes the study of church history really matter? Being a church historian by training and having taught church history I have had to offer an answer to that question on many an occasion. Students often come into a church history class with a predisposition against it. Seminarians often see church history as course requirement that is irrelevant to their future oriented call to ministry. What can we learn from history except perhaps negative things? With a progressive vision that marks both theologically conservative and theologically liberal folks, they assume that we must know more than our forebearers. Of course, I disagree with them, and do my best to disabuse them of this notion.
In this book Robert Rea, a church historian affiliated with a seminary/college in a branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement, offers his own apology for the study of Church History. His target audience is what he calls "Bible-Focused Christians." In other words, conservative evangelicals who seek to follow the religion of scripture, but who it seems (I would concur from experience) find little of value in the past. Rea seeks to show how those within this movement would benefit from the interpretive and illustrative gifts of their spiritual ancestors.
The book is divided into three major sections. Part 1 speaks to the way we understand tradition. Here he offers his take on the definition of tradition, shares how Christians have understood tradition down through the ages, and then offers his take on how it is understood today -- noting the difference between those who hold to apostolic succession (the idea that the current ministry of the church descends in an unbroken line from the apostles through the historic episcopate -- Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican) and those who do not affirm apostolic succession (everyone else!).
Part 2 focuses on what Rea calls "expanding circles of inquiry." In this section of the book the author seeks to show how the study of church history can help form spiritual/Christian identity. He notes that our circle of inquiry starts narrowly within the congregation and then the denomination/movement, but suggests we would be enriched if we can see ourselves as the descendants of that Great Cloud of Witnesses, with whom we share community by imbibing their works and witness. This expanding circle of witnesses can provide accountability, helping us see how our own visions and experiences match earlier Christians. We can also see these Christians as our spiritual mentors.
Part 3 responds to the ever present question of relevance. After all, why read history if it has no relevance to what we are doing now in the present. Of course those of us who love history can read it for enjoyment, but not everyone gets a kick out of reading about a group of 18th century high church Anglicans who separated themselves from the established church because of their political loyalties (I'm speaking here of the Nonjurors, my area of study). For everyone else, Robert Rea shows us how our spiritual ancestors can help us read scripture, engage in ministry thorugh preaching, spirituality, worship, ethics, and more.
Why does Church History matter? Rea concludes that hit allows us to "celebrate the body of Christ!" (p. 192). It does this by broadening our vision of the body to include not only those who share life with us in our congregations or even denominations, but reaching out across the communion of saints.
Some caveats here. I liked the book, but recognize that I'm not the target audience. The constant recitation of the phrase "Bible-focused Christians" was distracting, especially when I realized that I am no longer part of that community. Though not a common occurrence, the few mentions of liberal/progressive Christians were at times expressed through unfortunate stereotypes.
The audience is conservative evangelical -- for the most part -- who are struggling to make sense of the value of history. While I recognize that Rea is speaking to this evangelical audience, I was hoping he would connect his own journey into history with the often ahistorical nature of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Perhaps he didn't want to offend colleagues, but our shared tradition has often discounted everything that existed beteween the first century to the enlightenment of Thomas and Alexander Campbell in the 19th century. That would have been a useful case study.
It is a useful book, though for those in the Mainline a similar but different book would be most helpful. ...more
Fifty-four years ago the stated clerk (national administrative leader) of the United Presbyterian church was invited to preach at Grace Cathedral in SFifty-four years ago the stated clerk (national administrative leader) of the United Presbyterian church was invited to preach at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco by the Bishop of California, James Pike. In that historic sermon Eugene Carson Blake cast a vision of a new united Protestant church that would be both catholic and reformed. He suggested that the Presbyterians and Episcopalians invite the Methodists and the United Church of Christ to join in this venture (along with any others who might share that vision). Among those in the congregation that day was a young doctoral student at Pacific School of Religion. That student is the present author of this important history of what emerged from that sermon -- the Consultation on Church Union. Eventually nine churches ranging from the Disciples to the African Methodist Episcopal Church would join in a forty year effort to create a church that could give a united witness in a divided age.
Keith Watkins, the author (and a friend) shares the story that began with the sermon on December 4, 1960 onwards through years of study, conversation, debate, to that moment when COCU became Christians Uniting in Christ. The work of this consultation explored points of theological agreement and disagreement, considered ways of creating a structure that would facilitate this effort, while reconciling memberships and ministries, and largely due to the influence of three African American denominations focused their attention on racial reconciliation and social justice.
The conversations produced a number of important successes, including new liturgical expressions and a Protestant common lectionary -- the predecessor to the Revised Common Lectionary. While they largely agreed to use the primary creeds as a theological foundation and even agreed on the centrality of the two sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, they could not come to agreement on reconciling ministry. Episcopalians remained committed to the episcopacy (with a sacramental vision of apostolic succession), while others were willing to accept a version of episcopacy, as long as there was freedom to define that in non-sacramental terms. At the same time the Disciples wanted to keep the lay eldership in the conversation.
When it became clear that merger would not occur, the participants in COCU sought to reenvision their goal as one of covenant relationship. While softer than merger, this effort fell short as there was no binding commitment to continue in ministry together. While regular eucharistic fellowship across the traditions, even this did not work very well. As time went on the churches became more interested in bilateral conversations and partnerships rather than multilateral ones, and as interest waned the dream faded.
Today we live in a different time when institutions and structures are increasingly questioned. But, the work of COCU does invite us to consider how we can best express our unity in Christ in visible ways -- and recognize each other as true churches. And it is clear that we have a long way to go on matters of racial reconciliation.
Keith's book is a scholarly text. It is a work of historical scholarship that explores in great depth one of the most important ecumenical experiments in American history. It's eventual demise should not be taken as a sign that nothing of value occurred. Indeed, it maybe that this effort paved the way for the ease with which people cross denominational boundaries. Rarely if ever do we bar one another from the Table or require rebaptism. We still struggle, of course, with reconciling our ministries. That may never come, but some day we might make it easier to move across traditions, or at least preside at each other's tables.
I believe that this is an important book written with great care and passion by one who not only studied the movement, but participated in it (he served on the Commission on Liturgy for many years). This is history, but it has elements of memoir, even if often hidden below the surface. If you are clergy and committed to expressing a united faith visibly, then you will need to read this book. ...more
Ron Higdon is a retired pastor (although he continues to do interim ministries) and a member of the Academy of Parish Clergy (an organization of whichRon Higdon is a retired pastor (although he continues to do interim ministries) and a member of the Academy of Parish Clergy (an organization of which I am also a member). He is also a father whose son committed suicide. Writing as both father and as a pastor he has written a brief but compassionate book that speaks from the heart to those who also have suffered similar losses.
As I write in the blurb I provided the publisher for the book:
"It is always difficult to lose a loved one to death. When the loved one is your child, it is even more difficult, especially when death comes by suicide. Ron Higdon is a pastor who has experienced this very tragedy, and with this book he shares his own grief and wisdom. It is a wisdom he passes on to others, those who have experienced such a loss, those who want to be supportive, and those who are called to minister to and possibly within such a loss. It must be a difficult story to tell, but Ron shares with us what is helpful and what is not. Such a testimony will be a blessing to many."
In the course of the book, Ron addresses the realities of one's grief, one's feeling of responsibility, and a road to healing. So, if you or someone you know is a parent who has suffered from such a loss then I believe this is a book that will speak to the heart. If you're a pastor Ron's pastoral insights will prove invaluable. I invite you to pick up and read. ...more
The Trinity is the way in which Christians name God. Traditionally we have confessed God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This formula has taken onThe Trinity is the way in which Christians name God. Traditionally we have confessed God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This formula has taken on a certain sense of sacredness. We baptize in this name. But for many Christians the Trinity is a foreign concept. We get hung up on the numbers and miss the deeper meaning that is rooted in the mystery that is God. No human words can adequately convey the identity of God. But this doctrine has served us well -- for the most part.
Ruth Duck and Patricia Wilson-Kastner wrote a most helpful book on the way in which we speak of God Trinitarianly in worship. They bemoan our tendency to avoid Trinitarian language and that when we use it we're stuck with a formula that evokes a very masculine sense of God. While not rejecting the traditional formula they suggest we work on new images/metaphors that evoke the same sense of relationship within God's nature and with creation that Father, Son, and Spirit have evoked all these centuries.
The book was recommended by a friend and colleague, and I am glad to have finally read the book. It has helped immensely as I reenvision the Triune nature of God. ...more