Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From a secular source...

I've been reading Hemingway's account of life in Paris in the 1920s, in his book, A Moveable Feast. In one section he writes, "It was all part of the fight against poverty that you never win except by not spending. We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other."

Perhaps overly romanticized, but Hemingway's words make me think that would be a good life. If we live and love simply, is that not the basis for doing considerable good in the world for others? And yet the poet Linda Weltner writes that the consumer culture shouts at us from every vantage point, saying "Not enough, not enough," and torturing us with all those things we have not yet bought, not yet acquired.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What can I do?

Radical, individual heart change is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the advancement of justice. Injustice thrives because too many of us do nothing about it. We do not hold injustice clearly, unmistakably, and urgently in our field of vision.

There is a great distance between the privileged world we inhabit and take for granted, and that other world where tragedy, disease, destitution, and oppression are rife. We misperceive suffering as their problem, not ours.

We live with a clear conscience, believing that we are not the perpetrators of injustice while also believing that injustice is beyond our power to change.

Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor

Monday, March 7, 2011

A class this long? Surely not!

The prominent theologian Stanley Hauerwas attempted to join a Methodist church some years ago. The pastor told him that before he could join the church, he would need to attend a new member's orientation class that met each week for a year. Hauerwas replied, "I dutifully and gladly did this."

It is rare for a pastor to lay down this requirement for a prospective member. But there is little doubt that the experience is life-changing. Even the very existence of such a program is likely to create congregational renewal.

From the editorial, Going Deeper, The Christian Century, February 22, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

A miracle!

In the early 1920s, my grandmother, a template Methodist, was smitten by and betrothed to an Irish Catholic. She converted, somewhat reluctantly. The priest splashed a little water on her and said, "Geraldine, you were born a Methodist, raised a Methodist. Now, thanks be to God, you're a Catholic."

Some weeks later she was grilling steaks in the backyard on the first Friday in Lent. A neighbor, smelling the barbecue, upbraided her for fixing meat on Friday. She got the garden hose, sprinkled a few drops of water on the sirloins and said, "You were born cows, raised as cows. Now, thanks be to God, you are fish!"

Thomas Lynch, The Christian Century, February 22, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back in the saddle...

My apology to readers for being offline for about a month. I'm cranked up again, and ready to continue my conversations with hearty church souls. Please check in at least weekly.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A surprising new church...

A new church has started in Colorado Springs, dedicated to helping people in the depths of their crises. The pastor of this church is Ted Haggard, disgraced minister of the New Life mega-church he founded some years ago. His new church has about 300 members.

The vast majority of churches in North America have far fewer than 300 members. Are ministers who are untainted by scandal incapable of creating congregations of 300 members? Even 300 members is a relatively small church.

To me, this is a clarion call for pastors and lay leaders of good faith to review their role and purpose in this place and time. There is so much loneliness and sadness in the world. Shouldn't the church have a powerful message to draw them in?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rent-a-church weddings?

As an associate minister, UCC minister Lillian Daniel got stuck with the non-member weddings. She writes about being ordered around by engaged couples and listening to their rants about organized religion. She was treated like a service for purchase, similar to the caterer.

She brings this up in a review of G. Jeffrey MacDonald's book, Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. MacDonald writes that the religious marketplace is full of people looking for a church that meets their desires, a church that requires very little of them.

Instead, MacDonald argues that people ought to be looking for a church that shapes their desires. He says people need a faith that requires commitment, sacrifice, and the occasional denial of our whims and desires.

The Christian Century Magazine, January 25, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

A two way street?

Sometimes we think if the pastor gets it right, then results will follow. I challenge that assumption by noting that Protestant churches now have some of the best trained leaders we've ever known.

We hear too much talk about leadership and not enough about following. Congregations that do great work have strong followers. People work out of their own deep faith and commitment to the church they love, not necessarily because their leaders have some special skill or knowledge.

Thomas Russell, The Christian Century, December 28, 2010

Monday, January 17, 2011


The Atlantic Magazine reports that the US produces 89 percent of porn websites in the world today. I realize this is a free country and that porn is a multi-billion industry. But sometimes the voice of the church is all too silent on matters such as this.

The issue crosses many theological boundaries and related topics. Theologically conservative ministers now bemoan the high rates of porn use, adultery, alcoholism, drug abuse, and divorce among their members, no different from the larger society. As if all the church teaches has a minimal impact on people's lives, if any.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Would this make you happy?

Philosopher Robert Nozick poses this question. Suppose you could attach your body for the remainder of your life to an "experience" machine. Floating in a tank of fluid, connected by electrodes to an incredibly advanced computer, you would spend the rest of your days fully realizing your greatest personal dreams.

You could win the Pulitzer Prize, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, invent a cure for cancer, travel in outer space. Any dream you wish comes true. These experiences would not be true in reality, but they would be utterly indistinguishable to you from reality.

Given this choice, would you plug yourself in, thus ensuring the perpetual satisfaction of all your most cherished desires?

For those who opt out, see the post below for what makes most people happy, at least in America.

What really makes us happy...

Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, has just published a new book about happiness, and how public policy might be shaped to improve the level of happiness among US citizens. One of his findings is that people are poor judges of what will make them happy.

His findings confirm other studies in which key elements of happiness include lasting marriages, contributing to charities, engaging in community service, maintaining friendships, and participation in organized religion. Bok believes that happy people tend to be morally good people, at least by standards of mainstream American ethics.

So here's where we can all evangelize. Come to church, be a generous soul, help others, and Nirvana awaits! I'm not joking.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life in the US of A...

In his book, We Have Met the Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess, author Daniel Akst writes,"American life resembles a giant all-you-can-eat buffet offering calories, credit, sex, intoxicants, and other invitations to excess. Americans accept these invitations so promiscuously that bad decisions about smoking, eating, drinking, and other behaviors account for almost half of deaths in the US. We are losing the war with ourselves."

Where is the church's voice in all this?