Posts Tagged ‘group dynamics

03
Oct
09

Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18

In order to be faithful to the gospel of Christ, we must have boundaries, right? There are things that are normal and proper – limits to what we do and believe. And yet to be faithful to the gospel, there is this nudging, this incessant prodding, as the Holy Spirit pushes us out beyond our limits. There is this nagging voice always whispering in our ear, “Are these limits God’s – or are they ours?”

Peter believed in limits. We learn that in the reading. We could easily think that Peter’s limits are simply the dietary laws of Leviticus. But, there is a much larger issue going on here.

Peter believed in the validity of all the Levitical laws. Those laws not only said what you could eat, but what you could wear, which nation you should belong to, how you should worship and who you should love. You see, for Peter and some other church leaders, you had to be a Jew in good standing to be considered a follower of Christ. To be in good standing you had to be “pure” and live up to all the laws – end of discussion.

Well, actually not the end of discussion. To be a Jew in good standing, you had to live up to those Levitical laws that the hierarchy decided were still binding. Just as in current times, some were and some weren’t. The Levitical laws have been used selectively ever since they were formalized. It just depended on who was calling the shots at the time. Continue reading ‘Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18’

16
Sep
09

IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?

Around the world there are myriad variations of the churches that fit under the general banner of Reformed. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) alone boasts membership of 215 denominations in 107 countries with over seventy five million members, the majority of which are in the southern hemisphere.[1]  This vast number still does not contain all the denominations with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others. Many of these denominations, especially in the United States, developed after previous church bodies split apart over irreconcilable differences, while others exist separately because of geographic location, or ethnic origin. Some others have been drawn together into larger groups or denominations, such as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom or the Uniting Church in Australia. While belonging to the WARC, to foster common mission and ministry, relations between some of these various ‘partners’ are tenuous at best. An example is found in the way many members of the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. refer to the Presbyterian Church (USA) disparagingly as Neo-Reformed, while some of the latter refers to the former as Neo-Nazi. Among those that have recently united, there has been a blending of polity and theology, or at least a tolerance developed for varying beliefs and processes within the same body, that may leave some wondering whether they still possess a truly definable theological identity. Continue reading ‘IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?’

18
Aug
09

The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11

Read the passage here.

Being a numbers geek, I am always tempted to craft an artful sermon about the significance of forty – you know, going over the theological, cultural and political significance of forty as it appears so many times in scripture. I am tempted, but I know that I would probably be the only one who got anything out of it – and, as I so often need to be reminded, it’s not about me.

I am still tempted, though. If I did it well, it would be a sign that I was pretty gifted when it comes to theological study – it could make me look good. But, then again, looking good – making a big impression – is that what ministry is really about?

Then again, if I did it REALLY well and used a lot of theological language that was tough to understand – and I made sure that the right people got a copy of it – I could get some real mileage out of it in the presbytery. I could gain some power and prestige out of that, couldn’t I?

Okay – probably not. Continue reading ‘The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11’

09
Aug
09

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20

One of my former ministers once told me that if I ever get a chance to preach on the Ten Commandments – don’t. He told me that whenever he had preached about them in the past, someone got very upset. Some people, he said, think they are the cornerstone of righteousness – the sign of a faithful nation that should be displayed prominently on every government building. And some, he said, think they are pie-in-the sky ideals that are impossible to live up to, and have no place in public discourse.

So I well imagine Thom shaking his finger at me right now and saying, “I warned you.”

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally “Ten Words” – are foundational in both Judaism and Christianity, and for good reason. Scripture tells us they were given to Moses directly from God. The scripture that tells us this is our reading that follows, but also Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.

The Ten Commandments are clear, concise, memorable and unambiguous, and form the basis for ethical behavior of two of the world’s prominent religions. That, at least, is what we learn in Sunday School or catechism. Reality, as usual, says something different. Continue reading ‘The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20’

25
Jul
09

Theology Where it Belongs

As a frustrated writer and teacher, and someone who loves doing both, I recognize a need in churches to teach folks how to reflect theologically. The single biggest reason for this, quite honestly, is that I believe church hierarchies have done the local church member a grave disservice by allowing them to excluse themselves from the conversation. Increasingly, the theological discussions surrounding potentially contentious issues have occurred in denominational ivory towers, leaving the average church-goer divorced from the process of contemplating God’s place in any controversy.

There seems to have developed an attitude that only trained and qualified clergy, and the most mature elders in some instances, have the capacity to truly understand the theological implications of any number of church initiatives and stands. A case in point might be the Presbyterian debate surrounding an upcoming constitutional amendment. Where is the basic discussion occurring on this subject? On the floor of presbytery meetings, which is not so much a problem as an indicator. Continue reading ‘Theology Where it Belongs’

21
Jul
09

Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)

Illusion that Numbs 

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”[i]Karl Marx, On Religion

Karl Marx has long been considered an absolute critic of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Parts of the above quote are often used by Christians and non-Christians alike to fully express Marx’s attitude, but rarely are these snippets used within the full context of this excerpt. While this passage is, indeed, criticism it does not represent the scathing and total rejection of the value of religion that many people would have us believe. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” does not convey the full meaning of the sentence within which it is contained, and it is rarely connected in context with the remainder, “the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.” Marx’s stance is, I believe, more correctly interpreted as a critique of society that has become heartless and spiritless – one in which, however ineffective it may be, religion attempted to be society’s missing heart and provide some hope for those in need. Continue reading ‘Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)’

19
Jul
09

An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.

It is unlike church hierarchies today to risk alienating anyone, especially large numbers of people, and to risk the secession of member churches and expulsion from a world-wide organization that gives them political and financial clout. It is even more unusual that decisions having those potential outcomes would be made in the name of justice. But, this past week, The Episcopal Church (TEC), the American branch of the Anglican Communion, risked all three possibilities by passing three of their own decisions that throw their doors wide open. Continue reading ‘An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.’

14
Jul
09

Lifesaving Stations (Part 2) – the Sermon

Continued from Lifesaving Stations – The Parable“.

In listening to the scripture in the first part of this post, we heard Paul’s hope for a particular church. Yes, it was written to a gentile church almost a couple of thousand years ago, but I think it still expresses some things that are valuable for churches today.

Churches, like any human organizations, can become exclusionary when they seek to insulate themselves from ideological or theological differences. Churches can accomplish this in at least a couple of different ways. Continue reading ‘Lifesaving Stations (Part 2) – the Sermon’

14
Jul
09

Lifesaving Stations – the parable

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and [Creator] of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

THE PARABLE OF THE LIFESAVING STATIONS  Continue reading ‘Lifesaving Stations – the parable’

10
Jul
09

The Community that is Soulforce

Two and a half years ago, as I was wasting away in deepest rural Iowa, I had an epiphanic experience. Jenna and I needed some time away from people just like us – white, middle class, middle income, heterosexuals living all together in a community of less than 1,000 people. In actually, we weren’t just like them, which people suspected and then decided it must be that we are strange. And, evidently, they weren’t wrong. Anyway, we went to a Holy Relationships conference in Iowa City, and there met Rev Dr Mel White who was one of the speakers. We also heard about Soulforce.org – a group Mel started to engage in non-violent activism for GLBT causes – especially for those damaged by churches. That day was pivotal for my survival – it saved my mind, if not my life. Continue reading ‘The Community that is Soulforce’

03
Jul
09

Scapegoating & Spiritual Abuse in Churches – Scattering the flock (Part 1)

While a church administrator, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing profoundly disturbing spiritual abuse – not just once, but twice. In one instance, the abuser was a thirty-something-year pastor intent on maintaining control of what had become his church. In the other, the pastor was the victim of two elders who happened to be related to the former long-term pastor. In both cases, while there were the primary targets of the abuse, there was a system wide fallout upon many other victims. Both churches are recovering, but remain shadows of their former selves. As a result, and after much research, I am offering this paper. Continue reading ‘Scapegoating & Spiritual Abuse in Churches – Scattering the flock (Part 1)’

17
May
09

A Failed Rationale for Ministry

This is the rationale for ministry I developed for the church I served until recently. In the end, while many in the congregation were enthused, the leadership rejected it wholesale. Because of the way the relationship was terminated, I will probably never know why this raised the ire of the leaders. This was not delivered as one document, but as several. I have compiled it here and I would love to have feedback from readers telling me where I went wrong. Don’t worry about being subtle or reserved – brutal honesty would be appreciated. Continue reading ‘A Failed Rationale for Ministry’

14
May
09

Love & Forgiveness – Reflections on Romans 12

Romans 12: 1-3 and 9-18                                          

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

 What is “church”? What is its purpose? How is it meant to be or act in the world?

Recently, with a small church, we had to wrestle with the intended nature of the church – what the church should be, and how it should conduct itself – both inside and outside its own structure. For churches, these questions are no less monumental than, “What is the meaning of life?”  In many ways members of the congregation objected, some vehemently. There is no doubt that these are important questions for ministers. But they were equally important for the people of the church. Continue reading ‘Love & Forgiveness – Reflections on Romans 12’

13
May
09

LGBTQ Young People & Risk of Suicide

From a report compiled by The Trevor Project:

StaticAfAmBoy300x250Although, practically, there is no way of knowing how many suicides are completed by LGBT and questioning adolescents, reliable research on the attempt rates of this demographic group  are available. In the 2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (MA YRBS) concluded that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are “almost four times as likely to have attempted suicide” and “more than five times more likely to have received medical attention for a suicide attempt” than their heterosexual peers.

The reasons for these disproportionate numbers are varied and many, but almost certainly include the lack of self-acceptance as the primary among them. In a 1995 study published in the Journal for Developmental Psychology (Herhberger and D’Augelli), the single largest predictor of mental health was self-acceptance. According to Remafedi (1991), highly feminine boys have also been shown to be at higher risk for suicide attempts because they are the ones perceived by others to be homosexual and behave outside of gender specific norms.

Because of this, feminine boys and “butch” girls are more likely to receive the brunt of bullying in school along with traditional society’s disapproval. As recent events have proven, the perception of being gay is enough to precipitate bullying and harassment, Continue reading ‘LGBTQ Young People & Risk of Suicide’

07
May
09

The Hero’s Journey – or, Ministry Suicide

When the word “myth” is used to describe foundational social or faith stories, the result is oftentimes a reaction of insult and anger. For most, that word conjures up images of fictional or embellished stories, perhaps compiled from many disparate sources – in short, myths are not considered to be truth. The word “myth”, however, is value neutral on the criteria of truth. Myths are society’s fundamental stories, usually involving heroes or major events and based on reality, fiction or some combination of the two that explain or validate traditional practices or belief patterns. Myths are the foundations of culture – every culture has them – the bedrock upon which social values, mores and norms are built.

There is, then, a tendency to romanticize myths beyond the level of ideology, adventure and chivalrous displays that already exist. Entirely common is the process of day-dreaming ourselves in the role of the mythical hero – to become so enamored with the myth, that our ability to see ourselves apart from it becomes blurred. Generally, this very act circumvents the intended message of the story, and creates a compound myth that is now approaching fantasy. Most times, this is quite harmless, but when a pastor crosses this line, faith can become a casualty. Continue reading ‘The Hero’s Journey – or, Ministry Suicide’




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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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