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Faith Matters

Upaplogetic

Upaplogetic

It’s an old saw for me at this point, one of my favorite soap boxes. I’d apologize for talking about it again, but I hope you can appreciate your pastor’s vocal advocacy for THE CHURCH! I am an unapologetic fan, and I worry about what it will mean if we as a nation let it slip away.

Last summer prior to that big Scottish wedding, Amy and I met friends from England along the first 12 miles of our 61-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. We were introduced to Kate and Tony when we walked 70+ miles of El Camino de Santiago together. He’s a retired barrister; she’s a former teacher, and we have a lot of common convictions, though active church life is not one of them.

They were both raised in the Church of England, but like most folks there they have moved away from institutional religious life. So, when I asked them, “So… is there anything missing in British life and culture because the Church no longer plays a prominent role?” I braced for either polite criticism or enthusiastic ambivalence. Instead, both responded immediately: “Yes!”

She correlates the demise of church attendance with the loss of family, and the structure that it brings to school children, adolescents, and the youth of England. Attuned to the laws that lead to order and the structured conduct of a society, Tony said, “We have no codes.”

He didn’t mean they have no laws. He meant there were no longer any underlying ethics, no un-written rules, no universal convictions of etiquette or courtesy, much less of right and wrong, good and bad, generosity and vulgarity. According to our British friends, their people live any kind of way they want because there is no longer a basic, shared order – which the Church once gave to their society.

 When Notre Dame went up in flames, a world-wide congregation wept with Paris. It reminded me of the global attendance at Megan and Harry’s royal wedding at Windsor Castle, and, in a different way, the sense of global community we experienced after 9/11. But, what were the French masses actually mourning as the cathedral’s spire collapsed, and why did that largely unreligious nation gather to light candles and sing hymns?

My strong conviction is that we are spiritual creatures at heart, embodied souls who long for mystery, transcendence, “God” – whether our Enlightened intellect or our jaded experience will let us admit it or not. The proof I offer for my conviction is that the great tragedies and celebrations of life speak to human beings on such a deep level that no ordinary response will suffice. The Psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep” – so we cry out in ways that are undeniably religious.

 People filled churches after 9/11, lit candles, kept silence, sang songs together, made commitments to live and serve better. Bishop Curry’s homily at that Royal wedding evoked a world-wide response – because it was much more than a great speech. As a sermon, it invoked the transcendent conviction of love (born of God!), in an ethic called marriage. Parisians sensed in that uncontrollable inferno much more than the loss of a 900 year-old building.

 I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I believe the response of the world proves otherwise. God is real. You can feel it in the deepest longings, the pure emotions, the native utterances of people when the grip of pain or the flight of ecstasy reveals our instinct to worship.

I hope you will be in church on Sunday!!

Quoting the Bible Without Understanding It

Quoting the Bible Without Understanding It

It’s easy, and it appears sadly enjoyable for some people of faith to read the Bible in a way that gives “legitimacy” to pointing the finger at other people. If that is the result of your reading, please, read again.

What is Missing Without the Church

What is Missing Without the Church

Before we parted I had taken the opportunity to ask a daring question. “No preacherly pressure or guilt intended,” I said, “But I need to ask about the English Church. Many people feel the US is going the way of European secularism, and the US Church may also become a casualty. So, I need to know what is missing from England without the influence of the Church. Is anything missing?”


Maybe It's Time

Maybe It's Time

I am weary of Evangelicals belittling my faith. As a pastor who still believes in the power and importance of Church, I am saddened and frustrated by the hoards leaving the American church – because of the American church.

So … maybe there really is an “us” and a “them.” Maybe there really are two different churches, two different religions. Maybe this is the 500-year moment.

The Repair for Our Ills is Forward Only

The Repair for Our Ills is Forward Only

Last night I spoke to my congregation about having tried to remain mostly silent during this campaign, for fear my thoughts would be viewed as partisan.  But now that the election is over, I want to speak. 

A Letter to my 18-Year-Old Self

A Letter to my 18-Year-Old Self

Hi there.  This is weird, I know, but this is a letter from your 38-year-old self, written twenty years in the future.

I have timed this letter to arrive to you on August 14, 1996, which is a Wednesday during your first full week of classes at the University of Tennessee.  You have a roommate you’re still not sure you can trust, and suite mates you knew from high school that you’re glad to have.  Flip your expectations, buddy.  Let this be the first of many lessons not to judge before you have experience.  

Salvation and the Common Good

Salvation and the Common Good

Why should we ever need to raise charitable funds to educate our children? To buy supplies and provide technology? Even to provide weekend snacks, if lack of nutrition is keeping a child from learning? We ought to want to educate our children, all of them.

It is the common good – even if we have to pay more in taxes to do it. 
 

God Help Us

God Help Us

As 2016 begins I am praying – for a spirit of civility and common sense, for a vision of a future, together, for a sense of peace that must begin within the hearts of the American people. I’m praying because that 2015 year-in-review indicates that our brokenness is so deep and so complete, any real movement to peace will have to come from outside of us.

The Dangers of Radical Islam and Christian Hypocrisy

The Dangers of Radical Islam and Christian Hypocrisy

I’ll be honest. The sight of all those cheering Christians almost brought me to tears. I cannot bear the thought of a so-called “Christian” sanctuary filled with cheers and praise. The pastor says: bomb the hell out of them, just as Jesus said. The people cheer.

Seven Monks and a Baptist Church

Seven Monks and a Baptist Church

In a world of such maddening events, I am proud, honored and humbled that seven Buddhists from the other side of the world, and at least 150 neighbors, from across my own community, were comfortable to come to a Baptist church, sit for an hour, search the silence of their own souls and the strains of ancient, chanting rhythms, in search of peace.

Maybe Starbucks is Not the Problem

Maybe Starbucks is Not the Problem

Since when are secular companies, practicing competitive business in a free market society supposed to speak for the Church?  Is that what Christians really want?  And would that actually “put Christ into Christmas” – or just make him another commodity, traded on the Market?

The Gospel Will Always be a Threat to Power

The Gospel Will Always be a Threat to Power

So today, governments are afraid of preachers, because the Gospel has always been a political narrative.  You only have to read the critiques by U.S. politicians and pundits of Pope Francis's comments on climate change and income inequality to understand the truth of this assertion.

Kim Davis:  Blinded by Belief

Kim Davis: Blinded by Belief

So bless Mrs. Davis for her conviction.  But as we say in the South “bless her heart.” Once again religion has blinded the religious from seeing that God has “more truth yet” to shine on us (John Robinson). And thanks be to God for a secular democracy – unbearably slow though it sometimes is.

My Response to the Response

My Response to the Response

Clearly, a great many people share my concerns and yearn for a more positive, inclusive, and compassionate voice from The Church. It makes me sad that this is such a pervasive sentiment.

He is Risen!   So What?

He is Risen! So What?

 I can’t think of a better Easter message than to decide to accept all people as children of God.  Period.  God is the God of all.  That is the Easter message.  But are we ready to go from Easter service living like we believe it?