Ten Months Later, the Same Psalm

Another funeral today, another with a casket too short, another that comes after years of prayers seemingly unanswered. The sense of this psalm, written by Glenn Pemberton for Liam almost a year ago, applies equally now to Rex; his parents, Lance and Jill; and the rest of their family:

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Class, Week 5: When Did the Early Church Become the Catholic Church?

Growing up in a tradition that sought to emulate the so-called “New Testament church,” I never thought to ask a couple of questions that seem relevant:

  1. What did the New Testament church actually practice?
  2. When did the New Testament church stop being the New Testament church?

These questions seem really basic, but the answers are quite complicated. The answers are assumed to be:

  1. What the New Testament says they practiced
  2. When it stopped doing what the New Testament described

Here’s the problem with both of those answers: Continue reading

One Year and Counting

Today is the first day of class, which means I’ve now been in grad school for a full year. I have no idea how that happened.

It also means I’ve been blogging for more than a year – I started this thing in late July 2011, and here I am, somehow still trucking along. In celebration, here are the top 10 posts by pageviews this blog has had since its inception. If you’re newish, maybe you’ll find something you like; if you’ve been here from the beginning, thanks! Maybe you’ll find something you missed or forgot you liked. Or maybe the fact that these posts are the most viewed here will make you once again wonder why you’ve wasted so much time reading this blog.

Without further ado:

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Christians Have Power. How Will We Use It?

“The experience of an American Christian is the experience of power.”

So begins the paper I wrote for Amos and Ethics, the Maymester course I took this summer that continues to shape how I look at the ways faith and politics intersect. I’ve posted that paper in the Smartypants section of the blog, and I encourage you to read it, not because it’s so brilliant but because it begins that process of working through exactly what we as Christians should do with our political power.

Because here’s the deal: Nonengagement is not an option.

By virtue of the democratic republic in which we live, all voting-eligible citizens hold political power, and willingly giving that power up – by not voting, for example, or refusing to stay informed – is itself a political act with practical ramifications. Sorry, folks.

So we adult citizens of the United States of America have political power. But we Christians living in the United States have not only political power but the power of majority. As I cite in the paper, nearly 80 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian. For all the talk about post-Christian societies and all the fear mongering about impending secularization and persecution, the reality remains: If you are Christian in America, you are most likely comfortable, accepted – and extremely powerful.

The question, then, is what do we do with this power?

If we are following Jesus, then the cliché answer is we give that power up. That’s what he did, after all. But that doesn’t really help us. I didn’t ask to be born in the United States, and I am glad to be a Christian, but I cannot give up my right to vote nor can I ask to become a member of the minority. Doing the former would itself be an exercise of power and the latter is simply impossible – I’m a straight white male Christian American, and none of those things is about to change.

This is where Amos comes in so handy.

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Opening Communion for the 3-Year-Olds

Yesterday, Richard Beck posted the following quote from Jurgen Moltmann:

Because this fellowship comes into being on the basis of Christ’s unconditional and prevenient invitation, the fellowship will be an open one. It cannot limit Christ’s invitation to its own account. Everyone can participate who wants to participate in the fellowship of Christ. The communion is the answer to Christ’s open invitation…

Because of Christ’s prevenient and unconditional invitation, the fellowship of the table cannot be restricted to people who are ‘faithful to the church’, or to the ‘inner circle’ of the community. For it is not the feast of the particularly righteous, or the people who think that they are particularly devout; it is the feast of the weary and heavy-laden, who have heard the call to refreshment. We must ask ourselves whether baptism and confirmation ought to go on counting as the presuppositions of ‘admittance’ to the Lord’s supper. If we remember that Jesus’ meal with tax-collectors and sinners is also present in the Lord’s supper, then the open invitation to it should also be carried ‘into the highways and byways’. It will then lose its ‘mystery’ character, but it will not become an ordinary, everyday meal for all that, because the invitation is a call to the fellowship of the crucified one and an invitation in his name to reconciliation with God…”

I loved this quote for a couple of reasons, one because of my past experience and the other because of my daughter’s recent experience.

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Crankiness in the Church

Thank God for crayons.

I think this most Sundays. Our 3-year-old daughter doesn’t like going to the in-service Sunday school class, so for the past year or so, she’s been sitting with us all the way through the service. That’s not a good idea. But part of the rules is that if she wants to sit with the grown-ups then she needs to act like one and be quiet – and, in a classic case of proving that sometimes our kids will actually live up to our expectations if we set them high enough, she’s done a great job.

Of course, she’s helped a great deal by a little purse full of toys, two snacks (one for when the singing starts, the other for the sermon) and the Sunday Scribes bags the church provides, each with a pad of paper and baggie of crayons. J quietly sits on the floor and creates page after page of crayon drawings and hands them to me while I worship, pray, take communion and listen to the preaching.

To me, that’s a win-win-win. She’s learning how to be quiet for extended stretches of time when silence would be truly necessary (a funeral or wedding, for example), my wife and I get to fully engage in worship, and the folks around us aren’t distracted by toddler shenanigans.

For others, apparently, this is not the ideal situation.

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Looking for Summer through the Snow

A book that is now on my ever-expanding “to-read” list is Glenn Pemberton’s Hurting with God. I’ve mentioned Glenn on this blog before; he wrote the incredible psalm of lament for Liam’s memorial service, as well as a moving translation of Psalm 51 for the modern-day psalter Timeless. 

Part of the reason I want to read this book is because I deeply identify with Mike Cope’s autobiographical description of a “winter Christian.”

During my years as a minister, I constantly felt the disappointment of some who wanted more confidence. They needed miracles; their minister loved mystery. They loved The Prayer of Jabez; I was embarrassed by it. They turned to scripture as an answer book; I found in it life’s greatest questions (along with an “answer” in Jesus). They saw it as the inerrant blueprint for dating, marriage, job, etc.; I trusted it as my spiritual community’s library of faith. They wanted confident prayers expelling Satan and claiming spiritual victories; I turned to the Lord’s Prayer. They spotted God’s healing everywhere they turned; I kept performing funerals. They needed more “already”; I’m “not yet.” They wanted sermons where everyone could shout “Amen!”; I preached anticipating quiet nods, thoughtful expressions, and eyes moist with hope.

There are plenty of summer Christians on my Facebook feed. Nearly every morning, someone is ringing in the day with some sort of celebratory psalm or phrase of thanksgiving to God for another terrific new day. And on one level, I agree. I am grateful and privileged to be alive this morning; but for many, many others in this world, it’s another day to survive, another day of hunger, thirst, illness, rape, slavery, abuse – another day in which the mercy of death does not come.

Yet many of the same people who endure so much more than I ever have are also followers of Jesus. Their faith remains unshaken by the horrible circumstances of their own lives, even as simply hearing about them makes my own faith quiver to the core.

So, like any good academician, my thought is: If I read books by people of faith who have suffered or are suffering, perhaps I can get a better handle on how I can marry my own faith to the harsh realities of this world. Because, to be honest, most days I find it much easier to be an atheist than to be a Christian.

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