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Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1  YHWH, you have been favorable to your land,

you renewed Jacob’s fortunes.

 2  You carried your people’s waywardness,

you covered all their offenses. Selah

 8  I will listen to what YHWH God will speak,

because he will speak of shalom

   to his people and to those committed to him,

those who must not turn to folly.

 9  Yes, his deliverance is near for people who are in awe of him,

so that his honor may settle in our land.

10 Commitment and truthfulness—they have met;

faithfulness and shalom—they have embraced.

11 Truthfulness—it springs up from the earth;

faithfulness—it has looked down from the heavens.

12 Yes, YHWH—he will give good things;

our land—it will give its increase.

13 Faithfulness—it will walk before him

as he sets his feet on the path.

The psalm for the Second Sunday in Advent is at first blush rather unassuming. It is almost docile. The first two verses roll easily off the lips of someone like me, a white American evangelical protestant male. Indeed, it is easy for me to agree that God has been favorable to the land in which I live and that in Jesus Christ, God has covered all my offenses.

But this only betrays a lazy, superficial reading of the text which ignores the psalm’s historical and cultural contexts. I make the grave error of equating YHWH’s land with my country, of Jacob’s fortunes with my bank account balance, of reducing the offenses of Israel to my own individual sin, errors evangelicals make too often when approaching the Hebrew scriptures. In doing so, I turn the psalm into an affirmation of my individual piety and miss out on the astonishing claims of the psalm for God’s beloved community. Continue Reading…

Stay Woke This Advent

November 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

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It is the first day of Advent; New Year’s Day for the church. Today, we enter into a season marked by waiting and by hope. With great expectation we wait for the promised one, the messiah, Christ, to come and deliver us just as the prophets said he would. After his resurrection, Jesus said he would come again and finish the establishment of his kingdom, so we wait. We wait and we keep watch. To guide our waiting, we look back and remember what it was like to wait for his first coming. We turn again to the manger.

Yet, it’s been a long time since Jesus entered into the world, walked upon it, displayed his power, and testified to his upside down reign. It’s been a long time since he gave us his charge to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the imprisoned, open the eyes of the blind, set the oppressed free, and declare that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. It’s been a long time.

Is he really coming back? He didn’t come back last year, or the year before that. Perhaps he forgot. Perhaps his return is something our far distant descendants will have to deal with. Perhaps we should not worry about such things. Perhaps we should just get on with our lives.

Jesus had something to say about that: Continue Reading…

What can an obscure verse in the exodus story tell white Christians about how to respond to recent events in Ferguson, MO? Why has it functioned as a metaphor to inspire hope to countless generations of oppressed people, Jew and non-Jew alike? What hope does it offer white Christians at this important moment in history?

The story of Israel’s exodus stands as the defining narrative for generations of Israelites. Passover, their most sacred festival, serves as an annual dramatic retelling of God’s liberation of an oppressed people, His people, from cruel enslavement. When, centuries later, the Israelites were exiled under Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian captivity, they retold the exodus narrative with a sense of fervent longing and anticipation that the God who’d once delivered them would be faithful and deliver them again.

Under Greek and Roman rule, the people of Israel again turned to their prophetic tradition for signs that the promised deliverer, one called the “messiah,” was coming to liberate them from foreign dominance. They imagined a bold leader would emerge to overthrow imperial rule, much like Moses had confronted Pharaoh. When the messiah did show up in the person of Jesus, he failed to meet the expectations of the masses. They did not have “eyes to see” or “ears to hear.”

From the earliest days of Christianity, followers of Jesus saw in him a continuance of the work of deliverance God began in the exodus. The exodus story earned a special place among African slaves and their descendants in America. The cry of the Hebrews became their cry. The hope of the Hebrews became their hope.

During the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the story of the exodus again emerged as a guiding metaphor for black people seeking liberation from an overt system of oppression in the form of segregation laws. Again, the cry of the Hebrews became their cry and the hope of the Hebrews became their hope.

Now, in 2014, America stands at another crossroads of race. The equalities granted under the various acts and laws that emerged from the civil rights movement have proven incomplete. People of color in America in general, and black people specifically, face ongoing oppression from a network of political, legal, social, and cultural systems created long ago by white people to protect the power and privilege of white people. By inheriting this power and privilege, white people today are just as complicit in oppressing people of color as their more overtly racist ancestors were in creating those systems. Racism has become institutionalized, moving beyond the individual’s personal sentiments or religious piety.  Continue Reading…

Black Lives Matter

November 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

Listen, Understand, Act

What does a white, middle-class, cisgendered Protestant American male have to say about being black in America, especially in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision? Well, not too much. So, I’m not talking, I’m listening.

There are others with far more insightful and important things to say than I. The best thing I can do is shut up, listen, and amplify the voices that really need to be heard. One of those voices belongs to my friend, Drew Hart.

Drew and I first met when we both worked for the same campus ministry organization in Philadelphia in the early 2000s. We went on a weeks-long tour together, exploring the sites of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. I did a lot of listening at that time, too. Since then, Drew has gone on to become a leading scholar in the #Anablacktivist conversation and writes a regular blog for Christian Century, called “Taking Jesus Seriously.”

In October of 2014, the book I edited on faith and fatherhood was published. Drew was one of the first contributors to sign on to the project, and he helped me find other important voices to include in the volume. His essay is a deeply honest exposé on what it is like to be a black Christian father in America, today. I spoke with Drew and received his permission to publish his essay, in its entirety, on this blog. Read it and share; it is timely and important.

Continue Reading…

Father Factor CoverIt’s been a long project, but my first book is available for pre-order. The official publication date is October 14, 2014… but if you order before then you can get 35% off the list price of the book. I posted an excerpt from the introduction here, but let me tell you a little about the book.

Father Factor is a collection of forty essays from forty American Christian men under forty years old. It is the fifth volume in the I Speak for Myself series of books. I was honored to serve as the editor for the volume and contribute a chapter. The idea of “father” and faith are so intertwined in Abrahamic faiths and have been explored in dusty theological tomes. This book, in contrast, seeks to set notions of fatherhood and faith into contemporary conversation. What does it mean today to be a father and a Christian? How does the Christian faith inform the idea of fatherhood for men who aren’t fathers? How does one’s relationship with one’s own father influence one’s understanding of God as Father (or vice versa!).

Written by ordinary men from a wide variety of ethnic and denominational background, it is my hope that this book gives readers a little peek into the beauty and complexity of fatherhood in America in the 21st century.

But, in the words of my childhood idol LeVar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it…”

Matthew Paul Turner, author of Our Great Big American God, says the book “will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and at times, cause you to rethink your approach to parenting. But most of all, Father Factor will fill you with hope.”

Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist, calls the essays a “tender collection of stories from fathers opened both my eyes and my heart anew.”

I was honored that Richard Mouw, theologian & Past President at Fuller Theological Seminary, read the book and gave this assessment: “These wonderfully readable accounts of father-son relationships are both candid and inspiring, exploring issues that touch many of us in deep ways. But they prod to go even deeper, pointing us to the ways our relationships with our human fathers shape–and all too often distort–our conceptions of the One whom we have been taught to address as ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’”

Jamie Wright, Author/Blogger of theveryworstmissionary.com, calls the book an “often humorous, sometimes heartbreaking journey of fatherhood and faith” through which “readers will feel inspired and challenged to examine their unique role as a parent, partner, and adult child as this book throws open wide windows for grace, forgiveness, and a Father’s love.”

One of my more recent heroes, Christena Cleveland, author of Disunity in Christ, wrote me to say, “This book inspired me to pray for fathers, encourage fathers and believe in the important work of fathering! Pulling from culturally diverse and compelling experiences, Father Factor gives voice to the strong men of faith who are shaped the Father’s love. This collection of inspiring stories affirms the various routes that fatherhood can take and shows that regardless of history or cultural context, men of faith can be powerful and vulnerable fathers. A true eye opener to the complexities and beauty of fatherhood.”

My friend Byron Borger, proprietor of Hearts & Minds Books, in Dallastown, PA  said that “these short narratives are a joy to read, a reader’s delight, getting a glimpse into the lives of others. There is wonder, loss, love, joy, pathos, romance and laughter, a little cursing and a lot of praise. But there is more: these are exceptionally brave stories from many different sorts of men reflecting profoundly about God the father, their own fathers (for better or for worse) and their own particular journeys into fatherhood. . . .Highly recommended.”

And Lisa Sharon Harper, Senior Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners, says “Father Factor reads like a jigsaw puzzle. Each story adds a puzzle piece to this aggregated post-modern picture of fatherhood, sonship, and the quest for wholeness. Not till the pieces were nearly all assembled did I realize I had borne witness to history—a moment when disparate Christian men joined together in common struggle—the fight to face and forsake the mirages of ‘manhood’ previously stalked and preserved by their forefathers.”

It’s not only Christians who have an appreciation for the work we’ve done here. Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground, writes, “I could not put this book down. It gave me whole new insights into both Christianity and fatherhood, and made me think long and hard about how my relationship with Islam impacts my relationship with my wife and two sons. In short, this book made me a better father, husband and Muslim.”

Similarly, Rabbi David Zaslow, author of Jesus: First-Century Rabbi writes that in “Father Factor you’ll get to meet fathers, dads, daddys, and papas, all of whom share their personal experiences from a deeply spiritual perspective. This book is a rainbow of personal reflections on the essence of fatherhood.”

I hope that this brief list of reactions and reflections on the book is enough to make you hungry for more. Do me a favor, would you? Share this post, share the link to the book’s pre-order page, “like” the book’s Facebook Page… And grab a copy for yourself!

lone soldier

It was the day after Christmas, 1944. In Europe, the Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. On the other side of the world Hiroo Onoda, an elite Japanese soldier and intelligence officer, was dropped behind enemy lines on Lubang Island in the Philippines. His mission was to link up with a small group of soldiers already on the island and conduct guerrilla warfare and covert operations. The departing orders from Onoda’s commander, Major Taniguchi, were clear:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.

In February of 1945, Allied forces took the island, forcing the Japanese soldiers to split up and flee into the jungle mountains. Over the next several months most of them were killed off. But not Onoda.

Teamed with three other soldiers, Onoda continued to carry out his mission. They ate whatever they could find in the jungle or pillage from farms and villages. They plundered enemy stockpiles to refill their weapon stocks.

August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to Allied forces ending World War II. No one ever told Onoda and his compatriots. They’d heard nothing of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs. No news of the fall of Berlin had reached them. As far as they knew, the war was still on. . . .

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

Image by Davidd, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Loss of Lament

June 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

 

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On a hot summer night in 2012, I tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. I was angry and frustrated. The year before I’d been fired from a large church for “not being a good fit.” After blaming the church leaders failed to satiate my anger, I turned to blaming God. If God was omnipotent and loving, why didn’t God prevent this from happening to me and my family? I’d committed no great sin; there was no moral or ethical failure that led to my dismissal. Yet, within just a few weeks of being let go, my family and I moved out of our house and headed to a duplex on the other side of the country.

As we settled in to our new place, we became quick friends with the couple renting out the other half of the duplex. He was a mechanical engineer from Switzerland and she was a nurse from New Jersey, both in their mid-forties. They’d moved to Oregon from Nashville only a week before us. As we got to know them, we danced around the topics of faith and religion. They knew I worked at a seminary in the area. I  learned that he was an atheist and she was a lapsed Catholic. Both were angry at God and religion.

See, she’d been battling breast cancer for a long time. A few years prior, it had gone into remission (again). Then, in 2010, she lost her house in the Nashville floods. All the church could offer her for why bad things kept happening to her was an paltry, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” She decided that God was a jerk and that she’d done nothing to deserve the tragedies that seemed to follow her around. She left church and never returned. The reason they left Nashville and moved across the country was to try and make a fresh start, to leave behind cancer and chemo and flooded houses and Christianese.

Less than a year after the move, she learned that her cancer was back. She had to quit her job at the hospital and become a patient in it. She underwent round after round of treatment, losing large amounts of hair and weight. That restless summer night in 2012, I’d just had a conversation with her husband who confided in me that things were looking bad.

As I tried to go to sleep that night, I was angry. I was still being angry with God for what had happened to me and my family, and now I  was angry that God allowed our neighbor’s cancer to return. These friends already shouldered more sorrow than was their fair share. So I tossed and turned, anger welling up inside me and, for the first time in over a year, I prayed. It went something like this:

“Who do you think you are, God? You call yourself ‘Love’? There isn’t anything loving about this. What we’re dealing with here isn’t fair. It’s not right. But I don’t want you to do anything for me. You want to do something? Heal HER. Destroy her cancer. Give her hope. Or maybe it would be better if you just left us all alone.”

I waited for the lightning to strike.

It didn’t.

And I felt a little better.

*******

We have lost the art of lament and it is killing our faith.

Western, affluent, success-oriented Christianity is so focused on blessing and praise that it doesn’t know what to do with tragedy or pain. In a weak attempt to offer consolation and hope, we sputter out platitudes about what God’s motivations must be (“God needed another angel in heaven”), what the grieving person should do (“just trust God’s plan”), or what we’ll do on their behalf (“I’ll pray for you”). At our core, though, we have no idea what to do with anger and tragedy and grief, so we do or say whatever we can to put some distance between us and it. In doing so, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to lament.

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

Confession has gotten a bad rap. In our strengths-driven, success-oriented, put-on-a-good-face, USAmerican culture, we don’t like to deal with our shortcomings, our failings, our sins. We deny, we equivocate, we rationalize, anything we can think of to avoid having to deal with the ways we’ve failed to love God, to love others, and love ourselves. We sweep those things far under the rug, out of sight, out of mind, where they fester and gnaw at our insides.

In confession, we are asked to confront head on all those things that we suppress so well. We are afraid that confession will somehow make us into Hester Prynne, that we will have to don our own scarlet letter. But that’s not at all what happens.

Confession doesn’t brand us with our sins, it releases us from them. Confession exposes the dark things in our lives to the Light. There can be no darkness where there is light. Confession destroys our sin. It heals us.

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

The myrrhbearers visit Jesus' tomb only to find it empty.

The myrrhbearers visit Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty.

Once again, it is Holy Week. As the Deacon of Creative Liturgy for Theophilus Church, I serve our community by dreaming up creative ways for us to worship together. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are our big three services. For each I try to come up with imaginative ways for us to express our common faith together.

For this Easter, I’ve written a child’s monologue in three parts. It is for a girl, 8-12, and is based on the fictional daughter one of Jesus’ female disciples. In chapters 8 and 24 of his gospel, Luke refers to a woman named “Joanna” as one of the women who followed Jesus. She was the wife of Chuza, who was King Herod’s chief steward. Some scholars think that Joanna may be the same woman that Paul refers to when he writes about “Junia” in Romans 16. They posit that Junia could easily be the Latin version of the Hebrew Joanna.

At any rate, for this piece I imagined what it might have been like if a child was given the opportunity to give her own first hand account of the story of Jesus. I do hope that you enjoy it. Feel free to use it in your community this Easter or some Easter in the future.  Continue Reading…

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

I’m done with “spiritual formation.”

I’m over it and you should be, too. Let me explain.

In much of the evangelicalism, “spiritual formation” is only an veiled way of referring to disciplines or practices intended to be undertaken by an individual for the sake of the individual. This compartmentalization of faith, this dualism, must stopContinue Reading…