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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…

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!

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…

Photo by gabrieleventi (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by gabrieleventi (CC BY 2.0)

I’m co-teaching a master’s class with Leonard Sweet for George Fox Seminary students called “Communication in Christian Ministry.” One of the things we want students to come away with is a better understanding of how to strategically integrate online communication and social networking tools into their ministry contexts. The students design a short-run social media project, track and assess interaction, then write up a report on their findings. Their projects are currently underway (check out Ed Pagh’s twitter hashtag #ExtendWorship and Tobyn Bower’s facebook group, “On the Trail” for great examples). Any foray into social conversations online quickly reveals the sometimes hostile grounds that exist “out there.”

With more people and more people joining social media conversations each year, have we lost our manners? In the midst of all the tweets and retweets, likes and status updates, pins, posts, comments and replies, upvotes and downvotes, is there a place for civility online? How can we make our virtual interactions more hospitable?  Continue Reading…

In this video from The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Roman Krznaric talks about the importance of outrospection and empathy when it comes to social, political, and economic transformation. I think that the same empathic imagination is needed in the church as well.

Continue Reading…

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“It’s important to note first of all that the right of self-defense is rooted in the teaching of Jesus himself. He once told his disciples that he would be “numbered with the transgressors,” and that as a result their own lives could be endangered because of their association with him. He therefore counseled them, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). You can’t get more legitimacy than that. A legal principle rooted in the teaching of Christ is pretty tough to beat.”

Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association,”When America HAD to Pack Heat to Church” 1

In the week since the tragic shootings in Oregon and Connecticut, there has been a lot of talk about violence in entertainment, access to mental health care, gun control, and other things that might be “part of the problem.” As we seek to find solutions that will make it increasingly difficult for these kinds of tragedies to be repeated, I’ve noticed Christians on all sides of these complex issues are turning to the Bible to find support for their particular point of view. Unfortunately, much of what I’m reading online and overhearing in conversation is little more than folk theology 2, which may make the conflicted individual feel better, but has little to do with trying to faithfully interpret the Bible and apply it in our context today.

Continue Reading…

Notes:

  1. http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147529878
  2. I take this term from Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson’s excellent work, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. In it they define folk theology as “a kind of theology that rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of an informal tradition of beliefs and practices composed mainly of cliches and legends. . . . Folk theology is often intensely experiential and pragmatic–that is, the criteria of true belief are feelings and results” (Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology?, 27).

Christian Movements in Southeast Asia: A Theological Exploration (ed. Michael Nai-Chiu Poon) is an engaging look at the history, theology, and missiology of one of the most religious vibrant areas in the world. The volume is a collection of essays published pulled together by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia and published in partnership with Singapore’s Trinity Theological College.

The essays vary in their scope, from detailed analysis of the emergence of “folk Christianity” to an impassioned plea for Southeast Asian churches to help historians document the rapidly changing religious and cultural landscape of the region. One fairly consistent thread through the essays, however, is the role Pentecostalism has played in helping contextualize Christianity into a variety of different locales and expressions. Continue Reading…