Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Five 2012 Posts, Plus One More sends out a report on your blog activity for each year and these were the most viewed posts here at the Clockwork Pastor in 2012:

Keep reading Top Five 2012 Posts, Plus One More

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why We Don’t Really Want an Answer to the Question “Why God?”

"I wonder if our lack of substantive engagement with the problem of evil is due to our tacit realization, which perhaps Brother O’Neil recognizes, that if we did ask God a serious question about why the shooting happened—or why, now, two separate innocents have been pushed in front of NYC subway trains—God might return to us a serious answer:
Don’t look at me."

Keep reading Why We Don’t Really Want an Answer to the Question “Why God?” :

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mainline Churches Don’t Give a Rip About Church Planting.

As 2012 draws to a close, I’m taking some time to reflect on the new church ministry in the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest and the hopes for 2013 and church planting in within Mainline Protestantism as a whole.
Earlier this year, I kind of fell into leading a ministry team of people interested in planting and sustaining new faith communities in my Region.  In some ways, I don’t know how wise it was to have me leading this, since I’m not a great leader, or at least have some traits that make it difficult to provide visionary leadership.  But I have stepped into the role and did the best I could with what I have.
This past year has been both uplifting and frustrating.  Uplifting because I see people who are called to plant new church communities accross the Region.  Frustrating, because it seems that such work brings shrugs from the larger church.

Keep reading Mainline Churches Don’t Give a Rip About Church Planting. :

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How A Progressive Christian Pastor Made His Peace With Guns (Kinda Sorta.)

 Growing up,  I was taught by my mother that guns were not good things.  Having come of age in Flint. Michigan that started to see a rise in violent crime in the 1980s, that message was only drilled into me further.  The urban environment that I come from taught me one thing: guns were bad, very bad and it was stupid to give people access to handguns, let alone semiautomatics.  I guess I was like a lot of mainline/progressive Christians in seeing no real good use for guns in light of all the damage they cause.

Keep reading How A Progressive Christian Pastor Made His Peace With Guns (Kinda Sorta.)

Gabriel’s Message

 One of my favorite Christmas hymns is one I didn’t know until a pop star sang it in the mid-80s. 

Keep reading Gabriel’s Message

Friday, December 21, 2012

God Doesn’t Love the One Percent.

I have a mixed relationship with Mary’s Magnificat found in Luke 1.  On the one hand it is a wonderful message of justice; that the lowly in life will be vindicated and remembered by God.  I love singing the song A Canticle of the Turning by Rory Cooney.

But the text also is bothersome to me.  It’s take on the rich and powerful is not one of charity; instead it is a hard justice-one where the rich are sent away empty and the powerful are made low.  God of grace and love it isn’t.

God Doesn’t Love the One Percent.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sermon: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

It’s Christmastime!  It’s the time of the year that we are supposed to be happy and we consider it “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes.  We can imagine this manger scene where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus gather together with all the animals and the shepherds.  It’s just a wonderful picture.
But you know, I did something this year.  I actually kind of read some of the lectionary texts for Advent and you know what?  At least in the Bible, it is NOT the most wonderful time of the year.   The first Sunday talks about the second coming of Christ and it wasn’t something to look forward to.  Then we have a few Sunday focused on John the Baptist who calls the people who come to be baptized, snakes and tells people to get ready for Jesus, which again doesn’t sound nice.
If we go to Christmas and beyond, we again don’t have the bucolic scenes that so many of us are used to.  The Three Wise Men come and visit, giving gifts that fortells the grim future that Jesus would face on the cross.  King Herod, who hears about a rival king orders his soldiers to kill all young boys age 2 and under.  During the 12 days of Christmas we are faced with this tragedy called the Holy Innocents which is commemorated on December 28.

Sermon: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? « The Clockwork Pastor:

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I’m Jack’s Banished Dog.

Recently, I wrote a post on how difficult friendships can be for me.  I don’t know if I explained it very well, but here’s a taste:

I’m Jack’s Banished Dog. « The Clockwork Pastor:

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Random Musings on a Random Act

The horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut has left a lot of people stunned. It wasn’t simply the number of people who died, 27, that has left people speechless, nor was the fact that it took place in a school. What has stunned folks is the fact that this took place in an elementary school and 20 of the victims were between the tender ages of 5 and 9. No wonder President Obama could barely contain his composure when speaking to the nation yesterday.

Random Musings on a Random Act « The Clockwork Pastor:

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stop Making Sense (Again)

I wrote this after the shootings in Arizona in 2011.  Somehow it still makes sense after the events of today.  Please continue to pray for the family and friends of the victims of the shootings in Connecticut.  Lord, have mercy.

Stop Making Sense (Again) « The Clockwork Pastor:

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Getting With the Program- The Clockwork Pastor

 Since I work for the Presbyterians, I spent some time this summer watching the live feed from the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh.  On the penultimate day of the Assembly there was discussion on allowing ministers to be able to marry same-sex couples.  It was not a surprise to see conservatives quoting scripture.  In fact, one young delegate opened her Bible on the Assembly floor and started reading a verse.  As bothersome as that was, what really bothered me was my own side.  I wasn’t bothered that they were advocating for marriage equality, but I was bothered by how they were doing it. 

On Getting With the Program- The Clockwork Pastor

How Sunday School Made Us Biblical Dummies The Clockwork Pastor

How Sunday School Made Us Biblical Dummies - The Clockwork Pastor

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

[Shared Post] You Really Don't Want a Wild Jesus. Trust Me.

Dennis posted: " Anarchism, to me, amounts to an expectation of miracles: political, economic, sociological, psychological and spiritual miracles. It isn't the way the world normally works. I believe in miracles and I love the idea of them, but scripture and church hi"

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

[Shared Post] It's (Still) for You

Dennis posted: "This post is actually an update of a post I wrote back in 2009. I'm not a big fan of phones. In fact, it would be safe to say, I have a phobia when it comes to phones. At work, I can have a message on my phone that takes forever for me to check. I l"

[Shared Post] Sunday Sermon: "Jesus Is Coming. Look Busy."

Dennis posted: "This is a sermon for the second Sunday in Advent.  I preached it in 2009.  "Jesus is Coming. Look Busy." Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6 December 6, 2009 Second Sunday of Advent First Christian Church Minneapolis, MN   I don't watch as m"

Monday, December 03, 2012

Soul Searching, Republicans and the Mainline Church

The Clockwork Pastor

Soul Searching, Republicans and the Mainline Church

Being a Republican right now is both frustrating and a bit hopeful.  As someone who has been worried about the direction of the party over the years, there is something hopeful of how Republicans are trying to understand the sweeping victory of the Democrats last week.  I’ve seen a bunch of articles about the how the GOP has to change to meet the upcoming shift in the demographics of nation.

There has always been a small hope that some election would be the one where the GOP would hit bottom and finally come to some conclusion that it needed to change.  I was a little surprised it came so quickly, but I’m glad it did.  This time of wondering what works and what doesn’t is good for the party and might make it a competative party once again, this time with a more diverse base than before.

Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson has written a fascinating blog post about how the mainline churches are in a similar path to irrelevance as the GOP.  Here’s a bit of what Anderson says:

It turns out that the downfall of the Romney campaign was not appreciating the demographic shifts that had taken place in the country over the last four years. America and the electorate had become more diverse and urban – and the tone, resonant issues, language, and culture had shifted along with them.

In many ways, the mainline church now finds itself in the same position as the Republican party – scrambling to catch up to changes in country and culture. The Church must understand the lesson of the Romney defeat and pivot toward the culture that exists now rather than the one that used to be.

His post makes a lot of sense.  I am hopeful that the Republicans will listen to the people and make changes to meet this changing America.  I’m not so sure when it comes to my own churches that make up Mainline Protestantism.  While both institutions are in need of a serious overhaul, I am afraid that only one of them is really able to take a good long look at itself and ask some hard questions of itself.  Republicans have the chance to listen and try something new, the chance to retreat on some issues until another day and the willingness to embrace new ideas while keep their values intact.

Mainline Protestantism, of which I am a part, there is less willingness for self-examination.  For some reason, we never want to hear bad news.  On more than one occasion, I’ve heard pastors dismiss the shortcomings of Progressive Christianity and talk about how the future is bright.  I surely don’t want to focus only on our shrinking budgets and empty pews, but I do think it makes sense to at least be honest that there are problems, since it’s only when we admit our own shortcomings can we actually make change.

During the summer, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a post about the faltering of Liberal Christianity.  I thought it was good advice to take heart.  His words brought out a backlash among Progressive Christians. They didn’t much appreciate this conservative telling them how to do church.  Allan Bevere summed up that mainliners tend to not examine themselves in the same way that evangelicals have as of late:

In recent years evangelical Protestantism has been going through a soul searching, questioning some of its cherished political and hermeneutical positions that have become so intertwined with evangelicalism. An increasing number of evangelicals are re-evaluating some of their “sacred” views on Scripture and science and politics. I think that has been a good thing. But I must say, I have not seen that same kind of soul searching among mainline Protestants. It cannot hurt to wonder if we always have it right. It cannot be a bad thing to remember that perhaps our views are not always biblical, but rather the opposite side of the same modern coin we share with those who are evangelical. Perhaps Dennis and John are beginning an important self-critical conversation that we mainliners need to have. If this is the start, I welcome it.

After all, the unexamined life, politic, and theology is not worth embracing… and it’s not good for the soul… or the church either. An adjective is meant to describe a noun, not get in the way.

I offered my own two cents on the issue:

I think Progressive Christianity has some great strengths.  However, we do a crappy job of self-examination.  We never allow ourselves to think that somehow what we do and how we do it might possibly be wrong.  We are unwilling to think about what we might have done wrong and how to correct for fear that we will become some kind of clone of the Southern Baptists.

Self-examination doesn’t mean we have to stop being progressive Christians.  It doesn’t mean throwing out everything.  But it does mean seeing what might be hurting us and putting aside our egos to in order to see if we are the best church we can be.  When liberal Christians start doing this, then we can be on the road to saving Liberal Christianity.  Until that happens, we will keep whistling down the road towards irrelevance.

I read a number of progressive and evangelical bloggers.  What has always struck me about the progressive bloggers is that there is this sense that they are right.  While there maybe doubts on whether or not Christ rose from the dead, there are no doubts when it comes to social policy.  For all their faults, evangelical bloggers seem more willing to look within and examine themselves.  There’s a lot more diversity of thought in evangelical circles than in progressive Christian ones.

What long to hear someday is some denominational exec get up before a crowd and say something like how we need to get our act together and fast.  I don’t want to hear more sunny talk.  I want more handwringing and a willingness to change for the better.  Will it happen?  I dunno; it depends on whether the mainline church has hit bottom yet.

Filed under: Alan Bevere, church, church life, liberal christianity, liberal protestantism, politics

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Jesus Christ: Blue or Red?

The Clockwork Pastor

Jesus Christ: Blue or Red?


CNN has a interesting quiz you take to determine what kind of Jesus you prefer.

Yeah, I’m serious.

Read the article before it, because it speaks volumes about our current world.  Here’s part of it:

If elections are about choices, so is faith. And in Christianity, liberals and conservatives choose to see Jesus in different ways. Some liberals see Jesus as a champion of the poor who would support raising taxes on the wealthy, while some conservatives think Jesus would be more concerned with opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

It’s not surprising that we end up making Jesus in our own image, but it is kind of sad.  The reality is if we really take the story of the Gospels and wrestle with them, we see that Jesus was not so clear cut.  As a professor said in the article, Jesus said a lot of things that were quite cryptic and obtuse.  The real Jesus, not the fabricated one in our minds, was a figure that didn’t fit so neatly into our political framework.  The real Jesus is unnerving to our perfect political system.  That Jesus makes us or at least it should make us, all of us, uncomfortable.  If our Jesus fit too well in the political party of our choosing, then you got a problem.

(By the way, I took the quiz and I guess I tend to worship a Red State Jesus.  Not that this matters, because really, it doesn’t.)

Filed under: politics

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Sunday Sermon: “Keep Calm and Carry On”

The Clockwork Pastor

Sunday Sermon: “Keep Calm and Carry On”

“Keep Calm and Carry On”

Mark 13:1-8 and Hebrews 10:11-18

Twenty Fifth Sunday of Pentecost

November 18, 2012

First Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

I can remember that afternoon very clearly.  It was a rainy Sunday and I was taking a nap after church.  It was then we heard the sirens go on.  We turned on the radio and heard about a funnel cloud being sited not too far from our house.  I peeked through the window to see the trees in the neighborhood being whipped back and forth in the high winds.  I ran back towards the bedroom telling my partner Daniel that we needed to get downstairs right now.  I grabbed my cat Felix and we made our way downstairs.  As we made our way down the stairs, we could hear a mighty whooshing sound and soon thereafter, the power went out.  We stayed downstairs for a while until the storm outside calmed down.  The house was okay, there was no damage, but as we made our way out of the house, we saw the devastation.  Large trees were uprooted, roofs were blown off houses.  Daniel and I, along with the rest of North Minneapolis had just gone through a tornado.

It’s important to note that later that same day, a more powerful tornado ripped through Joplin, Missiouri killing hundreds and causing damage to large portions of the city.  What had started as a normal day for people in Joplin and Minneapolis, ended in chaos.

What’s always fascination to me is how the normal can soon slide over to the catastrophic.  I think about the folks in New York and New Jersey who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  People were used to hurricanes knicking the area, but never expected a storm that was so power and so devastating.

Maybe that’s why we are so fascinated by apocalyptic fiction.  Over the decades books, movies and television shows have been made talking about some massive event that irrevocably changes human society.  In the 1980s, I remember the fear was about nuclear war, and so we had stories about life after the mushroom cloud.  Remember “The Day After?” In the 1990s, the rise of HIV/AIDS and Ebola had us turning to stories of killer viruses that wipeout large chunks of humanity.  Movies like “Twelve Monkeys” and television dramas like “The Stand” expressed our fears on screen.

And today?  Have you noticed how many movies, books and television shows are about zombies?  I don’t know how many of my friends like watching the popular science fiction series, the “Walking Dead.”  The zombie fear is taking the virus fear of the 90s and kicking it up a notch.  Viruses killed people, but zombies talks about a society that has gone mad.  It seems it is only interested in consuming.  The zombie doesn’t think or reflect, it just consumes mindlessly.  Sort of reminds you of Black Friday, doesn’t it?

We are always facing some kind of apocalypse, either real or imagined.  We are always facing the end of our world in some way.  These stories of the end of the world remind us of the fear that lies underneath all of us.  The fear that our normal lives could one day be upended by something out of our control.

In Mark, we have Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem.  Whenever I’m in a big city, I tend to look up at the tall buildings.  I can imagine the disciples marveling at the wonderous buildings in the “big city.”  They shared their amazement with Jesus, who answered them by saying all the buildings would be torn down.

Jesus knew how to be a buzzkill.

After a little while, the disciples ask him about his prior outburst.  They were a tad bit concerned with what he said and wanted to know when all of this was going to happen.  Jesus tells them that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” but they were not to worry.  “Don’t worry,” Jesus says, “This is all supposed to happen.”

The writer of Hebrews tells the church to be a community where everyone spurs each other to do good deeds, loving each other and to not forget to come together even as the end is coming.

Neither of these are happy passages.  What is God saying through these passages?

As what is always the case when I’m planning a sermon, I give Deb or Dan a sermon title with some ideas of where I think I will head with the sermon.  I gave Dan the sermon title you see here, but in reality, I went with in a totally different direction and came up with a new title.  I learned what God was telling this community of faith and I owe it all to a propaganda posted made 70 years ago.

It was during the dark early days of World War II when bombs were raining down on London, that the British government printed a series of posters in order to bolster the public morale.  One of them was fairly simple: it had white letters on a red background with the Tudor crown at the top.  The words weren’t that memorble back then, but they seem to be everywhere these days: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Keep Calm and Carry On.  The British Ministry of Information wanted to make sure the British people were able to push forward or as Winston Churchill has been rumored to say “When you are marching through hell, you keep walking.”

Is Jesus and the writer of Hebrews calling us to Keep Calm and Carry On?  Jesus is reminding us that the storms will blow, the buildings will fall down, you will get a cancer diagnosis, you might lose your job, but are we are not to live as if we have no hope.  Jesus reminded the disciples and reminds us that God is with us through these times.  God knows these events will happen but as the writer of Hebrews says, God’s laws, God’s ways which is written in our hearts, will prevail.

We can keep calm and carry on because we put our trust in the God of Israel, who defeated the powers of Egypt and the Pharaoh.  We can offer a hand when someone loses a loved one, or loses their home to a violent storm.  We can do this because God has promised to be with us through the tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and other trageies that invade our normal life and transform us forever. We can do this because whatever tragedies befall us, it doesn’t have the last word.

I want to end with one more story.  In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I found out that a Catholic congregation in Grand Forks, North Dakota, raised almost $16,000 to help a Catholic church in Long Branch, New Jersey which is trying to get its footing after the storm.  In 1997, the New Jersey congregation raised money to help the North Dakota church after their building was damaged in the great flood of 1997 in Grand Forks.

Why do I tell this story?  Because I think we as a church are one way we can be God’s hands and feet when those around us face “the end of the world.”  In Christ, we are able to be calm and carry on because we know who holds the future.

The end of the world will happen.  But in many ways it has already happened and will happen again and again.  Let us be willing to do good deeds and love people for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Keep calm and carry on.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Filed under: sermons Tagged: religion, spirituality

Friday, November 30, 2012

Scenes from a Christian Bookstore

The Clockwork Pastor

Scenes from a Christian Bookstore

This past weekend, my partner and I went up to Grand Forks, North Dakota for Thanksgiving with his side of the family.  Daniel wanted to stop at the local Christian Bookstore to get a birthday card for his brother and a nephew.  These days, I rarely go into the kind of Christian bookstore that I went into when I was young.  But when I do, I like to look around and maybe reconnect with my more evangelical past.  In the late 80s, I used to work at one of the Family Bookstores located in Flint.  It was kind of cool back then since I got discounts on all the Christian music I used to listen to.

But back to Grand Forks.  I wandered around the books and read some of the latest titles.  Some stuff I wouldn’t agree with these days, but some were by people I knew.  As I wandered through the isles, there was a part of me that wanted to snicker, to look at these books and the theology of those who walked the isles as somehow inferior to my present faith journey.

Look back at that, I tend to feel ashamed of myself for thinking that way.  Because allowing that sense of smugness about current evangelical culture in America wasn’t very Christian of me.

The fact of the matter is, I’m not the only one who tends to have a sense of superiority when it comes to evangelicals.  It’s something that is found throughout progressive Christian circles.  The sad thing is that unlike me, most folks don’t feel bad about ripping apart that culture.

A friend shared with me a blog post written by a soon-to-be pastor here in Minneapolis about his recent visit to a Christian bookstore after a ten year abscence.  The funny thing is that before I even read one word of his post, I pretty much knew what his impressions were going to be.  Paragraph by paragraph he looks at the books and t-shirts and knocks down evangelical culture as being xenophobic and unthinking.  A little taste:

It’s designed to keep people afraid. Because when people are afraid they don’t ask questions. One portion of one of the books was all about how converting people to become Christians wasn’t about saving them from Hell, it was about saving them FROM GOD. Because God was vengeful and wrathful and could destroy them. And God wants to destroy anyone who isn’t a Christian. (I’m not even exaggerating.)

I remember well that fear. In fact my entire life was fear. Fear that I wasn’t really saved, that I wasn’t a good enough Christian, fear that God would send me to Hell. That I wasn’t chosen, that God didn’t love me, that my queerness would keep me out of heaven. That I wasn’t doing enough to convert my friends, that if they died their blood would be on my hands, and it went on and on and on. And that fear is powerful. It keeps you from asking questions or stepping out of line. It keeps you dependent on the people who are acting as gatekeepers because if you step out of line those gatekeepers will tell you that you’re not really saved. The thing about fear is that it keeps you obedient, but it doesn’t lead to an abundant life. I wasn’t filled with the spirit, I was filled with fear.

I’m bothered by this post.  I think it’s a good thing to critique some aspects of evangelical culture, but I don’t feel that he really engaged the culture as a whole.  In fact, I don’t think he learned anything as his title suggests because it seems that he went in with a view and found things to affirm his viewpoint.  Learning suggests that you are going to have a deeper knowledge of things, not to sum up what you already believe.

The thing is, most mainline/progressive Christians tend to have this view of our evangelical sisters and brothers.  We already have our minds made up about these folk and so we look for that which already confirms our biases.  What we fail to do is to take in a wider view, because if we did that, if we read more evangelical thinkers and so on, we might have a more complex view than the strawman we so like to set up and knock down.

Recently, I took to listening to some of the Contemporary Christian Music from the 1980s.  This was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence and early adulthood.  As I heard the songs again, I realized how great some of the songs were.  They weren’t all just “Jesus is my boyfriend” but really talking about faith and the struggles we face everyday.  I might not always agree with the theology, but I did appreciate the honesty and sincerity that I sometimes find lacking in my new home.

There is a lot that’s wrong with evangelical culture.  But the culture that raised me as a young Christian also had a lot of good in it, good things that made me who I am now.  I can be critical, yes and I should be.  But even the most imperfect thing can be used for good, can be used for God’s glory.

Surely my past, as problematic as it was should get more than just a passing sneer.

Filed under: evangelicalism

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less…

The Clockwork Pastor

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less…

A few thoughts on the election…

-My candidate for President didn’t win, but the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated.  Three other states, Maine, Maryland and Washington all voted in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.  Personally, I think it’s a great move forward in gay rights.  That said, I think we need to be mindful of those in our neighborhood and moreso in our pews who faithfully disagree on this issue.  As much as I disagree with him, Rod Dreher’s blog post this morning should be read as how social conservatives feel about the changing climate.  They are fearful of having to give up what they believe is a moral belief.  It behooves those of us who favor same-sex marriage, especially those of us in the church, to reach out to these folks with openess and love and not just dismiss them. I think we have to do this for two reasons: one, because we are Christians and  two, because the most dangerous animal is one that is backed into a corner.

If Rod Dreher’s post is a good read of what social conservatives are feeling, the Tony Jones’ post is probably what a lot of progressive Christians are feeling this morning.  I’m all for calling a spade a spade, but I also think that there are times we need to be the “bigger man” and learn to be gracious in our victory.  How we win is just as important as how we lose.

I also think Jones’ rationale that putting same sex marriage on the ballot was cynical is a bit shortsighted.  I think the legislators and the religious groups that supported the amendment actually believe that gay marriage is wrong.  I don’t think they were trying to divide the electorate, whatever that means.

-Conservative political commentator Matt Lewis is spot on when he says the GOP needs modernization and not moderation.  One the things they need to modernize is their immigration policy.  I don’t think their stance was born of bigotry or racism, but I do think a lot of Latinos saw it that way.  Yes, we need to have tougher enforcement, but we also need to do something with the 12 million people who are in the country illegally.  We can’t send them all back, and we can’t hope they will “self-deport.”  We need to find some way to make them citizens of the United States.  This is one place where evangelical Christians could use their clout and push for a humane immigration policy.

-On Sunday, I preached about the fact that Jesus, not Obama and not Romney, is our Hope.  Christ is the final hope expressed in the closing chapters of Revelation, not a political agenda.  Scot McKnight talks about this in a blog post this morning.  Here’s a sample:

Somewhere overnight or this morning the eschatology of American Christians may become clear. If a Republican wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if a Democrat wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented Christian becomes depressed and hopeless because a Repub wins, or if a Republican oriented Christian becomes depressed or hopeless because a Dem wins, those Christians are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics…

Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. And I hope we can create a better economy. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on my political party? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing progressive wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology…

We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget that the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God’s people. God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope.

I think this is something to be aware of, if not repent of.  Christians of all political stripes are always tempted to place God in the seat of earthly power.  We confuse an earthly kingdom with God’s kingdom.  Our hope as Christians doesn’t lie in “Obamacare” or Social Security or tax cuts or defense spending.  It has to lie in the name of the One who has liberated all of creation through his life, death and resurrection.

Finally, blogger Michael Kruse touches on the whole rhetoric of “empire,” and how those Christians who used that term to describe the administration of George W. Bush seem okay with the empire when it provides health care and other social programs and especially when their guy is in office:

As I have watched this election, my mind has gone back just a few years ago to when left-leaning Christians were preaching about America and Empire. As I follow social media, how curious it is to see many of those same Christians who embraced that critique in delirious joy over the inauguration the latest “Emperor.” It confirms much of what I suspected all along. The critique was partisan, not prophetic.

Earlier this year, I blogged about what constitutes being prophetic (you can read the posts here and here).  I still think a lot of what passes for prophetic speech, especially in mainline Protestant churches, is nothing more than a liberal political agenda dressed up in religious garb.  I still would like to know what it means to be prophetic.

What are your thoughts?

Graphic: An image created by Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group working to the defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota.

Filed under: church, church life, politics Tagged: current-events, human-rights, politics, religion, rod dreher

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Resurrection and “Skyfall”

The Clockwork Pastor

Resurrection and “Skyfall”

My partner and I love James Bond movies, so of course we went to see the latest film in the franchise, Skyfall, on opening night.  I tend to think it’s going to be one of the better of the Bond flicks and I’ve enjoyed the direction Bond has taken since Daniel Craig took the role in 2006.

I came accross a blog post that talks a little about the theme of resurrection in the movie and how it was so different from that Other resurrection:

If Jesus’ resurrection was both an assurance of his triumph over death and an ushering in of a new movement of shalom, that’s completely countercultural to a pop-art understanding of what it means to have new life after death. The latest James Bond film,Skyfall, is a stark reminder of this. When figures come back from the dead in our contemporary stories, they generally do so to kick butt.

In Skyfall, this is true of both the villain and the hero. At the start of the film, James Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in one of the bravura opening action sequences for which the franchise has become known. A motorcycle chase across rooftops leads to a foot chase atop a speeding train. Perhaps knowing that we’ve seen such exploits before, director Sam Mendes then has Bond commandeer a construction digger that’s being transported on the train and direct the bucket toward the bad guy. It’s a giddy, over-the-top touch that, like much of Skyfall, nods to the franchise’s lighter days.

The chase doesn’t end well for our hero, however. Without giving too much away, I’ll only say that the opening-credits sequence that follows this chase employs a resurrection motif (this being Bond, silhouettes of girls and guns are also part of the striking visual design). Skyfall is set up, then, as the tale of a man arising after being left for dead. (Asked later if he has a hobby, Bond answers: “Resurrection.”) When our hero makes his inevitable reappearance, what is his goal? To find out who was responsible for his (near) killing and bring them to violent justice.

It’s a pretty thoughtful take on the film.  As they say, read the whole thing.

Filed under: movies Tagged: entertainment, james bond film

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sunday Sermon: “When You Do This, Remember Me”

The Clockwork Pastor

Sunday Sermon: “When You Do This, Remember Me”

“When You Do This, Remember Me”

John 11:34-42 and Revelation 21:1-6

All Saints Sunday

First Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

I can remember like it was yesterday.  It was November of 1976 and the election season was winding down.  As the grown ups were getting ready to vote between then Governor Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford, my second grade class was also voting.  We wrote our choices on a slip of paper and handed it in to the teacher.  Being seven years old, most of us voted the way our parents did and I was no exception.  I voted for Governor Carter, if you’re interested.

I’ve had a long interest in politics.  There was something fun about arguing certain aspects of this or that policy.  I watched State of the Union addresses and Inaugurations regardless of the party.  There was something fascinating about discovering this crazy thing called democracy.

Being that this is an election year, you’d think that I’d be excited, but this time around, not so much.  Yes there is a lot to think about this year, but for some reason, I’ve grown a bit distant when it comes to politics.  The reason for this is the tone of the various campaigns.  Maybe this has always been the case, but for some reason it seems that people have grown more nasty towards each other.  I’m not talking about the campaigns as much as I am talking about the people themselves.  I’ve been on Facebook enough to see that the tone of the race has grown more heated and less understand of each other.  One Facebook post said something to the effect that if one of his friends was voting for one of the major party candidates, they were no longer friends.  People hurl accusations that this candidate or that candidate is going to bring untold evil upon the earth.  The sad thing is some of this is coming from Christians.  Republican and Democratic followers of Christ hurl insults at the other party, seeing them as the living embodiment of evil.  Hearing all of the invective thrown around has made me feel a little less interested in politics.

Today is All Saints Sunday.  All Saints Day occurs on November 1 and many churches commemorate it on the closest Sunday.  As it does every four years, All Saints Sunday intersects with Election Day.  It reminds us of the double nature we exhibit in our lives, that of being a citizen of a particular country and also being a saint of the Christ’s church.

On All Saints Day we usually remember those who have died in the past year.  While that is very important, that’s not all that this day is about.  You see, the saints are not just those who have died, but it is also all of you.  We are the living saints, a living example of the kingdom of God that is to come.  We are saints not just on Sunday, but we are saints in all of our lives; in our work, in our play and in our politics.

Revelation 21 talks about a future hope, a time when the old heaven and earth are made anew again, when God can fully claim his people free of all the things that have tempted the people of God. Bitterness and division are no more.  God’s people are forgiven and renewed, made new.

John 11 tells the story of Mary and Martha as well as their brother Lazurus, who in the course of the story had died.  Mary and Martha wondered why Jesus had not been there to heal their brother.  They grieve for their fallen brother, for the brokeness of relationships.

This is the world we live in.  We live in a world where there is division and death.  But we also live in a world with a Savior.  Jesus is able to raise Lazurus from the dead, astounding the people and bringing restoration to Mary and Martha.

The raising of Lazurus is a foretaste of Jesus own resurrection and the resurecction of the whole of creation at the end of time.

John 11 and Revelation 21 are held in tension; a case of the now and the not yet.  Revelation tells us what the endpoint is, John 11 talks about now, the brokeness and the tears, but also the hope that points to that future.

In John 11 what see Jesus doing, pointing towards the future, is what the church, this church, is called to be.  Only God can bring about the joyous ending of Revelation, but we can show all of creation a foretaste of the future by living as if the future were already here.

So what does this all have to do with Election Day?  A lot.  If we are saints of the church, harbingers of the future, then we are called to be a bit different than the world around us.  The problem at times, is that we are tempted by the world.  The church has a long history of substituting the political agenda of the society around them for the agenda God has given us, one of healing and reconcilation.

As citizens of the United States, we have a duty to be involved in the managing of the affairs of the nation.  As a nation, we have differing views on how to best govern the nation.  Some might want more government intervension and others might want less. Some believe that we need to more taxes for revenue and to pay for social programs, while some believe taxes should be lowered to spur the economy.  I’m not here to say which one is better.  I’m also not here to say we should not have these various views.  But as saints of God we need to careful to not confuse church and state.  Too often we adopt the ideologies of the wider culture.  The partisan bickering that has become a staple in our society then become mirrored in the life of the church.

But the church is called to be more than just a religious version of the Republican and Democratic parties.  We are called to be a foretaste of the restoration that is to come.  We claim Jesus as our Lord, our Savior, not Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

Earlier this year, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wrote a letter to the church regarding the differences belief on the issue of homosexuality.  While I’m pretty sure she had an opinion on the issue, she was focused on what unifies us.  She focused on what we Disciples focus on every Sunday- the communion table.  It was a place where people of differing views could come together as one, as children of God.

Some have criticized Watkins for not taking a firmer stand on LGBT rights, to call a spade a spade and push for full justice and inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church.  I can understand that, but I believe she was calling us to be the church even as we struggle with this issue.

On election day, by all means go and vote.  That’s important.  But remember saints that our hope is not in a president or a political party, but in Jesus.  Remember that you are the church.  Remember to be the church so the world can see the future hope that lies ahead of us.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Filed under: politics, sermons Tagged: election day communion

Monday, November 26, 2012

[Shared Post] Scenes from a Christian Bookstore

Dennis posted: "This past weekend, my partner and I went up to Grand Forks, North Dakota for Thanksgiving with his side of the family.  Daniel wanted to stop at the local Christian Bookstore to get a birthday card for his brother and a nephew.  These days, I rarely go "