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