Prophetic Imagination: Walter Brueggemann

prophetic-imagination_leadThose of us who presume to preach on the prophetic books of the Bible do so at our own peril. One of the best ways to avoid much of that peril is to first consult the work of the great Walter Brueggemann. Krista Trippett’s extended interview of this eminent theologian provides delightful insights into the faith of the man who has influenced several generations of preachers. Enjoy!

The New Spirit of Evolution – Carter Phipps

While on sabbatical last summer, I spent some time reading Carter Phipps’ book “Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea”. I  blogged about it here

Carter Phipps, author of Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea, gave the keynote lecture for the 2013 Neil Scott Science and Spirituality series at Middle Tennessee State University. Phipps begins speaking at 7:20.

Radically Faithful: Passionate Christianity Confronting Empire and Savage Inequality – John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic CrossanJohn Dominic Crossan is by far my favourite New Testament scholar. That he just happens to be one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world has something to do with why I hold his work in such high esteem. More importantly, my love for Dom stems from the generosity with which he has shared his gifts, talents, wit and considerable charm with our little congregation. Holy Cross has been blessed to play host to Dom twice and during his weekends with us we  learned so very much from him. 

In the videos below, Dom delivers three lectures at All Saints Church in Pasadena (2010). The dvd education program mentioned at the beginning, “The Challenge of Jesus” is brilliant. Holy Cross’ Adult Education Class used it in 2011 and I highly recommend it!!!

The Guests Watched Jesus Closely: sermon – Pentecost 15C – Luke 14:1, 7-14

On vacation, so:

here’s a facsimile of the sermon I preached three years ago when Luke 14:1, 7-14 last appeared in the lectionary. 

One Sabbath, when Jesus came to eat a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees, the guests watched him closely. Jesus went on to address a parable to the guests, noticing how they were trying to get a place of Honour at the table. “When you’re invited to a wedding party, don’t sit in the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished has been invited. Otherwise the hosts might come and say to you, ‘Make room for this person,’ and you would have to proceed shamefacedly to the lowest place. What you should do is go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your hosts approach you they’ll say, ‘My friend, come up higher.’ This will win you the esteem of the other guests. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Then Jesus said to the host, “Whenever you give a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends or colleagues or relatives or wealth neighbours. They might invite you in return and thus repay you. No, when you have a reception, invite those who are poor or have physical infirmities or are blind. You should be pleased that they can’t repay you, for you’ll be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

humbleI have often heard Jesus’ teaching about who sits where at a wedding feast used to encourage a kind of humility that requires those who would follow Jesus to take a back seat or better still adopt a cloak of invisibility lest we be mistaken for the proud and self-righteous.  Canadians have a special affinity for this particular way of interpreting this text. It seems to me that the image of Canadian humility suggests that Canadian Christianity has had a huge impact upon our national psyche. I know that there are many who would insist that our humble national character is a direct result of living in the shadow of the Americans, whose national identity is anything but humble. I have to admit that the constant drumbeat of “We’re number one!”, “We’re number one!” coupled with a patriotism that champions the idea of American Exceptionalism which is the notion  that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary. With such pride of place, you can be sure that each and every one of our American cousins is endowed with the confidence on knowing exactly where they belong at the head table. So, is it any wonder that living next-door to a nation that instills such patriotic ardor in its citizens, that we Canadians would find a more humble approach more appealing.

Don’t get me wrong; I know that stereotypes rarely express the full character of a nation and so, it would be a mistake to paint all Americans with the same brush. But I dare say that you’d be hard pressed to find a Canadian who would disagree that even the most enlightened of our American cousins who might be found from time to time to speak softly, doesn’t underneath it all carry a big stick. Where Bravado flows through our American cousin’s national character, most Canadians prefer a quieter, softer, gentler approach, lest we be confused with the worst of American stereotypes:  “the ugly American.” Continue reading

The Muslim Jesus

Muslim Jesus2Only in Canada eh? Last week, I enjoyed a quintessential Canadian vacation at a rented cottage in Muskoka. Our neighbours in the cottage next-door were delightful companions around the campfire of an evening. It didn’t talk long for us to learn that our neighbours came to Canada from Afghanistan as refugees during the Soviet invasion. When our conversation moved into the realm of religion, I was dismayed that some of the Christians around our campfire were surprised by one of our new friend’s who explained that, “A person cannot be a Muslim unless they believe in Jesus!” 

In a country like Canada, were we have worked together to achieve a level of multiculturalism that most Canadians take pride in, it is disappointing to be reminded how little Christians seem to know of Islam, particularly when it comes to the role Jesus plays in the Islamic faith. I am grateful to our new Canadian-Afghani friends for their patience as they gently explained to my companions their love for the prophet we revere in common. 

I have blogged before on the subject of Jesus in the Qur’an. I also commend this British documentary: The Muslim Jesus. The more we learn about one another, the better able we are to love our neighbours.

The Bible, Women and Violence: Amy-Jill Levine

violence against womenAs always Dr. Amy-Jill Levine’s consummate scholarship encourages and enables her listeners to seriously and holistically engage biblical texts. Violence against women in all its forms, whether they be physical, sexual, emotional, economical, or psychological types of violence, is a global, national, denominational and domestic problem that has all too often been enabled by interpretations of the bible that fail to take the bible seriously or engage its texts adequately. Please watch, listen, digest, and go forth and do likewise. 

Struggling to Comprehend the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in Twenty Years???

Syrian childrenFor three years the news media has issued reports of the civil war in Syria. An humanitarian crisis is measured in numbers and the latest reports insist that 100,000 lives have been lost and to date two-million Syrians have fled their homeland. UN figures report that over half of these refugees are children. This morning’s reports herald the deaths of between 500 and 1400 victims of a chemical attack. Our American cousins are debating their response. The world seems helpless to stem the tide of devastation as tribalism shakes the foundations of a nation that has been at the heart of civilization for centuries.

As world-leaders, politicians, and pundits insist upon action, most of us are left wondering not only what action, but what are they fighting about??? Sadly, too many pundits are willing to urge us to rush in, to do who knows what, before we even know what or why. I find myself so disheartened by my own lack of knowledge, that my eyes tend to glaze over at the reports of atrocities, as I quickly move on to something, anything else. It has taken the suspected use of chemical weapons to shake me from my own complacency and motivate me to educate myself on the history of Syria. If you find yourself wondering where to begin, I encourage you to take the time to watch this excellent BBC video on the History of Syria. 

“Church: A Nine Pound Sparrow that is Afraid to Fly”

sparrowAt the beginning of his latest book, “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Jesus”,  Robin Meyers quotes  Fred Craddock to ask how the church became a nine pound sparrow that is afraid to fly? Questioning the domestication of what was once an underground church, Meyers bemoans the church’s current state ofunderground church domestication and sentimentality. I’ve blogged about Meyer’s before and highly recommended his earlier book: “Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.” I have just re-read both books and I think that they are must-reads for anyone who cares about the future of Christianity. Watch this brief video for a sample of Meyers dreams for the subversive way toward the Reign of God where everyone has enough.

Escaping Our Survival Mentality: John Shelby Spong

jack spong

Bishop Spong interviewed in his home on August 17, 2013

Jack speaks about his new book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic Listen to the extended interview here

Penetrating Blue Moon

bluemoonAway from the bright lights of the city

the stars shine more deeply

penetrating cares and woes.

Then there is the moon:

the prognosticators announced that it would be blue,

as in once in a blue…

But I see only a light that penetrates deeply

with the power

to change the tides of my being

in ways that make my spirit sing.

The Coffinmaker: a short film by Dan McComb

CoffinmakerI have known only one coffin maker. To my knowledge he built only one coffin. It was carefully crafted with all the love he could pour into the task. It was a small coffin, just large enough to hold his nine-year-old granddaughter. I remember watching the wood-shavings fall gently to the shop floor; more poignantly than tears. When his task was complete, children gently, quietly, reverently placed small stuffed animals inside to keep their playmate company on a journey they did not understand. One little boy picked up a few of the wood-shavings, looked toward the grandfather, raised the shavings to his lips and kissed them. When everyone left, I mimicked the child’s actions and then placed several wood-shavings into my pocket. As the coffin maker helped his son lower the precious cargo into the ground, I fingered the wood-shavings; a gesture of gratitude for the strength they provided. “If we make it too convenient,  we’re depriving ourselves of an opportunity to get stronger so that we can carry on….Work is love made visible…”

“Every year, Americans bury enough metal in the ground to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, says Vashon Island coffin maker Marcus Daly. His simple, handcrafted wooden coffins are an economical and environmentally friendly burial alternative. But Daly believes a coffin’s most important feature is that it can be carried. Here’s why.”

The Bent Over Woman – Luke 13:10-17

bentover woman1It was hot. Already the sun had parched the earth. The air was still. The ground beneath her feet radiated the heat. She was tired. Earlier she had thought about staying at home. Her weary body could use a rest. All week long she had toiled in the heat of the sun. On this Sabbath she longed to rest her crumpled, aching body. She tried to ignore the weakness she felt. She had suffered long and hard. She couldn’t even remember when or how she had become so weak. Over the years, her weakened spirit had left her body bent and crippled. The evidence of her heavy burdens could be seen in her crooked spine. She was ashamed of her appearance.

It had been eighteen long years since she had stood straight and tall. She vaguely remembered running when she was a child. She ran everywhere back then. She ran faster than anyone else in the town. She loved to run. Running made her feel free.

Her mother used to warn her not to run. Her mother tried to stop her. But she was so full of life. She wanted to see everything. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to go everywhere.

Her mother warned her not to be so curious. Her mother tried to keep her busy. Her mother tried to keep her out of trouble. But it was no use, no matter how many tasks her mother gave her; she always managed to find time to explore. She had so many questions. She wanted to know how things worked. Life was so very exciting. She dashed from one adventure to the next. She ran everywhere, everyday. Except of course on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath she walked. She walked with her family to the synagogue. She loved to go to the synagogue. As her father and brothers took their places at the feet of the rabbis, she sat quietly with her mother and sisters and the other women and girls in the back of the synagogue. She listened carefully as the men and boys talked.  Continue reading

The Lost Gospels

lost gospelDocumentary presented by Anglican priest Pete Owen Jones which explores the huge number of ancient Christian texts that didn’t make it into the New Testament. Shocking and challenging, these were works in which Jesus didn’t die, took revenge on his enemies and kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth – a Jesus unrecognisable from that found in the traditional books of the New Testament.

Pete travels through Egypt and the former Roman Empire looking at the emerging evidence of a Christian world that’s very different to the one we know, and discovers that aside from the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, there were over seventy gospels, acts, letters and apocalypses, all circulating in the early Church.

Through these lost Gospels, Pete reconstructs the intense intellectual and political struggles for orthodoxy that was fought in the early centuries of Christianity, a battle involving different Christian sects, each convinced that their gospels were true and sacred.

“Bring Your Own Story to the Sounds I Make” – Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin“spirityouall” was released back in May, and in days gone by I would have raced to the record store in order to add it to my collection. Nowadays, new albums are downloaded in moments. As marvellous as it is to be able to instantly add an album to your collection, I miss the cellophane and struggling to remove it while anticipating how it will sound on my system (whether it be record player, cassette or CD player) and reading the liner notes  while listening — I really miss liner-notes!  So imagine my delight when I clicked on my newly downloaded digital album and discovered the “digital booklet” – all 27 pages of liner notes.  

I found this video of Bobby McFerrin preforming a few tunes from spirityouall which as the liner notes say, “marks the first time Bobby has built a musical project around his faith.” The album is amazing.  Then, just as I was about to share this post, I came across the second video: an unedited, behind the scenes interview by Krista Tripett.  Enjoy!!!  

“Poetry Knows We are Both Living and Dying at the Same Time” Marie Howe

Marie Howe“Marie Howe’s poetry is luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life. Her long, deep-breathing lines address the mysteries of flesh and spirit, in terms accessible only to a woman who is very much of our time and yet still in touch with the sacred.”  —Stanley Kunitz      

kingdom of ordinary timeVacation’s gift of time has invited me to open a book of poetry. Poetry has no need to provide all the words. Poetry has only to provide the words to open us to ourselves.  Marie Howe’s latest collection “The Kingdom of Ordinary Time” has won for her the role of New York State Poet Laureate. Who knew states had laureates? Her words have gently opened me to myself. After posting this, I shall return to my bookshelves to unearth the collection in which Howe opened me to that which lives in and beyond me: “What the living do”.

For those of you who are not on vacation, watch this brief video of Howe reading some of her liminal work. Enjoy!


Star Market Marie Howe

Commemoration of Saint Mary: Was Mary a Virgin or Was Mary Raped?

pregnancy test

Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)

I’m on vacation so I don’t get to preach this coming Sunday. But if I did, I suspect that I would move the Commemoration of St. Mary to Sunday and take the opportunity to explore the life and witness of this amazing woman. Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus or as it is still called in the Roman Catholic Church The Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary into Heaven. This enigmatic  woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. So on this festival day I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.  

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square.  Continue reading

Empathy-Building People-Watching

peoplewatchingVacations provide a fabulous opportunities to engage in one of my favourite pass-times. People-watching is so much more than an exercise of the imagination. It provides us with the opportunity to flex an thereby strengthen our empathy muscles. Airports, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls are wonderful arenas for people-watching. But by far the most engaging arenas I’ve ever encountered are hospitals. The video below, is an advertisement created by the Cleveland Clinic which ought to provide some inspiration for some empathy-building people-watching.

Starry, Starry, Darkness: sermon for Pentecost 12C

van-gogh-vincent-starry-night-79005662Sermon August 11, 2013

Readings:  Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-16, Luke 12:32-40

Listen to the sermon

Embracing Limitations to Drive Creativity – Phil Hansen

phil hansen2

I’m getting ready for five weeks of vacation. So, I’m sorting out things in my office and I discovered a plethora of Sharpies. Which reminded me of this story that I’ve been meaning to post.

Phil Hansen is an artist who moves beyond limitations to explore the margins of what’s possible. His incredible sensitivity flows through his work in ways that capture the imagination and inspire compassion. I find myself sharpielooking at Sharpies in a whole new way as I discover the world of pointillism (Google it. You know you want to). Hansen is also a gifted speaker whose personal story is capable of transforming limitations beyond the notion of challenges toward an appreciation for ingenuity. Enjoy!

By now, I’m sure you’re intrigued, to say the least. This next video’s visual beauty speaks volumes alongside of Hansen’s clear, concise, and charming story. It is best viewed with a Sharpie at the ready so that you can try your hand at kickstarting your creativity!

I’m a Doubter Not a Believer – Preparing to Preach on FAITH

Preaching on Luke 12:32-40 and Hebrews 11:1-16

doubters welcome“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom” So begins the gospel reading for this coming Sunday. But I am afraid and my fear is not about the the thief who this text insists may break into my house or that the Human One is coming at some unexpected hour. No my fear is wrapped up in my desire to pay little or no attention to the second reading prescribed for this Sunday from the letter to the Hebrews:

“Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. Because of faith, our ancestors were approved b God. By faith, we understand the world was created by the word from God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible…..”

Do I have faith? Do any of us have faith? For that matter: What is faith? According to Hebrews faith “is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to hear Jesus words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.”  Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to believe. So I wonder: Do I have faith? Do I have the faith that makes it possible for me to believe? Do you? Do any of us?

I write this as one who finds it difficult and sometimes even impossible to believe much of anything. I am a doubter by nature. Doubting is part of who I am. I know that there are those who are more inclined to believe and I am envious of believers. I envy those who are sure and are able to find comfort in the Scriptures. For a very long time I was ashamed of my inability to believe. I often sat in church and wondered if I might just be a hypocrite. I wondered if someone who had as many doubts as I have belongs in the church. And so, I tried to conquer my doubts by studying the Scriptures. Continue reading