A Prayer for Reformation

creationThe Spirit of Reformation has broken free from the institutional church and just as Ruah lives and breathes in, with, and through all of creation, She longs to find expression in us. In Thomas Berry the Spirit found wonderful expression. Through Berry’s words the Spirit calls us to a whole new Reformation.

A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet

spong cartoonIn  1998 the Bishop John Shelby Spong looked around at the state of the church and decided that it was time for a new reformation. Just as the invention of the printing press helped to distribute Martin Luther’s protests, the development of the internet spread Jack’s vision around the world. To those who were hungry for change, they were a breath of fresh air. Fifteen Reformation Day celebrations have elapsed since their publication and while there are pockets of progress within the church, what Jack has coined as the “church alumni” continue to bemoan the recalcitrance of the institution as yet another generation has been lost.  While so many have pronounced a judgment of irrelevance upon the institution, a remnant has begun to embrace Jack’s questions. I repost them here in the hope that the Spirit of Reformation lives and more and more  communities will enthusiastically embrace the challenges of being Church for the 21st century. I hope you will add your own theses in the Spirit of Semper Reformanda!

Jack posted his Twelve Theses with these words: “Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognised Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically.”

12 Thesis John Shelby Spong

SEMPER REFORMANDA: Always Reforming

95Today’s Reformation Sunday Liturgy followed the theme Semper Reformanda: Always Reforming! The sermon looked at various protests of the ongoing reformation, including Luther’s 95 Theses, (here) John Shelby Spong’s Twelve Theses, (here) Matthew Fox’s 95 Thesis for the 21st Century, (here) Holy Cross’ Mission Statement (here) and Holy Cross’ Statement of Welcome (here).

Listen to the sermon here:

Reformation For All the Children

rainbow dove flyThis morning we will gather at Holy Cross to celebrate the Reformation. Our liturgy’s theme is “Semper Reformanda: Always Reforming. As one of our Gathering Songs we will sing David Lohman’s hymn: “For All the Children”(PDF of the music here). We will sing this song of radical welcome for all those who have ever been excluded from the church in the hope that reformation will come quickly to the whole church.

For All the Children is performed in the video below which was produced by Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, “For All the Children” is a powerful and inspiring music video featuring over 300 Catholics singing their support for LGBTQ young people and spreading the good news of Christ’s love. Recorded in April of 2012, “For All the Children” was premiered August 15 in Minneapolis at a special C4ME-MN event entitled “I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry.” 

Semper Reformanda: Always Reforming!!!

What Darwin Never Knew

what darwin never knew“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation,” so said Francis Bacon. As our knowledge of creation expands, how will our relationship with these two books evolve? 

As I contemplate the church’s celebration of the Reformation, I am struck by the wealth of information that can be summoned by my fingertips. Just as the invention of the printing press worked its own kind of magic on the Christian Church, the electronic media has propelled us into the Age of Information and Christianity is evolving.  The impact of our expanding knowledge is changing the way we view reality and our place in it. As the religions of the world continue to evolve, we can begin to open ourselves to the wondrous possibilities of an entirely new understanding of reality.  No history of the reformation that is happening all around us will be complete without the inclusion of our broadening understanding of our biological origins.

To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Moving God to Tears of Joy

welcomeDavid R. Weiss’ “To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality, and the widness of God’s welcome” is a wonderful resource for worship planners who are searching for ways to engage worshippers in the difficult task of breaking down barriers to inclusion. As I wrote in the previous post, “they don’t go home humming the sermon!” Music opens our very selves toTo the Tune of a Welcoming God that which is beyond ourselves and Weiss has written some powerful texts that can be coupled with well loved, familiar hymn tunes. I was first exposed to Weiss’ way with words a number of years ago when Lutheran’s Concerned included his “O Christ Who Came” in their worship resources for the celebration of Reconciling in Christ Sunday. When set to the tune of LONDONDERRY AIR (that’s O’ Danny Boy, for the uninitiated), Weiss’ words provide an expansive welcome that we have often sung with gusto at Holy Cross. So, I was delighted to discover, on iTunes of all places, the album “To the Tune of a Welcoming God” by Sara Kay. After quickly downloading, I began to listen to all sorts of possibilities for worship in Weiss’ splendid texts set to familiar tunes. In addition to providing hymn texts that expand our vision of what it means to extend a welcome to the GLBT community, Weiss’ texts open worshippers to images of God that move us beyond words as they open us to theologies that embrace the reality of the cosmos. You can follow this link to find a copy of the hymn texts.

In addition to the hymn texts, Weiss’ book provides a collection of essays in which Weiss offers a vision of what the Church can become. Weiss is writes from his own Lutheran perspective reflecting his own struggles in work of building a more inclusive church. Weiss opens the book with his own “Credo” which I look forward to using in liturgy as an “Affirmation of Faith”. 

Credo: By David R. Weiss

I believe in God,
The Great Mystery that is the Source of all that is,
I believe that God is beyond our words
And surely beyond our genders,
But that we are still invited to name God as best we can,
With humility and wonder.
I believe in God’s love for all creation, not just humanity.
I believe in God’s yearning,
That justice hold sway in every corner of creation
And in God’s anxious longing
For Sabbath joy to fill the cosmos.

I believe that the deep beauty of Jesus’ life
Is a true revelation of God’s desire to see compassion
At the center of human community.
I believe that Jesus’ healings, parables, and table fellowship
Reveal the truth of God active in our midst.
And I believe that in Jesus’ life
We hear an invitation to echo such compassion
In our own lives.

I believe that Jesus’ death
Reminds us that oppressive power
Will stop at nothing –
Then or now – to silence compassion.
And I believe that resurrection
Names the miracle that takes place –
Then and now – whenever we rededicate
Our lives to compassion
Thereby announcing that even death
Cannot silence the love of God.

I believe that besides Jesus’ life
And besides the biblical text,
Other lives and other texts also bear the truth of God –
And that our lives are richer for listening well
To the movement of God in many places.

I believe that God continues to be present still today
And that the Holy Breath of God blows
Whenever and wherever compassion is born,
Whether in our words, deeds, or rituals.
I believe we have a special responsibility
To gather in community and share rituals,
Both ancient and fresh,
That exercise our imaginations,
Both bodily and spiritually
For the practice of compassion.

I believe that in our lives
We have the capacity to move God,
This loving mystery that dwells at the heart of all that is,
To the point of tears.

And I commit myself,
With my brothers and sisters and the whole of creation,
To living in ways that seek to move God to tears of joy.

Amen.

They Don’t Go Home Humming the Sermon!

humLiturgy has the power to from us in ways that preachers can only dream of. The truth is worshippers don’t go home humming the sermon. What we sing in worship matters precisely because music has the power to both open us up and shut us down to change. As our theology evolves, so too what we sing in worship must evolve. But familiar chestnuts  are familiar for a reason. Our favourite hymns are singable! Sadly, so many of the best loved hymns inscribe theologies that posit a god that few of us are willing to worship. But rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we can give the best loved hymn tunes a new lease on life with texts that do not re-inscribe theories of atonement that we are trying to leave behind. I have been asked to share some of the resources that we have found helpful at Holy Cross and over the next few weeks I hope to post several resources.

Inclusive Hymns Aldredge-ClantonIt hasn’t been easy to find new words with which to resurrect old hymns. But there are two resources that warm the heart of this particular worship planner. Both “Inclusive Hymns For Liberating Christians” and “Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice” are the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton who is responsible for the hymn texts and Larry E. Schultz who provides a few new tunes for Aldredge-Clanton’s texts. I highly recommend both volumes for those progressive Christian worship planners who seek to use music to open people to the possibilities of  more expansive theologies. Aldredge-Clanton’s texts go far beyond “inclusive language” for God and for people.Inclusive hymns for liberation

Jann Aldredge-Clanton currently serves as adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology and Richland Community College, Dallas, Texas. Her vivid imagery opens the mind while familiar tunes comfort the spirit.  

The good news is that although these resources are not easy to get in Canada, I ordered mine from Amazon.com in the U.S. and the shipping charges were minimal. Better yet, with the purchase of 10 or more you get permission to reproduce hymns for worship.

Here are two videos that provide of just two of the pieces sung in very different worship styles.

Freedom from What? All this Reforming is Wearing Me Out!

nuggiePreparing to preach on Reformation Sunday I found this sermon I preached a few years ago. Our readings that year included both John 8:31-36 and Luke 18:9-14

When my friend, (let’s call her Jane for the purposes of this sermon), when Jane was a baby she had a pale green receiving blanket. It was soft to the touch, with a two-inch band of satin around the edge. It kept Jane safe and warm and as she grew her fondness for that blanket grew. In time it became her very own security blanket and heaven help you if you were the one trying to settle her and you couldn’t find her blanket.  As Jane learned to talk, for some reason that old green blanket earned the nick-name “Nuggie”. If Jane was upset or fussing, she would holler for her Nuggie and the entire household would scramble to find it. Jane dragged Nuggie everywhere she went and it often got very dirty. We learned very quickly to launder Nuggie long after Jane had settled down for the night. One of us would sneak into her room and gently ease Nuggie from her grasp and quickly toss it into the washing machine, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t wake until we retrieved it from the dryer and tucked it safely back in her crib. Jane was particularly fond rubbing the satin over her cheek and over the years the satin edge became worn and frayed. Whenever life wasn’t going her way, or she was not feeling well, or she was tired, or if she was frightened, Jane would scream, for her Nuggie. Only after her Nuggie was firmly in place and she had comforted herself with the soft satin, would order be restored.

Standing here, smack dab in the middle of a Reformation of epic proportions, it feels to me like someone is trying to steal my Nuggie. Semper Reformanda  — Always Reforming. Change, change, change. Sometimes I just want the security of that old time religion. I want to feel the comfort, the security that I once felt in the church. All this reforming is wearing me out. I’m tired of thinking. I’m tired of reforming my ideas. I’m tired of learning new things. I’m tired of all the questioning. I’m tired of all the questions. I want some answers. Sometimes I just want that Mighty Fortress to keep me safe. Sometimes I just want that Almighty Father to say, “There, there dear it’s all going to be all right!”

I knew were I stood in the old days. I was a wicked sinner.  Heck, I was in bondage to sin and could not free myself. But I knew that Jesus was willing to die for me and save me from all my sins. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that even though I was a sinner, I was a forgiven sinner, simule justus et pecator. By the grace of God, I was both saint and sinner. Justified by God’s amazing grace. Thanks to the redeeming blood of the Lamb of God who washes away all my sin. Jesus died for me.   Jesus saved me.  And Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.  Give me Jesus.  Give me Jesus! I want my nuggie!

But in the words of dear old Martin Luther,“ Here I stand, for I can do no other.” Smack dab in the middle of a reformation, trying to follow Jesus. Jesus, who said that everything could be summed up in two commandments: “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.” If only Jesus had left our minds out of the equation. If only we could switch off our minds and stop this constant quest for truth. But then Jesus did say, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” So, how can we keep from asking: “Free from what?” Continue reading

95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Delighted that so many of you after reading yesterday’s post have expressed interest in learning more of Matthew Fox’s 95 Theses for the 21st Century.  The best place to find out more is in Fox’s little book “A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity” published in 2006 by Inner Traditions press.

Click Here where you will find a complete list of Fox’s  95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Enough with “A Mighty Fortress” Already! Sing a New Song!

In the spirit of the Reformation motto: semper reformanda – always reforming, what say we abandon the fortresses of our traditions.  This Sunday, Lutheran churches all over the world will begin their Reformation Sunday worship services vigorously singing “A Mighty Fortress” and I for one wish they wouldn’t.  I suspect that the hymn’s author Martin Luther might just agree with me. After all didn’t Luther write a Mighty Fortress in an attempt to bring the popular music of the day into the church? I am convinced that this particular Reformation Sunday tradition has dear old Martin spinning in his grave at the thought that the church that bears his name is still singing a tired old chestnut like A Mighty Fortress to celebrate the Reformation. The very idea of 21st century Lutheran’s celebrating the Reformation by clinging to the events of the 16th century is an affront to the memory of Martin Luther. Continue reading

God in the Guise of a Pleading Widow a Sermon on Luke 18:1-8

IMG_2931Ai Weiwei’s exhibit “According to What? at the Art Gallery of Ontario inspired me to look beyond traditional interpretations of Jesus’ parable of the Pleading Widow to see our role as the unjust judge. The gentle breath of a newborn granddaughter enabled me to hear God persistently pleading for justice.

Listen to the sermon here:  

Our second reading was taken from Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead” 

Godhead MagdeburgOur Scripture Hymn used Ruth C. Duck’s words.

Like a Pleading Widow

Evolving Images of God: Joan Chittister

the-kingdom-of-God-is-within-youEvolutionary theologian Joan Chittister articulates an image of God that does not deny the scientific evidence of reality as only she can. As our knowledge of the Cosmos increases our images of the Divine most evolve. These are exciting days to be alive: “a cross-over moment in time” as evolutionary theory casts new light on our definitions of God and understanding of truth. Chittister’s succinct articulation is a brilliant precursor to today’s scripture readings. 

Whose Persistence? Preparing to Preach on the Parable of the Pleading Widow

pleading widowLooking back on a sermon I preached six years ago on this week’s readings from Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8, I am struck by how much my own images of the Divine One we call God have changed and yet remain oddly similar. The intervening years have afforded me the opportunities to begin to leave behind notions of an anthropomorphic God who intervenes in our lives. As I have embraced the writings of progressive and evolutionary theologians, I have struggled to understand and articulate God’s nature from the perspective of panentheism (everything is in God). There are those who suggest that this is a departure from the Christian tradition. Yet looking back, I am beginning to see this movement as a natural progression of the tradition. Indeed, so much of what I have always loved about Lutheran theology has freed me to explore this path. So, I offer this old sermon as a snapshot of my own pathway toward new visions of the Divine. I trust that my early efforts to move beyond the notion of God as the “unjust judge” will move some to begin to see God in, with, and through all those who persistently plead for justice. 

What little I know about the art of wrestling I learned from my brother Alan. He and I are just eighteen months apart in age and together we participated in many a wrestling match. All too often one or the other of us would be bothering the other and before we knew it we were rolling around on the floor wrestling. I’ll have you know that up until the age of about twelve I was quite a good wrestler. Up to that point I usually managed to hold my brother to the ground and with my knees firmly pinning his arms I would be able to get my brother to agree to my point of view. But my brother’s adolescent growth spurt put an end to my winning streak. Just as soon as my brother was big enough to pin me to the ground I decided to stop bothering him. Bothering my brother became dangerous and I had to give it up in order to save my dignity. Continue reading

Today We Celebrate the Life and Witness of St. Teresa of Avila

An excerpt from “Love Poems From God” by Daniel Ladinsky,

(Penguin Compass, London: 2002)

(1515-1582)  “Teresa was born in Avila, a beautiful high mountain village of Spain.  She was one of thirteen children, three girls and ten boys, in a wealthy family.  The Spain in which Teresa grew up was permeated with 700 years of Arabian culture; the eradication of Arab power was followed by one of Spain’s darkest periods, the insanity of the Inquisitions, which, in the fourteenth century, along with other grievous deeds, forced mass conversions of Jews to Christianity.”

“Teresa was her father’s favourite child, and the most spirited.  Her mother died during childbirth when Teresa was thirteen, after which she had little supervision.  It is believed she had a lover at the age of fifteen, which caused her father to send her to a convent boarding school, only to see her return home two years later because of poor health.  When she was twenty-one, Teresa ran away from home to join a convent.  At that time many convents were more like hotels for women, allowing them a great deal more independence than they would be allowed at home, though after two years at the convent Teresa had a near-death experience that changed her life.  A spiritual awakening began in which she cultivated a system of meditation that sought quieting the mind to such an extent that God could then be heard speaking.  Over the next twenty years she experienced many mystical states but not until she was fifty did she begin the most far-reaching aspects of her life’s work.”

St. Teresa of Avila “had a great desire for learning and when the Inquisition, in 1559, forbade women to read, Teresa turned to God and asked God to teach her soul about divine love.  She then began to write completely out of her own experience.   Many of her poems are, in fact, intimate accounts of her communion with God. 

The Church’s persecution of Teresa had not waned when she passed away and was buried in Alba de Tormes in 1582.  A year after her death some of her disciples, feeling that she might have wished to be buried in Avila, had her body exhumed.  When her body was found to be perfectly intact and emitting a wonderful fragrance, her sainthood was formally decreed, allowing the publication and preservation of some of her works.

Most of what we see today of Teresa’s work is probably reined way back, for her writings fell into the hands and under the control of the very forces that had so opposed her throughout her life.”

“Teresa of Avila is undoubtedly the most influential saint in the Western world, and she has made great contributions to spiritual literature and poetry.  She was a woman of tremendous courage who is rightfully credited with the remarkable political and religious reform achieved against the strongest—and most insidious—chauvinistic forces.”

“A realistic picture of Teresa’s life did not even reach the English-reading general public until the 1960s.  She was known to have had a remarkable quick wit and a stunning, even provocative, sense of humour, as well as a great physical beauty.  Her complete works include seven books, four hundred and fifty letters, and assorted poetry.  Her writings are considered masterpieces of mystical prose and verse. She personally founded seventeen Carmelite convents and two monasteries, despite enormous opposition from the Church and other men in power.”


Ubuntu: Compassion brought into colourful practice.

go be love

“I must never allow my neighbour to go hungry while I’ve got a little food in my house…We as human beings must sustain each other even during times of greatest peril.”  Let our Thanksgiving become compassion and let us bring our compassion into colourful practice!

THANKSGIVING: Not One, Not Two

I AM the bread of lifeA sermon on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and John 6:25-35 inspired by Garrison Keillor and Joan Chittister; two of the best storytellers I know.

Listen to the sermon:

The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

thanksgiving canada

Your Mom and Dad were right when they taught you that “thank-you” is a magic word. Science now confirms what we learned at our parents’ knees all those years ago.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Critical Thinking and Faith: Phyllis Tickle

critical thinkingPhyllis Tickle is a treasure!!! Let her no-nonsense, down-to-earth, humorous  way of articulating what should be obvious provide encouragement to the timid who sit quietly hoping that someone else will question the dogmas and doctrines that dull our senses. Let herrethinking questions inspire more questions and let set aside our carefully held notions of reality and embrace the awe and majesty of the Mystery we call God. 

The Future of the Church: Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and David Lose

future churchA conversation with Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and David Lose recorded Oct. 7, 2013, and hosted by Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., during the Celebration of Biblical Preaching.