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  • It’s hard to overestimate the formative power of books! And I’ve been reading some excellent ones lately. I typically post a list of about ten books I’m reading every six months or so. But I missed my last installment. So I’m offering a double portion this time. Some of the books I have been reading are inspiring, others informative, and others simply address topics that interest me. I’ve read some of these books completely. But others I am only in the midst of reading. I offer this list not only as a way to recommend these books. I do so also to portray the diverse interests that drive me as a Christian scholar. 1.) John Wesley in America, by Geordan Hammond Hammond is the director of the Manchester Wesley Research Center and a lecturer at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, England. This book is a revised version of his doctoral thesis. Like most dissertations, this book explores the details of its subject matter, in this case, John Wesley’s life and impact in America. This is...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    It is strange that the Bible is our most treasured book, and yet it seems so difficult that we don't find it very helpful. Perhaps we have expected the wrong things from it; we have asked of it what it cannot do. We have expected the Bible to keep promises that it has never made to us. The Bible cannot be a good luck piece to bring God's blessing. Nor can it be an answer book to solve our problems or to give us right belief.It [the Bible] is... strange because it does not accommodate our conventional language, images, or presuppositions. Rather, the Bible offers to us a way of perceiving reality which is very different from our usual forms of thought and speech. It requires of us a serious revamping of the way we think, speak, see, and live. It draws us into another history which is at odds with the public history commonly embraced by us. It also promises to us different gifts and demands. That fresh perspective concerns not just the church as a separate believing community but...

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  • In a flashback, Hurley’s father tells him that hope is never stupid, and “in this world, you gotta make your own luck.”On the island, we see Hurley talking about his experience, and being scared most of his time on the island, except when he was with Libby. He is talking to her, at her grave, which has a cross to mark it. He puts a flower there.Charlie tells Hurley that Desmond said he is going to die. Hurley says it might be his fault, that he is cursed and death follows him. Then Vincent comes carrying an arm, which is still holding a key. Hurley follows Vincent, and when he drops the arm, the key is on a rabbit foot keychain, and then Vincent leads him to a vehicle in the jungle. Inside, the corpse of the driver has Dharma overalls, indicating his name is Roger, a Work Man.In a flashback, a reporter is interviewing Hurley about buying Mr, Cluck, where he used to work. Reporter Tricia Tanaka goes inside, then a meteor hits the restaurant. When he gets home and says...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul says of his imprisonment, "Now I want you to know brothers and sisters, what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly" (1:12-14).Paul is not saying that his imprisonment is the will of God, but that God has used it for his purposes in spreading the good news to those around Paul. In addition, God has used Paul's witness to inspire other Christians to bear witness themselves. Here at work is Paul's claim to the Romans that "all things work together for good for those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose" (8:28).We must never think that suffering and calamity are brought upon by God to test us or punish us; but in a world filled with pain and...

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  • When father and his son Mark visit Little Big Horn, Mark's love of history shows, front and center. But Ted is quiet. He's suffering from PTSD, of course, long before people used those initials. What happened him when at war--what he did himself--is something he's not spoken of. But standing once again on a battlefield, even though the battle that happened there was so removed from Europe in 1944 and 1945, something triggers memories he's tried not to keep. It happens very slowly, Mark, a boy, totally unaware.The scene will continue tomorrow._________________________________ Little Big Horn is a place on the prairie so featureless it is difficult to imagine something as significant as Custer's famous last stand could have happened there. On a moody, cloudy day one has trouble discerning earth from sky. Here and there, occasional ragged clumps of trees saunter up to the bank of the Little Big Horn creek and sprout on the face of the land like unruly sideburns. Some of Custer's...

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  • Sainthood seems to have been a hobby for the family of Basil. One of his grandmothers was Macrina the Elder. One of his grandfathers was a martyr. His father was Basil the Elder. His mother was Emelia. One of his sisters was Macrina the Younger. Among his brothers were Peter of Sebaste, Naucratius, and Gregory of Nyssa. Beyond that, he was a close friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. Looking back over the surface of the waters of time, it is difficult not to be amazed at the inspiring family life of Basil but it's likely that he thought it normal for much of his life. His family was wealthy and generous but never lacking in goods or money. Because of their great wealth, Basil had the opportunity to receive the best education that money could buy--literally--after being educated at the knee of Basil the Elder and Macrina the Elder. He excelled in his studies while in Caesarea and had a particular talent for rhetoric and persuasive speaking. Through all of this and...

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  • Five items for the first month of 2015...1. I admit that I only have a passing acquaintance with Belle and Sebastian. I mostly know them as the "sad bastard music" that Dick plays in the movie High Fidelity. This month they released Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, which is certainly something other than how it's described in that film. This is almost a dance-pop record, with liberal use of synthesizers and upbeat tempos seemingly borrowed from the 1980s. I'm normally not big on this sort of sound, but Coffeedaughter and I had a good time dancing to this. I'd especially recommend the peppy "Enter Sylvia Plath" and the whimsical "Perfect Couples."2. One of my most-anticipated albums of the year came pretty early, as The Decemberists released What A Terrible World, What a Beautiful World last week. They slowly released a few songs in anticipation, including "Lake Song" and "Make You Better," which are quite good. But really, as expected, the entire album is...

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  • I shared a link to a blog post by Jonathan Bernier a while back, which questioned the relevance of the purported employment of the traditionally-proposed author of the Fourth Gospel.Here’s a list which someone put together of occupations of tannaitic rabbis:The sages of the Talmud worked at many diverse occupations. For instance, Hillel was a woodchopper before he became the Nasi (President of the Sanhedrin) and Shammai the Elder was a builder. Abba Chilkiyah was a field laborer; Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakkai was a businessman for forty years; Abba Shaul was a gravedigger; Abba Chilkiyah was a field worker; Abba Oshiya was a launderer; Rabbi Shimon P’kuli was a cotton dealer; Rabbi Shmuel b. Shilas was a school teacher, Rabbi Meir and Rabi Chananel were scribes; Rabbi Yosi b. Chalafta was a tanner; Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar was a shoemaker; Rabbi Yehoshua b. Chananiah was a blacksmith; Rabbi Safra and Rabbi Dimi of Nehardea were merchants; Rabbi Abba b. Zavina was a tailor; Rabbi...

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  • Finding Harmony

    Every month we have an office potluck lunch at the MennoMedia office where I work. About once a year we take a coffee break to brainstorm the sometimes off beat but interesting themes around foods we’d like to share. (Such as here, and here.) The idea is to spend minimal work time planning, and maximum […]

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  • For the past several centuries, Christian theology has seemingly been on the run from science. We try to stay a step ahead of science by filling in the gaps with God.  But it doesn't seem to work. This is the third of four responses to questions on Creation and Christianity that I gave as part of a panel of authors from Energion Publications.  I invite you to check out all of them.  This video addresses specifically the question of God and the Gaps.  I also invite you to check out my book that emerged out of my participation in the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday.  It is entitled: Worshiping with Charles Darwin, (Energion, 2013).

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  • [From Jan. 26, 2007 archive]God, give us the tongue of a teacher, that we may have words for the weary, and waken our ears to listen, so we hear what the weary would say. Do not let us pass by those who strain at the oars when the wind is adverse and forgetfulness wallows in darkness. Sin has the power to imprison, but you have the power to make free. Quiet the waves that engulf them; do not forsake them at sea.  Lectionary Readings Ps. 88; 148; 6; 20 Isa. 50:1-11 Gal. 3:15-22 Mark 6:47-56 Selected Verses Ps. 88:12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,            or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness? Isa. 50:4a The Lord GOD has given me          the tongue of a teacher,that I may know how to sustain          the weary with a word. Gal. 3:3-22  But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power...

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  • I was looking for some old Lenten monologues I wrote based on Mark's gospel, and I came upon the "Endorsement Essay" that I wrote for the seminary and for my denomination.  Here's what I wrote:SINCE childhood, I have been nurtured by many stories from the Bible.  There have been picture Bibles at bedtime before prayers, stories told by Sunday School teachers, lectionary readings preached from the pulpit.  A few of these stories have stayed with me and become mine, to comfort as well as afflict me.  He is a story about some of the stories that have become companions with me on my journey.Story #1It was a dark and stormy night, and the little boat was rocked by waves.  The disciples had all they could do to keep afloat, for the wind was against them.  When they saw Jesus walking across the lake to them, it was somehow not so reassuring, but just another eerie thing in the middle of the night, the kind they would have nightmares about sometimes after...

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  • Considerations

    Having made several major life and work transitions in recent years and now working with young adults in that oh-so-fun time of figuring out the future, I often find myself thinking about helpful ways to approach our future as individuals. A common attitude that guides many is summed up in phrases like, “The world is at your fingertips.” Or, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want.” Essentially, we tell ourselves that if we make just the right choices at just the right times, life will work out perfectly and all will be well. Success, when it comes to down to it, is all about determination. Hard work wins. Christians, while committed in belief to trust God in all things, including life direction, in practice often twist the comfort, “Do not worry,” into a motivational warning that if we don’t get our act together and make good choices, we’ll be left unhappy. “Blessed are the determined” is our paraphrase of the beatitude, “Blessed are those who persevere.” All...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    ...when we pray, "Your will be done," we are not asking that things come out right as we want things to come out, but rather we are asking that God's will be done. Too often, we are conditioned to think of prayer as asking God for what we want--dear God, give me this, give me that. But now, in praying that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are attempting to school ourselves to want what God wants. We receive, not what our hearts desire, but rather we become so enthralled with a vision of what God is doing on earth and in heaven, that we forget the story the world has told us-- that we have nothing better to do than to satisfy our desires.___William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord Teach Us: The Lord's Prayer and the Christian Life, pp. 65-66.

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  • Yankee Pastor

    Recently our dog got out because someone left the side gate at the house open.  We, of course, hired an independent counsel to do a full investigation to make sure we found out exactly who did it so proper blame could be assigned and we could all feel better about ourselves, even if we did nothing to make sure it didn't happen again.  And, since it seems we had to, we added "gate" to the end of the name to make sure everyone understood the seriousness of the situation.Obviously this is a little satirical, although not the part about the dog getting out, but can we stop making everything the equivalent of Watergate, especially adding "gate" to everything?  And how did that become the standard, or the name, by which everything was set?  Why don't we name things after abscam, or even better the Tea Pot Dome Scandal? I understand that "deflategate" sounds better than "deflatescam" or "deflatedome" but it's a little tiresome.  It's time for the news media to begin...

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  • Today has been given over to studying and preparing my notes for the penultimate gathering of our study group with Knesset Israel re: One Land/Two Peoples. It has been an invigorating, challenging, insightful and at times heart-breaking encounter as we all wrestle through the truth of history and narrative for Israelis and Palestinians. It has also made the daily news a time of prayer, confession and all too often lament. As I have heard from both Israelis and Palestinians living in that region: this is truly something that only God can heal.Our study - and the work of my friends Peter and Joyce and my colleagues at Music in Common - have pushed me towards the radical foolishness of Christ in my era. All the best minds, resources, ideologies and strategies have been employed to bring peace and a measure of hope to the two peoples of this one land - and it is worse than ever before. So, in addition to tears and prayers, study and the hard act of waiting upon the Lord, I find myself "...

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  • It started in seminary, this dislike of the word “prophetic,” but it has lasted a lot longer than I expected.  I went through the discernment process in the shadow of two world altering events: 9/11 and the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.  Both events had their impact on my call as strong external forces.  For what now feels like a fleeting moment, in the days following 9/11 America stood united.  We were in some ways united in two directions.  We were united inwardly as we sought to heal a tear in the very fabric of our culture, the assumption that we were safe from foreign foes was lost forever.  We were also united outwardly as we came to realize that adherents to an extremist form of Islam were to blame for the tragedy.  Over time, however, we began to keep back toward division as our nation’s leaders tried to figure out how to respond.  Some argued that in the interest of national security, we had to find the leadership network of Al Qaeda...

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  • Forty days after Christmas the infant Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem and placed in the arms of the old man Simeon (Luke 2:22-40) who declared: Lord, you now have set your servant free  to go in peace as you have promised;  For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,  whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations,  and the glory of your people Israel. Detail of the Presentation in the Temple by Fra Angelico (source) In the Church this day is celebrated on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birth. It is a major feast and is variously known as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Feast of Meeting, the Purification of Mary, and Candlemas. Each name highlights a particular aspect of the day. This day may be thought of as a festival of light. We hear about the light in today’s gospel. We see it in the candles that are blessed and carried. We receive it as did St. Simeon. That light is Christ himself, our salvation and life.The...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is spot on!___The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned vicars against filling their sermons with "moral claptrap" about being "a bit nicer" to everyone.The Most Rev Justin Welby said religion should never be reduced simply to a code of morality instead of an active faith in which people are willing to "get [their] hands dirty".He added that the message of Christianity was so radical that it could be mistaken for a call to "violent revolution", were it not for its emphasis on peaceful means."The old sermons that we have heard so often in England, which I grew up with, which if you boiled them down all they effectively said was: 'Wouldn't the world be a nicer place if we were all a bit nicer?'""That is the kind of moral claptrap that Jesus does not permit us to accept."He told the congregation "we are to get involved, we are to get our hands dirty", adding that too often churches had just "circled the wagons in order to keep the enemy out".That...

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  • Asbury UMC in Chestertown, MD Church leadership has long held a bent toward the “bigger is better” mantra of capitalistic America. We franchise new church plants. We structure our institutions to favor the larger churches. The United Methodist Church itself has long been geared toward starting pastors off in smaller churches to get their feet wet in leadership only to move them to bigger (and often higher paying) churches once they prove themselves as capable leaders. The flip side of the “bigger is always better” way of viewing our churches is the reality that the vast majority of churches in America (and even around the world) are, in fact, small. Historically this has also been the case. Go back and read Paul’s letters to various churches. They weren’t worshiping 1,000+ on Sundays in a concert hall or amphitheater — they small, tightly-knit communities worshiping in homes. Now I’m not a hater of the larger church — I’ve...

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  • The Maine Conference United Church of Christ is the midst of implementing a new governance and staffing structure. I recently attended a meeting of the new Mission Council, which is intended to serve as the leadership council of and for the Conference. This new 12-member Mission Council is full of thoughtful and devoted Maine United Church of Christ members, with lay and clergy people who know the conference and are committed to its future. But, that doesn’t mean they (at least a few of them) don’t drive me crazy. During our recent meeting, only the third meeting of this new group, we started to talk about the joys and challenges of being the church in the twenty-first century. No surprise, but the conversation turned quickly to just the “challenges,” and then from there, out came all of the same old story, the same old refrain, of what’s keeping people from our sanctuaries on Sunday mornings: • Sunday sports practices and games • the competition we face on Sunday mornings • “It wasn’...

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  • The Book of Occasional Services, one of the liturgical books in the Episcopal Church, offers several blessings specific to seasons and feast days. It does not, however, offer a blessing specific to the Feast of the Presentation, a major feast in the liturgical year. The following blessing has been prepared based upon the collects and gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40) for the day: May Almighty God, who today revealed to Simeon the light which enlightens the nations, fill your hearts with the light of faith. Amen. May Jesus Christ, who was this day presented in the temple, present you before Almighty God with pure and clean hearts. Amen. May the Holy Spirit who guided Simeon to the temple to see God’s salvation, guide you in the path of goodness and bring you to the Light that shines for ever. Amen. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen. The Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, is also a day...

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  • Tamed Cynic

    David Lose, author of Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World, asks the question in this post.  He begins with truth-telling: ‘for the better part of the last five years I’ve been losing confidence in preaching. This isn’t a commentary on the preaching I’ve been hearing, I should be clear, as I’ve been quite fortunate to worship in several congregations with engaging preachers. Rather, it’s preaching in general in which I’ve lost confidence, my own preaching included.’ Lose goes on to note how the form and shape of most preaching appears increasingly out of touch: In a culture that is increasingly participatory, our preaching is still primarily a monologue. In a culture passionate about discovering meaning and crafting identity, our preaching too often draws conclusions for our hearers rather than inviting them into the questions themselves. Second, as I look around our congregations, I see any number of people largely disconnected from the preaching,...

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  • Beloved Spear

    Twice in the last week, it's surfaced in conversations or readings or multimedia, this peculiar relationship we Jesus people have with human brokenness.  That we're kind of a little messed up as a species is one of the roots-rock assumptions of Christian faith, and one that I honestly resonate with.   We mess things up constantly, as our hungers and angers and anxieties and desire for control lead us to inflict all manner of harm to one another.  We're capable of compassion, but we also live behind existential walls, and become so folded into our own subjectivity that we fail to see others as they actually are.  Ours is a world of shadows and projections, which become the ground for both our own self-wounding and the injustice we inflict on one another.The heart of who Jesus was...his work in the world...is God's restorative and redemptive intent for all of us.  Christianity operates under the assumption that there's something not quite right, something in...

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