This week's texts tell the story of deliverance from our many troubles.
They deliver us from the oppression of self-consciousness. They deliver
us from that sinking feeling, that sense that the boat is going down and
that we are beyond the reach of peace. Jesus all but scoffs at fear and
faithlessness: "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"
The Incas, at the peak of their civilization, had 150 varieties of corn.
When the Spanish came, they wiped most of these out—even destroying
much of the seed corn, so that a civilization of extraordinary vitality
and diversity became an impoverished one.
In March, when Pope Benedict XVI, on a flight to Cameroon, declared that the use of condoms is not the answer to the AIDS epidemic in Africa—that, on the contrary, it “increases the problem”—I thought immediately of Francis Ntowe. I met Ntowe years ago when he came to the U.S. from Cameroon. He became an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
We could accuse this week's texts of setting up dichotomies: Romans
wants us to live by the spirit, not the flesh. Nicodemus and Jesus trade
stories about being born from above rather than below. A bush burns and
life changes; unnatural things abound. Everyone knows that when bushes
burn, they are consumed. Everybody knows where babies come from, and
it's not from "up there."
Some of us are in Pentecost graduate school. We're seminary-educated and
steeped in the church. We understand the preacher's dilemma when Easter
comes early, before the earth has warmed up enough to take resurrection
seriously, and we've been there, done that when it comes to the mighty
rushing wind that appears seven weeks after Easter with great
"I eventually realized that leaders are not made by books or workshops," says Lisa Yebuah of Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Leaders are people who marry their knowledge to action."
"I've been given an opportunity to color outside the lines," says Nanette Sawyer of Grace Commons and St James Presbyterian Church in Chicago, "the permission and charge to be creative and experimental."
"Progressive Christians do a good job with issues like LGBT rights," says Dennis Sanders of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis. "But we're less good at helping people become disciples of Jesus."
"Religious commitments are no longer taken for
granted as part of North American people's lives," says Scott Kershner of Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State. "So space opens up to
ask very basic and interesting questions."
Nov 30, 2011
| An interview with Carol Howard Merritt
"What would happen," asks Carol Howard Merritt of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., "if we coupled baby boomers' prophetic focus with the pragmatism of my generation? What if the church unleashed us to plant churches?"
Jul 28, 2011
| An interview with Katherine Willis Pershey
"People need to hear the good news," says Katherine Willis Pershey of First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois. "If the church doesn't take on this
mission, I'm afraid—well, that's where that sentence can end. I'm afraid."
"We have rejected much of our immediate [evangelical] past," says Josh Carney of his church, University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Looking to older traditions, "we found that some of our objections had already been
Jamie Coots was a Kentucky preacher who took Jesus literally when he said that he gave his disciples the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and that nothing would hurt them (Luke 10:19). Coots’s son Cody thinks his father was bitten about eight times. He would always refuse treatment or hospitalization, go home in pain, pray, and eventually pull through. But last month Coots was bitten by a rattlesnake in a church service and died. Coots was an outspoken critic of a Kentucky law that forbids handling snakes in church services. The local police chief thinks the law violates free speech rights, so he won’t enforce it unless other people are endangered (Los Angeles Times, February 16).