One of the bright points in Barack Obama’s rising political star is his ability to talk about Jesus without faking it. But his enemies, including right-wing bloggers and TV pundits, are complaining that Obama’s church—Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago—embraces an Africentrism that is separatist or even racist. Just what is this Africentrism?
Holy hilarity: The Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita, Kansas, celebrates Holy Humor Sunday the week after Easter because “God played the best practical joke of all on death, on Satan, in raising Jesus.” This year one skit involved a taste test to find the best grape juice for communion. The panelists in the skit were embarrassed to learn they had chosen “Real-Value Artificial Grape Drink from Wal-Mart” (Mennonite Weekly Review, April 23).
There is nothing like writing a book called Leaving Church for discovering how many things people can make of a title like that. The church of the title is Grace-Calvary Church in Clarkesville, Georgia. Leaving is what I did in 1997 when I resigned from parish ministry. In the year since the book came out, I have received thousands of letters, most so poignant that I have to hold my heart while I read them.What I read above all is a rich mix of love and grief: love for the mainline churches that have formed the faithful, and grief that so many of those churches have run out of holy steam. The love part makes the grief part hard to articulate.
The Bible is full of strange things—oil cruets and flour containers that never become empty and young bodies that are restored to life at a word from Jesus. Are we supposed to believe that these things happened? Maybe the ancient peoples did, but we moderns suffer under the curse of Bultmann’s lightbulb: we know why the light switches on. We are cursed by rationalities that prevent us from seeing the Bible as one overarching story in which our own lives play a key role.
One of my seminary teachers once said that if you can’t think of anything original to preach, you should tell Bible stories—they have enough power to turn people’s hearts toward God. This may not work with every text, but it certainly works with the drama and wisdom of the story of Naboth and the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.