Any group or movement loses credibility when its most basic claims and assumptions prove false or unreliable. Psychics, for example, are ridiculed when they purport to discern the future for paying clients but cannot predict winning lottery numbers or positive stock market trends for themselves. Similarly, faith healers are derided when they exercise their “gift” only in glitzy auditoriums–where they collect large offerings from gullible followers–and never in pediatric cancer hospitals. Continue reading
Category Archives: American Christianity
A Little Farther Down the Path: The Day the Revolution Began
On Wednesday, March 1 (Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) I published a blog post that outlined the plan for my Lenten discipline this year. That plan called for a series of fourteen blog posts, each one dealing with a separate title from my shelf of new books to be read (or, in a couple of cases, to be finished). If you haven’t read that introductory post, which includes a list of all fourteen titles, you can find it here.
Fourteen books in seven weeks, and I almost made it. I published posts on the first twelve. Regarding the last two, here is the text of my Facebook post for Monday, April 17, the day after Easter Sunday and the end of Lent.
I finished the reading I had committed to completing during Lent, but I still have a blog post to publish on each of the final two titles. My grandson was under the weather a few days last week, and grandpop duties (and privileges) took precedence over blog post writing. I will publish those two posts (and maybe another one to survey, summarize, and wrap up the series of fourteen books), and then I’m going to go dark for a month. I need some time to think about some stuff and maybe make some fairly major decisions. I only wanted those of you who read my blog to know that I will finish the series a few days late. Peace.
Well, it’s more than a few days late, but I have not forgotten my public pledge to write two more posts referencing the final two of those fourteen titles. In fact, I privately determined that I would publish nothing else on my blog until I had made good on my Lenten pledge. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: Grounded (Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution)
I tend to procrastinate; it’s in my nature. I’ve convinced myself that I do my best work under the pressure of a deadline. Since I’ve hardly ever completed an assignment apart from that kind of pressure, and since I have, on occasion, produced some pretty good work, I have perpetuated that perception in my own mind.
In my defense, I don’t think I am lazy. Mainly, especially when it comes to jobs I either enjoy or at least don’t mind doing, the problem is that I simply underestimate the time required to do the work, so I start later than I should and find myself rushing to finish on time. That problem increases exponentially, however, when the task facing me is one I really didn’t want to do in the first place. In that case, my procrastination tendency reaches crisis proportions. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: Broken Words—The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics
As you know, if you read this blog at all regularly, for my Lenten discipline this year, I selected fourteen titles from my “New Books” shelf and will devote a separate blog post—two per week across the seven weeks of Lent—to each of them. This post is number ten in the series.
In choosing these fourteen titles, I left twice that many on that same “New Books” shelf (yes, I buy books much faster than I read them), but I have derived such benefit from this exercise that I may continue the practice, at the rate of one book/post per week, even after Lent is over. I’m thinking of calling that weekly post “Library Friday.” I’ll of course let you know if I decide to undertake a schedule like that, and if I do, I’ll publish, in advance, a list of the titles I plan to read and write about over the next few months. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
I graduated from high school in 1967. I took a course in American History in both the eighth and eleventh grades, and both teachers were good at their jobs. But neither my teachers nor my textbooks exposed me to the information and the point of view presented by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in her 2014 book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.
I am no historian, but three observations seem indisputable. First, much of world history is the story of conflict—often between nations, races, or ethnic identities, but sometimes within the same people group. Second, the primary cause for conflict is economic and/or material, as when one group lays claim to some entity already claimed by another group (generally land and the wealth that comes with it), and conflict ensues. Third, the historical narrative describing the conflict, its causes and its outcome, is generally written by the winner. That was definitely true of the history textbooks I studied in school. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: Between the World and Me
I first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates through his writing in The Atlantic magazine. His article titled “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue is one of the finest examples of long-form journalism I have ever read. The article’s subhead effectively summarizes his point: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
By the time I read that article, a similar thesis had been percolating in my brain forseveral years. My thinking did not address the question of reparations, and I don’t think Coates really believes that will ever really materialize. His larger point, I believe, was that, while some kind of monetary reparation would be fair and helpful, if a strong majority of white Americans would simply come to believe in the justice of the idea, that would go a long way toward healing the gaping wounds left by the historical realities summarized in his article’s subhead. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: The Very Good Gospel
For most of my life I gladly identified with the subset of Christianity known as evangelicalism. That was the community in which I had come to faith in Christ, the context where I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began the years-long program of study by which I hoped to prepare myself to fulfill that call.
I liked the word evangelical. Basically it was the English transliteration of a Greek word, euangelion, which essentially meant “good news.” That Greek word is generally translated “gospel” in most English versions of the New Testament, and the word evangelical seemed to say that the people who claimed that designation must surely have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: Convictions
Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.
Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading
A Little Farther Down the Path: The Great Spiritual Migration
I am not the same person I was twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago. Neither are you, although for some of us, the differences are more stark, more startling, especially when they involve, as they do in my case, changes in fundamental beliefs arising from a change in many of the presuppositions that underlie my worldview. As I’ve written so often that it almost sounds cliché (at least to me), if you change your underlying presuppositions about life and reality, your belief structure is bound to change, and you will draw significantly different conclusions about priorities, meaning, and how you should live your life. Continue reading
From A Distance
It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.
I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading