Sunday, August 30, 2009

800,000 Words

Eva Jean Wrather was Alexander Campbell's modern-day biographer. At her death in 2001, she had written over 800,000 words about Campbell, covering over 3,200 pages. Duane Cummins, past president of Bethany College and past Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), acted as her editor, before and after her death, to structure her research and writing into a three-volume work entitled Alexander Campbell: Adventurer in Freedom.

I received an email notice this week from Amazon saying that Volume 3 has now been published. Here's the ground covered in each:
Volume 1: the early years
Volume 2: the Christian Baptist years - 1823 to 1830
Volume 3: Campbell's later years

Disciple Bloggers

Want to know what Disciples are thinking and writing about around the country? Disciple World has a listing of approximately 50 DOC bloggers. If you don't have time for the entire list, here are a few samples of Disciple diversity:

Davison's Doodle

Oscar the Pastor

Any Day a Beautiful Change

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Disciple World

Thinking of web sites, here is a reminder to visit Disciple World, A Journal of News, Opinion, and Mission for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) See there, the article by Verity Jones called "A Beautiful Tapestry of Diversity."

Jones and Disciple World co-editor, Sherri Wood Emmons, also have a new blog called Between the Lines. Check it out here.

Social Media Revolution

Thanks to Tony Karrer at eLearning Technology for posting this YouTube video on Social Media. It speaks to the communication revolution happening around us and to us. And of course there are major implications for the church.

PC Magazine's Top 100

PC Magazine gives us their take on the top web sites and trends of 2009. They divide the sites into Classic and Undiscovered. Here are two of my favorites from the latter:

1000 Awesome Things -#690: When the person scratching your back finds the really itchy spot.


Shorpy - retro photos taken between 1850 and 1950.

The Boss Turns 60

Bruce Springsteen turns 60 in September, and he's on the cover of AARP Magazine!

But here's why America needs Bruce now more then ever, according to Ariel Swatley at AARP.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The ben Ya'ir Ostracon

Excavations at Masada found 11 inscribed potsherds (ostraca) containing individual names. One of the names, ben Ya'ir, is believed to be that of Eleazar ben Ya'ir, leader of the Masada defenders (see above).

Josephus provides an account of how the defenders and their families chose to take their own lives rather than submit to the Romans who were on the verge of taking their stronghold. Lots (potsherds with names printed on them) were cast to determine which Jewish soldiers would take the lives of the others. This decision technique provides insight into Luke's account of the selection of the replacement for Judas through the casting of lots in Acts 1.

For more about the last days at Masada, including part of the Josephus account, read Ehud Netzer's article from Biblical Archaeology Review by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Presentation Zen and The 12th Wo/Man

Garr Reynolds' book, Presentation Zen, has had a big impact on how I think and use PowerPoint. Reynolds, like most of us, has experienced "death by PowerPoint" and his book is a call to recognize basic design principles, focusing on concepts, not bulleted lists. On Sunday, I used PowerPoint and Reynold's ideas in delivering the sermon at Hillside. Here are a few slides that supported the scriptural exposition of Acts 1:21-26:

The graphics seemed to help listeners to follow my presentation. But I'm not the best one to judge.

Jesus on the Road to Nicaea

April DeConick has begun her new series on Christological development during the 2nd and 3rd centuries called Jesus on the Road to Nicaea. In this initial installment, she summarizes the three earliest paradigms discussed in her previous series on Creating Jesus.

Syllabi From J. McGrath

I'm always delighted when one of the biblioblogging professors provides us with course outlines and reading resources. James McGrath has links to his courses on the Bible and the Historical Jesus. It's always helpful to see the reading lists and course structure. And the Historical Jesus syllabus is quite extensive with lecture notes and links to online resources.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Organized Religion's "Management Problem"

Gary Hamel, best-selling business writer and Wall Street Journal blogger, recently spoke at Willow Creek Community Church's Leadership Summit. There he suggested that organizations lose their relevance when their rate of internal change lags the pace of external change.

In the above titled blog post, Hamel argues that the church's problem is not atheism, materialism, skepticism, etc. Rather the church's "management problem" is INERTIA!

And he rhetorically asks what forces of inertia are keeping us (organizations) from changing as fast as we need to. What would be my congregation's response? Our Disciple leaders' response? Your response?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ELCA and Gay/Lesbian Pastors

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the major mainline Protestant denominations, voted on Friday, August 21, at their national Assembly to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in a committed relationship. The vote was 559 to 451 or approximately 55% of the total. (See details here.)

It remains to be seen if this vote will prove as divisive to the Lutheran community as it has in the Episcopal fellowship.

If your church should vote on the issue, what do you think the percentage for/against would be? If Disciples had voted on the issue at our recent General Assembly, what would have been the result?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who Is Your Jesus?

Jim Burklo at The Center for Progressive Christianity asks "Who is your Jesus" in light of the difficulty in ascertaining the "historical Jesus." Whether you agree or disagree with his historical skepticism, his musings on how we give meaning to Jesus in our present day is worth pondering.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More on Prayers and Lots

One of the values of blogging is that you can get immediate feedback. Indirectly, a reader who is a minister suggested the post on Apostolic Succession did not properly account for the role of prayer in the selection of Matthias. And I would agree with him. Here's why.

A well documented characteristic of Luke's writing is his emphasis on prayer. A generalizing summary in Acts 1:14 is designed to show the early community's devotion to prayer, and this is followed by another summary in Acts 2:42 that also includes prayer.

Since these summaries do not provide specifics, the historical context and manner of their prayer life is difficult to judge. What did Luke have in mind when he composed these summaries? Did he think of private prayers (Mt. 6:6)? Corporate prayers as in the synagogue? Recitation of the Lord's prayer (as in in Luke 9:2-4)? Temple prayer at the time of sacrifice (Acts 3:1)? All of the above?

Luke surely wanted us to see the devotion of these first disciples. That's what makes the "casting of lots" episode in Acts 1:21-26 all the more interesting. No specifics of prayer are provided other than 1) it is addressed to the Lord and 2) it is offered in conjunction with the casting of lots. And the story concludes with the lot falling on Matthias.

Luke seems to witness to a time when the use of lots was still seen as a viable way of discerning the will of God (Proverbs 16:33), even a community who devoted themselves to God in prayer.

Question: Is the "Lord" in Acts 1:24 a reference to Jesus or God?

The Tabor Blog

Scholars are trained to communicate what they "think" about the Bible. Rarely do we get know what they "feel" about scripture. So here's a chance to have one biblical scholar, James Tabor, share his appreciation for our ancient texts and why he is drawn to the Hebrew prophets and put off by early Christianity, especially the systematic interpretations of Paul and the Gospel of John.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Great Communion

The Disciples of Christ Historical Society has established a task force and an official website to promote the celebration of World Communion Day on October 4 in a special way. The plan is for all three wings of the Stone-Campbell movement to share communion, worship together, and remember our common heritage. In this video clip, Doug Foster from Abilene University who chairs the task force shares the history and significance of this opportunity.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Where Stone-Campbell Christians Live

Here is a very insightful map that shows clearly where Stone-Campbell membership reside. Click here to see a larger image. Restoration Christians includes Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, and Christian Churches. It's clear that we haven't progressed all that much geographically from our frontier days.

The Valparaiso geography department mapped the data based on the research from the Glenmary Research Center. See other images at Flowing Data.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Casting Lots and Apostolic Succession

One of the odd stories about the origin of the Christian Church that is provided in the Book of Acts is the selection of a replacement for the traitor, Judas. The story found in Acts 1:21-25 narrates the importance of choosing a replacement, and the process to choose the new 12th man. There appears to be only one criteria for selection--the individual must have been a disciple of Jesus who had been with him from the time of his baptism to his ascension.

Two men were brought forward, Matthias and Justus, and Matthias was selected by casting lots. No prayers, no fasting, no spiritual discernment. He was selected rather by a game of chance. And the outcome was deemed the will of God!

In my opinion, the law of probability was at work here, not the will of God.

Post Script: I should point out that there was really a second criteria for apostolic succession in the Acts account--the candidate must be "male." Again, in my opinion, that was a cultural criteria and had nothing to do with God's will. In other words, the Bible neither teaches that "rolling dice" is a method for strategic decision making in the church nor that only men are qualified to hold leadership positions in the church of Christ.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are Cowboys Calvinists?

Because of the focus on right and wrong in many Cowboy songs, Bill G. asked in the comments of the previous post: "Are cowboys Calvinists?" While Calvinist traces are certainly evident as Bill has noted (think of the Calvinist work ethic in When the Works All Done Next Fall), the evidence suggests a broader ecumenical outlook, tinged with Eastern mysticism. For your consideration:

1. Many cowboys eschewed instrumental music, even the lowly harmonica, and instead utilized the acapella yodel to calm a restless herd. This suggests a close connection with the Church of Christ.
2. Tyin' Knots in the Devil's Tail shows an affinity with Assembly of God theology.
3. Happy Trails seem a clear tie to the positive thinking of the Unity movement here in Kansas City.
4. Cool Water, when read metaphorically, is a Baptist song, calling for water sufficient for total immersion.
5. Open fellowship around the campfire (Blazing Saddles anyone) is certainly an inclusive approach fostered by Disciples
6. And finally, this poem by Wallace McCrae called Reincarnation shows how cowboys could incorporate Eastern religious thinking into their view of life and death:

"What is reincarnation?" A cowboy asked his friend.
His friend replied "Well Son,
it happens when your life has reached its end.
You see, they comb your hair and they wash your neck
and they clean your fingernails.
And they put you down in a batted box
far away from life's prevails.
Now the box and you goes in a hole
that's been dug into the ground.
And reincarnation starts
when you're planted beneath the mound.
You see the box melts down just like the clods
with you who is inside.
And then, you're just beginning your transformation ride".

"Well, in a while some rain's
gonna come and fall upon the ground.
'Til one day on your lonely little grave,
a little flower will be found.
And say a hoss should wander by
and graze upon the flower
that once was you but now becomes
a vegetative bower.
That little flower that the hoss done ate up
with all his other feed
becomes bone and fat and muscle,
essentials for the steed.
But some he's consumed, he can't use.
So it passes through.
Finally it lays there on the ground,
this thing that once was you.

And then say that I should wander by
and gaze upon the ground.
And wonder and ponder
on this object that I've found.
Well it sure makes me think of reincarnation,
of life and death and such.
And I ride away concludin' -
You ain't changed all that much"

This leads me to believe that cowboys were not Calvinist! But I could be wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Church as a Sporting Event

BluefishTV has a great video clip that Ben Witherington has posted. What if ESPN covered church services. Here's just what it might look/sound like. I especially like the introduction of ministers. Perhaps we should consider this at Hillside. (Hope you're ready for a chuckle.)

Cowboy Songs and Theology

In 1959, Marty Robbins released Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, an instant classic. The cut, El Paso, was a big hit, but for my taste Big Iron was the better song. So with that in mind, what are the greatest Western songs of all time. Here's my top ten (in no particular order):

1. Big Iron - Marty Robbins
2. Cattle Call - Eddie Arnold
3. Back in the Saddle Again - Gene Autry
4. Tumbling Tumble Weed - Sons of the Pioneers
5. Ghost Riders in the Sky - tie Johnny Cash and Riders in the Sky
6. Charlie and the Boys - Sons of the San Joaquin
7. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys - Willie Nelson
8. Cowboy Logic - Michael Martin Murphy
9. San Antonio Rose - Bob Wills
10. I Want a Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart - Patsy Montana
Bonus: Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys - Waylon and Willie

Since cowboy songs are the purest form of theological reflection, let me hear your list. Be prepared to defend your cowboy theology!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Genesis One

The Jesus Creed has started a multi-part series on Genesis 1 based on the new book by Wheaton professor John Walton entitled The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Walton asks and attempts to answer the question: "What did the text mean in context?"

He sees evangelical creation science as misguided and rightly suggests that this text reflects an ancient cosmology and should not be taken as a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe. Walton is an evangelical and his criticism of much evangelical thinking in regard to Genesis is interesting to observe.

Job Loss

A former co-worker just emailed me that his management/training job was just eliminated at a major restaurant chain. All of us can probably share a similar story, perhaps about our self.

This interactive map from Slate vividly documents the loss of over 5 million jobs in the American economy since 2007.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How Much Does It Matter?

Here's a question posed by Mr. Bill in our Sunday morning adult education class: "How much does it matter to you that the gospel stories may not be historical?"

As I ponder that question, here are a few things that come to mind that are shaping my initial response:
  • Jesus never wrote anything; we have no first-person record of his sayings/actions as we have with the writings of the apostle Paul
  • None of Jesus' 12 apostles wrote the gospels (one of the "assured" results of historical inquiry)
  • The gospels were written 40 - 70 years after the death of Jesus
  • Each gospel presents a unique picture of Jesus as seen from the writer's perspective
  • The gospels are clearly "devotional" documents, not historical documents
  • The Gospel of John gives us the clearest evidence of how theology is at work in gospel composition, but the other three are also theologically driven
  • The nature miracles make no sense historically, they make perfect sense theologically
  • Scholars can not agree on criteria for the evaluation of the saying of Jesus
  • The memory of Jesus was dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of oral tradition
  • The Jesus tradition seems well placed in the social/political situation of the day
  • First century historiography was different from our own
  • We have no way of knowing what comes from the historical Jesus, even though the setting for the story seems well placed.
  • Whether you use only the canonical gospels or supplement with data from the non-canonicals, we are still left with an historical construct that may or not be accurate.
  • Does it matter? Not if the gospels are viewed as religious/devotional documents that act as sacrament, allowing us to experience the creative Spirit of the universe.
  • As a part of our tradition, we believe that the canonical gospels provide us with what we need to know about Jesus
History is interesting, but theology takes us to the throne of God!

Christological Development

Here's the bad news. April DeConick is bringing to an end her Creating Jesus series. Number 24 is simply titled "Transmutative Soteriology." OK it may not be simple, but it's helpful in tracing the development of Christological thinking in the early church.

Here's the good news. Jesus on the Road to Nicea, a new series of posts, will give us April's take on theological reflections on the person of Jesus in the second century through the Council of Nicea (325 CE).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Another Disciple Blogger

Bob Cornwall is a Disciples pastor at Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Michigan. He is an active blogger, and his Ponderings on a Faith Journey is worth keeping in touch with. This post on Wholeness and Unity will give you a flavor for his work. I think it's helpful to check in with other Disciples in the "blogosphere" to better gauge what's going on in our denomination.

School Days, School Days

As many students head back to school, this chart of miscellaneous facts about the current state of public education by the folks at Good seems timely. Among the interesting facts, Louisiana has the worst 8th grade reading scores among the states. 83% of students were in the "below proficient" category. Another: the smallest statewide enrollment goes to Wyoming with 84,409 students.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How Did You Spend Your Day?

How did you spend your day? A couple of hours studying theology? Yeah, me neither. But the American Time Use Survey asked thousands of Americans to examine how they spend their time. Check out the results by various demographics at this very interactive New York Times post. While you're there, read the related article.

Late Summer Faith Reading

Bill Tammeus at his Faith Matters Weblog has quite a list of new books for us to consider. Check them out and spend some time with Bill's other recent posts. It will be time well spent.

I think I may be predestined to read the new volume on Calvin, and maybe the one on John Brown too.

"Soft Words Will Not Suffice"

Michael Kinnamon used the words of Peter Ainslie in addressing the Council of Christian Unity and the Disciples of Christ Historical Society at the 2009 General Assembly. Kinnamon fears we are in grave danger of losing our identity as Disciples. According to Disciples News Service, he called on Disciples to do the following:

1. Model our beliefs in our life, especially our justice and anti-racism beliefs
2. Welcome all brothers and sisters, including the gay and lesbian community
3. Teach our beliefs to future generations
4. Support and lift up our identity

For more on Kinnamon's speech, click here and click here.

Disciples Identity Statement

Here is a concise statement that helps us explain to others who we are.

We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord's Table as God has welcomed us.

To read more about how Disciples understand themselves, see the Identity Statement and Principles on the Disciples of Christ website.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Slow Words

If you're not familiar with the Progressive Revival blog, here's a chance to check it out. Diana Butler Bass co-authors the posts there. You may know her from her books. Get to know her better and learn more about a progressive Christian approach to faith, values, and politics. This post looks at the value of "slow words" in light of the recent Gates affair.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Acts and Mission

Scott McKnight begins an extended look at Acts and Mission at the Jesus Creed blog. He promises that the study could last months. Sounds like some of the bible studies I've been a part of or taught. Stone-Campbell churches love to study Acts. Let's check on Scott periodically to see how he handles some of our favorite passages from Luke's second volume.

Common Prayers

I have learned much about faith and biblical tradition by studying about Jewish holidays and theological reflection associated with them. My basic rule: let Jewish believers instruct you on Judaism. And for every rule, there's an exception. Here it is: read Harvey Cox's Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christian's Journey Through the Jewish Year.

Cox is a Christian and teaches at Harvard Divinity School. You may member his best seller from many years ago, The Secular City. After a failed first marriage, Cox remarried a Wellesley professor who was Jewish. They both retained their respective faith traditions and decided to raise the child from their marriage in the Jewish faith.

In Common Prayers, you hear the reflections of a Christian theologian who, through his personal life, comes to new insights into Jewish tradition and the lessons they provide to Christians. Organized around the major Jewish holidays, each chapter is a stand-alone essay on faith that helps us to better understand Judaism and our own Christian journey.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tisha B'Av

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has
she that was great among the
She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt
treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.
Lamentations 1:1-2

Last Thursday on Jewish calendars marked Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av). Both the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE are believed to have occurred on this date. To understand the significance of this event for modern Jews, see these links to Judaism 101 and My Jewish Learning.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Back to School - Lit 100

It's almost time for school to begin. Hard to believe. So to get you into a back-to-school mind frame, click here to see Learn-gasm's list of 100 Ivy-League literature courses we can take for free online. Note #9 on the list--The Bible, offered by MIT. #23 seems interesting. Which one would you consider taking?

Paul and the After Life

In the near future, I would like for us to look at 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul discusses his understanding of resurrection, one of the central tenants of the Christian faith. As a precursor to this, here is a helpful podcast by Duke professor Mark Goodacre on resurrection and the after life in Paul. It's about 9 1/2 minutes long and provides a good jumping-off point for our study.

Online Stone-Campbell Resource

Want to read one of the classic documents from the Stone-Campbell movement? Or check out a portrait/picture gallery of leading Disciples? Maybe peruse a biography? Then visit the Restoration Movement website and discover a wealth of historical treasures. Let me know what you found interesting in your visit.