Tag Archives: progressive Christian

Reclaiming Jesus?

30738727_146209712884568_1219961842403639296_nThere’s a lot of talk going on these days about what it means to be a Christian. There are lines being drawn: specifically between the Christianity of the white evangelicals who claim #45 as one of their own and continue to bless his behaviors, actions, and policies and the Christianity of those who see Jesus as the champion of those most impacted by those behaviors, actions, and policies. 

Jesus Suddenly a Hot Topic of Conversation!
I’ve been noticing Jesus popping up in unexpected places. Just this past month, I’ve noticed14716201_10209629251221386_6462186587389417945_n.jpg that on MSNBC’s The Last WordLawrence O’Donnell has been unabashedly preaching about Jesus in reference to the latest immigration nightmare (see ” These are Animals” and “From Abhorrent to Evil”. Although I am a Proud Member of the Religious Left, it was (pleasantly) startling to hear on a left-leaning network.  

And Now There Is a Movement!
The Reclaiming Jesus statement was released during Lent this year and signed by many leaders of a variety of Christian denominations. And o
n May 24, Reclaiming Jesus held a vigil and demonstration in Washington D.C. to protest #45’s “America First” policies:
 . . . we reject ‘America first’ as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal. We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children . . .We pray that we, as followers of Jesus, will find the depth of faith to match the danger of our political crisis. 

However . . .
I will admit to some hesitancy to endorse this statement. While I applaud the inclusion of shutterstock_692129986issues of racism, misogyny, treatment of the most vulnerable, authoritarian political leadership, and the “regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders,” I was struck by what was not included. There was no mention of respect and support for members of the LGBTQ community. I suspect that it was a line that some signatories could not cross. I did hear that some of the speakers at the worship service before the vigil did affirm our LGBTQ neighbors and denounced homophobia from the pulpit. 
But I wonder how we can use the document without adding another “We Believe” and “Therefore We Reject” paragraph. 

Who Else Is Missing?
I’ve also learned that the probable reason for there being no Lutheran signatory to the Reclaiming Jesus statement is some theological differences. Well, I’d expect that there would be some differences, seeing the list of signatories all the from evangelicals like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallace to progressives like Walter Brueggemann and Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I don’t know what Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s theological issue was. I do know there were many ELCA members, both clergy and lay, at the demonstration. 

The Dilemma
So here’s the quesiton: can I be critical of the ELCA for not signing on because of theological differences while I myself am critical of the statement’s exclusion of  LGBTQ folks, which is probably itself a theological difference? This is where the intrafaith rubber hits the road. IF Christians of varied stripes – and it’s a big if – can come together in agreement that something has got to be done to counter a Christianity in service to empire, then we can be a powerful force for good. 

What do you think? Are there lines in the sand you can’t cross? Can you be part of a movement to reclaim Jesus even if you disagree with some of the other participants?  

Hmm, maybe what we need, in order for us to reclaim Jesus together, is an intrafaith conversation! It might be the most patriotic thing we can do. 

she likes it

 

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Moving toward Pluralism Sunday 2.0

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Since I’ve taken over as coordinator for Pluralism Sunday, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Former coordinator Jim Burklo sent me his files with participating congregations, names of clergy, and email addresses going back to the beginning in 2007. I figured the first thing to do was update the list. So out went an email to 1) introduce myself and 2) ask if they wanted to remain on the distribution list. As you’d expect, a flood of mailer-daemons immediately filled my in-box. There were also a few messages from former participants who were now retired from ministry and didn’t want to continue.

But the surprise was in the messages from former participating clergy who asked to be removed because their congregations emphasize pluralism on a regular basis anyway. I brought this to our worship planning team and found that they agreed. They wondered why we would have one Sunday a year to celebrate religious diversity when we did that all year round.

Well now, I thought, this is an interesting development. I’ve just taken over as coordinator of Pluralism Sunday and my own congregation wants to opt out. Even though for the past four years, we’ve had not just Pluralism Sunday but Pluralism Summer – 12 weeks of guests from a wide variety of traditions (I guess if you put it all together, we’ve actually had 48 Pluralism Sundays in those 4 years alone!).

And we’re not really opting out. Our liturgy has continued to transform into a more interspiritual – although still rooted in Christianity – format. For this year, we’ve decided to have something during the year around the holy days of other religions, inviting some of our interfaith friends back to share their traditions.

Then it occurred to me that something is happening here. It’s clear that some clergy and congregations still need to be encouraged to dip their toes into interfaith waters, especially in the context of Sunday worship. But it’s also becoming clear that many have moved beyond the toe-dipping stage and are swimming in the deep water. And I think these clergy and congregations have something to contribute: resources, experiences, collective wisdom, etc.

So I’m wondering if we need to be thinking about Pluralism Sunday 2.0. I know that I’d appreciate discussion on being a Christian church seeking to embrace pluralism. Issues around liturgy, biblical interpretation, hymnody come to mind. Also addressing questions and concerns in the congregation thoughtfully and pastorally.

So the next stage is to revise the website. And not only update information about this year’s Pluralism Sunday, but add a 2.0 page as well. I hope those congregations who’ve opted out will opt back in and participate. I hope that others will join in, too.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and ideas.

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Pluralism and Election Politics

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How different might this election cycle have been had more voters been willing to be curious about, understand, accept, or even embrace a pluralist nation, rather than panic in the face of “the other? – Kate Blanchard

Kate Blanchard, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Alma College, asks a very important question. If we think that engaging in interfaith activities and education is just a nice “add-on” to the more important work of ministry in our churches, we are sadly mistaken.

And if part of our hesitancy of doing  it is that people within our congregations might disagree on some of the issues that will be raised, we need to buckle up and prepare for the ride.

It would be strange if there were not differences of opinions and beliefs within a group of people – even in our credal, doctrinal churches. Trust me; if you allow people to express themselves and ask questions without fear of being branded heretics, you’ll discover a wealth of theological perspectives. Maybe that’s why so many leaders don’t want to ask!

But the truth is that people do have minds of their own, they do think about spiritual and theological matters, and they do form opinions about other belief (and non-belief) systems.

A wise leader would be willing to enter into the experience of interfaith and intrafaith discussions, not in order to tell people what to think and believe, but to facilitate the process of discovery.

As Professor Blanchard’s question articulates so well, this isn’t an abstract matter. There are concrete consequences to our avoidance of the challenges of pluralism. 

 

Not That Kind of Christian!

backto3It’s a tough time to be a Christian. More and more, we’re being forced to choose what kind of Christianity we shall be identified with. Evangelical, fundamentalist, progressive, traditional, conservative, liberal: the labels aren’t that simple.

In this presidential election campaign, a rift has split evangelical Christians. The candidacy of Donald Trump has required many evangelicals to do theological gymnastics to defend their candidate. Even after the release of the video which graphically revealed Trump’s ugly, misogynistic character, his defenders stood fast. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council, said Trump is “still the best candidate to reverse the downward spiral this nation is irotaten.”

But other evangelicals disagree. In a letter published on September 28 (so even before the video was made public), about 100 evangelical Christian leaders, including Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis, condemned Trump’s candidacy. Some snippets from “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump:
Wallis and AOS book, 2.jpgWe believe that racism strikes at the heart of the gospel; we believe that racial justice and reconciliation is at the core of the message of Jesus.
We believe the candidacy of Donald J. Trump has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in white culture – both explicit and implicit.
We . . . simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled.

Although I don’t agree with all of the theology expressed in the letter, what I like about it (besides its condemnation of Trump) is its unapologetic Christian witness. They clearly do make the disclaimer of “not that kind of Christian”:
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of “evangelical” with mostly white, politically conservative, older men. We are not those evangelicals. The media’s narrow labels of our community perpetuate stereotypes, ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians.

But they also clearly say what kind of Christians they are. We progressives often fail to do that. We’re very good at saying “not that kind of Christian!” but not always so good about putting our beliefs out there. So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, here’s my declaration:

As a progressive Christian, I am a follower of Rabbi Jesus, who consistently taught that the realm of God is near, within us and around us. My role as a citizen of my community, country, and world is defined by the example of Jesus, which includes boundary-crossing, inclusivity, and prophetic witness in the face of oppression. It is also defined by the teachings of Jesus, which include compassion, forgiveness, and concern for the “least of these.”

I also believe in the mystical body of Christ, which I do not see as limited to Christianity. One might call this the Cosmic Christ, the Tao, the Universe, or Buddha Nature. In this body, in which all things are interconnected, there is no separation between divinity and humanity, humanity and the rest of creation, male and female, body and spirit, etc., etc. My connection to this great web of life is what gives me the inspiration and ability to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Therefore, as a progressive Christian, I cannot condone the misogynistic behaviors, the racist rhetoric, or unethical business practices of Donald Trump. I just can’t imagine what Jesus those evangelicals who continue to make excuses for him follow.

I am unapologetically (not arrogantly, exclusivistically, or obnoxiously) Christian – just  not that kind. 13722038_975213099262133_1521863844_n

 

 

 

 

Should the Atheist Pastor Be Defrocked?

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When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, ‘Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?’ – Quentin Crisp
Tell me about the God you don’t believe in – Marcus Borg

 

Atheism is a tricky business – especially these days. It used to be simple: an atheist was someone who didn’t believe in God. Then many of us read or heard Marcus Borg describe his many conversations with university students. He recounts, “Every term, one or more of them says to me after class,‘This is all very interesting, but I have a problem every time you use the word ‘God’ because, you see’ – here there’s usually a pause and a deep breath – ‘I really don’t believe in God.’ I always respond the same way: ‘Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.’”*

As Borg tells it, the student then describes a version of God that he or she perhaps learned in Sunday school, from his or her parents or simply from popular culture. When Borg says, “ Well, I don’t believe in that God either,” a space opens up for conversation about other possible ways of understanding the Divine.
The United Church of Canada had an opportunity to enter such a space for conversation. Last week a review committee that found Gretta Vosper, pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto “not suitable” to continue in her pastoral role because she doesn’t believe in God. Now she faces a formal hearing to determine whether or not she should13174092_952285084869494_4268620792734363335_n be defrocked.
A petition circulating in support of Rev. Vosper concludes:
“Persuaded that the theological conversation Gretta Vosper has provoked is a matter for dialogue and not a matter for discipline; we, the undersigned, urge the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference to reject the recommendations of the report of the Conference Interview Committee.”But what does Gretta Vosper believe? It might be easier to begin with what she does not believe: “I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God.”

At her ordination in 1993, when asked if she believed in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She said yes, speaking metaphorically. Eight years later, she began to deconstruct the idea of God. She said, “Our hymns and our prayers and the way that we did things, they all reinforced this idea of a supernatural divine being who intervened in human affairs. I just took it apart – I was not willing to continue to let (my congregation) think that I believed in that kind of God.” The worship service now uses more metaphorical interpretation of religious symbols and places emphasis a strong emphasis on environmental and social justice.
She’s been controversial, to be sure. The congregation has undergone a severe decline in membership. However, those who’ve stayed are steadfast. One member has said, “West Hill is the future of what religion will be like. We’re thinking and saying what the rest of the world is scared to, but moving towards.”
So is Vosper a church-wrecking heretic? Or a prophet, pushing to bring the “God” conversation into the church – a role she describes as “irritating the church into the 21st century”
 As more people discover that there are other ways of thinking about their concept of God, the old definition of “not believing” becomes more problematic. Agree with Vosper or not, she is bringing to the fore a conversation that needs to happen. Heresy trials aren’t the way to go.

 

*Borg, Marcus, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. New York: HarperCollins, 2003, 68-69.

9/11 and the INTRAfaith Conversation

img_1470I returned to the Jersey shore this summer. I hadn’t been there since 2001. In fact, I was in Ocean City on 9/11/2001. As I watched the towers fall on TV, I could see fighter planes and helicopters flying up the coast. It’s not something you forget. Of course, others have more horrific and tragic stories to tell. But for those of us who were old enough to be aware of what was happening at the time, we’ll always remember where we were on that day. And we should remember: those who died, their families, the first responders, the ongoing after-effects of trauma.alg-flag-jpg

But we should also remember other stories. In Ocean City – and I’m sure in many other
places as well – there was a run on American flags. A friend who was staying with me that week was determined to get a flag to hang off our balcony. I was conflicted about it. I didn’t want to hang a flag off my balcony; I’m not a big fan of flags in the first place. So I was quietly thrilled that every store was sold out.

I also remember overhearing conversations that included words like “rag-heads” and “towel-heads” and references to the Qur’an that were either completely false or taken out of context. The first hate crime reported as a result of 9/11 didn’t happen until the 15th, but the seeds were being sown.

I was due back in the pulpit on September 16. Obviously, I’d have to talk about 9/11. I decided to try to make the service a combination of remembrance, lamentation, and confession. The remembrance and lamentation parts were fairly easy to do, and there were lots of resources being sent out for use that Sunday.

But I was determined not to let us off the hook for our part in the rise of global terrorism. Simplistic answers to “Why do they hate us?” make my blood boil. “Because they hate our freedoms” isn’t an informed answer. We Americans are famous for our ignorance about history, geography, and geopolitical affairs. It takes only a scratch of the surface to find reasons for resentment of American arrogance throughout the world. Even our remembrances of 9/11 will usually neglect to mention the acts of violence and terrorism experienced by people of other countries each and every day.

Do I condone terrorism? Absolutely not. Do I understand it. Definitely yes.

So on that Sunday I tried to gently insert some reminders of our own American culpability. I don’t know how well I pulled it off. I do know that at the end of the service, one member asked if we could sing “God Bless America.” I didn’t handle it well. Following Nancy Reagan’s advice I “just said no.” Looking back, it would have been an opportunity to suggest singing “Finlandia” (“This Is My Song”). Here it is, sung by Joan Baez.

This is my song, O God of all the nations, joan_baez
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

So what will we do this Sunday? Will we have only remembrances and memorials? Or will we acknowledge the ongoing interfaith and intrafaith work we still have to do in knowing and understanding ourselves and our neighbors?

 

Pluralism Summer Week 10: Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy–CA

martin-luther-1No, our Pluralism Summer speaker this week is not Martin Luther! But as a Lutheran pastor, I would be remiss in neglecting the contribution of Luther to the subject of religion and politics. While his Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms may not seem to be the sexiest topic for a summer interfaith series,  in reality it was – and still – is a controversial subject. How many times have you heard (or said) that the church is no place to discuss politics? Well, Luther did draw a clear line between spiritual and secular authority and said that the two realms should never be confused.

The trouble is that his writings on the subject particularly in Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed have been interpreted in various ways. Critics claim that Luther paved the way,  not only for the secularisation of society but also for what would become the ideology of National Socialism in 20th century Germany.That’s a hard pill for a good Lutheran to swallow. And coupled with Luther’s unfortunate anti-Semitic writings, a double dose of history to be reconciled.

Fortunately, other interpretations have prevailed. David Lose, for example, currently president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, in an article entitled “The Ambidextrous God: Luther on Faith and Politics,” asserts that “Luther expects that we ask, not whether God is at work in the political institutions of our world, but rather, and always, how.” No unmoveable line between the two realms there.

19307_10203771415674714_8834993001436362622_nHaving heard from other traditions on the subject of the intersection of religion and politics, it is certainly appropriate to hear from someone working in both realms. In fact, it is an intrafaith conversation, since we’ve heard from other Christian traditions, such as Mennonites and Quakers. There are differences.

So Mark Carlson, director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy-CA in Sacramento, part of the political advocacy ministry of the ELCA, will be at First United this Sunday to take on the job of telling us how he sees God at work in the political institutions of our world.

Or not – and what we can do about it.


Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers. 
We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation. 

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

A few words about our service:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we believe that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome

Pluralism Summer Week Nine: Elaine Donlin Sensei, Buddhist Church of SF

elaineI’m happy to announce a return visit from Elaine Donlin of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, which is the oldest Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhist Church in America. Elaine is an ordained priest and a Minister’s Assistant and has been teaching the Essentials of Buddhism since 2008. She serves as Buddhist Community Clergy for several SF Hospitals, as well as, partners with the SF Zen Center to provide Meditation and Buddhism in the SF County Jails. She is also a founding member of the BCSF LGBTQQ group.

Elaine has become a good friend of First United. She and Rev. Ron Kobata were in attendance at our big anniversary celebration back in April. Elaine has also shared with me some resources she’s been using in intrafaith conversations in the Buddhist community.

I’m looking forward to hearing about how her practice informs her politics and her work in the world.
Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.

A few words about First United:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome!

 

Pluralism Summer Week 8: Society of Friends (Quaker)

laura headshotNext up in our summer of “religion and politics” is Laura Magnani from the Quaker tradition. Laura is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program in California and has worked on criminal justice issues for over 35 years. She wrote “America’s First Penitentiary: A 200 Year Old Failure in 1990” and co-authored the AFSC publication, “Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System” in 2006. She is also a  nationally known expert on solitary confinement. We are honored to have her as a speaker in our summer series.

A few words about First United:effc5190d0f805a4130997d6703a5eef

Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the
Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome!

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.

Pluralism Summer Week 7: Archbishop Franzo King

st_john_coltrane_fmivnlThe Church of St. John Coltrane was in the news a while back because of the loss of their worship space on Fillmore Street. No one was sure where they would go or if this unique expression of spirituality and worship would be lost. Thankfully, in April, they took up residence along with us at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. They join, not only 10155866_10153102768389325_6707118149508077725_nFirst United and St. Cyprian’s, but also Sophia in Trinity (the Roman Catholic Womanpriest congregation) and Middle Circle (First United’s outreach to the spiritually independent).

The corner of Turk & Lyon has become quite the  eclectic center!125

This Sunday, we are delighted to have as our guest speaker Archbishop Franzo W. King, co-founder of The Church of St. John Coltrane and presently Archbishop of the African Orthodox Church-Jurisdiction West. He is also a founding Member of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

This will undoubtedly be a highlight in our summer series!
And, as always, regardless of what you believe or don’t believe, all are welcome.

 

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.