Sep 19, 2017

A Study for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

In October I will lead a special Sunday School Series highlighting the lasting impact the Reformation has on our lives today. On four Sunday mornings, October 1st, 8th, 15th, and 29th at 9:00 am we will explore radical changes in the way we think about God, Salvation, the Bible, Sin, Predestination, Saints and Sinners. Martin Luther started fundamental reforms by publishing his 95 theses on October 31st, 1517.

If you are able to read your Bible today, thank this medieval monk. Luther popularized the idea that the church should speak the language of the people. No more Latin Mass, no more Bible that only the learned priest can read, but local language for local people. As a matter of fact Luther valued the Bible so much that he declared “sola scriptura”, only the scriptures are the guiding norm for our faith life. He was up against a church hierarchy that took itself way to serious.

One would think that we have learned that lesson. Unfortunately not so. Pew Research just published a study showing that 52% of US Protestants say, “Christians should look both to the Bible and to the church’s official teachings” in order to find God’s truth. The church is overrated once again.

There is a lot of work left to do after 500 years of teaching a theology that values God’s ways more than human ways. Luther clarified the biblical message of salvation very poignantly by distilling it it to the simple fact that we are saved “sola fide”, by faith alone. Yet Pew Research also found that the same 52% of US Protestants say, “both good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven”.

Please join us at St. John’s United Church of Christ those Sunday mornings. No registration is required, no prior knowledge is necessary. You don’t have to commit to anything beyond these four sessions. Because one thing should be clear: There is nothing you could possibly do to earn a place a heaven.

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Sep 12, 2017

Don’t Text and Drive


“I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. (Psalm 119:10, The Message)

When you are texting while driving you are 23 times more likely to cause an accident. While some people may be natural multi-taskers, driving requires single-minded focus. That’s why Texas has a new law in place now that bans texting while driving. Sometimes people just need to be reminded to focus.

God has the same problem. Sometimes we miss the road signs God has posted. We get distracted and lose focus. That is true for individuals as they get busy with work and family. The same is also true for the church itself. Sometimes we lose focus. When I browse the websites of the bigger churches in our area I find one thing they have in common. They all have one clear and precise focus. One is all about music. Another is all about changing your life. A third is all about enjoying yourself on Sunday mornings.

What we can learn from that is pretty simple: “Do one thing and do it well!” When you are driving, do just that. When you are focusing on your spiritual life, pay attention to where God is calling you. The church cannot be everything for everybody. Your spiritual life needs a focus. But please remember: There are other drivers sharing the road. They have different goals, they drive different makes, models, and colors. Every journey is different and that is okay. Just make sure that you are intentionally focused in single-minded pursuit of where God is calling you.

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Aug 1, 2017

On Evolution and how not to read the Bible

I am a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory, both the TV show and the actual theory. On the TV show Dr. Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who at times has to deal with his Bible-thumping mother from Texas. Sheldon’s mom represents a character that only exists in pockets of American society that in many ways disconnect from contemporary discourse. No, creationism, young Earth theory, intelligent design or whatever name people may give their brainchild is not based on Biblical theology or scientific reality.

As a theologian I am most interested in how people approach the Bible and I guess that is really at the core of the creationism debate. Let me be clear: The Bible is not a handbook! It does not tell you how to live your life. It does not tell you how the world came to be and it most certainly does not replace scientific research and study. When you want to find out how the universe came to be, you should ask Dr. Sheldon Cooper and not his mother.

Let’s start in the beginning: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1 NRSV). Of course, children take this literally and I cannot blame them. I did as an eight-year-old. I also had a He-Man action figure that could literally fly. The story of the seven days of creation to a child may well be about how the world came to be. But as critical thinking evolves in our brains it should be the latest in adolescence that we leave our childish thinking behind, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NRSV).

Hopefully our youth get a decent Christian education that enlightens them that the Bible is not one book but rather a library of all kinds of literary products that has evolved over 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The seven day narrative at the beginning was written by priests during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. The narrative has a very clear purpose: Its climax is to set aside the seventh day as a Sabbath to God. Or in modern English: Pastors are telling their flock to go to church on Sunday.

Priests are really good at doing religious stuff. Scientists are really good and doing scientific stuff. They can talk to each and find differences and similarities in their respective fields. After all modern science is a brainchild of middle age scholasticism. But the truth is that God wants us to be experts in our field and respect other experts in their fields, “Let every man abide in the same vocation wherein he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20 GNV). An argumentative shortcut does not do justice to either Biblical theology or scientific reality.

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Jul 26, 2017

To our transgender Soldiers, their Families, and Allies

As an Army Reserve Chaplain I am but a small wheel in the big machinery of the Big Army. But I am posting this to support you today. For years you have had to live in hiding. Just over the last year you were finally officially recognized as valid members of the Army Family. All echelons have undergone training to implement full integration. The trainings that I have helped facilitate showed some of the expected reservations especially around shower questions. This can and will be worked out as it is in militaries around the world.

Today you are under attack again and that is by your boss, our commander-in-chief:

Now to be clear: No policy changes were officially published. So far this is just an individual expressing their opinion. Don’t lose hope! As Soldiers you have memorized the Soldier’s Creed that reminds you, “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.”

Most importantly: don’t quit on life! Too many allies have approached me sharing stories of their transgender battle buddies dying from suicide during or shortly after basic training. The President of the United States telling a group of Soldiers that they are unwanted or somehow deficient endangers lives and undermines military readiness.

If you need somebody to process your reactions to today’s attack on you, please reach out to your chain of command and your chaplain. Your command is trained to be helpful in the transition process. Your chaplain is there to provide you with the spiritual support that you need. For my tradition I may boldly proclaim that you you were created very good. God affirms your true identity.

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Jul 3, 2017

Brexit 1776? – Happy Independence Day!

#Brexit1776
Well-meaning, patriotic, happy American friends share this meme a lot these days. There are indeed a couple of things that the American Declaration of Independence and the British vote to leave the European Union have in common:

1. People want to rid themselves of perceived oppression.
In 1776 the thirteen colonies made their case against King George: “He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”
In 2016 the British electorate did not really know why they did not want to be part of the European Union anymore. As a matter of fact it wasn’t until after the vote that Brits started googling “What Is The EU?”.

2. People are concerned about the status of migrants
In 1776 the biggest concern for America was and ought to be: How can we get the most people here and make them citizens as quickly and as smoothly as possible? The king of England is hurting us by putting up a fence around our borders: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
In 2016 the overall British sentiment was: “We don’t want no refugees!”

If you have to parallel the Brexit of 2016 to an event in American history, I propose 1620. The pilgrims were one group of migrants who formed what later became the United Church of Christ. They declared their #Brexit1620 by leaving Britain and finding a new home in America.
In 2017 the United Church of Christ declared itself an Immigrant Welcoming Church. At #UCCGS the pilgrims’ sons and daughters remember what it means to be a refugee.
July 4th is not a Brexit but opening your welcoming arms to those oppressed by ruthless empires: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

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Jun 27, 2017

A Meditation on the Rainbow

June is LGBT pride month. It stems from protests against the injustice and violence that patrons of the Stonewall Inn had to endure in 1969. We have achieved a lot of progress since. But even in 2017 it still makes sense to wave the rainbow flag boldly. Throughout history its message has been violated. Nazi Germany marked gender-nonconforming people with a pink triangle and gassed them to death alongside the Jews with the star of David on their chest.

The Bible knows the rainbow to be a symbol that God will sustain all of creation no matter what:
“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)
It just so happens that among God’s creatures are also human beings. It also just so happens that 3.8% of the US population identify as LGBT. Now mind you, these are only the people who have had their “coming out”. God’s covenant extends to 100% of living creatures.

For the sake of stability and orientation we make our lives easier by grouping people into certain categories: Nazis labeled Jews, Communists and Perverts. Now we know that gender identity is not as easily labelled as we once thought. What does it mean to be a woman or a man? One is strong, the other is weak? One goes to work, the other stays home? One is emotional, the other is rational? One cooks, the other watches TV? One cleans house, the other mows the yard? One manages the kids’ activities, the other has a hard time remembering what grade they’re in? Wow, my wife is a great man, and I am great woman, or vice versa! Life is much more complex than black or white, male of female, liberal or conservative. Life is a rainbow. There are all kinds of creatures in God’s world. All were made beautiful and “very good.” We may give them labels like Straight or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. Or they may not fit any category and be truly Queer.

That’s what the rainbow is all about. We are not all the same. We are all different. We all have a unique color. We all belong in a particular stripe of the rainbow. But then these stripes overlap. Pure red overlaps with yellow and forms orange between them. Yellow overlaps with blue on the other side to form green. Purple combines red and blue. Where do you fall on the rainbow? What does it mean to be a man or a woman for you?

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May 31, 2017

Chaplain’s Corner: June is Pride Month

The Department of Defense recognizes June as Pride Month. The month of June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. Since then our country has made lots of progress. So:

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May 25, 2017

Two Good Reasons to Remember Ascension Day

Today is a Ascension Day. Most of the time, churches will push the observance to the following Sunday, so more people have a chance to attend. Why should Ascension Day matter to you?

1. If you have a German background you would be pleased to learn that Ascension Day doubles as Father’s Day. Also it comes as a national holiday that is traditionally celebrated with lots of day-drinking.

2. The theological message of Ascension Day is that the resurrected Jesus went back to heaven. On a practically level that means that Jesus is not here! There is Good News in the fact that the church cannot engage in a Führer cult following a person here on Earth.

This week will you find a church that celebrates this important holiday?

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May 23, 2017

Three major holidays that you should not miss this week

Some weeks in the life of the church look so unassuming. What could possibly be special about this week? Well, as pastor I am obliged to give you three perspectives on the next few days that you may otherwise have missed:


The window named “Ascension” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Thursday, May 25, is Ascension Day. It is a major holiday in the Christian tradition. Everybody remembers how Jesus was born on Christmas and was resurrected on Easter. But the final step of the Jesus story is just as important: his ascension into heaven. Luckily for you we will focus on that story next Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ so you won’t miss a thing. Yes, a pastor is a teacher and I am obliged to remind you of the things you need to know about the Christian faith.

Friday, May 26, is the beginning of Ramadan. It is a major holiday in the Muslim tradition. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business, but it is. Because let’s be honest here: How seriously have you been taking the Lenten fast really? I shared my struggles with breaking my caffeine habit. But can you even imagine what it would be like to not eat between sunrise and sunset for an entire month? Our Muslim brothers and sisters live powerful examples of a spiritual practice that we need to get better at again. Yes, a pastor is a spiritual leader and I am obliged to connect you with practices you need to consider.

Monday May 29, is Memorial Day. It is a major holiday in the United States. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business. And to a certain extent that is true. Most Christians in the world have never been to the United States and don’t know what this country celebrates on that day. But for people who live here it plays on an important theme that the Christian tradition has also: Reconciliation! After the Civil War both North and South had regional observances for their own war heroes. By the end of the 19th century a nationwide day had reconciled the memorial into one day for all. That is also what our church’s message is in a nutshell: “That they may all be one” (John 17:21) Yes, a pastor is preacher and I am obliged to find the Good News in all places.

This week I challenge you to look for Christ in the heavens above, try a new spiritual practice for yourself, and work towards reconciliation in our country and around the world.

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May 22, 2017

Trump Far Less Religious Than Obama in His Speech to The Muslim World

In 2009 President Obama received mixed reviews for his famous Cairo speech. Now Donald Trump’s Riyadh Speech is in the books. The 45th president seems to care much less about religious matters than his predecessor. Here is a comparison of their word count when it comes to key spiritual issues:

Obama uses religious verbiage almost three times as much as his successor.
What is your take on this? Do the words a president uses matter?

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