Aug 9, 2016

Who is in charge of preaching?

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Our congregation just had a meeting where the entire membership approved financial reports. That’s the way we conduct ourselves as a church. There is no higher authority than the gathered congregation. Did you know that that is true particularly as it comes to preaching? Here is how that works: The congregation builds its own pulpit. Then they hire a pastor and she or he is then in charge of preparing and delivering sermons on behalf of the congregation.

Who decides what is preached every Sunday?
In too many churches pastors decide what they want to preach about. That way you usually end up with her or his favorite passages and topics. Or they are trying to please their church but telling them what they want to hear. As a liturgical church we follow the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides the biblical readings for each Sunday and Holiday. In most mainline Protestant churches you will hear a sermon on the same passages of Scripture on the same Sunday. When you are travelling or moving you fit right in and can pick up where you left off.

With the new school year right around the corner I want to bring these two strengths of our tradition together: On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 pm our Bible Study group will be discussing the lectionary texts for one of the following Sundays. Everyone is welcome! Just because you are reading this invitation here today you are qualified. It means you care about what is going on at the church. That also makes you responsible for its preaching. So please join the conversation. It all starts on August 23 at 6pm.

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Aug 4, 2016

The Labyrinth – A Spiritual Rock Drill

Next semester my Doctor of Ministry class will go on a silent retreat. Sometimes a labyrinth is part of the experience. I first learned to appreciate the practice of walking a labyrinth at La Foret. From there I have taken it on the road and set one up for my Soldiers wherever I can.

Here is a photo from last year’s annual training along with the meditation guide I provide:
labyrinth
A labyrinth is not a maze. It has one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost in it. There are no dead ends. It is a symbol for life: It may seem chaotic but it moves forward steadily.
As you enter please imagine how you are descending into darkness. A labyrinth has dungeon qualities to it. Ancient cultures have imagined all kinds of creatures in those caverns. It can be a dangerous and deadly place.
Just like the path of life leads to death so is your way into the labyrinth. As you step in you step from light into darkness. The light fades away more and more the deeper you get into it. As you enter please imagine your journey as the challenges and hardships you face in life: the turns you are forced to make, the dirt you have to walk through.
A labyrinth has a center. Once you are in the center stay there for a while. Rest. Celebrate your arrival. You made it through all of life’s troubles. If you are religious person consider this the end state of your existence whether you call it heaven or Nirvana or however you name it. Maybe for you it’s just the great emptiness.
When you are ready make your way out again. Take with you the strength of having been there before. As you walk out remember how you overcame all those troubles. After all you are walking back towards the light. Find signs of hope along your journey. Remember resources for personal strength that you can tap into. From my Christian perspective I call this part resurrection life. Out of death back to life. From darkness back to the light.
This is a spiritual exercise. If you have an urge to walk really fast get some physical exercise first and come back when you are ready to walk slowly. This exercise works best in total silence. If that does not work for you right now please come back when it does. Find your own pace. Some of the images that may pop up along the journey may make you slow down, some may make you want to speed up and run away. Find your own pace, yet be mindful of others.

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Aug 4, 2016

Who Moved My Cheese?


Hem and Haw found their cheese in a prayer that they said every day, in the same fashion, in the same posture. Eventually they did no longer find what they were looking for in that ritual. I don’t think the Lord’s Prayer is like Cheese Station C that ran out of cheese. I think the Lord’s Prayer is like the maze that contains many different Cheese Stations. If it does not nourish you right now it is time for you to change. It is time to get your running shoes on and go deeper into the words and that may bring them back to life.

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Aug 1, 2016

Feedly brings me back to blogging

I first started my blog in 2004. It was messy in the beginning. 2005 through 2013 were the happiest days of my blogging life. During that period Google provided the Google Reader. With that tool I could easily manage my blog subscriptions and follow whom and what I wanted to read. Since 2013 I have practically abandoned traditional blogging. I have pretty much transitioned to using WordPress as a Content Management System. Blogs have made a comeback for me recently with new alternatives to the Google Reader.

feedly
A good Blogger is a good Blog reader. Before you write you should read – a lot. Thanks to feedly there is again a convenient tool to manage your subscriptions. Now I am free to subscribe to things and persons that matter to me. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate what friends, colleagues and acquaintances share on Facebook or twitter but in my feedly I am in the driver seat and make my own decision on what I want to read.

Now how do you find stuff that interests you? – I am a theologian so I am looking for theological blogs.
Start with what you already read and know:
My church – New Sacred – A United Church of Christ blog
My school – The Houston Graduate School of Theology Blog
A trusted major online publication – The Religion Section of the Huffington Post

Second, find best-of-lists or directories that showcase expertise in your field. An initial search gave me:
Feedspot’s Top 100 Christian Blogs
and
blogrank’s Top 50 Religion blogs

Third, add blogs of people you know and want to follow like this one.

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Jul 25, 2016

Run for the White House 2016

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Have you seen enough Convention coverage yet? Well, here’s part of a speech that you could have heard today, or was it at last week’s convention?

“Welcome to our convention!
If this party wins the White House come November we will be in good shape. In recent years the other party has hurt hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans by clinging to their ideology.
Can you imagine what America would look like if our party held the presidency? We would be able to set things right so that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean something.
Do you remember when the other party was not as nasty in their attacks on us as they are these days? It was a more civil America, where reasoning counted for something. Comprise was not a bad word but the way of getting things done. Now they are so dug into their trenches that you can barely talk to them.
What kind of America do you want? One where our ideals are upheld or one where they have the last word? With one of our own in the White House America has always been better off. The other party has consistently hurt us in the long run. Generations after generations suffer from the hurtful policies they put in place.”

What matters for us as Christians is what policies best reflect kingdom come! If Jesus were to come back today, what kind of America do you want him to find? One where God’s love is lived out or one where political ideologies rule the day? As Christians we cannot be strict followers of one ideology or another. We can only seek the best human equivalent of God’s intention. And parts of that will be found on both sides of the aisle. None of them are a perfect match of heaven. Politics is a human endeavor. As such it is flawed. But it is necessary to seek the best solution. The key is participation in the process.

We can do this! But it takes your vote. Make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure your friends, neighbors and coworkers are registered to vote. If you are not sure you can search for yourself and everybody else in the Fort Bend County Voter Registration Database. If you have a relative or acquaintance who is not listed in that database by October 11, 2016, they won’t be able to vote come November. Now go and do what is most reflective of God’s love to the best of your flawed human knowledge!

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Jul 20, 2016

Shooting for the stars

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This is my Swiss Army Knife. There are many like it but this is mine. It says Porsche on one side because the car dealership my dad used to work for sold cars of that make. Also it has a bad dent in it so I can’t get the toothpick out anymore. I have had it for most of my life and that’s what happens. Along life’s journey we get dinged and bruised and move on regardless. This is my Swiss Army Knife.

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This is Apollo 11. Around this time of year in 1969 they took off to humanity’s first mission to the moon. They had with them all the tools they needed to be successful. Buzz Aldrin even brought along a communion set and celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the Moon. What tools would you need to sustain yourself spiritually for a trip to the moon? What skills would you need to stay in touch with the Divine if you were to spend a whole year on the International Space Station like Scott Kelly did from 2015 until 2016? Going forward this question will only grow bigger: What source of strength do you find in yourself that keeps you sane on a one-way trip to Mars?

Most of us don’t have to plan for extended trips to space. But the question remains: What tools do you need in your pocket to make it through the day? What kind of spiritual Swiss Army Knife do you need in your heart and mind?

For a long time Christians have found it helpful to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. I think of it as the long blade of my spiritual Swiss Army Knife. I can carry it with me wherever I am on life’s journey. It is helpful in many different situations. But then it’s only one piece of equipment among many others that I need in order to make it through the day or all the way to Mars.

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Jul 10, 2016

Caring Neighbors

I had the nicest sermon planned out for this Sunday. It tied in beautifully with today’s passage of the Good Samaritan. It would have been about a neighborhood up in arms because the women’s center wants to build a low incoming housing unit in the area. The kids of these battered women would have attended the nice middle class elementary school. I would have compared the women that were beaten by their men to the poor fellow in the ditch that Jesus is talking about. I would have compared various neighbors in their rejection with the priest and the Levite. Their refusal to help comes from a similar place. It would have been a nice, challenging sermon.

But I am not going to talk about that today. It has been almost a month ago that 49 LGBT persons were shot dead in Orlando. Now this week happened: Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Alton B. Sterling was shot while being arrested. Wednesday evening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota: Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop. Thursday night five Dallas police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, were killed by a sniper.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” That is still a very valid question in our day and age and so I want to take Jesus’s lead in telling the story as if it were meant for us, because it is:

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. It just so happens that we are talking about a young black man in his early twenties. Now by chance a well-intentioned white person happens to come down that road. Do you even stop your car? After all, this fellow is probably a gang member. Maybe there are still more bad guys around. One of his kind will come and help him for sure, sooner or a later. You may slow down. But the odds are you are not going to stop.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. She is all dressed up: short skirt and high heels. Chin bone and chest give away that this woman was born a man. Here pulls up a minivan with a soccer mom with the kids in the car, doing the right thing for her family. Will you stop? She and her husband are working hard to keep their marriage strong and raise their kids with good values. She wants her kids to be normal, raise a family similar to the one they have now. Being exposed to this trans person would confuse or even scare the precious little ones and mommy herself would be very uncomfortable. The good mother hits the pedal and presses on.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. His uniform is soaked in his own blood. This police officer was certainly trying to do the right thing and keep this community safe. Along comes a young black man in his twenties. Seeing the officer in the ditch he has flashbacks of that horrible night when his nephews were caught in the crossfire and shot by police a few years ago. It feels like yesterday. Actually seeing this bleeding officer it feels like right now. What if they find me bent over his dying body? I better make a run.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. He just came back from the mosque, his stomach full after breaking the Ramadan fast. His long beard is drenched in his own blood. A good Christian man comes by while he is doing a food drive in the neighborhood. You know we need to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We collect canned goods for children in need in our own neighborhood and we send Christmas presents to those kids in Africa with their big teary eyes. I would really like to help that guy in the ditch, because I am a very loving and caring person. But honestly I can do more good by collecting some more cans from my neighbors. And by the way: It was people like him who blew up the World Trade Center and keep killing our Soldiers in the Middle East. Why do we need Muslims in our neighborhood anyway?

There are so many reasons not to help. Life is complicated. Answering the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus yells NO IT’S NOT COMPLICATED! Your neighbor is the person lying in the ditch!

Every day people shoot each other dead. The main reason is fear. Fear what would happen if I were to stop and help that person in the ditch. Making the world a better place involves taking risks. If we allow fear to put a lid on love we will just continue to blow each other up.

In 1963 Martin Luther king said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Amen.

(In collaboration with the Rev. Mirjam Haas-Melchior)

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Jun 28, 2016

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind

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The Fourth of July is often interpreted as a breakup story: Abusive mother Britain hurting her children in the colonies. Eventually the kids hit puberty, become rebellious and as soon as they find the willpower and strength they move out. The Declaration of Independence lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs they had to endure our forefathers “solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States”

But guess what: Moving out of your parents’ house after graduation does not disconnect you from them emotionally or culturally. They are still relatives. You still relate to them. Case in point “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” still uses the same tune as “God Save the Queen”. You cannot not relate to family. You may become rebellious and cut them off but that only cements the relationship. The Declaration of Independence naturally addresses “our Brittish brethren”.

Israel’s forefathers share a similar story where Abram and Lot go separate ways. Genesis 13 lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs his shepherds had to endure Abram said to Lot, “Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Despite their physical and economic – political if you will – separation Abram and Lot remained together it what the Bible calls “covenant”. The mutual bonds of a covenantal relationship do not go away just because you declare independence and create your own nation. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The goal of the Declaration of Independence is to remain well connected to the world community: to share reason and power and passion with them, to strengthen the covenant of humanity. Like Abram we are going to be over here on this pasture but we will join the world community in all its major organizations and stay the closest and strongest ally of “our Brittish brethren”. May this 240 year old document continue to inspire us to show “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

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Jun 14, 2016

Support Houston Pride

GMP_Rev_Dr_John_C_Dorhauer
The General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ issued a statement mourning the loss of those murdered, calling for prayers for their families, and expressing horror and frustration over how commonplace this kind of tragedy has become. The incident happened early Sunday morning June 12, when a gunman killed 50 people and injured at least 50 more in a crowded gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, in what law enforcement is calling an act of terrorism.

For us in the Greater Houston Area it becomes evermore important to support the Houston Pride Week. When terror strikes America rallies together and stands up united. The Houston LGBT Pride Celebration® is still scheduled for Saturday, June 25, 2016 in Downtown Houston. Pride Houston® will be honoring those who lost their lives in Orlando, FL — and around the world in our fight for equality — prior to the start of the Houston Pride Parade®.

Here is the text of Rev. Dorhauer’s complete statement:

“The United Church of Christ mourns the tragic loss in the aftermath of what is now believed to be the largest mass shooting in the U.S. We are mindful of the many family members whose grief will be deep, and will linger for some time. We lift every one of them up in prayer.

We are grateful to President Obama for the swift action suspending HIPAA laws so that loved ones can be with their injured spouses and help make decisions about their care — an often overlooked right that many in the LGBT community cannot take for granted.

While it is too soon to speak about motives, the United Church of Christ nonetheless calls upon all leaders of religious and political bodies to end the constant rhetoric that demonizes same gender loving people. Our speech has consequences, and this is not the first time violence has been directed at the LGBT community with very tragic consequences. It is long past the time that we end this, including tolerating what amounts to hate speech and homophobia masquerading as religion. It is also long past the time that America enacts sane gun control legislation. Our souls and spirits cannot abide for long when this kind of tragedy is commonplace; and when no substantive action is taken in response to these mass shootings. Our grief, all too real, is not assuaged by what can be the redemptive act of doing all we can to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again.”

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Jun 7, 2016

Remember!

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“Zachor!” is a Hebrew commandment usually translated as “Remember!” The problem with the Western word “remember” is that it relates to the past: bring back to memory what once was. That is not the intention of the Biblical authors. They want to speak into the present of God’s people whenever and wherever that may be. When the people receive the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai we are not supposed to remember that as history long gone. We are supposed to stand there with them. Remembering in a biblical sense is acknowledging God’s presence in our present time!

As the world remembers D-Day this week, it has to be clear that we do not (only) remember a past event. We have to retell these stories as if they mattered today because they do. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” in 2001. It remembers the story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Over ten episodes we join the soldiers from their preparations leading up to D-Day to the end of World War II. Along the way Easy Company liberates one of the Kaufering concentration camps which were subsidiaries of Dachau.

As I rewatch Band of Brothers I remember (zachor) that D-Day is not just a response to Pearl Harbor, not just an act of self-defense or retaliation. D-Day is the faithful response to the horrors that Nazi Germany afflicted upon the world – especially the Jewish people. These crimes are usually remembered as the “Holocaust” which is a reference to biblical holistic offerings, where an entire animal is burnt as an offering to God – not just some parts. It is a very expensive and rare kind of offering (Exodus 20:24). Jews prefer to not be remembered as animals slain on an altar. The term Holocaust implies that an offering is pleasing to God which the concentration camps where totally not. The proper term is “Shoah” which means destruction (Zephaniah 1:15). How we remember and what words we use matters.

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