We need a little Advent now!

We need a little Advent now!

The people of Israel had to wait more than 700 years before the Messiah promised in Isaiah would finally appear in a manger in Bethlehem as recounted in Luke. They could not rush the event. Employing a trait almost completely absent from the sensibilities of our on-demand culture in the 21st century, they had to wait in the hope that the bright, new day God had promised would surely come to pass.

Advent 2020 puts Christians in precisely the same position; we have to wait for the new day, for the emergence of what Josiah Royce, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis all referred to as “the beloved community.”

Thanksgiving or “thanks-taking?”

Thanksgiving or “thanks-taking?”

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are an American Indian, are of Native American descent, belong to a tribal community or not, the Thanksgiving holiday might not—speaking of the Mayflower—float your boat. But knowing that at least some people are cognizant of the missing links to so many Native American interactions with encroaching Europeans, and that they are willing to acknowledge them, gives those like me a sense of hope, and, remarkably, thanksgiving.

Advent hope for the mess we live in

Advent hope for the mess we live in

In the prophet’s prayer in Isaiah 64, read on the first Sunday of Advent, the mess is named. The bliss is sought. For a post-Exilic community and a pandemic-hammered Church, the full range of emotions is found in speaking to God. We hear the prophet’s call for thanksgiving. We are chastened to remember God’s past acts and the fierce love of God.

Praise and indictment—Matthew 25 on Christ the King Sunday, 2020

Praise and indictment—Matthew 25 on Christ the King Sunday, 2020

Appropriately, Matthew 25:31-46 is the Gospel lectionary reading for Christ the King Sunday (observed this year on November 22, 2020). On a day when we are just at the cusp of observing Advent, we hear a text that reminds us who we follow: the Christ who will know both sheep and goats, praising and indicting with a finality that leaves the reader with very “real world” choices about how they connect faith and personal responsibility together.

At our post, working at our calling—Thoughts from C.S. Lewis’ “The World’s Last Night”

At our post, working at our calling—Thoughts from C.S. Lewis’ “The World’s Last Night”

C.S. Lewis’ words from when the world first confronted the possibility of total annihilation, speak to us still. How do we face the possibility of the world’s end? That final last night?

We must see the good works we individually are called to do and do them. We must remain at our post, working at our calling, whether our activities are ended by catastrophe or by the true ending of the world.

Every day is Election Day

Every day is Election Day

We have a deadlocked country poised to blow, with leadership throwing gas on the fire. When the election is settled, the loss, shock, cynicism, disillusionment, and abandonment so many are experiencing will remain.

Veterans Day is every American’s day

Veterans Day is every American’s day

Veterans Day is every American’s day. It is justifiably set aside to recognize those who have honorably served in the nation’s armed forces, yet the people also have a role in national defense by virtue of citizenship.

Serenity in overwhelming times

Serenity in overwhelming times

The Serenity Prayer is not in the Bible, but arose from the lips of a renowned theologian preaching at a summer service in a small New England rural church. It is our prayer, not just for a momentary bit of spiritual relief, but for a soul-deep serenity in turbulent times, for a God-inspired courage, and for growth in our own wisdom to discern the difference between acceptance and action. In the worst of times, these crazy times, it become our earnest plea:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Constitutional hermeneutics

Constitutional hermeneutics

The 1787 U.S. Constitution provided a framework, penned to help us form a more perfect union. But even the framers recognized that we had not arrived at perfection. It was aspirational. The continued evolution, which has helped the document realize greater inclusivity, has helped us move closer to that ideal. I would hope that we would continue to allow our constitutional framework to expand until we reach that perfect union where all people are recognized as created equal.

Celebration is complete when shared with others

Celebration is complete when shared with others

As we find ourselves nearing Thanksgiving in a year filled with lamentable circumstances, we practice celebration. Celebration is not a distraction from the realities of the world we dwell in. Celebration is rooted in deep joy that can be discovered if paid attention to. Celebration was something built into the liturgical lives of the people of Israel and the early church. Celebration and joy are spiritual disciplines practiced even when times are difficult, perhaps most especially when times are difficult.

Reorienting our focus—engaging in active citizenship locally

Reorienting our focus—engaging in active citizenship locally

Closer to home you have greater power and influence. Get to know your neighbors and local elected officials. Work with both to brighten the corner, block, street on which you live. Invest in efforts that improve your neighborhood and community for all. Pay less attention to Washington, cable news and social media. Support local journalism.

The Sunday prior to Veterans Day, an opportunity to speak to challenges veterans face

The Sunday prior to Veterans Day, an opportunity to speak to challenges veterans face

Our soldiers who suffer from maladies due to the horrors they experienced in combat are among “the least of these.” They return home to families who love them, yet have no idea of how to help them. They return to a society that recognizes their service, honors them, and salutes their bravery, yet are unaware of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual trauma they endure.

A un mes y contando – El papel único de la iglesia en fomentar y apoyar la votación

A un mes y contando – El papel único de la iglesia en fomentar y apoyar la votación

Nuestros Estados Unidos, se encuentran a un mes de unas elecciones que se perfilan a tener consecuencias trascendentales. Pensar que el resultado de las elecciones del 3 de noviembre puede determinarse solo por un poco más de la mitad de la población con capacidad para votar amenaza nuestro concepto de la democracia. Cuando solo un poco más de la mitad de la población elegible vota, no escuchamos la voz del pueblo, a penas escuchamos un susurro.

Sabbath, anxiety, and our pastoral response

Sabbath, anxiety, and our pastoral response

The year 2020 has certainly tested our anxiety, our testimony, and our resistance. Bringing out the best in us for a better year ahead in 2021 might spring not only from loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves, but also from the self-study of what it would take to honor the Sabbath as we have been commanded to do—not from Pharaoh, but from God.

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope —The Journey of a Civil Rights Icon (Book Review)

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope —The Journey of a Civil Rights Icon (Book Review)

President Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In remarks presenting the medal, Obama spoke of Lewis’s contributions for years to come. He stated, “And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

Six ways a Roman emperor can help us today

Six ways a Roman emperor can help us today

Marcus’ “Meditations” is a book of reflections he wrote for himself as he sought to face the challenges of ruling the Roman empire. He lived through the time of two plagues and faced down the possibility of civil war, not to mention navigating the difficulties of court politics. Marcus sought to look at himself and his behavior and what were the best decisions he could make as a leader. He did his best to focus on his own response rather than blaming others.

Escaping the delusions of a nationalistic theology of America

Escaping the delusions of a nationalistic theology of America

The Bible’s teachings about the gospel, which has historically meant the good news of God personally working for the common good of all creation to make salvation (both spiritual and physical restoration) available to all, has been replaced by a gospel of cultural and economic power and freedom that finds its center in the United States. This nationalistic theology naturally leads to questions about who will be allowed to experience the benefits of such a salvation.

Zoom memorials

Zoom memorials

A close friend of mine died from colon cancer at the beginning of September. COVID-19 kept us from meeting in person. It kept some family from gathering in person. It kept friends from giving each other hugs. However, it didn’t stop us from assembling together and seeing each other’s faces. It didn’t stop us from praying. It didn’t stop us from sharing memories and photos and honoring our friend’s life. It didn’t stop us from caring for the family grieving.

Spiritual activism: We must constructively engage in politics

Spiritual activism: We must constructively engage in politics

How can we constructively engage in politics? We must stop making the false assumption that politics and our faith aren’t intimately connected. As a part of our faithfulness and spirituality, Christians are biblically compelled to care for our neighbors, respond to the needs of the poor, and be positive contributors to society.

Horrific hysterectomies

Horrific hysterectomies

As allegations of hysterectomies performed on detained immigrant women without informed consent are under investigation, I cannot comprehend that in 2020 this practice would happen in the United States. What justification could there be to subject women to the atrocity of forced sterilization?

I am weary, let me vote

I am weary, let me vote

We must spend the next few weeks both with bowed heads in prayer and with our eyes and ears alert to what is happening in our communities. Change begins at the local level and continues upward. Until this year I was fairly cynical that my vote could really make a difference, but this year I will vote not only like my life depends on it, but like the lives of the vulnerable and the marginalized around me depend on it too.

Pastoral appreciation in COVID-19 times

Pastoral appreciation in COVID-19 times

Celebrating may seem an odd practice in times where there is much to lament and navigate. I am hopeful congregants will consider offering a word of thanks to their pastors this month. Gratitude and acknowledgment for ministry may be infrequently expressed, but certainly, for your pastor, it will be gratefully received—especially right now.

A un mes y contando – El papel único de la iglesia en fomentar y apoyar la votación

One month and counting—The church’s unique role in encouraging and supporting voting

Our United States stands now one month away from an election of what feels like momentous consequence. To think that the November 3 outcome may be cast by little more than half of our voting population threatens our concept of democracy. When marginally more than half of the age-eligible population votes, we don’t hear the voice of the people, we hear barely more than a whisper.

Pandemic realities and the table fellowship of our Lord

Pandemic realities and the table fellowship of our Lord

The current pandemic has altered what we do and how we do it; the practice of communion—during the liturgy and in our daily table fellowship—is no exception. Despite our altered circumstances and the deaths of so many, the spiritual food with which we draw and serve continues to multiply. No pandemic is going to alter that.

Nine measures for evaluating political candidates

Nine measures for evaluating political candidates

Religion and politics can be hot topics of dissension. And yet, as people of faith, it is important to us to consider the inner nature of the women and men we choose as leaders. And so, while we should not hold candidates to a litmus test of faith that is identical to ours, we are indebted to the Apostle Paul for giving us nine words to consider as we evaluate the inner light, character, and spiritual health of those who would lead.

How to see a miracle when you’re exhausted

How to see a miracle when you’re exhausted

Looking for a daily miracle helps your brain stay active by anticipating something special. For people of faith, it’s a wonderful way to live. You have to slow your pace a bit to notice, rather than rushing from task to task (or Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting).

Praying like the hour is at hand

Praying like the hour is at hand

In John 17, Jesus claims that “the hour” is at hand when he would be glorified and his disciples given their chance to be in the fullness of what his gospel proclaimed. Even when the future we see looks cloudy, the prayer Jesus offers up for his believers is one of trust, hope, and love.

We are never left orphaned. We are never forgotten.

Christ’s prayer continues to bless us, now and forevermore.

Where is the love?

Where is the love?

Love through the lens of emotion has a foundation of reciprocity coated in preference. From this perspective, one must have an affinity towards another before love takes root. This type of love lacks the power to deal with race or any of the world’s challenges. Love that transforms is not some sentimental outpouring feeling. The love that has the power to transform is agape, which seeks nothing in return, but is “redemptive goodwill for all men.”

Hamilton and history – Who tells the story?

Hamilton and history – Who tells the story?

The musical Hamilton asks, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” But I would also ask “Whose story will we revere and embrace as patriotic? Countless people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and others who have cut against the grain of the majority are speaking out. Too often their words and actions are regarded as traitorous. But in this pivotal historical moment, we have an opportunity to be better.

The Christian citizen: Gospel, conscience, and dissent

The Christian citizen: Gospel, conscience, and dissent

Christian citizenship requires, not that individuals seek to impose Christianity on the society, but that individual Christians operate within the framework of Jesus’ teaching as they respond to the way government treats all its citizens, especially those who are in the greatest need.

9/11 and COVID-19: Our Christian purpose and response

9/11 and COVID-19: Our Christian purpose and response

As Christians, we are duty bound to go and see what our Lord thought was so important. Can anything good come from terrorist attacks or viral pandemics? Come and see. Right now, you might feel stressed under the fig tree of your own anxiety, but a belief in the restorative power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus of Nazareth embodied can carry you beyond any crisis because that was God’s plan from the beginning—to make us whole again.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Every name lost to police brutality or COVID-19 was a baby at some point. Each one held and loved. Each had dreams and expectations and hopes attached to him or her. Let us not forget their names. Let us weep.

“Ring Them Bells”: The Church as the megaphone of hurt and hope

“Ring Them Bells”: The Church as the megaphone of hurt and hope

“Ring Them Bells,” originally written by Bob Dylan for his 1989 album “Oh Mercy,” is a richly poetic song with plenty of biblical references and allusions. Many observers have pointed to the apocalyptic hints in the song, and those are certainly there. But there’s something else I hear in the song that speaks to why I like it. It reminds me of the place of the church in turbulent times.

Goodness that wakes up the devil

Goodness that wakes up the devil

These are days we need to be daughters and sons of Walter Rauschenbusch who said goodness means following Jesus in purposeful suffering on the Via Dolorosa. These are days we need to be so good we wake up the devil and bear the marks of the Lord Jesus.

The Jesus who works

The Jesus who works

Let us proclaim that no labor is unskilled, and that all deserve a seat at the table of our economy this Labor Day. Let us advocate for the ending of exploitation of undocumented workers. Let us acknowledge that Jesus worked, and let that acknowledgment challenge and change our faith. Let us also be filled with a spirit that acknowledges that changing how our world thinks about work and workers’ place in our economy will be hard work – hard, but worth it.

Lamentations for our time

Lamentations for our time

Lamentations, arguably, offers an “explanation” which fits one of the dominant frames of the Bible—the Deuteronomic system of blessings and curses—and yet also offers a poetic counter to this theology.

Coronavirus and Christian courage

Coronavirus and Christian courage

Courage has a context. Bravery flows not from mindless risk-taking, but from compelling reasons to act on behalf of one another. We do not dare God to keep us safe no matter what foolish actions we may take.

Making history in an age of pandemic

Making history in an age of pandemic

When this present moment becomes history, how will people know how your faith community responded? Will they know that many congrega¬tions quickly developed the capacity for online worship services—or even be able to watch our worship from their future position? Will they know which communities continued to supply food banks and provide housing for the home-less? Will you leave records reflecting the shift from pastoral visits to pastoral telephone calls and emails? It all comes down to how well you document these days.

Saving the here and now: Archiving today’s challenges for future insight

Saving the here and now: Archiving today’s challenges for future insight

Getting churches to capture this moment in time will be helpful not only for future generations. It will be also a chance for congregants to recall the immediate past and start working out what these challenging times have shown them about their own lives, as well as the inevitable travails and the graceful moments where the resilience of a local church was revealed.

Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back, looking ahead

Significant anniversaries provide an opportunity to take stock of where one has been and where one is headed. This month, I celebrate 25 years of ministry with American Baptist Home Mission Societies. While my portfolio has changed during that time, one constant has been my involvement with The Christian Citizen.

Everything beautiful in its time: COVID-19, mental health, and resilience in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States

Everything beautiful in its time: COVID-19, mental health, and resilience in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States

Members of the Karen ethnic group in Myanmar (formerly Burma) are no strangers to conditions that threaten their physical existence or inhibit their ability to think or reason freely. Thousands of Karen people were forced to flee their homes to escape violence, persecution, and war in the 20th century. The freedom they sought in Thai refugee camps left much to be desired, as they experienced degradation, restrictions on working and moving about, and food rations that often left them hungry and malnourished. The opportunity for some to immigrate to America, earlier this century, rekindled hope and dreams of better days. I interviewed 25 pastors in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States (KBCUSA) to gain a glimpse of the challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus and conservatism

Coronavirus and conservatism

Rather than defending a traditional concept of community and common welfare in which individuals understand the connection between rights and duties, many who claim the conservative mantle substitute a doctrinaire individualism that ultimately benefits neither the individual nor society.

What the eyes of the heart see

What the eyes of the heart see

Through belief in Christ, the one who was born and lived among the marginalized, whose death was at the hands of the “powers that be” of this world, and whose resurrection, ascension, and promised return we take hope in, we learn to tell, and live out, a different story. The response of the faithful is not to turn a blind eye toward the sufferings of the world, nor to be willing or silently complicit partners to these sufferings taking root in political, economic, or social policies.

The role of the local church during COVID-19

The role of the local church during COVID-19

Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command to fellowship and to not stop gathering together as others have done. It is a command to encourage one another. How do we fulfill this biblical command while also following the local authorities’ command to “shelter in place” during these times? What is the role of the church during this historic moment? As some churches are grieving and others are calling this an opportunity for a revival, the inherent complexities of these questions and the reality of how one event can affect individuals differently are on full display.

The things fathers pass on (if we let them)

The things fathers pass on (if we let them)

Father’s Day has arrived yet again, and no situation—no father—is perfect. Perhaps you have an imperfect relationship right now with an imperfect father. What’s your legacy? Visible or invisible, it’s likely there, but you might not have a full grasp of it until he’s gone. And that’s okay. Believe me, you’ll know it when it is upon you, and then it will be your legacy.

It’s complicated: Father’s Day and descriptions of God

It’s complicated: Father’s Day and descriptions of God

What Father’s Day should do for people of faith is open up space for us to consider the ways that earthly fatherhood does and does not map onto our experience of God. There will undoubtedly be points of slippage between our experiences of being fathered or being fathers and our experience of God’s love. For those for whom there is much distance between their personal experience and the term Father, I would invite them to find and use different terms for God.

Singing the Lord’s song in strange times

Singing the Lord’s song in strange times

Communal singing is an important way we as Christians connect with God and one another in worship. No matter our preferred style of singing or level of vocal skill, we use music as a source of spiritual nourishment. In times of troubles, favorite hymns or worship songs bring us consolation and comfort. In times of joy, we yearn to lift up our hearts in song. However, as we look forward to reopening our church buildings for worship, the future of communal singing is uncertain.

Learning from loneliness

Learning from loneliness

As you continue to walk through these days, reflect on what this has been like for you, and what it is like today. What do you notice about yourself? What have you learned about yourself from this time of isolation and loneliness? Or what have you learned about yourself from the enforced togetherness? What do you intend to do differently? What is God calling you to do now in this new environment?

Allegiance to the flag—a reflection on Flag Day

Allegiance to the flag—a reflection on Flag Day

Our nation has failed at offering liberty and justice for all, as have all nations. It is a high ideal, worthy of our every attempt. I am happy to place my hand over my heart to pledge for our Republic to continue to try its best to provide, protect, and promote liberty and justice for all, as long as all means no exceptions

Embracing the new normal—Church was made for times like these

Embracing the new normal—Church was made for times like these

The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be forgotten. Indeed, those lessons should fundamentally change how we do church, making us more creative. If we are assured of anything, it is that church can and should change so that it can meet the needs of others. After all, church was made for times like these, fostering connection when we so desperately need it.

America in crisis—holding on to hope

America in crisis—holding on to hope

As sustained protests have multiplied, so has their powerful and passionate message: racism and police brutality are no longer acceptable. It’s a clarion call coming from a diverse, multi-racial, multigenerational Unites States of America, and it’s being echoed by our global neighbors.

Chapter 11 for the church

Chapter 11 for the church

Like traditional retailers whose weaknesses were exploited by the pandemic, churches suffering from the impacts of decline have similarly been placed in precarious positions. So, if we might consider this time as an opportunity for reorganization, what would such changes look like? Here are a few thoughts.

Why Would Jesus Social Distance – WWJ(S)D

Why Would Jesus Social Distance – WWJ(S)D

When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said that it was to love God and love your neighbor. Right now, our neighbors need us to stay inside and to social distance. The “essential business” of the gospel is to do this. Jesus calls us to social distance, but not to be distant from each other.

Living in two Americas, what did we see?

Living in two Americas, what did we see?

We live in two Americas. One in which police brutality against people of color continues unabated and unaddressed. And another in which there are no permissible grounds for protesting white supremacy, whether taking a knee during the anthem or chanting “Black Lives Matter” in front of the White House.

Seeking justice for George Floyd

Seeking justice for George Floyd

Public protest by concerned citizens is one of the most basic and fundamental rights of any American citizen. Video of Floyd’s death by asphyxiation captured on multiple cell phones was one of the darkest and yet most revealing moments in recent American history.

To Live in God: Daily Reflections with Walter Rauschenbusch (Book Review)

To Live in God: Daily Reflections with Walter Rauschenbusch (Book Review)

Walter Rauschenbusch did not write only for mass audiences or only for academics, he wrote for both of them at the same time. Rauschenbusch knew movements were not sustained through sermons and articles, but through prayers (he wrote a book of social justice prayers) hymns (he collected social hymns), letters, pamphlets, and meetings (all of which he did).

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, as we remember our war dead and our loved ones, we can also remember the institutional church that had been crusted over and in decline. But looking to the lessons of history and trends of technology, we can be hopeful for the emergence of a reincarnated church that is virtual and vibrant; focused and intentional.

Churches and federal financial aid during the coronavirus crisis

Churches and federal financial aid during the coronavirus crisis

As Baptists, we don’t and shouldn’t look first to the government for how to overcome most difficulties. Our commitment to the separation of church and state is rooted in our theology and our history, neither of which is changed by government efforts to provide relief in a time of crisis or shifting standards of constitutional law.

Ending a catastrophe—proclaiming and providing glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophic joy

Ending a catastrophe—proclaiming and providing glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophic joy

I know many are struggling and will struggle. I admit many were struggling mightily with socioeconomic injustice well before any sign of a global pandemic was on our national horizon. But I do hold out the hope and the trust that God is with us even now, providing a pathway toward the ending that benefits all creation.

And that end shall be good, whatever catastrophe bears down on us. We have a story that calls us to proclaim and provide glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien would call eucatastrophic joy.

Nurturing faith at home

Nurturing faith at home

With households becoming schools and parents and other primary caregivers managing unprecedented challenges, making family life the primary locus of Christian education can feel like just one more overwhelming task. But it doesn’t need to be.

Stones shouting out: New witness of the church in the pandemic

Stones shouting out: New witness of the church in the pandemic

While we collectively know that “normal” as we knew it may never return, we have signs that we will emerge from this crisis transformed. The Church is demonstrating resourcefulness and creativity in continuing to serve our communities with mission and purpose. We recognize that the good news of Jesus Christ is as important today as ever – and that the message will find a way to be heard.

As churches consider reopening buildings and resuming in-person worship, what can pastors expect?

As churches consider reopening buildings and resuming in-person worship, what can pastors expect?

During these last several weeks we have experienced many unexpected outcomes, and there will undoubtedly be more. None of us knows how to pastor during a pandemic; this is unlike other crises as we still have no idea how or when it will end. We are not going to do this perfectly. Each of us is carrying traumas of our own, and none of us is going to be at our best. Now, more than ever, we need to show ourselves – and our congregations – the grace that we proclaim.

What is this time doing to you?

What is this time doing to you?

Despite being forced to cut back on our experiences, expenses, and exposure, we collectively remain in a hurry. We were in a hurry before the virus forced us out of common spaces. We have been in a hurry seeking to adapt to sudden change. Currently, we seem to be in a hurry to get back. Back to what? Back to the office, back to school, back to profits, back to consumerism, back to sanctuaries, back to normal? Are we in such a hurry to get back that we are missing the chance to move forward into something new?

Binge-watching a hopeful future

Binge-watching a hopeful future

Science fiction can help us imagine a future or alternative reality. While living in the uncertainty of the here and now, and learning the opportunities and limits of conducting work and worship via digital tools, here are three science fiction shows available to stream.