Advent reminds us that the best things in life are not the trinkets, toys, thrills, and temptations of this world that come from the outside in an attempt to give us a temporary thrill or some short-term pleasure. Life is about the gifts that God provides that work from the inside out and sustain us even when everything is not going our way. The themes of Advent point us to those gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy.
My congregation will begin reading from the NRSVue at the beginning of the new church year, the first Sunday of Advent. I am looking forward to continuing the journey with them with this “update.”
What would an exercise in developing a liturgy that is “of the people” mean? Forget about the divide between those who like liturgy that is rote vs. those who like liturgy that is spontaneous. I’m interested in the actual “heart” of liturgy, why we do what we do or why we even do it in the first place.
Do you want to know if your work as a pastor is having an impact on the community? Do you want to know if your church is transforming the lives of those outside its walls? If so, stop counting how many people attend worship or walk through your doors during the week. Rather, adopt this new metric: how many dogs did you meet this week?
On November 10, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem published a Statement on the Celebration of Advent and Christmas in the Midst of the War. I realized I needed to put the letter in front of our church council to see how, as a congregation, we might want to respond in solidarity. I’d like to invite you to do the same.
The hymn “We Gather Together,” often associated with Thanksgiving, is a song for any who are oppressed and look to God for help and for justice.
I wouldn’t say I’m thankful for my husband’s cancer. However, it has brought blessings into our life, including a greater appreciation for our life day to day.
Amidst the waterfall of news, we need to build moments of peace into our lives. But I think there is another question. How much do we really need to know? Do we really need to know everything, all the time, everywhere, about everyone?
We know we are not where we want to be as a country—or as a people. Our work is not done. But the answer is not to give up or retreat.
What does it mean to be a pastor during these extraordinary times? And how do we remain not only spiritually healthy, but also physically, emotionally, and psychologically balanced in our vocation?
If not for my time in the valley of the shadow of death, I would not fully appreciate how sweet life is amid green pastures and still waters.
I did not complete the hike because I am “hardcore.” I completed it because I knew when to ask for help.
Turning the world upside down: religious freedom, civil rights, and the struggle for a more just, equitable world
Baptists and other religious minorities turned one world upside down and gifted us the world we live in today where I am free to practice my faith and others are free to do the same.
Watching the wild geese overhead in the “stick season” of November in northern Wisconsin, I’ve come to wonder if we might be able to say something like “Deep calls to deep in the honking of your geese?”
A baby serves as a metaphor for today’s church: fragile yet beautiful, crying yet worthy of every effort toward consolation, messy yet adorable.
This is a Jann Wenner moment for the church. It is time to search our hearts and examine our practices, asking how the church continues the sexism and racism reflected in society.
Roman Catholics and Protestants alike benefit from being in dialogue, from sharing our stories with one another. For we enrich our understanding of what God is doing in the world and that the Spirit of God never ceases in empowering the faithful, especially in times of crisis and challenge. Yet stories of saints need to be read with care, lest in our telling, we are reinforcing uncritical readings of those stories that valorize issues of gender, power, and beliefs or practices best left in the distant past.
As we sat in a Shabbat service in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors over the past week, we saw unbelievable pain and grief. We also witnessed the mourning of our Palestinian siblings at a vigil. As Christians, we must bear witness to such grief, but we must not make the mistake of only seeing one side’s pain.
Just as Christ commands us to believe as a child, Fred Rogers, and now Daniel Tiger, keeps reminding us that we won’t always be the best, but we all deserve the chance to try to be the better version of ourselves. The Imago Dei. The one that God sees when God declares us beloved.
Pastoral care is an essential part of ministry. Individuals and families in the congregation are under our care. However, it’s easy for pastors to get sucked in doing more for people than is good for them—or for us.
When loss occurs, grief inevitably follows. Yet in public life, grief from our collective losses seems to routinely get short-circuited. We seem incapable of allowing it into our lives. But that stymies our shared project of creating communities that thrive, because it causes so many of us to pretend or wish our losses never happened. For others, it means a retreat from public life entirely.
I join with millions of people around the world pleading with America’s government to cease financial and military support for the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. Further, I join with a global community in calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to this war. All lives matter!
Too often a legacy church survives, or not, because of choices made about the church building. Fortunately, my 150-year-old congregation transformed the overwhelming burden of supporting our legacy church building before it was too late, but not without significant conflict and risk. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Lately I’ve been thinking that I wish I had a big picture view of church life in North America in the fall of 2023. Then I realized having a big picture view is probably a pipe dream. Part of life in the church in 2023 is just who’s here and who isn’t.
When I see an apron, I think of service. I think of hospitality. I want my apron to remind me that to follow the lowly Galilean, I’m called to a life of service and hospitality, which embraces the personal and works to strip away anything disingenuous.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Why We Can’t Wait,” he was correct. Day after day, our voices and actions are called upon to labor for justice. Yet burnout is counterproductive to our advocacy for the least of God’s children, which may be why Jesus told his followers, and us, not to worry about tomorrow.
What happened in Israel last Saturday and continues to this moment is an inhumane, unjustifiable, and atrocious terrorist attack that must be condemned by all people of good will.
“The American Way: A True Story of Nazi Escape, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe” traces seemingly disparate loose threads that come together – largely connected by the complicated figure of comic book publisher Harry Donenfeld.
Many male clergy routinely disrespect women, including fellow clergy, through words, actions, and thoughts. None of this is by coincidence or happenstance, nor does it happen in isolation—it is both by design and a perpetual product of society’s, including the church’s, refusal not just to explicitly acknowledge sexism and misogyny but far more critically, to do the dire work of repenting and addressing these ills in ways that do not require women to “to do the work.”
Across the U.S. political spectrum, contempt is on the rise. So too is acceptance of violence as a political tool.
Change has to start with us,” Shriver believes. “We all have some responsibility for our division. It didn’t just happen to us. We’re doing this to ourselves, and we can undo it.”
The unsettled nature of voluntary participation is by no means limited to religious professionals. Religious professionals have a special role, however, and a special vulnerability in the face of squishy participation in faith communities.
We must disabuse ourselves of the false notion that the church is apolitical. We must overcome the concept, so commonly taught among us, that we might somehow, in separating church from an influence over the state or the state having influence to keep us from being church in certain ways, arrive at some spiritual state of political innocence in which spirituality or religious life is not political.
Bluey brings to life characters who appeal to parents and children alike, and even to folks who don’t have kids but watch the show for its meaningful message. A message, I believe, possessing pieces of gospely good news.
As I walked around a Confederate cemetery, I wondered what other choice the young soldiers buried there could have made. The values they were raised to believe to be true were affirmed by their schools, their textbooks, their newspapers, their families, friends, their whole culture, and worst of all, their churches.
Amid today’s political polarities and culture wars, American Baptists have significant contributions to make to American society, particularly in the recognition of women in ordained ministry and the rightful place for all religions to provide spiritual life and practice to all Americans and residents from all corners of the world.
A colleague of mine once presented a theological paper where he made an excellent case that the image of God was creativity. I’ve never forgotten this idea.
The things that cause kids to die in this country – hate crimes, suicide, racism, neglect, abuse, hunger, war, gun violence – were no different in Langston Hughes’ day than they are now, and they ought to spur us not just to act but to move. What movements ought we to be crafting to love and protect children?
When we do not go together as communities, we remain divided and fragmented. Loneliness becomes inevitable. Challenges mount and begin to look intractable.
Being a disciple of Jesus is like rafting. As with life itself, there are long stretches of calm though constant movement punctuated by moments of turbulence requiring intense action and effort.
Why are we still singing about freedom as an aspiration? Why have we not overcome already?
We saved lives in 2020 with social distancing and with a vaccine in 2021. We have the potential to save them today if we resist the push to all or nothing and instead focus together on how we can reduce harm.
“She was willing to be a leader when needed and a follower when needed.” Such virtue is among the greatest needs—but least celebrated—of our movements.
Remember all those committees and board meetings? We don’t need them now. Pastor AI takes care of everything, and everyone gets what they want.
Estimada interrupción: un instrumento de Dios para lanzarme a hacer las cosas de manera diferente y para hacerme más fuerte para el camino que tengo por delante
Pablo apostaba por la renovación interior, aquella que inicia con un encuentro con Dios y que obra día a día en nosotros. Esa también fue mi reflexión ver el obrar de Dios día tras día.
Dear Disruption: an instrument of God to launch me to do things differently, to make me stronger for the path that lies ahead
Paul bet on inner renewal, the one that begins with an encounter with God and that works day by day in us. That was also my reflection to see the work of God—day after day.
Estimada Interrupción: la discordia abre paso a la experiencia nativa, brindando una plataforma para la voz nativa
Las comunidades nativas, aunque dormidas bajo el peso del silencio forzado, la pesadez de los ciclos de abuso y el mensaje persistente de que fuimos eliminados, eliminables y derrotados, ahora podemos reclamar nuestro idioma, nuestra cultura y nuestra capacidad de amar y proteger a nuestros niños en nuestros hogares, en las escuelas y en la iglesia.
Dear Disruption: discord gives way to the Native experience, providing a platform for the Native voice
The Native communities, while dormant under the weight of forced silence, the heaviness of the abuse cycles and the persistent message that we were removed, are removable and defeated, can now reclaim our language, our culture, and our ability to love and protect our children in our homes, in schools, and in the church.
Held captive for 53 years, Lolita suffered severe neglect and abuse, while spending her days begging for bits of food by performing the unnatural acts required by her captors. Lolita died in captivity on August 19, 2023, before she could be returned to her native waters.
The water’s edge exerts a deep pull on me, a reminder of life’s ancient origins in the ocean.
Clergy will find some collegiality with Sidney Chambers in James Runcie’s Grantchester Mysteries book series (and the two priests of the Grantchester television adaptation). The times are changing, the pastoral calling continues, and those in service of a parish call keep the faith, sometimes even despite themselves.
Neither Jesus nor Paul taught blind patriotism or a simple accommodation of the state’s or country’s actions. For both, the Kingdom of God is where our hearts reside and “our citizenship is in heaven.”
We know that saving one life does not save the world. But we have to start somewhere. And once you get started, you might be surprised at the chain reaction of actions that you spark in your community.
The end of the relevance of the church will not come at the hands of a pandemic, AI technology, or a particular party gaining power; no, it will come at our own doings. It will come when prophets stop speaking.
Keeping Sabbath runs counter to the ways of the world and the powers that be, but keeping Sabbath is a reflection and a reminder that we are not the pinnacle of creation. Rather, the enjoyment of God and God’s creation is.
Like the monarch butterflies, themselves facing the stresses and challenges of a changing world, we as a species need to embrace the radical art of transformation and migration that butterflies teach, because there’s a truth and a challenge that’s now as close as the air we breathe: in our climate-changed world, we cannot be done with our changes.
As the heat of the summer continues on and likely becomes more severe next year, as Christians we must remember our command to creation care and reexamine our choices. Climate change isn’t a political issue, it’s a grim reality that is facing us all.
An image I recently saw on Facebook depicted Jesus preaching to the crowds, with the phrase boldly proclaiming: “Being ‘woke’ is literally what Jesus preached about his entire life.” Is that accurate? “Woke” wasn’t in use the way it is today when Jesus preached, but would the core of his message qualify as being “woke” as we understand it today?
Discover your own backstory because it will permit you to empathize with others’ backstories. Take time to share your backstory with others, always being mindful to allow time for them to also share theirs.
Sinead O’Connor sang and spoke truth. I aspire to that kind of boldness, righteousness, and courage. I hope you do too.
Hush harbors were the secret meeting places of enslaved Africans in which our identity and humanity were affirmed. What our ancestors started in the hush harbors unfortunately must live on today, so that those of us who have been pushed to the margins can find peace, acceptance, belonging, and gain clarity about the journey ahead.
The misunderstanding of Abraham: patriarchal thinking and painful realizations in ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’
The ideological framework Abe Weissman begins to shed in season five of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ unfortunately is pernicious and alive and well in today’s world.
We don’t need churches steeped in ideology, left or right. We need local churches. We need churches on the ground, on the streets, and in the margins; churches who know their communities and whose communities know that they are loved and welcome in their spaces.
One of the blessings of adulthood is you get to read whatever you want (no matter what other people or the latest must-read lists tell you).
That is what I wish a rainbow flag on a church meant: safety, accountability, growth mindset, active allyship. I want churches that commit to being different from the torrential rains of homophobia and transphobia that threaten to drown us. Not just a little different, but actively working against the forces that threaten us.
What is it precisely we learn through travel? What’s uniquely different about going to, or having been to, other places, as compared to simply reading about them in books or watching slideshows about them (or in the new media era, reviewing Facebook posts about them)?
Human issues of race and gender aren’t easy. Christians get them wrong. But they are issues that, for better or for worse, Christianity has a long history of trying to transcend, as we try to say that God loves all people and wants all people to know love in turn.
If only males are entrusted with the ability to discern God’s call, women are considered “less than” competent regarding matters of the soul. Frankly, a realm where women are considered less than fully competent souls doesn’t sound much like the Kingdom of God to me.
House of worship are experiencing a great emptying, becoming disconnected from their communities as congregations shrink. Jane Jacobs had some ideas that could help churches and their cities thrive.
Coming out is a process in which LGBTQ+ people take a leap of faith, trusting in what we cannot see ahead. It is not a one-time experience. It is a multi-layered process that transforms us over time, freeing us to live into our belovedness.
Amid a well-financed and organized reign of terror against transgender people in this country, I’m calling on us to embrace Jesus’ radical gospel of inclusion that rejects oppression and celebrates a life-giving and sustaining existence of freedom to be one’s authentic self.
“Most of the things that matter to our culture didn’t matter to Jesus, and most of the things that mattered to Jesus don’t matter to us.” – Miroslav Volf in dialogue with Baptist World Alliance members gathered in Stavanger, Norway
Death interrupts life in sometimes shockingly abrupt ways and our hearts fall within us. But grace also interrupts the ordinary in extraordinary ways. In such moments we are caught off guard, not expecting the goodness and sorrow that brush past us.
When I came out as left-handed, perceptions of left-handedness were just that I used a different hand to write, not that I was damaged or ill in some way. I stood on the shoulders of those who fought for left-handed inclusion and was encouraged simply to navigate and live in a right-handed world, rather than change who I was or live a life of shame.
Of the nearly 150 Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) churches, only 3 are Black Baptist. What accounts for the underrepresentation of Black Baptist churches within AWAB, and how can AWAB address this?
Today, we have seen the history of America’s racial divide on full display. We will still overcome, but the opponents of a truly multiracial society will not go away quietly.
With the expulsion of Fern Creek Baptist and Saddleback Church, labeled as not fit for “friendly cooperation,” I’m confident that I don’t need to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention or those that would suppress a woman’s call to preach and pastor.
None of us are quite the same after the last several years of life on planet Earth. We don’t know what’s ahead. But we can trust that God will journey with us as we “go forward!” It’s the only thing to do.
If the Kingdom of God means anything, it is that my life matters. It is that the lives of transgender people are worth protecting.
Wherever we find ourselves to be, together as settlers, refugees, and sojourners, we can become contributing members and citizens of our new home.
For generations, women have served in every level of leadership within the denomination and the local church. For us, ordaining women to serve in pastoral roles is a settled issue.
Greetings from San Juan, Puerto Rico where the air is warm, the water is blue, and the people are beautiful.
Many negative references remain in our common discourse about race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, religious practice, and a host of other categories of human experience. The difference is, when used in public forums, the transgressor will be fired or politically maligned or cancelled or publicly shamed for using them. In contrast, commentators, politicians, preachers, and celebrities of all kinds can pepper their conversation with pejorative references to those who live with mental illness without consequence.
The developing talks and discussion around ChatGPT have caused quite a stir as they enter a territory I feel I have some stake in; the art and discipline of capturing words.
Earlier this year, a dear friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. Since then, my days and weeks have been filtered through those times when little things catch me off guard: a now defunct phone number I cannot bear to delete, a book I think to recommend to him before I sigh with lament when I remember that I no longer can. Little stuff that points to the loss that lingers. The new graphic novel Ephemera: A Memoir by Briana Loewinsohn has provided some comfort.
Is the church collapsing? The answer to this question both soothes and troubles me… because it’s yes and no.
In this week’s newsletter, we featured a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor that examines how ministers in Middletown, Ohio are working to bridge political and cultural divides and help rebuild community. It’s a wonderful example of what building social connection looks like in action, one that could be replicated in other communities across the country.
There is no way to be against racism and ethnic discrimination but remain in support of sexism and gender discrimination. The captivity from which women and men both need to be set free requires a liberating theology that affirms freedom and opportunity for men equally available to women.
Everyone is welcome at my local library. It’s beginning to feel like mission and ministry to me. My library is beginning to feel like church, and along the way meeting the human need for community. Yet what might the church have to offer to overcome loneliness that my library does not?
Born out of 20 years of advocacy by American Baptists Concerned for full LGBTQ+ inclusion in Baptist church life, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) was formed in 1993 to not only advocate for the individuals of the LGBTQ+ community, but also for the churches who welcomed them.
With more resources than ever for communication and connection, we have an epidemic of loneliness. Why?
Perhaps part of the reason for the phenomenon of loneliness in our culture is that we do not entirely understand one another in our differences, and so what can be lonely for one may feel completely replete with connection for another.
The world has changed and so have pastoral transitions. It’s time for re-creation, reformation, resurrection, and even pruning.
From the Psalms, from the prophets, from non-canonical sources, and from Jesus we learn what God values most. What matters is justice, mercy, and faith. What counts is the steadfast love of God and actively doing something to help those in need. That is true religion.
Reading speculative fiction in communities of faith can enliven the social imaginaries of such communities to expand the scope of the “as if” they are willing to hope for, believe in, trust. To have faith.
If God’s love and promise of new life in Jesus Christ is for everyone, then the affirmation of that love must be universal, no exceptions. However, how we profess faith may look different for each unique person. May all of us recognize the grace of God and be challenged on our assumptions of theology and disability. This is the way.
The disciples broke down barriers at Pentecost. No one was alone. No one was excluded. No one was normal. Everyone was held as they are.
Like many in church choirs that have resumed, I’ve rediscovered the joy of singing with other people through a local German choir. Singing together builds relationships. Some of these people have sung together for decades, and their friendships have lasted equally long.
The word of the day is stigmergy. Find out what it means and what it has to do with the church.
In “The Art of Leading Change: Ten Perspectives on the Messiness of Ministry,” Mike Bonem learns from religious and secular business leadership–as well as from artists–to inform his thoughts on church leadership and change. Change is inevitable, yet our approach to engaging change will determine how well we deal with the “messiness” of ministry.
Foraging invites us into a relationship of gift to gift, abundance to abundance. In theological terms, foraging invites us to move from dominion to stewardship, and from stewardship to relationship and reciprocity. For in the end this world is God’s garden, and it is a gift and a grace—and a delicious taste—just to be a part of it.