Sunday, December 31, 2006


My personal Bible study plan for 2007:

Read through the Bible in a year. Click here for a handy Adobe document to help you read through the Bible in one year. Just print it out on two sides of one sheet of paper and start reading! Reading through the Bible in a year is the least we can do to keep in God’s word, to inhabit the biblical discussion about God, to meet God in, through, and under the words of the Bible.

Study the 52 chapters of Luke and Acts, one per week. It is year C in the Lectionary, the year of Luke. Luke and Acts are one unified narrative of Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of the church. It is the only work of its kind in scripture; the other three Gospels end with Jesus’ appearances after the Resurrection. I’ll study a chapter each week, and try to report what I learn here. My main resources will be the text in Greek (I use Gramcord Bible software), the Interpretation commentaries, the Interpretation journal archives, and the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Minimum Internal Ravioli Temperature

So, we're boiling the water to cook the frozen ravioli for dinner tonight, and I (being the direction follower) read the instructions. "Step 3: Cook until reaching a minimum internal ravioli temperature of 165°F for at least 15 seconds." Who knew you needed a tiny thermometer and a stopwatch to cook ravioli?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lincoln and Pastoral Leadership

I’m about halfway through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln's leadership genius. Lincoln is a fascinating role model for pastoral leadership. Here are three points that strike me about Lincoln so far:

  1. Lincoln deeply immersed his consciousness in the founding documents of our nation. I would not be surprised if he knew the Declaration and the Constitution by heart. The spirit of the founders animated his spirit.

  2. Lincoln’s style of leadership is not accidental; it is intentional, thoughtful, steps back and takes time to see the forest. He saw the big picture, and usually spent time in thought before he wrote or spoke.

  3. Lincoln knew people, understood interpersonal dynamics, needs, and conflicts. He was able to recruit and mobilize a functional “team of rivals” and keep them together to run the nation and win the war. He encouraged a diversity of opinions and ideas; he encouraged his subordinates to disagree with him directly if they thought he was mistaken (do you see a contrast with recent leadership in the US?). Lincoln wrote letters, kept connections alive, and expanded his sphere of influence.

For me, the application to pastoral leadership is clear:

  1. Immerse yourself – and your congregation – in our founding documents: the library of books that comprise the Older and Newer Testaments, not just for theoretical knowledge, but to inform practice. We cannot begin to follow Jesus today if we do not know the story of Jesus and Jesus’ context in history and scripture. Often, pastors get stuck in the details of ministry tasks and lose the compass of scripture. We fail to plumb the depths, and thus become shallow.

  2. Step back and discern the big picture. What is the history of the congregation and community? What is our context? What needs can we meet in our community? What should our map of ministry look like – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and beyond? How can I as pastor leverage my time and influence to help form the map/plan, and mobilize teams to accomplish the plan, to go where the map directs? If I don’t get the big picture, I can get lost in administrivia or chaplaincy, need-meeting compulsion. I know of a pastor who’s monthly reports consisted of lists of worship services presided over and homebound/hospital patients visited, while people stopped coming to church because of all the unnecessary, dictated changes in worship and church life made by the same pastor. He may have got some of the trees right, but he missed the forest completely. Visitation and presiding over the sacraments are good and necessary practices, but not sufficient – there is more to church leadership.

  3. Know people. Nurture them. Be aware of conflicts and personality clashes. Have a big picture of the ministry teams in the congregation. Map out a clear vision and job description for each ministry of the congregation. Keep in touch with people. Know their interests and needs. Communicate clear responsibilities and train and support. Praise and show gratitude. In the context of the church, in this area we mention the essential element of the spiritual, our relationship with the living God, our life together as the body of Christ in the world.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Blogger Beta Broken

Anyone out there having trouble with Blogger Beta?
For a few days, I have tried adding my friend Kris's blog, Guy Stuck in a Girl Wirld, to my blog list. No can do. Very annoying. I miss messing with the Template, or at least being allowed to mess with it. I plan to revert back to the old version of Blogger, if I can.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is a post I made to about this coming Sunday's scripture. It's a way of sharing first thoughts on the lessons with a community of preachers.

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria-Rilke, which someone posted on a Yahoo group:

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Translated by Robert Bly

In our local text study group, we noted the two (or perhaps three) categories of people who shall awake from the dust of the earth in Daniel 12:2. Some shall awake to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt, and some, perhaps, shall not awake at all. This is a text that raises the specter of uncertainty: to which group do I belong? Am I damned? What must I do to be saved, to find my name in the book of life?

Our text group would agree with Dumke: the Hebrews 10:11-25 passage is a word of comfort to us who have heard a word of judgment in Daniel 12. It’s not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us. We can “approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith” the sanctuary, the holy place. We can enter the Holy of Holies through the curtain of Jesus’ flesh, not through our own worthiness or sacrifice but by the divine self-giving of Christ. I love the first person plural ‘hortatory’ subjunctives in this passage:

Let us approach... in full assurance of faith

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering...

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together... but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There seems to be a biblical logic of gift and gratitude. Salvation is a free gift given to us through Christ regardless of our worthiness or work. THEREFORE, let us live a life of gratitude and love toward God by serving our neighbors. The author of Hebrews challenges us first to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Second, we are challenged to continue to meet together regularly in the fellowship of believers and encourage one another, “all the more as you see the Day approaching.” As Christians, we live in an in between time, between the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. We need to encourage one another with the good news of God’s salvation, and we need to exhort one another to live faithfully in these end times. Whether the kingdom comes tomorrow, in a thousand or a million years, or at our physical deaths, it seems that the Christian life is both urgent and placid: urgent because we see the Day approaching; placid because we have “full assurance of faith,” we have “hope” in a “faithful” God.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Against the Despisers of the Body

Click here to read a translation of Jurgen Moltmann's article, Against the Despisers of the Body: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Today. I've recently begun reading Moltmann again, and writings like this one remind me why he is an important theologian for our world come of age.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Prayer and Politics, Part 2

I need to get back to this theme. I have been reading Obery Hendricks' book The Politics of Jesus : Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted

It's a wonderful book, and I'll write more about it soon (promise!). For now, however, I shared some of the facts in the book in my sermon today, on the Widow's Might. It's an example of being political in the pulpit, in the sense that Jesus took sides on political issues - siding with poor widows against rich scribes. It is simply a factual and historical error to say that Jesus was concerned only with individual sin and private piety. When you read the gospels' accounts of his last week in Jerusalem (and the rest of the gospels) in the light of what we know about 1st century Israel under Roman rule, Jesus' very political and economic critique of structural injustice and inequity becomes clear.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Prayer and Politics

An oft-quoted statement by Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984):

When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist; When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist; When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist; When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew; When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf.”

Niemoller was speaking, of course, about the Nazis. During the summer, I happened to hear (not by choice), on ‘Christian’ talk/hate radio, this quote misused against proponents of gay rights – as if people who support gay rights are out to get anti-gay, ‘pro-family’ people; as if gays and lesbians were not one of Hitler’s targets in ‘pro-family’ Nazi Germany; as if gays and lesbians are ‘anti-family;’ as if it is ‘pro-family’ to deny equal treatment to gays and lesbians or tear their family bonds apart. It is a typical tactic of religious right: use a statement of tolerance and courage in the face of oppression to advance an intolerant, oppressive objective.

But the misquote got me thinking, and reading. While the religious right is out in the public square and in your face, we progressive Christians are often silent. Of course, when we do speak, we are often ignored by the media – it seems that a thoughtful progressive statement by, for example, Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA (and president of the 60 million member Lutheran World Federation) is not as sexy as the latest stupid thing to come out of a televangelist’s mouth. Another example: October 15, a Guinness world record was set by the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign for the most people to stand up for one cause on one day - 23,542,614 – and yet it did not seem to be covered by mainstream media.

Too often, progressive Christians are silent in the face of injustice, racism, militarism, and other demonic spirits in the world. We seem to have lost our voice – or at least I have, to some extent. This is partly due to my calling as preacher: partisanship in the pulpit is a misuse of pastoral authority. I can advocate a partisan position as a citizen and as a Christian individual; I can share my political beliefs in private conversation or forums. But given that Lutherans, at least in Northern Minnesota, are too polite to publicly disagree with their pastor when he or she is preaching, partisanship inevitably turns the pulpit into a bully pulpit. That is not to say that a sermon should always be apolitical, for that is frankly impossible. Whether you are silent in the face of evil or injustice, or you speak out, you are being political. Failure to take a stand is still a stance.

As I have often noted, Bonhoeffer wrote that the Christian has two tasks in the modern world: prayer and righteous action. Through prayer, we communicate with God. Through righteous action, we communicate God’s love, peace, and justice with the world. We must be both grounded and fruitful. Both tasks are political, as Jesus knew so well. I propose to take a break from uploading my sermons to this weblog, and reflect on both tasks.

A college professor of mine, Dr. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, defined wisdom:

Wisdom is sound judgment based on

keen discernment informed by

cultivated memory developed over time into a

habitual disposition and aimed at

knowing and doing the truth.

I propose to seek Christian wisdom in this pregnant age by (re)turning to the source, to scripture, informed by some wise contemporaries: to cultivate a deeper memory of Christian thought, informing keen discernment, to guide sound judgment, for the purpose of forming a habit of knowing and doing the truth. I do not come to this as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, of course. My choice of wise contemporaries will reveal as much.


He who bends to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

- William Blake

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Here is another post from newproclamation, about the rich man that Jesus challenged in Mark 10:

I just found this quote (from ‘A Spirituality of Materiality,’ by Rev. Thomas H. Troeger, in The Living Pulpit, April-June 2006):

I once saw a cartoon picturing a lone religious pilgrim with a staff, a cowl, a long beard, and a haggard look. Stopped at a fork in the road, the religious seeker faces a sign. One arrow points toward “The meaning of life.” Another arrow points in the opposite direction toward “Cheese and crackers.” If that pilgrim believes in the incarnation, he will not hesitate for a second. He will head straight for the cheese and crackers, where others will be gathered to eat and to talk, and perhaps to sing and to dance.

Perhaps that rich man was looking for the meaning of life, while Jesus was inviting him to a party. Not that following Jesus is all cheese and crackers, but we don’t find the meaning of our lives by selfishly searching for it. We find meaning for life as we follow Jesus, the incarnate one, and live and serve in solidarity and community with his body, the church.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Here is a post I made to in regards to next Sunday's lessons: Amos 5:6–7, 10–15; Hebrews 4:12–16; Mark 10:17–31.

First thoughts on law and gospel in this week’s readings.


Amos – Seek the Lord and live... or else! The elite of Israel violated their covenantal obligations toward the poor. Injustice, individual or structural/communal, is a violation of the law. We can have thousands of Ten Commandments monuments on our courthouse lawns, ten thousands of Decalogues posted in our schools, but if we do not have justice for the poor, the Lord will break out against us like fire.

Hebrews – the word of God judges our hearts, our intentions. We are all naked before before the searching eyes of the law.

Mark – First, Jesus lays out the second table of the law, which provides boundaries for our life together in community. If you forget for a moment the commandment forbidding coveting (a sin of the heart which Jesus skips - intentionally?), we can deceive ourselves that we can keep the second table of the law by our own strength.

Then, however, Jesus essentially lays down the first table of the law. Who is the rich man’s god? In whom or what does he trust? Can he give away his source of self-sufficiency and self-worth? Can he answer Jesus’ call to follow him? We don’t know what happened to the rich man after he went away grieving.

Growing up in a more fundamentalist denomination, I remember hearing the bogus explanation of Jesus’ saying about the camel through the eye of a needle: the (non-existent) ‘eye of the needle’ gate in Jerusalem, through which a camel had to kneel down in order to enter. I remember being told that, therefore, it really wasn’t that hard for a rich person to enter heaven (though Jesus says the kingdom of God), so the rich don’t really have to give away their wealth.

The needle-eye gate myth, of course, makes nonsense of the disciples’ reaction of great astonishment: “Then who can be saved?” If the rich just have to kneel down and crawl through the gate of heaven, big deal. I’d rather crawl into heaven than dance into hell.

Who can be saved?” Jesus’ words sting us with the law, because most of us can relate to the rich man. On some level, and relative to someone, every member of my church (including me, of course) is rich. We are challenged to examine our relation to our wealth, whether it is money, property, or status. In what or whom is OUR trust? Could we give it all away? Is Jesus asking US to do so? If we follow this law of Jesus, and take on a life of poverty, will we then be saved by our obedience to Jesus’ law?

That leads us to the GOSPEL. “For God all things are possible.” “Seek the Lord and live... it may be that the Lord... will be gracious.” Salvation belongs to our God, and to Christ, the lamb. We have a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” We are invited to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Frederich Buechner wrote: “A clenched fist can do many things. It can hammer a nail. It can grasp on and hold tight. A fist can be used as a weapon to lash out. But the one thing a clenched fist cannot do, is reach out and receive.” (Ann Newgard-Larson pointed this quote out to me in our text study)

I do not want the gospel message of God’s salvation to obscure the law of the clenched fist – that if our faith is in our stuff, then our faith is not in God. The rich man walked away from Jesus, grieving. Jesus gave him no easy out.

Well, these are my first thoughts, at least – I am once again starting my sermon late! How will YOU preach the law and gospel this week?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Price of Gasoline

Off topic for this blog, but it's the talk on the street:

In my neck of the woods gas prices have gone down a lot in the last few weeks, as they have apparently gone down all over the country. Now, has the US oil supply significantly increased, demand significantly decreased, or is it another election year?

If the supply has increased, who increased it and why? If it was done for political purposes (as it apparently was in 2004), will we be fooled again?

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Eric Lemonholm

September 17, 2006; Proper 19 B

People walked a lot in Jesus’ day.

Most people could not afford a horse or donkey to ride on.

If you had to visit someone 50 miles ahead – like Moorhead – you had to plan your trip carefully. Even if you were in great physical shape, it would take you two or three days.

Jesus is walking along with his disciples.

They are traveling some 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.

This is no Sunday drive.

They have time for serious conversation as they walk the miles.

Along the way, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?”

His friends have all sorts of answers:

John the Baptizer, who baptized people in the Jordan and preached a message of repentance.

Elijah the prophet of the Lord, who stood up against the evil King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel.

Another prophet, one in the long line of prophets in Israel.

Perhaps they debated these different possibilities as they walked along.

Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”

That’s a different question. Jesus was asking them not about what ‘people’ say, but about their own opinions.

Talking about something is different than sharing your own convictions.

Talking about something is different than taking a stand.

When you confess, “This is what I believe,” you are taking a stand, revealing something personal, sharing the contents of your heart and mind.

Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus.

Jesus asks us that question today.

Who is Jesus for you?

With all his usual energy, enthusiasm, and insight, Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus, you are the Anointed One of God, God’s chosen instrument of salvation for Israel and the world, the Son of God.

And Jesus says, “Shhhh!” It’s a secret – for now. Don’t tell!

Jesus doesn’t contradict Peter. Jesus is the Messiah. But at that point, he did not want to let the cat out of the bag. It was pretty dangerous to be labeled as the Messiah in Roman occupied Israel. Only the Emperor could be called ‘the son of God.’

Peter’s witness to Jesus must have made a big impact on the other disciples.

Some of them may have been confused or offended by this new possibility.

Others were inspired – this changes everything!

Jesus – the Messiah! Jesus the Holy One of God! Jesus my Lord!

A new realm of faith opened up for them.

A new way of seeing their friend, their Lord Jesus.

Peter’s faith opened up a world of faith for his friends.

How do our words – what we teach, confess, and share – open up others to meet Jesus the Messiah?

How does what we say reflect our Lord?

Are our friends welcomed into the grace of God?

Think of the difference it makes for children, when their parents and other caring adults share their faith with them.

I know that when my wife and I share our faith in simple words and daily practices with our children, it makes a difference for them – God becomes a part of our daily conversation and life. Just last week as I put my daughter to bed, she asked, “Are God and Jesus part of our family?” When I answered yes, she asked, “Are God and Jesus part of everybody’s family?” If Christ were not a part of our family’s everyday conversation (and we are by no means perfect in that regard), such questions would not come up.

It works for me, too. It is often as I share my faith in caring conversation that my faith is strengthened and clarified. It is often as I prepare a sermon like this that I am challenged to walk my talk. I imagine that Peter, too, was changed when he was moved to confess that Jesus is the Messiah.

And then, Jesus continues the conversation in a new direction.

He shares the truth of what it means to be the Messiah, and to follow the Messiah.

Following Jesus is no walk in the park!

You will face suffering.

You will face rejection.

You will face death.

Following the Messiah does not spare you from these cold hard facts – in fact, following Jesus exposes you to them.

Is this bad news? No. As Jesus tells his friend about his death, he also tells them about his resurrection, when God will raise him on the third day.

Following Jesus is not only suffering, rejection, and death.

It is also resurrection life, joy, salvation.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

We do not only confess Jesus Christ with our lips, we believe him in our hearts and follow him with our actions.

What do our actions as followers of Jesus reveal about our Lord? How does what we do reflect Who we follow?

Or do our words and actions obscure others’ vision of Christ?

Do we say with our lips, ‘Jesus is the Messiah,’ but then deny him by our actions?

If we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus, then, if others are attracted or repulsed, then they may at least catch a vision of the Crucified One, our Lord Jesus.

That does not mean that we must endure unnecessary suffering.

Sometimes, we endure suffering in our lives and say, “This is the cross I must bear,” while all the while God wants us to lay down that particular cross.

If you are in an abusive relationship, that is not a cross God wants you to bear forever – get help and get out as soon as possible.

If a friend or neighbor is suffering, the Christian response is to try to lift the weight from their backs, or at least share their burden.

Imagine telling hungry children, “Hunger is the cross you must bear,” when God wants you to feed them!

The point is not to burden others by heaping crosses on their backs.

The point is to deny ourselves, and live lives centered on God and focused on serving others.

The point is to turn from a focus on our wants to focus on others’ needs.

The human tendency is to focus on ourselves, to think small, to look narrowly at life in terms of our own fulfillment.

When you set your mind on “divine things,” however, your vision expands, your focus widens to embrace others, the world, and God.

You realize the paradox that being self-centered is self-defeating.

When you are focused only on yourself, your self is small and pathetic – like Uncle Scrooge hoarding his wealth for no purpose, while his relationships wither and his friendships die.

When you focus on God, when you focus on speaking and doing God’s truth in the world, then whether you succeed or fail by worldly standards, you are a success from the standpoint of eternity, your circle grows, your life is enriched.

So be faithful.

Trust in God in the midst of suffering.

Don’t give up the struggle.

Bear one another’s crosses.

Know that denying yourself and bearing your cross is not a way to earn God’s favor and love.

God has already given you grace and forgiveness through the cross and resurrection of Christ.

Our task is merely to live in joyful response to that gift, to not worry about our own souls, but to share the good news by what we say and what we do, to live by grace as God’s faithful people. Amen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pieces of a Conversation

I know, I haven't written forever, other than uploading sermons, which is like the lazy pastor's blog. But I have subscribed to, which is "your essential online preaching companion" - it's actually a decent preaching resource site with a community forum that is just starting to grow. Anyway, below are three comments I have made in the last three days, loosely related to the upcoming Gospel text: Mark 8:27-38, which you can read here.

September 11, 2006

With my first look at the texts for this next Sunday, the question that sticks out to me is “But who do you say that I am?” How do our words – what we teach, proclaim, and share – open up others to meet Jesus the Messiah? What do our actions as followers of Jesus reveal about our Lord? Or do our words and actions obscure others’ vision of Christ? If we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus, then, if others are attracted or repulsed, then they may at least catch a vision of the Crucified One.

September 12, 2006

Rev. ____,
I think that what you say is very true. I know that when my wife and I share our faith in simple words and daily practices with our children, it makes a difference for them - God becomes a part of our daily conversation and life. Just last night, my daughter (who will soon be four) asked, "Are God and Jesus part of our family?" When I answered yes, she asked, "Are God and Jesus part of everybody's family?" If Christ were not a part of our everyday conversation (and we are by no means perfect in that regard), such questions would not come up.
It works for me, too. It is often as I share my faith in caring conversation that my faith is strengthened and clarified. It is often as I prepare a sermon that I am challenged to walk my talk. I imagine that Peter was changed when he was moved to confess that Jesus is the Messiah.

September 13, 2006

Kierkegaard wrote, "A life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts." If it is also true that our thoughts, our lives, our beliefs and actions, tend to be formed by the company we keep; then the question becomes With whom do we walk? Who do we have our morning coffee with? Whose books and blogs do we read? Is our circle small or large? Does it extend through time to the past and through space to other peoples in the world? It also matters Who is at the center of our circle, Who is the focal point, the one in whom we trust and to whom we pray.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"Read the Best Books First"

"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all."
Henry David Thoreau

In May, we had a wonderful visit from old friends and scholars from our days in Princeton, Ivica and Matthias. They encouraged me to read, and gave me some good advice on what to read. So, I have begun to read some of "the best books." My problem is that I tend to read a book, or part of a book, and move on to something else, forgetting what I have read. I am like someone who looks at herself in a mirror, turns away, and forgets what she looked like (James 1). So, I propose to keep a reading journal here on this blog, as a way for me to re-member what I read, digest and assimilate it, and share.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Da Vinci Code revisited

Last night, I saw The Da Vinci Code with some pastor friends. I suppose everyone’s commenting on the movie and book, and I went expecting the worst – especially because of the bad reviews the movie has received.

For what my opinion is worth, I think the movie was better than the book. People seem to forget that the book is no literary gem. When good literature is put on screen, we often say, “That was a good movie, but it’s no substitute for the book.” A good novel always contains more than can be captured in two hours on screen. I did not feel that way with this book and movie. There is no depth, no overflowing of meaning and detail in this book that was missed on screen. The movie can be faulted for not being very exciting or fast paced, but listening to the book on tape (unabridged) and then seeing the movie, the movie captures the book very well, and transcends some of its cheesiness.

Here is what I wrote about the book in a comment on my Easter sermon:

I agree about Mary. The sexism that crept into the early church did not originate in Jesus! Mary was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and friends.

In one of the non-typed parts of my Easter sermon, I commented on The Da Vinci Code - how could I not, given the Bible text and the upcoming movie? My problem with the book is not that it gives Mary Magdalene a place of prominence. It would be cool if Jesus had been married, common law or otherwise (from what I know, legal marriage in the Roman empire was usually reserved for Roman citizens) - as a married Protestant, I would not be part of a conspiracy to silence the ‘truth’ about Jesus and Mary’s marriage. There just isn’t any evidence for it - and why Jesus’ first century followers would hide the truth of Jesus’ marriage is beyond me - they weren't celibate priests. [let me add – Peter seemed to have been married.] There are lots of historical inaccuracies in the book - such as arguing that it was the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century who deified Jesus. If Jesus was only a human, then he was deified by his followers in the first century. The manuscript evidence for the Newer Testament and the early church goes way back.

The Da Vinci Code also borders on incoherence, using the old skeptic's argument that Jesus was merely (or only) a human, while making Mary into THE GODDESS. I’d rather lift up Mary as Jesus’ close friend and the first evangelist - the story does make it difficult for people who wish to limit the place of women in the church.

Most importantly, though, The Da Vinci Code is not a very good book. Reading it (listening unabridged on tape), I got the feeling that too much happened in the book in one night. In one night, the main characters went all over Paris searching for clues, while being chased by the police; then they flew to London, and chased around some more; then went to Scotland and- from what little I remember - they solved this mystery of the ages by dawn, and fell in love at the same time.

Part of the cheesiness of the book, in my judgment, was the whole made-for-American-moviegoers-two-main-characters-thrown- together-by-events-and-falling-in-love-in-a-day cliché. From what I recall, there was lots of innuendo between Langdon and Neveu, and the book ends with a promised sexual ‘retreat’ together. In the book, a big part of Langdon’s experience of ‘the sacred feminine’ happens through the sensuality and anticipation of sexual union with Sophie. Is that really a liberating message for women? That is one area in which the movie transcends the book: the sexual innuendo is replaced by a healing touch, a growing friendship – there is no hint of a weekend of lovemaking in their future.

I am not denigrating sexuality, attraction, erotic love. But I would argue that the pagan focus on the sacred feminine and woman as ‘grail,’ bearers of the seed of man, have not always been good for women. From the book and movie, you’d get the picture that Roman religion was kind to women, and then Christianity came along and overturned that. Actually, something of the reverse is true. The earliest followers of Jesus were pretty radically egalitarian (see the place of Mary Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and many women who had leadership and a voice in the earliest church), but as Christianity spread in the incredibly patriarchal Roman Empire, it ‘adapted’ to the sexist culture by limiting the role of women in the church. Christianity took on a negative view of women precisely from paganism. And, sexism can easily coexist with a focus on the sacred feminine: it’s amazing that the book and movie ignore the Roman Catholic Church’s veneration of Mary, the Theotokos or God Bearer, the Mother of God. Some in the RC Church even consider Mary the Co-Redemptrix, the co-redeemer with Jesus. How much more ‘sacred feminine’ can you get?

One more point: I am no expert on the apocryphal Gospels, including the Gnostic gospels – in fact, it’s been years since I read them. But, there is no secret to them – you can search for “Gnostic Gospels” (look for the Nag Hammadi Library) and “New Testament Apocrypha” on and find them. They also don’t seem to tell us much about Jesus, but more about the Gnostic sect.

I just reread the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene). It elevates Mary as one whom Jesus loved more than the other disciples (which I have no problem with, based on John 20), and it puts in Mary’s mouth a secret message from Jesus. But the message is typically Gnostic – anti-flesh, anti-desire, anti-incarnate life, forming an elite group who are ‘in the know,’ while the rest of humanity is lost in ignorance and tied to the flesh. Mary is even anti-feminine in a sense – at one point, she says, “[Jesus] has prepared us and made us into men.” The Jesus of the Bible is much more earthly, much more human, much more life-loving than the Jesus of the Gnostics, in my judgment – and so is the Mary Magdalene of the Bible.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Faith and Doubt

In today's blog entry by Thomas Adams, there are two quotes, one by the Roman Catholic Cardinal Newman and one by the Protestant Paul Tillich, on the question of faith and doubt. Here is my response:

Good discussion!

A question I have is this: What does Newman mean by "deliberately" entertaining and pursuing a doubt? If it is true that doubt is an experienced reality for all people of faith who are not fanatics, as Tillich persuasively argues, then how much doubt is allowed by Newman before faith and grace are lost?

I love Buechner's discussion of faith and doubt:

“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Again, as a good Protestant, I claim "the liberty of doubting the truth" of any fallen, finite human being or organization. Along with "Inheritor of Heaven," I see faith as a relationship with God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do doubts ever arise? Of course. They are a bite in the pants, a wake up call to question, to seek, to grow, to pray, that no submission to someone else's answers should stifle or cut short. Even when Jesus appeared to his disciples in Galilee in Matthew 28: 16-20 and they were worshipping him, "some doubted." But there is no mention of Jesus casting those doubters out. Instead, he gave them a commission and a promise too. Even when I doubt, Jesus has work for me to do, and he has promised to be with me always.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Two views on theologians, by musicians:

First, Johnny Cash in The Man Who Couldn't Cry:

The man who couldn’t cry experiences the extremes of suffering – from viewing “napalmed babies,” to losing his wife, to losing his arm in Vietnam. He ends up in jail, where he is abused, and still not a tear. Finally, ‘experts’ are called in to examine him:

Doctors were called in, scientists, too

Theologians were last and practically least

They all agreed sure enough; this was sure no cream puff

But in fact an insensitive beast

So, he is shipped off to an insane asylum, and he finally learns to cry. In fact, he dies of dehydration from crying. In heaven, everything he lost is restored, and the theologians? In heaven,

The theologians were finally found out.

Wilco has a song called Theologians. It begins:


They don't know nothing

About my soul

About my soul

I'm an ocean

An abyss in motion

Slow motion

Slow motion

They seem to be talking about theologians of glory. Pretending to knowledge of invisible things, calling evil good and good evil, judging the souls of others from a supposedly superior position. The intellectual supporters of Christendom, they are as impotent as Christendom is dying - or dead.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Picture of Mom and Dad

Here is a picture of Mom and Dad that my middle child drew in school last week. Note my blue eyes and gold toed socks, and Mindy's green eyes and pretty hair.
Oh, you know that now that I've discovered the 'add images' button, this blog's gonna have color!

Monday, January 02, 2006

The second reading for today is from Ephesians 4. Here is a key passage for me in my call to Grace Lutheran Church:
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

The key point for me is that my task as a pastor is not to do "the work of ministry" for the rest of the congregation, but "to equip the saints for the work of ministry." Of course, I have ministry work to do, as do all members of the church. But my specific calling as a pastor is not to take someone else's ministry and do it for them, but to encourage, train, and empower others for ministry, to help mobilize the people of God to do God's work in the world. When pastors try to do it all themselves, they burn out. There is just too much to do. When pastors do what they are biblically mandated to do, their burden is shared, and the ministry is multiplied.

On another note altogether: Check out the Cost of War website. It reminds me of Jesus' admonition to count the cost before you undertake any project, including war (Luke 14:28ff.).