The Weight of Gratitude: A Sermon of Mine


job-silohetteI’m going on three decades of attending church services. I’ve heard a lot of sermons on gratitude and almost all of them are the same.

They spend much of their time trying to convince us Americans that we actually are far more wealthy than we ever thought. We have more stuff than most any other people in human history, and so we need to stop being so consumeristic and unsatisfied and just learn to be grateful and give thanks for what we have—because we have a lot. And us Christians have even more reason to be thankful, as we have the greatest gift of all: Jesus!

But all this does is lead us towards some brief, unsustainable, inch-deep emotion of happiness which we then call “gratefulness” and then walk out the door thinking we’ve gotten our annual “gratitude shot”—all while being able to ignore the violence raging in the world and in our souls.

So where is gratitude when we face violence and doubt, or when we hit the muck and mire of life, the pits and poverties of existence, the pain and injustice? Does gratitude have nothing to say?

Well that’s what my most recent sermon discusses (I’ve also written about this before). The sermon text is Psalm 40,  Let me know what you think. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

The Unintentional Idolatry of “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”


flickr-sculpture-worship-kiss

I like to think I listen to really good music–and I do. My most recent listens have been Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell, Mozart’s Requiem, Miles Davis’ A Kind of Blue, Fugees’ The Score, and Taylor Swift’s 1989. But I also have a secret, closeted (until now) habit of listening to Christian Praise music on my own.

One of my favorite more recent songs is called “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by the Australian artist Matt Redman (video below). We sing it at my church, and I listen to it on my own. It’s one of the better contemporary worship songs out there, but there is a grave grammatical error in the song that, for at least me, colors my experience of this song in a distracting way. Here’s the chorus of the song:

Bless the Lord oh my soul, Oh my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before, Oh my soul
I’ll worship your holy name

Do you see it? Yes, there is an odd tense change from present imperative verbs to a future verb in the last line, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Rather, it’s that the first three lines are speaking to one’s soul about God, and then it says “I’ll worship your holy name”. Who is being spoken to? Throughout the chorus, the singer is speaking to their own soul, telling their soul to worship God, and then it jumps to second person.

I know, I know, the song’s intention is to turn to worshipping God, but grammatically, it is offering this worship to one’s own soul. And I think this matters for several reasons.
Continue reading

Does God Really Love Cities More?


philly-coffee-reflection-buildingThe seminary program I’m in is one focused on urban centers, and to that end we end up reading writings by a crew of pastors and theologians and who want to give a theological emphasis to cities. I’m currently in a course in which we’re reading people like Tim Keller and Harvie Conn.

I bought in to all of this for a long time, but now I’m having some reservations (some of which I’ve mentioned before), which I want to offer up to you all and get your thoughts.

Urban “versus” Rural?

Ever since moving into cities, I’ve fallen in love with them. After hearing Tim Keller talk about them for the first time while in college, I totally bought into the centrality of cities into God’s ongoing mission.

And then….I met my now-fiancee, who grew up Mennonite on a 300-acre dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania. And it threw all my thoughts on this issue upside down.
Continue reading

The Word of God is not written in ink [QUOTE]


“We receive God’s promises only when they are confirmed by the blood of Christ … we hear God speaking to us only when we see Christ offering himself as a pledge in what is said to us. If we could only get it into our heads that the Word of God we read is written not so much with ink as with the blood of the Son of God.”

–John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews

(from Martha L. Moore-Keish’s excellent book, Do This in Remembrance of Me)

What is a Sacrament? (Happy Corpus Christi!)


eucharist-bw-wafer

Today is the Church Holy Day called Corpus Christi (Wiki), Latin for “the Body of Christ”, in which the Church takes a few moments to reflect and meditate upon the gift that is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, or Communion). In honor of this, I thought I’d share a recent essay I wrote articulating what I believe is happening in the Sacraments. Let me know what you think!

A sacrament is any material thing that God uses to communicate himself within Creation. Yes, this is quite the broad definition for “sacrament” (little “s”). Every single way that God has ever revealed himself in this world has always been in a mediated sense. God has never been revealed in his full “Godness”. It is always through a material means, and mostly clearly in Jesus Christ.

In this sense, I can accept things like marriage and confirmation as sacraments; but I can also see a good beer, TV show, conversation, or even suffering (like the Cross) as a sacrament. Any material means by which God communicates any part of who he is a sacrament.  It has also been quite freeing for me to see all of life as inherently sacramental.

In this sense, sacramentalism becomes a primary filter through which to understand and describe reality as it is and the nature of the Creator/Creation distinction. This collapses the old unhelpfully-gnostic “transcendence/imminence” dichotomies.
Continue reading

Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconToday in the Christian church calendar is Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.” (You can read a prayer and poem I posted earlier for this Holy Day)

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
Continue reading

“Selma”: A Post-Christian Treatment of Christianity


Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Lyndon_JohnsonI recently re-watched Selma, the movie about the Civil Rights Marches in Selma, Alabama led by Martin Luther King, Jr. I really, really love this movie. Watching it again, I couldn’t help but notice some powerful dynamics in how faith is represented in the film.

It was directed by Ava Duvernay, who, with this movie, became the first black female director to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t like artist analysis in approaching a work, as I think a piece of art should stand on its own regardless of its creator. But at times, after the fact, it can illuminate some aspects. And indeed, in looking into Duvernay’s background, I found that she is a very helpful symbol for the spiritual place many in our society find themselves.

She grew up in Compton, in the midst of many of the structural, generational, and long-standing effects of political and economic segregation, disempowerment, and white privilege. She went to an all-girls Catholic high school where, no doubt, she received a very robust religious education.

And yet, now, as she made this film about a man whose legacy is built on acts flowing from his religious convictions, when Rolling Stone asked her, “Are you religious yourself?”, she responded with, “No, not religious. But I love God.”

This, I think, captures well the dynamic of a film like Selma in our day-and-age, when it comes to the relationship between faith and culture. Let me be clear: the film is not in the least hostile to faith. This is not some Christian cultural martyrdom post. The film powerfully depicts the religious tenor and foundation of King’s movement.
Continue reading

In Philly TONIGHT: Mayoral Candidate Forum on Homelessness & Poverty


client-mouth-beard-bwIn Philadelphia, there is a non-partisan group called Vote for Homes that advocates for political action around issues of homelessness and poverty. Tonight they are hosting a forum with the candidates in Philadelphia’s mayoral race to ask them all the same set of questions regarding housing, economics, social justice, homelessness, and poverty. The event will be moderated, and the candidates will be pressed hard to really answer the questions and not give political non-answers. It should be incredibly eye-opening to the values of the candidates. Here’s the info:

Real Solutions for Hunger & Homelessness Mayoral Candidates Forum
Thursday, May 7 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Broad Street Ministry
315 S. Broad Street, Center City Philadelphia

Location is wheelchair accessible. Sign language interpretation will be provided.

Some of the Best Must-Reads for #Baltimore & #FreddieGray



black-face-profile-crop
If you’re anything like me, your social media feed is overwhelmed by chatter about Baltimore and the ensuing unrest after the death of yet another unarmed black man, Freddie Gray, at the hands of police. I have my own thoughts, emotions, and passions in all of this (some of which I’ve talked about before), but at the end of the day I’m still a white man–there’s only so much I can speak to these issues.

With that in mind, I want to offer the voices of others in some of the most thought-provoking pieces I’ve read the past few days (in both good and bad ways). I hope this offers context, understanding, and perspective, stretching our minds and getting us thinking (and hopefully talking) in ways we perhaps have not been. Add links to any of your favorite pieces in the comments below.

Mandatory Reading

“Nonviolence as Compliance” | The Atlantic
“When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself…. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

“David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish” | The Marshall Project
“[How to fix Baltimore?] We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war [that’s destroying] police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community…”
(This is the best summary I’ve read on the context of what’s going on. But it’s long. If it’s too long for you, The Washington Post has a brief summary.)

Continue reading

Male Feminist Theology: a Vision; a Proposal


Adolph Gottlieb-rolling

Starting next week, I will be doing a blog series that walks through a framework for what I’m calling “Male Feminist Theology”. This series is based on a paper I wrote a few months ago. The paper itself is more technical than these blog posts will be and cites sources without giving any introduction or explanation. The blog posts will break it up into bite-sized chunks, and I will heavily edit them to (hopefully) make them more accessible to the casual reader.

But, if you don’t care about all the context and fuller explanation, and just want to jump to the end, I wanted to give you all a chance to read it in full if you wish. I’ve embedded it below, but you can also find it on Scribd and Academia.edu. Let me know what you think! Continue reading

Back on Track: The How (and Why) of Christian Male Feminism


maleFeminism110314

Remember the beginning of Lent, when I said I wanted to lay out a vision for how Christian men can think about God, the Church, and Theology in a way that takes into account the concerns of feminists? I said that these thinkers had been exposing the very real damage that has been wrought by us treating “White Male Theology” as default, neutral, objective “Theology”.

Well, believe it or not, we never actually got to what I wanted to write about. Full disclosure: that whole series was conceived because I had written a paper on this topic that I was proud of–a paper I wanted to edit down and make into a series of blog posts. And yet, before we could get to what amounted to a term paper, I had to take the reader through a lot of the other ideas that were in the rest of the class.
Continue reading

NEW POST: Why Sleep is an Essential Seminary Course


church-sleep-humor
I have such a love-hate relationship with sleep. I love it when I’m in it, but avoid it at all costs. I also have a new post on Going To Seminary in which I talk about sleep and the seminarian. No, it’s not just about how sleep is good for you, but how it actually affects us spiritually. Check it out. Here’s the intro:

In any school, especially graduate school—including seminary—one of its greatest costs is to one’s sleep. At least, I know that’s the case for me. I spent most of my adult schooling years with an average nightly sleep duration of 4 to 6 hours. And let’s be honest, for most of us that find ourselves staying up late, it’s often not that we’re doing school the entire time. Sometimes we’re trying to recover from the school work we’ve already finished, or maybe further putting off the work we’ve yet to do.

Read the full post:
“Sleep: One of Your Most Important Seminary Classes

Orthodox Holy Week, Continued.


Today is suspended on a tree He Who suspended the earth over the waters.

A photo posted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick (@asdamick) on

I wish everyone I know and love could come to Holy Week. The service of the Twelve Gospel Readings is so rich. It is long and it is rigorous (3 hours) but that is the purpose of liturgy — to re-form us in the spirit of Christ, away from the World, and that takes work. A lot of it. After the reading of the 5th Gospel, the lights go nearly out. The Priest enters carrying the icon of Christ on the Cross (video can be seen here). It is a slow procession and he hymns: Continue reading