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.
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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 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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.
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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

Orthodox Holy Week, the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, Resurrection.


Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

**Disclaimer: the views here may not reflect those of the owner of this blog; Mr Paul Burkhart**

Orthodox Holy Week falls on a different schedule. To the best of my understanding, it is mostly because we never updated our lunar calendar circa the 16th century. Orthodox Pascha can fall as late as early May, I believe. Last year, I was a Catechumen. This year, I’m a full participant. It is vastly different. Lent is a long and arduous spiritual journey of fasting, forgiveness and repentance. Including the Triodion, the march to Pascha lasts 70 days. Lent begins with Forgiveness Vespers. It is one my favorite services of the whole year. At the end of the service, the priests come out and ask each parishoners forgiveness with a prostration and a hug and kiss. Each parishioner does the same to each other. It takes time, but it is worth every second. It is magnificently beautiful and helps show us the absolute need for forgiveness and reconciliation. The Church cannot exist without it. One cannot be saved without it.
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A Brief Theology of Stewardship


paul-money-lent-12-02
Recently, for a class of mine, I had to think through what I thought about the idea of “Stewardship”, or how we relate to and care for the material things around us. The context for this was trying to think well and deeply about how we would attain and treat money being raised to plant new churches. Here were some of my thoughts.

Economics of Abundance

“It is here that the revolutions of empty and inordinate desires takes place: of the lust for a superabundance which is not the natural and beautiful abundance of life but the overflow of nothingness….” (Karl Barth)

“We live lives at the intersection of two stories about the world: the Eucharist and the market. Both tell stories of hunger and consumption, of exchanges and gifts; the stories overlap and compete.” (William Cavanaugh)

When it comes to stewardship, I have two guiding principles. The first is that the Kingdom of God is an economy of abundance that protests the dominant economic narrative of our culture that resources of all kinds exist in a state of scarcity. An economy of scarcity means we must compete in a zero-sum game to maximize our gains and defend against our losses.

To lead on the basis of scarcity is to seek excellence not to honor God, but to “compete” in the ecclesial marketplace for the most market share. It is to turn fundraising into conquests and battles, rather than a loving invitation into vision and mission (as Henri Nouwen beautifully reminds us). In my personal life, scarcity breeds anxiety, worry, and fear; letting the next pay-grade guide my job decisions more than vocational call. It puts a greater emphasis on saving now rather than spending wisely.

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{Good Friday} | prayer & readings for Holy Week (2015)


prayers & readings from Liberti Church’s 2015 Lent & Easter Prayerbook
{click for more Lent Posts}

Worship

call to prayer

Be pleased, O God, to deliver us;
O LORD, make haste to help us!
– from Psalm 70:1

the Gloria Patri

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now,
and so it shall ever be, world without end.
Amen!
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New Seminary Post: Holy Week Music & Readings on Death


Jesus & The Cross

I have a new post on the site Going to Seminary. I am putting up occasional posts giving different things to read around the interwebs, and this week focuses on Holy Week and its theme of death–Christ’s Death, Our Death, and Death conquered. I also give some classical music suggestions for this week (more Lent music suggestions here). I link to articles about a sister in Christ who recently died well, a New York Times piece about watching family die, and some writings by non-Christians about death. It ends with one of my favorite quotes ever. May these writings help you press into this time and our Savior all the more deeply.

Read the full post:
“Around the Web: Holy Week Edition

{Maundy thursday} | prayer & readings for Holy Week (2015)


prayers & readings from Liberti Church’s 2015 Lent & Easter Prayerbook
{click for more Lent Posts}

Worship

call to prayer

Be pleased, O God, to deliver us;
O LORD, make haste to help us!
– from Psalm 70:1

the Gloria Patri

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now,
and so it shall ever be, world without end.
Amen!
Continue reading