For the Book Club I’m leading at my church, we’re reading James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular (a summary of a much bigger, denser book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor). To begin, we turn to the opening pages to get our bearings and become acquainted with the general contours of the pages to come.
Honestly, if the Preface and Introduction were all there was, this would be worth the price of admission. It is such a helpful 50,000-foot view of the ideas unpacked in the rest of the book.
Smith’s account begins with an attempt to narrate some of what our day and age “feels” like. He speaks of the disconnect between typical American Christianity and the way the rest of the world experiences reality. He points out that nonbelievers in the Christian faith are actually able to find meaning, fullness, and significance without appealing to any divine Being. And yet, even those without belief can’t seem to shake a certain “hauntedness” to our world.
In short, neither adherents to religion nor those that don’t find much usefulness for it can construct a way of experiencing reality that takes into account all of what it means to inhabit humanity today. We’re all sort of stuck in this liminal space, this limbo, seeking distraction of reductionism to break the tension. We’re all “suspended between the malaise of immanence and the memory of transcendence”.
I hate when I do this. I start a Blog Post Draft, come back to it later, and when I press “Publish”, it publishes it on the date I started the post and not when I actually published it. This makes everything out of order and you, my dear readers, don’t get it in your feed. To remedy that, you can find my first post on our Book Club Book right here. Thanks, and apologies.
The hardest thing about writing anything about politics (or religion, for that matter) is not having someone write you off immediately by placing you into one of the Right-Left boxes that dominate our national discussion. I am really not a liberal progressive. I have voted Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and even Green Party. In 2008 I voted down the ticket but conscientiously abstained from casting a vote for President as a “none of the above” protest vote.
All that to say, on most any issue, I can see both sides of it. I can see why people believe what they believe and I can see much of its merits. But (as so many written sentences this election season have concluded), that was until Donald Trump.
I am so strongly against Trump for President. I am not against critiquing the foreign and domestic policy views of the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton. I am not closed off to new recalibrations over trade and foreign policy. I understand the economic forces that have driven wedges between the working class and all others, and I can see the pain and malaise in middle America and groups that have been so forgotten and overlooked.
I see the forces that have given rise to Donald Trump and though I want to validate the cynicism, pain, and feeling of disempowerment, I struggle to know how to communicate to these voters that Trump is not the answer. He will not help you. People may respond that he’s better than Secretary Clinton. He’s not. Crunching the numbers, it is clear that Clinton’s policies would be far more effective in ameliorating these cultural and economic pressures.
You may not like Clinton personally, then, but we can’t overlook one candidate’s personal foibles only to condemn the other for theirs. On moral, legal, ethical, intellectual, and religious grounds, Trump is far and away the lesser of the candidates. If character, morality, and heck, even legal uprightness are important to you in choosing a candidate, Trump is worse.
We live in a time and place that is happy to tell us all the things we need to do to be the kinds of people we want to be. And churches are good at telling us more things to do and occupy our time with in order to live in greater closeness with God.
But there are some parts of being human and knowing God that don’t involve doing more, but rather stopping and doing less.
At my church, over the summer, we want to try and create space where people can come and just stop; to experience silence, reflection, prayer, meditation, and a little guidance in those things. This is a spiritual muscle we don’t exercise much, but it’s an essential one to work out if we are to become more human and know God more deeply.
So starting tonight, from 6:30-8pm and every Thursday in July and August, we’ll be having an open, unstructured time for prayer, reflection, contemplation, journaling, and meditation.
A few times I’ll get up and read some Scripture, but outside of that, it’s a space people are free to come and go, lie down, walk around, sit on the floor, or whatever they need to connect with themselves and connect with God. No matter your church home, religious tradition, or lack of belief, feel free to use this space in whatever way you need.
So feel free join us at 17th and Sansom St in Center City Philadelphia between 6:30 and 8, and each subsequent Thursday.
Last week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.
Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.
[Prayer Guide: pdf/docx ; Leader’s Guide: pdf/docx]
Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.
How (Not) To Be Secular
by James K.A. Smith
For those of us that are Christians, we come to church on Sundays to get re-grounded and re-oriented in the rhythms and truths of the Christian life.
Many of us also try and live life in various small groups and Bible Studies throughout the week in order to press these truths all the more deeply in our hearts and communities.
But still, some of us are wired to wrestle with big ideas in a different way. That’s why at my church we’re starting the Liberti Theology Book Club: a way to walk with others through different perspectives and insights on theology, the Bible, and Christian thought.
It’s been designed to take up as little of your time as needed, while also letting us really work through some deeper and harder parts of faith. Also, because of the decentralized nature of it, anyone across the country can join in!
by Marie Villeza
It is important that aging adults are able to overcome any barriers affecting their ability to participate in church and church activities. The church and its parishioners can help senior members overcome these obstacles. First, however, they need to recognize what obstacles aging members may be facing, and implement strategies to ease their burdens or boost their involvement.
The past few weeks (heck, the past several years) have exposed so many fissures in the fabric of American society. It has shown how power, politics, and the invisible structures and systems around us have attempted to paper over real divisions that still remain. Last week, especially, showed us how these divisions can overflow into violence and cut to the core of the American psyche.
And the Christian Church ought to be there to give voice to this pain.
Tonight at 7p at Liberti Church‘s Center City Campus (17th and Sansom St), I will be leading a service of lament for our country, our cities, and our hurting black communities experiencing injustice. There will be time to hear Scripture, reflect, sit in silence, and also offer prayer from those in the pews. We will ask hard questions, sit in the pain, and not settle for easy answers. It is open to the public and all are welcome, no matter your religion, political persuasion, or personal opinion in this national discussion. I hope to see you there.
[image credit: photo from the Intersect Blog]
Having just graduated from my own Distance Graduate School program, I felt the desire to collate some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Through the course of my program, I wrote for two websites focused around encouraging students as they looked for and went through seminary programs. Now, though the pieces below focus on seminary, most all of the lessons can be applied to any sort of distance education. I hope these are a help to you, and happy learning! Feel free to add your own tips and tricks below:
Tools of the Trade
Keeping Things Organized
Read all my posts on Distance Education, including about health and wellness–mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
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As I prepare for ordination in the Reformed Church in America, I am wrestling with the documents, Creeds, and Confessions to which I will be committing myself. I invite you to reflect alongside me.
In the Belgic Confession, one of the most foundational documents of the Reformed tradition, there is an incredibly odd Article towards the end–number 36. It is about the Civil Government and it says, among other things:
We believe that because of the depravity of the human race, our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. God wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings….
And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word….
The whole of the Confession is worth your time and reading. It is beautiful and ecumenical. Its desire is to bring people together and articulate the Reformed tradition in a charitable and loving way. And yet, this Article–the next to the last one in the whole writing–sticks out like a sore thumb in both tone and content. It’s so confusing. Why is it written this way? What do we make of it today?
My go-to Bible Study software of Logos. They have some amazing sales every once and a while and right now they are having a great sale on the New International Commentary Series (popularly known as NICOT and NICNT). They are selling each volume at $19.99 a pop, which is amazing. I am really picky about commentaries, but I know a good deal when I see it. So, I’m enlisting your help to help me pick out a few of these for my library.
So…for those of you that have had experience with these, which would you say are really good and why? Which would you say are definitely not worth one’s time?
So you know what I’m looking for: I go to commentaries more for biblical critical scholarship, not systematic theology. Even though I am theologically conservative, I really do not enjoy commentaries by conservative Evangelicals that spend most of their time grinding their conservative axe against all those “big bad liberals”. Those commentaries end up being more about conservative theological apologetics than the text. For that reason, I find it far more helpful to engage with commentaries that have an openness and sympathy to critical (“liberal”) scholarship.
In short, if one of the primary selling points for a commentary is that it is “conservative”, then it’s probably not for me. I can think of so many other adjectives I would prefer came to one’s mind first to describe a good commentary. If a commentary writer is conservative, great! But breathlessly defending that dogma at the expense of the text isn’t helpful to me.
Okay sorry, soapbox done. What do you all think?
I hate when I do this. I published a post earlier that had the wrong publishing date on it, soooo….here’s the correct link! Enjoy and comment!
Yes, I graduated from seminary, and yet I still have a couple more classes I’m finishing up. One of them is going through the documents, Creeds, Confessions that define the theology of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. I’m having to write a bunch of reflections on differents aspects of these writings, and I offer them here.
Every way of understanding the world involves creeds and confessions. “Creed” comes from the Latin word meaning “I believe”, and a Confession from the Latin for “acknowledge”. A Creed or Confession, then, is simply a distillation of what you acknowledge and believe. There’s nothing weird or particularly “Catholic” about it.
From Creeds to Trinity
If you are a Christian, no matter which part of the family you call home, your beliefs almost certainly fall in line with what have been called the “Ecumenical Creeds”, which are the oldest and simplest articulations of the Christian essentials. They include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Now, if you were going to start writing out the core of what you believe, where would you begin? The interesting thing about these Ecumenical Creeds is that they are built entirely, both in foundation and structure, around the doctrine of the Trinity. Why?