Monday, January 31, 2011

Member Blog Meet & Greet

Good morning and I hope you've enjoyed your Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

I bet we have lots of new members to welcome to the unofficial PC(USA) web ring this week. Welcome, all of you! Unfortunately, Ring Surf is presently unwilling to share the pending memberships awaiting approval. Alas.

So, in the meantime, if you've filled out a Ring Surf application, haven't had a formal welcome here, and don't see your blog linked in the sidebar (below, right) please let me know!

Email pcusablog AT gmail DOT com and I'll add you to the blog roll manually. (There's not much I can do about Ring Surf, unfortunately.)

After our congregational meeting today we had a retirement reception for a church volunteer. All churches depend heavily on volunteers, but this guy really went above and beyond. He served as the Clerk of Session for many years, was the director of lay ministry, ran our annual 8-week officer training course, participates on many committees, was the A/V guy, had an office with the rest of the staff (and a church email address and full time office hours) and generally always knows what's going on. He will be missed! Of course, he won't be missed - he'll still be a very active church member - but all the behind-the-scenes things he managed will now fall to other hands. As one member asked today, "what army will replace Jim?"

One of the things I most respect about Jim as a leader is his nurturing of other leaders. He was never out to control situations or amass power for himself; he is all about responsibility and encouraging others to step up into leadership roles.

Does your church have a Jim?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 30, 2011, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  Content is cross-posted on my personal blog Summit to Shore.

Micah 6:1-8
v. 1 Rather than the usual and customary “This is the word that came to Micah” we have a call to “Hear”. How much is this opening verse influenced by, an allusion to, and a midrash on Deuteronomy 6:4 and similar passages?

v. 2 Are the mountains and foundations of the earth serving as witnesses? Judges? It is usually the people of Israel complaining to and about the LORD. Now the LORD is complaining about the people.

v. 5 I like the fact that the LORD mentions Miriam along with Moses and Aaron. Exactly what are “the saving acts of the LORD” and how does one “know” them?

v. 6 This reads like a response to the indictment in 1-5, yet there is no narrative transition.

v. 8 Who is speaking in this verse, Micah or the LORD? According to my math, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God is equal to or greater than all the genuflections, burnt offerings, or human sacrifices we could possibly render.

Psalm 15
v. 1 What is the expected answer?

vs. 1-5 If taken literally, these verses seem to suggest that no one may abide in the LORD’s tent. No one may dwell on the LORD’s holy hill. Does bringing these verses into conversation with Micah 8b offer any additional insight?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
v. 18 What is the meaning of “foolishness”

v. 19 As an amateur philosopher, I find this verse a little disconcerting. Maybe we need to deconstruct it and explore its deep structure. By the way, where is this written?

v. 20 Whom might Paul have in mind?

v. 21 So while human wisdom will be destroyed, it is alright for God to be wise?

v. 22 So “wisdom” is being used as a metaphor or code word for “Greeks”? What about Christians who centuries later would refer to Plato as a proto-Christian? What sort of “signs” do Jews demand?

v. 23 How is the proclamation of Christ crucified a “stumbling block” to Jews? How is the proclamation of Christ crucified “foolishness” to Gentiles?

v. 24 Here we encounter call language again. What does it mean to equate “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God” with Christ and vice versa?

vs. 26-29 this might have preached in Paul’s day, but what about white, upper middle class, Christian America? This might preach in an economically distressed, immigrant, or even middle class congregation, but in Ole First Church?

v. 30 wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption are not necessarily common everyday words. How can a teacher or preacher unpack them?

v. 31 Where is it so written and how does that writing’s context inform this passage?

Matthew 5:1-12
v. 1 Why is “crowds” plural? This is such a familiar passage, how can we hear it again but as if for the first time?

v. 3 In this and in the following eight verses, what does it mean to be ‘blessed”? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Who are the poor in spirit today?

v. 8 What about the prohibition about looking upon the face of God?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Working or Worshiping the land?

When Adam is placed in the garden of Eden he is placed in relationship to the fertile soil for which he is named: he is to “till it and keep it,” if you read the NRSV, or to “work it and take care of it,” in the NIV, “work the ground and keep it in order” if you’re partial to Eugene Peterson’s Message, or “tend and watch over it” if you read the New Living Translation.
What on earth is he doing?
Two Hebrew verbs. One is abad, to “serve,” most literally, as a servant serves a master, or to “worship,” as a person does to God. It does have the rarer meaning of “to work” without an indication of for whom you work – but usually it indicates a service rendered by an inferior for a superior. My California soul is deeply delighted at the notion of our first ancestor “worshipping” the soil. And I’m also thrilled to see that there was a positive paradigm for a human’s labor rendered to the soil, before the fall and expulsion from Eden whereupon we are told “in toil you shall eat of [the fruit of the land] all the days of your life.
Two is shamar, to “watch,” most literally, to observe with one’s eyes, OR as a watchman watches over a castle, to keep, protect, or preserve. I respect and appreciate the idea of protecting and preserving the land, but there’s also the aspect of watching it that takes a learner’s eye – to learn what the land can do, what it needs, how it will react to rain and sun and tilling and any other interaction it may have.
Ellen Davis comes up with four words: when it comes to the land, Adam is to “work it and serve it, observe it and preserve it.” We must fall to our knees, learn from it, respect its limitations, appreciate its art, marvel at its wonders, protect them from harm. This is our call.

(Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. p30)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Go Fish!: Engaging Evangelism

Over the last few years the PCUSA folks in Louisville have been making an effort to get Presbyterians interested in evangelism. As you might imagine, this is not an easy task.

I attended the evangelism track of Big Tent in 2009, and found that some attendees seemed wary of how to proceed when it came to evangelism in their congregations. There were the usual (cringe-worthy, for me) comments about the “dreaded E-word”, followed by nervous laughter. And yet, I think we all understood that sharing the Good News with our communities is an imperative if our churches are to continue in the years to come.

Eric Hoey, Director of Evangelism and Church Growth, and Ray Jones, Coordinator for Evangelism, patiently made the case for evangelism, and introduced speakers from around the country to encourage and train us.

Since Jones and his colleagues have been hard at work on a new church resource they will unveil at this June’s Big Tent in Indianapolis, called, Engage. After talking to Jones, I find the upcoming initiative promising, because it links discipleship, social justice and evangelism. Jones himself said they are very excited about Engage.

Jones pointed out that discipleship is the necessary foundation to Christians engaging in evangelism. He told me that practicing evangelism “outside of disciple making is going to be a weird and wacky exercise.”

He also made the case that evangelism and social justice always linked in the New Testament, but that somehow in church history the two were separated.

“The main thing we’re hoping is that people will see that evangelism is essential to the church’s ministry, and that it’s closely tied to social justice,” he told me.

Engage is something he hopes will help churches produce people who will not only serve their communities, but will also share their faith with others.

The initiative has four main emphases, Jones said. Each aspect will:

  • - Engage participants with the Gospel, starting with the story of Jesus, showing how God is on a mission to heal a broken world;
  • - -Engage participants in their own faith stories, showing how each of us has a story of transformation to share with others;
  • - -Engage the congregation in what it means to be a disciple making church; what shifts have to be made to encourage disciple making?
  • - Engage the community by first finding out how congregations can serve the communities around them.

“The first thing that we really looked at was where do we begin? We have to begin with this notion that we’ve all got a story, and we’re part of a larger story,” Jones said of the first two emphases.

On the last emphasis, Jones said Engage would ask congregants to think about their spheres of influence in the community at large. Who do they regularly come into contact with? And if they aren’t coming into contact with non-Christians, how can they stop hanging out at church, and start hanging out with people who aren’t a part of church? Where is God already at work out in the community, and how can we get in on that work?

Jones said Engage is designed to start with a Session before it is introduced to the congregation. The idea would be for the elders to interact on the material for the first 45 minutes of a Session meeting, taking the place of a devotional time. Elders would engage with the Gospel, as well as with their own faith stories.

Once the Session had gone through the materials, other church leaders would participate. Jones said the recommendation would be that the leaders begin with a retreat that takes them through the same material as the Session went through.

The retreat would then be followed by gatherings one night a month. At the gatherings the leaders would break into small groups, with elders leading the groups. The main focus at these gatherings would help elders and leaders determine their spheres of influence outside of the church, and what it would look like to engage others in the community.

There would also be a chance for the leadership of the church to actually walk the community surrounding the church, and notice what’s happening. The exercise is designed to help leaders see where God is already at work, and to figure out how to partner with the community to get in on what God is doing.

The final piece of Engage is a six-week small group experience for the entire congregation, linked to the Sunday worship experience.

While it would be tempting to see Engage as a program to help congregations bring more people into church, Jones said that’s not the point.

“When you talk about evangelism, most churches think it means getting more people into church,” he said. “It’s more than that; it’s making Jesus real for people.”

Are you ready to Engage? How are you or your congregation already engaging the community around you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 23, 2011, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 9:1-4
v. 1 Who are in anguish? When was the former time? Where is the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali and what is so special about it? When might the latter time be? Who is “he”?

v. 2 Who walked in darkness and lived in a land of deep darkness?

v. 4 Who is the “you” has broken these things? Who was the oppressor? What happened “on the day of Midian”?

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
v. 1 Who shall you fear and of who shall you be afraid? In my experience, fear can be a crippling and paralyzing experience for congregations facing an uncertain future and needing to change. The “light” of this verse explains why this psalm was paired with the Isaiah reading. When read together, how does psalm enter into dialogue with the First Reading and vice versa?

v. 2 A worthy petition, don’t you think?

v. 5 What might qualify as a “day of trouble”? Being concealed under the cover of a tent and being set high on a rock (for all to see) seem like a mixed metaphor.

v. 7 This verse could be used as a response in bidding prayer.

vs.8-9 What can happen to people who see the face of God? What does it mean to seek God’s face?

v. 9 Why might God turn away and cast off?

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
One problem with this passage might be that we are too familiar with it and our preconceived notions of what it says and means might get in the way of fresh interpretations. On the other hand, readers may want to review Is Christ Divided: A Report Approved by the 200th General Assembly (1988), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  as a lens through which to view and interpret this passage.

v. 10 How does Paul strengthen his appeal?

v. 11 Who is Chloe and Chloe’s people?

v. 12 Who is Apollos? Have you ever heard talk in our particular church approximating what Paul is describing here?

v. 13 Rhetorical questions presuming the answer “No”.

vs . 14-16 I think Paul, in another letter, claimed to never have baptized. Even in this verse, Paul does not see to totally trust his own memory.

v. 17 On what basis is Paul arguing that eloquent wisdom might empty the cross of Christ of its power? For generations after Paul, Philosophy was considered the handmaiden to Theology.

Matthew 4:12-23
After an excursion into John, we are now back to a somewhat lectio continua reading of Matthew.

v. 12. Why did Jesus withdraw to Galilee upon learning that John had been arrested. From where did Jesus withdraw?

v. 13 Apparently, Jesus withdrew from Nazareth. What, if any, is the significance of Capernaum?

v. 14 Other than the fulfillment of prophecy (see today’s First Reading), is there any other significance to Capernaum?

v. 17 Have fun unpacking Jesus’ proclamation.

vs. 18-20 How does this version of the call of Simon and Andrew differ from last week’s account in the reading from John? Why the difference? Note the word “immediately”. What is the meaning (or meanings) of “followed”?

v. 21 Why might Jesus’ first four disciples have been two sets of brothers?

v. 22 Note another appearance of “immediately”. What more do John and James leave behind compared to what Simon and Peter left behind. What are we called to leave behind when we follow Jesus?

v. 23 Should we assume at Simon, Andrew, James and John were “following” Jesus as he went through Galilee.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Leviticus rediscovered

I commend to you a little reading in Leviticus.
Nobody commends Leviticus. That’s the backwardest part of the Bible. When my youth group performed the “Bible in 15 minutes” we summarized Leviticus as:
Don’t have sex with your daughter.
Don’t have sex with your sister-in-law.
Don’t have sex with your great-aunt.
If you have an oozy skin discharge, OR if you touch a corpse…
And in the interest of fitting the rest of the Bible into 15 minutes, the whole cast yelled “ew gross!” and ousted Leviticus from the stage.
Today, I commend to you a few verses from Leviticus. Specifically, from the collection known as the “Holiness Code” (chs 17-26). You can skip the parts about whom not to have sex with (just do it with someone you love and aren't related to, ok?), and go on to chapter 19.

Now you need a little Hebrew, but I’ll provide it. NOTICE how people, creatures, and land are all treated similarly, even with the same words: you shall not reap the edge (pe’a) of your field (19:9) nor will you shave the edge (pe’a) of your beard (19:27). NOTICE that your fruit trees are to remain uncircumcised (‘arelim 19:23) for three years, whereupon its first “cutting” or harvest of fruit is dedicated to the Lord. If that’s not telling us “treat your trees like people,” I don’t know what it is. NOTICE that the land doesn’t just take male metaphors, it’s female too: “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, that the land not become prostituted and full of depravity” (19:29).
This is the same great chapter that tells us “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18) and even “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (19:34)… and I wonder. Hidden under this code, are we actually being told…
*to tenderly care for our fields as we do our own bodies?
*to protect our land as fiercely as we protect our daughters?
*to honor and celebrate the fruit of a tree the same way we would celebrate the life of a baby boy?

I commend to you a little reading in Leviticus 19. Enjoy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Blog Club

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I've had some interesting conversations with my two daughters (ages 3 and 7) about what this means.

PC(USA) Resources for Martin Luther King Day and Race Relations Sunday: In faithful witness to the love of Christ, the church is committed to confronting the ideology of racism and racial oppression, working to overcome racism with prayer, discernment and worship-based action. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Race Relations Sunday provide opportunities to celebrate the diversity of God's family.

Good morning and welcome to another Monday Blog Club!

This week I'd like to highlight three members of our blog roll.

  1. NOT EXACTLY AS PREACHED: Because the Holy Spirit has something to say about it, in and out of the pulpit by St. Blogwen. The author describes himself as "an ordained minister and licensed architect. Or is it a licensed minister and ordained architect? Lately, an astonished substitute teacher. And a saint only in the First Corinthians sense of the word." As for the blog itself, "THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS in the pastor's study. He also speaks to the pastor in the pulpit. These are my pulpit supply sermon texts as written and printed-- but never quite as preached." (I wonder what the text of a sermon exactly as preached would look like. Nevermind! I don't think I'd enjoy a sermon read verbatim from the page...)
  2. Not So Reserved: Welcome to my park bench from which we can notice and discuss the traces and signs of God's presence and activity in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Have a seat. Relax and take a look around. Something big is happening, and you are invited to participate. The author, Stewart, from Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, United States, describes himself as a "Creature of dust, child of God, transplant to Western Pennsylvania, guest preacher here and there." In addition to information about where and when he's preaching, Stewart's blog includes his Twitter updates.
  3. Notes from Off-Center: Society and theology from the view of a Christian pragmatist. The author, Andrew (Drew) Tatusko hold both an M.Div. and Th.M. and is a college/university instructor. More information about his education, work, and publications here. The website includes a blog (organized by category, chock full of thought-provoking posts), Twitter feed, and a robust network of out-going links.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 16, 2011, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 49:1-7
v. 1 Who is speaking?

v. 2 How shall we deal with the militaristic imagery?

v. 3 Israel?

v. 6 How could an entire nation/people be a light to the nations?

v. 7 Is this a reference to pre-Christian anti-Semitism?

Psalm 40:1-11
v. 1 Is this Job’s psalm? Seriously,is the speaker an individual, a community, or both?

v. 3 What does the new song symbolize? Why do some worshipers complain about learning new hymns and singing unfamiliar hymns?

v. 6 Does this verse condemn or outlaw sacrifice and offering outright? In light of this verse, why do we still collect or take up an offering during worship?

v. 7 What scroll? What book?

v. 8 What biblical imagery does this verse remind you of? Jeremiah 31:33 perhaps?

vs. 9-10 What is “the great congregation”?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
v. 1 And who was Sosthenes?

v. 2 Paul might be “called to be an apostle” but the church in Corinth is “called to be saints”. What are you and your church called to be?

v. 3 A nice liturgical greeting that combines elements of both Greek and Hebrew letter writing.

v. 5 In speech and knowledge of every kind? What does Paul have in mind?

v. 7 What does Paul mean or what is he referring to when he writes about “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

v. 9 Another call, this time “into the fellowship of his Son”.

John 1:29-42
v. 29 What happened the day before the “next day”? What is the theological significance of John’s proclamation “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”? Try unpacking that!

v. 32 what is significant about John’s testimony? See verse 33.

v. 34 Is it enough to see but not testify? Can one testify if one does not see?

v. 35 Another “next day”. So what day now is it? What is the significance that John had disciples?

v. 36 I had not realized before just how redundant this Gospel can be.

v. 37 What is the meaning (or what are the meanings) of “follow”?

v. 38 Jesus asks a direct question. Why don’t the two give him a direct answer? What is the meaning )or what are the meanings) of “looking”? Why does this Gospel translate “Rabbi”?

v. 39 “Come and see”! Is not the invitation all Christians and churches ought to be offering? On the other hand, how can we invite people to “Come and see” if we ourselves have not “seen”? Is there any significance to the time?

v. 40 Is this not the first mention in John of the name of one of the disciples of Jesus? Who was the other person?

v. 41 Following up from the previous verse, who are the “we”, Andrew and who? I think we can assume from the context that the other person with Andrew was not his brother Simon Peter. Why is Messiah translated? See verse 38.

v. 42 Does this make Andrew the first successful evangelist, the first person bring someone to Jesus? Is it not a little rude to meet someone for the first time and immediately insist on calling them by another name? As in verses 38 and 41, why is “Cephas” translated? What language does Peter come from? What language does Cephas come from? Does it matter?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Humus humans

Many of us have heard too many times in the Adam & Eve story that “Adam means dirt.” Humans are made of humus, blah de blah. How cool and ancient and mythical and overimaginative of those ancient Hebrews – right?

No, there’s a little more to it than that.
First of all – “dirt.” Mistranslated “dust of the ground” by King James and the RSV family of Bibles, the word means “fertile soil.” Adamah in the Hebrew (you see how closely it’s related to Adam). This is a particular word, not just any old dirt. It is soil – arable land. Think not about the dust of a desert, but about potting soil… an obviously fertile soil, the stuff from which all land plants and animals ultimately take their nourishment. But our potting soil is usually pretty blackish brown, and this is not the adamah’s color. The words adam and adamah are not only related to one another, but are related to the word adom, “ruddy,” reddish. This is particular soil – for the Israelites this is the color of the hills of home.
It tells them not only THAT God made them, but WHERE God made them. Egyptian soil and Babylonian soil have nothing on that particular soil from which a chosen group of people were made.

We can all say that God made us here – on this earth. Some of us have (over the millennia) wandered to northern regions where our skin didn’t need the melanin so much, and so we got a little paler, and so it’s funny, nearly ridiculous, to say white people were made from soil. Contrary to the pictures in many a Children’s Bible, however, people in biblical times didn’t have that problem. They understood that they belonged to that land, as surely as their skintone matched the fertile soil.

In a world of cheap travel, adventure, frequent voluntary relocation, and of the nonvoluntary diaspora and exile of many people-groups… we lose our sense of belonging to a land.

Where do you belong? Where were you made? What color is your dirt? What is the land you cannot abandon?

Monday, January 10, 2011


In lieu of a Member Blog Meet & Greet today, I have a question.

I'm thinking about doing a Presbyterianism 101 adult ed class.  Our group is casual and discussion-based, so we'd take a low-key approach.  Each week we'd take a symbol or ritual or reading or prayer or creed or color and discuss why it's historically significant then why it's relevant to us as Presbyterians today.

Do you have any suggestions for helpful resources I might use to start pulling the syllabus together?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Aflockalypse Now

You may have heard the news, a lot of birds died in Arkansas this past week. This news was followed by reports of bird and fish deaths around the world. For those who bothered to do a modicum of research, these recent bird deaths are just not that uncommon. On average there are 163 incidents like this every year.

What most of us probably won't hear about is the final assessment of the causes of these incidents . Our 24/7 news cycle and our short attention spans will have moved on to newer stories.

If you spent some time with the story, you may also have hear some of the, shall we say, interesting speculation about what caused these deaths, even from “responsible” news media. This ABC news report talks about the birds committing suicide.

But what brings this story to our attention here is the not unexpected theological explanations for these events. Science and theology meet in silly ways once again.

Here is Kirk Cameron's view on the bird deaths and end times as aired on CNN. You might wonder why an actor with a movie to plug is asked about this,were there no theologians available for comment?

All this talk about the apocalypse (or aflockalypse in this context- sorry I just can't help it) reminded me of a Bible study on Revelation I was part of, just a couple of years ago. This was in a Presbyterian church, so the study was full of well educated, thoughtful, faithful people. Yet for many of them there was real anxiety about studying Revelation. There were worried about what might be in the text.

I have conservative Christians friends who have definite ideas about “the end times”. They have a coherent biblically based theology of Christ's return. I think they are mistaken in their conclusions and reading of Scripture but they have put considerable effort into thinking about this. I have progressive Christian friends who have no sense of what it means to believe that Christ will come again, other than a sense of unease. They suspect something is not quite right with the rapture/left behind theologies, but they have no idea what that might be or what an appropriate alternate theology might be.

This poor theology about Christ's return- both the end times/left behind crowd and the clueless progressives- coupled with shallow science backgrounds, causes us to deal poorly with the ecological events we encounter.

Because our biology and ecology knowledge is weak, many of us cannot conceive of a natural accounting of these bird deaths. We don't know where to look to find a scientifically based discussion and we don't understand what it means when we receive scientifically based explanation.

Because our theological understanding is weak, we fall prey to odd theologies based on a false understanding of what biblical prophecy is and a misunderstanding of how God works in the world. (Did anyone else wince when Kirk Cameron spoke his death as God ending his life?).

The church can't do much directly about poor science education. But the theological shortcomings are our responsibility. The coverage of these recent bird deaths is just the latest example and a fairly innocuous one, of the way that poor theology impacts our engagement of science and vice versa. Much more serious is the theology that is being brought into the climate change debate as outlined in this New York Times blog.

My question today is why are Presbyterians (and other mainline denominations) so reluctant to offer an alternative view of the second coming of Christ? What we think about the reign of God and how God accomplished God's intentions for the world shapes our world view. And that affects how we think about environmental issues. What we think about climate change, energy use, air quality, toxins in the environment and other issues is influenced by our reading of scripture and our beliefs about the kingdom of God. Are we just along for the ride- God's in control and we have little impact, or do we bear significant responsibility for our actions?

It seems to me the "conflict" between science and religion isn't only about beginnings, what we think about the end matters too.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 9, 2011, the Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 42:1-9
v. 1 In light of today’s Gospel Reading, might we whether this passage illuminates John the Baptizer or Jesus? Who was Isaiah most likely writing about?

v. 3 What is a “bruised reed”?

v. 4 This is the third occurrence of the word “justice”. See verses 1 and 3.

v. 5 Now that we have the formulaic “Thus say God, the Lord, ”might we ask who was speaking in verses 1-4? I like the pairing of “breath” and “spirit”.

v. 9 Are most people in the pews willing and ready to accept that “former things have come to pass” and “new things I now declare”?

Psalm 29:1-11
v. 1 Who are the “heavenly beings”?

vs. 3-10 Attributes and praise of God of the Storm, and some baptismal imagery. What if we baptized from maelstroms rather than cute, little, calm, manageable fonts? When I have been backpacking I have loved loud, crashing thunder and lightning because wilderness storms remind me of the awesome grandeur of God. A domesticated God is not worthy of praise.

v. 11 After all the previous violent storm imagery, how shall we interpret this blessing of peace?

Acts 10:34-43
v. 34 It has been awhile since we have heard from Peter. While it might be true that God shows no partiality, I think we can not say the same of the institutional church.

v. 35 What does it mean to “fear”God? How does this verse fly in the face of justification by faith through grace?

v. 37 Does this verse justify this Reading being selected for “Baptism of the Lord”?

v. 43 “All the prophets”? Really? I think Peter is prone to a little hyperbole.

Matthew 3:13-17
v. 13 How people might ask “if Jesus was sinless, why did he seek to be baptized?”

v.14 It seems John asked!

v. 15 How does Jesus being baptized by John “fulfill all righteousness”?

v. 16 Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him,” but did anyone else see it?

v.17 Who heard this voice? Will this voice be heard this ar anything similar any other place in Matthew?

ADDENDUM: Moving from an emphasis on Jesus’ birth during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany to the baptism of an Adult Jesus three Sundays after Christmas always seems to jolt my sensibilities, but is there any way around it? How might teachers and preachers smooth the transition?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New series: Grounded Scriptures

Hi folks! I’m Talitha, a seminarian, a New Yorker transplanted in California, a musician, a Sunday School teacher, a feminist, and an aspiring farmer.
Whaa? You may ask. What kind of well-educated, urban, pulpit-bound woman aspires to spend her days digging in the dirt? What kind of feminist is eager to do more canning and preserving than her grandmother did? Odd, I know. I often keep this part of my self-identity under wraps, because people do just that – “Whaa?” … and then I have to explain about how I might not have to operate a tractor, it could be urban community gardens, or how I could have a seedling nursery… But the fact remains, surprising many – I want to farm. I'm itching for more than a few square feet of land to do it on.

I have to blame a lot of the “why” for this unfortunate vocation on the Bible. Ever since my Old Testament professor Marvin Chaney shouted at our Prophets class “you can’t read this in stained-glass language!” about the sin of land-grabbing, I have had a vivid sense that the Way described and commanded in the biblical texts had plenty to do with how we work, live, spend our money, relate to our neighbor, and how we eat… perhaps more than with how we pray. And through reading (lots of Ellen Davis) and learning (with the Presbyterian Hunger Program roadtrip) I’ve come to believe that the particular realm of how we grow and distribute food in America is drastically opposed to the ideals set out in the Bible.

The rubber hits the road in my new blog series, posted here & elsewhere on Wednesdays, “Grounded Scriptures.” I will search each week for a Bible verse we tend to read in that “stained glass language,” extricate it from my piously cerebral assumptions, and look for a way to understand it in terms of the relationship of God’s people to the land, the soil, and the plants and creatures that grow in and on it. Read & join in!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy 8th Day of Christmas!

I don't know if it's just me and the circles in which I immerse myself (I didn't listen to any commercial radio in December, just my own Christmas CDs and NPR) but I didn't hear quite as much about the 12 days of Christmas happening BEFORE Christmas this year.

I do find myself rushing through this part of the season, though.  Usually I'm loathe to let the magic of Christmas subside into the melancholy of winter, replacing red and green decorations with silver and white, substituting diet and exercise for parties and over-indulgence.  I leave all of our household decorations out until Epiphany.  But this year I find myself anxious to "clean up" and "clear out" and "shape up" and move on to the next thing.  I continuously remind myself that Christmas isn't a season to rush through, it's not a series of to-do lists, it's not clutter.  It's what really matters (although perhaps not the cookies and the drying fir in and of themselves).

So.  Moving along to the first January Member Blog Meet and Greet.  Two items of business today.

First, a welcome to our newest member blog: The Preacher's Husband: A journal from the living community of faith by Derek Maul.  "Life is good. It's about living in partnership with my wife, Rebekah, about serving God in the context of our church home, about being the parent of two amazing children, and of both honing and using my particular gifts in order to make this world a better place."  Recent posts at this fabulous weekly blog run the gamut from "Who wears the pants? (did somebody really say that...)" to "Preachers and a Healthy (redemptive) Lifestyle." This blog is worth a read!

Second, and very important, we have a new blogger to welcome to the unofficial PC(USA) Blog! Starting this week, Presbybug Talitha will start a weekly column on Wednesdays, and I'll let her explain the concept to you as she gets started with her first installment. Talitha's written here before, frequently in comments and notably with a guest-blog about mission.

Welcome, all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!