The White Christian’s Burden

This is the text of a talk I gave at Greenbelt Festival 2014. The theme of the Festival was “Travelling Light”; my talk was originally called “Travelling Heavy”, and I summarised it for the programme as follows:

Christianity doesn’t travel light. It is weighed down with history, much of it shameful. But if we don’t understand our past we can’t understand how it continues to form us, and we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. What would it mean for us to deal with the burdensome history of Christendom?

 

I want to start by telling you three stories, that may or may not be familiar to you.

The first story is about the 2014 Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, Russia.* Not long before the Winter Olympics took place, Vladimir Putin passed a law banning ‘non-traditional sexual propaganda to minors’, which is to say that there was a ban on anything that could be construed as pro-LGBT propaganda. It wasn’t very clear exactly what was being banned, or how thoroughly it was being banned; there was some ambiguity over whether wearing a rainbow lapel pin would count as propaganda to minors, and the Russian government said different things at different times about whether non-Russian citizens would be arrested for breaking the law. But there was a huge outcry in the UK and the US. Celebrities wrote op-eds. Stephen Fry wrote an open letter. Gay rights activists loudly argued that we should boycott Russian vodka, or even the Olympics as a whole. Lots of people I know, including lots of Christians, shared articles on Facebook and Twitter, and talked angrily about how terrible it was that Russia were doing such awful things to their LGBT population. Continue reading “The White Christian’s Burden”

Strangest and weirdest stories in the Bible?

As I am finishing up my second lectionary preaching book, tentatively titled The World is Crucifixion and under contract, for the first time in my preaching ministry I am going completely off-lectionary for a series on the strangest or weirdest stories in the Bible, beginning the last Sunday in Christmastide to the final Sunday of Epiphany, which is traditionally Transfiguration Sunday.  The final “strange story” will be the transfiguration.

Obviously, what I think are weird stories from the Bible might be different from what others think.  Here’s a list I’ve assembled from some internet searching about what people think are strange stories in the Bible: Continue reading “Strangest and weirdest stories in the Bible?”

What if the gates of hell did prevail against it?

A theological hypothetical for all those armchair ecclesiologists in the audience: what if literally every Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bishop suddenly died before they were able to ordain any new bishops? How would apostolic succession be preserved or “retconned”? Would Anglican orders suddenly turn out to be “good enough”? Would priests be upgraded to bishops? Is there already a contingency plan hidden in the depths of the Vatican?

A link in honor of Martin Luther King Day

At Women in Theology, Amaryah Armstrong has a post critiquing the idea of “racial reconciliation”:

I want to be clear here that conflict resolution at an interpersonal level is important for life together, but the framework of reconciliation, even when it attempts to speak about justice, values the confession and the future to come above the present. Reconciliation displaces structural analysis for narratives of various experiences that end with a unity in Christ and a theological vision that is white. These narratives are used to imbue hope for the possibility of reconciliation but they actually prevent the possibility of ending white supremacy, anti-blackness, and racism because it is the supercessionist framework itself that is the problem. Reconciliation thus becomes a way of displacing structural dominance and oppression to the level of inter-personal conflict and confessions of privilege, moving our focus away from the ways Christianity itself structures racial domination and racial formation. Because reconciliation is never able to call Christianity itself into question as a problematic framework, only white people. Reconciliation continues to reproduce an inability to recognize itself as that which produces the division in the first place through its narration of identity as things to be superceded. Rather than clarifying relations of power, reconciliation mystifies them.

In addition to its intrinsic interest, her post includes many helpful links.

Sermon: Duck Dynasty and the Separation of Church and Hate

I preached this sermon this morning, the readings are the lectionary for Christmastide 2, Jeremiah 31:1-14 and John 1:1-18.  The sermon led into a celebration of communion.

The prophet Jeremiah’s words characterizes the captors of the Jewish people, the Babylonians, as bullies, and celebrates that God keeps his promises, but only after God’s people recognize that they just can’t pay lip service to God, but that following God requires a real sacrifice.

This is perhaps the most important message of prophesy the church needs to hear today, as it was one of the most pervasive themes of the Old Testament prophets to the Jewish people.  The message remains the same, but the circumstances are very different.

I will return to this, but I want to talk about some things happening in the past month, during the season of Advent, as we continue through these twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

The philosopher Mary Daly’s most famous teaching is from her book, Beyond God the Father, written in the early 1970s, that “As long as God is male, the male is God.”  Her point is that the attributes we ascribe to God are often reflections of our own identities.  Continue reading “Sermon: Duck Dynasty and the Separation of Church and Hate”

Progressive Youth Ministry Conference: March, 2014, in Chicago

Two summers ago, at the Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity conference in Washington, DC, our U of Chicago Div school delegation–Thomas Bowen, John Vest, and myself–gathered for barbeque after Tony Campolo’s entirely disappointing presentation, asking, what if practitioners and scholars really gathered to talk about religious education that didn’t pander to evangelicals and their publishing sponsors, and was blatantly unapologetically progressive in their approach to teaching Christianity in the 21st century? Continue reading “Progressive Youth Ministry Conference: March, 2014, in Chicago”

Leaving the Evangelical Borg Collective: Seven of Nine and Me

The Girlfriend and I continue to obey some obscure drive to watch all of Star Trek, and currently we’re in the sixth season of Voyager. One of the most controversial characters in that series was Seven of Nine, a liberated Borg drone who was added to the cast in the fourth season and dominated the storyline for most of the fourth and fifth seasons. (Shorter version: some people think it’s a shame she displaced established characters and believe that her physical appearance was an attempt to pander to the adolescent audience; on the other hand, though, she’s a great character performed by a great actress and, my God, it’s a Borg crew member and the Borg are cool.) I’ve noticed that I have a seemingly disproportionate investment in this ancient controversy — I will defend Seven of Nine to the death as a major improvement to the show. I’m starting to realize that part of the reason is that I identify closely with her struggle to define herself in relation to her Borg past and her uncertain future. She was assimilated at such a young age that she hadn’t yet developed an identity of her own and will never not be Borg (the implants are required for her survival now, and she still retains the vast knowledge she gained as a member of the Borg Collective), but she can also never go back.

The revelation came when the Voyager crew met a trader who offered to sell Seven some components that belonged to her old Borg unit — I turned to The Girlfriend and said, “If it was me, they’d be offering DC Talk albums from my old youth group.” Continue reading “Leaving the Evangelical Borg Collective: Seven of Nine and Me”

Methodist Church Trial This Week! Or: Nihilism, Homosexuality, Pennsylvania, Oath-taking, and Satan

In Sophocles’ Antigone our tragic heroine demonstrates to us what is regarded as one of the greatest moral principles of the Western world:  when the laws of the state require one to do something against one’s own religion, or when following one’s own religious beliefs become categorized as against the law, the right thing to do is to follow your religious practices above the laws of the state.  The legends of Socrates and Jesus, and their traditions, confirm and validate this virtue in the ancient world.

But what to do when religion causes one to break religious laws?  Christianity has always worked through the tensions of what happens when doctrine become dogma, and when either become enforced—sometimes enforced despite of or in spite of contradictory doctrine or flying in the face of tradition.

This is what is being played out in the church trial of a United Methodist pastor from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, Rev. Frank Schaefer.  Continue reading “Methodist Church Trial This Week! Or: Nihilism, Homosexuality, Pennsylvania, Oath-taking, and Satan”

Schedule for “Living Theology: Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian,” 9/13/13

LIVING THEOLOGY:

reclaiming the pastor as theologian

the theological summit of the UCC 2030 Clergy Network

September 13, 2013, York County, PA

Schedule and Details

8:30 AM – Coffee

9 AM – Opening remarks; greetings

9:15 AM – Is Theology the Handmaiden of our Polity?:  Nihilism and the Return of the Public Theologian

Rev. Dr. Christopher Rodkey, St. Paul’s UCC, Dallastown, PA

10:15 AM – Theological and Ethical Considerations for Utilizing Psalms in Christian Worship

LauraBeth Jones Armstrong, St. Luke’s UCC, Trappe, PA

11:30 – Lunch

1 PM – Finding a Place in Church for the Unchurched: Is there Room for Doubt, Agnosticism, and Sincere Pursuit?

Rev. Courtney Stange-Tregear, Zion UCC, Nottingham, MD

2 PM – Narrative Practice in Interim Ministry: The Past is Still Speaking

Rev. Liddy Barlow, St. John’s UCC, Larimer, PA

3 PM – The New Knowledge and the Old Faith

Jared Ruark, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

4 PM – Group discussion and future plans; closing

Guest Facilitator: Dr. Jeffrey Robbins, Chair of Religion & Philosophy, Lebanon Valley College, Annville, PA Continue reading “Schedule for “Living Theology: Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian,” 9/13/13″