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“Out of the Ashes” is Here!

I’m excited to announce that my book, “Out of the Ashes: Constructive Theology for Those Burned Out on Christianity,” is finally at the printers. Please check it out! It can be pre-ordered at a discounted price through Monday, August 14, at the publisher’s website (see below).

Who might be interested, you ask?

* Progressive Christians
* Anyone who is interested in their spirituality but who is put off or disillusioned by traditional Christian doctrine
* Anyone who was raised as a Christian but isn’t sure what they believe any more
* Anyone who thinks fundamentalism represents all Christians (it doesn’t – despite the impression the media gives us)

By looking at Christian beliefs and the Christian way of life in new ways, the book seeks to help readers open themselves to some of the alternatives to the fundamentalist and often oppressive Christianity that is too often assumed to represent all followers of Christ.

I’ve set up a web page with more information about the book as well as ordering links at http://www.pieceofthepuzzle.net/outoftheashes/. I’ll add additional links and ways to order as they are available.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What does it mean to call yourself a Christian? A month or so ago this question came up in a couple of different conversations in the span of a few days. In one of those conversations I was a little surprised when a person who has been around progressive Christianity circles for many years answered the question in a very traditional way. For them, to be a Christian meant to believe the right doctrines – to believe in and accept Jesus as a personal savior who died for our sins to save us from hell and to believe in teachings such as the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Unfortunately, this definition of Christian that they were taught as a child was so deeply ingrained in their psyche that they couldn’t see past it nor live up to it. I believe that this is a common experience in our world today and, as a Christian minister for whom this path has been incredibly meaningful, it saddens me.

This and other conversations got me to thinking once again about what does it mean to be a Christian.

Seen and Heard

In Luke 7, when John the Baptist starts to have doubts about Jesus, he must have had all kinds of questions: Am I following the right path? Am I putting my trust in the right person? Is Jesus really the one I should be following? What does it even mean to call him the chosen one? Are my expectations of him really what he’s all about? Part of the problem for John seems to be that Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John expected. John, like many of his day, may have been hoping for direct confrontation with their oppressors but Jesus was instead resisting through messages of healing and love.

These questions of who we should follow and why are questions we still ask ourselves today, not only in our spiritual lives but we see them reflected in our modern day myths such as the Harry Potter movies or the Matrix movies. To get some of these questions answered, John sends his followers to ask Jesus if he’s really God’s Chosen One. Jesus doesn’t answer right away but spends time healing the people that had gathered before responding. When he does respond, he doesn’t refer to scripture or suggest some contest to prove his power. He tells John’s followers: report what you’ve seen and heard. He simply says this is my ministry, this is what I’m doing. See, hear, and experience what it means to challenge the powers of the world with love and healing instead of weapons and then report your experience to John. That will have to be enough.

We aren’t told what John thought of this answer, but we might reflect on our own reaction. What have we seen and heard on our spiritual journey? How have we experienced God’s presence in our life? Through healing, acts of love, community? When life isn’t going as expected, can we put our trust in this way of God, this way of love? And are we willing and able to report what we’ve seen and heard? The world desperately needs more love, more deep connection, more compassion. The world needs to find healing and wholeness that we may live together in peace and mutual support. Are we willing to try this way of love and then share it with others, even invite them to walk with us?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, February 12, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Honoring Sabbath

We’ve all had the experience of being too busy in life, trying to catch up to some goal such as wealth, happiness, wholeness, or even God, only to have it continually elude us. But what if, in our busyness, we’ve actually been running from what we want and not toward it? In Judaism and Christianity the idea of Sabbath is to take a regular day off from our busyness and “work” to devote to God and our spiritual lives while we rest and reenergize ourselves. It reminds us how important it is to slow down so that our blessings can catch up to us. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows to reorient ourselves away from the demands of a culture centered on greed and power and renew our love and compassion for life.

Especially in this time when our world seems even more chaotic and our busyness continues around the clock seven days a week, it is important to take time to stop, rest, and open ourselves to the presence of the Spirit. It’s critical for our spiritual health to be able to renew our energy and make sure we’re on the right path in life, to take the time to ask “who am I” in this time and place. Sabbath time in our lives hopefully means regularly attending worship to be in community with other seekers so that we can support each other, but it might also mean spending time in prayer and meditation, taking walks in the woods, or even just finding quiet time to sit and let your mind go. Whatever you find reenergizing and spiritually uplifting might be part of your personal sabbath time.

Sometimes we may also need longer periods of rejuvenation. I thank the church for allowing me such an opportunity this year as I go on sabbatical from May through July. During this time I will be attending a couple of conferences as well as hopefully spending time traveling and doing reading and writing in addition to just resting as I engage that Sabbath question of “who am I?” This is also a time that the Phoenix Church Community might want to take some time to look for new energy and ask “who are we?” A time of sabbatical can be filled with excitement and anxiety, hope and fear, for both the pastor and the church but it is also critical for our spiritual health to take this time to stop and rest, letting the Spirit guide us as we look forward to a renewed ministry together post-sabbatical.

Whether we it be a Sabbath day or a longer period of Sabbatical, we all need to allow ourselves time to open ourselves to Spirit and heal from the chaos that constantly batters our souls. Never forget to slow down once in a while so your blessings can catch up to you.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, January 29, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Nothing is Impossible

The baby Jesus arrived in this world with high expectations. Not many babies have their births announced by an angel. Mary must have been scared and overwhelmed when the angel visited her and told her she was going to give birth to such a special child. In the story as told in the gospel of Luke, Mary runs off to visit her relative Elizabeth shortly after the angel’s visit. I wonder if she sought out Elizabeth, an elder of her family, for reassurance. The angel after all had said that Elizabeth’s own pregnancy was proof that with God nothing was impossible. Elizabeth seemed to provide a port in the storm for Mary, a place of comfort and welcome, when Mary probably wasn’t sure how her own family and future husband were going to react to the news that a baby was on its way.

Where do we turn to when life gets overwhelming? Of course, we can turn to God, but do we also have an Elizabeth in our lives? Someone we can turn to when we need unconditional love, when we are uncertain and scared? Do we have someone like that in our lives? Can we be that for someone else? How can we provide a warm welcome, reassurance and hope, to someone who is overwhelmed by life? Christmas is about the birth of God’s love in human form – the promise that with God nothing is impossible – but it’s about reminding us that that love is born within us too.

Imagine for a moment that you are pregnant with God’s love… that you are about to give birth to the embodiment of sacred love… a love that is needed to heal the world…

That might be just a little bit scary. It might make us want to run and hide, to find refuge where we will be welcomed and reassured. Can we be that refuge for each other? Maybe beginning as Elizabeth did, with a warm greeting, maybe a hug, and a listening ear. God doesn’t call us to save the world a la James Bond, by killing the bad guys. God calls us to love our enemies, to embody love, to treat the world justly with compassion – and then challenge others to do the same.

When Mary hurried off to visit Elizabeth, she went seeking something. She went seeking reassurance that with God all things are indeed possible. Elizabeth welcomed her with love and hope, for where there is love there is hope. When we trust in the limitless possibilities of God, there is hope. This Christmas may the love of God be birthed anew in each of us.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 18, 2016. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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