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Out of the Ashes give-away on GoodReads.com

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Out of the Ashes by Kenneth W. Arthur

Out of the Ashes

by Kenneth W. Arthur

Giveaway ends November 18, 2017.

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Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

Building God’s Church

Every building needs a strong foundation. The bigger the building, the deeper and stronger the foundation needs to be. Strong foundations aren’t just important for buildings, either. We would probably agree that one needs a good education as a strong foundation for a fruitful career and that love and communication are needed to form a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. Well, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:13-20 that Simon will be known as Peter, which means “rock” in Greek, and then talks about building the church on “this rock,” it makes me also think about the foundation of the church.

We’ve all heard about the so-called decline of the Christian church over the last 10-20 years. It makes it tempting to ask if the foundations of the institution of the church is showing cracks, perhaps rotting away? Is the church really in danger of collapse as some fear? Maybe it’s past time to inspect the foundations of our churches. What are the foundations upon which the church has been built? Or, perhaps we need to first ask what are the foundations which Christ intended for the church?

Some people understand Jesus to say that he will build his church upon Peter the person. But what if instead Jesus, in the scripture above, means that he will build the church upon the revelation that Peter had just shared, the revelation that Jesus is the son of the Living God? What if that revelation, which we are further told that Peter learned directly from God, is the bedrock of the church? Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that he will build the church on our firsthand, direct experience of Jesus as the loved and loving child of the living, relevant, still-speaking God. Perhaps the bedrock of the Christian community is to be built on the personal revelation of God’s love through Jesus.

The church is, of course, not a building but a way of life, a community of people. It is meant to be the beginning of God’s kin-dom on this earth, an example of what the world can be and of what it means to walk God’s path. It’s where we come together to practice being the world that God intends us to be, a place of love and justice, a place of hope and peace. We fail at this a lot, which necessarily leads us to inspect our foundations. But, coming to know the revelation of God’s love in Christ, we can build the church upon that love. Community based on God’s love is built on a firm foundation that will last. If we build the church, our lives in Christ together, on the foundation of God’s love, if we truly love God and our neighbor and make that the foundation of who we are, we have nothing to worry about.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 27, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Jumping in the Water

What are we supposed to do with Biblical miracle stories? You know, those stories that bend our imagination just a little too far. Perhaps, like the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), they even defy the laws of physics. Sometimes we want to explain them away, saying “Oh, I bet I know what really happened…” Or sometimes we get caught up on insisting in their literal veracity as if God’s very existence depended on us believing something that contradicts all scientific evidence. Both of these approaches are a distraction from a third important option, which is just living with the mystery.

Miracle stories are similar to parables and Buddhist Koans. They’re a riddle or puzzle that try to help us unravel greater truths about the world and ourselves. If we change the story to make it seem more plausible or if we insist upon its historicity, we immediately run the risk of missing out on its meaning. Sometimes we need to embrace the mystery. Parables, miracle stories, and buddhist koans aren’t meant to be logical and literal but are meant to be understood by the spirit, by intuition. That is, by the heart rather than the head.

For example, one meaning or truth I find in the story of Jesus walking on water, where Peter also tries to walk on water and fails, comes in the form of a question: are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? I admire Peter in this story. He saw Jesus doing this amazing and scary thing and after asking for and receiving a little encouragement, Peter actually had the courage to step out of the boat. He too began to do this amazing thing until he noticed the wind and the waves and was filled with fear and began to sink. Peter failed but he had had the courage to try. I admire that. As much as I’d like to be the confident and together Jesus in this story, I’d wouldn’t mind being courageous but fearful Peter first because too often I’m like the other disciples who huddle in the boat just watching what’s happening.

Of course, this is not about walking on water. It’s about the many challenges we face in this life that force us to ask are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? Do we have the courage to jump in the water like Peter? Perhaps one thing we can do in the face of our challenges is what Jesus did: take time to pray, meditate, and connect with the Divine, reminding ourselves of the blessings and love that do exist in this world even if they so often get lost in the horrific headlines. But that’s not enough. We also have to act, to work for a loving, peaceful world. So, after renewing our Spirit, how do we find the courage to step boldly out into the water? Ultimately, we have to trust in the power of God that resides within us.

If we fail, if we are overcome with our fear and start to sink like Peter, we need to remember that Jesus is here, walking with us. We can call out like Peter did, “Save me,” and know that God is here with us ready to catch us, to get us back in the boat where we can begin again. What might we accomplish if we trust in our power through God that we can do what seems impossible? We might actually solve some of our problems like poverty and racism. We might just create a peaceful loving world! Don’t be afraid to get wet, jump in the water!

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 13, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Books have arrived!

Physical proof my book really exists 🙂

Moving Into the Future

We are always moving into the future, dealing with challenges, and not quite sure of what might happen next. For many of us, this point in history is a particularly scary time. As we move into the future we do so not only with all of our gifts and with great hope, but we go with our fears and insecurities as well. When Jacob spent the night alone before being reunited with his brother Esau, a brother who had threatened to kill him the last time they were together, he too must have been full of fear and anxiety, wondering what the morning would hold for him and his family. But, by spending that night alone, he opened the way for a holy encounter.

When we spend time in prayer, meditation, and reflection with both our hopes and our fears, as Jacob was doing, we open ourselves to a life changing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Of course Jacob’s holy encounter was not a nice, polite business meeting. Instead, it took the form of a physical wrestling match. Jacob wrestled all night with a stranger in the wilderness, probably at first not knowing whether this was a robber who was trying to kill him or what was happening. But he didn’t give up. He persevered and he resisted even after he was injured. By daybreak he somehow knew that this was no simple robbery but something holy. He resisted until he found a blessing in his struggle. In our struggles, in the scars and injuries we suffer, we often find we have been changed and even blessed. We often find that those struggles can be holy and sacred events when we learn about God, ourselves, and the world around us and grow more into our authentic selves. This is what happened to Jacob that night.

Jacob’s story is about how we deal with our struggles, aspirations and moving into God’s intended future. The story of Jesus feeding five thousand families with just a little bit of bread and a few fish is also about how we meet challenges. The disciples noticed the large crowd was getting tired and hungry, and looking at what food they had, said “It’s not enough.” So they went to Jesus and told him to send the crowds home so they can eat. But then Jesus looked at the food on hand and said “Oh yeah, that’s all we need, it’s plenty.” Jesus thought that whatever we have is enough and began to share it generously – and it was enough! I’m not really concerned with the logistics of the miracle or the veracity of this story, but I’m very intrigued by the question it raises for me: what can we accomplish if we trust that what we have is enough?

What would happen if we didn’t worry about if there was enough but just shared what we had? What if, when we find ourselves struggling, whether in our personal lives, or in our churches, or in our city, state or nation… what if, in our fears and anxieties, we open ourselves to encounters with the Holy? What if we grab hold of God, grab hold of love, and, like Jacob, don’t let go? What if we persevere and persist until the blessing of the struggle becomes clear? What if we trust that what we have is enough? Maybe, just maybe, everyone gets fed and we find ourselves transformed into the loving children of God, a people who never give up, a people assured of God’s love, who give that love freely to the world. As we move together into the future, know that we are enough and that we have enough because we are God’s beloved children.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 6, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

“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.

The End of Sabbatical

With a week left to my sabbatical, I’ve obviously not reflected here on my blog like I originally wanted. The first month of my sabbatical was spent relaxing, finishing up some book details, going to the Festival of Homiletics (a preaching conference), along with some traveling and visiting friends. The second month was taken up with moving and the third month has been settling into my new apartment and attending the Wild Goose Festival. Both of the “festivals” I attended have been inspiring. I’ve already talked a little about the Festival of Homiletics. I certainly think that experience can make me a better preacher and Christian, more focused on what’s important not only to our spiritual life but our future as a human community. Perhaps I better say that by better Christian, I should say I mean more focused on loving relationships and helping build a more just world (i.e. following Jesus’ teachings rather than church dogmas).

Wild Goose was also inspiring with lots of focus on justice issues. I’m not sure I learned “things” but I did come away motivated. Some of the speakers there included William Barber, Otis Moss III, Nadia Bolz Weber, Diana Butler Bass, and Frank Schaeffer. All of them passionate speakers who made me want to be more passionate. Of course the trick is to turn that into something substantive. There was also lots of good music. I was especially taken with Tret Fure. Here are some links to explore:

Repairers of the Breach (William Barber): http://www.breachrepairers.org
Frank Schaeffer: http://frankschaefferblog.com
Tret Fure: http://www.tretfure.com

When I started my sabbatical my main goal was to spend time with the question of who I am and where I’m called at this point in my life. While I haven’t addressed that question in conscious reflection like I hoped to, I do feel confident I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m feeling affirmed in my pastoral identity and look forward to continuing this journey of personal spiritual growth while accompanying others on their life journeys. So, with a week left in sabbatical my conclusion for this time off is kind of boring: to keep on moving forward, putting my trust in the Divine Presence to lead me where I need to go.

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.

The Story That Must Be Told

When the religious leaders ask Jesus to tell his followers to quiet down (Luke 19:29-44), he responds that “if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!” What is so important that nature itself demands it be said? The disciples are shouting a message of peace. What’s so bad about that? Well, the real problem is that they are referring to Jesus as “king.” Not a good idea in an occupied city overloaded with religious pilgrims and political tension. Jesus and his followers were challenging the injustices of their time by declaring that our loyalty should belong to God’s way of Love (as revealed to us in the life and teachings of Jesus) and not Caesar.

This is the story that must be told: God’s way is better than Caesar’s way – love wins over hate; compassion wins over oppression. This is still true today. This is a story we must still tell. We don’t have a Caesar today but patriarchy still looms large and sexism is still the rule in our culture of power and greed. The would-be kings of our modern world must not go unchallenged. When the world tries to force their kings upon us we have a choice to make. Do we go along with their corruption, their lying and false promises, their scapegoating of other religions and immigrants or do we choose love and compassion? Do we choose justice?

Today, we are still called to declare that our Caesars are false leaders and that God’s love is our only true guide, our only true hope. This is the story that must be told. The disciples shouted their hosannas and they were cautioned to be silent. Where and why are the oppressed being told to be quiet today – or else? We should always remember the hosannas, the calls to love and action. They, I believe, will keep us from turning to shouts of “crucify him” and call us to justice and compassion in response to the world’s cruelties. With the stories of despair that need to be told, there is one story that must also be told or even the earth will shout it out: the light that Jesus brought into this world cannot be extinguished. God’s love cannot be defeated.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, April 9, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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