Category: Faith

“Christian” as adjective

“Christian” is a daunting adjective, as in Christian pastor, Christian church or Christian nation. I’m hesitant to claim it for myself or my group. It’s better, though still a daunting challenge, if others apply it to me or my group.

When this adjective is a label worn too lightly, too quickly or too proudly, it demeans a great tradition. To misuse, or thoughtlessly claim, this adjective for self or group, or to wear it while attacking someone else is profanity–meaningless talk about God.

One Sunday, my district superintendent attended our worship service unexpectedly. A choir member said, “The DS is here. Does that scare you?” I said, “No. But it keeps me on my toes to believe God is listening here every Sunday.”

This 1995 quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (sent from my friend Ernie) and a 2022 blog post by Diana Butler Bass, “Christian Nationalism Everywhere?” reinforce my reluctance to use Christian as an adjective, as in “Christian nation.”

Welcome to a tea party

Issues of faith and ethics are central to our conversation about rapid technological change (see previous posts). A related issue is the way faith itself is impacted by the technology of mass communication (particularly the “silo” effect of social media). I’d like to invite Diana Butler Bass into this conversation.

DBB writes an occasional blog called The Cottage. Point 4 of her January 11 post is: “The internal tensions and divisions of American Christianity will continue to dominate our political life, both overtly and more surreptitiously.” She writes that Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, and Hakeem Jeffries are all Baptists, a reality worthy of “an entire dissertation in American religious history.”

DBB invites conversation about “what it means to be Christian in a less-Christianized world. … humility and hospitality” to “embody a beautiful biblical faith that contributes to a flourishing, fairer world.” … “Ignoring religion and politics won’t spare us from divisions, anger, and pain. Ignoring them ensures that even more extremist and more dangerous forms of Christian politics will arise to the detriment of not only American politics but to Christianity itself.”

I left a comment for DBB at her blog: I try to have a virtual cup of tea each day with Phyllis Tickle and John Lewis, simply to ask them, “What should we do now?” At tea today, we’ll discuss this post. Thank you!

From “Congress and the Religion Imbalance,” by Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage, January 11, 2023


Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).

The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.

The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.

We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.

From a Kirkus Review of The Power of Crisis, by Ian Bremmer, 2022

ноги глины

I try to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, as I try to give people of doubt the benefit of faith. I don’t speak Russian. Context and nuance do not always translate, so I try to be doubly slow to criticize other-tongued faith leaders. Patience is warranted since we all have “feet of clay” (ноги глины in Russian). However …

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyaev, aka Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is widely known as a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This allegiance itself puts the Patriarch’s judgment in a bad light and (in my opinion) degrades the witness of his office. I, and all “people of the cloth” have erred in our allegiances. We all live in glass houses. Still …

The herder Amos reminds all who speak of, or for, faith not to profane what we seek to proclaim. I fear Kirill has moved from profanity (meaningless talk about God) to prostitution, equating participation in Russian military aggression with grace, the central theme of Christianity. He’s charging a high price for a free gift.

See Russian soldiers who die in battle will be absolved of their sins, Patriarch says and Dying for your country brings you to heaven, says Russian Patriarch. Sometimes the best response to bad theology is good humor and an honest look at one’s feet:

Hazardous duty

During her military career (1986-2018), Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben served in several strategic leadership positions, including Chaplain of the US Naval Academy and Chief of Chaplains of the US Navy. She was the first woman to hold those positions. After retirement from the Navy, Kibben taught Leadership and Ethics at the School of Engineering of the Catholic University of America. She’s a Presbyterian.

On December 31, 2020, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Kibben Chaplain of the US House of Representatives. If you watch the House proceedings this week, you can see her in action as she opens the sessions with prayer. The C-Span cameras pan the House as she prays–capturing a scene a bit more relaxed than an assembly of Annapolis midshipmen or the crew of an aircraft carrier.

Kibben’s third day as House Chaplain was January 6, 2021–marked by the US Electoral College vote count and the accompanying insurrection. Many Christians observe January 6 as Epiphany Day, which follows “the twelve days of Christmas.” January 6, 2021 may have been the most hazardous duty, thus far, of Kibben’s distinguished career. May this January 6 be more peaceful at the US Capitol.

From Wikipedia

A new year

Clarence Jordan (pronounced JER den), 1912-1969, biblical scholar and agent of social change, gave us a “Cotton Patch” version of Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament: Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. It is betting your life on the unseen realities.

My 2023 question is: “How can I make a difference?” My 8-syllable 2023 prayer is: Abba-Amma: Lebh Shomea. This is an inclusive version of Jesus’ Aramaic-language name for the Deity (Abba, or “Daddy”), coupled with a Hebrew-language yearning for a “listening heart/mind.” This Aramaic/Hebrew combo is shorter than my “briar patch” English prayer: Father-Mother: Give your servant a listening heart-mind.

I believe this short prayer will help me discover the unfolding answer(s) to my question. May you find how (and where) to turn your 2023 dreams into action.

From “What Did Solomon Pray For?“, by Rick Hamlin, Guideposts (based on the story in 1 Kings 3)

The Blessed Youngster

As dawn breaks this Christmas morning, my mind is on Mary’s contribution. She has been called “The Blessed Virgin” and “Theotokos” (Mother of God). Can’t top that! But, do those accolades draw her closer or make her seem more distant?

History has placed several layers of cultural veneer around Mary’s sexuality, freighting “The Blessed Virgin” with baggage that likely would feel foreign to her. At heart, her story is about a profoundly faithful, powerful simplicity.

So, this Christmas, my focus is not on Mary’s sexual history or her divine motherhood, but rather her blessed youthfulness, which radiates eternal dedication to simple truth and justice in a world dominated by the ethical complications of elders.

Without creating an unnecessary comparison or pedestal, a simple tip of the hat to youngster Cassidy Hutchinson for a 2022 example of freedom from a complicated web created by the ethical compromises of those older but not wiser.


All belong

An oasis is a clarifying space. Our swirling world of competing values and ideologies generates much noise and confusion. Sabbath is a “time out” for rest and refreshment. Oasis is a physical sabbath, a sanctuary, a Garden of Eden where clarity appears.

I’m grateful for the bits and pieces of sabbath, of oasis, I’ve experienced in 72 years. Today, as I begin my 73rd year on Earth, I’m particularly grateful for finding a new sense of home, of peace on earth, and goodwill toward all people–an oasis.

I’m grateful for a faith community that doesn’t embrace conformity to culture, that seeks to be an inclusive space for persons to grow, to ask questions, and to live into their God-given, grace-shaped identity, expressed in Sunday’s prayer of confession:

God of mercy, a million times a day we have the opportunity to be gracious, to assume the best in others, to give the benefit of the doubt. A million times a day we could choose the better way, but so often we don’t. Fear and greed kick in. Assumptions and insecurities take the wheel. Comparison and critique lead the charge. Forgive us for forgetting that all belong to you. Give us the courage to love even bigger than before, and the wisdom to choose a better way. Amen.

From “Earth: Our Living Planet,” a 2 1/2 minute video by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, The SeaWiFS Project and GeoEye, Scientific Visualization Studio, November 28, 2017

Phyllis was right

Phyllis Tickle said there would be days like this. She spoke at our Jackson, Tennessee congregation about the time her 2008 book, The Great Emergence, was published. An excerpt:

…Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop, (said) that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale (and) history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events.

First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of is former self. As a result of this usually energetic but rarely benign process, the Church actually ends up with two new creatures where once there had been only one. In … birthing a brand new expression of its faith and praxis, the Church also gains a grand refurbishment of the older one. The third result is of equal, if not greater, significance, though. That is, every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread–and been spread–dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.

From “The Great Emergence,” a daily meditation by the Center for Action and Contemplation, November 26, 2017

A verdant intersection

An intriguing intersection is where psychology and faith converge. John A. “Jack” Sanford (1929-2005) lived on a corner of that intersection. He was a Jungian analyst and an Episcopal priest. Carl Jung (1875-1961) was “a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.” Sanford served Episcopal parishes in California for nineteen years.

I know Sanford primarily through his book, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language (written in 1968 and revised in 1989). I was helped by his interpretation of the story of Jacob’s “wrestling” on his way back to Canaan. Sanford wrote several books about the neighborhood where psychology and faith intersect. “Mysticism” is a good name for that neighborhood.

Another Sanford book is Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. One review notes, “In his discussion of the healing stories in the fourth gospel, Sanford shows how faith is that quality of soul which paves the way for healing.” That’s a good way to think about faith. Each of us, and the whole world, benefits whenever there’s a paving the way for healing.