Showing posts from July, 2008

Hall of Fame Weekend: Phony and Real Leaders

Some who call themselves the leader are, in fact, not. For example, in family systems theory, often the true leader is not the one who has the overt, official title or role. For example, many women were actually the leaders and the "quarterbacks" of their families, even though males may have had the higher status culturally.

In systems like churches, it is interesting to see who the real leaders are. They are not always the ones who tout it and shout it. In fact, these folks may be more insecure than really confident in their own sense of leadership.

My gold standard of leadership is very similar to what Marty Shottenhiemer said when he was coaching his first NFL team, the Cleveland Browns. He said the greatest of all coaches are the ones who are, first of all, able to see a future Hall of Famer and then, to assume the responsibility for this potential to be realized. If the player is supposed to make it to Canton, Ohio, then the greatest coaches make sure that destiny is ful…

Death, Hammer Chords, Amazing Endings and Such

I know death is not really in vogue. That's part of the reason we have "Celebration of Life" services instead of memorials or funerals. But like the hammer chords in a symphony, death is the finale from this life. And death can be for life what hammer chords are to great symphonies.

This morning one of the first things I did was to air Beethoven's 8th, the symphony with 20+ hammer chords. It sort of sets the record for such in music history. Thanks to Bob Dugan, former music teacher, band director at Horace Mann Middle School in Lakewood, Ohio, I first heard this amazing ending in 7th grade and have loved it ever since.

As a Christian pastor, one gets way above average exposure to death and grief. The story of each ending is punctuated by hammer chords which speak of life, not always just painful, often helpful and healing, consummating the parts of the symphony which may have not made sense, tying the whole together in a way that transcends our judgments and labeling.…

The Spirituality of Shattered Dreams

The pain of disillusionment is equal to the level of false expectations we allow. If the spiritual life was presented as a one-size-fits-all formula for success, then, everything that requires effort and presents a challenge could be an occasion to throw in the towel. Whether we are talking about marriage, church membership, or Christian discipleship, pain is relative to the extent that our expectations are connected to reality.

Hebrews 11 helps us to see the Old Testament story through the colors of death and resurrection, not in terms of promise and fulfillment. That's because God's promises can always be twisted to address whatever I want. Taken together, Moses, who didn't enter the land (see Deut. 34), and David, who didn't build the Temple (2 Sam. 7:1-7), and Jesus, who wasn't delivered from his fate (Luke 22: 39 ff.) represent a strong biblical theme missing in the shallow faith of name it and claim it churchianity. It is the forgotten message God offering r…

The Amazing Faiths Dialogues- Nov. 13 in Houston

The Dinner Dialogues provide an opportunity for people to meet people of other faith traditions, to share their experiences and listen to the sharing of others, and to converse about matters of faith and spirituality in a safe, controlled environment.

I participated in this project for the first time last year. I really enjoyed meeting and sharing with men and women from beyond my United States- Christian- Protestant faith tradition. More than that, I enjoyed wonderful hospitality, great food, a genuine, respectful conversation with other Houstonians. It was a great experience!

If you are interested in finding out about the closest Amazing Faiths project in your area of the country, click title of this post. See also the book, The Amazing Faiths of Texas.


You Too Can Be Called 'Reverend'! by Jim Jackson

I’ve got good news for those of you who would like to become clergy. You can now be ordained online for little effort or money.
Chapelwood’s clergy did it the hard way. They endured a minimum of three and one-half years of graduate education – then at least two years of ministry under supervision before they could be ordained. Along the way there were years of psychological exams to be passed, papers to be written, questions to be answered, approvals to be gained. It’s not easy to be ordained in the UnitedMethodistChurch.
And it is expensive. The average candidate for ordination in the Texas Annual Conference has accumulated from $40,000-$90,000 in school debt. And their starting salaries are about $30,000. It is hard to make those numbers work.How foolish these young clergy are. They could have been ordained by a church like “Church of the Latter Day Dude” (, or the “Universal Life Church Monastery” ( , or the “Church of Spiritual Humanism” (www.spi…

Clean Coal- It's Radical

Words lose all meaning sometimes.

My favorite oxymoron of late is "clean coal." Having had my childhood years in Ohio, where coal based electricity was common, I'm flabbergasted by this term. Would anyone care to inhale your daily supplement of mercury laced ash, courtesy of the local, coal-burning power plant?

The fresh water supply in Appalachia effects much of the country's water. Efforts to "clean up" coal rely on disposing what's left of the clean up (a variety of sludges) and this stuff trashes fresh water supplies, ground water, with high levels of toxins like lead and arsenic. It takes land and then ruins it for generations. Sort of the strip mining of the new century.

Makes you think about the way we use words in church, and how some may hear them as self-contradictory. Yet we go ahead and use them. Although most in the church don't hear it this way, virgin birth is by definition a paradox. How about "radical" used in almost ever…

What's Simple about Being Christian?

That's what Tom Wright addresses in his 237 page volume, Simply Christian.

What I appreciated about the book:
The metaphors used and explained, i.e., baptism (pp. 212 and following).The positive view of the Old Testament/Israel as informing our reading of the New Testament/Jesus, not the other way around.The centering of Christian faith on gratitude as response for what God has done. (p. 209)
The discussion on the New Creation was excellent. **What I did not appreciate:
Started slowly; length. You would expect a book with simple in the title to be briefer and "simpler."
Written by clergyperson for church persons?No Index was provided, this aspect took away from the reading.**"Resurrection doesn't mean going to heaven when you die." (p.218) and "...God did for Jesus at Easter what he is going to do for the whole creation." (p.236). At death, there is an interim period when we are with Christ (call it heaven), but after that interim, a new bodily life …

Getting Off the Ride!

Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio...I remember trying in vane to shout to a ride attendant, "Stop this ride, or I'm gonna heave!!" The pace we live sometimes gives us a feeling of denying instead giving life. My mother, the 85 year old R.N. who has taught childbirth and grandparent classes for the last 25 years, has the right prescription.

If we are currently doing nothing to really to care for ourselves in terms of diet and exercise, take thirty minutes a day out to do some that engages you and that you enjoy. This doesn't include vegging out in front of the T.V.The other thing we can do is to do something that relaxes us before going to bed. Something that prepares us simply and easily.

These are two practices that almost anyone can begin with ease. You can start it right where you are!


A Lousy Night to Be An Atheist Indeed

While last night might have a bad night for atheists who happened to be watching the Home Run Derby, I found Josh Hamilton's record first round of homers incredible. His references to God's grace in the interviews which followed (which I didn't hear about until earlier today) is something I hope we can all claim for ourselves.

If the atheist has trouble explaining the grace operative in human life and all of creation, then Christians are those who should be shouting it from the rooftops. If the atheist is challenged to see life as gift instead of chance, then Christians could be world leaders in gratitude.

It's sad that we often impose limits when speaking of the vast and inexhaustible grace of God. Our words betray this whenever we say, "There but the grace of God go I." Does that mean that, due to whatever calamity or hardship that has happened to someone else, they are therefore outside of God's grace? And we who are in God's grace are quite fine, t…

Using and Misusing the Name

It is about more than ugly, angry, hateful language. That's bad enough. One of the many things I like about the CEV* is its translation of Commandment #3: Do not misuse my name." (Exodus 20: 7) While taking the name Christian, #3 is also about the way we use the name of God, especially the ways we "bear false witness," or misrepresent God, Jesus, and Christian faith by our actions and our attitudes.

It is here that I often turn to I Peter 4:17 and the sense that God's judgment begins with God's own people, with those who claim God's name. I find that especially helpful when the question about who's in and who's out are inevitably raised (usually by those who think they are inside).

So claiming the name is tied to covenant keeping, and responsibility. Otherwise, we tend to be very flippant with God's name, using it to bless actions both individual and corporate that may be in disharmony with our words.

*The CEV (1995) usually keeps me from misusi…

Marx, Micah, and Drugs of Choice

Is it religion that is is the opiate of the people or are opiates the religion of people (Micah 2:11)? Either one is not a very high view of religion.

When religion becomes an opiate, we call it by its right name, "feel good faith." If that is the main purpose of my spiritual practice, then it is probably true that my religion, for me, is an opiate, something which helps me to feel good in my pain. Or to ignore, deny, or run away from it. Love of God and neighbor? That would come after the primary goal of feeling good.

In a similar way, Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah (6: 14) and Micah were critical of the kind of religion that only smooths over, doesn't rock the boat, and deals lightly with human wounds of spirit. The problem is that such leadership offers to heal wounds "lightly," while our brokenness is anything but an abbreviated experience. We want to forget about it and not have to think about it anymore. That's what "feel good" faith does for u…

Words We Don't Hear in Church

Did George Carlin go PC- or did he just get the last laugh? One fine day about 15 years ago, I was watching "Thomas the Tank Engine" with my young son. "Thomas the Tank Engine" was a wonderful program for young children but narrated by none other than Carlin himself! Carlin surely got off- at the "dazed and confused" generation's expense- on a really weird bit of irony! With my thanks to blogger Martha Hoverson over at, what are some of the words you can't say in church? I am a child of the 60's and 70's and enjoyed Carlin's satire which often pointed out our own idiocy and hypocrisy. You can, of course, think of Carlin's original seven words as now being a little more acceptable in the general culture.

To twist it the other way, there are some words we regularly hear on the news and in general that we just don't hear much in church: torture (ironic that Jesus was a torture victim). Another is global warming (th…

Words that Really Don't Work in Church

There are a few words that I have heard that I would not use, under any circumstances, and this has nothing to do with being politically incorrect, and everything to do with basic human decency. I wouldn't use any word that ridicules, threatens, or dehumanizes others by their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or national origin, disability, or really, for any other reason. The joke I thought was cute wasn't worth telling because it was demeaning at least.

Again, I have heard different epithets used from a variety of American pulpits, and guess what? Even if the word was used to prove a point or as a confessional, the result of shock and regret did not really justify it. Words do harm and in these cases, more harm than any possible good. Even if it may be somehow cathartic for the speaker do it, there are other ways of confessing and for good reason. Most of them are not in front of the Sunday morning crowd.

I have also heard preachers tell all in such detail that they had …

Who Defines Transformation?

Church nomenclature has transformation as one of the the latest and worn out expressions. Does anyone know what we mean by it?! Is there a possibility that anyone unconnected to church life knows what we are talking about? Transformation is term thrown around that has New Testament roots (Romans 12:1-2) and bears a close similarity to repentance or metanoia, a change of mind. If you are thinking in Hebrew, the word is more like a change in direction, a 180.

Not all "life-changing" experiences are favorable or positive, so transformation by itself could be seen as an empty expression. We need to ask what is being transformed, by whom, and for what purpose? If it is to be socialized for the dominant culture and church replete with the cultural idols of violence, nationalism, and affluence, then that is an entirely different meaning from the New Testament sense. Who defines transformation? If our way of measuring it is only the happy trinity of budgets, butts in pew, and buildin…