Thursday, April 17, 2008

Re-Member Me

We had another great discussion last night at our weekly gathering about progressive Christianity and spirituality at South Enders. Part of our conversation was about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I went to Pine Ridge last summer with my high school youth group from Cleveland. We worked and stayed with an organization called Re-Member. At a communion service on the hill overlooking Wounded Knee Creek - right outside the cemetary where a mass grave contained over 100 Lakota who were murdered - I learned a whole new way to think of Jesus' words at the last supper. We usually say, "Each time you eat of this bread, do so in remembrance of me." But they say, "Each time you eat of this bread, re-member me." As in, each time you eat this bread, re-member, put my body back together to return and serve my people. If anyone has noticed, I now always say "re-member me" and I remember the experience at Wounded Knee where Christ is truly weeping over the treatment of the Lakota people and the continuing sorrow of reservation life. Yet, at the communion table, we are re-created as the Body of Christ, and we re-member Christ's body with his courage and strength, and we return to the world filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Statistics as of 2007
• Unemployment—80-90%
• Per capita income of $4,000
• 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
• 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
• Twice the rate of heart disease
• 8 Times the Unites States rate of Tuberculosis
• Alcoholism rate estimated as high at 80%
• 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
• Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
• Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
• Infant mortality is three times the national rate
• Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United
States and the 2nd lowest in the western hemisphere.
Only Haiti has a lower rate.

For more information, visit I hope to take a group from the church in 2009 - including all the students who are confirmed in 2009. It is a sorrowful, humbling experience, yet oddly empowering. And an experience I think everyone should have. It's a Third-World county less than half-a-day's drive from Denver.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

An Encompassing Church

I was reading some old papers today and came across a fabulous quote about the United Church of Christ that I want to share with you. It comes from an essay by Barbara Brown Zikmund, noted historian, about our identity. She calls the UCC an "Encompassing Church" which means we encompass a variety of beliefs, multiple worship practices, mixed patterns of ecclesiastical governance, active witness and service, and peoples of diverse convictions and cultures. We draw a circle to include rather than exclude - no line in the sand, no one outside the walls.

This is the great quote: "Today the UCC continues to offer theological hospitality to refugees from rigid fundamentalism and to seekers looking for meaning beyond secular individualism."

I like the two part nature of the statement. We are indeed a refuge from theological rigidity. We have focused a lot on that as part of the God is Still Speaking campaign and it is key to our witness as an Open and Affirming denomination. All are welcome here. But the second part needs a little attention as well - especially as I encounter the much more secular environment of Denver. Have we sufficiently made the case that the church, Christianity, offers a more satisfying, more deeply fulfilling life than purely secular pursuits?

The stereotype of Christians only as rigid fundamentalists is a hard nut to crack - unless we are truly out in the world, in the neighborhood, living a life of faith intimately connected to service and justice that others would like to explore. Many people are truly surprised that I say I am a liberal because I'm a Christian. I can't read scripture or understand the life of Jesus in any other way than he was an avowed progressive - not about a political agenda but a worldview. If I was not a Christian, would I be as liberal?

Anyway, ponder: theological hospitality to refugees of rigid fundamentalism AND meaning beyond secular individualism. (Interesting how fundamentalism is also often an individualistic endevour - me and Jesus.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Crucifiying a Pastor

The endless replaying of clips from Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons have left me both angry and depressed. When Jesus was crucified, to make him an example to anyone else who might consider questioning the reigning authorities, it was by hanging him on a cross - the most extreme form of execution in the Roman Empire. Well, in today's Empire, it would seem the best way to crucify someone is to carefully choose a few incendiary video clips, completely misrepresent their meaning, totally ignore the context, and watch as people tear away any spirit remaining in the body.

I have worshipped at Trinity UCC in Chicago and been blown away by both the power of the worship services as well as the length and breadth of their 70 different ministries in the community and around the world. When I lived in Cleveland I watched his sermons on TV every Sunday morning while getting ready for my own church. The depth of his scholarship and the power of his preaching enhanced my own. Occasionally I would catch my breath as I amazed that "he would go there." I might not have seen things his way all the time, but, of course, I haven't lived his experience. But I was always grateful to have a prophet speak what either I couldn't or what I had never considered.

Today is Good Friday and I have been considering the life of Jesus and the price he paid to confront the religious and political leaders of his day. It is ironic, or not, that this controversy over similar objectionable and offensive rhetoric would make the end of Rev. Wright's stellar career (he just retired last month, as long planned) so painful.

I have more to say, but I need to run. What have you been thinking? If you go to, you'll find some excellent commentary by our UCC President, John Thomas - in particular a piece he wrote entitled "What Kind of Prophet."

Friday, January 25, 2008

I've been defined as "Emergent/Postmodern"

I read a blog this morning called Verbal Overflow by a pastor from South Carolina. I doubt we have much in common, but I often learn more about myself when I disagree with someone than when I agree. He had a survey on his blog I decided to take. It's purpose is to measure where one is on a theological scale from liberal to fundamentalist. I am clearly on the liberal side, but I have plenty of critiques for liberal theology and don't always fit neatly into categories - perhaps typical of postmoderns. At the end of the survey I was provided with their definition of my theological worldview:

What's your theological worldview?
You scored as a Emergent/Postmodern
You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Roman Catholic
Neo orthodox
Reformed Evangelical

What is interesting about this conclusion is that it comes one day after I attended a gathering of pastors at the Parish Resource Center in Denver where Craig Peterson of Mountain View United Church in Aurora ( spoke of his experience on sabbatical visiting and studying the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. (He's also the reason I began this blog!) I knew something about this from a class during my doctor of ministry study at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and meeting Brian McLaren, the closet thing to a spokesperson for the Emerging Church movement.

What I like, as I understand it, about the Emerging Church movement is the desire, and varying levels of "success", to take the best from various Christian traditions - from right to left (with the exception of fundamentalism which is exclusive of anything but itself) - and creatively and faithfully blending their practices. It's not a watering down of the faith but a combining of various parts of Christianity that have been separated from each other over the years.

For me, that means combining social action for justice and peace with vibrant worship that connects with the Spirit with classical spiritual disciplines with a church growth strategy that believes there is good news to share, though the good news is not about personal salvation but a life that is meaningful because it follows the liberating teachings of Jesus Christ and appreciates the insights and wisdom from a wide variety of spiritual and secular experiences. I'll go into further into this in future blogs.

If you would like to take the survey - about which I have no endorsement other than it was interesting food for thought -

Let me know what you find.