Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A New Relationship Between Faith and Science

For too long, science and faith have had a combustible relationship. But even churches evolve. In the UCC, we're not afraid of science and technology. In fact, we embrace it.

On Jan. 29, the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, released a groundbreaking theological statement, "A New Voice Arising: A Pastoral Letter on Faith Engaging Science and Technology," which speaks a new prophetic word about the millenniums-old feud between religion and science. We want to make clear the UCC's belief that science and religion are not mutually exclusive, and we extend our unequivocal welcome to persons who devote their lives to scientific inquiry, no matter the discipline. We are a thoughtful, thinking church.

"Many today are hungering for an authentic spirituality that is intellectually honest and at home in a scientific era," the UCC's pastoral letter states. "They are searching for a new kind of wisdom to live by, one that is scientifically sophisticated, technologically advanced, morally just, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually alive."

Go here to watch videos of conversations between John Thomas and other scientists who are discussing how faith and science can work together.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where the Faithful Live

Click on the pic for a larger size.

Thoughtful Pic, right?

The pursuit of a debtless life and the need to provide alternatives to the consumerist mentality are two topics that I have been thinking about lately. I have also been thinking about how and what a Christian response would look like that isn't fueled by guilt or a shopping maven's holier-than-thou-art demeanor. Look for something to come about in a few months or thereafter.

In the meantime, wouldn't this be a great billboard?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Top 100 Quotes

I found this interesting list compiled by someone who doesn't find religion very appealing--it is a list of top 100 comments from Christian chat rooms. I found myself wanting to hurl about a third of the way through it--perhaps you'll make it further down the list than I did.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And Lead Me Not Into Temptation...

One of my biggest challenges when it comes to spending wisely is being tempted to buy something on sale--or to accept a pre-approved credit card in order to buy that special something offered at a discounted price. Overcoming this temptation may be to avoid getting tempted in the first place. You know all that junk mail you get every day? What if you could "opt out" from the fliers, credit card applications, and sale announcements? has a wonderful post that can help you do just that. Here is one example:

Opt Out of Prescreened Credit Card Offers
Probably the biggest culprit, unsolicited credit card offers not only clutter the mailbox, but because of the included plastic "sample" card are also difficult to shred. You can opt out of these credit card offers by visiting OptOut, the official service to be removed from the mailing lists of the consumer credit companies.
Go to this post and you'll find a way to clean up your snail mail box. While you're at it, you'll also find a way to declutter it (which is really what the Lifehacker post is all about to begin with).

Reaching the UnChurched

The UCC reports that a new study from LifeWay was released today that explains that three-quarters of Americans are disinterested in church because they feel that the church is full of hypocrites. A part of the report says,

"Almost three-quarters of Americans who haven't darkened the door of a church in the last six months think it is "full of hypocrites," and even more of them consider Christianity to be more about organized religion than about loving God and people, according to a new survey."

Of the study, others responses shed light on an interesting reason. The study reports that while three-quarters of Americans are disinterested, 72% believe that God "actually exists". So the challenge isn't that Americans find that God is bogus (as Richard Dawkins might say) but rather the church is bogus because of the way its members behave.

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, said in the finding that 79 percent of respondents thought Christianity was more about organized religion than about loving God and people should challenge individual Christians.

In other words, the reason that people aren't attending church is because of us--we are not living genuine Christian lives. I say we--not to point fingers but as a general explanation to say that were we to live what we preach, we wouldn't be seen a hypocritical. Instead (and this is just my opinion), we live to please ourselves while doing church. We're consumeristic, debt ridden, selfish, earth plunderers instead of being communal, frugal, generous, and good stewards. We separate those who disagree with us according to our theologies and religion--all the while condemning folks who look at God differently than we do. We make politics of exclusion and scapegoating our main course and, if we have room for dessert and coffee, we give platitudes to those who need God by saying, "We'll pray for you... now leave me alone."

I believe, that in order for our Church (and by this I mean more than just our congregation), we'll going to have to prove our faith to the world who is looking for Someone to believe in. This same study reported that while most view the church as hypocritical, 78% would be willing to listen to someone share their faith and testimony of God. We haven't yet crossed the line where people find the Church to be irrelevant--instead, they only find "us" irrelevant.

As we go about re-imaging and re-interpreting what it means to be a Christian, we are also going to ask ourselves, "How can we become relevant as Jesus is relevant?" Now is the time to get serious--if we wait or put it off or hope that others find an appropriate answer for those who are seeking God, it'll be too late.

UCC News: Thomas Denounces Smear Campaign

Written by J. Bennett Guess
January 11, 2008

A ramped-up smear campaign against the UCC's largest congregation and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's home church — Trinity UCC in Chicago — has raised the ire of the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, who called the e-mail-driven claims "absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated."

"Our national offices in Cleveland, as well as other settings of the UCC, have been forwarded countless e-mails that obviously derive from a similar source," Thomas said. "They contain misleading statements obviously meant to undermine the integrity of one of our most vibrant, mission-driven congregations."

Thomas said, while it's not his intent to come to the aid of Obama or any presidential candidate, he does feel it's imperative that "absurd, mean-spirited and politically-motivated attacks against one of our UCC churches be challenged forthrightly."

Obama, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has been a member of Trinity UCC for 20 years.

Since Obama won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, a flurry of e-mail messages with identical language and sentiment began circulating across the internet, claiming that Trinity UCC was a "racist" congregation because of its long-stated church motto: "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian."

"Trinity UCC is rooted in and proud of its Afrocentric heritage," Thomas said. "This is no different than the hundreds of UCC churches from the German Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. Recognizing and celebrating our distinctive racial-ethnic heritages, cultures, languages and customs are what make us unique as a united and uniting denomination."

While Trinity UCC is predominately African American, it does include and welcome non-Black members. The Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, has been a member of the congregation for years.

"Trinity is a destination church for many members of the UCC, a multi-racial, multi-cultural denomination that is largely Caucasian," Thomas pointed out. "When in Chicago, many UCC members flock to Trinity to share in and learn from its vibrant ministries, dynamic worship and justice-minded membership. Contrary to the claims made in these hateful emails, UCC members know Trinity to be one of the most welcoming, hospitable and generous congregations in our denomination."

Trinity UCC was founded in 1961. Ten years later, when the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright became its pastor, the church had 87 families. Today, Trinity UCC has more than 8,000 members, 70 ministries and three Sunday worship services.

Trinity UCC is also the largest congregational contributor to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for regional, national and international ministries.

While the circulating emails are written to appear as if they are coming from a groundswell of persons, with different names and email addresses, each uses nearly identical language, makes similar claims and even manages to make the same mistakes. For example, each makes introductory reference to "Trinity Church of Christ" instead of "Trinity United Church of Christ."

"It's clear that someone is using the internet to give the appearance of widespread concern and, thus, to hopefully create traction for this absurd story," Thomas said.

About the UCC

Formed by name in 1957 by the union of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the [German] Evangelical and Reformed Church, the UCC's roots in American history are deep. Eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were from UCC traditions, and a full 10 percent of present-day UCC congregations were formed prior to 1776.

Many UCC churches trace their founding to the early 1600s, when the Pilgrims and Puritans first came to America. These Congregationalists, as they became known, sought religious independence from persecuting political authorities in Europe. They believed firmly in local church autonomy, covenantal church life, personal piety and the priesthood of all believers.

Today, the UCC holds firmly to these early religious tenets. Often recognized for its historical and contemporary social justice commitments, its present-day approach to worship, however, might be considered traditional by most standards.

Interestingly, the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, published in 2002, found that UCC members, slightly more than members of other mainline denominations, listed traditional hymns and biblically-sound preaching as being essential to good worship. Surprising to some, the same study also found that slightly more UCC members self-identified as conservative rather than liberal a tidbit that President Calvin Coolidge, a conservative Republican and the nation's only Congregationalist president (1923-1929), might have found interesting.

Although each congregation's liturgical style is influenced by its heritage and members preferences, as is true in most mainline denominations, the UCC, as one pastor aptly put it, is known for its "beautiful, heady and exasperating" mix.

Known for arriving early on social justice issues, the church's history includes being the first to practice democracy in church governance (1630), the first to ordain an African-American pastor (1785), the first to ordain a woman (1853), the first to ordain an openly gay man (1972), and the first to support same-gender marriage equality (2005).

In 1773, Old South UCC in Boston helped inspire the Boston Tea Party and, in 1777, Old Zion Reformed UCC in Allentown, Pa., hid the Liberty Bell from occupying British forces.

Hundreds of schools including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Howard, Fisk, Wellesley, Smith and Oberlin owe their beginnings to the UCC. The UCC's publishing company, The Pilgrim Press, is the oldest publisher of books in North America.

Obama and his family live in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, which is home to Chicago Theological Seminary, one of the UCC's seven seminaries and the city's oldest institution of higher education.

Largely regarded as a northern church, about 80 percent of UCC members are clustered in the Northeast and industrial Midwest. The UCC is the largest Protestant church in New England, the birthplace of Congregationalism, and it has more than 700 churches in Pennsylvania, the heart of the German Reformed tradition. The UCC is also strong in New York, Missouri, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with early Presidential contests, the UCC has 188 and 138 congregations respectively.

In recent years, the UCC has posted growth in the South. The denominations second largest church, the 5,500-member Victory UCC near Atlanta, affiliated with the UCC in 2002. The UCCs fourth-largest, the 4,300-member Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, Texas, joined in 2006, as did churches in Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Columbia, S.C., among other places.

Last year, the UCC launched its national Nehemiah Project with plans to start or welcome at least 250 new southern churches within five years.

While Obama is the only UCC candidate in the 2008 presidential election, the 2004 campaign included two UCC members, both Democrats. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chair of the Democratic Party, is a member of First Congregational UCC in Burlington, Vt., and then U.S. Senator Bob Graham is a member of Miami Lakes Congregational UCC in Florida.

The current U.S. Congress includes 10 UCC members five Republicans and five Democrats.

Five U.S. Senators are UCC: Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Obama.

Five House seats are occupied by UCC members: Thelma Drake (R-Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Other notable UCC members include New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D); former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.); actress Lynn Redgrave; current U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall; Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper columnists Connie Schultz (and wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio) and Leonard Pitts Jr.; and Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-prize-winning author of Gilead.

The Rev. Andrew Young former congressman, U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor is an ordained UCC minister, who began his Civil Rights activism working for the UCC.

The late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the legendary social activist who became immortalized as the pastor in Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip, had ministerial standing in the UCC and served as pastor of the UCC's Riverside Church in New York.

The Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr, a UCC minister considered to be one of greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century, authored the now-famous Serenity Prayer.

Source: UCC News

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I Want to be 6-Years Old Again

During our Christmas Eve service of candlelights and carols, I preached a sermon about finding again the magic and mystery of Christmas without having to resign our adulthood and becoming 6-years old again. You can hear that sermon again by going here.

I opened up the sermon by reading a letter of resignation: a letter where an adult resigns from adulthood to become a child again. I have received several requests for that letter. Here is that letter in its entirety.


To Whom It May Concern:

I am hereby officially tendering my resignation as an adult, in order to accept the responsibilities of a 6 year old. The tax base is lower.

I want to be six again. I want to go to McDonald's and think it's the best place in the world to eat. I want to sail sticks across a fresh mud puddle and make waves with rocks. I want to think M&Ms are better than money, because you can eat them. I want to play kickball during recess and stay up on Christmas Eve waiting to hear Santa and Rudolph on the roof.

I long for the days when life was simple. When all you knew were your colors, the addition tables and simple nursery rhymes, but it didn't bother you, because you didn't know what you didn't know and you didn't care.

I want to go to school and have snack time, recess, gym and field trips. I want to be happy, because I don't know what should make me upset. I want to think the world is fair and everyone in it is honest and good. I want to believe that anything is possible. Sometime, while I was maturing, I learned too much. I learned of nuclear weapons, prejudice, starving and abused kids, lies, unhappy marriages, illness, pain and mortality.

I want to be six again. I want to think that everyone, including myself, will live forever, because I don't know the concept of death. I want to be oblivious to the complexity of life and be overly excited by the little things again. I want television to be something I watch for fun, not something used for escape from the things I should be doing. I want to live knowing the little things that I find exciting will always make me as happy as when I first taught them.

I want to be six again. I remember not seeing the world as a whole, but rather being aware of only the things that directly concerned me. I want to be naive enough to think that if I'm happy, so is everyone else. I want to walk down the beach and think only of the sand beneath my feet and the possibility of finding that blue piece of sea glass I'm looking for. I want to spend my afternoons climbing trees and riding my bike, letting the grownups worry about time, the dentist and how to find the money to fix the old car.

I want to wonder what I'll do when I grow up and what I'll be, who I'll be and not worry about what I'll do if this doesn't work out. I want that time back. I want to use it now as an escape, so that when my computer crashes, or I have a mountain of paperwork, or two depressed friends, or a fight with my girlfriend, or bittersweet memories of times gone by, or second thoughts about so many things, I can travel back and build a snowman, without thinking about anything except whether the snow sticks together and what I can possibly use for the snowman's mouth.

I want to be six again.

Credit Card Statement Shock

As the holidays have past us, even if only a few days ago, many of us are receiving our credit card statements in the mail. Being generous in December is finally coming back to haunt us in January. We all want to be generous to those we love--and yet, we realize that there is often a limit to what we can give. Sometimes we stick within those limits, at other times we don't. It makes us feel good about ourselves when we can give something wonderful to others. It sure made me feel wonderful to give my eldest brother a collection of cordless powertools for Christmas.

One of my New Year's Resolutions actually was started 2 years ago around this time. I have promised myself to relieve myself of all credit card debt, cancel all but one of them (at that time), and live off the money I save (rather than the money I borrow). I am closer now than I was 2 years ago and am working on a 5-year timeline. So I have 3-more years to go. Upon re-examining what I owe, I am right on course. Even though I have acquired some additional debt when I was hospitalized 5 months ago, I still think I can stick to my 5-year plan (I just won't have as much in savings as I'd like).

Of course, I do have room to tweak what I am already doing. If you're thinking about tweaking what you're already doing or have yet to begin anything, here is a great post to give you some great ideas and inspiration.

The post may inspire you when you realize it's one thing to live paycheck to paycheck, it's another to do so without a gameplan to guide your finances.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Belated Post

I just read this incredibly sad blogpost written from a solider in Iraq. He kept and maintained a blog about his life and experiences. In the event he was killed in action, he gave "one final post" to a friend of his to post when he died.

This is that post. It's very sad and also very encouraging. Grab your Kleenex and have a good read.

Am Back and Ready to Go

I am finally home from my vacation in Oklahoma. I had a wonderful time of rest, relaxation, and weight-gain. While the weight-gain doesn't bother me as much this year as last, I am getting rested up enough to begin the long process of shedding those extra pounds.

And, besides shedding the pounds, I want to begin this year afresh in other ways. Looking at my spirituality, my relationships with friends, and my worldly pursuits, I want to examine why I do what I do. I love beginning a new year with thoughts that this year, I am going to live better, do more, and enjoy myself as much as possible.

What do you do in each new year? Do you make resolutions? Promises? Do you reflect on a past year of living?

We oughta have a fellowship time to discuss and share what our new year will bring us. Don't be surprised if I invite you all over to the parsonage for an open house and open discussion. Afterall, I didn't have an open house this Christmas--so having it in January makes sense.