Trips of a lifetime are etched into our memories, this one for different reasons than we had hoped. Even so, it has changed my life, and my leg, forever. With the plays of London, the Scottish mist and prayers from Iona lingering on our tongue and the wine of Siena and Florence still on our lips, my wife, Brooke and I, headed for the Cinque Terre, to stay in the southernmost village of Riomaggiore on the Italian Riviera coastline. Our… Read more

The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.  The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! Because of this our hearts are sick, because of these things our eyes have grown dim:  because of Mount Zion, which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it. But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days?… Read more

I’ve written and thought on American civil religion for some time now. Inevitably, our American presidential politics lifts up one form of civil religion or another. Politics and religion, as I always say to my students, are inevitably twinned. Religion partners, serves and/or resists power. It is always in relationship to power; it always wants more power. In fact I’ve defined religion as the social desire for the ultimate. And this definition can easily be transferred into the political realm…. Read more

Matthew Sutton’s American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism is beautifully written, thoroughly documented and, in many ways, a deliciously wicked look at a highly successful religious movement—radical apocalyptic evangelicals—a movement that remains strong despite its endless predictive failures. One of my favorite lines in the book is “They [radical evangelicals] had a knack for picking losing battles” (p. 182). This is an understatement. Sutton writes on the beginnings of early American fundamentalism, concentrating on what he calls radical evangelicals… Read more

The irony of the Orlando massacre is that it was done only a mile away from the happiest place on earth—Disney World. Americans, most of the time, live in this world—a world where we can be happy, or that we can hope to be happy. And yet, in the midst of this dream comes nightmares. The irony, of course, is that on the face of it, America seems like a place of dreams—you can do anything if you just work… Read more

A few years ago in speaking to a group of Pentecostal preachers, at one point, I said, “Stop being codependent! Don’t ask how you can help your congregants be more comfortable. Ask, what are your people doing for the church and for others?” And then I said, “If they aren’t doing anything for the body of Christ tell them to leave!” Well, I got some bemused smiles and some grins of agreement. Admittedly, every once in a while, I get… Read more

I asked my Jackson School International Studies class called, “Cultural Interactions in an Interdependent World,” to give their tribal descriptions and share them with each other. The results, from 200+ student versions, were breath-taking. I can’t disclose those, but I do offer you my own below. I suppose, I would wonder in return, what is your tribe? I grew up unaware of my race or ethnicity, and with the privilege of being a white male in America, an objective observer, a strange, opaque… Read more

I’ve been thinking and writing about religious violence for some time now. Along with many people, I wonder: Is religion inherently violent? Is religion actually the problem in our modern world? And more particularly—is Islam intrinsically violent? (Quick answer: NO, at least no more than any of the major world religions). I’ve argued in the past that mixing religion and violence is not new. Every religion has done it and will continue to do it. This begs the question—for what… Read more

I was reminded recently that Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1955 The Last Temptation of Christ has Jesus, the carpenter, building crosses for his Roman rulers. Jesus is despised by his own people and crushed by his conscience. The voices in his mind plague him, until finally, he wakes up and goes to the dessert to find his true calling. We have no idea whether this is historically accurate, though it’s not utterly foreign to what might have occurred. The Romans used the… Read more

Rob Bell is a friend. I wrote a book about him. We spent something on the order of two days together talking, with me mostly asking questions. And during the time he said, “Wow, this is like therapy.” And then, later, “You know I think we could be friends.” We visited him last spring in Los Angeles and we’ve stayed in touch. And even though I’ve read most everything he has written, when his new book came out, I ordered it… Read more

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