6 Ways to Save the Soul of American Discourse

The German notion of Zeitgeist or “spirit of the times” was first promulgated as an alternative to the theory that great men and women are the ones who shape our history. There are difficulties with both theories, of course.On the one hand, influential figures can make a dramatic difference.   Witness, for example, the sweeping impact of people like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, or Eleanor Roosevelt. It is also true, however, that talented people are themselves a product of their times. W … [Read more...]

How Do Saints Respond to Suffering?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen at all?Both questions lie at the bottom of an ocean of ink spilled over millennia, and I’ve made my own small contribution to the quest for an answer. Over the years I’ve become convinced of two things: One, there is no entirely satisfactory answer to either question. And, two, the questions themselves are not the ones to which the Christian tradition finally provides an answer.To put it baldly: The Christian faith does not … [Read more...]

The Five Ways Music Contributes to Our Spiritual Lives

Some years ago I had the privilege of chairing a faculty search for a new professor of sacred music. We were fortunate to find an accomplished musician with a sound record of research, and a love of the church.One of the questions that I asked each of the candidates was this: “Can you explain what role that music plays in worship and in the spiritual lives of those who attend church?” The candidates were all from sacred music programs of one kind or another, so – at first blush – I thought th … [Read more...]

5 Reasons Spirituality is No Longer Important to the American Church

There are isolated and scattered signs of spiritual vitality in the American Protestantism. There are people and pastors who believe that spiritual practice is indispensible to the life of the church. There are a handful of denominational programs and an occasional bishop who emphasizes the spiritual life. And a handful of seminaries have given one kind of attention or another to the spiritual preparation of their students.But there is also evidence that the emphasis on spiritual practice is … [Read more...]

Spirituality and Leadership in the Shadow of Chaos

It is hard to remember how much idealism was thread through celebrations of the new millennium when you look back on it now. The palpable sense of tension, anxiety, conflict, and – in a word – chaos, seems to be thread through the global psyche.A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that W. B. Yeatts’s poem, “The Second Coming,” has been revisited with ever greater frequency as journalists quote line after line from its apocalyptic vision: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at la … [Read more...]

Part-Time Ministry and “The Myth of the Empty Church”

Part-time or bi-vocational ministry is becoming commonplace, and frequently it is the go-to solution used by church leaders to address the needs of an increasing number of congregations.This pattern is only going to intensify as mainline Protestant denominations shrink. For example: 80% of all Episcopal churches are either family size congregations with an average Sunday attendance of 20 to 50 or pastoral size parishes with an average Sunday attendance of 75-140. The Very Reverend Kevin … [Read more...]

Clinton, Trump, and the Kings of Israel

A friend originally from the UK wondered out loud this week (and I'm paraphrasing): "Watching American political campaigns, what has made a great nation afraid of its own shadow?"The question troubles me. It angers me -- not toward him, but toward the politicians and pundits who have created that impression.It is laughable that either one of the candidates for President is capable of making this country great again or capable of uniting it.With all its flaws (flaws that bedevil all … [Read more...]

Mark Burns illustrates how not to pray

Some years ago I was invited to a Congressman’s office along with leaders to discuss legislative issues that impinged on religious communities. Having concluded our conversation, the Congressman finished by observing, “If you ever want to pray in Congress, let my office know, and remember, don’t be afraid to pray in the name of Jesus.”I’m not afraid to pray in the name of Jesus – or the Trinity – and I do all the time. But I was embarrassed by the Congressman’s remark, and I wondered why his … [Read more...]

Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas: What Next?

I grew up in a racist home.Prejudice was privately expressed. Racial slurs were commonplace behind closed doors, and Martin Luther King was the object of anger and suspicion.I was intuitively uncomfortable with the racism that surrounded me. I avoided using the language that I heard, and I didn’t allow the prejudices to influence my behavior. I can’t explain my resistance to the language of racism that I heard so often as a child, and it took time to acquire the language that I needed to … [Read more...]


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