3 Reasons Why Clergy Shouldn’t “Friend” the Members of Their Churches

In class a subject surfaced that I don't recall ever hearing discussed in seminary: “Should pastors be their parishioners' ‘friend?’”The conversation began when one of my students noted that a member of his church had decided that, after some deliberation, "they could be friends." My student noted that he understood that his parishioner meant this as a form of affirmation, but he also noted that it made him uncomfortable. Why, exactly, he wasn’t sure.The class offered a number of perspect … [Read more...]

The Bunkum of “Biblical Creation”

From the vantage point of exegetical scholarship, one of the most troubling phrases in the debate with creationists is the phrase, “biblical creation.”  It appears over and over again in the literature on the subject, as the articles here at “Righting America” attest, and if you Google “biblical creation” in just .57 seconds the internet coughs up 20,900,000 results.The phrase, of course, is shorthand for an approach to Genesis 1 that reads the poetry of the book as a “creation account” and o … [Read more...]

We want a king! (And why voting for one will never be satisfying)

"We want a king!""Why?""Because our neighbors have kings. Kings are cool. They do stuff for their people. Best of all, they make us feel important. If he looks like a God, then maybe we are gods.""But I brought you out of Egypt. Saved you from slavery and gave you your own land.""We can't see you. It makes us feel unimportant and a lot less godly to admit that we depend upon you. It’s embarrassing, really. Our neighbors have monarchs with palaces and fancy clothes.""But I've c … [Read more...]

8 Things that Need to Change After Election Day

 It’s election day. By tomorrow one of the most rancorous elections in living memory -- which is different from historical memory -- will finally be over.I would like to hope that this day would signal an end to several trends that have become increasingly common:(1) An unwillingness to listen to one another – to process what is being said, to ask questions that invite further conversation and understanding(2) The tendency to attribute the worst of motives to people who, on b … [Read more...]

4 Reasons It’s a Bad Idea for Clergy to Advocate for Candidates

In a recent interview with Treer Hardy and Jason Michelli who steer the “Crackers and Grape Juice” podcast, I found myself clarifying some of my views on pastoral responsibility and the up-coming election.It will be tempting for clergy of all kinds to express their opinion on specific candidates and advocate for one of them this year.  (I also have dear friends who will strongly disagree with me on this.)  But, IRS regulations aside, I think it’s a mistake to do that and here’s why:One: A … [Read more...]

Three Ways to Navigate Anniversaries of Loss

 In a world of people that are regularly divided into “the glass is half empty” and “the glass is half full” kinds of people, I tend to be one of those people who is inclined to say, “Look, it’s 4 ounces, no matter how you look at it.”Part of that reaction is professional socialization. Academics are charged with thinking hard about a subject and then producing the evidence for the case that they want to make. (Or that’s the way it is supposed to be, anyway.)And part of that reac … [Read more...]

5 Reasons to “Get off the cross” (apart from, “We need the wood”)

Some years ago in a fairly unconstructive series of conversations about a relationship in which I was playing the part of “The Good Co-dependent” -- not to be confused with “The Good Samaritan” -- my spiritual director had some fairly direct advice: “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”Over the years, I’ve found the wisdom of that advice repeatedly useful, in my own life and in spiritual direction with others.For those who are in “helping professions,” the tendency to climb up on the cro … [Read more...]

4 Choices Boomers Made that are Killing Mainline Protestantism

Earlier this month the Public Religion Research Institute released new statistics that chronicle the demographic shifts in religious affiliation. The one group that has grown exponentially is the so-called “Nones,” or religiously unaffiliated. The unaffiliated now represent 25% of the country, up over 10% of their numbers in the 1990s.More troubling for churches are two other findings: One is that the percentage of young American “Nones” (39% of those ages 18 to 29) is far larger than that of … [Read more...]

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...]