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...]

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...]