May 7, 2019

  St. Paul Lutheran, Davenport, Iowa The Ascension Of It All Word association game: Say Ascension, and what immediately comes to mind? For me, the answer is John Coltrane (he has a crazy great recording by this title, which tries to evoke the theological topic musically). Then immediately after John Coltrane, I remember the stained glass window I used to scan weekly during worship at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. It was positioned magisterially directly above and behind… Read more

May 2, 2019

Let’s begin with a simple premise. The secular is more than one thing, but for our purposes, in its most popular usage, it is living and managing without reference to God. We might call this self-sufficient humanism. It is this most common understanding of the secular that looms in the majority of our cultural analysis. If we have concerns about the separation of church and state, if the decline of religiosity raises our anxiety, if we struggle to find ways… Read more

April 26, 2019

* No spoilers here, this is a theological reflection on the metaphysical context for the Marvel universe In Marvel comic book cosmology, there are things that existed before things existed. The infinity stones existed before the creation of the universe (the Nine Realms). One of these things, the aether, exists in a liquid rather than a solid state, and is roughly like a force or power that turns matter into dark matter. In this cosmology, because these stones pre-exist the… Read more

April 24, 2019

Truth #1: Nobody knows why some churches grow and others don’t. Church growth shares sociological territory with rock bands and publishing. You can’t always predict which books will sell, or which bands will go to the top of the charts. Remember the old publishing mantra: “There are three ways to make money in publishing… and none of them work.” Sometimes arbitrary, sometimes serendipitous, so much of church growth remains inexplicable (apart from the work of the Holy Spirit). Some churches… Read more

April 17, 2019

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: Its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” (Walter Benjamin) Notre-Dame de Paris Is A Church It may also be a world-renowned cultural icon, a destination for tourists, and an architectural wonder, but it is first of all a church. For this reason my heart goes out to the communities that worship there daily. Notre Dame… Read more

April 17, 2019

Is that what they teach you in seminary? Definitely a frequent question asked of pastors, typically when people are genuinely flummoxed by the content of a sermon, or doubt the efficacy of a new church program or theme. So you might ask, what are they teaching these days on new media? Apparently, the answer is mostly: Boundaries! Why? Thesis: The denomination asks seminaries to teach students about boundaries in social media because a) synod offices are inundated with work addressing… Read more

April 13, 2019

Joseph Ratzinger, before he was Pope Benedict XVI, wrote many learned books on theology and liturgy. But I wasn’t surprised that when he began publishing books as pope, they were about Jesus of Nazareth and the joy of knowing Christ. I spend a lot of time planning liturgy and writing sermons. But when I really sit down to meditate and pray, what repeatedly comes to my mind and heart is a simple thought, “Jesus, I really love Jesus.” We can… Read more

April 10, 2019

Emily Dickinson famously remarked, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Some books, some authors, have that kind of enduring impact on our lives, so deep that we no longer think about the world, or live in the world, the same way after reading them. So for this Monday, I offer a list of books that took the top of my head off. Consider sharing this list and… Read more

April 8, 2019

My answer: At least six hours. Here’s why. First, and most obviously, Christians are called to worship. They observe the Lord’s Day, the Eight Day of creation, and they do so at least weekly (although I find the practice of Roman Catholics and some other communities of going to Mass daily quite beautiful and appealing).    So at a Lutheran church, that’s at least one hour, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes.    Then, some of our folks are regularly… Read more

April 8, 2019

“The signal virtue of Christianity is that there is a version of it for the learned (theology) and one for the common people (devotional practice); and though the two may find themselves in occasional contention, they are bound together within the ecclesiastical institution itself. It is hard to come up with a popular version of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind or Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism.” (Terry Eagleton) From Private Devotion to (Semi)Public Theology Let’s start with the premise that part… Read more

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