Jan 1995 – God calls us into community

God calls the church to be a community—a group whose members know and care about each other. That means showing each other our real selves, not false fronts. It requires acknowledging our differences and addressing conflict openly, not acting as if it doesn’t exist or ousting people who disagree with the majority. In The Incendiary Fellowship, Elton Trueblood says that what often passes for Christianity today is not burning conviction but a damp wick. He doesn’t think the church can be brought back to life by merely rearranging the lives of uncommitted people. In A World Waiting to Be Born, Scott Peck says churches are now the hardest groups in which to build community, and in The American Religion, Harold Bloom says urging the need for community upon American religionists is a vain enterprise. Years ago, in The Emerging Church,  Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne observed that congregations were emphasizing minor aspects of the church and ignoring essential ones. That still seems to be mostly true.

Feb 1995 – Seminaries—the church’s seed beds

A survey about seminary education showed that lay churchgoers, pastors, and seminary professors had very different opinions about what should get top priority in preparing pastors. Some gave top priority to indoctrination, some to exposure to a wide range of thought, some to practical training, and some to being prophetic as the church’s cutting edge, This difference shows the need for change, both at the grass roots and in the ivory towers, or at least for more information and better understanding. I found attending seminary exhilarating, despite having heard mostly negative views of seminaries earlier in my life.

Mar 1995 – The church can learn from business

God speaks through lay people and the world of work, not just through clergy and religious activities, so findings from the business world are sometimes helpful for the church. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge gives useful pointers about how to be a learning organization—one which keeps increasing its ability to get the results it wants. Ezra Earl Jones also gives helpful advice in Quest for Quality. In an Atlantic Monthly article, Peter Drucker writes about the embarrassing non-results that many organizations get, and about how setting benchmarks and providing incentives to employees can help to produce better results.

Apr 1995 – A letter to a beginning pastor

Giving top priority to Sunday worship services, speaking lay language, composing sermons carefully, and taking laity seriously without letting congregation members set the church’s whole agenda are among the practices I wish beginning (and experienced!) pastors would follow.

May 1995 – Who will speak for the church?

This time when delegates to the quadrennial UMC General Conference are elected is crucial for the UMC’s future. Understanding the process, getting pertinent facts, using effective tactics for voting, and looking carefully at potential delegates’ qualifications are vitally important.

June 1995 – Rocking the church boat

Rocking the boat in the church can be harmful but is often helpful and badly needed. In Antagonists in the Church, Kenneth Haugk helps readers see how to distinguish between harmful and helpful boat-rocking. In an issue of The Parish Paper, Lyle Schaller reminds us that perpetuating the status quo is not the road to a transformed life.

July 1995 – What do these stones mean?

For us, the church is like the mound of stones we read about God telling Joshua to set up as a reminder of God’s action. In order for such stones to serve their intended purpose, we have to keep asking what they mean and whether we need to continue doing all the things that different ones of our stones commemorate.

Aug 1995 – Finding the real Jesus

Because I see Jesus portrayed in such a wide variety of ways, I try to stay on the lookout for more information about what he was really like. That effort has led me to some writings of the Jesus Seminar. Although there’s disagreement about all such writings, I’m dismayed by the many Christians who refuse to even consider the findings and speculations of scholars who try to learn about the life of Jesus and other aspects of early Christian history. In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and in Jesus, A New Vision, Marcus Borg writes about the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus, a distinction that may help Christians get a better understanding of what they read in the Bible and hear at church. In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan gives helpful information and advice.

Sept 1995 – Reading under the eye of God

“We read under the eye of God,” said a monk many centuries ago, “until the heart is touched and leaps to flame.” Reading has been an important route to God for me. Here I list many of my all-time-favorite books.

Oct 1995 – Heresy

Some of today’s Christians are displaying arrogance and meanness that don’t seem to be Christian. Many Christians think of heresy as a thing of the past, when people were burned at the stake for expressing unacceptable beliefs, but concern about exposing and rooting out heresy is making a comeback. Jesus apparently didn’t demand uniformity of belief, so why should his followers? In a Christian Century article, Thomas Oden advocates preserving ancient rules and boundaries, while  Lewis Mudge emphasizes the need to recognize our faith’s current best moral insight.

Nov 1995 – Looking back, looking forward

Beginning the 4th year of Connections, I review some of the topics I believe churches most urgently need to address.

Dec 1995 – Women aren’t second-class people in God’s sight

Much of what Christian feminists are saying is similar to what Jesus said and did. He rejected traditional rules and customs related to women. Looking back at my own life, I see ways in which I failed to recognize the brainwashing that surrounds us, that in so many ways treats women and girls as inferior or makes them invisible. Some of these ways are subtle, thus especially powerful: clothing, chivalry, ways of talking about money, and even rest-room doors.