Jan 1996 – God isn’t one of the guys

We claim that God is neither male nor female, but most of what we hear in church and elsewhere presents God as male. This usage gives the mistaken impression that men are more God-like than women, making women seem inferior. We often use only masculine words to refer to groups of people or people in general, too, making women seem invisible. It’s long past time to remedy this injustice, and the church should be actively taking the lead.

Feb 1996 – Seeking God’s will about homosexuality

We have no evidence of Jesus having mentioned homosexuality, and the scriptures that mention it seem clearly to reflect cultural practices, not God-given rules. As Marilyn Alexander and James Preston remind us in We Were Baptized Too, and Desmond Tutu reminds us in his foreword to the book, it’s long past time for the church to acknowledge homosexual people as children of God and stop discriminating against them.

Mar 1996 – Who qualifies as a Christian?

Different Christians have different opinions about what being a Christian requires. We disagree on whether being liberal or being conservative is right for Christians, yet Jesus was a radical.

Apr 1996 – Christians in ministry

This Connections discusses issues that were to be considered in May at the UMC General Conference, the worldwide UMC decision-making body, which meets every four years.

May 1996 – Our traditions aren’t God

Christians express their faith through a wide variety of people, practices, music, belief statements, and all sorts of other ways. Some inspire and enlighten us while others leave us cold or turn us off. We make a mistake if we claim that our favorite or most familiar traditions are the only right ones, or that a Christian whose experience has been different from ours isn’t a real Christian. We make traditions into idols.

June 1996 – Silence isn’t always golden

In Christianity in the 21st Century, Robert Wuthnow observes that although Christianity has always championed community, the church as it has now evolved is ill suited to provide community. He sees the church has become mainly an administrative convenience that provides few ways for its members to interact with each other. Some deliberate changes in our church meetings could help by encouraging attenders to talk and listen to each other.

July 1996 – Making conversation

I’ve been slow to realize the importance of my mother’s advice about “making conversation.” Making conversation with those around us at meetings and social events is actually part of obeying the teaching of Jesus.

Aug 1996 – The language of heart, spirit, and hope

When we don’t communicate warmth to attenders of our churches, we lose many of them. Some of our worship and other activities aim only at participants’ heads and fail to reach their hearts. In Fire from Heaven, Harvey Cox suggests that mainline denominations’ failure to help their members experience God’s presence and respond openly may be a major factor in these denominations’ decline. In Can Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback? Tony Campolo notes that transforming reflection happens in the context of action. I speculate that use of the lectionary may have removed a lot of the passion and spirit that our worship needs.

Sept 1996 – A desert journey

The Bible and other religious writings tell about people finding God in deserts, wildernesses, pits, and other barren places. Sometimes these are physical places, but they can also be metaphors for a spiritual experience. A recent summer trip to northern New Mexico and southern Colorado brought this home to me powerfully with a dream-like message.

Oct 1996 – A surprising response

My saying in the 8-96 Connections that using the lectionary might contribute to making worship dull brought the most responses I’d ever received, and most were from pastors defending the use of the lectionary. But participation in traditional worship services is declining in so many churches that I’m not convinced by these pastors’ insistence that their present methods are best. Their reaction leads me to look again here at what makes worship effective.

Nov 1996 – New ways of being the church

In an Atlantic Monthly article, Charles Trueheart writes about congregations in which centuries of European tradition and Christian habit are deliberately being abandoned to clear the way for new forms of worship and belonging. Yet many churchgoers still ignore the evidence of church decline and refuse to make changes. In Church for the Unchurched, George Hunter reminds church members that today’s mission field is all around them and that they must speak its language if they want to reach its people. In Dakota, Kathleen Norris expresses her dismay at seeing towns and churches refusing to use information and skills that outsiders brought. In My American Journey, Colin Powell describes his feeling that the rock of faith that he was raised on had moved.

Dec 1996 – Reminders of the early church

A trip to Greece and Turkey made me think about how we treat people whose religious beliefs differ from ours. It reminded me that many of the words we consider Christian came from secular aspects of Greek and Roman society. And it made me sad to see how great, irreplaceable works of art and architecture were destroyed by Christians because the works were created for worshiping Greek or Roman gods and goddesses.