Jan 1999 – Thinking about worship

Looking at the parts of typical worship services and the purposes they’re meant to serve can reveal room for improvement. Different people react differently to different worship styles. In Two Ways of Praying, Paul Bradshaw describes “cathedral prayer,” whose main focus is outward and involves a congregation, and “monastic prayer,” which is inward and individual.

Feb 1999 – The church’s most important activity

Worship is uniquely  important for the church because God is its subject, no other institution does it, and it is often the main entry point for newcomers. Many churchgoers assume that the kind of worship they’re familiar with is what has always been done, but much of it is actually of recent origin. In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn points out that what the Bible presents as central in worship, sacrifice and giving, has mostly been lost now.

Mar 1999 – What’s missing from our worship?

In Worship Come to Its Senses, Don Saliers laments that awe, delight, hope, and truth are missing from many churches’ worship services. In Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris says we too often focus totally on ourselves and arrogantly issue imperatives to God, therefore miss the mystery of worship and the experience of God’s presence.

Apr 1999 – Kicking harmful church habits

In Kicking Habits, Thomas Bandy accuses the church of being addicted to many self-destructive habits, and he gives pointers for moving toward needed changes. But the changes, he warns, will have to come from perceptive people on the fringes of the present system or even outside it, not from the church hierarchy or the church members who are comfortable with present conditions.

May 1999 – A dangerous policy

Refusing to let church members have lists of their representatives to decision-making bodies is apparently widespread, I found. It harms the church by keeping important information hidden. In Questions for the Twenty-First Century Church, Garlinda Burton comments on the UMC’s reluctance to provide forthright information about controversial issues.

June 1999 – Sending horses against tanks

Mainline churches are using yesterday’s communication in today’s world, observes seminary professor Tom Boomershine. He compares the UMC’s current methods to those of the 1930s Polish army, which sent soldiers on horses to confront invading German tanks. Boomershine sees the UMC’s current failure to use new communications media as an unfortunate contrast to the early Methodist Church’s pioneering methods. In Questions for the Twenty-First Century Church, Garlinda Burton laments the UMC’s failure to communicate through today’s public media, a failure which helps make the UMC increasingly invisible and irrelevant to society.

July 1999 – Picturing Jesus

Most of the pictures of Jesus that are in our heads and on church walls are very different from what Jesus must have actually looked like. This difference contributes to our forgetting that Jesus cares about the people who aren’t like us. In Icons of American Protestantism, David Morgan and other scholars give eye-opening and disturbing information about the origin of the Sallman “Head of Christ” that is on so many walls and in so many churchgoers’ minds.

Aug 1999 – Jesus talk and Jesus pictures

In Growing Spiritual Redwoods, Bill Easum and Tom Bandy say that personal talk about Jesus is essential for communicating the gospel to today’s non-churchgoers, especially younger ones. In Visual Piety, David Morgan explains why pictures of Jesus are valuable for many Christians. Others, however, are turned off by such talk and pictures.

Sept 1999 – All spirituality isn’t the same

When we express the gospel in ways that seem essential to some Christians, we drive others off. In Personality Type in Congregations, Lynne Baab describes personality differences that contribute a lot to our different reactions. In Discover Your Spiritual Type, Corinne Ware presents a similar way of describing how people’s reactions to worship and other religious activities differ.

Oct 1999 – Two systems in tension—tradition and globalization

In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman describe the new system that he sees shaping world affairs. He believes institutions and individuals that keep acting as if the new system doesn’t exist have little hope of continuing to play significant roles in the world. Yet when police and soldiers invaded a Leipzig church in 1989, worshipers’ candles and prayers motivated the soldiers to leave, according to the Leipzig church’s pastor.

Nov 1999 – A personal story

Hearing a friend’s favorite scriptures read at her funeral made me think what my favorites are. I illustrate the story of my personal journey with them here.

Dec 1999 – The most important holiday for Christians

In Growing Up Religious, Robert Wuthnow presents his belief that spirituality is more deeply rooted in personal histories and in families and congregations than in anything else. Our Christmas memories play a big part.