Jan 2003 – Who’s entitled to throw stones?

Throughout the Bible and church history, we see God calling noticeably imperfect people (what other kind are there?) to leadership roles. Yet church members often feel entitled to police fellow members’  personal behavior.

Feb 2003 – A great separation

In Falling in Love with Mystery, Richard Elliott observes that in our culture there’s a great separation between religion and reality. (You can get this book free at www.fallinginlovewithmystery.com .) George Ricker writes about that apparent disconnection in What You Don’t Have to Believe to Be a Christian. And in a blurb on the cover of Ricker’s book, Leroy Howe refers to “the morass of over-belief that threatens the church’s vitality everywhere.” I see Christians responding in three ways to the concern that these three United Methodist clergymen express in these books: automatic rejection, surprise and temporary uneasiness, and liberation.

Mar 2003 – Connecting religion with reality

Richard Elliott advocates abandoning outdated religious imagery. George Ricker observes that raising questions about our beliefs leads to a more mature faith, and he laments the fact that clergy have been silent rather than helping church members to look openly at their questions. In Hope Against Darkness, Richard Rohr describes the sense in which he sees Christianity as the only way to be saved.

Apr 2003 – Affirming and dissenting

In Affirmations of a Dissenter, UMC bishop Joseph Sprague writes about false understandings of Christianity that turn it into something very different from what Jesus demonstrated and taught. He dissents from common but misleading ways of interpreting the Bible, while strongly affirming the Christian faith and what he sees as  the Bible’s true message. Unlike bishops, other pastors may risk their income and platform if they express dissent.

May 2003 – Should culture and the arts matter to Christians?

Irreplaceable art works and milestones of history often end up as “collateral damage” in war. Places being destroyed in Iraq include some familiar from the Bible and other early writings.

June 2003 – Anger in the church

In The Angry Christian and Coping with Your Anger, Andrew Lester gives pointers useful to church members who are angry about what they experience and observe in the church. Church people often feel so uncomfortable when they encounter anger or even disagreement, that they fail to take needed steps to make the anger productive.

I felt enlivened and inspired by the worship services I attended at a retreat—a welcome contrast to the anger and deadness I usually feel in worship services. Silence and the absence of rote recitations and outdated words helped.

July 2003 – Responding to anger in the church

In his books about anger, Andrew Lester reminds readers that anger can be a moral response to evil, thus is a powerful tool for combating injustice and promoting change. Wesley says anger is not a sin but a duty. This Connections includes Lester’s suggestions for dealing productively with anger.

Aug 2003 – The journey toward mature faith

This Connections describes several books whose descriptions of the spiritual journey I’ve found interesting and helpful: Wrestling with God, Grace, Wide Skies, Hope Against Darkness, and In Defense of Doubt. For these books’ authors, as for me, the journey includes not only exhilaration but also pain and frustration.

Despite being too corporation-oriented for my taste, The Ascent of a Leader, by Bill Thrall and others, makes pertinent recommendations about being vulnerable and letting others know your life is open to them.

Sept 2003 – Walking a path to God

I describe my experiences with labyrinths here. In Walking a Sacred Path, Lauren Artress presents the history of labyrinth-walking as a spiritual discipline.

Oct 2003 – Looking at what connects us

Worship services in different UMC congregations differ so widely that it’s hard to tell what ties the denomination together. Even to casual passers-by, church buildings can give messages about congregations’ priorities and beliefs.

Nov 2003 – The unheard minority

Churches usually at least give lip-service to the importance of not discriminating against certain kinds of minorities, but many don’t even give lip-service to including the minority whose views differ from the majority—who don’t totally share the majority’s interpretation of the Bible, of what being a Christian means, or of what to do about social-justice issues.

Dec 2003 – Why I am a Christian

Reading Why I Am a Catholic, by Garry Wills, made me think about why I am a Methodist. That led me to thinking about the larger question of why I am a Christian, and then the still-larger question of what makes someone a Christian. As a result, in this Connections I give an account of some of my journey and beliefs.