Jan 2006 – A welcome book about prayer

In Times Like These: How We Pray, by Malcolm Boyd and Jon Bruno, contains well-known and less-known authors’ personal accounts of a wide variety of prayer methods—a welcome contrast to many books about prayer.

Feb 2006 – Churches hiding the truth

In The Dishonest Church, UCC pastor Jack Good laments churches’ failure to report the best available information about the Bible, Jesus, and church traditions, or to encourage members to examine their religious beliefs in light of today’s best thinking from other fields. Good observes that some people are more chaos-tolerant than others. He sees the Bible as the family album or scrapbook of our community.

When churches try to keep members comfortable by not saying anything that might upset them, the churches are being enablers, like the people who help addicts to continue the harmful habits that they need to discontinue.

Mar 2006 – The shock of the truth

Facing the truth about the Bible and Christian history can be jolting, just as discovering the truth about Santa Claus or about sex was for some of us as children, so many churchgoers try to avoid it. But it’s necessary for growing up. In The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong reminds us that treating the Bible as the literal word of God has done great harm. In The Hidden Face of God, Gerald Schroeder describes God as a universal wisdom that pervades the universe, in contrast to the person-like being that Christians more often assume.

Apr 2006 – Giving money to God

Use of money tends to be a taboo subject in church, even though Jesus apparently spoke extensively about it, and knowing how to give money to God isn’t easy. Tithing is mentioned often in the Bible, but it may be less important than promoting justice and loving others.

May 2006 – What kind of God?

The Bible and our traditions portray God in a wide variety of ways.

The 50th anniversary of the UMC’s giving women full clergy rights is a reminder of how slow the church has been (and still is) to make needed changes.

June 2006 – Empowered by God to resist

A Dykes Foundation seminar, “Mysticism, Empowerment, and Resistance,”  featuring Borg, Crossan, and Chittister, emphasized the need to talk about political issues in church and to have worship that motivates and empowers resistance to whatever opposes God’s peace and justice. Much of today’s Christian religious language was the political language of Jesus’s world. Mysticism is a dynamic, purposeful enlightenment. Just as Jesus resisted the Roman Empire, today’s Christians need to resist systems in which a tiny elite dominates the world and keeps the rest of the population from having having enough resources.

July 2006 – Becoming the healers we need

In Conflict and Communion, Thomas W. Porter, Jr. says today’s great issue is how to break out of cycles of retribution and violence. William J. Everett describes a roundtable worship service that focuses on healing conflict and promoting justice. Real healing requires acknowledging conflict and promoting accountability.

Aug 2006 – Church conflict–how can we help?

Serious church conflict is common, and many churches are reluctant to work at resolving it. Several sources of competent help exist, including the UMC’s JUSTPEACE, the Alban Institute, and a Mennonite program. This issue of Connections suggests useful steps for church leaders and other members. When church conflict is wisely addressed, great forward steps can result.

Sept 2006 – Making disciples

How do we make disciples? What makes someone a Christian? In a UMNexus article, UM laywoman Ann Ewing says being Christian is not the “weasely niceness” that churchgoers often assume it to be, and merely going to church is not the same as being a Christian.

Oct 2006 – Leaving without leaving

In Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor explains why she stopped being a pastor of local congregations. She kept seeing members feeling pressured to believe official doctrine that didn’t match their experience of God or the world. She reminds us that people have always understood the Christ in a variety of ways. She finds that God’s map is vast, with a center and an edge, and that while faith stories are  preserved in the center, the edge is where the best ones have happened. She prizes holy ignorance more than religious certainty.

A pastor wrote that in church conflicts he would deal only with actively involved members. But the church especially needs to hear from those who stay away because they care so much.

Nov 2006 – Purpose driven? Undriven?

An article in the Austin [TX] American-Statesman reported the decline of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion with similarities to Christianity. The causes of  its current decline in the U.S. seem very similar to mainline U.S. churches’ failure to evangelize actively. In contrast, a Wall Street Journal described the aggressive evangelistic tactics taught by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Training sponsored by Warren urges pastors to actively pressure members to leave if they oppose changes the pastor wants to make.

Dec 2006 – Worship that revives

In a Weavings article, Maggie Ross tells about how in the midst of a landscape beyond words, a priest broke the spell by performing the formal Eucharist rite. She finds that sacred signs efface themselves and point participants’ attention beyond themselves. Experiences during a trip to Sicily and at an Academy for Spiritual Formation retreat led me to consider what motivates or helps people to worship and what hinders them.