Monday, April 28, 2008

Caesar and Ascension

Perhaps I am the only one annoyed by the National Day of Prayer. Don't get me wrong: I am all in favor of prayer. It is just that I don't need Caesar telling me when to do it... and maybe Caesar isn't in fact telling me to do it on Thursday, but it feels that way and so I feel caught in this web, this this unholy cross hairs of God and Country, syncretism and civil religion. One of my constituents is really, really bent with me that I am not having a special NDP service, etc.

Meanwhile, Thursday May 1 is also Ascension Day and I would bet (if our tradition allowed betting) that if my people take note of either "celebration" it will be the NDP and not AD. What is wrong with this picture?

I am thinking of setting up the distinction between the secular "holidays" and the liturgical "Holy Days" on Sunday. It is Eucharist for us, a time when we taste and see that the Lord is good, and as an appetizer the truth that the secular calendar is a celebration of "us" one way or the other while the liturgical calendar celebrates God. This may seem patently obvious, but I cannot iterate how many times I have been fussed at over the years for not giving due justice to the scouts, the veterans, even--and I am not making this up--the submarine crews who fought in WW II--but I do not know that I have ever been scolded for giving short shrift to Ascension Day or the Feast of St. Stephen.

This year the intersecting of "rival" calendars may be too much for me to ignore! I do not want to pick a fight or appear Quixotic...but it seems something fundamental is before us, something crucial about identity and spiritual politics. Every people needs its special places, its special persons, its special times (call them shrines, saints and holy days); what is sad is that in evangelical America we seem to know more of our national shrines, saints and holy days than we do our faith's.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Should you be interested, and I cannot imagine why you would be, check out, go to the show info tab, click on guests, find the show for April 1 (either ironically or appropriately enough) and hit "watch." Thirty-four minutes in, after an interview with a fellow discussing Mid-eastern politics and the end of the world (Oh, brother!), former Miss America Deborah Maffet (1983) interviews me concerning Every Disciple's Journey, my recent book from NavPress.

I would be interested in your feedback.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Thomas, redux

I am still thinking about Thomas, called "the twin," according to John, and my twin indeed though we are inversely related. By that I mean, Thomas demanded to touch Jesus ruined hands before he would believe that the Crucified had been raised; he said he would not accept the testimony of his friends unless he could put his hand in the wound in Jesus's side. He needed to see for himself, thank you very much, before he would believe.

So we know what Thomas thought of the other disciples--that they were untrustworthy.

I am wondering, though, what the other disciples thought of Thomas. I mean, have you ever found yourself in a situation when someone who should have did not trust you? You tell them this or that and they do not blink, do not smile, say, "Well, I will have to see for myself," or "You may believe that baloney, but not I." When I share good news with people, which I often do, when I tell them about my deepest beliefs and commitments and they do not trust me... I can feel my breathing get a bit shallow, feel my hands beginning to make a fist (not that I would ever use them; I am much too much a coward for that), feel my heart hardening. Thomas may be the twin of all skeptics, but in the Upper Room on the evening of Easter week I am one of the unbelieved apostles.

And so I need Jesus to touch my hands, to unfist them. I need Jesus to reach into my chest and massage, soften, my hard heart. If I am going to keep sahring this good news with folk, and if they are going to continue dissing me, not trusting me, humoring me or just ignoring is going to take a touch of Jesus for me to keep at it.

And that is the gospel truth.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oprah and Me

Harpo was one of the Marx brothers, right? Harpo is also the name of Oprah’s production company. Gotta be a connection.

I admit that I have never gotten it, meaning Oprah herself or her show or her celebrity. I will say that at one time I had hoped she would choose one of my books to feature on her book club. Not anymore. Not since she decided to become our new instructor in matters of the spirit, the guru/dean of a new on-air seminary featuring as faculty the current crop of Shirley MacLaine wannabes: Mariannne Williamson, for one, and Eckhart Tolle, the latest and greatest.

Oprah and Eckhart are all the rage on the internet, offering a “webinar” about how dumb—excuse me, unenlightened—the rest of us are who still cling to “belief.”. Quoth Oprah: If God for you is a “believing experience, it is not really God” because God is a “feeling experience.” Jesus came to show us Christ-consciousness, because we are all capable of being Christ. The “real” God is not restricted to any religious expression, nor is God a jealous God. Oprah dates her break with her own Christian roots to a sermon wherein the preacher described God as “a jealous God,” a perfectly biblical view, of course, meaning that God wants us for himself and does not want us worshiping other, lesser things—like, for instance, new age ideas for God (which are old age as they can be: early Christians called these same notions Gnosticism, meaning, God as an idea. Against them Christian have quoted John, “(God) became flesh…”)

Anyway, people are up in arms. There is a revolt going on, a “reject Oprah, boycott her magazine” kind of thing.

I just find myself wondering whether all the people who are mad at what Oprah is teaching right now are in a Bible study themselves, learning why this silliness she and Eckhart are spouting is neither new nor even very interesting. The Secret, The Prayer of Jabez, Your Best Life Now—all of these books espouse demonstrable idolatries, and yet even Christian people often do not recognize them as such because they have so little in the way of biblical foundation to serve as lens by which to see them for what they are. “Try the spirits to see if they are from God,” John counsels, but many can’t. No surprise then when the unsuspecting are trapped in Oprah’s “web.”

It is left to the Church continually and urgently to offer the faith once-delivered to the saints: the historical, particular, incarnation of “the real” Christ, crucified, dead and risen—alive among us and unbound by any lesser ideas of his redemptive purpose—that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.