Book by Mark Riebling

At the suggestion of another friend at the gym, I have been reading Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler.  The title describes the book well and I would recommend the book to readers interested in World War II and the role of the Catholic Church in that war.

Naaman and Hagar in Baptismal Liturgy

At the baptism of my grandson, these two biblical characters were included in the baptismal liturgy in the congregation we attended. I assume they were included because the traditional baptismal liturgy in our hymnals is centered on males who come out of Judaism.  The additions make the liturgy of baptism more inclusive in a day when so many religions are perceived as        exclusive.

Mennonite Sign at Synod Office

The multi-color and multi-language sign we have in front of our sanctuary is also being displayed outside our synod office in Seguin. In a time when people who are different often feel excluded in our country, churches need to say to the community all are welcome.  Many assume they are not welcome.

TLU Christmas Vespers

Thank you to Bill Sweda for again organizing our annual trip to Vespers.  We are the only congregation i know which sends a busload to TLU every year for this event.

For the first time in my memory, all of the students performers at Vespers were from Texas, most from within a couple hours of Seguin.  When Lynn and I were students there, about one-fourth of all participants were from out-of-state.

TLU, like many other schools, is becoming a commuter school.  Students are staying closer to home these days and college is no longer seen so much as a chance to see the world.

Since I have been a pastor here, I think I can count on one hand the students from this congregation who have gone to college somewhere outside of Texas.  I also know of few who have studied internationally.

Cross-cultural study and international travel, as well as speaking a second language, is expected of university students in many other parts of the world.  I hope students in Texas will be able to compete in our global economy with the education they are now receiving.

Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Providence

I had a one-to-one interview today with Sister Pearl Ceasar, the leader of the order of nuns at Our Lady of the Lake University.  We discussed community organizing efforts in San Antonio and shared information about what we know of the needs of this city. 

People involved in community organizing are encouraged to be establishing new relationships with leaders at all times.  Networking gives all of us more power and influence.

Contacted by Congressman Lloyd Doggett's Office

I received a personal email from the congressman asking for my input to the joint conference committee on the tax bill, a committee of which he is a member.  He knows ideas from Democrats are not likely to be considered but he wants to know what some of our prime concerns are.

For me and many faith groups, maintaining the Johnson Amendment is central. If that amendment is gutted, wealthy individuals will be able to make anonymous campaign contributions to candidates through churches and have the contributions remain anonymous.

I do not know of a faith leader who wants local congregations getting tied up in partisan electoral politics.  We are now able to discuss issues all we want.  No change is needed in the amendment.

What changes to the tax bill would you like to see?

So That

These two words have been called the two most powerful words for leadership.  Using these two words can clarify the intended result of every endeavor. (Tom Berlin and Lovitt H. Weems)

Several Bible passages include so that:

"Let your light shine before others," Jesus said, "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5: 16)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."  (John 3:16)

"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" writes St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. "so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12: 2)

If we apply so that to some of our Guiding Principles, we would say:

We welcome all so that ...

We are joyful stewards so that ...

This is an exercise we might try in small groups or at council meetings.  I wonder what we would say.

Richard Rohr on New Reformation #3

"Returning to Essentials

Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society -- Diana Butler Bass

Practical, practice-based Christianity has been avoided, denied, minimized, ignored, delayed, and sidelines for too many centuries, by too many Christians who were never told Christianity was anything more than a belonging or belief system.  Now we know that there is no Methodist or Catholic way of loving.  There is no Orthodox or Presbyterian way of living a simple and nonviolent life.  There is no Lutheran or Evangelical way of showing mercy.  There is no Baptist or Episcopalian way of visiting the imprisoned.  If there is, we are invariably emphasizing the accidentals, which distract us from the very 'marrow of the gospel,' as St. Francis called it.  We have made this mistake for too long.  We cannot keep avoiding what Jesus actually emphasized and mandated.  In this most urgent time, 'it is the very love of Christ that now urges us' (2 Corinthians 5: 14).

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian.  Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of Emerging Christianity:

1.  Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.

2.  Affirming people's potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.

3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.

4.  Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.

5.  Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.

6.  Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.

7.  Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.

8.  Peacemaking is more important than power.

9.  We should care more about love and less about sex.

10.  Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God's work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already inside of Emerging Christianity."


Prince of Peace Lutheran of Austin to Close

I have followed this congregation for the last forty years.  Prince of Peace moved into town from a nearby rural area and always had the benefit of a strong gas well to assure financial security.

Some years ago, the neighborhood changed from being a University of Texas student housing neighborhood to becoming a lower middle class Hispanic neighborhood.  A recent effort to start an Hispanic ministry  did not work out as hoped. 

Strong Lutheran and Ecumenical Opposition to Moving of Embassy to Jerusalem

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA, the President of the Lutheran World Federation, and the heads of thirteen church bodies operating in the Holy Land all published statements today against the moving of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  A common theme is the fear this action will make peacemaking even more difficult in the Middle East area.

The Christian consensus is peace requires a two-state solution with the status of Jerusalem one of the last issues to be resolved. Moving the embassy before peace is attained would be like putting the cart before the horse.

Voting a Stock Proxy

I recently voted against a stock proxy where management did not want to know whether subcontractors were getting involved in genocide overseas.  While I understand such issues may detract from the business of making a profit, I think commerce should be conducted with the good of the people in mind.  I do not want to make a profit from genocide or other evil.

How have you used stock proxy voting to Live the Gospel and Change the World?

Stephen Colbert's God

I have seen Colbert use a funny old man in the ceiling to represent God in some of his comedy sketches.  While I know the portrayal is intended to be funny, I know some people think God is an old man somewhere up there and out there, someone totally detached from what is happening here on earth. 

When you think of God, what comes to mind?  Is Colbert's God your God?

Update on Meals on Wheels

Jeanette Pierce reports all avenues have been explored and Meals on Wheels will no longer be a program of our congregation.  We are planning an appropriate way to thanks those who volunteered with this program for so many years.  We are also looking at other volunteer opportunities for those who want to continue helping those who are elderly or who need access to good meals.

I am still not sure what the real issue was.  It seems strange that a working relationship and known request for over twenty years would be suddenly terminated.  This is one of those situations where I have a hunch there is more to the story than is being told.  Two and two do not seem to equal four.

I want to thank all who were part of this program for so many years.  I wonder how many meals were distributed by MacArthur Park.

I heard second hand our program has now been moved to Episcopal Church of the Reconciliation on Starcrest.

Richard Rohr on New Reformation #2

" A Great Convergence

The emerging church, a convergence of hopeful and liberating Christian themes, is happening on all continents, in all denominations, at all levels- and at a rather quick pace.  I want to name this movement so that you can first of all recognize how it has already happened in you on some level and so that you can offer this wonderful Gospel emergence your time, your prayer, your love, and your energy.  If you do that, there will be no time left to oppose, hate, or deny anything or anybody.  There is no need to reject or deny any one's present or past experience.  God will lead us from here, including and transcending the past, as Ken Wilber says.

Continuing where we left off yesterday, here are some more of the historical developments propelling the emerging church movement:

1.  A global sense of Christianity frames the denominational divisions in a larger context.  Many of the things we historically fought about are resolved, boring, or non-essential.  We have all been both victims and beneficiaries of these very specific histories and cultures, and we can find unity in that.

2.  There is a growing recognition of the unnecessary limits that church protocols and historical idiosyncrasies have put on reading and living the Gospels for each of our denominations.  This is a new ability to distinguish the essentials from the incidentals in church practice and teaching.

3.  The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement tells us that experiential Christianity is actually possible, desirable, and has the potential to lead us to a more Trinitarian theology- opening up the mystical and the prayer levels of Christianity.  So many who have had 'baptism in the spirit' experiences find themselves naturally Trinitarian, even if they lack formal theology to understand it.

4.  A developing spirituality and theology of nonviolence allows us to pursue things in a 'third way' beyond the old fight-or-flight dualism.

5.  We see new structures of community and solidarity, including groups for recovery, study, contemplation, lectio divina, service and mission (for example, new Monasticism, Catholic Worker houses, JustFaith).  Many of these are led by lay people.  The emphasis is on 'mediating institutions' instead of just parish churches, yet these are normally not anti or against the local or official church.

6.  There is a new appreciation for 'many gifts and ministries' (1 Corinthians 12), 'together making a unity in the work of service' (Ephesians 4), instead of concentrating on a top tier of ordained leadership where gender and power issues dominate.  With many gifts and many ministries, legitimacy comes from ability, solidarity with suffering, and willingness to serve, rather than from top-down authorization.

With this new kind of reformation happening, we are happy to stay at the exciting movement level as we can- and God allows- and if possible, avoid becoming rigid and stagnant as 'monuments, museums, or machines,'  Remember, 'The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.'"

Richard Rohr on New Reformation #1

This week Rev. Ann Helmke forwarded to the group working on the Reformation celebration at Oblate School of Theology in January a series of three meditations which describe where the church seems to be heading these days.  I discussed the same three emails in a conversation today with Sister Pearl Ceasar at Our Lady of the Lake.  I share them with you and invite your comments.

"A New Reformation

I believe that some refer to as the 'emerging church' is a movement of the Holy Spirit.  Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums, or machines.  In the last sixty years, several significant events have taken place, both within and alongside the various Christian churches, to foster this movement.  Spiritual globalization is allowing churches worldwide to profit from these breakthroughs at approximately the same time, which of itself is a new kind of reformation!  No one is directing, controlling, or limiting this movement.  We are all just trying to listen together.  It is happening almost in spite of all of us - which tells me the Spirit must be guiding it.

I will identify briefly some of the historical developments that I see propelling this movement.

1.  Our awareness is broadening, recognizing that Jesus was clearly teaching nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, peacemaking, love of creation, and letting go of ego, both for individuals and groups.  More and more Christians are now acknowledging Jesus' radical social critique to the systems of domination, money, and power.  In the past, most of Jesus' practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians.  The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, an 'evacuation plan' into the next world.

2.  There is a common-sense and growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society 'on earth as it is in heaven.'  The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change.  They just define groups- often in an oppositional way.

3.  We are recovering the older and essential contemplative tradition, starting with Thomas Merton in the 1950s, now spreading to numerous denominations, like a 'treasure hidden in the field' (Matthew 13: 44).  Some Emerging Church leaders have yet to grasp the centrality of contemplative and inner wisdom.

4.  Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time.  This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches.  We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues."


World AIDS Day

Each December 1, I hear less and less about AIDS.  International days get little press in the United States anyway and AIDS certainly does not get the emphasis it did twenty years ago. 

Yet many continue to deal with AIDS and HIV.


Gender Based Violence

I received the following November 25:

"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is encouraging church leaders to speak up publicly against gender-based violence.  Joining the interfaith campaign 'Precious in God's Eyes,' LWF leaders have affirmed the long-standing commitment of the LWF to protect women and girls against violence.

'I encourage my faith community to protect, support and accompany survivors of rape and violence,' said LWF President Archbishop Dr. Musa Panti Filibus.

"I will support women's and girl's quest for justice.' said LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr. Martin Junge.

Religious leaders are invited to share a photo and a testimony online and in social media, featuring a pledge to protect women, inspired by everyday occurences in their country or church.

'Affirming women's dignity as Precious in God's Eyes relates deeply with the belief that human beings are created equal in the image of God,' says Maria Cristina Rendon from the gender justice and women empowerment program of the LWF. 'The campaign wants to promote the conviction of women's and girl's integrity as God's will,' Rendon emphasizes.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an annual advocacy campaign between 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and 10 December, which is Human Rights Day.

Since 2015 the Interfaith Coalition for Gender Justice has collaborated on the campaign to affirm the commitment of religions to end violence against women and girls.  Among the members of the coalition are the Anglican Communion, Islamic Relief Worldwide, the LWF, the World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Church of Sweden, Finn Church Aid and Norwegian Church Aid."

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