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Discerning the Jesus of Today

June 1, 2015

A few days ago we were made aware of survey by the Pew Research Center that has determined that the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.  Every sector of our society is signifying this change in our religious landscape.  It affects all regions of the country and it seems that no demographic group is exempt. The drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults.  But it is reflected in Americans of all ages. All sectors of our society demonstrate symmetry.  It is happening among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.  Every faith group is being impacted.

In March, 2015 the Religious News Service published an article highlighting the views of Rachel Held Evans.  She is a person who has gained attention and following due to her books and her writing on a blog concerning the intransigence of the church to deliver the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ in a manner that resonates with the generations which follow after the Baby Boomers.  She comes from a strong religious upbringing, which she honors but had to challenge to develop a faith that for her makes sense and is relevant today.  A faith informed by the past but also willing to embrace the present and the future as she believes Christ would.

I include a portion of the interview here:

RNS: You say that the way to stop the exodus of millennials from churches isn’t cosmetic–better music, sleeker logos, more relevant programming, etc. Why are these methods ineffective in your mind?

RHE: These aren’t inherently bad strategies and some churches would be wise to employ them. But many church leaders make the mistake of thinking millennials are shallow consumers who are leaving church because they aren’t being entertained. I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.

If you try to woo us back with skinny jeans and coffee shops, it may actually backfire. Millennials have finely-tuned B.S. meters that can detect when someone’s just trying to sell us something.  We’re not looking for a hipper Christianity. We’re looking for a truer Christianity. Like every generation before and after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the places he’s always been: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these. No fog machines required.

RNS: If these aren’t the answer, what is?

RHE: Sharing communion. Baptizing sinners. Preaching the Word. Anointing the sick. Practicing confession. You know, the stuff the church has been doing for the last 2,000 years. We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context. That’s what I see happening in churches, big and small, that are making multigenerational disciples of Jesus.

Rachel Held Evans is not alone in articulating that the church for too long has itself been practicing a “do as I say not as I do,” approach to Christianity. She joins with many others in providing constructive criticism.  A common theme might be that church folks have been too judgmental in applying love and have not stood up to the injustices that require the strength of deep seated and confident sense of who Jesus would have us be today.  To have a faith that matters means that we will have to find the capacity to confront the powerful and advocate for the powerless in a manner that is congruent with the way Jesus conducted his ministry.  If we return to this sense of Jesus we may find that the church can still be a relevant messenger of His love.

The Basic Challenge of Living our Faith

June 1, 2015

Most of us have been made very aware of the unrest that has been boiling in Ferguson, MO in the aftermath of a young black boy being shot to death by a white police officer.  While we know that this happens far too often, we also know that it takes time to sort out the elements of truth from the elements of bias reaction and business as usual.

If we take the time to listen to all perspectives we know that there is a huge gulf between those who are often the beneficiaries of the status quo and the perceptions of those who can easily see this as easily included among the long list of injustices that they have experienced with great consistency over the years.  In our sense of fairness we want to believe that the policemen responded appropriately to his situation, yet our sense of fairness also decrees that this needs investigated with all the resources of law and justice to make sure that if this is the result of illegal action that justice will prevail.  None of us can be as fair and unbiased as we think we are.  We are all imprinted by our experiences of life and the way privileges have been afforded to us or denied to us.

Doug Skinner a former associate minister at our church in writing about this incident contends that Theologian Miroslav Volf argues that in order to navigate this kind of social divide that we as Christians have got to come to terms with “the inner logic of the cross” (Exclusion and Embrace 214).  He explains that he had just finished preaching on Romans 5:6-11 during which he had passionately argued that “we ought to embrace the other as God has embraced us in Christ” when he was asked if this meant that he could embrace a Cetnik, one of the notorious Serbian fighters who in the winter of 1993 were desolating Miroslav’s homeland and destroying his people?  Could Miroslav, a Croat, embrace a Serbian soldier?  And his honest answer was, “No, I cannot – but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to” (9).

It was the tension between his allegiance to the God who on Calvary’s cross set out to embrace those who were estranged from Him, and his own personal and painful experience of estrangement from the Serbians, his people’s despised enemies, that caused Miroslav to reflect deeply on how we can embrace those from whom we are estranged.  And he concluded that the only way we can do this is by learning how to “enlarge our thinking.”  He said that “in a creaturely sort of way” we need “to emulate God’s way of knowing” in Jesus Christ (251).  This is what’s at stake when we talk about the Incarnation, about how God became one of us, about how Christ was “fully God” and “fully human.”  In the mystery of God putting Himself in our place and carrying the full range of our experiences as human beings from birth to death into God’s very own heart, we have a model for how we can and must move from hostility to hospitality ourselves.

Roger’s Random Ramblings

January 18, 2015

Tapping the Power of Prayer

During the last couple of weeks I have found myself contemplating many different conversations and insights.  The conversations that I focused on are with regard to my recent experiences at the Theology and Fly Fishing gathering in Sheridan, Wyoming.   While there we were challenged by the presenter,   Ron Allen who has taught at Christian Theological Seminary for many years.  In addition we had several side conversations among the pastors and inquisitive lay leaders who were participants.

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