Another article I wrote for the Undocumented blog has now been posted.
“Many church members are too afraid to come to church anymore.” I was attending a meeting of ministry leaders when the well-respected Hispanic pastor stood to share. He told us how the police had begun parking near their church building on Sunday mornings, watching as church members came to the service. “Some of our members have been deported,” the pastor said plainly. Others, regardless of their immigration status, were afraid to risk an encounter with law enforcement and had begun skipping Sunday worship.
The debate about immigration reform is confusing and there is much about the technicalities that escapes me. Here’s what was not confusing as I listened to this man grieve over those he has been called to pastor: experience matters. The way he thinks about immigration is strongly shaped by his real life experience with it. And if experience has shaped his perspective then it has no less shaped yours and mine.
Read the rest at Undocumented.tv.
This morning I got an email from a friend at Christianity Today. He wanted to let me (and others) know about an interesting question the recently re-branded “media ministry” is asking its reader: What is your hope for the church? Despite how often I think about this sort of question, it took me a few minutes to land on an answer. Here’s what I wrote on the website:
My hope for the church in the USA is that we would demonstrate the ministry of reconciliation committed to us by God in Jesus: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5) I hope especially that our reconciliation to God would prove greater than every earthly division that currently separates the body of Christ. In a deeply divided world, our unity across race, ethnicity, class, immigration status, etc. will exhibit a unity that powerfully witnesses to the Gospel. (John 17:20-21)
This is a magazine I’ve appreciated for many years and to which I’ve occasionally contributed. It sometimes feels directed primarily to white, suburban Christians, but there seems to be a conscious desire to represent more widely the great diversity of evangelically-minded Christians.
The first 1,000 people who contribute a response to this question will receive a free subscription to Christianity Today magazine, so get on it! And be sure to leave a comment here with a link to your answer.
An eclectic collection of articles for your weekend reading enjoyment.
- Religion Today has re-posted an article that originally was published in The Christian Century in 2004. “Learning to Read the Bible Again” is an introduction to nine theses on how the Bible can be interpreted faithfully. There is much to be appreciated in the depth and brevity of this piece. If reading scripture is an art, there follows one more conclusion: we learn the practice of an art through apprenticeship to those who have become masters. We come to read scripture imaginatively and well only by learning from those who have gone before us and performed, in their lives of embodied faithfulness, beautiful interpretations of scripture.
- “Nobody Gets Married Any More, Mister” is an essay by a Connecticut public school teacher about the acceptance and expectation even of teen pregnancy among his students. In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. Other girls in school want to pat their stomachs. Their friends throw baby showers at which meager little gifts are given. After delivery, the girls return to school with baby pictures on their cell phones or slipped into their binders, which they eagerly share with me.
- Matthew Sutton reviews a book for Books and Culture that shows trends in Liberal and Evangelical churches aren’t what you might expect, even in the Pacific Northwest. Liberal Protestants and their allies are facing off against the aggressive, entrepreneurial, community-oriented conservatives in the area. What is surprising is that in this tie-dye drenched, hippie-loving university town, best known for its thriving farmers market, co-op grocery store, and natural beauty, the conservatives are winning.
- Finally, an essay by George Orwell published in 1946, “Why I Write.” The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.
Over the past few years, many of us from low-church traditions have been introduced to practices from our liturgical cousins. For example, we’ve become more aware of the church calendar and have incorporated fixed-hour prayer into our devotional practices. The challenge for those of us who are newer to these practices is knowing how to engage them in ways that both honor the tradition and authentically represent our faith. The Paraclete Psalter is a wonderful resource for this very thing.
A Psalter refers to any collection of the Psalms that has been organized, and often illustrated, for the prayer life of the church. The Paraclete Psalter is used by The Community of Jesus for the fixed-hour prayers of their community. It is, as I understand it, unique for its use of the New International Version as its translation for the Psalms.
The introduction to the Psalter includes a quote from Athanasius about the significance of daily praying the Psalms. “For I believe that the whole of human existence, both the dispositions of the soul and the movements of the thoughts, has been measured out and encompassed in those very words of the Psalter.” Central to the practice of fixed-hour prayer is the conviction that Scripture often has better ways to pray- for ourselves even- than we can think up on our own.
The Paraclete Psalter organizes the Psalms into four sets of daily prayers over a four week cycle, ensuring the over the course of a month all of the Psalms are prayed at least once. I’ve had the chance to use this book for the past four weeks- though I’ve often missed the midday prayers- and cannot recommend it to you highly enough. While other books of fixed-hour prayer incorporate non-Biblical prayers and hymns, the Psalter is almost exclusively made up of the Psalms. Praying over these ancient words adds a rhythm and depth to our prayer life that is difficult to come up with on our own.
On Sunday I preach from Acts 15:1-35. One commentator calls this text the “watershed” passage for the entire book of Acts. The implications of the events and decisions in this text for the early church were absolutely massive. One of the critical questions asked in this text was whether Gentile Christians had to be circumcised like their Jewish peers. This is an archaic question to my ears, but for the early Jewish Christians it was a natural assumption that all Jesus-followers needed to be circumcised.
As I’ve studied this portion of Acts I’ve had a hard time answering this question: What are the present-day equivalents to circumcision? In other words, what are the culturally bound elements that we assume must be associated with acceptance of the Gospel? The apostle Paul has some very strong words about adding any requirements to the Gospel, but it seems a difficult task to critique our own cultural blind spots. My assumption however, is that we are no less susceptible to adding to the Gospel of grace than was the early church.
I’d be most grateful if you have any suggestions of ways we add expectations and requirements to the Gospel today.
On a related note: Our first Gospel and Culture Conference begins a week from today. You can find all of the information on the conference web page. Our speaker is Skye Jethani, whose book, The Divine Commodity, I reviewed earlier this year. I hope you can make it.