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Friday, October 19, 2007

God-o-meter

Really there is nothing more important to our political discourse than ranking, although I suppose labeling is pretty important to. Anyway, here is a link to belief-net's ranking of the candidates with a cute meter like interface.

Belief Net, whose mission is "to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness," make efforts to even handedly represent the beliefs of all faith. In other words, they're a bunch of lefties. So, I find their attacks on Obama frustrating. Not that I don't think we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration, but because my biggest problem with Bush is how he governed, not how he campaign. Thus, making the comparison to Bush is irritating.

For example, Obama is not going to employ people only from a Christian law school. Obama is not going to overrule scientists to meet is spiritual directives. At some point, the actual substance of what one is doing saying has to matter. It is different to say, we should help the poor because Jesus says so than to say we should invade Iraq because Jesus says so. Ug.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An old scripture

Sojourner featured the following from Isaiah yesterday:

I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:18-21 Shorter, there is no peace for the wicked, but it is not for lack of trying on God's part.

It is cool that the First Testament is full of stories about loving the unworthy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Unbinding the Gospel: Martha Gay Reese

Reese explains that mainline denominations (many of whom I link to on the right) are much less significant now than in the 1960. In 1960, 26 of 179 million Americans were members of mainline churches. In 2000, 21 of 280 million Americans were. That is a reduction in membership of 20%, but more importantly, the membership represents only 7.4% of the population instead of 14.4%.

I think this is troubling because I believe that mainline denominations offer a place for thinking Christians. Certainly many congregations from mainline denominations do not do so. But in general, I believe these denominations do. So, I'm sad to see them shrinking for reasons other than the fact that I am a member of one such denomination.

Even a bigger deal for me, is how much less religious America is today. Reese looks at two measures of religiousness, raised with a religion & currently affiliated with a religion, for three groups: 80-90 yr olds, 40-50 yr olds, & 27-31 yr olds. 97% of 80-90 yr olds were raised with a religion back in the 1910's and 96% still affiliate. For the 40-50 yr olds 96% were raised with religion but only 89% affiliate now. The young adults raised with religion is 87%, with 27% of them already saying they have no religious preference.

To me, this is strong evidence that the church must change or die. These numbers march right through the fundamentalists resurgence of the Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, etc.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prayer revisted

Over the summer I struggled quite a bit with prayer before delivering a sermon on the topic. After preaching the sermon I arrived at a narrow conclusion that prayer could not cause God to violate the laws of nature to bring about a result we prefer. That's a narrow conclusion because there are many, many other ways that prayer can work. My father is struggling with cancer and my praying for him reminds me to keep in touch with him, causes me to be alert for other ways I can help him, causes me to talk to others about the same, and prepares me for his death. There are dozens of other ways that practicing the spiritual discipline that is prayer can be good for me and good for Dad.

This weekend I finished a book my pastor gave me titled, Unbinding the Gospel, by Martha Grace Reese. The book has some alarming statistics for mainline churches that perhaps I'll share later. It also has lots of practical advice for getting the message of mainline churches out to the world. So, she had my attention.

According to Reese, prayer is a crucial part of what churches that do it right do. I admit initially pulling back from this. Years ago, I explored the Prayer of Jabez movement [the prayer is here], and ultimately found it too much for me. I have viewed The Secret with suspicion.

But, then I remembered how carefully Chalice approached the issue of evangelizing. Many of us explored our distaste for evangelism. We shared stories, and we prayed. It gave us more direction in our evangelism. It has kept us focused on spreading the Good News we found at Chalice to others.

Question: Is there more involved than reflecting, that is using our minds to think about our task, when we pray? I stand by my conclusion that God does not violate natural law at our request, but I wonder if there is something more than a pep talk but less than casting a magic spell going on when we pray for the Church.