Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Odd Degrees Christian Colleges Offer



There are a lot of iffy degrees out there, as colleges and universities attempt to find ways to draw new students in. This goes in particular for "non-traditional" students looking for a Master's degree. However, the reigning champions in my mind for offering odd degrees are Christian colleges. Check out the video above to see what I'm talking about.
 

Monday, April 8, 2024

A Reality Check for Degree Holders


This young lady's very entitled rant has me thinking. And here's what's on my mind.

In today's competitive landscape, a college degree is often seen as the golden ticket to a successful career. However, the harsh truth is that obtaining a degree does not guarantee immediate access to a job. While it certainly broadens the range of opportunities for which you are qualified, it is not a magic wand that opens all doors.

The modern bachelor's degree has, in many ways, replaced the high school diploma of the past. It has become a baseline requirement for a vast array of positions. This shift in expectations means that more people are pursuing higher education, leading to a saturated market of degree holders. As a result, the value of a bachelor's degree in distinguishing oneself in the job market has diminished.

Paying your dues is an unavoidable part of the journey. The job market is challenging, even for those who are well-qualified. It's a rite of passage that requires perseverance, resilience, and a willingness to start from the ground up. The early stages of a career often involve roles that might not be the dream job but are stepping stones to gaining the experience and skills needed to advance. My first corporate job was in customer service, and I'm a bit insulted by this young woman's snarky attitude about such work.

It's important for graduates to set realistic expectations and be prepared to navigate a job market that is more competitive than ever. Networking, continuous learning, and adaptability are key to standing out and securing opportunities. The degree is just the beginning; the real work lies in the relentless pursuit of growth and excellence in your chosen field.

None of this means in any way that degrees are a "scam" or not worth it. I'd hate to be out on the job market right now with only a college diploma. Then again, not everyone needs a degree. Someone who is properly trained and licensed can be a plumber, for instance. The same goes for HVAC technicians and electricians, among other professions. However, for anyone looking to get into corporate life, a degree and possibly a professional certification are going to be necessary. In my case, I started out on a Bachelor's degree and then got a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. In recent years I took it to the next level with a Master's degree in Management. I'm glad to have invested in my career.

This young lady in the video falls short entirely on a few levels. She comes across, as I indicated at the outset, as entitled. She certainly is naive about how the world really works. She's giving herself a bad image by posting this rant online. And she needs to grow up. I would have thought that four years in college was enough to do that, but I guess not. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Unitarian Universalism and the American National Catholic Church: A Comparative Exploration

Unitarian Universalism (UU) and the American National Catholic Church (ANCC) are two distinct religious movements that represent modern and inclusive approaches to spirituality and faith. While they share some commonalities in their progressive outlook and emphasis on inclusivity, they differ significantly in their theological foundations, practices, and historical roots.

Theological Foundations:

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious movement characterized by its "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." UUs assert no creed and are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. They draw inspiration and guidance from six sources, including personal experience, world religions, and humanist teachings. UUs embrace a wide range of beliefs, from religious humanism to various world religions and atheism.

The ANCC, on the other hand, is a contemporary expression of Catholicism, tracing its independent lineage through Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte-Costa of Brazil. The ANCC is committed to the implementation of the full vision of the Second Vatican Council and maintains a rich tradition of grace-filled sacraments and social action. It differs from the Roman Catholic Church in several ways, including its stance on married clergy, the ordination of women, and full sacramental participation by all.

Inclusivity and Social Justice:

Both Unitarian Universalism and the ANCC place a strong emphasis on inclusivity and social justice. UUs seek inspiration from all major world religions and welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds, including atheists, agnostics, and theists. The ANCC also embraces inclusivity, affirming the dignity and worth of LGBTQ+ persons and supporting family planning and the ordination of women.

Worship and Practices:

Unitarian Universalist congregations often feature diverse practices, reflecting the individual spiritual journeys of their members. Services can include elements from various faith traditions, meditation, and contemporary music. The ANCC, while retaining some traditional Catholic elements, also incorporates modern practices and emphasizes congregational participation in decision-making.

Historical Roots:

Unitarian Universalism has roots in Protestantism and liberal Christianity, particularly Unitarianism and Christian universalism. It emerged as a distinct denomination in the United States through the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961.

The ANCC was founded in 2009 as an independent Catholic church, with historical ties to Bishop Duarte-Costa's reformist efforts in Brazil. It represents a movement within Catholicism that seeks to continue the progressive work of the Second Vatican Council.

Conclusion:

Unitarian Universalism and the American National Catholic Church both offer modern and inclusive approaches to religion, with a strong emphasis on social justice and individual spiritual exploration. While UUism provides a non-creedal, pluralistic space for seekers of diverse beliefs, the ANCC offers a contemporary interpretation of Catholicism that embraces progressive values and inclusivity. Both movements challenge traditional religious boundaries and invite individuals to engage in a meaningful and transformative spiritual journey.
 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Beyond the Horizon: A Reflection on the Message of Resurrection

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4 NABRE

The persistence of belief is incredible. And its effects can be powerful.

There was a very small cult group called "Love Has Won," also known less commonly as Galactic Federation of Light and 5D Full Disclosure. It centered around a woman named Amy Carlson who asserted that she was "Mother God." I won't go into all the details, which you can see in a documentary called "Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God." What caught my attention in the story of this cult was how they did not accept the death of Amy. She predicted that she would be taken up in a space ship before death, something that clearly did not happen. When this failed to take place, her followers proceeded to keep her slowly decomposing/mummifying corpse with them as they traveled across state lines. Eventually the authorities found out and the body was gathered and properly returned to her next-of-kin. The group had kept the body because they remained convinced that she was Mother God, and variously believed that she wasn't fully dead and that the space ship would eventually come get her. To this day her hard core followers remain convinced of her divinity, and have explanations for what happened. 

The Gospels go out of their way to present Jesus explaining that he will die and then rise on the third day, only for his disciples to not understand what he's talking about. We are told at times by modern preachers that this was due to how set they were in their belief in a conquering messiah who could not possibly be put to death. Maybe so, and maybe not. Jesus was speaking to them in terms that they could understand, given that in the Second Temple Period, in which they lived, belief in the resurrection of the dead was fairly commonplace among the Jewish people. It's not too much of a stretch for someone in that mindset to grasp the idea that a messiah could die and be resurrected. Perhaps, though, their belief was already so fixed that they could not countenance the possibility. Who's to say?

The story of Jesus' resurrection is muddled. Different numbers of angels at the tomb, different women going to the tomb, and so forth. In some places the disciples have gone back to Galilee already, and in others they are told to stay in Jerusalem. What actually happened is something else that's anyone's guess. In any event, the core of his disciples were firm in their declaration that he had been raised from the dead. Ghostly stories are told of him appearing in a closed room, or going unrecognized until he broke bread with a pair of disciples. The whole situation is simply weird. 

The faith of the church over the ages has crystallized into one of death, burial, and resurrection that seems plain and straightforward. It makes clear what in its nature was a very foggy situation, reducing it to a form that can be grasped reasonably and thereby accepted or rejected. 

One possibility, in actual fact, is that Jesus died and that was it. His disciples were overcome with grief and had hallucinations and/or dreams of Jesus communicating with them. Whatever happened to Jesus' body, whether cast out to the dogs or buried in a tomb, that was irrelevant. They had direct, personal experiences of Jesus after he had died. He could not have died without fulfilling his purpose, they reasoned, and so this all meant that his purpose was to die and thereby somehow save the nation and by extension the world. 

Another possibility is, of course, that he actually came back from the dead. The story is muddled because it was such a bewildering experience. That doesn't explain why he only appeared to his followers, rather than doing away with the hiddenness of God, in a sense, by making himself known to others. It could be that the divine plan required him to be unknown to the rest of the world as one risen. 

Those are possibilies, but not the only ones. If one were to mull it over for a while other explanations could be found. Some well-grounded in reality, and others more fantastical. 

Maybe it doesn't matter. What does come across in Christian history is the story of an undefeated life. All the powers of oppression could not keep the message of liberation from spreading. For long stretches this message was obscured by the powers that be co-opting it and reducing it to personal salvation from eternal hell. It was held up in this form as justification for imperial domination rather than revolutionary love. And yet at times the light breaks through.

On a personal level, it is manifested when someone feels the release from their guilt and the things from their past that bind them. On a systemic level, it is manifested when people march for their rights and enact nonviolent resistance that demonstrates the vulnerability of the domination system. When people can see beyond the horizon of their immediate pain and guilt, to a better country, there the good news of resurrection is taking root. And that all independent of the details of what happened, if anything, one Sunday morning almost 2000 years ago. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Cross and the Cost: Reflecting on Sacrifice and Society

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, "He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:8-9 NABRE). This passage speaks to the profound humility and obedience of Jesus, who accepted a cruel and ignominious death to fulfill his mission. But beyond whatever theological significance it might hold, this event also offers a lens through which we can examine the nature of sacrifice and the value of individual lives.

There's a saying, often misattributed to Josef Stalin, that encapsulates a troubling aspect of human psychology: "The death of one person is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." This phrase highlights our tendency to connect more deeply with individual stories of suffering than with large-scale tragedies. Nonprofits have learned to leverage this by focusing on personal narratives to illustrate the impact of their work, rather than presenting abstract statistics.

Crucifixion, a punishment employed by the Roman Empire, provides a stark historical example of this concept. Though thousands were subjected to this brutal form of execution, it is the crucifixion of Jesus that has been etched into collective memory. His death is not just a singular tragedy but a symbol of every unjust death wielded by the powers that be throughout history. Jesus' crucifixion exposed the violence underpinning the Pax Romana, challenging us to scrutinize the foundations of our own society.

Today, we are called to question the sacrifices demanded by our societal structures. Every soldier's death, every execution, every loss of life in the name of maintaining order or advancing a cause, deserves scrutiny. Are these the values we wish to uphold? Are these the means by which we wish to govern and be governed?

The cross of Jesus stands as a reminder of the cost of challenging the status quo and the power structures of the day. It beckons us to reflect on the value of each human life and to consider the true nature of sacrifice. In doing so, we honor not only the memory of those who have suffered but also the potential for a more just and compassionate society.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Cup of Wrath: A Recurring Biblical Theme of Divine Judgment and Atonement

There is in the Bible an interesting theme that comes up again and again. It's all about a cup. The cup is filled with the wrath of God, and for the most part the ones we're told to drink it will be "the nations."

"For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs." (Psalm 75:8)*

"Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the cup of staggering. There is no one to guide her among all the children she has borne; there is no one to take her by the hand among all the children she has brought up. These two things have befallen you — who will grieve with you? — devastation and destruction, famine and sword. Who will comfort you? Your children have fainted; they lie at the head of every street like an antelope in a net; they are full of the wrath of the Lord, the rebuke of your God. Therefore hear this, you who are wounded, who are drunk but not with wine: Thus says your Sovereign, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; you shall drink no more from the cup of my wrath." (Isaiah 51:17-22)

"For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it." (Jeremiah 25:15)

"...and they shall deal with you in hatred and take away all the fruit of your labor and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your prostitutions shall be exposed. Your lewdness and your prostitutions have brought this upon you, because you prostituted yourself with the nations and polluted yourself with their idols. You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. Thus says the Lord God: You shall drink your sister’s cup, deep and wide; it will bring scorn and derision; it holds so much. You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation is the cup of your sister Samaria; you shall drink it and drain it out and gnaw its sherds and tear out your breasts, for I have spoken, says the Lord God. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, therefore bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitutions." (Ezekiel 23:29-35)

"You will be sated with contempt instead of glory. Drink, you yourself, and stagger! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and shame will come upon your glory!" (Habakkuk 2:16)

The Book of Revelation in the New Testament carries on with this theme:

"...they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." 
(Revelation 14:10)

"The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine cup of the fury of his wrath." (Revelation 16:19)

And yet, that's not all the Bible has to say about the cup. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark we find Jesus praying and talking about the cup that he will have to drink, referring to his suffering and death.

"And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.'" (Matthew 26:39)

"But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?'" (Mark 10:38)

"They went to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.' He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.' And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, 'Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me, yet not what I want but what you want.'" (Mark 14:32-36)

This has atonement theology baked right into it. While there's no one universally acceptable theory of atonement, with options ranging from substitutionary to ransom to representation and beyond, this certainly has to be one of the options. Jesus drinking the cup of God's wrath that was meant for the wicked nations. I don't think this is necessarily a variation on substitutionary atonement or one of the others, though it bears a similarity. The thought is that Jesus, in his torture and execution, will embody the wrath of God on the evil in the world. The weakness of authoritarian power is made manifest in his cross, as it demonstrates that only through bloodshed and violence that the Pax Romana is preserved. But it also displays God's own judgement on the nations in a very visible form. There is a Way of Peace, and there is the Pax Romana, and the two are not at all the same. 


*All Scripture quoted from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Holy Week Explained

Holy Week is a significant period in the Christian liturgical calendar, leading up to Easter Sunday. In the United States, it may not receive the same level of public recognition as in predominantly Catholic countries like Brazil and the Philippines, where it is marked by national holidays. However, among various Christian denominations, including Roman Catholics, independent Catholics, and mainline Protestant groups, there are several important observances.

The week begins with Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is a moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. During services, palm branches are blessed and distributed to the congregation, symbolizing the branches that the crowd laid before Christ as he entered the city. These palms are often kept in homes as a reminder of the event and later burned to create ashes for the following year's Ash Wednesday.

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, follows. It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles and the Washing of the Feet (Maundy). The term "Maundy" comes from the Latin word "mandatum," meaning commandment, reflecting Jesus' words "I give you a new commandment." This day marks the initiation of the Easter Triduum, the three-day period leading up to Easter Sunday.

Good Friday is observed in remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. It is a day of solemn reflection and fasting for many Christians. Services often include readings of the Passion narrative and the veneration of the cross. In some traditions, such as the Moravian Church, members clean gravestones in cemeteries as a way of honoring the dead.

Holy Saturday, the final day of Holy Week, is a day of waiting and preparation for Easter Sunday. It commemorates the time when Jesus' body lay in the tomb. The Easter Vigil, held on this night, marks the transition from Lent to Eastertide. It is a service filled with symbolism, including the lighting of the Paschal candle and the reading of salvation history.

Easter Sunday, the culmination of Holy Week, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the most important day in the Christian calendar and is marked by joyful services, music, and the proclamation of the Easter message. Traditions vary, but they often include the exchange of Easter greetings, the decoration of churches with flowers, and the singing of hymns proclaiming Christ's victory over death.

While the public recognition of Holy Week may vary, its significance lies in the deep spiritual journey it offers to Christians, leading them from the contemplation of Jesus' suffering and death to the celebration of his resurrection and the promise of new life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Unitarian Universalism: A Liberal and Inclusive Faith

Unitarian Universalism (UUism or UU) is a liberal religious movement characterized by a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." Unlike many religious traditions, Unitarian Universalists do not adhere to a specific creed but are unified in their shared quest for spiritual growth. This inclusive faith draws from six sources for inspiration and guidance: personal experience, prophetic utterances, world religions, Jewish and Christian teachings, humanist teachings, and spiritual teachings from Earth-centered traditions.

The roots of Unitarian Universalism can be traced back to liberal Christianity, specifically Unitarianism and Christian Universalism. From these traditions, Unitarian Universalists inherit a deep respect for intellectual freedom and inclusive love. Members and congregations seek insights from all major world religions, embracing a wide range of beliefs that include religious humanism, various forms of Christianity and Judaism, as well as Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, among others.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was formed in 1961 through the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. The UUA is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches primarily in the United States. However, Unitarian Universalism has a global presence, with the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) becoming an independent body in 2002, and a group of thirty Philippine congregations represented within the UUA.

Diverse Beliefs and Practices

Unitarian Universalism is marked by its diversity of beliefs and practices. Congregations may include atheists, agnostics, deists, and theists, and their services can vary widely, incorporating elements from different faith traditions alongside original practices. This diversity is celebrated, with individuals encouraged to engage in their own spiritual journeys and draw wisdom from a variety of sources.

Social Justice and Inclusivity

Unitarian Universalists are often active in social justice movements, reflecting their commitment to principles such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person, justice and compassion in human relations, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence. The faith is known for its inclusive stance on issues like LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, racial justice, and environmental sustainability.

A Covenantal Faith

In the absence of a shared creed, Unitarian Universalism is often described as a covenantal faith. Members and congregations are bound together by mutual promises to uphold shared values and principles, creating a framework of trust and care within the community. This emphasis on covenant reflects the Unitarian Universalist commitment to living out their values in a spirit of love and respect for all.
 

Monday, March 25, 2024

A Bold Merger of Faith and Education: Bluffton University and the University of Findlay


In a world where the pursuit of higher education is often driven by pragmatic needs and innovative approaches, a groundbreaking announcement was made on March 20 that challenges the traditional boundaries of religious affiliation in academia. Bluffton University and the University of Findlay, two institutions with distinct theological foundations, have declared their intention to merge into a single higher education community, spanning two campuses approximately 20 miles apart. This decision, ratified by the Boards of Trustees of both universities, is anticipated to reach completion by fall 2025.

The University of Findlay is affiliated with the Churches of God, General Conference, while Bluffton University is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, a denomination rooted in the Anabaptist tradition. Though they share core convictions representative of what's considered orthodox Christianity, they are unrelated faith traditions outside of representing forms of Protestantism.

This union is a testament to the evolving landscape of higher education, where old arguments and sectarian divisions are giving way to a focus on shared goals and mutual growth. Findlay President Katherine Fell remarked that these times call for "innovative and forward-thinking" approaches, and this merger is a bold step in that direction. Similarly, Bluffton President Jane Wood highlighted the shared commitment of both institutions to preparing students to find and live out their callings, emphasizing that "we are stronger together."

The practical implications of this merger are significant. With Findlay's larger campus and diverse student body, and Bluffton's strong liberal arts programs, the combined institution will offer a richer array of academic programs and services. Moreover, the merger aims to maintain separate athletic operations, with Findlay continuing in NCAA Division II and Bluffton in Division III, preserving the unique identities of each campus.

The decision to merge these two institutions, despite their theological differences, is a powerful example of how the pragmatic needs of today's higher education landscape are reshaping the way we think about faith-based institutions. It challenges the notion that religious affiliation must be a dividing line, instead suggesting that diverse faith traditions can coexist and even thrive within a unified academic community. As this merger progresses, it will be interesting to see how the blending of these distinct religious identities will impact the educational experience and how it might serve as a model for other institutions facing similar challenges.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The American National Catholic Church: A Modern Take on Catholicism

The American National Catholic Church (ANCC) represents a distinct and contemporary interpretation of Catholicism in today's religious landscape. Established in 2009, the ANCC is rooted in the independent lineage of Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte-Costa of Brazil, a forward-thinking advocate for reforms that prefigured those of the Second Vatican Council.

The ANCC is committed to realizing the full vision of the Second Vatican Council, viewing its work and wisdom as a pivotal moment in church history. This commitment is reflected in their dedication to grace-filled sacraments and an active pursuit of social justice. The ANCC community seeks to embody the redeeming love of a welcoming God, extending their ministry to various settings, including parishes, prisons, hospitals, and hospices.

Key Differences and Similarities with the Roman Catholic Church

While the ANCC shares several core beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, such as the radical monotheism of God, Apostolic Succession, and the Nicene Creed, they also embrace significant differences. These differences include a congregational model of decision-making, the ordination of married, women, and LGBTQ+ clergy, full sacramental participation for all, and a commitment to inclusive views on family planning and gay marriage.

Inclusivity at the Forefront

The ANCC stands out for its inclusive stance on issues that often lead to exclusion from the Roman Catholic Church. They embrace the ordination of women, welcome married clergy, accept divorced and remarried individuals as full members, support personal choices in family planning, and affirm the dignity of LGBTQ+ persons, including officiating at sacramental gay marriages.

Leadership and Education

The leadership of the ANCC, exemplified by their presiding bishop, The Most Reverend George R. Lucey, FCM, is characterized by a rich educational background and a commitment to pastoral care. The ANCC ensures that all clergy undergo rigorous background checks and comprehensive psychological assessments as part of their evaluation process.

A Collaborative Approach to Decision-Making

In line with the vision of Vatican II, the ANCC adopts a congregational model of leadership, where laity and clergy collaborate in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. This approach contrasts with the hierarchical, top-down model of the Roman Catholic Church, highlighting the ANCC's commitment to a more inclusive and participatory form of governance.

The American National Catholic Church offers a refreshing and modern interpretation of Catholicism, emphasizing inclusivity, social justice, and collaborative leadership. As a vibrant community, the ANCC continues to attract those seeking a faith experience that resonates with contemporary values and beliefs.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Neo-Pentecostalism in a Globalized World


In an era where globalization has become the norm, religions are not immune to the effects of this interconnectedness. Among these, Neo-Pentecostalism stands out as a faith that has adapted remarkably well to the globalized world. Its growth and influence can be attributed to several key factors that resonate with people across diverse cultures and geographies.

A Religion of the People

At the heart of Neo-Pentecostalism's appeal is its accessibility. The Bible, the foundational text of the faith, is available to everyone, transcending barriers of language and socio-economic status. This universal access empowers individuals, giving them a direct line to the divine and fostering a sense of personal connection with their faith.

Ease of Entry to Ministry

Neo-Pentecostalism's ministry is characterized by its simplicity and inclusivity. One does not need years of theological training or ordination by a central authority to become a pastor. Instead, the path to ministry can be as straightforward as declaring oneself a pastor and establishing a congregation. This ease of entry has led to a proliferation of pastors and churches, each with their unique interpretation of the faith, making it highly adaptable to local cultures and contexts.

Promises for This Life and the Next

The faith offers a compelling proposition to its followers: prosperity in this life and eternal salvation in the next. The prosperity gospel, a core tenet of Neo-Pentecostalism, teaches that faith and positive confession can lead to material wealth and physical well-being. This message resonates deeply in a world where many are seeking immediate solutions to their earthly struggles while also longing for spiritual reassurance.

Effective Revenue Model

The tithe, a ten percent contribution of one's income, is a key element of Neo-Pentecostalism's financial sustainability. This practice not only supports the operational needs of the church but also reinforces the prosperity gospel's message that giving leads to receiving. The tithe is an effective revenue model that ensures the church's growth and stability.

Contemporary Style

Neo-Pentecostalism's appeal is further enhanced by its contemporary style, which includes modern music, technology, and communication methods. This approach makes the faith relevant and attractive to younger generations, who are often more comfortable with these modern expressions of worship.

In conclusion, Neo-Pentecostalism's growth in a globalized world can be attributed to its accessibility, ease of entry into ministry, promises for both this life and the next, effective revenue model, and contemporary style. These factors combine to create a dynamic and adaptable faith that continues to attract followers worldwide.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Foundations of the Earth

"Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, While the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7 NABRE)

As a teenager who was hard to impress, I found myself unexpectedly awed during a trip with my parents to the Badlands of South Dakota. This experience, along with visits to other natural wonders like canyons, revealed a profound truth: our world is built upon the remnants of its past.

The Badlands, with their layered rocks, are a testament to the process of deposition, where rocks gradually accumulate over millions of years. This geological layer cake began forming about 75 million years ago, with the Pierre Shale at the base, and continued until the Sharps Formation capped it off around 28 million years ago. These layers were laid down by various natural forces, including shallow inland seas, rivers, and wind.

Contrastingly, erosion is the process that wears these rocks away. The Badlands started eroding around 500,000 years ago, sculpted by the Cheyenne and White Rivers. This erosion has created the landscape's narrow channels, canyons, and rugged peaks. Currently, the Badlands erode at a rate of one inch per year, a rapid pace compared to the granite of the nearby Black Hills. Scientists predict that in another 500,000 years, the Badlands will have completely eroded away.

Moving from North America to Brazil, the Chapada Diamantina National Park is another marvel of geological history. Situated on the Brazilian shield, one of the Earth's oldest continental areas, this plateau dates back to the Precambrian era, over 570 million years ago. The sedimentary rocks of the Chapada Diamantina were deposited during the Paleozoic era when the supercontinent Gondwana began to break apart. Today, this area is known for its stunning canyons, caves, and waterfalls, like the Fuma├ža waterfall, where water evaporates before it even reaches the ground due to its 380-meter drop.

In a cosmic perspective, our planet is also continually showered with cosmic dust, with an estimated 15,000 tons falling to Earth annually. Most of this interplanetary dust, about 80%, originates from Jupiter family comets, with the remainder coming from asteroids. This space dust, although minuscule in comparison to geological processes, adds another layer to our understanding of the Earth's composition.

In essence, the beauty and complexity of our world lie in its layers, both terrestrial and cosmic. From the eroding peaks of the Badlands to the ancient rocks of Chapada Diamantina and the cosmic dust that settles on our planet, each layer tells a story of a past that shapes our present and future.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Noncreedalisms Compared

 

The slogan "Deed Above Creed" is one popular with the Ethical Culture Societies. As a Humanist organization, the American Ethical Union does not participate in discussions of the supernatural as somehow reflecting reality, as is the case with traditional religion. The same slogan is popular with Unitarian Universalists as well, though. In my life I've been part of two religious traditions that claim to be noncreedal, and only one of them was legitimately so, in my opinion.

First, when I was 19 or so I found my way into the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. This is part of what scholars refer to as the Stone-Campbell Movement. The religious tradition began in the 19th century as some people in the United States sought out a form of simple, "original" Christianity. Part of this was setting aside the traditional creeds of Christianity, and emphasizing the Bible alone as the source of truth. One popular slogan was and remains this: "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible." Some within the independent Christian Churches refer to their movement as being "undenominational," due to the fact that there is no general headquarters for the religious tradition. As nondenominational evangelical Christianity appears to grow in the United States, their claim to being unaffiliated with any denomination becomes less and less significant. And besides, although they claim to have no creed, they more often than not have statements of faith on their church websites, outlining such basics as the Trinity, dual nature of Jesus, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and so forth. This noncreedal movement has both these written statements as well as an unwritten understanding about what constitutes orthodoxy. Any departure from it is generally unwelcome.

Second, there's the Unitarian Universalist tradition of which I have now been a part for nearly a decade. Although the tradition has 7 Principles (or 8) that tie the congregations together in covenant, there is no creed to which a member must assent before joining officially. Granted, a MAGA Republican will never be happy in a UU congregation, but there are no written rules other than, perhaps, about providing a safe and welcoming space to everyone. Within UU congregations there can be Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Muslims, Buddhests, folks of Jewish descent, and whatever else. What matters are not the particularities of religious beliefs, but the shared values of welcome and inclusion. There is a progressive lens through which the world is viewed in UU perspective, and this is what prevails. 

None of this is to suggest that being noncreedal is a simple matter. It's a practice that requires tolerance for difference, within the theme of welcoming all who welcome all. Honest noncreedalism envisions humanity united under certain shared values, not aligning on specific answers to all questions. This is one of the things I value deeply in Unitarian Universalism. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The United Methodist Split in Ecumenical Perspective

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is currently navigating through turbulent times, as parishes leave and form new denominations, such as the Global Methodist Church. Others have chosen to remain independent or join other denominations. In response, the UMC has initiated legal actions to retain physical assets, but more importantly, it has created "beacon churches" to welcome those who feel abandoned by their splitting congregations. Additionally, efforts are underway to establish new churches for United Methodists left adrift.

This situation brings to mind a stark contrast with the mid-20th century, a period marked by major church mergers and a strong sense of ecumenism among church leaders. During that era, if a split like the current one had occurred, I suspect that there would have been legal disputes over physical assets, but there would also have been concerted efforts to collaborate with partner denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ. These denominations, similar in many ways to the UMC, would have been seen as natural refuges for displaced United Methodists, especially in areas where starting a new church was impractical.

It's intriguing to consider how different the approach might have been in the past. Today's mainline Protestant denominations, including the PCUSA, UCC, and Episcopal Church, share many commonalities with the UMC, such as shared seminaries, intercommunion agreements, and the transfer of ministers. Despite these connections, the current split in the UMC seems to lack the ecumenical engagement that might have been present in earlier generations.

The challenges facing the United Methodist Church are complex, and the path forward is uncertain. However, reflecting on how past generations might have handled similar situations can provide valuable insights and perhaps even inspire more collaborative and inclusive solutions for the future.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Unitarian Universalism: A Homecoming, Not a Conversion

The term "Unitarian Universalist" might strike some as peculiar, conjuring images of a bygone era when theological debates raged over concepts that today hold little relevance for most. Yet, despite its historical origins from the merger of two denominations in the mid-20th century, Unitarian Universalism stands as a welcoming faith tradition, offering a sense of belonging rather than a call to conversion.

At its core, Unitarian Universalism is about inclusion. We pride ourselves on being a community that welcomes all who embrace diversity and inclusivity, regardless of their belief system. Whether you're a theist, atheist, or agnostic, there's a place for you among us. Ours is a faith of shared values, not shared creeds, emphasizing the importance of living well in the present and striving for a more just and caring world.

Unlike many religious traditions, Unitarian Universalism is non-creedal. We don't dwell on the more esoteric aspects of religion, though there are special interest groups for those inclined to explore such topics. Instead, our focus is on practical living and making a tangible difference in the world around us.

Of course, like any community, we're not without our flaws and occasional conflicts. But these are viewed as part of the human experience, and we strive to welcome all with open arms, regardless of their beliefs, who they love, or where they are in life's journey. The only caveat is that bigotry has no place in our midst; we welcome all who welcome all.

Becoming a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation is a straightforward process. Some congregations may offer a membership class, while others may forego such formalities. Ultimately, membership involves signing a book and making a financial pledge, which can be as modest as one's circumstances allow.

If you're seeking a metaphor to understand our faith, consider "Unitarian" as a symbol of our common origin, and "Universalism" as a representation of our shared destiny. Whatever those may be, they are threads that bind us together in our journey.

Unitarian Universalism is more than a faith; it's a homecoming. It's a place where you can be yourself, share in common values, and contribute to a vision of a better world. So, if you're searching for a spiritual home that celebrates diversity and fosters community, consider coming home to Unitarian Universalism.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Jesus for Unitarian Universalists: Embracing Diversity and Freedom of Belief

Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a faith tradition that celebrates diversity and freedom of belief. Unlike many religious denominations, UU churches are noncreedal, meaning that they do not adhere to a set list of beliefs or doctrines. This openness allows for a wide range of perspectives and beliefs among their members, from humanists and atheists to agnostics and even UU Christians.

The terms "Unitarian" and "Universalist" have evolved over time. Historically, these terms were associated with specific theological beliefs, such as the rejection of the Trinity (Unitarianism) and the belief in universal salvation (Universalism). Today, however, Unitarian Universalism has moved beyond these narrow definitions to embrace a broader and more inclusive approach to spirituality and community.

In UU congregations, the focus is often on shared progressive values and social concerns, such as immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental justice. There is a strong emphasis on living out one's beliefs through actions and advocacy, rather than adhering to specific dogmas or doctrines.

When it comes to the figure of Jesus, Unitarian Universalists have the freedom to approach him in various ways. Some may view Jesus through a traditional Christian lens, seeing him as a savior or the Son of God, while others may regard him as a great teacher of compassion and justice. Some UUs may even see Jesus as an ascended master or a symbolic figure representing universal love and forgiveness.

One challenge that UU Christians sometimes face is the tendency within UU communities to emphasize the equality of all great spiritual teachers. While this is a well-intentioned effort to honor diversity, it can sometimes make it difficult for UU Christians to express their unique connection to Jesus. It's important for UU congregations to provide space for all members to explore and express their beliefs, including those who find deep meaning in the teachings and example of Jesus.

Being a Christian in a UU context offers the opportunity to maintain a living faith that is open to new information and different perspectives. It allows individuals to explore their spirituality without being confined to a rigid set of beliefs, and to find common ground with others who may have different viewpoints.

In conclusion, Unitarian Universalism offers a unique and inclusive approach to spirituality, where members are encouraged to explore their beliefs and values freely. For UU Christians, this means the opportunity to engage with the teachings of Jesus in a way that is meaningful and authentic to them, while also being part of a diverse and accepting community.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Comparative History of Church of God and Christian Churches/Churches of Christ

The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have a shared history, but they also have some distinct differences. Both of these Christian denominations emerged in the United States in the 19th century, and both represent attempts to get back to the Bible and have an emphasis on unity. 

The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) was founded in 1880 in Anderson, Indiana by a group of Christian leaders who were dissatisfied with the theological and organizational practices of their current denominations. They sought to create a new church that would focus on the essential elements of the Christian faith and would allow for a greater level of individual autonomy and local control. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) has always maintained a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions, and its members are known for their commitment to holiness and personal piety.

The independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ emerged in the 19th century as a result of a movement to restore the practices and beliefs of the early church. This movement was led by leaders such as Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, who sought to unite all Christians by rejecting denominationalism and returning to a simple, New Testament-based faith. The independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ emphasize the importance of personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible as the sole source of religious authority.

While both the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ share a commitment to restoring the practices and beliefs of the early church, there are some significant differences between these two denominations. One major difference is that the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) has a more centralized organizational structure, with a hierarchy of leaders who are responsible for overseeing the work of individual churches. In contrast, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ tend to be more decentralized, with individual congregations having a greater level of autonomy and control.

Another difference between these two denominations is their approach to baptism. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) practices baptism by immersion, and does not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. The independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ also practice baptism by immersion, but they do believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Note that some independent churches are moving away from a strong stance on that matter, and others have abandoned it completely for a "faith only" view.

Finally, there are some theological differences between these two denominations. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, and believes in the importance of holiness as a gift of God. The independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ tend to be more cautious about the works of the Holy Spirit, and place a greater emphasis on the importance of sound doctrine and preaching.

Overall, both the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have played important roles in the history of Christianity in the United States, and both continue to have a significant impact on the religious landscape today. While they share some common roots and beliefs, they also have some distinct differences in their theology, organization, and approach to Christian practice.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Returning to Seminary

 In July 2021, life seemed to be on an upward trajectory. The pandemic was receding, my daughter celebrated her wedding, and the weather was pleasant. However, an unexpected disaster struck when my apartment building burned down due to an accident in the unit below mine. The fire resulted in the loss of nearly everything I owned, including my cherished library.

During this challenging time, the ACU Graduate School of Theology extended kindness and support, allowing me extra time to complete my summer term coursework, which I successfully did. Despite this, the trauma from the fire lingered, affecting my ability to fully engage with my studies. I realized I needed to pause and give myself time to heal and process the experience.

In pursuit of a new direction, I enrolled in a Master of Science program focused on Innovation and Strategic Management. This program aligns with my career as a program manager in technology and my aspirations to contribute to the nonprofit sector. I aim to complete this degree by December 2024 and then resume my Master of Divinity studies at Abilene Christian University in January 2025 with the goal of finishing my program.

Amid these personal challenges, I found solace and purpose in my nonprofit work. Uberlandia Development Initiatives (UDI), which I co-founded during the pandemic, has successfully funded three vital projects for the Estacao Vida Community Center in Uberlandia, Brazil. Witnessing the positive impact of our efforts on the children and families of the Shopping Park neighborhood has been incredibly rewarding and motivating.

As an aspirant for ministry in the Unitarian Universalist Association, I've continued to serve my congregation in various capacities, including a three-year term on the board of trustees and currently as a youth advisor. The path to UU ministry requires obtaining a Master of Divinity from an ATS-accredited seminary, but for me, it's about more than just fulfilling a requirement. I seek the knowledge, pastoral skills, and inspiration that seminary education can provide, as I continue to navigate life's challenges and embrace opportunities for growth and service.


Thursday, March 14, 2024

Empowering the Dispossessed: The Unique Appeal of Pentecostalism

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"But while many other denominations had a habit of talking down to the dispossessed, from the beginning the Pentecostal faith uniquely empowered women, migrants, African-Americans and the poor. This approach is as important to the movement now as it was then, and goes a long way to explaining its mass appeal: in this life, as much as the next, people want to be lifted up." (Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World by Elle Hardy)

In the early 2000s, when I was a missionary in Brazil, I read in a national magazine of that country a report about Pentecostalism. The article was critical of the faith tradition, though the reporter found a few good things to say. Among them was the comment that while many of the people attending Pentecostal churches were the working poor, with jobs in cleaning and masonry, on Sundays they would put on fine looking suits and dresses, Bible tucked under their arms as they headed to worship. It was, in a way, empowering and brought some dignity to their lives, in the writer's estimation.
Pentecostalism is a rapidly growing Christian movement that has undergone three waves of development since its inception in the early 20th century.

The first wave of Pentecostalism emerged in the early 1900s in the United States and was characterized by a strong emphasis on personal salvation, holiness, and the gifts of the Spirit. The Azusa Street Revival, which occurred in Los Angeles, California in 1906, is considered the birthplace of the modern Pentecostal movement. This movement was led by African American preacher William Seymour, who attracted a diverse group of followers, including many women and people from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The movement spread quickly throughout the United States and later to other parts of the world, including South America, Africa, and Asia.

The second wave of Pentecostalism emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and is sometimes referred to as the charismatic movement. This wave was characterized by a focus on the gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, but also included an emphasis on social justice and the use of technology for evangelism. This wave of Pentecostalism was largely influenced by the Jesus People movement, which emphasized personal experience and cultural relevance. Many charismatic churches formed during this period, and the movement spread beyond the United States to Latin America and Africa.

The third wave of Pentecostalism emerged in the 1980s and 1990s and is sometimes referred to as the neo-charismatic movement. This wave was characterized by a move away from traditional Pentecostal practices, such as speaking in tongues, and a greater emphasis on prophecy, healing, and spiritual warfare. This wave of Pentecostalism was also influenced by the Vineyard movement, which emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and communities. The third wave of Pentecostalism was marked by the emergence of mega-churches and televangelism, which helped to spread the movement globally.

The Pentecostal movement has grown significantly in recent years, particularly in the global South. This growth is due in part to the empowering approach that Pentecostalism takes towards women, migrants, African-Americans, and the poor. Unlike many other religious movements that have been accused of talking down to the dispossessed, Pentecostalism has always taken a different approach, emphasizing inclusivity and empowerment. The Pentecostal approach recognizes the struggles and challenges that people face in their everyday lives and seeks to address them in a practical way.

Overall, the Pentecostal movement's unique empowering approach and emphasis on practical support has made it a popular and influential religious movement. Its growth and development through the three waves of Pentecostalism demonstrate its ability to adapt and respond to changing cultural contexts while remaining faithful to its core beliefs.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Further Reflections on the Loss of the Kirtland Temple: A Historic Change in Ownership


The recent sale of the Kirtland Temple to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has stirred a mixture of emotions within me. As someone who feels a special fondness for the Community of Christ, the denomination that has owned and maintained this historic building for decades, I can't help but feel a sense of loss.

The Kirtland Temple holds immense historical and spiritual significance. It's not just a building; it's a symbol of faith, sacrifice, and community. For years, the Community of Christ has generously shared this sacred space with other Latter-day Saint denominations and visitors from around the world. Their approach was always irenic, focusing on the rich history of the temple rather than using it as a tool for proselytization.

However, with the LDS Church now in possession of the temple, I fear that the approach to sharing this space may change. The LDS Church's history of using their properties for evangelistic purposes raises concerns that the Kirtland Temple's inclusive and historical focus may shift towards promoting specific religious beliefs and practices.

While I understand the practical reasons behind the sale, particularly the financial burdens of maintaining an old building, the loss is profound for the Community of Christ and those who have benefited from their stewardship. The temple's open doors to various groups, including Restoration Branch churches, exemplified a spirit of ecumenical kindness that I hope will not be lost under the new ownership.

As the Community of Christ navigates this transition, I also worry about the future use of the substantial funds received from the sale. With over $190 million at their disposal, the choices they make in investing this money will be crucial for their mission and growth. My hope is that these funds will be used wisely, not just as a temporary lifeline, but as a means to further their spiritual and community goals.

In the end, the sale of the Kirtland Temple is a reminder of the ever-changing landscape of religious communities. While change is inevitable, preserving the spirit and intentions of sacred spaces is essential for maintaining their historical and spiritual significance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

From Rosaries to Relationships: The Spectrum of Pastoral Care

In the realm of pastoral care, it's evident that some religious traditions have more resources to draw on than others. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, offers a variety of tangible aids such as rosaries, prayer cards, and communion, along with blessed medals and other items. These tools not only serve as means of spiritual support but also as physical reminders of faith and community.

Protestantism, too, has its own practices, such as offering communion to the homebound and hospitalized. However, it's disheartening to see that these opportunities for connection and care are often overlooked. During my time delivering medications for a pharmacy in college, I encountered numerous elderly individuals who, once active members of their churches, had become forgotten by their congregations due to illness or immobility. One particularly striking example was a woman who, alongside her husband, had been a founding member of her church. After her husband became homebound, she was unable to attend services, and the church leaders seemingly forgot about her, allowing her to slip through the cracks.

In contrast, my mother's experience as a communion minister for the Catholic Church highlighted a more proactive approach to pastoral care. She regularly visited shut-ins, providing not only the sacrament of communion but also a much-needed opportunity for them to interact with someone about their faith.

The role of pastoral care extends beyond the provision of religious rituals; it involves regularizing life's significant moments and offering support during times of need. The fictional character of the Archbishop in "Death Comes for the Archbishop" embodies this aspect, as he travels to remote ranches to offer weddings and baptisms, integrating himself into the lives of the people he serves.

This leads me to reflect on the challenges and rewards of ministering to those in hospice, nursing homes, or hospitals. These individuals often have little to offer in return, making the relationship purely about the care and connection provided, rather than any reciprocal exchange.

Looking to the future, I see myself potentially entering chaplaincy work. The pastoral aspect of community development also resonates with me, as it aligns with my desire to integrate care and support into the fabric of community life.
 

Monday, March 11, 2024

On Canon


The Jewish Study Bible offers, in its commentary notes, a perspective I find useful in understanding scriptural canon:

In various ways, canonical status for a book or group of books has to do with the community's views of their centrality, authority, sacredness, and inspiration. Over time these characteristics have become connected, inseparably so in some traditions; yet they are not identical, and though they overlap, they must still be viewed distinctly. (Berlin et al., 2004)

If I were a theistically-minded Christian and compelled to choose, I'd borrow the perspective held by Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"However, Community of Christ has insisted since the time of Joseph Smith III that what the authors of scripture wrote is not revelation itself. They wrote works of literature that are pointers to revelation. Former member of the Community of Christ First Presidency F. Henry Edwards wrote, “Revelation cannot be fully expressed in words. Words are but tools, and must be quickened by the illumination of the Spirit which shines in the hearts and minds of the readers….Revelation, then, is one thing, and the record of revelation is another.” Former apostle Arthur A. Oakman made the following observation in an important 1966 article: 

The prophets saw the movement of God in history. It was there before they saw it. Had they never apprehended it, it would still have been there. But it became revelation to them when they appreciated this divine movement. What we have in the Old and New Testaments is not, therefore, revelation. It is a record made by the preceptor. …There are, then, strictly speaking, no revealed truths. There are “truths of revelation”—statements of principles, that is, which stem from the actual revelatory experiences.

In its theology, ethics, and pastoral practice, Community of Christ believes it is essential to make this kind of distinction between revelation and human beings’ varied literary accounts of revelation. Without this distinction, communities are always tempted to worship not the Living God, but their texts, traditions, and interpretations, which can bring and has brought great harm into people’s lives." 
(Chvala-Smith, 2020) 

The following is from a fellow student in a seminary class discussion online.  

"The idea of Scripture as a source for theology is interesting because Scripture in itself is a witness of the church interpreting its own experiences about God. Scripture did not drop down from heaven, but it is a collection of people engaging with God in their everyday life experiences. This ties back to my post from last week that theology is not just an exercise for the academics, but for the people who cannot even read and write. In Christian theology, therefore, Scripture tells us of how people experience God, who they think he is, and what he does. Because Scripture is located in a specific time in history, and because God continues to engage with people throughout history, this makes Scripture a guide in thinking and talking about God, not a closed concept that says all people everywhere have to experience God in this way. As the topic for the week says, Scripture is a source of theology: We draw from other people's examples of talking and thinking about God, and see how that relates with our own present experiences." (Vuyo Adams, 2021)

Even in the late 19th century in an otherwise conservative religious tradition, a literal view of biblical inspiration wasn't standard. The following comes from a book written by someone with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). 

"The different writers of the books of the Bible were inspired of God. It is not the words of the Bible that were inspired, it is not the thoughts of the Bible that were inspired; it is the men who wrote the Bible that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words, not on the man's thoughts, but on the man himself; so that he, by his own spontaneity, under the impulse of the Holy Ghost, conceives certain thoughts and gives utterance to them in certain words, both the words and the thoughts receiving the peculiar impress of the mind which conceived and uttered them."  (Henry C. Wickersham, 1894) 

In conclusion, the exploration of scriptural canon and the nature of revelation highlights the complexity and depth of our engagement with sacred texts. The perspectives offered by the Jewish Study Bible, Community of Christ, and other theological viewpoints remind us that scripture is not merely a static collection of words, but a dynamic and living witness to the perception of divine movement in human history. As we grapple with the meanings and implications of these texts, we are invited to approach them with humility, openness, and a recognition of their profound significance in shaping our understanding of that which is highest and best. Whether we view them as literal revelations or as records of inspired human experiences, the scriptures continue to offer guidance, wisdom, and inspiration to those who seek to discern their truths.


References:

Adams, V. (2021, May 12). Re: The Role of Tradition [Discussion post]. ACU Graduate School of Theology Canvas System. https://acuonline.instructure.com

Berlin, A., Brettler, M. Z., & Fishbane, M. (2004). The Jewish study Bible: Jewish Publication Society    Tanakh translation. Oxford University Press.

Chvala-Smith, A. J. (2020). Exploring Community of Christ Basic Beliefs: A Commentary. Herald Publishing House.

Wickersham, H. C. (1894). Holiness Bible Subjects. Gospel Trumpet Publishing Company. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

From Wittenberg to Rome by way of Saint Louis

The legend of Martin Luther nailing ninety-five theses to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, marks a pivotal moment in religious history. This act is often considered the birth of Lutheranism, a branch of Protestantism founded by Luther. Over the centuries, Lutheranism spread across the globe, carried by immigrants to new lands, including the United States, where it found a stronghold in the northern regions.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) emerged as a prominent conservative denomination within Lutheranism. Its core doctrine centers on the belief in justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This doctrine posits that through faith, believers are credited with the righteousness of Christ, thus being justified and made children of God. Lutherans reject the necessity of performing "good works" or religious acts to gain favor with God, contrasting with Roman Catholic practices that emphasize such deeds.

According to a recent article, there has been a resurgence of interest in Lutheran teachings in Italy, prompting the LCMS to respond by by sending the Rev. Tyler McMiller to the region as a missionary. McMiller's work involves catechizing individuals and caring for Lutheran communities in various Italian cities, including Naples, Florence, Sicily, Turin, Milan, and Padua. His experience highlights the growing curiosity among Europeans about a more vibrant form of Christianity than what they perceive in their increasingly secular surroundings. He emphasized in the article mentioned that everyone he works with there contacted him first.

However, the conservative stance of the LCMS raises questions about its compatibility with the diverse and progressive views prevalent in Europe. The LCMS's exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from active church life, prohibition of female ministers, and adherence to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including a six-day creation, align more closely with evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. As the Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Rome seeks to establish itself, it will be interesting to observe how it navigates these doctrinal differences and whether it can resonate with the spiritual needs of the local population.


For a full explanation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, you can watch this video:

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Breathing Life into the Desert: The Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is at the forefront of an ambitious and transformative initiative in Africa, known as the Great Green Wall. This project is not just about planting trees; it's about bringing life back to the desert, challenging the once-held belief that the encroaching desertification was an irreversible fate.

In the southern regions, the ecosystem has undergone a remarkable transformation. Larger trees are now interspersed among the millet fields, creating a more diverse and sustainable landscape. The Great Green Wall aims to halt the southern expansion of the Sahara Desert by planting a continuous barrier of trees across the entire width of the continent.

The impact of the UN's efforts is significant, with 300,000 hectares of land rehabilitated and revitalized. This rejuvenation is not only a triumph over desertification but also a source of sustenance for local communities. The project ensures that 10 to 15% of the captured water infiltrates the ground, recharging the groundwater tables and securing a balance of water for future generations.

A key aspect of the Great Green Wall's success is its adoption of conservation agriculture, which is based on global indigenous knowledge. This approach differs from conventional agriculture as it mimics forest dynamics, creating a more resilient and productive environment.

The World Food Program's work in the Sahara Desert is a testament to the potential of turning devastated areas into thriving food-producing locations. Through the Great Green Wall, the WFP is not only combating desertification but also providing a sustainable future for communities in Africa.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Charting Faith in a Challenging Landscape: Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer's Service in Russia

Dietrich Brauer is the youngest Lutheran archbishop ever in Russia, as well as the first who was born in the country. Serving primarily people of German descent, the archbishop has responsibility for a vast region and spends much of his time traveling. I don't envy him one bit. Although the work itself may feel fulfilling, he's living in Putin's Russia. That's a difficult place to be anyone, let alone being somehow different. Watch the video below to get the full story.