Monday, April 29, 2013

The year before retirement ... advice, please

I shared with the Foundry congregation yesterday my decision to retire next year -- July, 2014. You can find my letter to the congregation at

However, I still have 14 months to be here at Foundry. I am deliberating on what goals I want to suggest to our board for my work during the next year.

Reaching our capital campaign financial goal during the next year is essential. The new pastor deserves a usable, clean, efficient property to organize ministry in, as does the Foundry    congregation and the people of the city we serve.

I want to use the next year to leave Foundry energized and vital and open to new bold ministry initiatives.

So I am brooding on what work to focus on with my remaining time and energy.

Foundry has been a thrill to serve. This is an amazing congregation. Every Sunday the Foundry pews are full of commitment, theological thoughtfulness, curiosity, openness, and love .

One of the reasons that I announced my retirement 14 months in advance is so that Bishop Marcus Matthews and Foundry's board will have enough time to identify Foundry's next senior pastor and we  can organize the transition intentionally.

Advice, please, especially from retired pastors. What did you focus your energies on during your last year before retirement? In retrospect, what do you wish you had focused  on more during that last year? What would you have done less of?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

IRD attacks Pentecostal scholar because they have "little doubt" as to his views on homosexuality

The Institute for Democracy newsletter logo

Being here in Washington, DC, I sometimes cross paths with staff members of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a far right advocacy group within mainline Christianity.  I have occasionally gone out of my way to ask them their opinion about certain issues because I believe they do represent the views of some people within our mainline denominations. 

I like the IRD people I have met. I assume that some of their ideas are partially true just as I assume some of my ideas are partially wrong (if I only knew which parts!) and that conversation between people who disagree is a good thing. 

Because I like the people I know over at the IRD offices, it pains me when they try to hurt people. It doesn't happen all the time but occasionally they target someone and try to damage or even destroy her or his career. 

Right now they are trying to hurt a Pentecostal scholar who has publicly stated that Pentecostals are not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality.  They are doing this, they say, because they have "little doubt" which side of the debate the scholar comes down on (the accepting side) even though they have produced no direct quotes of him saying this.

Understand that they are not just disagreeing with him about his alleged opinion. They are going after his ordination in the Assemblies of God church and they are trying to get him fired as the co-director of Evangelicals for Social Action, a position he is scheduled to assume in June.

Paul Alexander
The scholar is Paul Alexander, an ordained Assemblies of God pastor, who teaches at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and who recently served a term as president of the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS). 

Jeff Walton
Jeff Walton, an IRD staffer, attended the annual meeting of the SPS. In his report of a speech Alexander gave at the event he quotes Alexander as saying: 
Some Pentecostal churches believe that homosexuality is a sin and oppose civil and human rights for LGBTIQ people. And some do not. Some members of SPS think homosexuality is a sin and some members of SPS think homosexuality is not a sin and want to work against heteronormativity and heterosexism.
This is presented as a direct quote from Alexander's speech. No problem.

But then Walton says: 
The SPS president left little doubt that he was among those in the latter category, detouring into a scolding about how an SPS member who presented a controversial paper on sexuality at the 2012 annual meeting experienced difficulties with her denominational officials after her presentation was brought to their attention.
Walton is able to produce no actual evidence in his report about Alexander's own position on homosexuality. He just says he has "little doubt" that anyone who acknowledges Pentecostals are not of one mind and who supports the freedom of a scholar to express an unpopular opinion about sexuality must be in favor of accepting gay people.    

As a result of Walton's article,  the head of the Assemblies of God church has issued a statement promising to investigate Alexander, saying: "I trust that there will never be a day in the Assemblies of God when a credentialed minister can continue to hold credentials and support any form of sexual immorality."

Mark Tooley
Mark Tooley, head of the IRD, has issued a press release calling for Alexander to be fired by the Evangelicals for Social Action because of his "flexibility on Christian sexual teachings" and his tendency to sound like a liberation theologian. 

However, at the same time the SPS is challenging the accuracy of Walton's report. Lois E. Olena, executive director of the  SPS told The Christian Post that Walton's report misstated the facts concerning  Alexander's speech.  

Walton replied with a statement that said, in part:   
My coverage of Alexander’s address to the society is based upon his orally delivered address, which I was personally present for. During this address, Alexander at times expanded upon and varied from his prepared statement. I stand behind the accuracy of the quotes.
No one seems to be noticing that Walton never actually quoted Alexander as saying that he was in favor of the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the first place. Walton just said it was of "little doubt" to him. Walton's accusation was all innuendo.

I suspect Alexander may believe that LGBTQ people ought to be accepted by the church. He seems to me to be an intelligent person. Nonetheless, each of us should be able to decide how much of our thinking we want to reveal at any particular point. If we acknowledge that opinions about homosexuality in our institutions are divided and support free speech about the topic, a reporter should not be permitted to announce  our personal opinion about homosexuality because he has "little doubt" what it is based on those statements. 

When I've had personal conversations with  IRD staff, they have not seemed to be mean people. I am confused about where these periodic attacks trying to destroy people come from (in this case not even based on fact but something IRD just felt to be of "little doubt"). 

These attacks are more than expressions of disagreement. They are attempts to hurt and punish people for their viewpoints or even for what IRD assumes their viewpoint might be.

Something about this doesn't make sense. What is it that sets off such unprincipled ruthlessness in what seem to be otherwise rational people?                 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No more hurting people ...

                    No more hurting people. Peace.

Is that not the very essence of all religious  traditions?
Are we not here to alleviate suffering?
The Prophet Muhammad taught us:  ”The believers, in their love, mutual kindness, and close ties, are like one body; when any part complains, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.”
This is our response, as one human community: the suffering of others is our own suffering.
Our suffering is connected because our humanity is shared.
We are caught up in this woven pattern of humanity together.
If you can, bring joy and love to humanity.

If you cannot—and you can—at least cause no harm.

From Omid Safi's blog What Would Muhammad Do?  

Omid Safi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jesus and us doofuses

Find Rick Altergott's collected Doofus work at
Between Easter and Pentecost this year at Foundry we are focusing on one Easter account -- the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24: 13-35.

I am thinking right now about Luke 24: 25. The disciples on the road to Emmaus have been explaining to the stranger (who is really Jesus) the events of the past week and how they were disappointed that Jesus had not established a kingdom of justice and peace in Israel the way they had expected.  

Verse 25 says: "Then he [the resurrected Jesus] said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!'"

Does that seem sort of harsh to you? 

Jesus did have the capacity to say things to his disciples (not to mention the Pharisees) that seem  pretty rough. He once called Peter Satan which doesn't seem very polite at all! (Matt. 16:23) 

Of course we don't know Jesus' tone of voice. 

I had a friend who sometimes --when I said something particularly stupid-- would call me Lord Duffus. (Although maybe he was saying Lord Doofus.) I always felt he said it in a loving tone of voice, although if you just read the dialogue it might sound harsh. 

My assumption is that we, his disciples, miss Jesus' point pretty often -- still today.

Two interesting things about this verse: 

1) The disciples were willing to listen to a stranger who, in effect, called them doofuses, and

2) Jesus called them not only foolish but slow of heart

I wonder what it means to be slow of heart? It is an interesting term.

Any ideas? 


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A question I am thinking about this week

From the Gospel of  Luke's road to Emmaus story:

"While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him" (Luke 24:15-16)

Why did they not recognize Jesus?

We it because Jesus kept them from recognizing him?

If so, why? Why would Jesus not want them to know who he was?

Or was it because something inside of themselves kept them from recognizing him?

The possibility of meeting Christ Incognito who chooses for us not to recognize him is a provocative thought. We would always need to be asking whether our assumptions about what Christ looks like are misplaced. Could this stranger really be Christ incognito?

Very provocative!

But so is the idea that something inside us may block us from knowing the resurrected Christ when we encounter him. Why are the eyes of our inner being unable to see Christ in our midst? 

Also a provocative question!

What do you think? 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do we believe God loves us after we die?

Thomas Lynch's article "The Holy Fire" was published in the Christian Century magazine more than three years ago. It is one of those article that I read years ago and cannot forget.

Superficially the article might seem to be a critique of cremations and memorial services verses funerals and burials. However, Lynch is not really opposed to cremations; he just doesn't think we've figured out yet how to do them well.

Many of the parts of his essay that have stuck in my mind are actually quotes from Thomas Long's book Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Westminster John Knox).

Thomas Lynch
I confess I have not read Long's book but if Lynch's quotes are samples of its content, I really need to.

Lynch quotes Long as arguing that the church made a mistake when it became skeptical --and silent-- about eternal life.

Thomas Long
"The fact is," writes Long, "that many educated Christians in the late nineteenth century, the forebears of today's white Protestants, lost their eschatological nerve and their vibrant faith in the afterlife, and we are their theological and liturgical heirs."

But how, Long asks, should the living take seriously a church from which the dead have been gradually banished, as if not seeing were believing?

I don't know what they are teaching in seminary these days. When I went to seminary talking about life after death was considered sort of tacky. The emphasis was that the idea of eternal life is more about a quality of life lived here and now rather than what we experience after death.  

In his introduction to a book of essays about death published in 2001, one of my professors the late Leroy Rouner of Boston University School of Theology said straight out that he suspects the majority of professors in mainline Protestant seminaries do not believe in life after death. I wonder if this has changed since 2001?

I was fortunate as a very young minister to be exposed to the preaching of Edmund Steimle. I took preaching workshops that he taught at the continuing education center at Princeton Seminary. I listened to whatever tapes of his sermons I could get my hands on. I read copies of his sermons.

Steimle wrote a wonderful book of sermons entitled From Death to Birth (Fortress Press) that followed the Christian year beginning with All-Saints Sunday and ending with Christmas.

The All-Saints Sunday sermon --which I also listened to on tape-- was entitled "How Does It All End?" In the sermon he said:
For me, at least, the great hope for the resurrection from the grave speaks most eloquently for those whose lives never had a chance: blasted by illness or mental disorder or --like that baby at My Lai-- by violent death. Then to speak of the love of God apart from the hope that the resurrection brings, is to speak of a meaningless love. You can't separate out the love of God in life from the love of God in death.      
It was dear old Steimle who convinced me that, if we do not preach about what the church believes happens when we die, we are leaving out a critical aspect of the gospel.

So I try to.

It is great to see seminary faculty like Tom Long willing to step out to address the meaning of eternal life for not only this life but the next.