This was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate. The focus of this issue was the 20th Anniversary of the Order of Deacon.
A group of church leaders had gathered for a meeting. The district superintendent mentioned the possibility of hiring a deacon to help the congregation reach beyond the church walls. A woman sitting across the table looked back at the DS with a quizzical expression. “Wait,” she said, “What’s a deacon?”
It’s not the first time that question has been asked. For twenty years, the United Methodist Church has been struggling to articulate the answer, “What’s a deacon?”
I welcome these questions. When I first experienced my call to ministry and I was told about the ministry of the deacon, that was my response. I had never heard of an ordained deacon. While I felt a strong call to ordained ministry, it did not look like the pastor of a church. But, I had no words to express what it did look like.
Studies have shown that the most influential person for a young person’s faith is his or her parents. The ESV Family Devotional Bible aims to help families read and study scripture.
This hard back Bible includes the entire English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. A fairly new translation, in the midst of quite a few to choose from, the ESV is not all that different from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The ESV seems to have been presented as an alternative to the traditionally used King James Version.
The ESV Family Devotional Bible includes 130 key stories retold, along with questions and a key verse. There are colorful illustrations for each devotion as well. At first the illustrations were a bit nostalgic, as they reminded me of the pictures in the story Bible at my grandparents’ home. I’m not sure, however, they would be the most kid-friendly today.
Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 2016.
True to form, Bishop Willimon approaches theological themes in a no-nonsense and gutsy matter. This little book (less than 100 pages) is the Bishop’s response to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. “If not for them,” Willimon writes, “I would not have been asked to write this book.”
Willimon shows no fear in addressing current social topics. He covers it all. The desire for a bigger wall across the border to keep out Hispanics. The call to keep Muslims out of the country. The exclusion of LGBT individuals in the life of the church. And, he even takes on Jerry Falwell, Jr.
After the unexpected success of God’s Not Dead at the box-office, Christian movie-makers attempted to capitalize on this success with Do You Believe?
The film is set in Detroit and is one of those multiple-narratives film (think Crash or Babel). There is the minister who is inspired by the challenging words of a street preacher and his carrying of a large, wooden cross. The minister and his wife take in a runaway, pregnant teenage girl. The church janitor sleeps on a bench so that a homeless mother (Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino) and her child had a warm, safe place to sleep.
The gang members, one of whom absent mindedly ends up in the church during an evening service while running away from the police. Bobby, an EMT, saves a victim from a car accident which results in a lawsuit, him being abandoned by his union, and tense moments with his wife.The victim’s wife hires a lawyer who is anti-religion and is married to a cynical doctor (Sean Astin) who refuses to accept that prayer or miracles are a thing.
Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us, Benjamin Watson with Ken Petersen, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
“What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or an entire race—reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions—we overlook our own failure.” (Benjamin Watson)
After the deaths of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the issue of race in America has resurfaced. Arguably, it has never gone away. Yet with new voices like Bree Newcomb and the Black Lives Matter movement, we are being reminded that racism has not been buried.
Among the many books that have come out since the events in Ferguson, Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin seeks to address these contentious issues from a spiritual perspective. What started out as a Facebook status, wrestling with the events in the aftermath of Brown’s death, Watson’s first book uses that Facebook post as a springboard to further explore his thoughts, feelings, and wrestlings with race in America.
Here is the audio of my sermon from April 24, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Acts 11:1-18 and Revelation 21:1-6. During the sermon, I washed someone’s feet. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Love Kindness, Barry H. Corey, Tyndale, 2016
“We need to keep remembering that we don’t beat an idea by beating a person.” (Barry H. Corey)
There is a deep polarization in Christianity today. Thankfully, it is not around the doctrine that Jesus Christ is Lord. It mostly centers around social issues, and how we respond to them. Barry Corey, the president of Biola University, has a suggestion: Love kindness.
He writes in his Introduction:
In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other, soft centers or hard edges. I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.
I recently learned about a new project to get a study Bible in the hands of Africans with commentary and notes from African pastors and scholars. It is called the Africa Study Bible.
Imagine using a study Bible with the notes from another country, with images and illustrations from that context. It would be difficult to understand. This is the case for many in Africa, with their study Bibles written from the viewpoint of the United States and United Kingdom. The Africa Study Bible project aims to close that gap and provide a resource designed by Africans for Africans.
How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, Morgan Guyton, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.
I first met Morgan Guyton about five years ago at a required event for soon-to-be clergy in the Virginia Conference. We, and dozens more, were gathered at a college campus for a week for what I like to refer to as “Pastor Bootcamp.”
The distinct memory I have of Morgan was from an evening at a Mexican restaurant (one of many during the week). Over beer and chips and salsa, a group of us found ourselves in a deep theological conversation. For anyone who knows Morgan, you will not be surprised that he was at the helm of this conversation. In between scoops of salsa, Morgan would raise yet another question. Not to be argumentative, but to authentically seek more knowledge.
Mr. King’s Machine, Geneviève Côté, Kids Can Press, 2016
“The divine presence of the Spirit in creation binds us as human beings together with all created life.” (World Council of Churches, 1991)
This little book from Geneviève Côte, the third in the Mr. King series of books, has a simple message: Care for creation.
When the cat, Mr. King, discovers some beautiful flowers have been chewed by a caterpillar, he decides to do something about it. His solution is to build a Caterpillar-Catcher machine to track down the flower-eater.