Sunday, July 3, 2016

Making the Switch Back to Wordpress

Lakeland Community Church launched a new website this week. Doug Johnston wants me to blog on rather than here.

The new Lakeland webpage looks much better than my old Blogger site here. So I will make the transfer.

In the meanwhile, I might have the Wordpress blogs feed this Blogger page. I will discuss it.

If you receive this page automatically, you may wish to amend your link to the above rather than the this Blogger http link.

Monday, May 16, 2016

At Home with Secularity (or "Hey! Throw Me Under the Bus Too!")

Last Saturday (May 14) I attended my nephew's undergrad college commencement at Hampshire College, Amherst, MA. Last year the New York Times called Hampshire "extremely liberal." I was very curious to see and hear what that looks like today. If you want to watch the entire commencement you can here - over three hours! But if you want to get the gist of things just go to the stream about 1:30 in and listen to Xavier Torres de Janon, graduating student's address.

I am not going to critique or comment about the content of what the students call "Hippie College" and "PC Summer Camp" started back in 1970. I can offer this snippet from Wikipedia's Hampshire College page...
The College is widely known for its alternative curriculum, socially liberal politics, focus on portfolios rather than distribution requirements, and reliance on narrative evaluations instead of grades and GPAs.
My nephew's 92-page final paper on anti-black racism in American early cinema is smart and insightful from his overview and what I gathered perusing the copy he had. I am proud of him. And I am proud of his school. They are certainly attempting to live up to their counter-cultural and social-critical ideals.

What I noticed was the absence of faith and world religion. The spiritual life director (forgot name, sorry) gave an invocation, complete with a sung blessing referencing naturalism - the rivers, trees, land, etc. Interesting how some people around me snickered at it - I actually thought it was well-done and meaningful (...people snicker at me too). And this is my point: the commencement was entirely secular. By this I don't mean they avoided any particular faith like high school commencements have to navigate. Believe me, Hampshire students can and do say whatever they wish about whatever they wish. (Poor Bernie Sanders! They threw him under the bus as an old white guy.)

Christianity wasn't an enemy or named as part of the "totalism" or "hegemony," those controlling institutional powers that own society. My comment isn't about Hampshire commencement speakers. My comment is about our secular culture. I spent the last two months wading through Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), James Smith (How (Not) To Be Secular), Paul Jensen (Subversive Spirituality), and Miroslav Volf (Flourishing) attempting to understand our social context for my doctoral thesis. I need to zoom way out to understand our present culture.

Charles Taylor calls our present "sense" of things "Sense 3" or what Jamie Smith calls "Secularity 3," which means there was once pre-modern secularism 1 (around 1500AD/CE) a time when transcendence and religion were assumed normative. Then with the Protestant Reformation and all other western reformations in politics, culture, society, science, technology, population, worldview, etc. we moved into Secularity 2, which is driven by "subtractionism" - where society subtracts belief in God and mystery (Says: "Only superstitious idiots believe in God! Hahaha!!") Now we "have faith" in science, education, and technology to shape our brave new world. Secularity 2 was busy subtracting religion from all society and thought in the 19th and 20th centuries. (BTW, a lot of this was the church's fault says the authors.)

Miroslav Volf notes the 19th century was the height of the "mundane" or ordinary or flat world (Secularity 2) (think F. Nietzsche's 'uberman' and 'God is dead' stuff). Now we live in Secularity 3, which can be summarized by Taylor's anecdote: "I don't believe in God, but I miss him." (Uh, sorry Hampshire folk for the gendered deity reference even if you have no thought of the Transcendent). Taylor describes this third sense as knowing there is no God, but attempting to believe in faith or God. That sounds hard to do.

So Hampshire is a data point for Taylor's assessment of current culture. Hampshire is what it looks like to attempt to be mindful and transcendent and other-ness-ed, mystic, and even poetic without any concept or tools for otherness. In this Secularity 3 there is no room for the politics of Jesus or Gandhi or even MLKjr. Unfortunately, it caves in to the very hegemonic power-tools as those it critiques: judgmentalism, and "the intolerance of intolerance."

Today's (western) society "senses" something is missing and they sense it is g-d or the Transcendent but it cannot come to faith in such Otherness. I guess I thought Christianity might be thrown under the bus along with Bernie, but it didn't happen. I am kind of disappointed. Christianity didn't even make it into one of the bad-guy categories. Christianity is a non-thought. Meanwhile the secular worldview of Hampshire and most of our culture is an "unthought" (Michel Foucault), that uncritical secular water we swim in as secular fish. Secularity today doesn't even have atheism any more.

A lot of what I do in ministry these days is an attempt to position the Christian faith in this secular milieu. 

In the future I will describe how Taylor shapes the way forward. (Warning: it involves "faith!")

In the meantime Hampshire grads hope to change the world, and I believe some will. They have a brilliant secular voice. And that's it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ryan Fouts on the Difference Between the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds

Last month I preached on the Apostles' Creed in response to the old heresy of Arianism. I thought we needed some tightening up on two persistent heresies: Arianism and Gnosticism. I said that the Apostles' Creed was developed against Arius. But Ryan Fouts, PhD candidate in theology pointed out that Arius could have agreed with the Apostles' Creed. It was the Nicene Creed that was developed against Arius and his heresy that Jesus was not God.

So I asked Ryan to tell us the difference, and here is what he wrote. I pass it along...

The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed – what’s the Difference?

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Historical Origins of the two Creeds:
Apostles’ Creed:  The earliest creeds were often “baptismal creeds,” serving as a confession of faith at the time of one’s baptism.  St. Polycarp (a student of John, the Apostle) says his student Irenaeus, “taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”   According to St. Polycarp and Irenaeus, the “rule of truth” received and confessed by every Christian at his baptism was transmitted by the apostles  -- Hence the name, “Apostles’ Creed” refers to the fact that the Creed confessed at one’s baptism is the same faith the Apostle’s handed down to us through the church.  While there were a variety of baptismal creeds in the early church, eventually the need to standardize these creeds was expressed.  In the early 3rd Century the Latin/Western Church developed the “Old Roman Creed.”  This was used as a baptismal creed throughout the Western world. That is, it was used as a statement one would speak before being baptized. An outgrowth of the “Old Roman Creed,” the text of the “Apostles’ Creed” as we know it took its present shape in the eighth century.  The Apostles’ Creed, because of its continuity with the early baptismal creeds, can be said to be both the oldest and the youngest of Christendom’s creeds.

Nicene Creed:  The Early Christians encountered a number of difficulties attempting to maintain the distinction between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit while remaining monotheists.  Think about it!  No one had talked about the “Trinity” in the terms we now know and love!  If the Father is God, but Jesus is also God, how can we be monotheists? Arianism, also known as Subordinationism, aptly named after the first leading proponent of the view, Arius of Alexandria, asserted that Jesus Christ was created, he was a “creature,” but not the creator.    Because Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father, according to Arius, he was “lower” than the Father.  Because of the growing division in Christendom, the Emperor Constantine called a council, shortly after taking control of the entire empire, to resolve the disputes.  The council became known as the Council of Nicea (325).  At Nicea, the first edition of our present Nicene Creed was formulated, with some anti-Arian additions, from a baptismal creed proposed by Eusebius of Caesarea. It included one paragraph no longer included in the Creed, “But those who say, There was when the Son of God was not, and before he was begotten he was not, and that he came into being from things that are not, or that he is of a different hypostasis or substance, or that he is mutable or alterable – the Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes.” Two Arian bishops who refused to sign the Creed were exiled.  The Council of Constantinople (381) was called to order by the Emperor Theodosius to deal with the lingering problem of Arianism, along with new errors (particularly concerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit). Through omissions, alterations, and additions, this council gave to the Nicene Creed its present form.  Because of this, it is sometimes called the Niceno-Contantinopolitan Creed. The Council of Toledo (589) Added the phrase “filioque” (and the Son) to the Creed in reference to the Spirit’s procession.  This would eventually contribute to the great schism between the West and the East.

Key Differences:

Language: While the Apostles’ Creed likely has origins in the Greek language, the earliest extant manuscripts available are in Latin.  The Nicene Creed was originally produced in Greek, reflecting the struggle the early Church had with Greek philosophical ideas (couched in Greek language) that led to heresies like Gnosticism and Arianism.

I Believe/We Believe: The Apostles’ Creed begins with the first-person singular, “I believe,” as it was used as a confession of one’s faith at his or her baptism. It also had an additional function—because most common people did not have access to New Testament books (and most were illiterate) the Apostle’s Creed was basically the people’s Bible.  It was an easily memorable summary of what the New Testament contained about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   If someone were to ever ask a Christian, “what do you believe?” the Apostles’ Creed gave them a simple formula to follow in their response.  Thus, the “I believe” of the Apostles’ Creed emphasized the personal dimension of faith.  No one can “believe” for you.  It’s appropriately associated, then, with the Christian sacrament/ordinance of Baptism.

The Nicene Creed—while many churches use a mis-translation that says “I believe”—begins with “we believe.”  The Nicene Creed emerged at a time when Christendom was divided over significant issues. By employing the first-person plural, “we believe,” the Nicene Creed emphasizes the unity of the church.  In spite of whatever differences Christians might have about peripheral issues, the Nicene Creed is a powerful confession of our unity in the essentials of the Christian faith.  For this reason, the Church has historically used the Nicene Creed in conjunction with the celebration of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper.  As an expression of unity, the Nicene Creed reinforces what we also celebrate and confess at the Lord’s Table.  We belong together, and together we belong to Christ.

“…descended into hell…”  The controversial phrase found in the Apostles’ Creed is absent from the Nicene Creed.  The Latin, “descendit ad inferos,” was likely an adaptation from an earlier Greek from taken from Ephesians 9:9 where it says that Jesus had “descended into the lower parts of the earth.”  While the Apostles’ Creed has earlier origins than the Nicene Creed, the final form of the Apostles’ Creed is not developed into much later. The earliest occurrence of the “descent into hell” clause in the Apostles’ Creed actually appeared in 359 in an Eastern creed that was ultimately rejected as being tinged with Arianism!  The clause was either unknown to the formulators of the Nicene Creed or it was left out because—while it does not affirm Arian ideas per se—it was associated with the heresy the Nicene Creed was designed to reject.  In the West, the phrase “descendet ad inferos” doesn’t appear officially until about 700 A.D. 
Thanks Ryan for your wonderful intellect and clarity!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Post-Its of Gratitude: What Did We Learn?

Lakeland people were charged with writing a word of gratitude on a Post-It each day and posting it on the kitchen wall. I think it was a success in our house. With four of us we finally had to stand on a chair to post the final few days of gratitude Post-Its.

Did it work?

We were supposed to be more reflective during Lent, pause and consider life and be grateful. Here's what I found telling about our lives. We were grateful for mundane things, and we were often repetitive. The weather and food were most common gratitude subjects. "Nice weather" "Taco Bell" topped the list. Lacrosse, friends, clouds, birds, mac cheese, french fries, shoes, and warm stuff were common. Either we are not very creative or thoughtful or these common things are actually the stuff for which we are really grateful. Life is small.

Was this not Jesus' intent when he said,
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
Gratitude is for the most common of life's observations. Meaningfulness is found in the littlest of things. This is the idea of mindfulness (secular and religious). And it works. We learn not to take ourselves too serious. We learn to pay attention to little things and everything.

Too bad modernization, suburbia, globalization, media, and public debate and discourse distracts us from a grateful heart. As Henri Nouwen noticed 30 years ago compulsions, chaos, and competition are the fuel of hell on earth (my paraphrase). We are too driven and therefore, drive by the small things too fast to be grateful and thus at peace.

I often think about accounts of people who lived beyond 100 years when they are asked 'So what is the secret to a long life?' and they all answer, "Well, I just lived a simple life." Some smoked. Some ate pounds of red meat and butter each week. Most were rural. Usually they walked everywhere. Compulsions, chaos, and competition - they are the real killers of life - both life in the body and spiritual life.

I don't think we will continue to be grateful without some habit of gratitude and reflection. Today it was sad to take down all the Post-its. It is as though I knew we will be sucked back into busyness. I just left one Post-It, high up on the wall, out of reach: "He is risen."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My Final Lenten Poem

I have no exit but smoke
A Holocaust, An Oblation
And become nothing,
One with the aether
Seduced! Seduced! Seduced!
I am seduced

Monday, February 29, 2016

Miroslav Volf's Latest Book: Flourishing: Why We Need Relgion In A Globalized World and Spirituality

Scot McKnight tweeted that Miroslav Volf produced a new book about what it means to live the good life (Yale Univ. Press, Jan 11, 2016). I grabbed it up on and began listening because I need to beef up my "social context" for my doctoral Thesis proposal (then I had to buy the print version too). In self-interest, I need to present 'why does our culture need classic spiritual practices today?' I ask the question if our culture is languishing - are we busy at no good thing? Are we spiritual with a small "s" rather than deeply connect to the transcendent GOD, intimate with the unknown One? I propose we need greater intimacy with God and the 4th century desert practices (paideia) and its culture, largely ignored by Evangelicals, is the effective means of deepening one's intimacy with God.

Volf teaches at Yale University's Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and offers a popular undergraduate seminar called "Life Worth Living." See David Brooks' YaleNews' Feb 23, 2016 interview with Miroslav Volf.

Here is a tasty quote of Volf from the YaleNews David Brooks' interview:
The danger is that students become experts in means but remain amateurs in ends, immensely adept in accomplishing discrete tasks, but lost when it comes to the art of living.

In other words, anyone with an iPhone can look up a bio of Karl Marx and his Manifesto and also YouTube videos of kittens doing dangerous funny stunts - and have trouble understanding which is more important for living the good life.

I believe Volf accurately assesses what some of us "older" Christians sense but cannot put our finger on, regarding 'why does social media, the media, technology, science, and consumerism seem to degrade the human soul?' We tend to keep quiet because we all know that it is just old people resisting change. But Volf shows that it may be due to globalization's dehumanizing effects. And I will say it now, Volf also believe globalization is not evil but a powerful pathway to the good life - IF we can tolerate the voice of faith and religion. Spirituality and its transforming force makes us adept as the art of living.

From a spirituality vantage point "the good life" or "a life worth living" one's intimacy with God is paramount to the good life. Of course, any personal spirituality that is not beneficial for others is not Christian spirituality. Personal piety is not the end, but rather the means to transforming the world around us.

Our secular spirituality, which should be an oxymoron but isn't, believes religion should take a backseat to western culture's moral exclusivism, and political exclusivism. Volf argues that far from Christianity or Islam being intolerant, it is globalization that wins the intolerance award (Volf, Flourishing, 100). This intolerance looks as mundane as social media's dogma - everyone MUST be immediately socially connected - and as sophisticated, mildly-ignoring western affluent consumerism's pervasive pull to consume at the expense others, including the environment. (I added a bit of my own stuff here.) Globalization is the most intolerant impersonal force on the planet today. Globalization may as well be today's de facto religion.

As the Volf-Brooks interview quote above reveals, globalization is not necessarily producing the good life on its own. But when coupled with a particular religious exclusivism and political pluralism the good life is possible according to Volf (Volf, Flourishing, 160).

Not only do I find Volf's book helpful for understanding the climate and culture of globalization's force upon spirituality, but I find it extremely helpful for making sense of tolerance of hot topics such as gay marriage and dealing with radicalized jihad, that is, ISIS.

Volf makes that case that religion, far from being the pariah of the planet, fomenting war and violence, it is the historic and promising way to the good life. But is not just any form of religious expression. It is a very nuanced expression of conservative "religious exclusivism."

I am not  done with the book. I am stuck on chapter four... listening, reading, listening, reading. I wish I had someone to discuss and further explicate Volf's thought. In the meantime, Thesis proposing pushes me to expedience, and I will leverage Volf's comments on the historic supremacy of transcendence over the mundane for my own work. Thank you Professor Volf (and Professor McKnight). Volf, I wish I would have had you for my own MDiv at Fuller, and McKnight, perhaps I can take a course with you at Northern (after my DMin).

And I will finish Professor Volf's book because I am excited to see how it ends. If you're up for the challenge you may wish to read Flourishing as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016


By Pastor Dan and Laurie Wilburn

What is Lent…?
The Lent season starts on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 10th).  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God (telling him we are sorry for the times we mess up and not being who he created us to be).  Lent lasts for 40 days (some traditions say the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – not counting Sundays, some say the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday which is the beginning of Holy Week). Either way, the 40 days commemorate Jesus’ time of prayer and fasting in the desert (see Luke 4: 1 - 13).

Lent is intended to be a time of fasting and/or practicing spiritual disciplines:
- To help us repent of our sins and of our lack of pursuit of God and his desires for us; and
- To reflect on Jesus – his life, his suffering, and his death and resurrection.
Use your this Lent Guide as a way to lean in to this season and draw nearer to our God!

The General Plan for this season of Lent…
This season of Lent you can rally a group of friends or extended family every Sunday night to have a Lent discussion (like many of you did for Advent).  However, it might also be a more Lent-like approach to have just your family to be together and reflect. 
When people get together they often have snacks.  Since Lent is often a time of giving up something, consider forgoing the special snack we encourage families to have during Advent and serve a “lent-like” snack.  Maybe serve toasted Naan bread or make your own bread and just have water to drink.

The Details…
We want to challenge Lakelanders to do four things during each week of Lent that we will then discuss in our family/friend groups each Sunday evening of Lent.  It is a simple plan – appropriate for Lent…

1. STOP:  Stop/disrupt your usual media usage
a. Adults:  Stop your usual intake of news media, worldly voices (e.g., stop reading the newspaper, listening to the TV/Radio news, FB, etc)
b. Kids:  Give up a tech game (e.g, Madden Mobile) or a most used social media outlet (Instagram, Twitter…)

2. START: Start listening to the voice of God in scripture. 
a. Adults: Use your usual media time to read the Bible.  Read (or listen to) a chapter of Luke each day.  After 24 days… just keep reading the Bible.
b.Kids: Spend 5-10 minutes a day reading your Bible

3. GIVE: (Everyone) Work on how you can give something away to a stranger at least once a week.  Be creative.  Some ideas include:
a. Give someone a kind word.  Tell someone (in person or in a note) their hair looks nice or they have a kind voice.  Be sincere and specific.
b. Give of your time to serve someone.  It can be as quick as taking someone’s grocery cart back in the store for them or more involved like serving at a soup kitchen.
c. Give of your resources – Pay for the groceries of the person in front of you or the fast food bill of someone in the drive through.  Write a check to a charitable organization that has been on your heart. Hand someone who appears to be in need a $10 bill. What if someone compliments an article of clothing or jewelry?  Have you ever considered giving it to them?  Yikes!

4. RECEIVE: (Everyone) As an act of receiving what God has given us, ask each family member to write with a Sharpie on a sticky note (or have the parent write for their child) one thing for which they are grateful.  Do this each night (Monday-Saturday).  Place the sticky notes on a wall in your kitchen or living room, on your fridge or kitchen cabinets.  Don’t remove your old ones, keep adding new sticky notes (with different things to be grateful for) each day.  By the end of Lent you will have a house full of gratitude.

EACH SUNDAY of Lent (2/14, 2/21, 2/28, 3/6, 3/13, 3/20)

1.    Gather around your sticky notes.  Take a few moments to have each person read his or her notes for the week aloud.  Then have each person pick their favorite and tell why they picked that particular thing for which to be grateful.
2.    Discuss how you “gave” in the past week.  Talk about how the receiving person reacted and how you felt.
3.    Share as desired about your “stop” and “start” activities.  How did it go?  What did God say or do through these things?
4.    If you have a story that would encourage others, post it for other Lakelanders (unless you stopped social media!) Hashtag #lccclent