ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Worship the same God?

So… Larycia Hawkins is being dismissed by Wheaton College. Perhaps you’ve been following this story.

There are various perspectives on why this is happening, but I’d simply like to comment on the question that Wheaton has framed as the defining issue:

Is it true that Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Continue reading “Worship the same God?”


A blessing for World Communion Sunday

The Best Supper
“The Best Supper”
by Jan Richardson

Our family has this beautiful work (“The Best Supper“) by Jan Richardson near our table. As a blessing for World Communion Sunday, Jan has written a wonderful poem:

And The Table Will Be Wide

Take the time to read the poem, to pray it, and to add your ‘amen’.

Worship ideas: Lenten hymn sing

(Proper acknowledgement: This is a good idea. But it’s not mine.)

This year, many Mennonite churches are using the theme “Becoming Human” to shape their worship services during lent. We are created in the image of God, but sin causes us to be less than human. And so, we look to Jesus as our example of how to become truly human.

In January, I attended the Lent planner at AMBS where they were sharing various ideas for worship during this season. Rebecca Slough suggested that we consider a hymn sing for one of our services. She proceeded to lead us in a selection of hymns that helped us reflect on the different ways in which we observe Jesus’ humanity.

Yesterday, I led such a service at our congregation and structured it in this way:

The Image of Jesus in the Prophets
The Image of Jesus in the Psalms
The Image of Jesus in the Gospels
The Image of Jesus on the Cross
Becoming the Image of Christ to One Another
Sent in the Image of Christ

I tried to follow the lectionary readings as closely as possible. The Old Testament reading was about David being anointed as king. I decided to replace that with a passage from Isaiah (“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse…”). However, I kept the psalm (Psalm 23) and the gospel reading (John 9 – the blind man is healed). Each of these was included in the appropriate place, as well as one or two appropriate hymns. At various times throughout the morning, we sang a chorus entitled “¿Quién dicen que soy yo?” (Translation: “Who do you say that I am?” For you Mennos, it’s Sing the Story #51.) This song re-centered us on the theme for the morning – deepening and broadening our understanding of Jesus. (This idea also came from the Lent Planner.)

In addition to the singing and the readings, one person shared a faith story (as we’re doing every Sunday during Lent); there was a children’s story; and we had our usual time for congregational sharing. I was assisted by an incredible group of musicians whose contributions made everything flow smoothly.

This is an idea that could be used during any time of the year, but it works especially well when there is an appropriate theme (as we have now). From my biased perspective, the congregation found the service to be very meaningful.

For better or worse, when you pick the songs, you get to choose ones that are meaningful to you. There were two yesterday that especially reflected the way I think about faith, both from the “Sing the Story” hymnal.

The first is entitled “Helpless and Hungry” (StS #26). It was written to be in conversation with the Christmas carol “What child is this?” (and to be sung in conjunction with it). So we have questions such as, “Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?” And then we hear the response, “This, this is Christ the King…” Very powerful.

The second song was entitled “On The Journey to Emmaus” (StS #98). I think that what I appreciate about that song is summarized by the final line: the one “who welcomes the stranger shall welcome the Lord.”

Now – go plan yourself a hymn sing!

Worship ideas… Advent/Christmas/Epiphany bulletin covers

Many congregations within the Mennonite Church will be using the theme of “An Unexpected Hour” during the coming Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season this year. Some of the resources provided for the season describe how we need to develop a new sense of time… to shift from our hectic, inwardly focused time to a God-focused conception of time. In keeping with some of these ideas, I created a series of bulletin covers for the six Sundays of the season.

If you find these images compelling and would like to use them, contact me. I have higher resolution versions that you’re free to have.

L to R: Advent I through Epiphany

Image credits:

Orion nebula, alarm clock, street clock, Big Ben, wrist watch, clock radio, digital clock radio, another digital clock radio, sundial, and another wrist watch.

Car conversations

(I promised this post a few days ago…)

Ordinary Spouse and I enjoy road trips. Well – maybe “enjoy” is not really correct for Ordinary Spouse. She puts up with travel and is happy to get to the destination. But at least we value those times for the chance to talk (especially those times after dark when the Ordinary Daughters fall asleep).

I was thinking about this after our recent vacation trip to visit my parents in West Virginia. On the trip east, the topic du jour seemed to be theology. (Well – I suppose that I probably drive many of our conversations in that direction, since I seem to find theology interesting right now. So maybe it’s the conversation of the week. Or month. Or year…) And I found our conversations that day fascinating, as well. Check out what we covered:

How do we understand the Bible? If we see differences between the beginning and the end of the Bible, do we (to use mathematical concepts) take an average? Or maybe we think that the changes represent an unfolding understanding by God’s people, so we construct a vector (or trajectory) pointing to an ultimate ending. Or maybe we deny any changes at all.

Should we begin our theological conversations by stating our assumptions? Sometimes, when the Church starts discussing our controversial issues, it feels like we’re talking right past each other. Both sides wonder how the other side could come to its conclusions – they just don’t seem logical. But if, instead of arguing the controversies, we stepped back and discussed the basics (like “how do we understand the Bible?”), we might have a more productive conversation.

Is God non-violent? (You may notice that my questions are building on each other.) If we see Christ as non-violent and if we also view Christ as the fullest revelation of God, do we see God as non-violent? And based on this…

Do we need to rethink our concept of the atonement? I think (from my limited experience) that evangelical Christianity generally embraces a penal substitutionary atonement. Personally, I think that I absorbed this without really questioning it when I was younger. There is something nicely formulaic about this view: an accounting system for the debt of sin. On the other hand, it raises the problem of divine child abuse. Now, I am enjoying the exploration of non-violent theology with the help of writings from Denny Weaver* and Ted Grimsrud. Weaver and Darrin Snyder Belousek also take on the topic in a recent issue of The Mennonite.

Darrin also raises an interesting question about the Trinity…

Is God fully revealed in the story of Jesus Christ? Could we conceive that the first person of God (commonly “God the Father” – sorry for the patriarchal language) might occasionally be violent, while the second person of God (commonly “God the Son”) is non-violent? Or even, is the God the Son fully revealed in Jesus Christ? And what about now – does God the Son still retain aspects of humanity after the ascension?

To what extent is the Trinity “truth”? To be clear, our car conversation wasn’t questioning the existence of the three persons of God. But we wonder if God presents God’s self to humans in this way in order for us to understand something that is essentially unknowable. Sort of like trying to see a 16-dimensional object in a 3-dimensional world – maybe all we get is a projection.

What is non-violence? What is peace? This was Ordinary Spouse’s insightful and original question.** We talk about working for peace, but we really don’t know what that will look like. We can only speak in the negative: peace is the absence of violence and conflict. Unfortunately, we know violence and conflict intimately.

If you embrace a non-violent theology, what do you do with the abundance of worship resources that no longer seem worshipful? And, in addition, how do you raise children who share your values?

Well – that’s how we burned up the miles between Indiana and Pennsylvania during our July vacation. I guess it didn’t hurt that the CD player in the van was broken.

* This is a pretty old link. I should probably look for more recent writings, such as the link to the article in The Mennonite. Certainly, his book (The Nonviolent Atonement) has now been published, and I’m in the middle of reading that. However, I haven’t searched for other resources.

** With an emphasis on the ‘original’ part. I’ve heard our other questions posed in various other places. But I hadn’t considered this before.

Five for Friday… Blog posts that I should be writing

1) Blogs that I’ve started and haven’t completed, or blogs that others have requested

I have quite a few of these. It’s sort of like my life. I start things and don’t always complete them in a timely fashion. As of right now, this list (for my blog; not my life) includes (but is not limited to):

  • A ‘Now Playing’ update – It’s been a while since I’ve talked about music.  On the other hand, how often do you want to hear that I’m listening to U2 and the Indigo Girls?
  • An ‘On the Nightstand’ update – I haven’t discussed books, either. This would include Winter World (which is my family’s book club pick right now*), as well as my discussion of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Oh, and I still haven’t finished most of these books, either.
  • Mr. Guest Complacent’s suggestions for other “Five for Friday” blogs. I think I’ve done two out of five.

* In my defense, I have a hunch that I’m doing better at reading Winter World than most of the rest of my family. Ordinary Spouse has finished it, however.

2) A more intimate and/or artistic look at the sacredness of the ordinary

After all, ‘ordinary’ is in the title of my blog. Take a look at these blogs:

Two thoughts:

  1. I like these blogs. I like the imagery, and I like the thoughts and reflections. I would like to blog like that.
  2. These blogs are written by women. You may ask, “What difference does that make?” Well, our society has a whole bunch of gender baggage.  Richard Rohr explores some of it in a Sojourners article that I read this week – “Boys Don’t Cry (And Other Lies We Tell Men)“.** I wonder to what extent I’m also carrying this baggage. I wonder if I’m able to see and feel and experience in the same way that the writers of these blogs do.***

** Sojourners may ask you to register. It’s free, and I think that you can get them to promise not to bug you to buy their magazine.

***  Tricky me – I’ve just slipped in a whole other topic for blogging. But it’s a hard one. After all, boys don’t acknowledge a sensitive side.

3) Privilege and what I’m doing about it

Actually, this is partly inspired by #2. You see – even though I love those blogs above, I also wonder whether these explorations of ordinary sacredness are made possible by the affluence of middle-class North America. You generally don’t find those in third-world poverty writing blogs. I’m not pointing fingers, since it’s also the context from which I experience life. But I am challenging myself to recognize my advantages (white, middle-class, educated, United States citizen, male, heterosexual, etc.) and to work to level the playing field.

4) More stories about my family

Let’s be honest – I write the deep reflections for myself. Who else (besides, perhaps, my brother-in-law) wants to read my theological ramblings or the aforementioned thoughts on privilege? My mom wants to know what cute things her grand-daughters had to say today.

5) What it means to be Lay Minister of Worship

On July 1st, I began a term as our congregation’s Lay Minister of Worship. On one hand, I think I should reflect on that. Then I wonder, “do I really want my congregation to know how unqualified I am for this job?”

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