“Here’s a Question for You”

Growing up in southern Missouri, my evangelical roots ran deep. I planned on majoring in religion, studying in seminary, and then help save the world. Two pieces of advice came my way the summer before I left on that adventure. One came from a farmer: “Remember, the devil is alive and well in college and …

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Fresh Freedoms

I struggle getting past the anger that rises each time I read about a congregation disaffiliating with the United Methodist Church. I ask myself rhetorical questions that turn up the inner thermostat. What is it that makes them feel they have to break fellowship with those who are just as earnestly trying to follow Christ? …

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Less Than the Ideal?

A quirky passage in Deuteronomy frames the breaking apart of the United Methodist Church quite nicely. Deuteronomy 15:1-6 presents a beautiful, idyllic vision for the Israelites. Personal debts would be forgiven/cancelled every seven years. If everyone honored such grace, Israel would find itself being a utopia: “Of course there won’t be any poor persons among …

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The Power of Empathy

Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. — Galatians 6:2 The horror of the elementary school murders in Uvalde has followed the script with which we’ve become all too familiar. Shock. Pain. Grief. Sorrow. Outrage. Calls for gun restrictions. Thoughts and prayers. There was one reaction that surprised me, though. …

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The Next Six Days

It feels as if we’re living in the shadow of a bad-news tsunami, doesn’t it? The poster boy for these times is Putin, with his blatant disregard for life while spewing nuclear threats. But throw in a populist movement fueled by an ex-President living in his own reality; a racial tension provoking violent school board …

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A Good Friday Reflection: The 3 G’s

Good Friday is an enigma. “Good”, describing the day an innocent man died horribly, is a weird tag. But maybe it’s good when seen within the context of three other words that begin with “G.” Gently. Fear is the residue of imagining we can control things and then realizing we can’t. Instead of scrubbing every …

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Sideways Christians

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?…” (Acts 1:9-11a) …

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Why I Cry More Today

Jesus began to cry. – John 11:35 It’s the strangest thing. I find myself tearing up more as I grow older. It’s not sentimental crying, like I always do at the end of Field of Dreams (“Hey Dad—wanna play catch?”). No, the tears today come out of nowhere and catch me by surprise. This morning …

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Rome 2.0

Sometimes I mistake wishful thinking for Christian hope. I like to believe that the world is incrementally inching down a path leading to the kingdom values Jesus talked about. Becoming more aware of issues, confronting injustice in varying forms, advocating for climate stewardship: all these things, aided by technology and instant communication, are hopeful. Then …

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Rethinking the Narrow Gate

“Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it.  But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14 In my Bible-belt-pious years as a young Christian, I knew exactly …

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One Country, Two Views

In the quest to be broadminded, I’m reading two opposing books. One is Newt Gingrich’s Beyond Biden: Rebuilding the America We Love. The other is Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. I want to see the underlying assumptions of each writer, and why they write what they write. I …

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Hypocrisy, Grace, and Empathy

A popular political cartoon has a man holding two signs. On one: “No Mask Mandate! My body. My choice.” On the second: “No Abortion After 6 Weeks. Her body. My choice.” This is, of course, hypocritical. How can you plead for freedom from government regulation at times, and for it at others? Yet, the cartoon …

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Why Should You Support Anti-Masking?

Throughout the pandemic, I was an ardent pro-masker. I wore a mask everywhere. I thought it was a way of protecting others from the virus. I had also hoped it would prevent me from infection, but it didn’t. Still, I wore it religiously. With others, I celebrated in the spring when those masks could be …

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The Problem with “Biblical Values”

Actually, the problem is with the words, not the values. It arises when you use a phrase, understanding what you mean by it, but the reader or listener takes it another way. A conservative newspaper columnist recently wrote of her apprehension that liberals were pushing the LGBTQ agenda. She feared they were attacking the “biblical …

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Why We’ll Never Agree on the Bible

I was taught in seminary to always determine the original meaning behind a text. Study the Greek or Hebrew. The literary, cultural, and historical contexts. Comparative passages and themes. That way I would get to know what the author meant. Good work that must be done. However, what happens when I discover that what the …

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Hear Their Stories

In a school district in suburban St. Louis county, a controversy arose over the teaching of diversity curriculum. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Aisha Sultan described it, detailing the heated feelings and speeches.  In one forum, a woman of color told of her own experience with racism. A nearby white woman responded to her, “No, you …

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Honesty and Humility Aren’t Enough

There are two defining virtues for a Christian: honesty and humility. Honesty: Christians have the courage to try and see themselves as they are, as objectively as possible. We search for blind spots, masked prejudices, self-justifications, and so forth. (Wasn’t that the point of Wesley’s small groups?) Humility: We admit we are hopelessly and unconsciously …

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“Staying” or “Beginning”?

I’m intrigued by something Father Richard Rohr wrote in his The Wisdom Pattern: Order-Disorder-Reorder. “It seems to me we must begin conservatively—with clear boundaries, identity, and a sense of respect for our reality. Then, and only then, can we move out from that strong center, according to our education and experience.” (p. 61) The trick, …

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A Backlash of Decency?

I have a new hope for 2021. The tragedy of the raid on the Capitol by President Trump’s radicalized supporters on January 6 prompted some officials to call it a day of infamy, similar to December 7. But Christians may also remember it’s Epiphany day. Maybe there’s a bit of epiphany in the aftermath of …

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Conspiracy Theories: The Election Was Rigged?

Why, with overwhelming facts to the contrary, do so many people believe the presidential election was rigged or stolen? To understand this, I turned to psychologist Rob Brotherton’s Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. Here are some of his points, as I understand them. Conspiracy theorists don’t like ambiguity. It’s unsettling not being on …

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2020: And Now for a Little Good News

The ending of the season finale of comedian John Oliver’s show on HBO, “Last Week Tonight,” was cathartic. After an expletive-filled rant regarding how “bad” (euphemism) the year has been, he pressed a trigger and pyrotechnically blew up the gigantic numbers, “2020.” For some reason it feels good to vent anger and pain vicariously like …

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A Happy Family?

Showman P. T. Barnum had a display in his 1860’s American Museum called “The Happy Family.” It was a cage where natural prey and predators peacefully coexisted. People flocked to see lambs resting with lions without becoming mutton. Asked if he planned to keep the exhibit, he supposedly replied, “The display will become a permanent …

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How Many Voices?

I once ran an experiment in a church I pastored. I put black and white beans in a Mason jar and set it on a table next to a sign, “Guess how many beans are in this jar.” People could submit their guesses for a chance to win a fabulous prize (I think it was …

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“Were We Watching the Same Debate?”

Probably like some reading this, I felt physically nauseated by the recent presidential debate. I even had trouble sleeping. Visions of constant insults and interruptions haunted my night like Scrooge’s ghosts from A Christmas Carol. The haunt-in-chief was President Trump. I thought his behavior in the hour and a half debacle was deplorable. Couldn’t everybody …

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More Blessing, Less Cursing

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed my inner fuse growing shorter. The riots, the politics, the covid. The lack of travel and human contact simply intensifies the burn, like a magnifying glass on a sunny day. Of course ranting, cursing, and exploding aren’t the most healthful or helpful of things. The wake of the …

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health workers wearing face mask

One Mask, Two Universes

Like most people I know, wearing a mask during the pandemic is a no-brainer. Science tells us that it helps prevent spreading the virus and may somewhat help in preventing becoming ill. So, I’m astounded by the anti-maskers. Recently a Springfield, Missouri, woman sued her city over an ordinance requiring the wearing of masks. She …

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silhouette of people beside usa flag

What American Patriotism Should Be

I grew up in an era when people of color lived in segregated parts of communities. They were caricatured and stereotyped, and scarcely seen on Bonanza. Confederate flags waved freely, including on the Dukes of Hazzard’s car. The Stone Mountain, Georgia, tribute to heroes of the Confederacy, a monument celebrated by the Ku Klux Klan, …

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Never Too Old to Be Tacky

Supposedly, the older you get, the wiser you become. Life’s experiences deepen character. You’re more patient, understanding, empathetic, and kind. Things become more flexible and conditional, and less inflexible and absolute. Younger generations discover how to cope with life, and prosper in it, by learning from wise silver-haired gurus. This is the theory. Unfortunately, incidents …

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George Floyd: Why Is Peace So Difficult?

After every senseless, racist murder, and after the public outcry and protests, we hope that we’ve moved closer to exposing racism and achieving a more just, peaceful society. Then there’s another George Floyd instance, and we’re back to pain and more division. As a white person who doesn’t know what it’s like to live the …

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Being Kind During the Pandemic

I received a call from a Census Bureau worker the other day. She thanked me for returning the census form and asked if I’d mind answering a few followup questions. I agreed. We talked a couple of minutes, then she briefly broke from the script. As I recall, she said, “Sir, I’d just like to …

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A New Kind of Fundamentalism?

With protests against COVID-19 restrictions popping up around the country, I’m wondering if we’re not seeing a display of a new kind of fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalists, a sliver of believers, have been around a long time. They derive their name from adhering to five fundamentals of the faith. Their resulting version of Christianity comes across …

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The Determination of Beauty

Yesterday I had to get out of the house. The walls were closing in. Every time I thought about doing something normal, I remembered I couldn’t do it because we’re all sheltering in place. Every news source imaginable reminds us of how serious things are. Even our president struck a somber tone as he made …

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Toilet Paper, Coronavirus, and Church

Of the many stories circulating around the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most bizarre is that of a run on toilet paper. Some stores across the nation are so low on their supply that they have had to ration how many packages a customer can buy. There have been at least two accounts of people …

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Christian Values and the Presidency

After witnessing the recent State of the Union speech and its aftermath, I’ve made a resolution. In the election of our next president, I no longer care much about political party, nor even about a conservative or liberal orientation. Rather, after the votes are tallied in November, I hope the result will be the election …

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"Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner"? Really?

Earlier this month, Nancy Pelosi had a heated exchange with a reporter who asked if she hated President Trump. “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone,” she said, adding that she prays for the president. This is an admirable statement, and certainly is …

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A Flat Earth Bible?

The biblical writers believed in a flat earth. It was the stationary foundation of their world view. Under the flat earth was Sheol, the place of the dead. The sky was the domed firmament that held back water. Above it all was heaven. This sounds so, well, ancient. Good science at the time, but bad …

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God, the Bible, and Atheism

As I was doing research for Addressing Atheism, I connected with Hemant Mehta. He runs the Friendly Atheist blogsite. He’s also the author of several books, one of which is the delightful I Sold My Soul on Ebay. Hemant reviewed a rough draft of my book from the atheistic perspective. He was generous with his …

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Sitting with the “Enemy”

When a picture circulated of comedian Ellen DeGeneres sitting with former President George W. Bush during a Dallas Cowboys football game, it raised some eyebrows and questions. As Ellen said, in a USA Today story, people asked themselves, “Why is this gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” The implication seemed to …

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Is God on Our Side?

Abraham Lincoln followed a vision that transcended partisanship. In his second inaugural address, with the Union’s victory assured, he could have piled on. He could have condemned the South and spoken about an eye for an eye. Indeed, our current political climate would have repeatedly fostered animosity through endless tweets. But Lincoln saw the bigger …

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Piety’s Limitations

Old-fashionedly, I have an aversion to foul language. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but it seems like there’s been an exponential increase in the use of it over the last few years. Every popular show or movie seems to have a script calling for interesting variations of the f-word. Maybe my language-prudishness comes not just from …

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Gun Laws: The Limit of Freedom

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” The preamble of our Constitution starts with a plural subject, “we the people.”  It goes on to specify the reasons for the document. Domestic tranquility. Justice. Defense. General welfare. The purpose is to move a group of individuals to covenant …

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Commandments Eleven and Twelve

The Ten Commandments form the foundation for honoring God and relating to fellow humans. After reading The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks, though, I think we could add a couple of others for the era in which we live. Brooks, a journalist and commentator, offers a candid glimpse into …

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No Pure Place to Stand

The Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recently completed its three-day meeting in Springfield. We elected delegates, lay and clergy, who will represent us at the 2020 General Conference, the policy making body of our denomination. The people we elected (with surprising quickness) all endorse full inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community into the …

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Suggestions for a New Methodism

With the Judicial Council’s recent decision that central elements of the Traditional Plan are constitutional, the trajectory of United Methodism has been set for the immediate future. There will be no Book of Discipline-approved ordination of homosexuals, nor will there be same-sex marriages performed without harsh penalties. The resulting uproar in the aftermath of the …

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Dealing with Post-General Conference Anger

I went on blood pressure medication shortly after the 2019 General Conference concluded. The two events are not unrelated. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed those systolic/diastolic numbers creeping up in annual physicals. However, by the time the GC ended, my numbers had eclipsed the threshold. What happened in the St. Louis gathering shocked people …

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Tragedy in Church

A horrible event happened in the church I serve. Last Sunday morning (Feb. 17), a man entered the building and asked a greeter where the rest room was.  Once there, alone, he took his life. Our staff and security personnel responded quickly and appropriately. Happening toward the end of the last worship service, the congregation …

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Doubting or Questioning? There’s a Difference

“Doubting Thomas” is not an endearing term. It stems from the Resurrection account in John’s Gospel when Jesus, post-crucifixion, shows up in the room where the disciples have huddled. Thomas, though, is missing. When later told about what happened, he replies dogmatically, “Unless I see him for myself, I’m not going to believe” (John 20:19-29). …

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You Can’t Reason with Emotion

I belonged to a very conservative religious group in college. We devoured books that titillated us with scenes of the rapture and the world’s imminent destruction. We sang, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” feeling glad we were the ones who were ready and not the ones who got drunk in weekend parties. Some in …

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It’s About Honesty and Humility. Period.

After 40+ years in the United Methodist ministry, two things have become clear. If we’re ever going to resolve our significant differences, we’re going to have to have the honesty to admit that none of us knows what we’re talking about. Each of us sees things only through a very narrow lens. Our genes, ancestry, …

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A Guided Thanksgiving Meditation

It’s a blessing that this country has ordained a holiday centered on giving thanks. In an era when we are too easily drawn to fear and anxiety, taking stock of what has been given us is soul medicine. Here’s a three-part guide for this holiday. First: Be mindful of the gifts you have. Psalm 95:1-2 …

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MONDAY MEDITATION: Tools for Redemption (November 21)

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. — Matthew 18:21-22 If Hollywood followed Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and reconciliation, we’d have a …

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MONDAY MEDITATION: Tomorrow? (October 17)

Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:34 I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the last part of this verse. The first part is something that we hear preached to us all the time. Today is all we have, so let’s make the …

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MONDAY MEDITATION: Where Were They? (October 10)

On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city gathered to hear the Lord’s word. — Acts 13:44 Whenever Paul visited a town, he went first to the local synagogue. When a Scripture passage was read, he would expound on it, showing how it related in some way to Jesus. Once, when he’d finished, everyone …

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