To believe you can approach transcendence [God] without drawing nearer in compassion to suffering humanity is to fool yourself.
There can be no genuine personal religious conversion without a change in social attitude.
~William Sloane Coffin


This “Doctrines” category will look at various doctrines and terminology, orthodox and unorthodox, traditional and progressive.  Sometimes we will affirm a doctrine or certain terminology.  Sometimes we will dismantle them.You are encouraged to write comments!

Take America Back For God? The Myth of a Christian Nation

We’ve all heard the rhetoric.  “We need to take America back for God!”

Why?  Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards.  Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us.  Supposedly so God won’t test us or judge us or something.

Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we, at one time, really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?

Let’s start way back.  We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom.  So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and / or hanged many suspected to be witches?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Many of our European forebears believed that God (or nature) had sanctioned “manifest destiny” for white Christians to conquer North America.  So, was this special time when white aliens made and broke treaties with the Native Americans and forced them out of their homelands? Is that what so many want to take us back to?

One of the things that helped the southern states of the USA to thrive economically early on was the inexpensive labor provided by African slaves who were seen as 3/5 of a human.  So, was our land glorifying God when it continued to allow and support the slave trade and the ownership of slaves?  Or, was this golden age when our nation decided to take up arms against itself in the Civil War?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Maybe the golden years were when Jim Crow laws were enforced and “separate but equal” facilities were seen as okay.  Maybe it was when so many worked hard to suppress the vote of African Americans.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Speaking of voting, for the first 144 years of our nation, women were apparently not seen as being “created equal” with “all men.”  Apparently, they, prior to 1920, had not been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” like voting.  Even today, women tend to make less than men in comparable jobs.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Was this age that many want to take us back to before there were child labor laws?  Was it before workers’ compensation protected people?  Was it before laws were enacted to limit the amount of hours that companies can force people to work? (I mean, who really wants to give up their weekend?). . .


It seems that many who want to take us back to whatever complain that politicians don’t use the words “God” or “Jesus” or “Christian” or whatever.  “People are just trying to take God out of everything,” I hear again and again.

Some of these same  people say that not only do we have to get back to God, we have to get back to the Constitution – and don’t you dare add anything to or take away from that near-divine document (at least in the minds of some).  Some go on to say, “The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is nowhere to be found, so don’t try to add it.”

Okay, let’s go back to the Constitution.

Never once does it use the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian,” “Creator,” or even “Nature.”  And yet, so many of the “take America back for God,” try to put those words there.

Notice what it does say under Article VI:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

And yet, so often we put our political candidates to religious tests.  So much for going back to the Constitution.


The Constitution does say that it seeks “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Union.  Common.  General Welfare.  Ourselves.  Our Posterity.

It seems that these word all have to do everybody, not just some, and definitely not just individuals, despite the use of the phrase, “individual rights,” that is often thrown around (in fact, “individual” is not even a word used in the Constitution).

We have a long ways to go, but in my estimation, in terms of action, we are more Christian today than in the past.  We are at a better place now of looking out for the needs of at least most.  More people are included in the experience of liberty than in the past.  Sure, we don’t use the so-called Christian words as much, but even Jesus criticized folks who said one thing and did another.  You’ll know them by their fruit.


Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. (NRSV)

Philippians 2:  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (NRSV)

Matthew 7:20 Thus you will know them by their fruits. (NRSV)


I initially intended this post to be a book review of Gregory A. Boyd’s book noted above, but I veered in a different direction.  Simply put, I recommend that book to anyone interested in and concerned about politics in our country in relation to religion.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but for the most part, I think he hits the nail on the head.

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The Least of Bees
by Susie Marshall

Here is a guest post from my colleague, Susie Marshall, in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is founder and Executive Director of The Gleaning Network of Texas, which is a Dallas-based not-for-profit organization that finds surplus produce and utilizes volunteers to distribute it to food assistance programs across North Texas. Before starting The Gleaning Network, Susie worked as the Texas Program Director for the Society of St. Andrew. Through her work with farmers and social service agencies, she developed a passion for high quality and organic food, equitable access and local and urban agriculture. She is currently serving as the President of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. A native Dallasite, Susie has a Bachelor’s degree from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Texas A&M – Commerce, and a Master’s of Theological Studies from the Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

In the last week I have spent a lot of time and emotional energy dealing with aerial spraying (read crop dusting) for mosquitoes in my city and those surrounding. I work in the local food community, and my friends are organic farmers, gardeners, beekeepers, and people who care about what happens in their environment.

The situation and the conversations have been like this: Apparently we have the largest outbreak of mosquito-borne West Nile Virus in the country this year. People have died. We have very pretty lawns that require lots of maintenance and watering in parts of the city, which I’m sure creates at least small pools of water that allow mosquitoes just enough room to breed and gestate, not to mention reports of swimming pools that have poor maintenance.

No one on any side of the argument, for spraying or for not spraying, wants anyone to suffer from West Nile Virus. But neither do a lot of us want anyone to potentially experience affects from pesticides that blanket the area. Nor do I want my friends to lose more beehives. These hives are my friends’ livelihood, and the bees are pollinators for farms and gardeners all over the Dallas area. We’re killing our local eco-system trying to ‘effectively’ rid the area of a pest. But the spraying is not that effective; there are many natural alternatives that are more effective on preventing new mosquitoes from developing. Lots of conflicting information flying around… Lots of angst…

These are the things that we have talked about for a week now – maybe more. I’ve lost track. The city and the county declared a state of emergency so they could go with the spraying. City council members didn’t get a vote. The citizens don’t seem to have a voice, even as much as we have spoken. Sometimes we feel helpless. The discussions can be rational and technical, but the emotion, the sadness, the helplessness felt by a lot of us has been at times quite thick.

It occurred to me one day last week that there has been very little noise from my clergy colleagues on the issue. It also occurs to me that this is very much a theological issue.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a thought related to the environment and faith. I know that nature works very well all by itself to create life. I’ve pondered this before and been amazed at the way in which a seed becomes a plant, which then produces flowers, which sometimes require another being to come and transfer pollen from one flower to another in order to produce fruit, but it also provides nourishment for that pollinator. Everything in our world is designed to work a specific way. So often we seem to simply try to do it better and really mess things up!

But I had a theological epiphany last fall during a documentary about bees. A comment was made in the film about how the butterflies are affected by pesticides and such just like the bees. My church loves to use the butterfly as a metaphor for rebirth, and we value their beauty and amazingness. So…the connection came. If we value the butterfly, why are we not creating an organic environment for them to thrive in on our church property.

That thought has extended to all of creation. If we value Creation as something good, as the Scripture says it is, then why as a people of faith do we not value ALL of creation in ALL parts of our lives? I’m not saying that no Christian values all of creation in all parts of their lives. There are tons who do, but what are we teaching and preaching and modeling in our lives, especially at our churches? Is this just one more way that Christians are hypocritical?

Last week it hit me in a big thud-in-the-chest kind of way that the bees and the dragonflies and the toads are also ‘the least of these.’ They have no voice other than ours. Aren’t they important as our neighbors? Those who have been speaking for the environment, for the bigger picture, for the tiny insects are speaking for the least of these as well as for the greater good with reason and logical, natural alternatives.

Our group will keep speaking up for the bees. We have to – 1 in 3 bites of food you and I eat are thanks to bees. On a realistic note, we cannot have the food we have without the pollinators! But yet, we don’t protect them!  Do we really value all the things we say we do?

I’ve been struggling with how to end this without just being blunt….it’s not working…

So, what does your theology say about Creation? Do your actions reflect what you really believe? Do you strive to do the least harm to the world around you, not just to the people?

If we really believe as people of faith that creation is good, do we just admire it’s beauty and wonder, or do we work to protect it, too? Isn’t caring for Creation part of loving God, neighbor, and self?

I’m daily striving to do better and better in caring for Creation. Join me!

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Communion and Covenant

The word is part of the liturgy, but it seems we blow by it every time.  What word am I thinking of?  COVENANT.

But, you may be asking, what does Communion have to do with covenant?  Isn’t that just a symbolic meal to replenish our souls?

Have you ever noticed that the cup we share is the “cup of the COVENANT?”  A covenant assumes that each party has an obligation, so what is our obligation in Holy Communion?

Some will answer “forgiveness” since our Communion liturgy says the cup is “for the forgiveness of sins.” Interestingly, only Matthew’s gospel says that the cup is “for the forgiveness of sins” (see Matthew 26:26-29 and compare 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20).  Since Jesus commands us to forgive in Matthew 6:14-15, that is surely part of it, but what is our obligation inherent in the other passages where forgiveness is not spoken of?

Mark gives us the clearest answer, I believe.  There are only three other passages in that gospel that use the term “cup,” the latter two most important to our discussion here:

  • Mark 9:41 where Jesus says those who share a cup of water with us, who bear the name of Christ, will be rewarded;
  • Mark 10:38-39 where Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink the cup Jesus is to drink, which Jesus says they will do; and
  • Mark 14:36 in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks God to remove the cup from him.

What is the cup?  It is the cup of discipleship, of commitment to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ who was willing to drink “the cup.”  When we accept the “cup of the covenant” in Communion, we are obligating ourselves to living out the instruction and commitments of our ultimate teacher as Christians – Jesus.

God provides our abilities and inspiration – even our forgiveness – to be free to serve God and others.  In Holy Communion, we are vowing to uphold our end of the covenant by taking up our cross to serve within and outside of the church where we have received the sacrament. Let us serve together.

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#3 – Most Overlooked in John’s Gospel: Where Are You Staying?

This is the third in a series of undetermined length where I’ll be looking at passages that I feel often get “skipped over” when considering the gospel according to John.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, please, please read at least the first one as this will continue to build off of that one.  You can find previous articles here:

  1. Only Son of God?
  2. Born Again?

Here, we consider:

John 1:  38 When Jesus turned and saw [two of John the Baptizer’s disciples] following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying [literally abiding]?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. (NRSV)

John 6:56  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

John 14:  18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NRSV)

John 15:  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)

John 17:  20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.(NRSV)

It sounds like a pretty innocuous question.  It seems that the question is answered pretty innocuously.

“Where are you staying, rabbi?”

“Come and see.”

They saw where he was staying.

I was surprised, then, when biblical scholar Jaime Clark-Soles drew our attention to these verses in the DVD of the Invitation to John
Short Term Disciple Bible Study.  She pointed out what often happens in the attempt to make for “good” or “easy” English when making a translation from Greek: we fail to realize that in this passage is a word that gets used numerous times throughout the rest of the book – abide.  We find the word in 6:56 and multiple times in 15:4-11.  I was really excited.

And yet, it seems like the innocuous question of verse 38 is answered in verse 39.  Is it really significant?

Well, then I began to take notice of how sometimes, when asked a question in the gospel according to John, Jesus either changes the subject or answers a very literal question with a highly metaphorical answer.

For instance, Nicodemus asks in John 3, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  Ever notice that Jesus doesn’t answer his questions of how and can?  He just says you have to.  You have to be born of the Spirit, born from above.  To really get the answer, you have to read the rest of the book.

Likewise, when told about living water in John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well requests, “Where can I get this water?  I’m tired of lugging water back and forth!”  Jesus ignores the request and says, “Go get your husband. . . ”  You have to keep reading.

So, what happens if we consider that maybe the answer the two disciples were looking for, “Where are you staying?” is not really answered by Jesus until later in the gospel?  How does Jesus answer this question, “Where are you abiding?” as they continue on the way, the journey, of faith?

“I abide in God, in God’s love,” says Jesus in 10:38; 14:10-11, 20; 15:10; and 17:21.  We see in 14:10-11 that Jesus says what he says and can do what he does because of this relationship of Jesus being in God and God being in Jesus.

“I abide in you and with you,” says Jesus in 6:56; 14:19, 23; 15:4; and 17:23.

And yet, the Jesus of John does not leave it at that.  “You,” he says, “must abide in me, in my love, as I already abide in you!” (vss. 15:4, 9)

Why?  Why does Christ abide in us and want us to abide in him?  So that we will be Christ’s disciples AND bear fruit (vss. 15:5, 8).

“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Jesus?  People keep telling me it ain’t what I do but that I believe!”

Jesus’ response in John 14:12 is, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” Believing and doing go hand-in-hand.  What we see here is that we can’t have one without the other – kinda like James 2:26: faith without works is dead.

But, there is an important distinction that we often overlook.  We can only do the same (and greater) works as Jesus if we abide in Christ, for apart from Christ we can do nothing (vs. 15:5).  Just as Jesus only says what God says to say and can only do what he does by God being in him and him in God (vss. 14:10-11), when we are in Christ as Christ is in us, we only say what Jesus says and do what Jesus does by Christ who is in God and God who is in Christ.  If God is in Christ and Christ is in us, God is in us.  If we are in Christ who is in God, we are also in God.  In fact, that is Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 of John, that we be one with God and Christ as they are one with each other – all intermingled.  We are the next step, if we are willing, in the incarnation of God to this hurting world.

Notice all the present-tense-ness of this abiding?  Being in Christ and in God (and them in us) is not something that is supposed to happen later.  The purpose is our bearing fruit, our doing works – our being the incarnation of God as Jesus was – NOW!  It’s not something to wait for God to do by God’s self someday.  It is not something that happens when we die.

If all this abiding is happening now, don’t we have relationship with God and Christ NOW?  And that, that relationship – that knowing – is what eternal life is.  If you don’t believe me, read John 17:3:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Maybe, then, when Jesus talks of going to prepare a place for us in God’s house in John 14:1-4, he’s really talking about here and now, not heaven someday in the future.  It says he’ll bring us to him, but isn’t that the invitation of John 15 – abide in me as I abide in you?  And notice the shift in John 14:23.  It isn’t simply that Jesus will draw us to him.  No.  Now it says that God and Jesus will come to dwell with us.

We are drawn to them.  They come to dwell with us.  We are to abide in them as they already abide in us.  Togetherness.  Relationship.  Give and take.  Becoming one.  Journeying together.  Incarnation.

Where am I abiding?  Where are you abiding?  Where are we abiding?  Hopefully in Christ who is in God who is in Christ who is in us.  For if this is the case, we will bear much fruit for God’s kingdom, doing the same and greater works as Jesus.

Here are other verses I plan to cover in this series (though not necessarily in this order):

  • John 4:34 & 10:9
  • John 5:19-20, 14:12, & 15:12-17
  • John 10:38-39, 1:12, 14:12, & 17:20-23
  • John 14:15, 12:49-50, & 13:34
  • John 17:3 & 12:49-50

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Heart, Mind, and Kidneys: Can We Find Balance?

Probe me, O LORD, and try me,
test my kidneys and heart;
for my eyes are on your steadfast love;
I have set my course by it.
Psalm 26:2-3 (TANAKH)


One of my favorite “styles” of worship is that of the black church.  The energy, emotion, and enthusiasm are palpable, and time flies through what would normally be seen as a “long” worship service.  As someone who often stays in his head too much, I enjoy the opportunity to feel for a change.

I vividly remember my first such experience on Palm Sunday of 1998 as I helped chaperon a group of 6th grade confirmands with Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears to St. Luke “Community” United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.   Dr. Zan Holmes was still the Senior Pastor there at the time.  I still remember a major point of his sermon from that day, it was so good. Except for only 3 years, I never failed to return with a confirmation class each year for them to experience such an important legacy within the church.

A few years ago when I took a group, they had a guest preacher.  I don’t remember his name or why he was preaching that day.  I do remember that he was not United Methodist but from a more conservative denomination.  I remember thinking that was kind of odd, but I didn’t concern myself with it other than I hoped he’d preach as well as one of the church’s “staff preachers.”

As usually happens when attending such a service, I was quickly drawn into the impassioned sermon.  As he got going, so did I.  As he got more excited, so did I.  As he got to moving around, so did I.  The guy had me in the palm of his hand, and I was a willing participant in the call and response style preaching.  About 2/3 of the way through the sermon, I finally engaged my brain for the first time.  “What did he just say?” I asked myself incredulously.  I began questioning much of what he had said up to that point, and it was so NOT Methodist nor anything related to my own personal theology.  Yet, my emotions had brought me along for a ride that my mind would have normally said, “No!” to.

For the first time, I felt like I had experienced being a part of the so-called “mob mentality,” and I didn’t like it.  No matter what my “heart” was saying in my receiving of the wacked message in the beginning, it was still WRONG.

As a person too often stuck in my head, I’m left with an uncomfortable tension of how to properly involve my emotions in my life and in my life of faith.


Although it was certainly not my favorite of the Short Term Disciple Bible Studies, studying along with the Invitation to Psalmsstudy at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas was insightful in a number of ways – especially by using The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and the TANAKH translation of the Psalms.

One such insight can be seen in Psalm 26:2-3, which opened this post.  More than likely, you’ve never seen it translated that way.  You are probably more familiar with something like this:

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Psalm 26:2-3 (NRSV)

Yet,the second line is literally “kidneys and heart” – in that order.  Say what?!

For ancient Hebrews, the kidneys were the seat or place of human conscience and emotions.  The heart was not; rather, the heart was the decision making organ, what we would call the mind.  Let’s consider some of the implications for this.

The Shema says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV)

What we literally have in that third line is “with all your decision making organ, and with all your very being, and with all your strength / energy.”  Yet, how often do we sentimentalize the word “heart” into our emotions when the functionality of the word is mind.  It’s fascinating to see that Jesus, in quoting the Shema, adds “mind” to the list (or does he add heart?) – see Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37 (which replaces might with mind), and Luke 10:27.  Either way, he wants both, no just one.

Consider the proclamation of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)

What we see here, again, is that God in the New Covenant will write the law on their “decision making organs” – in functionality, their minds – the place of memory.  The law won’t be written on their conscience or emotions as the passage is often interpreted.

Consider, also, Deuteronomy 10:16:

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. (NRSV)

You guessed it, “Circumcise . . . the foreskin of  your decision making organ,” is what is really meant here.


So what am I getting at?  What is my point?

I think part of my concern is that I think that often our decisions to do this or that is based more out of emotion than rational thought – or better, a balance of the two.  So much of the rhetoric of this politically charged time of life in the USA, if you really think about it, is emotionally charged.

Recently, I had an interchange with a “friend” on Facebook.  The individual had posted a picture with text discrediting a certain political candidate.  It sounded a bit hokey, so I researched it and discovered the info was false.  So, I posted that.  In the “discussion” that followed, I discovered that the person “felt” that it was okay to spread lies about people that this person thought would make bad decisions about our country.  Really?!  Defaming someone’s character is okay so long as I feel it’s okay?!

That is decision-making based solely in emotion, not rational thought – at least in my estimation (but maybe I’m wrong).


So what can we do?

One of the best bits of pastoral care advice I ever got was from my mentor, Rev. John Mollet.  He said sometimes, when a person has had a traumatic experience, they may respond with hysterics, which are usually based in emotion.  Obviously, the person needs to deal with what has happened but sometimes this can be debilitating, so John recommended asking the person questions that engage their minds.  What actually happened?  How many people were involved?  What time did it happen?  Notice these are all seeking “factual” answers, but they take the focus off of emotion.

Some will respond on the other extreme and not “feel” anything, which is not healthy either.  John recommended asking questions that get at the persons emotions.  How did it feel when that happened?  What do you feel was taken away from you in that event?  These are seeking “emotional” answers to help someone experience needed emotion.


I’m reminded of a story told by Tex Sample of his friend Jimmy Hope Smith and his Daddy who is “unredeemed in some very serious ways.”  The thing that draws the Smith family together each day is the TV; everything they do in the house happens in front of that set.

One day, while watching TV together, Rev. Jesse Jackson came on the screen.  Jimmy Hope’s Daddy said, “Someone oughta shoot him!  They oughta just shoot him!”

He’s stuck in emotion.

Jimmy Hope responded, “Daddy, you think someone really oughta shoot Jesse Jackson?”

“Yeah, I do!  They oughta just shoot him!”

“Well, Daddy, if you think someone oughta shoot Jesse Jackson, I think you oughta go to church on Sunday and pray that someone will shoot Jesse Jackson.”

“Boy!  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout?  You know Jesus ain’t gonna put up with that shit!”

Jimmy Hope made his Daddy really think about what he was saying, and in the end, emotion was still there along with the working of the mind.

Balance.  Something we all need.

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A Progressive Christian Education / Nurture
– by Rev. Ben Marshall

This is a guest post by Rev. Ben Marshall, a colleague from the North Texas Annual Conference.  Ben is a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church residing in Dallas, Texas, who wants to continue to contribute to the faith formation of persons. He has served for over 4 decades as a Christian educator, seeking to understand how persons come to faith and how to communicate to them about the nature of our God who loves them.

Ben graduated from Perkins School of Theology in 1963 and received a Doctor of Ministry degree in Christian Education in 1982. He has completed the studies in Spiritual Guidance at Shalom Institute for Spiritual Formation and continues to practice spiritual direction as well as write and teach.

Ben and his wife, Karan, a young childhood specialist, have two children, two grandchildren and a black dog.


I received an invitation to write in this Blog, and I appreciate that. Among the suggested topics was “progressive Christian education”. I chose that and want to share about a particular perspective on that issue. I may come back later and add some other stuff.

First, let’s don’t call it “education,” let’s call it nurture, or maybe formation. The problem with the terms is that there are so many definitions depending upon who is talking and what their concerns are. So I am talking–writing rather–and we have a problem with the term “education” in the church having come to mean “schooling” or the passing on of information. Our approach to the faith has for too long been one of asking people simply to “accept the concepts–the theology” at the intellectual level. Therefore, we have been “educating” them with the theology, the biblical knowledge, etc. There is more, much more to Christian nurture than that. Fortunately many people are catching on, at least in some recent writings. I doubt that it has filtered down too far as yet in terms of our actual practice in the local church.

We progressives like to make sure that we help people to not leave their brains at the door to the church. We also need to make sure that they bring their hearts. Christianity is fundamentally about a relationship, a heart thing, that then leads to loving action. I wonder if Jesus had not known God as “abba” (Daddy) if he would have been as compassionate as he was?

That is not to say that there is not a great deal to be done to help people to be able to think about and question the church’s theology and the bible stories, etc., because there is–definitely. We progressive clergy have done a disservice to our laity for being afraid a long time ago to let them know what the latest in biblical scholarship and theology was really saying–even if we had to leave that church. At least a few of the folks who were ready to hear it would have heard it, and maybe we would be a long way down the road now.

But, back to the heart thing. I think the mainline church has lost members, not because it was too progressive, but because it was not progressive enough. More importantly it was not spiritually deep enough. I keep remembering a book written back in the 90’s that reported on interviews with people who left the church, and the main reason they left was that they did not find there an significant encounter with God! Wow!

People are spiritually starving! Just look at the present booming interest in spirituality and not so much religion. My point is that we progressives have to be careful that as we help people be able to raise their questions and find a meaningful “head” theology, we must even more importantly help them to allow God’s Heart to touch their own heart. That means that we have to get to that place where we pray on a daily basis and let God really love us as God is trying to do–to open up to that love and let God give us what we are really seeking along with the good theology we are talking about. Otherwise we won’t be able to help them in the way they need helping.

~ Rev. Ben Marshall

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