links to 10 items worth your time

1. Now Streaming: The Entire Catalogue of ‘Sesame Street’ Songs

“… new ‘Sesame Street’ music will soon be released on a consistent schedule, for the first time in more than two decades.”

2. I’ll Have Consequences

“… I have no magic formula for dealing with disobedient and unruly children, and certainly in a world where some children’s behavior has been malformed almost from the very start, we should not underplay the difficulties and frustrations parents face. But surely we also want to place the bond between parents and children within that circle of deeply personal relationships.”

3. Why you need a little resistance in your life

“We need the rain and the occasional storm.”

4. Why Did Early Christians Prefer the Codex to the Bookroll

“When we say ‘book’ today, we generally mean a tome of bound pages. Known as the ‘codex,’ this common book form has always (over the past two millennia, anyway) looked the same — like any book on your desk. While the origins of the codex are not sufficiently explained, evidence shows that the preserved early Christian manuscripts are more often codices (plural of codex) than the then-established bookrolls. Why?”

5. Science and Theology: Two Witnesses to Reality

“… we generally have it backwards in how we think the reasoning process works. We tend to think that we work out our conclusions through the process of reasoning about the topic. But the controlled studies show pretty clearly that most of the time we already have a conclusion based on our instincts and that our process of reasoning is employed to justify what we already think. And it’s not like the smarter you are, the more open you are to other possible conclusions. The higher your IQ, the better you are at producing reasons to support your views; you’re no more likely to change your views than people with lower IQs. This might be depressing to those who have an exalted view of the human intellect, but it sure explains the inability for rational discourse to move us closer together, even when the facts are overwhelmingly on one side.”

6. Archaeologists map centuries of history beneath world’s oldest cathedral

“So far, that data has helped create a 3D digital reconstruction of what the basilica would have looked like in the 4th century. And Haynes and his colleagues are also trying to understand what it would have sounded like. Using the laser scans and information from earlier excavations, they created a simple 3D model to reconstruct the acoustics of the original cathedral.”

7. The Costs of the Confederacy

“‘It was like we were not even there,’ she said, as if slavery ‘never happened.'”

8. ‘Prosperity preachers’ like Joel Osteen can cause risky financial behavior, university report says

“The University of Toronto recently released a report saying preaching the ‘prosperity gospel’ — which centers around the belief that material wealth is part of God’s will — can lead to unrealistic optimism and risky financial behavior. The report used Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church as an example of a televangelist who touts this belief.”

9. The 25 Healthiest Foods You Can Buy for $5 or Less

“… cooking your own meals and having snacks on-hand will drastically cut the amount of money you spend on food throughout the week.”

10. The Steward of Middle-earth

“Now, after more than 40 years, at the age of 94, Christopher Tolkien has laid down his editor’s pen, having completed a great labor of quiet, scholastic commitment to his father’s vision [J.R.R. Tolkien]. It is the concluding public act of … the last member of a club that became a pivotal part of 20th-century literature: the Inklings. It is the end of an era.”

links: this went thru my mind


Bibles: Countries That Are Bad for Christians Are Good for Distributing Bibles

“Where did demand for Scripture surge last year? Try Syria, Iraq, and Laos, for starters.”

Christian faith: * Seven Lies About About Christianity Which Christians Believe; * The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer

* “Here are the most common stereotypes that Christians have about Christianity that are wrong …”

* “I used to think that their error was so blatantly obvious that they could just be ignored. I was wrong. They are massively growing in popularity in the evangelical world and are seen as credible and helpful. Before I’m inundated with questioning emails I want to share why I distrust these two and think you should as well. So, don’t shoot me — at least not yet.”

Church decline: 7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

“The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is not what they should do…but what they shouldn’t.”

Church leadership, church life, ministry & shepherding: Seven Ways Pastoring Has Changed in Thirty Years [required reading]

“… in thirty years pastoring has changed in ways we likely would have never predicted or imagined.”

Climate change, ecology, environment, global warming & pollution: Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk of Deep Changes

“‘The reality is that the climate is changing,’ said James W. C. White, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who headed the committee on abrupt impacts of climate change. ‘It’s going to continue to happen, and it’s going to be part of everyday life for centuries to come — perhaps longer than that.'”

Consumerism, culture & Christmas: * The ‘War on Christmas’: On Ethnocentrism and Blasphemy; * Do Not Judge the Christmas Shopper

* “The worry about this trend, among some Christians, is that Christ–the Reason for the Season–is being removed from Christmas and the American consciousness. This is taken to be a sign of the increasing secularization of America and indicative of moral and spiritual decline. But this is nonsense.”

* “… while I think we need to push back–hard–on consumerism in our culture, we need to be very careful in judging the motives of any given shopper.”

Hatred & violence: The Science of Hatred

“What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence?”

Justice, money, poor & poverty: * What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans [essential reading]; * Speaking of the Poor — It’s Not Their Fault!; * This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense [essential reading]; * My Journey Through Food Stamps

* “… while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical. … People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.”

* “For Christians, the issues of poverty should have nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Poverty is a justice issue! The prophet Isaiah implores the people of God saying, ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ (Isa 1:17) Part of doing right and seeking justice for the poor, is speaking correctly about the struggles and obstacles they face.”

* “…  often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.”

* “…  I did what everyone else on food stamps does — I made the food stretch each month and found other ways to keep us eating.”

this went thru my mind


Acts 5, Ananias, God, Sapphira & violence: How Do You Explain the Violent Judgment of Ananias and Sapphira? by Greg Boyd

“Knowing that God’s true character looks like Jesus voluntarily dying on the cross for his enemies, we will always know that something else is going on if God appears to act in ways that are contrary to this enemy-loving, non-violent character.”

Bragging, jealousy & rejoicing: Solving Your ‘You Problem’ by Sean Palmer

“I would only feel as if  they were bragging, if I felt something else first: JEALOUS!”

Church & faith: Together by William Willimon [21 min. sermon video clip; required viewing]

“Where the heck did you get the notion we wanted you to be comfortable? … The way of Jesus Christ is just too difficult to attempt it by yourself. …. the only way that you can be saved is by bringing all of us along with you. It’s together.”

Church & generations: A Head, Heart, or Hands Church? by Dan Bouchelle [truly required reading; as in “if you read only one thing this month”]

“I grew up in a church designed for the head. That is not a criticism. It is just a description. We did not trust emotions because they were easily manipulated and clouded thinking. Actions were important and we believed ‘good works’ were essential to faithfulness, but what really mattered was getting your theology straight. … The church of my heritage lost many of the boomer generation who walked away looking for a church with a heart. … Ironically, now that boomers make up the majority of leaders and have the most control in our churches, the emerging adult generation has shifted the criteria for validity again. Young adults today, and the culture in general, are not looking for a powerful experience of God or ballast for a head-heavy church. … What this generation longs for is not more heart but something to do with their hands. … While the young adult generation is not anti-logic or emotionless, they just aren’t impressed with their church options. They may show up for the show and agree with most of the teaching, but they will give their time and money to something that changes lives in tangible ways.”

Church & phones: The Cold, Hard Truth About Phones in Church by Jon Acuff

[I won’t spoil it for you here. Go look at it. There’s a powerful parable here, not just a smile.]

Leadership & worry: 7 Encouragements for Leaders Who Worry by Ron Edmonson

“Having a strong faith is no guarantee your emotions won’t play tricks on you at times.”

review: saving Jesus from the church

Saving Jesus From the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus
by Robin R. Meyers (HarperCollins, 2009) hb, 243pp
After the service, we stand in line, listening to “Good sermon, Reverend” a hundred times (all of which can be erased if just one person says, “Good morning, Reverend”) … (p.2)
Meanwhile, the most urgent question of all goes unasked: What kind of God did Jesus reveal? … How can our faith become biblically responsible, intellectually honest, emotionally satisfying, and socially significant? (p.7)
Organized religion is now so dysfunctional that amateur atheists are writing bestsellers. It’s easy: we wrote the script for them. It is no winder so many mainline churches are dying. They have so long lived in maintenance mode that they have lost their prophet nerve. They have put so much energy into survival that they have forsaken their responsibility to be places of free and fearless inquiry and radical hospitality as well as spiritual sustenance. (p.9)
Recent studies show that only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments and only half can cite any of the four authors of the gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Three-quarters of Americans believe that the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves,” when in fact Ben Franklin said this. (p.20)
One thing every pastor knows is that knowledge is not redemptive. Indeed, sometimes we can know the truth, and it will not set us free. Ask a smoker … (p.21)
… no matter how clean and well organized our garage, we still die. (p.50)
Henry David Thoreau put it best in Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” It is the second half of that famous quote, less well known, that intrigues me with regard to teachers of alternative wisdom. They appear mad only because the conventional wisdom of their time is so fully and uncritically accepted by everyone that any challenge to it is what appears desperate; in fact, it is that mass resignation that is the true desperation, according to Thoreau. (p.51)
Those day laborers who don’t show up in the eleventh hour will be paid the same wage as those who have labored all day proving that God is God, not the Chamber of Commerce. (p.52)
He [Jesus] is reported to have gone ballistic in the Temple one day, turning over the tables and driving out the money changers with a whip. Today he would be arrested as a public nuisance and ordered to take anger-management classes. (p.53)
Perhaps no single argument for the existence of the “historical Jesus” is more persuasive than this: if the Jews were going to make up a story about how the messiah would look, act, and die  this would not be the story. (p.61)
Docetism, which asserts that Jesus was not a man at all, but merely God masquerading as a man, is the dominant heresy in the church today. (p.71)
Easter was God’s “yes” to a peasant revolutionary, and God’s “no” to the Roman Empire. (p.91)
It seems ironic that the church urges people to study the Bible critically and view the scriptures as normative for faith and life, while at the same time requiring them to believe nonbiblical or postbiblical concepts … (pp.99-100)
… we want the Bible to give us simple answers, not richly textured metaphors, songs, poetry, prayers, dreams, and maddening parables  but marching orders. We turn biblical symbols into theological propositions and dazzling metaphors into dreary ecclesiastical mechanisms. Biblical wisdom is replaced by doctrinal armor. Hearts “strangely warmed” become bony fingers writing new commands. (pp.105-106)
Take a look at much of the church today, and you will come to a sad but inevitable conclusion. Faith for millions really is about believing stuff in order to get stuff. (p.108)
Over a lifetime of ministry, I have come to believe one thing without reservation: most of the dysfunctional things we do are compensatory. Whether we realize it or not, we are always trying to prove something to someone. (p.112)
We can no longer afford the luxury of a church that is bent over its writing desk but cannot find its boots and gloves. We cannot just go on decrying the hypocrisies of our time, like sheep getting together at annual meetings to pass resolutions against the wolves. (p.119)
The movement of ministry for Jesus was threefold: question, action, and assignment. What do you want me to do for you? Go; your faith has made you well. Now “pay it forward.” (p.125)
Today the cross is quite literally wrapped in the American flag as if there were no contradictions between the world’s only superpower and the symbol of God’s power made perfect in weakness. (p.127)
To “obey” is to recognize that the gulf between concept and capacity is so vast that, left to our own devices, we will almost always do what we feel like doing, even as we espouse noble thoughts about the need to do more. True discipleship is about obedience, because it is about not being in control all the time, but rather trusting that to act under love’s obligation is to be more free, not less so. The alternative is what we have now: the gospel as neutral energy blessing the world as it is. (p.149)
… preaching is not telling people what the Bible said, but fearlessly sharing with the congregation what the Bible has caused you to say. (p.150; quoting Joseph Sittler)
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:42) I know of no one who follows this command. I have yet to attend a conference for clergy at which, walking down the street with my colleagues, ministers of the gospel emptied their pockets for every beggar. (p.155)
Without a unifying metaphor, a grand plan, a model for the shape of the future, human beings begin to atrophy in a self-absorbed soup of gamesmanship and greed. (p.167)
… thoughtful people will ask, so what’s wrong with [Joel] Osteen’s gospel of kindness to others, positive self-esteem, leaving past mistakes behind, and material blessings? Don’t we all want these things, however we seek them or justify them, and isn’t much of the critique of the prosperity gospel tinged with simple envy at its remarkable success? So what if he never mentions sin, suffering, or self-sacrifice? Isn’t that what turns people off about organized religion? The answers to these questions depend upon what one believes about the meaning and purpose of religion to begin with. (pp.191-192)
One of the convenient truths about the prosperity gospel is that it either attracts people who are already wealthy but want more with less guilt (our name is legion) or promises a miracle for those who are in desperate straits and on the verge of financial ruin. Either way, it plays on anxiety. … consider how odd this message is compared to … Matthew 6:31-34. (p.193)
The operative question … is not “Do you love Jesus?” but, “Has Jesus ever been a radically disturbing and transforming presence in your life?” (p.219)
We must all stand up together now and tell the end-times preacher, “Methinks thou doth enjoy this fear-mongering too much.” God is in it for the long haul. (p.220)
… the gospel deserves to be called “good news” [because] It is a call not to accept a formula for salvation, but to act on an unearned inheritance: that we are created by God, children of God, beloved by God, and accepted by God. (pp.220-221)
Robin R. Meyers and I look at and perceive the Bible in two very different ways. Robin can say:
The belief that the Bible is the unique revelation of God, containing the literal words of God and defining faith as a set of beliefs that are required now for the sake of heaven later, is not only indefensible, but socially, politically, and now environmentally fatal. (p.218)
It’s no big secret that I’m more like the opposite of that statement.
But, you’d be sadly mistaken if you assumed Robin grew up thinking the way he does now. Quite the opposite actually.
Born a minister’s son and raised in a parsonage, I spent my childhood in the conservative Church of Christ, where no musical instruments are allowed in worship. (p.1)
Now pick your jaw up off the floor and keep reading.
Robin Meyers is a very good writer. He sums things up well in just a sentence, weaves multi-page stories that you simply cannot put down, and knows precisely when it is best to do either. Transparent and bold, thoughtful and clear, he clearly cares not a wit who does or does not agree with him, but clearly cares for all of humankind. His sense of humor is delightful and he’ll sneak up on you with it. He excels in the ability to describe, making him quite quotable. Robin is truly a wordsmith.
So, will you enjoy this work of his? No, not at all if scholars, theologians and writers such as Borg, Funk, Crossan, Spong, etc. make you instantly reach for your blood pressure medicine. Such are quoted or alluded to frequently. But I dare say that if you have come to the place in life where you can read three paragraphs and not have to agree with every word said in order to continue reading and benefit, you will definitely find gleanings in this field. Robin’s thoughts on the unhealthy bleed-over of patriotism into faith and his analysis of the prosperity gospel (ch.9) are some of the finest I have read anywhere. Are you made uncomfortable by portions you do not agree with at all? Well then, you know what to do: simply nibble the corn, stop when you hit cob, shift over, and repeat.
I enjoyed reading this book. It’s full of thought and is thought-provoking, the way a good book should be. It was well worth my time. However, it won’t stay on my shelf. It’s headed back to where it came from: Half Price Books.