The White Christian’s Burden

This is the text of a talk I gave at Greenbelt Festival 2014. The theme of the Festival was “Travelling Light”; my talk was originally called “Travelling Heavy”, and I summarised it for the programme as follows:

Christianity doesn’t travel light. It is weighed down with history, much of it shameful. But if we don’t understand our past we can’t understand how it continues to form us, and we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. What would it mean for us to deal with the burdensome history of Christendom?

 

I want to start by telling you three stories, that may or may not be familiar to you.

The first story is about the 2014 Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, Russia.* Not long before the Winter Olympics took place, Vladimir Putin passed a law banning ‘non-traditional sexual propaganda to minors’, which is to say that there was a ban on anything that could be construed as pro-LGBT propaganda. It wasn’t very clear exactly what was being banned, or how thoroughly it was being banned; there was some ambiguity over whether wearing a rainbow lapel pin would count as propaganda to minors, and the Russian government said different things at different times about whether non-Russian citizens would be arrested for breaking the law. But there was a huge outcry in the UK and the US. Celebrities wrote op-eds. Stephen Fry wrote an open letter. Gay rights activists loudly argued that we should boycott Russian vodka, or even the Olympics as a whole. Lots of people I know, including lots of Christians, shared articles on Facebook and Twitter, and talked angrily about how terrible it was that Russia were doing such awful things to their LGBT population. Read the rest of this entry »

Strangest and weirdest stories in the Bible?

As I am finishing up my second lectionary preaching book, tentatively titled The World is Crucifixion and under contract, for the first time in my preaching ministry I am going completely off-lectionary for a series on the strangest or weirdest stories in the Bible, beginning the last Sunday in Christmastide to the final Sunday of Epiphany, which is traditionally Transfiguration Sunday.  The final “strange story” will be the transfiguration.

Obviously, what I think are weird stories from the Bible might be different from what others think.  Here’s a list I’ve assembled from some internet searching about what people think are strange stories in the Bible: Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon: Duck Dynasty and the Separation of Church and Hate

I preached this sermon this morning, the readings are the lectionary for Christmastide 2, Jeremiah 31:1-14 and John 1:1-18.  The sermon led into a celebration of communion.

The prophet Jeremiah’s words characterizes the captors of the Jewish people, the Babylonians, as bullies, and celebrates that God keeps his promises, but only after God’s people recognize that they just can’t pay lip service to God, but that following God requires a real sacrifice.

This is perhaps the most important message of prophesy the church needs to hear today, as it was one of the most pervasive themes of the Old Testament prophets to the Jewish people.  The message remains the same, but the circumstances are very different.

I will return to this, but I want to talk about some things happening in the past month, during the season of Advent, as we continue through these twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

The philosopher Mary Daly’s most famous teaching is from her book, Beyond God the Father, written in the early 1970s, that “As long as God is male, the male is God.”  Her point is that the attributes we ascribe to God are often reflections of our own identities.  Read the rest of this entry »

Coming in late 2013…

Lent 5 sermon: “The Resurrectionist”

I struggled with this week’s Revised Common Lectionary this week, and decided to expand it to be on the raising of Lazarus, which is actually a subject I have never preached on before.  The lections are Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 11:1-27, 38-44, 54-57; and 12:1-11.

I’ve been reading a book titled The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise, which is a book about the public exposure of the dark side of urban expansion in London in the early 1830s, namely, the business that emerged for body snatching.  Body snatchers were thieves who stole corpses from graves.  The population of London exploded in the first three decades of the 19th century, and these years also saw an expansion of interest in the medical sciences and a new demand for medical workers.

To go back in time a little, fifty years prior, the English Parliament declared in the Murder Act of 1751 that the practice of “gibbeting” was expanded to allow judges to not only order an execution as punishment for murder, but that the executed corpse would be placed on display in a very public place, usually along a highway or at a busy crossroads.  The idea was to deter the growing problem of murders in London by treating the bodies of murderers in the same way the royalty would treat the bodies of those who commit treason against the King—traitors—and pirates.

The very next year, another Murder Act was passed by Parliament, the Murder Act of 1752.  The Murder Act of 1752 was designed again to further deter murder crimes by making clear that those who commit murder will not be buried after execution, and that their remains must be either displayed by gibbeting, with the body publicly hanging in chains, or—and this is the innovation—the body will be turned over to scientists for “public dissection.”  As a result, murder convicts’ bodies could be turned over to medical colleges for use in teaching.

With the expansion of medical education and research, however, there were not enough felons whose bodies ended up on the dissection tables.  As a result, a somewhat lucrative black market emerged for fresh bodies to be sold in secret to medical colleges.  Body snatchers or corpse thieves became known as “resurrectionists,” who would dig out fresh graves from the ground.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 4 sermon: “Smelling Like Pig Slop…”

This Sunday’s lectionary passages are Psalm 32 and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32; the following is my working draft (and draft title) for my sermon this coming Sunday at Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, PA.  Commentaries used include the UCC’s SAMUEL resource, the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary, and Anne Howard’s blog post (cited below).

Most of us know this story of the lost Son or the prodigal Son.  In fact, I was just thinking about this story as I was watching the Disney movie Pinocchio a week or two ago with my kids.  The scene in the movie where the boys, including Pinocchio, are taken away to Pleasure Island before they are kidnapped is especially disturbing to me, partially because it seems to have an undertone of how child molesters groom children they are about to abuse—to the point that it really made me cringe watching this film.  Consequently the children are all turned into donkeys, which I think is symbol of the child abuse, after they are given a taste of alcohol and tobacco, representing in the story addictions that adults have, offering them to children as a kind of forbidden fruit.

The other thing that Pinocchio reminds me of in this story is what Pinocchio is most famous for, which is the lying.  In our Bible story, the youngest son exploits the father’s money, comes back home and is extravagantly welcomed back.  In fact, the Father sees the son coming home in a distance, and the son begins telling him the speech that he has been rehearsing.  The Son had rehearsed this whole speech about how the father’s servants were eating better and so on, but the Father was so happy that he didn’t even let him get to that point.  All the Son said was “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I sinned before you, I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”

Of course, the father welcomes him home, puts good clothes on his son, places a ring on his finger, and calls a banquet.  This part of the story is important, because the ring is a symbol of the inheritance, the banquet here is a symbol of heaven, of the banquet that has no end.

The way I have always heard this story and the way I have always been taught to interpret this story places emphasis on the banquet, that the prodigal son is an analogy or allegory about how God welcomes home sinners.  I’ve actually heard this story preached at funerals for people who were pretty clearly not Christians as a mean to comfort the grieving, that God welcomes home everyone who returns.  To be honest, I really like this interpretation of the story, that no matter how far away we’ve gone from God, when we come back we are welcomed home.  (In fact, to follow my connection to Pinocchio earlier, this theme is a lot like another Disney movie that some of you have surely seen, Finding Nemo, where the Father does everything he can to get his lost son back.) Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 1 Sermon: “Why I Should Be Pope!”

The following is my draft of this Sunday’s sermon, which is using the lectionary readings of Romans 10:8b-13 and Luke 4:1-13.  I will preach it this coming Sunday at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Dallastown, PA.  Thanks as always to the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary for some helpful starting points and ideas, and I was also led to this sermon by a chapter in Altizer’s new book, The Apocalyptic Trinity, on the nature of tragedy and trinitarian thought.

In our scripture reading, Jesus heads out into the wilderness, and there is tempted by the devil, who tempts him to perform a magic trick of turning a rock into bread.  When Jesus refuses, the devil, the scripture says, “led him up” (it doesn’t say, up where, but the devil leads him up, I assume to a high point on a mountain, or high in the sky) and offers him all of the kingdoms of the world, if he is to simply worship the devil, and Jesus again refuses.

Then the devil tempts Jesus again, taking him to the pinnacle of the temple and again demands a miracle, that he throw himself from the top and command the angels to save him from death.  The devil famously quotes scripture here, and after Jesus resists the temptations of the devil, the devil departs from him until a more “opportune time.”

Among the things very interesting about this story is that there is an assumption that the devil owns all of the kingdoms, and Jesus does not say to the devil, “these are not your kingdoms to give.”  There is no indication that the devil is lying to Jesus.  And it is not just that some of the kingdoms are his to give, or only those within immediate view, the Bible instructs that it is “all of the kingdoms.”  None of the kingdoms or governments escape control of the devil, none of them are holy. Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,102 other followers