Robert Bellah, with a group of coworkers, wrote a 1985 blockbuster book called Habits of the Heart. This great book is arguably one of the best critiques of modern American society – a quest for a democratic community.
William Placher wrote in Narratives of a Vulnerable God, “The interviews that Robert Bellah and his coworkers conducted for Habits of the Heart indicate how pervasive individualism has become in religion and every other aspect of American culture. Page 138.
The well known Sheila Larson, became the central exhibit for Bellah’s observations about the passive individualism of American Culture. Young nurse, Sheila, described her religious belief as “Sheilaism.”
In words that have become iconic of our national point of view, Sheila Larson said, “My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice…It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.” Bellah and his co-writers described Sheilaism as ” a perfectly natural expression of current American religious life.”
Of course, Jesus counters the Sheilaism of our time by saying, “take up your cross.” No place in his economy for the self-absorbed and nor indifferent. Bellah is still current. So is Jesus.
William C. Placher wrote this in Narratives of a Vulnerable God, page 128.
“…we do not live in a society eager to attend to the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. If we have let the values and assumptions of our society guide us, even in matters of faith, then where will we stand when the powerful impose their agendas! Perhaps we should stand, from the start, with the crucified Jesus and the vulnerable God he makes known to us.”
“Alan Street in his book Subversive Meals has shown how the Eucharist is a table that deliberately subverts the exclusionary table of the empire. ” From Gift and Task by Walter Brueggemann, page 373.
According to Brueggemann, the greedy leaders of the empire don’t look out for their “flock” but only for their own interest. We see that being played out in the face of a small child tearfully begging the “government” to give her back her parents because they didn’t do anything wrong.
Jesus, in quite opposite action, welcomed the alienated, poor, lost, and ill. He fed them, touched them, invited them, and loved them. The Eucharist restores the community taken by the empire.
Raging against false leaders, Zechariah wrote that “the dreamers tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they suffer for lack of a shepherd.” Zechariah 10:2.
Seems like an image drawn from our front page today.
Ancient Israel was politically and religiously pragmatic. The earliest description of this can be seen in the nation’s clamor for a Golden Calf to quell their fears at Mount Sinai.
Fearing that God had abandoned them, they called for Aaron to cast an idol they could see and worship. They did this In spite of the fact that the Calf was of their own making and had no existence prior to the time when they turned their jewelry into a statue. Continue reading We have the Temple of the Lord!→
I grew up being taught that the Lord’s Prayer was irrelevant to the lives of contemporary Christians because the Kingdom, for which Jesus prays, was now present in the church. Why pray for something that already exists? Right?
So much of my life I missed out on the benefits of living inside the world of Jesus’ concerns and requests of God. It wasn’t until the last several years that the Prayer became a daily part of my life. Continue reading Living with the Lord’s Prayer→
I didn’t grow up inside a culture of respect for the earth. “Earth” as a totality – flora and fauna, beauty, wildness, and wonder.
In my childhood we used disposable products with abandon; old car oil was often poured out on the ground, and we never considered the impact that disposed plastics would have on our world. Pesticides caused a decline in bird populations. Oceans started to become big toilets where our detritus was flushed when it rained. And, worst of all, people became as disposable as our throw away products. Continue reading Kingdom of God→
Les was an old river rat who learned how to craft a life out of little wealth or conventional experience.
Henrietta, his wife, was a good partner because she was just as tough and creative as Les was. Sadly, Les did not treat Henrietta with the respect she was due. Like when she called up to Les while he was roofing a house, asking for some money to purchase shoes for herself. Not wanting to leave his perch, Les wadded up dollar bills and threw them down at her making her look like a bird hunting for worms. Continue reading Les and Henrietta→
A gargoyle looks down menacingly from its perch on the top of my book shelves. It’s easy to notice in the little 11.5 by 10 feet room.
My office was larger when it lived in a church building. In those days it had room for my 2000 book library and an area large enough for a small meeting. But now my office will hold only 1000 books, a desk, and a small couch.
But that’s enough.
A friend of mine once came into my Lodi office and asked, “Why do you have those evil-looking things in your office,” gesturing toward the ever-vigilant gargoyles. I explained that gargoyles used to be ornaments on ancient church buildings, meant to both act as a rain gutter to direct water away from the church’s walls and also to frighten away evil spirits. But that didn’t comfort her much. Continue reading The Gargoyle→
People have debated the cause and purpose of suffering for centuries. Job is the person most associated with this struggle to discover why.
The book of Job is about 4 miserable friends who visit Job to be of some comfort to him. Instead they only add to his pain. “Stop assuming my guilt,” he told them. “….for I have done no wrong,” Job 6:29.
The question of suffering is never solved. No one has ever been able to say categorically that this or that is the reason suffering occurs. The best answers are simply a well-educated guess based on the character of God and the evil of our world. That said, I believe that suffering arises from the choices that human beings make in the exercise of their free will. Continue reading Guilt by Catastrophe→