Saturday, September 29, 2012

Justice for Women

An ELCA task force for a social statement on justice for women is meeting for the first time this weekend. This morning there is discussion on domestic violence. For information about the task force, including a list of its members, see

Religion Hurts

If you consider yourself religious, or a person of faith, I'd like to take time in this column to remind you that all our religious traditions have an immense propensity to harm rather than help. We tend to dwell on the positive goods of our religious traditions, and this often blinds us to the shadow side of religion. It is human nature to use religion to cover over and justify all kinds of ugly behavior--judgmentalism, hate, disgust, dislike, exclusion, distaste. Often religion is used as a way to simply turn up the volume on whatever we personally believe, regardless of its faithfulness to the actual core of our tradition.

I know this mostly because I have friends who have been hurt, horribly hurt, by their churches or faith communities. They have been kicked out of churches, snubbed by fellow students at private Christian schools, disowned by family based on differences of religious conviction or sexual orientation. When they tell their story, I regularly learn how deeply it hurts for communities, who supposedly subscribe to a doctrine of grace and a commitment to love God and neighbor, suddenly turn on them and exhibit all the opposite patterns, glossed over with justifications from religion or scripture.

Hate with a bible bullet behind it is still hate, and it hurts all the more. And those who have been hurt in this way find it very, very difficult to trust other religious communities in the future. The betrayal they have experienced is so deep. It's the kind of thing Jesus likely had in mind when he said, with only a hint of hyperbole, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42).

I've wrestled over the years with what to do about this, how to help. I can't really apologize for the actions of others. I don't always know the other side of the story. I can't play judge, even in those instances where I'd quite like to judge.

What I do know I can do, something I've learned from my own faith tradition, is that I can confess. I can begin the process of healing by naming my own complicity, admitting to my own wrongdoing. So, here we go. I'm going to apologize. To all those who have been hurt by a church, or a religious person, or a religious community, I say, "I'm sorry, and I'd like to be there for you. I acknowledge my own complicity in the wrongdoing of my community. I'm sorry for the ways I have used my religiosity as a cover for my inhumanity. I'd like to formally apologize, inasmuch as a clergy person can apologize in a public column, not for the wrongs of anyone else, but for the various ways my religious commitments have contributed to inhumane treatment of others. Please forgive me."

I think being truly human means beginning from this posture of confession. True community happens when we find ways to be reconciled, and we can't be reconciled if we don't acknowledge what divides us. I'm not at all interested in being religious if it doesn't unite me with others, heal our relationships, and make us better people, better individually and together. I want to practice religion in a way that makes me more human, and more humane. I'm really not interested in any kind of faith that elevates me over others, or separates me from them. I'm especially interested in a faith that draws me more and more deeply into the common humanity I share with all people, and the common createdness I share with the world.

Jesus didn't simply "become" human. From a biblical and creedal perspective, he was the first fully human one. As such, you could say Jesus never was that religious. He was faithful, incredibly faithful, to his Father and to all those he named brother and sister. If it weren't for his example, I doubt I'd be religious at all. But Jesus in his full humanity makes a rather compelling case.

[simultaneously published in the Northwest Arkansas Times]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is a bishop for?

Our congregation is gearing up to host Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on All Saints Sunday, November 4th. We are honored and blessed and excited. He comes at the invitation of our youth. At a lunch at our synod assembly in 2011, the bishop mentioned that he had never been to Arkansas (just one of two states he had yet to visit at that time; the other was Maine). So the youth said, "You should come visit." To which the bishop responded, "Send me a letter, and I will try." So we did, and here he is on the way.

If you come from another denomination or religious tradition than ours, you might be asking, "What's a bishop? What's a bishop for?" In fact, even if you are a member of the ELCA you might have this question. It's a good question. Most organizations have a "head" or leader, so obvious parallels present themselves. A bishop is like a CEO, or a governor, or a president. These aren't bad metaphors. I imagine that much of what Bishop Hanson does on a daily basis is quite like what a CEO, or a governor, or a president does. Some of it is administration. Some of it is communication. Some of it is messaging. Some of it is simple presence.

I'm quite comfortable with the idea that a lot of what religious leaders do in our tradition is itself parallel to "secular" ways of being in the world. This is God's creation after all. It would actually be surprising if the church had to organize and structure in ways radically different than the way God structures the rest of society and culture. 

The basis for bishops is in the New Testament itself. In 1 Timothy 1:3 we see Paul set Timothy as overseer of the church at Ephesus, and Titus as overseer of the church on Crete in Titus 1:5. These letters, sometimes called the "pastoral epistles," offer additional instruction for how bishops should oversee, and what kinds of additional leaders should be appointed. So part of being a bishop is simply attending to matters of structure.

But if we really wanted to hone in on precisely what a bishop is, and what a bishop does, both in secular and religious terms, what would we say? I tend to think the bishop is, more than anything else, a public sign of unity. Christ is our true unity, and then it is in and through the ministry of the church, overseen by the bishop, that we live out in various ways that unity already established in Christ. The bishop has a ministry of oversight (the word bishop comes from the Greek, επίσκοπος, which means overseer or guardian). In the early church, the bishop was not differentiated overly much from other ministries of oversight, like presbyters and pastors. In fact there is an important way in which bishops are still simply pastors (and pastors are in fact bishops).

And this ministry, the way bishops, pastors, and presbyters are similar, is that they perform a ministry of unity. Not every single member of the ELCA can travel all over the ELCA and visit congregations and represent the ELCA as a whole, be the one by and through the ELCA represents itself to itself. The bishop can. Similarly, although most members of a congregation do not have a calling to know all the groups within a congregation, travel between them, and represent the church as a whole to itself, a pastor does.

Similarly, when I walk or drive around Fayetteville, I know there is a very practical and real way in which I as a person "stand in for" my church as a whole. When people meet me, and learn that I am the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, for better or worse they consider me the representative of that church.

This is what Bishop Mark Hanson does for the ELCA. He represents us to ourselves, and to the wider Christian community, and to the world. He serves on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood partnerships. He served previously as president of the Lutheran World Federation. He serves on the executive council on the executive board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Each of these is an example of the way he builds bridges and is a sign of unity between the ELCA and, respectively, public service, the global church, and the ecumenical church.

And he does it incredibly well. Our current bishop is a faithful preacher, teacher, and leader. I'm honored to call him my bishop, and thankful for his faithful leadership.

The bishops of various synods within the ELCA then also oversee the ministry of unity in its various dimensions. They approve pastors and ordain them for ministry. They preside at the Eucharist. They teach and preach in ways that (it is hoped) faithfully maintain the unity of the church, faithful to Scripture and our confessional heritage.

I hope this is enough of description to inspire readers to celebrate with me as we welcome Bishop Hanson to Northwest Arkansas. As we gather for worship with him on All Saints Sunday, we will celebrate, visibly and truly, the unity of the church. We will come together as one body, and call to mind the saints, all those who have gone before us in faith. 

I hope you can join us.

Pastor Clint +

p.s. You can read some pretty fascinating theological stuff about bishops, the best of which is likely John Zizioulas's Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries) and from the Lutheran side, Timothy Wengert's Priesthood, Pastors, Bishops: Public Ministry for the Reformation and Today

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Top of the heap: 

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals -- The Lion The Beast The Beat
Hands down my favorite rock album of the year. It's the first album I've ever purchased as an LP.

Father John Misty -- Fear Fun
Highly memorable gentle indie rock sound.

Rachel Kurtz -- Broken and Lowdown
This is Rachel's break-out album, great mix of blues and rock and gospel and more.

Otis Taylor -- Contraband
This is like "trance" blues. Highly memorable and unique.

Rodrigo y Gabriela -- Area 52
I have rarely if ever heard a guitar duo with such chops, intensity, and musicality.

Calexico -- Algiers
My favorite ambient rock group, and this one recorded in Algiers across from New Orleans.

There were so many absolutely fantastic albums that came out this year, I list the rest without ranking, simply indicating a set of albums I think are worth a listen.

The XX -- Coexist
An experiment in how spare you can make rock.
Sleigh Bells -- Fear Fun
When you are ready to bang your head and dance.
Leonard Cohen -- Old Ideas
Cohen keeps bringing it. 
The Shins -- Port of Morrow
I end up in Shins mood once a month or so. This is a great installment.
Jonathan Rundman -- self-titled
A collection of 20 of his best songs. If you've never heard Rundman, start here.
Cloud Nothings -- Attack on Memory
Grungy greatness. Loud and in your face.
Grimes -- Visions
Huh. I don't know how to describe it, but I like it.
Metric -- Synthetica Reflections
Synth pop to groove to.
The Avett Brothers -- The Carpenter
Great story telling southern rootsrock.
Dr. Dog -- Be the Void
The hardest working rock band there is. If you've never heard them, you have to.
Laura Veirs -- Tumble Bee (children's)
This is a lovely children's album. Great for the parents too.
Fun. -- Some Nights
What a voice. Poppy goodness.
THEESatisfaction -- awE naturalE
Cosmic math rap. Yes, that's what I said. 

Still on the way (but much anticipated):

Rickie Lee Jones
Mumford and Sons

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The King James Bible for Lutherans

I'm calling it now. It's an enigmatic concept, but bear with me. We tried reading the Common English Bible for the public reading of Scripture in worship during Lent of 2012, and found it a reasonable contemporary translation (although lots of folks didn't like the contractions).

I've been convinced by Robert Alter's review in the The New Republic that I need to invest in the new Norton Critical Editions of The English Bible King James Version.

I have a feeling that our congregation(s) might enjoy it as well, to hear the language of the King James in worship.

I know, this is going to sound strange coming from a Lutheran. People suspect we like the NRSV the best, or maybe The Message. But Alter's review, plus other kinds of developments in translation work in the last couple of decades, have me convinced that a serious scholarly resource on the bible as literature, and with the King James as the literary text, is an incredibly formative and important step.

Anyone else want to try it with me?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

11 Reasons I'm Proud to Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Since my "brand" of Christian is a tiny minority in this part of God's world, I get asked a lot of questions about our denomination. Most commonly either How are you different from the other Lutheran groups we know?  -or- Is that like Mormon or something?

I've been trying to create a short list of what's best about us, what makes us truly unique. Here's a first attempt:

11. Although we are "protestant" and in fact in a sense descended from the true founders of Protestantism (well, actually that honor goes to Jan Hus and the Moravians, but that's a whole other and more complicated story), we are Protestants of the Evangelical Catholic variety. We emphasize how to keep proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ clearly while maintaining as much of catholic substance and practice as possible. We're Protestant Catholics.

10. We have the best national youth gathering of any denomination, hands-down. 35,000 youth gathering in the abandoned places of empire (last two times around in New Orleans, this next time in Detroit). You really have to see it to believe it.

9. Lutheran theology more faithfully proclaims the freedom we have in Christ than any other theological tradition of which I'm aware. When the gospel says you are free, you are free indeed. Love God and do what you will (Augustine).

8. We are widely and deeply ecumenical. I think we may be in full communion agreements with more denominations than any other denomination, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Moravians, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed church. Plus many more ongoing bilateral conversations.

7. We are a member of the Lutheran World Federation, which connects us to Lutherans in as far flung places as Iceland, Australia, El Salvador, Madagascar, India, Tanzania, and beyond.

6. We write social statements. Lots of them. Because we believe taking a public stand on matters of social justice is simply what Christian communities are called to do.

5. Conformity is not required in our denomination. Your average ELCA congregation may split about 50/50 Republican and Democrat, for example. We find ways to be different, together.

4. I've eaten lutefisk and heard a Lutheran mariachi band at church potlucks. The most important word in that last sentence is "potlucks," but the most intriguing words in that sentence are "lutefisk" and "mariachi."

3. Lutherans have the largest charitable organization in North America, Lutheran Services in America. Whether it is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran World Relief, ELCA Disaster Response, Lutheran hospitals, and beyond, Lutherans have a deep and abiding commitment to service to the neighbor in need.

2. Lutherans do liturgy. Our approach to liturgy, however, is very "open concept." So liturgy is (often) accompanied by piano or organ, but it is also rock liturgy, frontier liturgy, or beyond. But Lutherans do liturgy, and it is a beautiful mark of who we are.

1. And we are committed to liturgy because it is worship context for the sacraments, the way and the place through which we meet and encounter Christ, who is hands down the best reason to be a part of the ELCA. Lutherans know Christ is the main thing.

Every denomination has a unique personality, a way of being in the world that contributes to the wider ecumene and Christian witness in the world. These are hallmarks of our personality. There are others. You're welcome to list them.

Mission, Communication, Worldview

Missional outreach in a pluralistic, post-modern, urban context is best accomplished by understanding and communicating through the hearer's worldview. This requires:

  • Measuring communications by what people hear, not by what we say;
  • Meeting people where they are, not where we are;
  • Recognizing worldview differences are not limited to race and ethnicity but include generational differences and social orientations;
  • Recognizing there is no 'right' worldview, just different ways of seeing the world;
  • Supporting, leveraging and connecting with hearers' relational networks, thereby enabling ministry to have the widest possible impact;
  • An emphasis upon incarnational and relational approaches to ministry.
Bonus points to whomever correctly guesses the source of this quote.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The beauty of being in East Fayetteville, Arkansas

A high for today: I re-discovered (for the umpteenth time) the beauty of East Fayetteville. I've walked all over this neighborhood, but there are still numerous beautiful homes and wonderfully appointed yards I haven't seen. I'm especially taken with the tall ornamental grasses some folks have growing.

Printed out a Google map and then covered it with my chicken scratches in order to create a strategy for wending my way through some more out-of-the-way neighborhoods in the environs around our church.

Why? Well, today I set it as my goal to hand delivered half of our fall stewardship packets to the members of my Shepherd Group. We organize our congregation into Shepherd Groups, based loosely on geography. Since I live very close to the church (about eight minutes walk on foot down Raven Trail), most of these dozen deliveries were within about a two mile radius of the church. Because we were encouraging our Shepherd Group leaders to hand deliver the materials, I wanted to take personal responsibility for delivering the packets to my own group.

Since I was delivering in the afternoon, I missed most people, and left the packets on their doorstep. I'll follow up with a phone call or Facebook message. Please know that when I stopped at your house, I prayed for you, and waved in a friendly manner at your neighbors.

To my peeps: If you are delivering these materials like I am, you have already discovered the difficulty  of doing what many delivery people do daily--finding your way around the surface of the planet. I so often sit in familiar space, or navigate digital or conceptual space, that whenever I have to find my way around geographical or cartographic space, I'm challenged. It takes a bit for me to get my bearings.

Then, in addition, to plan a series of stops on a map adds another level of complexity. Where should I go first? Are there obvious trajectories to head out on? How do I visit seven different houses without backtracking unnecessarily? How long will this take?

I decided to do the deliveries by quadrants. This afternoon I delivered seven envelopes in the northern portion of our neighborhood. Tonight I'll walk my own immediate neighborhood to deliver four envelopes to households who are our immediate (literally) neighbors. Then tomorrow I'll deliver two more packets to some houses that, although geographically only about half a mile from my house, are actually a five mile drive, because I have to around and over a creek and through some foothills to get back into their neighborhood, which abuts ours.

I like knowing my neighbors. It helps to know where they live. Blessings to all those who visit homes, and care about the beauty of where we are, and pay attention.

Low for the day: It's not as easy as we thought to recover the lost data of our church database as we make the switch to a more dynamic database where individual members manage their own information. We're excited about the switch, but it is a bit slow. Thanks to everyone who has promptly gotten on-line and figured it out.

View Larger Map

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Not only do the two alleged meanings of the term oikonomia--that which refers to the internal organization of the divine life, and that which concerns the history of salvation--not contradict themselves, but they are correlated and become fully intelligible only in their functional relation.

That is to say, they constitute the two sides of a single divine oikonomia, in which ontology and pragmatics, Trinitarian articulation and government of the world refer back to each other for the solution of their aporias.

         - Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, 51

    Stanford University Press,

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; it was rejected by his publisher, and was found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts. It was first published in 1923 in Albert Bigelow Paine's anthology, Europe and Elsewhere.The story is in response to a particular war, namely the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, which Twain opposed. See Jim Zwick's page "Mark Twain on the Philippines" for more of Twain's writings on the subject.
Transcribed by Steven Orso (

[In an effort to only read and reflect on political stuff that is at quite a distance historically from our present political climate, I offer this from Mark Twain. Although we are more distant from our wars (what with drone strikes and more) than in Twain's era, the story still applies.]

Monday, September 10, 2012

Contrasting Church 2.0 and Church 3.0

                                                 Church 2.0                                      Church 3.0

Seating when gathered              Rows                                              Circles
Environment                             Anonymous                                    Intimate
Leadership source                     Institutions of higher learning         local context and people
Growth                                      Addition                                         Multiplication
Results                                       An audience is attracted                 A spiritual movement
Ministry practitioners                 The ordained                                  The ordinary
Resources                                   Imported to the community           Discovered in the community
Primary leadership role             Pastoral teacher                               APEST team
Learning lab                              Classroom-based education            Trench-based education
Cost                                           Expensive                                       Inexpensive
Ministry setting                          The meeting place                          The marketplace
Success                                      Full seating capacity                       Full sending capacity
Church posture                          Passive: "Y'all come!"                    Active: "We all go!"
Attraction                                  Felt need programming                   Obvious life transformation
Model of church life                  Academic                                       Family

This is adapted from Neal Cole's Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church. I've changed just a bit of the language to fit my ecumenical context a bit.

I find myself ready to make this upgrade, while holding dear, and clinging hard, to aspects of the current operating system.

I make my living doing 2.0. My passion is in discovering life in 3.0. So I consider myself, and many in my community, in that uncomfortable beta stage between systems.

And I find this list from Neil Cole immensely helpful.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Don't read the bible

Face it. Most of us are on "here" more than we aren't. Where is "here"? Well, on the internet, of course. What's the first thing you read in the morning? What's the last thing you read at night? See what I mean?

Christians often encourage each other to read the bible regularly, diligently, like taking their medicine. But the bible is a book, right? To actually read the bible in the morning and at night and moments in between, you have to go find it, turn pages in it, and so on. You have to have a bible, and you have to understand it's technology, it's architecture. For some of us, that is a considerable barrier. We know how to navigate a web page better than how to navigate a bible.

There are plenty of resources for reading Scripture on-line, but in my experience, although we have begun to inhabit many other practices of on-line life as natives, reading of Scripture is not one of them. It's such an ancient book, it's so holy, we can't read from an iPad as the lector, can we? Can I just read a couple of sentences of a daily devotion web site before checking my e-mail? Is that enough? Is that even prayer?

Enough of the rhetorical questions. I think the point is clear. So far although the bible has indeed migrated wholesale to the digital world and is fully mediated here, we still haven't tapped into that mediated reality as fully as some others. So this post serves as a "best of" list to help all of us make the move.

Don't read the bible. Browse it.

  •  Just the Bible in English  The bible is available for free on-line in many forms. The best option for a totally free study bible is probably the Net Bible, . This is a new translation, translated specifically to be a net based bible. It has plenty of study resources and is an excellent (if moderately conservative) translation. For those looking for other options, the Oremus Bible Browser, , allows you to browse many of the most popular English translations.

  • Praying the Bible However, sometimes reading the bible "straight" isn't the best approach. Scripture is scripture because of its devotional import. It is for worship and prayer. One of the best ways to browse Scripture is to browse it embedded in the daily prayer offices of the church. And here internet resources shine. Typically, in order to pray the daily prayer office, you need at least two or maybe even three books. You need a hymnal for hymns and prayers. You need a bible for the scripture lessons. And you need the daily office guide itself, which then points to these other resources. The Lutheran Church of Honolulu, on the other hand, has a webmaster who has designed a Pages for the offices that are produced dynamically every time they are accessed. No matter what day of the week it is, simply navigate to, then click on the prayer office you wish to pray, and the entire service is right there in front of you, inclusive of prayers, scripture, and more.

  • Study Resources On the other hand, many people simply want to study the bible. For this purpose, there are many dynamic study resources. One of the best is hosted at Luther Seminary, . This site is a guide to the bible but also a study tool. You can create study plans, take notes, and join the conversation. In addition, many clergy find sermon prep web sites helpful for studying the lectionary text for the week (lectionary being a fancy word for the schedule of readings for Sunday worship). Two of the best are and The Hardest Question, . The most comprehensive is

There are oodles of other digital bibles out there, bibles you can download to your e-reader, and much more. Many you need to purchase. I've tried to stick to what is free and easily accessible from any browser. These sites should provide more than ample proof that the web is equipped, more than equipped, to help all of us integrate bible browsing into our daily browsing. Bookmark items above you find helpful, and add comments below for additional resources (I'm sure I've overlooked great material, and would love to discover new links to state-of-the-art bible resources on-line).

p.s. The photo at the top of the page is from Accordance, hands down the best bible study tool on the market. It's a Mac product, although they've now migrated to many different platforms. To check out this immensely rich option, visit

Monday, September 03, 2012

A Labor Day Meditation

If you aren't working today (and if you are God bless you), it is right and proper to enjoy the holiday in many of the ways typical for a three day weekend. Set off the fireworks you weren't allowed to use during the fire ban. Grill. Go swim before the pool closes.

Today, in addition to playing with the kids (and not to "blabor" the point, blogging), I finished building the play set I had started work on with my father-in-law last month (see the picture), cleaned the van, and now anticipate doing during nap time what I love best. Reading.

So what to read on Labor Day? Well, I have some suggestions. First, consider the All Fayetteville Reads book pick for this year, The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Since I personally know so many people in this category, it's a topic that touches my heart, and is worth considering on this Labor Day weekend.

I kind of also wish if Clint Eastwood were going to have a conversation with anyone at the RNC, he would have chosen the working poor instead of Obama. I think they would have talked back.

Another fantastic piece, more obscure but worth the time, is Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Walmart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise. Since I live in Northwest Arkansas, Wal-mart has a very large presence. They are perhaps the largest employer in the area, especially if you count all the companies that are here as vendors. Lots of great people from our congregation work at Wal-mart or various vendors. Walmart has a very interesting understanding of work in relation to faith, much more complex than the caricature it often receives, and it's worth spending time with Moreton's ethnographic work on the topic.

If I think about books that inform a sense of my own work as a pastor, perhaps the most important are Gordon Lathrop's The Pastor: A Spirituality, Heidi Neumark's Breathing Space, and Will Willimon's Pastor. The first is the work of pastor as prayerful work. The second is the work of pastor as embedded in context work. The third is the work of pastor as work.

Besides pastoring, I have two avocations. The first is being a dad. On this topic, I love Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs. My other avocation is to the intellectual life, and a little known book that should be much more widely known, is my touchstone for this, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by A.G. Sertillanges.

By now you can tell that I believe reading is itself a good and proper form of labor. More of us should engage in it more often.

If you are interested in reflecting a bit on a wider understanding of labor in our culture, I suggest two possibilities. In Wisconsin, I used to serve on the board of Interfaith Worker Justice. This is a classic social justice organization advocating on behalf of worker rights. I have great respect for their work. Another interesting resource, this one funded not by Wal-mart but by Tyson, the other big corporation here in Northwest Arkansas, is The Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace. Tyson has one of the most interesting workplace chaplaincy programs I've encountered, and they offer lots of learning opportunities through this center at the University of Arkansas.

Finally, I consider integrity in the workplace to be a dominant motif in Lutheran vocational reflection. In addition to a classic Lutheran work on vocation such as Gustaf Wingren's Luther on Vocation, I recommend Stephen Carter's Integrity. In this election cycle, I wish every single politician would be required to read it three times before gaining access to any funds from their SuperPAC.I kind of wish they were also required to read Paul Griffith's Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, but alas, no one will listen...

Finally, although I was raised "dirty" collar, that is, on a farm, and so grew up with deep respect for that kind of labor, and although I now work in a pastoral context with a lot of white-collar folk, my deepest sympathies probably always remain with blue-collar people. On this topic, you can do no better than to read works by two of my friends, Darren Cushman-Wood's Blue Collar Jesus, and Tex Sample's Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus. Both will knock your socks off.

And that is quite enough. This turned into a Labor Day bibliography more than a Labor Day meditation. But then I find bibliographies meditative, and reading is work, so...

Labor Day blessings to all.