Thursday, January 31, 2013

Guns in Church

I'd really rather not write about guns. They're not a particular interest of mine. I'm periodically amused by participation in laser tag outing, and we do have a few Nerf guns around the house.

But mostly guns just make me nervous. The real kind, that is. They're packed with explosives that make a small metal projectile travel faster than the speed of sound and destroy pretty much whatever they impact. Anyone who isn't slightly nervous around guns is deluded.

Respect for Guns

On the other hand, I have a deep respect for guns, at least of some varieties. For example, since at this point I'm still a carnivore, I have a special place in my heart for hunters. I think people who hunt, and therefore have direct experience in taking the life of the animal they will later eat, deserve our respect. If I eat meat, somebody had to take the life of that animal. Hunting takes us back to that sacred and difficult moment where the animal actually dies at our hands. The best hunters I know pray or give thanks over their animals and meals.

Similarly, this past Sunday our church had reason to call the police. The fact that those police officers were well-trained and armed was comforting to me. Since I am not prepared to use force in public settings, it is a blessing to know there are those out there who devote their lives (and that our city devotes funds) to an established police force who are armed and trained for the specific purpose of keeping the peace. They carry guns not for violent purposes but to protect themselves and others. I get this.

Pacifism and the Police

Any theologian worth their salt who has pondered just war theory and pacifism will acknowledge that although pacifism (non-violence) is a viable Christian alternative, even most pacifists believe in some form of police presence, even armed police presence. Most pacifistic traditions are against warfare, or Christian participation in war. But they acknowledge the need for local and limited forms of police action. One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, John Howard Yoder, argued that Christians should reject service in the military but not the police. Frankly, I think life would be pretty awful without police in our communities.

The majority of Christians, however, myself included, subscribe to some form of just war theory rather than strict pacifism, and in the just war tradition, although there are strict guidelines in place for when lethal force can be used, there are obvious cases and situations in which the use of such force is not only allowed but necessary, and this from a strictly theological and Christian perspective. One of the more famous essays in this vein is Martin Luther's fascinating "That Soldiers Too Can Be Saved" (link is to a pdf, and his essay begins on page 25).

Unnecessarily Reactionary

So, in this discussion I hear two sides making unnecessarily reactionary and over-heated arguments. On the pro-gun side, people tend to say things like, "If people would have been packing in that Sikh community in Wisconsin, or at a school where there was a shooting, then the violence wouldn't have happened, or would have been diminished." There tends to be a rhetoric that more guns would necessarily translate into greater safety. [there is an additional argument in here that lots of people need these guns to rise up against potential tyranny, and that we are already under tyranical rule; I don't buy this argument so won't address it here]. This side seems to have too glowing and facile a view of guns. They think more guns will simply solve the problem, like a golden parachute.

Closer scrutiny starts to identify all the problems with this view. Consider a gunfight in church, for example. To disarm an armed assailant in a church with arms would clearly include the possibility of collateral damage. Most police or military personnel who use guns well would be unlikely to fire guns in a crowd like a church. I imagine a variety of other scenarios by which a trained peace-keeper would disarm someone who came into church firing a gun. Perhaps they would throw a large hymnal. Perhaps they would tackle them. I don't know for sure, but I highly doubt they would go at the person with sidearm blazing.

But take the case of just your ordinary citizen who has come into church with a concealed carry. Imagine four of them rustling around under their sports coats for their guns to defend the worshipping community from an armed assailant. Start imagining this for real, and you see all the problems that attend it. Or the person who thinks concealed carry includes carrying one in their purse. Then they forget their purse down in the Sunday school wing. Imagine the possibilities that happen next.

So those are the problems with the pro-gun lobby.

But the liberal reactionary mode is equally problematic. This group tends to get all Jesus-y around guns, "Jesus was a peace-maker. How horrible that people think they could or should bring a gun into church, the very place where we worship the guy who said turn the other cheek." This groups tends to think guns are evil in and of themselves. Keep those horrible things out of church.

But I'm not sure this position is right or Christian, either. It leaves a large group of people mostly defenseless. That's fine on most Sundays, but what about the day someone really does walk into church with evil intentions? What do we do then? Augustine in his City of God notes that a remarkable new development as Christianity became dominant in the Roman empire was church-buildings as sanctuaries. People could flee to them for physical safety. But the safety of those in churches was protected by the military forces outside of the churches who chose not to go in and physically remove those who had sought sanctuary there.

However, when crazed assailants (or even, as we have seen in some places like Rwanda, organized genocidal militias) no longer observe this convention, what other recourse do churches have to safety in their sanctuaries than some kinds of armed police presence?

So Who Should Be Armed?

Which leaves me as a pastor wondering who should be armed, and how, and where, for the majority of our people to be safe when they gather at our church for worship. Like public schools, we need to give this some thought. Many other places do. Malls hire security guards. Many schools include a police presence on their campus. I assume that larger churches may actually hire a security guard or other kinds of police presence, at least for their largest gatherings like Sunday mornings.

Mid-sized congregations like ours are also going to need to sit down and make plans. Now that our own legislature is on the verge of opening the door for concealed carry in churches, we will need to think through what we want to say about this to our people. Some things that occur to me that would be wise at this stage include the following:

1) Should churches hire some kind of security person to work the parking lot or building on Sunday mornings?

2) Should churches offer training for their ushers and greeters on security for the building and worshipping community, perhaps even simple training in non-violent resistance or other kinds of conversation and activity that can reduce the likelihood of violence in the church?

3) If a member of your church is a former Navy Seal, or works for the police, or has other training that makes them an excellent resource for safety and protection, might they even be encouraged to carry their firearm in church?

4) What kinds of public statements do the church need to be making about this? Given the Christian commitment to healing and the well-being of all, it is incumbent on all of us to do some clear thinking on this topic. Biased reactionary bloviation simply won't cut it. For one example of how the ELCA has engaged this topic, see its social message on community violence.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Christian Churches in Post-Communist Slovakia: A Review

"Missionaries don't uproot themselves and get transplanted somewhere else. Instead, they are like banyan trees, and extend their root system and additional trunks to make homes in more than one place." This, or something like it, was the best lesson I learned from an experienced missionary one summer back in the mid-90s.

My wife and I served for three years as missionaries with the ELCA in Košice, Slovakia. We put down roots there. A dozen years later, I still speak with students and former colleagues from Slovakia on a weekly basis.

Recently Ondrej Kolarovsky, our good friend and the pastor who presided at our wedding, who continues to serve as pastor of the Lutheran church in Košice Terasa ( recommended a new book to me. Published by the Center for Religion and Society of Roanoke College, Christian Churches in Post-Communist Slovakia: Current Challenges and Opportunities (the table of contents, foreword, introduction, and author biographies are all included in the pdf to which I've linked the title) is, as far as I can tell, the first volume of its kind in English.

I've spent enough time living in post-Communist Eastern Europe to remain curious about the religious landscape of the region. There are considerable regional differences. Religiosity is quite different in Poland than it is in the Czech Republic, or in the former East Germany. So a book focused on the dynamics within one nation-state is smart.

However, the book does more than just focus parochially on Slovakia. The authors, most of whom are scholars from academic centers in Slovakia such as Žilina, Prešov, Martin, and Bratislava, write here in their second (or third) language, in the hopes that they can share their insights into a history that few people know, but more should. They do so because they are learning lessons from studies in post-modern, post-Christian studies that inform their analysis of the churches in post-communist Slovakia, and they believe their contribution can help inform scholarship by those analyzing religious life in other countries (especially the U.S. context).

The first chapter by Michal Valčo is a compelling presentation of the history of Christian faith in the region, extending about as far back into the history of Christian faith in Slovakia as we have record. It's a great introduction. For those unfamiliar with the work of Cyril and Methodius, for example, Valčo provides a helpful introduction. My only concern in this essay is that later opinions in the essay are often unfounded based on the data provided in the essay itself. I would characterize some of these opinions as being conservative reactionar-iness rather than solid analysis. This is the one and only bias of the book that weakens it at places throughout the essays.

Chapter two is helpful progressive statistical analysis of census data over the last thirty years. The author charts the ebb and flow of majority and minority Christian traditions in Slovakia. Roman Catholicism is by far the dominant tradition (with over 60% adherence), followed by Lutheran (6%), Greek Catholic (4%), and Reformed (2%). Those with no religious affiliation make up approximately 14% of the population. This means the country as a whole is relatively homogenous in terms of religious affiliation. The chapter ends with some analysis of the inter-relationship of secularization, Christianity, and the previous communist era on contemporary faith patterns.

The third and fourth chapters are largely "critical" essays charting what the authors describe as the dehumanization and desocialization of post-modern culture; the content of the chapter is keyed to more global analytics of post-modernism, like the work of Matthew Fforde, Emilie Durkheim, and others. Although these chapters do not forward the readers specific understanding of post-modernism in Slovakia in considerable ways, they do help set the stage for the conversation currently taking place between social critical scholarship in Slovakia, and similar scholarship happening in Europe and North America.

Chapter five will be of particular interest to Lutherans, as it examines the liturgical renewal movement in light of the developments in liturgical theology and hymnals and worship in Slovakia, with an eye to current conversations around worship and inculturation. Anyone who has followed the various controversies in North American Lutheranism around the production of new hymnals and reform of liturgies will be both amused and relieved to see similar discussions taking place in Slovak Lutheranism. My own personal experience of this while living in Slovakia hopefully adds an additional dimension. Although liturgical reform in Lutheran churches was steady and on-going, the real cutting edge developments were happening in the growing evangelical and Pentecostal churches there. I would love to see more analysis in this book of those traditions.

Chapter six is devoted to the need for a competent public theology in Slovakia. Statistical work reported earlier in the book had given indication that the majority of Slovaks do not see how the ministry of the church pertains to public goods and conversation per se. Here the book comes into conversation with some of the streams of Lutheranism dominant at Roanoke College. Valčo engages Robert Benne, a notable Lutheran public theologian, and offers a seventy page tour de force including case studies, historical survey, and deep theological analysis, of the challenges and opportunities for public theology in Slovakia past and present.

This concludes part one of the review. In the next post, I will engage Valčo's public theology essay in more detail, and survey the fascinating chapters in the book (7 and 8) on the history, suppression, and redevelopment of the Greek Catholic church in Slovakia. The volume concludes with a fascinating chapter on Jewish-Christian dialogue in Slovakia, and a series of chapters on mass media and religion.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Works of Mercy

Works of Mercy

I find these two lists (which have developed in the tradition of Catholic and evangelical thought over the last two millenia) to be very helpful in reviewing what all of us are called to do and be as faithful Christians in the world.

Corporal works of mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy are those that tend to bodily needs. The Parable of the Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46) enumerates such acts -- though not this precise list -- as the reason for the salvation of the saved, and the omission of them as the reason for damnation. The last work of mercy, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit.

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the Homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

Spiritual works of mercy

Not everyone is considered capable or obligated to perform the first three spiritual works of mercy if they do not have proper tact, knowledge or training to do so. The last four are considered to be the obligation of all people without condition.

Instruct the ignorant;
Counsel the doubtful;
Admonish sinners;
Bear wrongs patiently;
Forgive offences willingly;
Comfort the afflicted;
Pray for the living and the dead.

Although there is ongoing discussion between Lutherans, Catholics, and other Christians as to whether such works of mercy are part of saving faith, or if they are the fruit  of faith, nevertheless almost all Christian communities would agree these are expected of all Christians. Just as a healthy apple tree produces apples, a person attached to Christ will produce Christ-like works of mercy. Lutherans are likely to emphasize works of mercy not as a part of saving faith, but result of saving faith. We do not do them to be forgiven, but because we have been forgiven.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So is it silly or hip that I want to have one of these made?



Fuller hoods conform to general American academic standards for size and design, and
generally have three elements: the shell, the lining, and the trim. The shell of the hood
should coordinate with or match the color of the robe; that is, a black robe would
determine the shell of the hood be black, likewise, a grey robe and a grey shell.
The lining of the hood, signifying the degree awarding institution, is royal blue with three
gold chevrons for all degrees awarded by Fuller Theological Seminary. In this context,
"school" means Fuller as an institution, not the three schools of Theology, World Mission
and Psychology at Fuller.

An illustration of the Fuller lining can be found in the book Academic Heraldry in
America by Kevin Sheard (Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan College Press;
1962). A jpeg file with the colors is attached.

The trim, signifying the degree, is 4 inches at the widest point for all master's degrees,
and 5 inches for all doctoral degrees. The velvet trim signifies the degree being awarded
by variations in width and color. Master's degrees are trimmed with 4-inch velvet, and
doctoral degrees with 5-inch velvet. Trim color is listed below.

MASTER OF ARTS (in Christian Leadership,
Cross-cultural Studies, Evangelism, Family Life
Education, Intercultural Studies, Marital & Family
Therapy, Missiology, Multicultural Ministries,
Pastoral Ministry, Psychology, Theology, Youth
Ministry,): White trim
MASTER OF SCIENCE : Golden yellow trim
MASTER OF THEOLOGY (in Theology, Missiology, or
Intercultural Studies): Scarlet trim
DOCTOR OF MISSIOLOGY: Burnt orange trim
DOCTOR OF PSYCHOLOGY: Golden yellow trim
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (in Theology, Missiology,
Intercultural Studies, Clinical Psychology,
Marital and Family Therapy, or Marriage and
Family Studies): Blue trim


In its own Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies, Fuller Seminary uses standard
Fifth Avenue style academic gowns, black in color and trim, appropriate to the degree
level (master's or doctoral) in design, accented with Fuller hoods as described above.
Standard black mortarboard caps are used, with black tassels for master's degrees and
gold tassels for doctoral degrees. The Seminary provides this rental regalia for graduates,
which must be worn for Baccalaureate and Commencement, and returned immediately
after Commencement.

For those graduates wishing to purchase regalia for other uses, the Seminary specifies the
following standard for academic regalia: graduates are free to employ whatever style and
design they wish as long as it is appropriate to the degree level and to general custom in
the context in which they wear it. For example, if it is appropriate to the degree level and
to general custom in the context in which it will be worn, a graduate could purchase a soft
tam, rather than a mortarboard, if the graduate so desired.
If you have any further questions, please contact the Registrar.


Fuller rents regalia on behalf of our students to wear at our own Commencement
ceremonies. When someone contacts Fuller to purchase regalia, we recommend that they
take the above information to any tailor or supplier of choir, pulpit, judicial and/or
academic robes, and have regalia custom-made. Any reputable tailor or robe maker
should be able to help you - especially with the information about Fuller's particulars -
either by fulfilling your needs themselves, or at least by directing you to an academic
apparel company. If you or your supplier have any further questions, please contact the
Registrar's office.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Red Dragon Buffet and Van Winkle Mill: An MLK Day Meditation on Place

Some days offer a vision of what a place has been, what it is now, and what it will be. Saturday was such a day.

In the morning we took a day trip to Van Winkle Mill, a hiking trail at Hobbs State Park that is an ongoing investigation of a small Ozark community centered around a sawmill that operated between the 1850s and the early 1900s. If you have small children and live in NWA, this is a great starter trail. While you walk, you explore an Ozark stream and springs, and you get to puzzle out what the ruins used to be and how they worked. Visit the link above to learn more about the archaeological dig projects.

Van Winkle Mill is also located on the road that passes north and south up to Pea Ridge, so it is the point where both the Union and Confederate armies passed en masse during the early stages of the Civil War.

Hobbs is our closest state park, and we ought to hike there more often than we do. It offers great views of Beaver Lake and sports an incredible interpretive visitors center. We love the twists and turns of the drive--lots of motorcycles and sports cars out today because of the great weather--and we love checking out all the lake homes.

After our hike we stopped in downtown Rogers in the restored historic portion along the railroad tracks. Got coffee and sweets at Méridien, a "desert salon" and café on the increasingly upscale main street of the city situated along the historic rail line. Played on the playground (in NWA you can play on playgrounds year round but not every day). 

Later in the evening, we went to a very different part of NWA, the section of Springdale near the airport. We ate supper at Red Dragon, a Chinese buffet on 265 (Old Missouri). Not the fanciest or healthiest option for Saturday supper, but some pretty tasty seafood and noodle options, and with a few of us recovering from various illnesses, it was a relief not to cook, and the kids got to pick what they ate.

That part of town is incredibly diverse. For better or worse, much of the time the circles our household run in are more Fayetteville-centric, and the cultural/economic cohort we spend time with is fairly homogenous. Springdale is not homogenous. And it is fascinating. This restaurant is just up the road from Don Tyson Blvd (of Tyson Foods fame), across the road from the airport, just a block down from the Jones Center (an amazing community resource center established by a family who made their fortune in the trucking industry), and about half a mile from the Rodeo of the Ozarks. Head east from Red Dragon and you are immediately in small town/rural Arkansas. 

The largest cultural groups in this part of the city are Latino and Marshallese. In fact in Springdale the "minorities" are now the majority. This was represented in the buffet in a major way. When we started eating we were the only Anglo family in the restaurant. In addition to the Asian family who own the restaurant (their kids were watching anime on their iPad in one language (perhaps Japanese?) with sub-titles in a second language (perhaps Cantonese?)), the restaurant was full of many Latino families, plus a group of Marshallese men who were having a business meeting.

English was only the language used for commerce and hospitality. At individual tables and the desk and kitchen, the languages of the heart were many and varied.

Later, some families that looked to be from small towns west of Springdale were coming in for an evening supper. So you had in that one place an increasingly multi-cultural urban community mixing with more traditional rural Ozark and small town culture. By the time we left, my imagination was overwhelmed by the diversity and what it might mean for that to be a community here, and for us to be there in the mix. What a change it represents from the time the Van Winkles set up that mill with their 18 slaves in the 1850s.

Tonight at that buffet I saw a vision not only of what our city already is, but where it is headed. It is the vision I will keep in my head as I anticipate what our church will need to be in the next fifty years, by the grace of God. Red Dragon buffet is only a few miles from Good Shepherd, and there are very few churches out that way (and no ELCA church in Springdale). These are our neighbors. But more than our neighbors, they are us. We are them. We are we together. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What is a Lutheran anyway?

Some questions should be easy to answer but aren't. For example, many new people have been coming to our church lately, and they frequently come to us from other religious traditions (or no tradition at all). So they're curious, "What is a Lutheran, anyway?"

Similarly, many long-time members of Lutheran churches, although immersed in Lutheran culture and community since birth, struggle to articulate what makes Lutherans distinctive or unique, so one of the questions I hear frequently from Lutheran-since-baptism members is also, "What is a Lutheran, anyway?" -or- "What does it mean to be a Lutheran?"

Well, that's an excellent question, and it deserves an excellent answer. Yet the answer is more elusive than one might think. And it is elusive because before I can respond adequately, I would need to know whether you wanted:

The Historical Answer This one is pretty simple. A Lutheran is someone who participates in a church tradition that arose out of the Lutheran Reformation. There are lots of Protestant churches, and they all have their unique origins. The Reformed trace their roots to Geneva. Anglicans to England. Pentecostals to the Azusa Street Revival. Churches of Christ from the early 19th century Stone-Cambell Restorationist Movement. And so on. In each case, you tell the story of who you are at least in part from where you have come from.

The answer to the question from this perspective is simply to narrate the history. Lutheranism started in Northern Germany, centered out of Wittenberg, led especially by Luther and Melanchthon and Bugenhagen, and spread to many places in northern Europe. Those Europeans migrated to many places in North America, where they maintained their Lutheran heritage, often tightly tied to ethnic heritage, and today those various ethnic Lutheran churches have merged to form some denominational structures that still hold to the teachings and confessions of the original Lutherans. Many of those original ethnic communities have since seen their people move by way of secondary migration to form Lutheran communities even in places that weren't originally settled by Lutherans. Ours is one such place.

More could be told, including stories of global Lutheran missions. But I'm trying here to tell it simply, narrating how we got from there to here, here being Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Confessional Answer Lutherans are Christians who subscribe, in addition to Scripture, to the Lutheran Confessions as a source and norm of their faith. You can read the Lutheran confessional documents on-line. Or you can purchase a really great collection of the confessional documents, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which includes a lot of great critical tools and essays that will tell you even more about what it means to be a Christian who has a specific confession.

For more on what it means to be a confessional Lutheran, you might also check out my essay, Why I'm a Confessional Lutheran.

The Theological Answer Most of us don't carry the constitution of our church around in our pockets. Nevertheless, the model constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our denomination, includes a Confession of Faith that I reproduce here. To read the whole constitution, visit the ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations:

*C2.01. This congregation confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
*C2.02. This congregation confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
    a. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.
    b. The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
    c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
*C2.03. This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
*C2.04. This congregation accepts the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this congregation.
*C2.05. This congregation accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
*C2.06. This congregation accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.
*C2.07. This congregation confesses the Gospel, recorded in the Holy Scripture and confessed in the ecumenical creeds and Lutheran confessional writings, as the power of God to create and sustain the Church for God’s mission in the world.

The Denominational Answer Just visit the denominational web site, and browse around. It does a spectacular job of interpreting what it means to be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can also visit the great Lutheran blog clearing house, Living Lutheran, for even greater insight into what daily Lutheran life looks like across the country.

The "I Want to Read Some Books" Answer This one isn't for everyone, but many people really do want to have a few good recommendations on what it means to be Lutheran, or how to get introduced to Lutheranism. Here are my top five (I already linked to The Book of Concord above). The first is kind of the "classic" from a theological perspective, the second is the three greatest essays of Luther himself, the third is a novel about the development of Lutheranism in Sweden over three generations, and is a powerful narrative of the development of Lutheranism, the fourth is Lutheranism in contemporary feminist perspective, and the fifth is an amazing recent and exhaustive book on the history of the Reformation:

Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings

The Lutheran Swagger Answer You can read my blog post, 11 Reasons Why I'm Proud to Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It's been read thousands of times, and summarizes a lot of additional resources to learn more about being Lutheran today.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Unbelief is now world's third largest religion

New stats from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study on The Global Religious Landscape.

84% of the world's 7 billion people adhere to some form of religion.

Christians are the largest group, 2.2 billion (32%).

Muslims are the second largest, 1.6 billion (23%).

"Nones" (no religious affiliation or don't believe in God) are 1.1 billion (16%).

This makes "nones" about the same size as the Catholic church worldwide.


One out of six people worldwide does not have a religious identity.


Next largest group is Hindus, 1 billion (15%).

Then Buddhists, 500 million (7%).

Then Jews, 14 million (.2 percent).

Note that after Buddhists, all other religious traditions are miniscule as a percentage of the global population.

400 million people (6%) practice folk traditions.

An additional 58 million people (~1%) belong to other religions, such as Baha'i, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.


The nation with the most Christians is the United States (243 million), although Christians are widely distributed around the globe.

The majority of the world's religiously unnafiliated live in the Asia-Pacific region, especially China (700 million).

There are 51 million religiously unaffiliated Americans.

The religiously unafiliated are in the majority in six nations: China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan, and North Korea.

The unaffiliated, Buddhists, and Jews have the highest median age, while Muslims, Hindus and Christians have the lowest. Median age is a predictor of how religious groups will grow.

One warning from the researchers is that such surveys sometimes over-estimate certain population groups, especially Christians.

Friday, January 11, 2013

7 Great Ways to Read the Bible

You have decided to read the bible in one year, or three, or three months, but you are struggling with the very practical question: What bible should I read? Many of us try to figure out whether we should read the bible from a good study edition (and which one) or whether we should read it on-line, on our mobile device, or Kindle.

So here are the 7 best ways to read the bible, on various media platforms. Take your pick; you won't be disappointed

1. Read a print Study Bible I have two favorites. The Lutheran Study Bible is the one we give our catechumens. It has excellent resources in it, and lots of space to write marginal notes. My other favorite is the HarperCollins Study Bible - Student Edition: Fully Revised & Updated. I've loved this study edition for years, and it is also (like the LSB) in the New Revised Standard Version translation, the translation we most frequently use in public worship in the ELCA.

2. Read a free version of the bible on-line 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 translation.

3. Read via an on-line study tool  Many people want to study the bible, but with study tools embedded. 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

4. Read the bible in the original languages It may interest you to do a little research into the original languages. There is a wiki lexicon and concordance for New Testament Greek at and the full Greek Bible at . And for a resource that has Hebrew, Greek, study, interlinear, and even flash card resources, check out .

5. Read a fresh translation of the bible Many new translations of Scripture come out each year. It may interest you to read a translation other than the one you are used to. One of the best is the CEB Common English Bible. The English is how it is spoken, today, and has a fresh feel to it.

6. Download an excellent bible study program The best on the market is With a program like this, you can read many different translations, and more study tools than any one person other than a professional student of Scripture, would ever need. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A week in the life of a pastor | Gangnam Style

Sunday- Back in the saddle after a week of family vacation, preached this sermon for Epiphany worship. Then in the evening, helped host an Epiphany Party for our catechumens and potential sponsors. Hors d'oeuvres and hospitality organized by our planning team, led the group in a service of Evening Vespers and practice the Rite of Welcome for the following Sunday. Was caught by surprise by the many new people who came out, so realized I would have to focus much of the week linking sponsors to catechumens to be ready for the following Sunday. Spent much of the afternoon building forts and having an epic Nerf gun and Nerf disc battle in our house. Went on a run. Interviewed Mark Huber of Sanctuary in Marshfield, MA, late that evening, around 10 p.m.

Monday- Morning staff meeting reviewing calendar from now until Easter. Lots of good check in conversations after some time away. Sat with the Spit and Shine group after they had done a run to Home Depot to pick up supplies. This men's ministry, made up primarily of retirees in our congregation, does various kinds of upkeep and repair around our church. Spent almost the whole rest of the day designing the Rite of Welcome, calling potential sponsors, and doing a pre-marital counseling session with a couple. Multiple care conversations by phone with people who are sick, grieving, struggling. Also spent time setting up home visits and lunch meetings for the following few weeks.

Tuesday- More work on our catechumenal process, wrote content for our weekly e-blast, spent some time showing family pictures and seeing family pictures from the many participants in our Bears ministry, a group of folks who make bears for children in our area children's hospitals. Lunch with a member that included deep and important conversation about faith and life. Finally finished reading Jean-Luc Marion's Being Given. Reviewing material to teach Wednesday bible study on Wisdom literature, and Wednesday evening session with high schoolers and parents on the Nooma video series.

Wednesday- Mornings with the youngest, ferried various children to elementary and preschool, then went to the public library and the gym. Noon bible study, did an introduction to Wisdom literature (especially Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job), more work contacting sponsors, plus some catechumens who had missed the Sunday practice session. Multiple conversations today about our year of reading the bible, and how much joy people are getting out of it, and how many of our people are reading the bible for the first time! Spent time in the Alton Center with our sound guy and a lighting/audio tech imagining how to improve our audio and lighting in that space. Afternoon play date with the boys, the back for Logos and the Nooma class. After class, went over to the coffee shop (about 8:30 p.m.) to meet with our growing and energetic 20-somethings group.

Thursday- Thursday is typically my wrap up day before Sunday. As much as possible I finalize everything for Sunday worship so I can take Friday as my Sabbath, and Saturday with family and doing all kinds of Saturday things. Stopped in the office in the morning, wrote the Prayers of the Church, made final contacts for sponsors for our catechumens, read through the notes from Sunday worship, congregation having responded to the question, "What do you need for the journey of faith?" Started working to put these responses into a summary document. Then headed home to host a play date for our daughter, and clean the house a bit. Lunch at Firehouse Subs with our Strategic Planning Study Team, then time at Mama Carmen's reading the bible lessons for our Read the Bible in One Year process, catching up on e-mail. Finally, I did another Skype interview, this time with Pastor of New Communities Ben Cieslik of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. You can view that interview here.

Friday- If all goes according to plan, I won't work today. During naps I might do some freelance writing. Hope to watch at least one episode of Dr. Who, maybe go to a movie, work out

Saturday- Pre-baptismal meeting with a family, 8 a.m. for an infant of the congregation. Random family events around town. Start reading two books I'll be reviewing soon, Gary Dorrien's Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit and Paul Chung's The Hermeneutical Self.

Monday, January 07, 2013

How do you start a new church? | Sanctuary

Mark Huber on 2013-01-07 at 22.07 from Clint Schnekloth on Vimeo.

Mark Huber talks about his call as a mission developer beginning Sanctuary (, his congregation in Marshfield, MA. Mark is interviewed by Clint Schnekloth, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, AR, a congregation in the process of calling a pastor of new communities. They hope to begin a second site of their congregation that reaches new people in downtown Fayetteville and the university context. Mark and Clint learn from each other, and share this video in the hopes it might inspire other mission developers and developing congregations.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Epiphany and Geocaching

For some reason, the journey of the Magi, observed liturgically the Sunday of Epiphany (tomorrow, January 6th), always puts me in mind of geocaching and other forms of high tech recreational travel. I always imagine the wise men traveling from "the East" and arriving at Jerusalem employed some form of celestial navigation--or "astronavigation"--to find the "child who has been born king of Jews" (Matthew 2:1). Celestial navigation would have used "sights," angular measurements between a celestial body (in this case a star) and the visible horizon, to arrive at their destination. Today, with satellites orbiting strategically around the globe, many of us accomplish a similar task with GPS devices. 

In my imagination, the search for the child Messiah was the mother of all geocaching trips. The only thing wrong with my imagination- the wise men used the star to help them know the time of the birth of the child, but not the location. For the location, the wise men had available to them the same prophetic books as the Jews, and even Herod himself. They read the prophecy to Herod, "‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6).

At this point in the Epiphany story, the star does actually become a guide. Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem. "When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy" (Matthew 2:9-10). So my imagination is not totally corrupted. The wise men are wise beyond wise. They use an ancient text (the Hebrew scriptures) together with modern techniques (astronavigation following a moving star) to make their way to Bethlehem. 

It's quite the drama, really. It's inspiring. 

New tech comes with new times. Last week, for part of our Christmas vacation, I skied at Copper Mountain, Colorado. The lift attendants ushering skiers to the chairlift scan your ski pass with little scan guns that sound like futuristic lasers, like from the Jetsons. I think they use the same scanners at the Walton Arts Center. 

In any event, the lift attendant who scanned my ticket asked, with bouncy enthusiasm, "How are you doing today?" Of course I was doing great. I was skiing. I asked back, "How are you?" His reply blew me away with its authenticity and joy. "I'm living the dream, man, living the dream. At least my dream, anyway." 

The thing about Copper Mountain employees, at least most of them really are doing what they love. They want to live in those mountains, near those slopes, among those people. Many it seems would rather ski than eat.

I learned this was true, literally, when I attended worship at the top of the mountain Sunday noon. Copper Mountain Community Church offers Sunday worship at the bottom of the mountain at 8:30 a.m. Sunday mornings. The pastors then spend the morning distributing bags of cookies to employees at all the lifts and restaurants and safety stations around the resort, ending their morning of skiing and cookie love with a mountain top chapel service at 12:30. They take joy at the beginning of worship in describing their ministry, which is new to most of us who are simply there on vacation. 

Their ministry is inspiring. The pastors have found some beautiful ways to do vibrant and faithful ministry with people who work as service staff at the resort. One way they do this is by organizing a free community meal once a month, strategically timed the day before paychecks are issued. By this time, many of the Copper employees are short on cash, even hungry. A few hundred folks show out for the monthly meal.

This ministry puts me in mind of the wise men. The wise men were far from home, out of place. They would have, along the way, had occasion to pay for guest lodging, purchase food from vendors, perhaps employ translators to speak with border guards and politicians. Jesus and Joseph and Mary are themselves soon to be displaced to Egypt fleeing for safety from Herod. Put a bit of realistic flesh on the story, and you start to see all the ways that wealth, and culture, and class, and more are all juxtaposed and vivid in the visit of the wise men to the child King. 

Perhaps in this Epiphany season there are some simple lessons to be learned. For one, be mindful towards and caring of those who serve you as you go about your day. Do not take your waiter, or custodian, or ticket attendant, for granted. They are real people. For another, when you travel, you are both guest and one bearing gifts. You bring something to give--new knowledge, a gentle smile, frankincense. Third, the strangers in our midst often understand us better than we understand ourselves. The great gift of hosting refugees, immigrants, foreigners, is both the opportunity to get to know them on their own terms, and to learn more about ourselves in the encounter.

One last story. We tried to eat at Cherry Berry today in the strip mall near Joyce and College. Sadly, it has closed. In the turn to a new year, one special prayer I have is for all business owners in their struggle to make a good living.

There is, however, a new frozen yogurt shop at the intersection of Crossover and Mission--3 Crazy Berries. Forlorn and sad over the closing of Cherry Berry, our household sought refuge there this afternoon, and were amazed. The owner and proprietor knows his custard. Their product is from Russellville, Arkansas, and he was quite proud to describe how the machinery works, what makes a good custard, and more. Spending a bit of time chatting and eating there reminded me what a joy it is to get to know the people who own and operate our local businesses. It makes me proud to call them neighbors. 

Something of this pride, this joy, this care, is evoked each time I read of those wise men who traveled so very far to meet the Christ. The local and the distant, the foreign and the familiar, the secular and the sacred, all are tied together somehow, in an arc of justice, joy, and peace. Epiphany blessings to you and yours.

You can read more about the Copper Mountain ministry at my blog,
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Simultaneously published as the religion column in the Saturday edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Friday, January 04, 2013

An Inquiry Into New Year's Resolutions

An Inquiry into New Year's Resolutions 

[1] The New Year engenders a flurry of soul-searching behavior, earnest plans resolving to change current behaviors, introduce new habits and cease old ones. The practice is so common that the U.S. government even has a web page listing the statistically most popular resolutions, including links to resources that will assist in achieving the new goals.[1] Here's the list for 2012:
Drink Less Alcohol
Eat Healthy Food
Get a Better Education
Get a Better Job
Get Fit
Lose Weight
Manage Debt
Manage Stress
Quit Smoking
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Save Money
Take a Trip
Volunteer to Help Others

Clint Schnekloth[2] The science of change is increasingly sophisticated. If your goal is to successfully change your habits in the New Year, there's a good chance you can do so, especially if you follow the advice of a researcher such as Charles Duhigg, who has illustrated that changing habits has to do with changing the habit loop.[2] The loop includes an initial "cue," the trigger for the habit, then the routine itself and the body of the habit. Finally there's the reward, which tells our brain whether to store the habit for the future or not.
[3] Breaking a habit, or changing a keystone habit (a deep habit that reinforces and shapes other habits), is more easily accomplished if you can identify the cue, routine, and reward, and then experiment in changes with each, thus shifting a new reward into place behind a cue and routine you prefer.

[4] At this point, I bet your interest is piqued. One of the items in the U.S. Government list above is an attractive resolution to you personally. And I've outlined in a very succinct form a research-tested strategy for achieving the goal you seek. You can even run off and buy Charles Duhigg's book to lock in even more strongly on the power of habit and your power over it.

[5] Am I right?

[6] However, as interesting as change is in and of itself, it is incumbent on an ethicist to ask an even more fundamental question about New Year's resolutions than the rather pragmatic and pedestrian "How?" We are called here to consider the questions "Why?" and "What?" Why should we resolve anything at all? What does a resolution signify within the overall scope of our daily intending and resolving as human beings? And what is a resolution anyway? What does it mean to resolve?

[7] Dig down into a New Year's resolution and you realize that a resolution is a particular focus on human doing of a specific sort, as compared to all the other kinds of human action one might engage in on a daily basis. Drink less alcohol, for example, and you will still drink other things, and still make choices about what to drink, whether it is water or goat's milk. Save money, and you won't spend money in an economy many of us believe needs our regular reinvestment in order to flourish. Volunteer to help others, and you immediately have to start asking yourself which others you will indeed help.

[8] In other words, underneath the popular and annual quest to set New Year's resolutions is a rather bottomless and impossible quest--gaining clarity about why we choose to do this or that at any level, and how to know those are the proper actions. And this deeper question matters, because it is the only way to get at evaluating whether the resolutions we do resolve are worth our resolution.[3] One might wish--foolishly--to be able to resolve to do just one thing... but human life is not lived this way, doing just one thing. Human life in its flourishing involves thousands of daily decisions and actions. This is part of its glory.

[9] Not only that, but there are endless ways to evaluate various decisions from diverse perspectives. Look at the list above from the U.S. government, and notice how personal, and even selfish, some of them are. Most are certainly admirable on one level--on another level, they are somewhat self-serving, even vain.

[10] I'm reminded in these instances of Mrs. Jellyby of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby is zealously engaged in supporting missions work in Africa--works at it ceaselessly, in fact--but has no time for her own family or household. Dickens writes, "Mrs Jellyby had very good hair, but was too much occupied with her African duties to brush it."[4] Many of us would find it admirable to support mission work in Africa. Almost none of us would set as their New Year's resolution to brush their hair. And yet...

[11] On the other side of this equation, we have the famous quote of Augustine, who said, "Love God and do what you will."[5] I confess to loving this quote and using it often. But in the concrete it begins to flag a bit. Try it as a New Year's resolution this year: "This year, I will love God and do what I will." It very well could result in piously thus deciding to go ahead do whatever the hell you were going to do before you established the resolution.[6] It sounds good as a kind of deontological emancipatory mantra, and in a culture that virtually demands that we live thus-and-so-and-not-otherwise it likely bears repeating, but it does not give much guidance for how we should or could actually spend our time and energy from day-to-day.

[12] So what is the resolution to all of this? How then shall we live? Fastidious and unflagging attention to our daily decisions may get tiresome, but it certainly isn't a bad idea to at least spend a few days reviewing and examining our lives to observe not how we intend to live, but how we actually live. This is what it would mean to gain "resolution" on our resolves.

[13] But we may not want--or need--to spend all our waking hours in such attentive examination of our actions. This could be--likely would be--completely exhausting. In this sense, the Augustinian dictum is worth our attention. Love God, and then be free in your daily actions. If your love towards God is rightly ordered, all the daily details and decisions will fall in line.

[14] It might seem facile, but I believe is nevertheless true, that this is what it means to resolve the issue of New Year's resolutions. In the very moment when all the focus is on the pragmatic and utilitarian, hammering out the details of how we will, for real and this time really truly do what we have resolved to do, world be damned! a step back away from the specific resolutions to gain some resolution on the nature of our resolving is a good way to start the year.

[15] So now what are you going to do having read this essay to its conclusion?
Clint Schneckloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, AR.

[3] It is worth noting the other definitions of "resolve" and "resolution." In addition to the traditional New Year's definition, which might simply be "determination," resolution also refers to "clearing up," like getting better resolution on a computer screen or camera, or resolving a conflict by bringing greater clarity, even a solution. This essay is an attempt at widening the scope of what a New Year's resolution entails, connotatively.
[6] Of course, on another level this is true of any resolution, because a resolution is only a resolution. It is lived out not in repeatedly saying it, but in the doing.
Simultaneously published at, The Journal of Lutheran Ethics