Friday, July 15, 2005

Soul Searching

I've been reading "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teens", and I'm convinced that every parent and pastor should read it, especially chapter 4 entitled, God, Religion, Whatever. The contents of this chapter are based on extensive interviews conducted with teenagers across the country of every religious tradition. Here's one paragraph:

"Broad swaths of U.S. teenagers-girls and boys, young and old, wealthy and poor, urural and urban, Southern and Northeastern, white and black and Hispanic and Asian-tell us that religion is very valuable, important, and influential in their lives. This is no doubt true in many cases. But observers should know that the religion to which most of them appear to be referring seems significantly different in character from version of the same faith in centuries past. The religion that many U.S. teens acclaim today is not commendable for youth because, for example, it is revealed in truth by holy and almighty God who calls all to a turning from self and a serving of God in gratitude, humility, and righteousness. Nor is it commendable, alternatively, because it inducts them into a community of people embodying a historically rooted tradition of identity, practices, and ethics that define their selfhood, loyalties, and commitments. Rather, the religion that many U.S. teenagers acclaim today is for them commendable because it helps people make good life choices and helps them feel happy. What legitimates the religion of most youth today is not that it is the life-transformative, transcendent truth, but that it instrumentally provides mental, psychological, emotional, and social benefits that teens find useful and valuable" (154).

More quotes to follow...


Our family has been participating in a CSA for the first time this year. Pleasant Hill Farm, about two miles east of Stoughton, prepares a 5/8ths box of fresh organic produce for us to pick up every week. We pay a membership fee, and then participate in the abundance (and sometimes blunders) of a season of production.

The ownder of the CSA does a great job. He's a garlic guru, so early in the season we received every kind of garlic I'd never cooked with before, but loved- scapes, green garlic, etc. Each week we get a lot of the basics, like leafy greens, potatos, squash, onions, carrots, and we usually get a delivery of at least one or two items per week that I have to learn how to cook with, like basil, beets, kohlrabi, and the tops of various tubers.

I must confess that it's more fun than growing your own garden, because you feel like you're participating in a community activity. You can stop out and do self-pick any time, and if I had time or decided to make time, Pleasant Hill welcomes volunteers to come out and do some of the grunt work involved in maintaining such a large organic vegetable garden.

I've got this routine going, every Tuesday afternoon I stop by the farm, pick up our box, drive home, and spend about an hour cleaning and peeling and cutting things so they'll fit in the frig, then researching recipes that make use of what we've received. I think never before in my life have I thought about vegetables as pure gift. That and the rasberries that cropped up in our back yard about two weeks ago and have delighted us when made into sauce, pie, and jam. Geez is it ever good not to be living in the city and apartments any more!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Please Pastor, Could You Lengthen the Sermons a Bit?

I’m currently reading “Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry” by William Willimon, and came across the following quote:

“At a meeting of pastors, a noted church observer was asked, ‘What about the length of sermons?’ The observer responded, ‘From what I observe, sermons are getting both longer and shorter. It’s the tasteful eighteen-minute sermon that seems to be disappearing. In postmodernity, the middle disappears. I think the main factor is the median age of your congregation.’ Then he added an observation that surprised us. ‘And the younger your congregation, the longer the sermon.’ What? We though the under-thirty, MTV crowd had an attention span reduced to the length of time between television commercials.

He went on to say that those under thirty are unformed, uninformed, and malformed in the Christian faith, and many of them know it. They therefore long for formation, regeneration, so sermons to them will need to take more time to tell the story, to name the name, to go over the basics of the faith.” (216)

I’m not convinced that the older generation is any more formed than the younger in the Christian faith, but I do believe longer sermons are essential in an age when the catechetical sermon may be the most important form of sermon to preach. What do you think of the quote and its implications?

Friday, July 08, 2005

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word

I was at first perplexed by the introduction of this phrase, "Holy Wisdom, Holy Word", into the "Renewing Worship" liturgical proposals. It is spoken by the lector after the reading of the lessons. I now realize, after speaking with the Director of Worship for the ELCA, that it was introduced by the Episcopalians into some of their liturgies, and we have borrowed it. I believe the phrasing is probably influenced by certain forms of feminist Wisdom Christology (Elizabeth Johnson's She Who Is, for example, or Fiorenza's Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet).

I have trouble figuring out how exactly this profits us liturgically to make this change to the liturgical response to the readings, emphasizing the conjunction Christ-Sophia rather than the Scriptures being for us the "Word of the Lord". The Word of the Lord, the traditional phrasing, is a confession of faith, "Jesus is Lord" being the primary confession of the church. I don't understand what the statement "Holy Wisdom, Holy Word" means, unless it means something much more second-order and less confessional, like "This is a word that contains wisdom for us."

I'd like to understand this phrase better, since it seems that it will be introduced into the next hymnal and liturgy of the ELCA.

What think ye?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Gregory of Nazianzen

I've been reading O.C. Edward's magisterial "A History of Preaching", and having arrived at the chapter on the Cappadocians, decided to plunge into the primary sources a bit before continuing on to Chrysostom and Augustine. In my search for good translations of these texts, I came across Faith Gives Fullness to Reasoning , by Frederick W. Norris. This is a great monograph version of Gregory's Five Theological Orations.

Basically, the five theological orations are sermons on theological method that are simultaneously constructive theological proposals regarding the Trinity. In other words, it is the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is the source and norm for theological method.

The genius of these orations is this. They reflect on the Trinity. They introduce theological method. They preach. And at the same time, they are fresh and vivid and accessible for even a first time student of theology. If and when I teach a straight up class on theology in the parish, these five orations will be one of the first things we read, of that I am certain.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The People

We're taking two techy leaps forward this morning. I've stubbornly refused to upgrade past the Mac OS X I received with my laptop, so Panther and Tiger have passed me by. This means my Macintosh browser is obsolete- but today I downloaded Mozilla and have been finding it Wunderbar.

Second, Blogger is now featuring its own image uploading function, so I'm test-driving it with a photo of our congregation (half of it) gathered for worship. I'm at the same time working my way through Lumen Gentium- apropriate, I hope.