I’ve been reading the book “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler-Bass — a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in religion or religious trends — and among the many things that have struck me so far is the following quote: “…some Christians are very comfortable defining themselves as adherents to a way of life modeled by Jesus rather than adherents to a particular doctrine or creed.”
It brings to my mind something I’ve alluded to previously but never really written about: my time with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I think it’s something I’m finally ready to start writing about. Despite the many, many issues I take with their theology, I think that there are many things about their religious community — and, more to the point, their way of life — really worth contemplating.
To give a brief bit of background, I encountered a group of JW missionaries during my years in the Dominican Republic. The small pueblo where I spent the first two years of my time there was home to a fledgling JW congregation being developed by a number of missionaries, mainly from the US and Canada, also England, Denmark, and perhaps another European country or two I’m forgetting now. Right off the bat, we found lots of common ground in our respective experience and worldviews and quickly became friends. I was already immersed in a personal study of the Bible and grew particularly close to two young women — one from Canada and another from England — who graciously offered to open their studies to me.
I was fascinated by the things they had to say and by the new perspectives they brought to the study of scripture. They encouraged me to consider scriptural passages and many of the basic ideas of faith I’d absorbed over the years in a very different light. The result was enlightening, unsettling, and even disturbing, and the questions the experience raised have taken me a long while to digest, but ultimately, I think that this sort of uprooting of my faith was beneficial to me, as it freed me to re-pot myself in much more fertile soil.
What most drew me to their community is something for which I still hold them in deep respect; namely, that they embodied precisely what Butler-Bass describes in the quote above: adherence to a way of life modeled by Jesus. (They are, of course, also adherents of a very strict set of doctrines and creeds, to a degree that becomes un-Jesus-like in its implementation. I wish to make clear that I am decidedly not a proponent of becoming a Jehovah’s Witness.) What I mean by this is that they take the Gospel very seriously. The message it contains of a new kingdom of love and salvation is one that — if allowed — must necessarily change the way we live and the way we see our place in the world. Continue reading
Inspired by Evi’s blog to do some images with quotes.
In the English conversation groups I facilitate throughout the week, I often have students draw questions out of a bowl in order to spark conversation and just have fun. Everyone in the circle — including me — goes around and takes a turn to answer each question, which may be about their pets or their hobbies or about fun trips they took, and so on. During one class, someone drew the question, “What is your philosophy of life?” It certainly sparked a lively discussion, and while there were many interesting answers (some more profound than others), this was mine: to always be kind.
Here’s the sermon I preached over the past weekend at my home congregation. And because they have my amazing, techie-wizard dad running things, they regularly record their worship and post the sermons online. So now anyone (who is not me) can enjoy listening to me putting on my pastor-voice and delivering my sermon this past weekend! It’s based on the following two texts: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20; and Galatians 6:1-16
The script is below for anyone who’d like to read along (or just read). Also, if you’re interested, you can read my first sermon here. Continue reading
This past weekend was full of history — personal history — for me. I went up and spent a few days in my hometown, Coleridge, in northeast Nebraska. Saturday night was the all-class reunion they have periodically, and also my ten year high school reunion — it’s amazing to see how people change and where they end up. It’s a blessing to me to look back and see the path my own life has taken since then. How much has changed.
The other big reason I went home was actually to preach in my home church. It was a little disconcerting at first to be standing on the other side of the pulpit I’ve been staring at for nearly three decades, addressing a congregation that’s known me since I was in diapers. But it was thrilling, too, to be preaching in the very same church where my great-great-grandfather was pastor, and where generation after generation of my family has belonged since then. Every time I set foot in that sanctuary, I feel the depth and richness of my own family history; and through it, I sense our connectedness to an even larger, older family — our Christian family through blood and faith. Going home to Immanuel Lutheran always seems to ground me and helps me orient myself and find my place in the larger Christian story.
Even the text I preached on this weekend was a great reminder that the story is far from over. We are still writing it, word by word, act by act. In this weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus sent out the 70, commanding them to preach the good news of God’s kingdom come near, to pass along his peace and to heal the sick. Jesus’s command doesn’t end with the 70 — he tells them, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We are the laborers. When we go out in love, sharing the good things God has promised to us, we become part of this mission, this story, this history, too.