Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Book review: The Abbey

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: The Abbey

by James Martin, SJ


Author James Martin aims for a story of spiritual awakening and falls short. A divorced mother grieves the loss of her son, when circumstances contrive to bring her to an old Abbey, housing monks. There she finds solace and inspiration in an image of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Martin writes with humor and believability, but lost me when the plotline turned flat. He teases us with the potential for romance, and again with the mysterious image of Mary, but both tangents lead nowhere. Instead, about halfway through the book, it turns into a teaching opportunity for Martin to introduce us to Jesus.

I believe this book could be comforting to the right reader, but it just simply didn’t resonate with me.

HarperOne, © 2015, 212 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-240186-1

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Book review: Gifts of the Dark Wood

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Gifts of the Dark Wood

by Eric Elnes


The soul, says Pastor Eric Elnes, has a native buoyancy. Like a rubber ball under water, it yearns to rise. This book is about “finding your place in this world at the very point where you feel furthest from it” … in the Dark Wood.

No one enters the Dark Wood of their own volition. You awaken there, by the nudge of the Holy Spirit. This, by the way, is as close as Elnes will ever get to preaching Christianity in this book. In fact, you’ll find his concept of the Holy Spirit to be respectful of multiple spiritualities (look up Convergence Christianity). There is a realm of Spirit–what Jesus called the Kingdom of God–that intersects our world, or as some say, infuses it. Any religion with no contact with this Holy Spirit is a sham, insists Elnes.

In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, Jesus offers examples of people who find deep blessing in this world. The list is surprising: those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn the loss of a loved one, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted and slandered and discredited.

The Spirit awakens us in our personal Dark Wood, where we may find unexpected gifts awaiting us. Elnes steers us toward seven gifts that are found only where we feel unsettled. These are the gifts of uncertainty, of emptiness, of being thunderstruck, of getting lost, of temptation, of disappearing, and of misfits.

Inspiring and encouraging, witty and intelligent, this is an easy book to recommend. You can also find Elnes online at Darkwood Brew.

Abingdon Press, © 2015, 189 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4267-9413-1

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Book review: Wearing God

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Wearing God

by Lauren F. Winner


How we talk about God matters.

When we call God our “friend,” it invites a new perspective. Or take a cue from several Biblical passages and try thinking of God in female terms. Calling God “She” can feel uncomfortable, especially if we have old-fashioned ideas about God, but breaking old molds may help us grow.

Winner’s book is not post-modern. It’s respectful, creative, a bit fanciful (though I’m not sure it means to be). The title, Wearing God, stems from thinking about God as clothing. Huh? Yes, it’s Biblical–this image comes from Galatians 3: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” With further chapters about God as smell, as bread and vine, as a laboring woman, laughter, and as flame, Winner opens our mind to an all-pervading God, one who is in and around us in all things.

Wait, did I say “smell?” Yes … God smells, in both senses of the word. God smells our offerings, and He is himself a fragrance. He gave himself on the cross as a “sweet-smelling savour” (KJV).

I think this is a comforting and appropriate book for Christians of all persuasions.

HarperCollins, © 2015, 286 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-176812-5

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Luke 15:11-12, Drop Dead, Dad

Monday, October 19, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 15:11-12, Drop Dead, Dad

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

There are many levels to the parable of the prodigal son, but this one is often neglected. In Palestine, when a son asks his father for his inheritance while the father is still alive, it’s equivalent to saying “Why don’t you drop dead, Dad?”

The typical response would be to toss the son out of the house penniless. The son in Jesus’s parable, having had enough of whatever tension brought this about (with his father? with his brother?), was probably expecting this result and no longer cared. He was ready to give up his inheritance just to get away from the family. He would have been astounded at the father’s response and generosity.

Having little respect for the inheritance, but having suddenly come upon a windfall, his plans changed. The inheritance became his downfall. He squandered it all in “riotous living” and returned to the father’s house penniless and ashamed.

Thank God Dad didn’t drop dead.

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Book review: Charity Detox

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Charity Detox

by Robert D. Lupton


The author of Toxic Charity is at it again. Lupton insists that most of the work we do in the name of charity does more harm than good. Proclaiming that the only effective charity is the kind that asks more from those being served, rather than less, he lifts capitalism onto a pedestal and incriminates socialism and philanthropy as building dependency rather than affirming that the recipient also has something of value to offer.

Lupton’s arguments are convincing. His focus is primarily on poor communities, and his conclusion is that the best thing you can do for a person is give him or her a good job. Why capitalism? Only for-profit businesses produce enough wealth to create enough jobs to lift a community out of poverty.

Perhaps the worst thing you can do is give a person a handout. Lupton is presumably a Christian, but he’s not a fan of mission trips. They don’t contribute to local economies: mission trippers come to serve, not consume. They spend their money on airfare and projects rather than on merchandise and excursions. They flood local consumers with free goods, naively undercutting local businesses, the very system locals depend on for their livelihood. The research of a friend of Lupton showed that between 1992 and 2006, a half million workers in Nigeria lost their jobs due to the inflow of donated clothing. But perhaps even worse is the effects of repeated “charity”:

Feed a person once, it elicits appreciation.

Feed him twice, it creates anticipation.

Feed him three times, it creates expectation.

Feed him four times, it becomes an entitlement.

Feed him five times, it produces dependency.

So what can we do for the poor? For one, don’t denigrate big business or the drive for wealth. The hope for such communities is investors, business people with the means and knowledge to build jobs, putting the poor on a path to self-fulfillment. Our church missions should be replaced with fact-finding business excursions.

I can’t say I agree with everything in Lupton’s ideology, but he does make me think differently about some things … and he certainly has the lifelong get-your-hands-dirty experience to back up his findings.

Publisher, © 2015, 196 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-230726-2

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John 5:14, A Second Look At Healing (part II of II)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

John 5:14, A Second Look At Healing (part II of II)

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

//Yesterday, I wrote about how Jesus “healed” a beggar at the pool of Bethesda. The man picked up his mat and walked off, only to encounter “the Jews,” who scolded him for working on the Sabbath. It seems that carrying his mat was against the rules.

Still in character, and probably still miffed at being chased from a prime begging spot, the man replied that he had been healed, and his healer told him to take his mat and go. “Who told you to do that?” the Jews demanded. He didn’t know, he hadn’t bothered to learn Jesus’s name.

Soon after, Jesus spies the man again at the Temple–the man had probably moved his begging operation there–and says something very interesting to him: “Stop your sinning, or something even worse will happen.” Worse than being chased from the pool? Is pretending to be lame really that big a sin? Is Jesus now going to ruin his ruse at his Temple begging spot too?

So the man hatches a vengeful plan. He marches immediately to “the Jews” and informs them that he now knows the name of the healer who keeps bugging him on the Sabbath. The plan works like a charm:

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. –John 5:16

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John 5:9 A Second Look At Healing (part I of II)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

John 5:9 A Second Look At Healing (part I of II)

And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

//In John chapter 5, Jesus comes across a beggar who had for the last 38 years suffered an “infirmity.” The man had been lying for a long time at a magical pool, a pool with the power to heal him, but when Jesus asked him why he wasn’t getting healed, he had a ready response: “Nobody will help me into the pool.”

Um, yeah. For 38 years nobody would give this man a hand? Methinks he had found a prime begging spot, and wasn’t about to give it up.

Jesus was having none of it. “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” Jesus demands. I picture the man muttering as Jesus lifts him to his feet. Without a thought of a “thank you” and never bothering to learn Jesus’s name, the man storms off. He seems quite practiced at walking.

End of story? End of ruse? Nope. More tomorrow.

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Book review: The Tweetable Pope

Sunday, September 27, 2015 in Book Reviews | 2 comments

Book review: The Tweetable Pope

by Michael J. O’Loughlin


Everybody but the ultra conservative seems taken with today’s Pope. A friend jokingly said that she believes in the second coming now, and this time Jesus is wearing a beanie.

Perhaps the most famous line uttered by Francis is in reply to a reporter who asked him about gay priests. The Pope replied, “who am I to judge?” Wait. The Pope doesn’t judge? No wonder Ted Cruz called for the Vatican to fire him.

It’s not that Pope Francis is thoroughly modern in his thinking. Read, for example, about his view on the Devil. That’s about as old-fashioned as you can get.

It’s that his focus is different. He focuses less on creeds than compassion. And the pattern he upholds for us to follow is Jesus, with the Lord’s care about the marginalized. Society’s margins, says Francis, is the only place where “reality is understood.”

Author O’Loughlin finds the Pope to be a breath of fresh air. He writes that as a young Catholic who’s watched most of his friends and relatives drive away from their faith, he sees hope for the future in Francis.

The Tweetable Pope grants us a peek inside the head of Pope Francis by examining the way he uses the Twitter platform. From gossip to sports to immigration to war, all under the influence of Jesus, you’re invited to dig into these mini-sermons to learn, 140 characters at a time, what makes this man so beloved.

Harper One, © 2015, 248 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-243499-9

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Psalm 104:23, Too Much Labor

Thursday, June 4, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Psalm 104:23, Too Much Labor

Man goes out to his work

And to his labor until the evening.

//Oh, how I wish that were true! In the evening, our labor just begins anew.

Leslie and I are finding out that starting up our new Fantasy Football service demands more time than we have available, and something has to give. So the Dubious Disciple is taking a break as we try to meet our summer deadlines.

We’ll see y’all in the Fall!

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Luke 24:46, How long was Jesus in the tomb?

Friday, May 22, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 24:46, How long was Jesus in the tomb?

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: –Luke 24:46

//Most of us honor Good Friday as the day of Christ’s death, and celebrate the following Sunday as the day of his resurrection. Meaning, Jesus was in the tomb only two nights; he rose from the dead on the third day. A host of scriptural references corroborate this. See Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 27:64, Mark 9:31, 10:34, Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 24;46, Acts 10:40, 27:19, and 1 Corinthians 15:14.

What then are we to make of this claim in Matthew 12:40: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

I think it boils down to whatever source inspired the Gospel writers. Was it this one …

After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. –Hosea 6:2

… or was it this one?

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and threenights. –Jonah 1:7

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