Book Study: Part III – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” concludes with Part III of III. First, I want to say that I REALLY wanted to like this book…I really did! Unlike many other books that I am requested to read as I join others’ book studies, I had the freedom to pick any book I wanted; I selected this book because I had heard some interesting and provocative ideas were contained therein. And there are certainly provocative ideas, just none that I can take too seriously or somehow internalize and thoughtfully create an inflection point on my journey of faith and spirituality. I will be the first one to say I enjoyed many aspects of Dan Brown’s books, but he never seemed to present his narrative as anything other than historical fiction. If Aslan is going for historical fiction…I take everything back; if he believes he is a serious, scholarly writer, well, that’s a different matter altogether. Continue reading

Book Study: Part II – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” continues with Part II of III. In this middle section of Aslan’s book, we hear the details of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and learn Aslan’s insights to the ministry of Jesus and the reasons for his ministry, both as Aslan proposes Jesus understood his ministry and how his followers understood the meaning of Jesus’ ministry and later massaged this meaning to fit their evangelical purposes. Aslan’s claims are always provocative, sometimes compelling, and often based on personal opinion, without the necessity of scholarly research. Continue reading

Book Study: Part I – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

In this book study, I will be presenting a few thoughts on Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” And I will follow the author’s guideline of three parts; and for this installment, Part I, which covers an opening section Prologue and the first six chapters of the book. Part I is the historical groundwork of the life and times of the people of Palestine, both Jews and Romans. Aslan sets the stage for an appreciation of later discussion in the book (I assume, I have not read beyond Chapter 6 so I can present my thoughts as any reader…without knowledge of what lies ahead). Continue reading

The Irrational Christian

Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 8:31-38)  03/01/2015

Earlier this week I was attending a gathering with my clergy colleagues. We met at a church located close to a college campus and the topic of young adults and faith came up in our conversation. Someone shared the observation that a number of college students who regularly attend worship services and claim that the practice of their Christian faith is important in their lives had been questioned by their peers for their faith in God; often challenged for their faith and devotion…behavior deemed to be irrational. Irrational…meaning one exhibiting behavior that lacks normal mental clarity, reason or understanding. As I listened to my clergy colleague tell this story that placed such a great value on reason and understanding, I was reminded of a recent interview on an Irish TV show called, “The Meaning of Life,” hosted by Gay Byrne. The guest of the show was Stephen Fry, (well-known actor, author, and atheist), and Byrne asked him, “[I know that you do not believe in God, but] suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will you say?” Fry responded, “I would say this: How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.” Fry’s words are quite strong and perhaps a bit unedited toward the One we believe is holy and almighty, and perhaps like the host of the show your jaw has dropped a bit from its normal resting place. Continue reading

Advent Reflections: make straight the way

Advent reflection: this week during Advent we encounter John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of the Lord as he courageously stands in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Make straight the paths for the coming of the Lord. In the reflection offered below from Stan Purdum’s Advent study book, we consider the paths of our lives, the obstacles, roundabouts, and narrow ways of those paths; and, finally, reflect on how we might begin to uncover our obstacles to God and smooth the way for the coming of the Lord. Continue reading

Welcome to Advent!

Welcome to Advent! The season of Advent is one of my favorite times of the year…I wish it was a little bit longer, and perhaps it could be a bit longer if we are able to devote ourselves to the season until the Magi arrive on the feast of the Epiphany. Advent asks much from us – Advent asks us to patiently wait while the world urges us to hurry up; Advent directs our attention to the hope filled future while grounding us in the now while the world tempts us to focus our energy on the here and now (as the catch phrase “You only live once” YOLO promises); Advent points toward holy ground while the world calls us to the shopping malls. Advent is an invitation to spend time in reflection of God’s many gifts of grace: the grace of Christ’s presence among us, the grace of the earliest Christians’ courageous devotion and faith, and the grace of our gifts as God’s children. These gifts of grace can be challenging to discover in our “noisy” world, and I invite you to consider taking up a few practices to quiet the noise and discover God’s grace among you. Throughout this season there will be many opportunities for corporate worship, study and reflection, but these are just a few among the many ways to find God’s grace in this holy season. Throughout this season, I will try to offer a few thoughts for prayer and reflection…an Advent discipline I hope to keep!

“May He whose second Coming in power and great glory we await, make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Amen.” (Advent blessing from Book of Occasional Services, p. 22)

Pulling back the weeds from the Saints of God

All Saints Day (Matthew 5:1-12)  11/01/2014

Last weekend was my first opportunity to participate in the gathering of delegates at Diocesan Convention. The experience was a great day for me filled with wonderful opportunities: sharing stories on the ride to convention and back, meeting new people throughout the diocese, listening to the Bishop’s annual address, and doing the important work of the church. One presentation that really made an impression on me was the report of the Youth Group, introduced by the diocesan missioner for Christian Formation, The Rev. Hilary Bogart-Winkler. Several youth of the Diocese attended the Episcopal Youth Event in Philadelphia this past summer. The event is a week long gathering of youth from across the country and is held every three years. After the week long gathering, there is an opportunity to remain in the area and participate in a three day urban mission experience. The group of young adults from our diocese took up this work and were assigned to work at St. John’s Church in Norristown, PA, (an urban town northwest of Philadelphia). Soon after arriving the group discovered they had been assigned to clean up the church cemetery, which was in need of some general cleanup and care. The group was surprised to be sent out to the cemetery, thinking they would be assigned to take care of other areas more central to the mission of the church. However, after spending several hours working in the cemetery, the importance of the cemetery became more obvious and the value of their work of cleanup and care became more obvious as well. I can appreciate their story of summer mission work because during the past few years I have taken up the hobby of researching my family history, a hobby that has many twists and turns. Often times, the research requires one to leave the library and spend several hours walking through cemeteries in search of elusive family members. As I have traveled to many different cemeteries, I have discovered beautifully maintained landscapes and I have discovered places that seem to have been long since forgotten. One small cemetery in central CT is one of those “long since forgotten” places; probably selected for its once beautiful landscape of rolling hills, it now sits at the edge of an industrial park with a railroad track just feet away. As I stepped over broken branches and pushed back the overgrown weeds, I read the names of my ancestors from more than 200 years ago. I have since returned a few times to clean up the fallen branches and pull up the weeds and moss from the stones that tell the names of those that lie beneath. And as I performed that work, I was reminded that the cemetery had its own story to tell. The overgrown and forgotten state of things seemed to speak of the separation we can experience with each other, while the work of cleanup and care seemed to speak of the restoration of relationship that God hopes for us. As I did the work of cleanup in the cemetery, I read the stones and remembered their stories, their joys, their sacrifices and I felt connected to them in new  and personal ways. Continue reading