Preaching Conference in Washington

One of the nice things about Washington is having access to so many resources. One is within walking distance of the church, and should be better known.

The Festival of Homiletics will be held at First Baptist Church — I’m terribly fond of FBC — at the corner of 16th and O Streets, NW from May 17 to 21, and I’m signing up. (Discounted registration before January 15.)

Yes, Fred Craddock will be there. And James Forbes and Thomas Long and Thomas Troeger and Will Willimon and a dozen other really amazing people I’m less familiar with.

It should be really, really good.

Two from PBS for preaching

No, I’m not one of those UU wonks who can’t watch television unless it is filtered through the Public Broadcasting Service, but there were two documentary programs I’ve seen recently that can nicely to preaching.

The first is a Nova episode about the Neanderthal. (Note: the Neander Thal, that is, the Neander Valley, is where the first of these persons’ remains were found. The valley was named for Joachim Neander, who wrote some hauntingly lovely hymns, including “All My Hope on God is Founded.”) It is easy to look into the motives and cultural cues that come from the two sides of the Neaderthal debate are they or are they not human as we understand it and see an attitude that upholds or denies human unity. Indeed, that was the theme of my sermon on September 14. (Not online.)

Show site: Nova: Neanderthals on Trial

The other show is good if you need resources for a sermon on Abraham’s decendents, the Old Testament, or anything relating to the Jewish nation. Sometimes it is nice to get a refresher on the timeline, extra-Biblical witnesses, and the like.

But The Kingdom of David has no real website as far as I can tell!

Big Sermon II: Posting it online

Following up on “comment” requests:

Fear not, the Sunday sermon will be online, but not here. It will be at the church website — — which as I already mentioned now uses Movable Type. Look for it Sunday night or before.

I appreciate your interest.

Big Sermon I: What is Christian?

I really didn’t get online to make the previous much-too-long statement, but to try and throw out a few ideas as I think about my next sermon, on August 24, the big annual “What is Universalism?” event for newcomers to church.

The Christian cohort within the UUA, while producing some good minds, devoted laypersons, and godly pastors, hasn’t exactly been the hot-place-to-be these forty-plus years since 1961. We’re certainly guilty of our own kind of sectarianism, and always worried when one of our beloved got ecumenically active: if a minister, this person often transferred to a Christian denomination with its greener pastures.

But the one question we should have asked, needed to ask, but rarely if ever did was “What is a Christian?” What charisms within Unitarian and Universalist life inform the life of Christian? What then, do we mean by “Christian”?

For far too long, we played the “what is Unitarian Universalism?” game inside the family to make sure we weren’t written out of it. The journals of the UUCF before the 1985 General Assembly, when the Principles and Purposes were adopted, make for a harrowing read.

In generations before, at least on the Universalist side, the operating question was “What is a Universalist?” since this was the point of controversy and departure, and since Christianity was pretty much a given.

Now it isn’t, and with a low level of religious literacy, increasing secularism, and the church being at such a low level of reputation, I think those-that-are need to examine “What is a Christian?” before going to more particular subjects.

Not lectionary, but calendar?

Chutney makes clear what Chutney (I’d use a pronoun, but I don’t know what gender the writer is) is missing, and that doesn’t jerk my chain so much.

If I were making a thematic calendar with readings — with an overlay “sanctorial” calendar of the “saints” and major anniversaries — I’d start with the procession of the seasons.

After all, the Christian calendar is based on the Jewish calendar, and it has agricultural roots. Seems a good place to start, and then attribute values to the seasons. Values which speak to the particular congregation, if not the UUA in general.

And if a person was going to start compling useful liturgical material, why not go to the prayers of James Martineau? He understood the seasons better than most.

Lectionaries redux

Chutney gives me my first chance to test out the TrackBack, which itself was activated at Chutney’s general request to godbloggers.

I guess the appeal to a Unitarian Universalist lectionary jerks my chain in three distinct ways.

1. To quote a zillion TV law dramas, “it assumes facts not in evidence,” namely, a theological core. The Principles and Purposes have moved from being a census of competing factions within Unitarian Universalism to canonizing a self-selecting, materialistic atheist or wide theist, world religion-ism as Unitarian Universalism. No, you can guess, I don’t like that.

Why? Because this canonization puts an onus on those who have a particular theology, as if one is supposed to have a “theology in general.”

So I have a hard time with anything that gives that interpretation of Unitarian Universalism any more institutional heft.

2. The Revised Common Lectionary and its kin are attempts to unify Christians through a common approach to the word. Intended for a U.S. constituency, it has been wildly and widely adopted world wide. (It should be noted that two Unitarian Universalist ministers sit on the committee, the Consulation on Common Texts that devised the RCL.)

Anything particular and sectarian — the Scylla and Charybdis of Unitarian Universalism, but we’re not alone in its trap — just shows how out of the loop we are.

Why draw together a resource to prove it?

3. Of course, alternate lectionaries, liturgies, anything are marketed as sexy, hot, innovative.

Like parachute pants.

I’ll stick to the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Oremus lectionary off-Sundays.

But, even if such a UU lectionary was to come into being, I don’t think I would write off “Direct experiences of mystery and wonder” or conflate it with world religions.

Mystical experience is often at conflict with the same institutional manifestations of religion that produces the scriptures that those world religions would use. But mystics — I suppose out of compassion, or a need to reflect on the experience — do sometimes reduce their experiences to writing.

And then there’s the nature writing, which often points a sub-mystical experience of God, but is as direct as any experience. Many would be tempted to attribute this to “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered religions” but what if the writer is theologically elsewhere.

Indeed, the works of George deBenneville, who would have turned 300 last July 26, fits nicely here.


A colleague — he doesn’t use his name on the blog that I saw; perhaps that’s an emerging blog convention — linked to me, and I’ll point you to his, too: Across, Beyond, Thought.
I wonder if there are more of us sharing online.

Of course, I’m thinking about the Sunday sermon; it is entitled, “The Victory that Conquers the World.” Or, as I promoted it in the church newsletter:

Memorial Day reminds us of the sacrifices others have made in the field of battle. But what do we make of the “conquest of faith,” where the battlefield is our own soul?

The principle reading
— I follow the Revised Common Lectionary — is 1 John 5:1-6, focusing, of course, on verse four:
“for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (NRSV)

There is an understandable aversion to conquest language. Need I mention the Crusades? the Latin American conquest?
I think a sharp line needs to be made between conquests of human beings against one another, and our victory in God in Christ against that threat against every person: personal death, and by extension, the end of existence, even the love we have. Victory (to use one military concept) comes through participating in God’s army (another military concept.) Except here the fight is participation in God’s living, loving, and responsive Spirit. This creates for the person
a second life which is not destroyed with the body. But what about “those who don’t choose”? It would overstate the power
of the atomistic view of freedom for one to opt out of creation as an act of will. At a foundational level, to be alive is to participate with God. Faith, as John Murray understood, is the confirmation of this second life, and with it, comfort and confidence in the face of personal death. In life, too, this is the sense that “I’m not alone,” all indications of malice, oppression, or hatred notwithstanding.