Inequality & the Church

Inequality & the Church

Zechariah 7:8-14

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

4 October 2015



    One April morning in 2002 I was driving south along rural state highways in eastern Arkansas, in the region called The Delta, on my way to the town of Helena. I was listening to Mary J. Blige's album No More Drama and watching the cotton fields pass by. I was heading to Helena in order to plan my youth group's upcoming mission trip to the town. The church I was serving, Rolling Hills Baptist in Fayetteville, Arkansas, had decided to send our youth to Helena, Arkansas as part of new work being done there by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Nationally the CBF had adopted the twenty poorest counties in the country in order to focus our domestic missions efforts. Two of the counties were in Arkansas.     

    I arrived in Helena a couple of hours before my scheduled meeting with our local partners, so I decided to drive around and take a look at the town. There were beautiful, grand, old homes, but there were also areas of extreme poverty. One thing I quickly noticed were the campaign posters. Despite the fact that Helena is an African-American majority city, the faces on the posters of the candidates running for sheriff and other offices were white.

    I parked on the old main street where blocks and blocks of buildings lay empty. Sixty years ago this town had a population of 40,000; in 2002 it was less than 10,000. I went into a little café run by an African-American woman and had the best grits and some of the best coffee I've ever had. While sitting there, I started talking with the other customers and got into a deep conversation with a man who ran one of the organizations in town that helped teenagers. He moved over to my table and began to share his story with me.

    He had grown up in Helena and gone away to college, one of the benefits of integration. But he hadn't come back home after college; he had stayed away for decades, until he realized that he needed to go home and help the young people there. He told me that integration, though clearly a good thing, had had negative effects on the town. The town was drained of capital when many of the white people fled to the suburbs of Little Rock, Memphis, and Jackson. He said that many of the talented and intelligent members of the African-American community were finally able to go to college and get good jobs in other parts of the country, leading to a brain drain. The most devastating impact, however, had been the death of black businesses. Once all of the town's stores were integrated and open to everyone, the African-American business district had slowly died, ridding the city of its African-American professional class. This was an eye-opening conversation for me, I'd never had any conversation like it before.

    The local organizers I met with after this eye-opening conversation were the Rev. Dr. Mary Olson and Ms. Naomi Cottoms. Dr. Olson is a white woman and a Methodist minister. Ms. Cottoms is African-American. Together they had moved to Helena to try to help with issues of poverty, housing, health care, and democracy.

    As I entered their offices, I was nervous because I'd never done anything like this before. They later told me that they were not sure what to make of me. Here I was, a young, white guy from the affluent part of the state, and a Baptist at that. Maybe I was going to just bring my youth, have some fun, but not really help.

    But, something just clicked between us. Have you ever met people like that, strangers whom you suddenly realize you can connect with deeply? It was like that for me and Dr. Olson and Ms. Cottoms. Over the course of a few hours, we talked logistics and plans, and then drove around to look at the town and the worksites. I even met some of the elderly people whose homes we would be working on.

    In 2002 in the United States here I was being driven around a city with neighborhoods that did not have running water, where the residents had to go to a central spigot and get water and carry the water back to their homes. In this town there were human beings living in shelters where I wouldn't house animals.

    Though I had known that extreme poverty existed in this country, I didn't really know it before that day. Though I intellectually knew that racism still deeply affected American society, before that day I didn't really know it. I can honestly say that my day in Helena, Arkansas that April in 2002 forever changed me. My eyes were opened, and I awoke from a slumber. My ministry changed because I now realized that I had to work actively in the communities in which I lived to improve life. That day I developed an active passion for issues of race, poverty, and justice.


    In his encyclical letter "Praise Be," Pope Francis is concerned not only with climate change and other environmental issues. He is concerned with our current "throwaway culture," as he calls it, and the effect that culture has not only upon the Earth but upon human society. We are experiencing a breakdown of society and a decline in the quality of human life, he writes. And his concerns are broad. Cities around the globe are experiencing unruly and ugly growth making them unhealthy places to live. The global drug trade and its violence. An overload of trivial information through new media, leading to a lack of wisdom and contemplation. Hunger and the lack of clean water. National debt and income equality. The exploitation of natural resources, particularly in developing countries. A deified market and reliance on technological fixes. The mistreatment of indigenous peoples. Mercury pollution resulting from gold mining. Unsustainable agricultural practices. All of these and more issues are mentioned in the broad scope of Francis' pastoral letter. His breadth of vision is inspiring and a bold reminder that much of what troubles humanity is interconnected. He wrote, "We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference."

    We must begin to change our culture by first seeing what's wrong, particularly what we've done wrong. Francis wrote, "The way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices [is by] trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen."

    Once we see what's wrong and confess our role, then we can begin to recognize the way forward. What Francis urges is not a big technological fix, what he recommends are "gestures of generosity, solidarity and care . . . since we were made for love."


    The prophet Zechariah recommends rendering true judgments, showing kindness and mercy, not oppressing, and not devising evil against one another. Both messages are hopeful. Looking at the news and the problems of the world—the refugee crisis, bombing a hospital, three school shootings in one day—we can easily be overwhelmed. We can wonder if there are any solutions and what possibly we can do. Again and again the wise ones remind us that the world is improved by small acts of kindness. Yes, we should do what we can to change systems and laws and improve the world, but remember all of that also relies on us each and every day treating the people around us with care and hospitality.


    When my youth group visited Helena, Arkansas in the summer of 2002 we painted houses, rebuilt front steps, and constructed a wheel chair ramp for one mother we had watched carry her disabled son up and down her back steps. In the grand scheme of things, these were small acts.

    The next year, when I returned, I learned that a Habitat for Humanity chapter had been formed by one of the local men who worked with our team and realized that the town didn't need people on mission trips, that they could organize and do the work themselves. And now I'm excited whenever I read the newsletter of Rolling Hills Baptist Church and see that thirteen years later that church continues its ministry in the Arkansas Delta, having now forged very long-lasting relationships.

    Let us open our eyes in order to see what is occurring around us. Confess our sins. And then begin the work of repentance and healing through our small acts of kindness and care.

Patriotism fail

The other day I was driving along in Omaha and stopped behind this truck.  What I saw bothered me.  This is the best image I captured on my phone, though the bird poop on my own windshield gets in the way.


In a misguided effort to express patriotism, this person has broken the flag code.  First, a flag isn't supposed to touch the ground, or in this case the bed of the truck.  The edge of the flag has become soiled from touching the bed of the truck, which means it should be disposed of.  The flag is also tattered along the edges, another reason the flag should be respectfully and properly disposed of.

This person, then, is actually demonstrating disrespect.  When he later gunned it and sped along a residential street, his disrespect of others was confirmed.

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals/On a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic ConcernsGrounding for the Metaphysics of Morals/On a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns by Immanuel Kant
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I first encountered the basics of Kant's ethical theory in high school debate and then deepened my understanding through the rest of my formal (and informal) education. In graduate school I probably read the Groundwork through for the first time. Deeply influence by virtue theories and 20th century virtue criticisms of Kantian ethics, I never much cared for the complicated analytical details of the theory.

I'm still not, even now teaching the Groundwork for the first time.

Yet, there is some appreciation. Modern human rights law is based upon Kant's robust notion of the dignity of autonomous, rational beings. So, when in my reading I came across the key paragraph, my feelings were similar to standing before Galileo's telescope--this tool helped to change the world, ushering in modernity and freedom.

"Now I say that man, and in general every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. He must in all his actions, whether directed to himself or to other rational beings, always be regarded at the same time as an end. All the objects of inclinations have only a conditioned value; for if there were not these inclinations and the needs founded on them, then their object would be without value. But the inclinations themselves, being sources of needs, are so far from having an absolute value such as to render them desirable for their own sake that the universal wish of every rational being must be, rather, to be wholly free from them. Accordingly, the value of any object obtainable by our action is always conditioned. Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves, i.e., as something which is not to be used merely as means and hence there is imposed thereby a limit on all arbitrary use of such beings, which are thus objects of respect. Persons are, therefore, not merely subjective ends, whose existence as an effect of our actions has a value for us; but such beings are objective ends, i.e., exist as ends in themselves. Such an end is one for which there can be substituted no other end to which such beings should serve merely as means, for otherwise nothing at all of absolute value would be found anywhere. But if all value were conditioned and hence contingent, then no supreme practical principle could be found for reason at all. . . . Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means."

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Climate Change & the Church

Climate Change & the Church

Joel 1:1-2:1

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

4 October 2015



    The Day of the Lord is coming, the prophet Joel warns us. And it sounds pretty bad.


    This doom and gloom is one reason we don't preach a lot of sermons from the Minor Prophets. They are called the "minor prophets" because their books are short, but the name could just as easily refer to the "minor key" in which they write. These guys talk a lot about God smiting people because of sin.

    But these prophets are also powerful social justice advocates. Remember the great passage from Amos "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

    These cantankerous prophets are concerned about the big issues of their day, particularly social inequality, the mistreatment of the poor, and irresponsible exploitation and damage to the land. Therefore, they are the perfect ancient voices to couple with the recent encyclical letter of Pope Francis.


    This summer Francis issued the letter "Laudato Si," which translates into English as "Praise Be," inviting the entire world into dialogue about the major issues that face us—climate change, income inequality, refugees, technology, etc. He thinks the major issues facing humanity are interconnected and the result of our current way of living, what he calls a "throwaway lifestyle" that has damaged our common home, the Earth.

    At the beginning of this letter, Francis wrote, "I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home." According to John O'Keefe, a theologian from Creighton University who spoke to our First Forum a few weeks ago, this papal encyclical is the very first one to be written to the entire world and not just the church.

    So I want to accept the Pope's invitation and dialogue about these issues. As Stephen Bouma, our music director, preached last week in a sermon about the things he appreciates here at First Central, this congregation values inquiry—open and honest discussion and disagreement about significant topics. In that spirit, then, we accept the Pope's invitation to conversation.


    Now, the Pope sounds like the prophet Joel when he describes the effects of pollution. He wrote, "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." This ugliness is a concern because the Earth is part of the revelation of God. Nature should be a source of beauty and joy, "contemplated with gladness and praise."

    Yet, in much contemporary culture, nature has become an object to be used and controlled not a mystery to be enjoyed. Viewing nature as something to be used has led to its abuse. We live in a throwaway culture that consumes at an unsustainable level and does not reuse and recycle what we do use. The Earth has been exploited and she is crying out for deliverance.

    Things should not be like this. For the Earth is our common home and the Earth's climate is part of the common good meant for all of us.

    We come to this topic on the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the namesake of the current pope. St. Francis was known for his relationship to nature and his love and concern for animals. Every year we bless pets and animals on the weekend closest to St. Francis' feast day. Blessing the animals reminds us of the important and holy connection between animals and ourselves.

    We also come to this topic on World Communion Sunday. A day in which we are reminded of interconnections. Not just with all Christians around the globe. Or even with all humans and all cultures. We are also reminded that our communion is with all creatures of the Earth and the environments in which we live.

    Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, wisely reminds us that we Christians are called "to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and with our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God's creation, in the last speck of dust on our planet."


    And so climate change is not just a scientific and political issue, the issue is moral, theological, spiritual. The damage being done to the Earth is damage being done to the work of God. The lifestyles that damage the Earth are lifestyles lived in contradiction to the communion that is God's will and intention.

    But can we do anything about it?

    The prophet Joel has a pretty negative view of the ecological devastation he lived through and foresaw getting worse if people did not repent. But he did believe repentance was possible, that's why he sounded the alarm.

    Pope Francis is more hopeful than the ancient prophet. He believes that humanity is capable of changing our ways and living in greater solidarity with one another and with the Earth. This renewal calls for a change of heart based upon a better understanding of the Earth as our common home. We can and must work together, Francis proclaims. "All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements, and talents."


    Last Sunday morning Michael, Sebastian, and I were driving through the hills of northwestern Connecticut. We were on our way back to Hartford to catch a flight home to Omaha after having participated in the wedding of Desi Fortina the night before in the town of Hudson, New York. Our drive was quiet on a crisp, cool, sunny day. Occasionally a leaf flamed into view, as the foliage was just beginning to turn autumnal colors.

    We passed, unexpectedly, through the town of Norfolk (not Norfork), which was the hometown of this congregation's founding pastor, the Rev. Reuben Gaylord. We stopped to look the place over, see the church, and explore the cemetery. In the graveyard we encountered a historical marker at the tombstone of James Mars, the last slave who lived in Norfolk. Mars gained his own freedom, became a prominent member of the community, and wrote a book about his experiences. He was also a member of the Congregational Church, meaning that even in the 19th century the home congregation of our founding pastor was integrated. Gaylord himself was a strong proponent of abolition.

    To our predecessors, slavery could have been perceived as an insurmountable problem. But they had hope and conviction and used their moral and theological understanding to abolish it.

    Our Sunday morning visit to Norfolk, during which I recalled the great heritage we have as the people of God, renewed my hope that we can heed the message of the prophets and heal the world.


    This morning I haven't recited the troubling scientific data; there are folk, even some in our congregation, who are better skilled at that. Nor have I waded into the murk of public policy. My point has been simpler than all of that.

    Climate change is a moral, theological, and spiritual concern calling upon the commitment of people of faith. For we are people of hope and conviction who have changed the world before and can do so again. On this World Communion Sunday, this Feast Day of St. Francis, let us recommit ourselves to live in solidarity and communion with all of creation, repenting of our sins, and working to heal and renew our common home, the Earth.


UtilitarianismUtilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I last read Mill's Utilitarianism in 1997. I re-read this month for my Ethics class. I liked the book better this time around, and have moved it from 2 to 3 stars.

What most impressed me this time about Mill was his optimism that humanity can and was improving. Also, applying a pragmatic criterion, I can judge that Mill's ethical and political emphases have done much good in the world.

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The Most Good You Can Do

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living EthicallyThe Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically by Peter Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this latest of Singer's books to read in my Ethics class for the utilitarianism requirement of the university's curriculum. The book has worked at generating interesting conversation among the students.

Singer's stories of effective altruists and his concrete examples are interesting, some inspiring. The philosophical ideas come in reflection on real life issues.

I have two criticisms (of the book). One, I'm not convinced by the structure. Some of the chapters seem misordered to me. Also, the basic argument is rather straightforward--that we should do the most good we can and that means saving as many lives as possible through our giving which can only be determined by adequate research into effective strategies--and yet the arguments get repeated. At times the reading felt redundant.

As to the ideas, I'm torn. Yes, I am persuaded that my own charitable giving could be more effective at saving lives. I will likely change some of my giving patterns.

But I can't support the fundamental utilitarian thesis that our moral decisions should be rooted in rational thought devoid of sentiment. After finishing the book I skimmed back through Wendell Berry's Jefferson Lecture "It All Turns on Affection" and kept thinking "Yes, yes it does."

As a college freshman we read an essay by Berry in which he argued that we can do the most good when we work locally. I argued against this notion and felt we needed to work on big global issues. Over the decades of my adulthood I have been more convinced by Berry and, thus, much of my own focus is on local issues based upon actual relationships and communities. Singer's ideas push against this in an effective way. But, I'm still persuaded by Berry--affection and imagination and local focus.

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A Handful of Dust

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Waugh's novel begins simple enough. With sharp wit he portrays the English upper class of the 1930's. Sharper than Galsworthy, but in largely the same vein.

***Spoiler Alert***

Then, tragedy strikes, which surprises the read, even if you expected something from the mild foreshadowing. Then you realize that the novel is weightier than your first estimation.

In its final third the story takes a radical turn, as one of the main characters goes off on a journey to South America with an incompetent explorer. "What's going on here?" you wonder.

The novel concludes in horror.

All these shifts are thoroughly satisfying and masterfully accomplished. That one author in a single novel could write in a consistent voice across such shifts in town is a work to delight in.

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Lovely little love poem

Darling Coffee

Meena Alexander, 1951

The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
passion’s proclivities;
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me  ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.

For You Are With Me

For You Are With Me

Psalm 23

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

13 September 2015



    Today we arrive in our sermon series on the Psalms at Psalm 23. Of this psalm Walter Brueggemann writes, "It is almost pretentious to comment on this psalm. The grip it has on biblical spirituality is deep and genuine. It is such a simple statement that it can bear its own witness without comment."

    From the Feasting on the Word series, in his advice for how to preach this passage, pastor David Burns writes, "One way to approach preaching Psalm 23 is not to preach it. Just read it slowly—preferably in the King James Version—and then sit down."

    Tempting, but I'm not going to do quite that.

    Instead, I'm going to follow some advice I read some years ago and offer this most familiar of biblical passages in multiple translations with the help of Fred Nielsen. I'll do so with a few comments and questions. But as you listen to these words, especially unfamiliar versions, listen for the unfamiliar, listen for what stands out to you. Let this psalm speak a new word to you today.


    Hear now, first from the King James Version, the 23rd Psalm:


The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil; for thou art with me:

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


    More than one commentary I read noted that the term "shepherd" was used in the ancient world to refer to the ruler and the ruler's responsibility to care for the people. Clinton McCann wrote, "it would never occur to the huge majority of North American Christians to hear Psalm 23 as a 'political tract' that 'condemns . . . forces of tyranny.'" McCann is referencing the church historian Philip Jenkins who points out that this political reading is precisely how most African and Asian Christians read the text—"For Africans and Asians the psalm offers a stark rebuttal to claims by unjust states that they care lovingly for their subjects."


FRED: From Kol Haneshama: Prayers for a House of Mourning, a Jewish translation of the Psalm.


The Eternal is my shepherd; I shall never be in need.

Amid the choicest grasses does God set me down.

God leads me by the calmest waters,

and restores my soul.

God takes me along paths of righteousness,

in keeping with the honor of God's name.

Even should I wander in a valley of the darkest shadows,

I will fear no evil,

You are with me, God. Your power and support

are there to comfort me.

You set in front of me a table

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Surely, good and loving-kindness will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I shall come to dwell inside the house

of The Eternal for a length of days.


    David M. Burns writes, "Psalm 23 is so often used in funerals because, in the moment when we reach for our best and truest words about the sum of life, we go here. . . . The one giving testimony in Psalm 23 says that to belong to God in life and in death, today and tomorrow, is a good thing indeed."


    From the New Revised Standard Version:


The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy

shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

my whole life long.


    Walter Brueggemann writes "It is likely that the psalm is not idyllic and romantic as is often interpreted; rather, the psalmist speaks out of a context of deep danger and articulates confidence in YHWH as the one who will keep the flock safe and protected in the face of every danger."


FRED:     Robert Alter's translation:


The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
In grass meadows He makes me lie down,
by quiet waters guides me.
My life He brings back.
He leads me on pathways of justice
for His name's sake.

Though I walk in the vale of death's shadow,
I fear no harm,
for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff--
it is they that console me.
You set out a table before me
in the face of my foes.
You moisten my head with oil,
my cup overflows.


    David M. Burns writes, "[Psalm 23] invites us to pause and find our own language for confessing what we have come to believe about life under God's care. . . What language would you use to speak of God's provision in your life?"


FRED:     By Phyllis Bass Psalm 23: A Feminist Version


The Schechinah, a sheltering presence, makes me whole as a woman:

Causing me to rest in green fields, Leading me to calming waters, Replenishing my soul,

And empowering me to make life affirming choices In celebration of God's name.

Even though I have walked in darkness and known loss, I have not despaired for you are with me.

Your guidance and your nurturing spirit have sustained me.

You have set a full table for me when I have been hurt and alienated.

You have conferred upon me unique potential, which I strive to realize.

From the deep core of my being I am overflowing with gratitude.

I know that your goodness and loving kindness will continue to abide within me,

And I will live out my days in God's house.


    The Psalm reminds us, as Brueggemann writes, that "life with Yahweh is a life of well-being and satisfaction."


    From The Message by Eugene Peterson:


GOD, my shepherd!

I don't need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I'm not afraid

when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd's crook

makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I'm back home in the house of GOD

for the rest of my life.


    "Beauty and love chase after me?" Yes, the goodness and mercy that follow us are pursuing us. The New Cambridge Bible Commentary says "The subject [of the poem] experiences luxurious extravagance in a context of threat, danger, and death."


FRED:     From the New English Bible:


The LORD is my shepherd; I shall want nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

and leads me beside the waters of peace;

he renews life within me,

and for his name's sake guides me in the right path.

Even though I walk through a valley dark as death

I fear no evil, for thou art with me,

thy staff and thy crook are my comfort.

Thou spreadest a table for me in the sight of my enemies;

thou hast richly bathed my head with oil,

and my cup runs over.

Goodness and love unfailing, these will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

my whole life long.


    More than one commentator pointed out that in the poem the shepherd image is replaced by the image of God as host. The emphasis is upon God's hospitality. David Burns asks "Where has God led you to find rest, refreshment, and restoration?"


    From the Contemporary English Version:


You, LORD, are my shepherd.

I will never be in need.

You let me rest in fields

of green grass.

You lead me to streams

of peaceful water,

and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,

and you lead me

along the right paths.

I may walk through valleys

as dark as death,

but I won't be afraid.

You are with me,

and your shepherd's rod

makes me feel safe.

You treat me to a feast,

while my enemies watch.

You honor me as your guest,

and you fill my cup

until it overflows.

Your kindness and love

will always be with me

each day of my life,

and I will live forever

in your house, LORD.


    We arrive at this place of abundant hospitality after a difficult journey through dark and dangerous places. Walter Brueggemann writes, "It is God's companionship that transforms every situation. It does not mean there are no deathly valleys, no enemies. But they are not capable of hurt, and so the powerful loyalty and solidarity of Yahweh comfort, precisely in situations of threat."


FRED:     By Rabbi Brant Rosen


The Holy one is my Guide;

my life is whole.

We journey together

over fertile hillsides

and rest

beside nourishing springs.

This is my spirit

ever renewed,

for my Guide leads me

down paths of fullness.

Even when my steps lead

into the kingdom of death

I do not fear

for I know you are with me.

Your presence

your shelter

is a comfort to me.

With you I can set myself aright

in the face of

deepest sorrow;

and soon my joy is filled to overflowing.

As I journey on,

nothing but kindness and love

shall follow

until the day I finally return.

To my Source,

my destination.


    So, finally, this is a psalm of confidence that God, You are always with us, and that no matter what happens in our lives, in times of darkness, in times of joy, you are there, walking with us, leading us forward, protecting and caring for us, and then welcoming us home with abundance.


    From the TANAKH


The LORD is my shepherd;

I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me to water in places of repose;

He renews my life;

He guides me in right paths

as befits His name.

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness

I fear no harm, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my drink is abundant.

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

for many long years.


For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World

Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern WorldBeyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World by John Dorhauer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Beyond Resistance is a newly published book by the brand new General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. I ordered the book in hopes to understand him and his vision better. The book was mentioned in the midst of an article about his radical vision to focus the church on ending white privilege. Oddly, nothing about that topic appears in the book.

The content is derivative and seems aimed for an audience that has read nothing for the last twenty years about current trends in the church. I kept wondering if such an audience even exists, but then I run into clergy who seem to be in that audience.

As with any book about ministry, I can always find one or two suggestions that feed my imagination and give me ideas for use in my own setting, and that occurred here for a couple of practices he discusses.

But otherwise reading the book left me unimpressed.

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