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September 2010

Favourite places to eat: Pizza

Growing up in Miami we ate lots of Pizza Hut (we knew the owner), and I worked for them in college.  I still like them, of national chains.  We also had a good local place, Papazano's, which we ordered a lot.

For this list I'm not counting pizza places I've only been to once while on vacation (meaning all those great NY and Chicago and Rome pizza places), because I don't remember their names.  So these are places I've frequented in some form or fashion.

Favourite Pizza Place

Grinders in Kansas City, MO is a quirky place (very anti-establishment) with a fun menu (including tater tots!) and good beer.  I've been here a handful of times with friends (even once for my birthday) and when I took Michael it became his favourite place for pizza as well.

Honorable Mention

Picasso's Pizza in Dallas, TX.  Looking at their menu know they have really expanded and are offering a ton of different things.  I enjoyed their salads and pizzas and the variety of their delivery menu.  When I lived there, there was only one restaurant, now they have a few locations.

The Hideway in Stillwater, OK (and locations in other places around the state) is an Oklahoma tradition.  There are a handful of tasty flavour combinations, so work your way around the menu.

Tim's Pizza in Fayetteville, AR.  Good, tasty, basic pizzas.  And big salads.

Where to go for pizza in these towns I've lived in:

Miami, OK:  Pizza Hut

Shawnee, OK:  There are no good pizza places left.  Pepperoni Cafe was my favourite when it was open.

Fayetteville, AR:  Tim's.  Pizza Junction in Elkins.

Dallas, TX: Picasso's

Oklahoma City, OK:  The Wedge, Joey's Pizzeria, Sauced

Omaha, NE: La Casa

We Honor Creation

We Honor Creation

Proverbs 8:22-31

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

26 September 2010



    About ten years ago I was serving as Associate Pastor at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. One Sunday I was preaching and wanted "God's Grandeur" read in the service, much like I did today. The delightful Bill Merrifield, retired math teacher and harmonica player, was the reader that Sunday. Bill actually brought a sheet of aluminum foil and hid it under his choir robe and at the moment in the poem when he read, "it will flame out, like shining from shook foil," Bill dramatically pulled the foil out from his robe and shook it.

    It was a wonderful moment. I think half the congregation was so shocked that they were trying to figure out what had just happened. Bill, in all his humour, was signaling that God was there, even in aluminum foil!

    This theme runs throughout the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. He experiences God in the flight of a bird, the color of a cow's skin, a plowed field, a doorkeeper staying faithfully at his post, the swimming of children, an elderly man taking off his clothes, even the sinking of a ship. His poetry, specifically "God's Grandeur," reminds us of the on-going activity of God in creation, an on-going activity which comforts, sustains, and imagines a hopeful future.

    The same sort of thing is occurring in our passage from Proverbs 8 in which Lady Wisdom, Sophia, Hokma speaks as the agent of God's on-going creative power. The great Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann describes this passage as "theological adventuresomeness" and in it we get God-talk of a different tone than what we normally discover in the Hebrew Scriptures. He writes, "Proverbs 8 imagines and articulates a way of God with the world that is not intrusive and occasional, but that is constant in its nurturing, sustaining propensity." Brueggemann also points out that this Hebrew school of thought emphasized verbs connected to God. This tradition was less concerned with God's power or other character traits; it was concerned with God's action, God's on-going action as a creator involved with the on-going life, growth, decay, death, and rebirth of the created order.

    "[T]he Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."


    Our liturgy today is adapted from the Season of Creation liturgy developed by the Uniting Church of Australia. We are reminded that "All creation is one sacred cosmic reality, a spiritual universe filled with God's presence." When we consider the immensity and the complexity of the created order, we are lost in wonder. I love looking at the pictures which the Hubble telescope has sent back. We get to see back in time, to an earlier period in our cosmos. Sometimes I feel like I'm peeking back to scenes from Genesis and watching God at work shaping the heavens.

    We look into space and discover the immensity of our universe and the vast number of galaxies of which we are but one. We examine the fundamental building blocks of matter and there discover particles which behave in mysterious and uncertain ways. These explorations leave us in awe and wonder at the beauty of the created order. Our scientific endeavours constantly discovering new questions to ask, new realms of mystery.

    For people of faith, this cosmic beauty reveals a "spiritual impulse or presence that permeates the universe and is connected with each of us." This impulse is what the author of Proverbs called "Wisdom."


    One of the accusations which novelist Anne Rice made against the church when she decided a few months ago to abandon Christianity, is that the church is anti-science.

    Sadly that is a perception in the larger culture. When we hear about science and religion in the mainstream media, it is usually because some group of fundamentalists wants to expunge evolution or sex ed from the school curriculum. These public policy fights are all-too-real. This last year we've heard a lot about the Texas school textbook controversy over the history curriculum, including wanting to minimize the role of Thomas Jefferson. But the Texas public schools fights this battle every year, as the state school board takes up a different subject matter each year to examine the curriculum and approve new textbooks. When I lived in Texas my first year was science and the next year was health education, which included the sex ed component. You think these history fights were nasty!

    There is a longstanding perception that science and religion are in conflict with one another. This perception was fostered in the late 19th century when battles erupted over Darwinian theory. The truth has always been more complicated. There have always been religious people engaged in the scientific enterprise. There have always been churches and religious bodies who eagerly embraced new scientific discoveries.

    For example, the first theory of evolution was actually proposed by St. Basil of Caesarea, a church father of the third century. Aspects of an evolving creation are present in the work of St. Augustine, the most influential theologian on the Medieval church. Christianity has long been friendly to the notion that creation evolved. The objections which fundamentalists raise against Darwin have hardly any grounding in the long-standing tradition of the church.

Even the conflicts that do occur are often less about a conflict between religion and science than they are about something else. Sometimes it is a contest between the new science and the old science. For example, the story which many people learned of the church's persecution of Galileo is not the whole story. The conflict was really one between two different scientific paradigms. Galileo's theories challenged the established scientific paradigm of the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic universe. The scientists of the old paradigm fought with Galileo. Some of them also were members of the church's hierarchy. So a scientific battle became a religious one, because that was the way for the old paradigm to exercise power.

All these contests between religion and science are mixed up with other cultural, political, and economic issues. They are never clear-cut, as if we could isolate religion and science from everything else going on in the wider society.

This doesn't mean that scientific discovery and technological advance don't at times challenge traditional aspects of our religious worldview. They do. People have faith have had to adapt the religious worldview to new developments. But there is a difference between the religious person who views these challenges as the occasion for a fight and those who view these challenges as an opportunity to listen to the Stillspeaking God.

Writing in 1925, the great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead proposed that when science and doctrine clash, it "is not a disaster—it is an opportunity." He wrote, "the clash is a sign that there are wider truths and finer perspectives within which a reconciliation of a deeper religion and a more subtle science will be found." If religion closes itself off from these opportunities for growth, then it risks death, Whitehead warns. Why? Because adventure is at the core of the religious experience. He writes:


The power of God is the worship He inspires. . . . The worship of God is not a rule of safety—it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure.


    Whitehead identifies why it is that some people of faith embrace the latest scientific discoveries as further revelation of Divine Wisdom. The wonder and amazement which nature evokes in us is the religious, spiritual impulse of worship. It is the spirit of adventure, calling forth our curiosity in ever deeper exploration of God's majestic work.


    So, we at First Central and in the United Church of Christ are not anti-science. On the contrary, we embrace scientific advance as the continued revelation of God, something which inspires our praise and celebration.

    This was made clear in 2008 when John Thomas, then the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ, released a pastoral letter entitled "A New Voice Arising: A Pastoral Letter on Faith Engaging Science and Technology." If you'd like to read the letter yourself, it can be found on-line at, or I could print you a copy. It is worth the read if you are interested in these topics.

    The letter begins by acknowledging that the scientific advances of our time compel us to see with new eyes and raise new questions, especially new ethical questions that are not always easy to answer. He writes, "Because of science, many today are on a new search for meaning. Can our church address the seekers of today?"

    Our theology is open to being enriched by the new discoveries of our time. Our church honors its members who are engaged in careers of scientific, medical, and technological exploration. Just today Dr. John Schalles shared during the FaithForum about his work as an aquatic scientist working on the Gulf oil spill.

    By theologically engaging the scientific enterprise, we expand our experience of and understanding of God. John Thomas writes,


Our faith has nothing to do with clinging to ancient misconceptions. . . . Our faith is in the living God, who always goes ahead of us, speaking, calling, and creating. Gone is the old view of a small, static universe, with fixed species dwelling on a fixed earth. Gone is the old view of a small, static God.


    In the midst of this celebration of new revelation, we must also take a moment to raise the ethical questions that our technological advances have generated. There are issues of justice. The distribution of these advances is not equitable – some humans benefit far more than others do. We have also become aware of how our technological advances have polluted the environment and destroyed habitats. Today we seek more sustainable approaches to economic development, and both religion and science can contribute to that discussion. The ecological conversation does have a spiritual and theological dimension.

    That is also true when it comes to technologies related to human life. Advances in medicine and genetics hold great promise for health, well-being, and extended life. But they also generate serious questions about humanity's future. People of faith must be engaged in these conversations, not as obstructionists, but as creative, constructive partners shaping our understanding of how to apply these new advances.


    Our openness to scientific advance and our engagement in conversations around the ethical issues which arise are part of our worship of God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Wisdom of the Cosmos.


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

    The UCC pastoral letter on faith engaging science and religion ends with a profound theological statement. Let me quote it in its entirety.


Many today are hungering for an authentic spirituality that is intellectually honest and at home in a scientific era. They are searching for a new kind of wisdom to live by, one that is scientifically sophisticated, technologically advanced, morally just, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually alive.


The changes that lie ahead of us can scarcely be imagined. Science and technology are not about to come to a standstill, and neither should we. As we respond to the sciences and the technologies of today, we are aware that we will have to expand and modify our responses whenever we are met by new concepts and unexpected possibilities.


We know that the challenges of science and technology are not easy. We also know they are not optional, as if we could be a faithful church while ignoring our context. But as we look across the United Church of Christ, wherever we gather or wherever we serve, we are met by signs of hope. Our congregations and our gatherings are becoming centers of exploration. As pilgrim people, we share our fears and dreams for the future of our world. Side by side we listen for the God who is speaking to our time, to this culture, and to our heart's deepest questions.


God speaks and the Word becomes flesh, local, in a particular time and place. God is still speaking, and the words of the living God become enfleshed here, now, in our own time and place. What joy is ours when we hear the new word of the living God speaking to us today!

The Great Emergence

Still more to come on last night's lecture, but I have just finished her book The Great Emergence, which I began last night before falling asleep.  It is a quick read.

The book is amazing not because I learned a lot new here, I did not.  The book will be transformative for me in that she brought together various threads of my experience, education, and own thinking and gave them a coherence that they have not had before.  In the process I felt that she understood my own biography better than I do, also understood my own journey through ministry better than I do.  And opened up for me a sense of where my ministry is heading and ought to head.

Coming Soon

Tonight I went to a lecture by Phyllis Tickle on "The Great Emergence," also the title of her latest book.  It sparked some insights into my own ministry and the various settings in which I've served.  There is a blogpost in there waiting to come out.  Maybe during a work break this week it will work itself out.

I also need to post the next installment in my favourite places to eat series.  What genre of cuisine should I do next?  We've covered breakfast, brunch, East Asian, and burgers.  Should I do Indian/South/Southeast Asian, Pizza, BBQ, Mexican, Latin American, Italian, steakhouses, what?

We are a center-left country

According to Bob Cescaon HuffPo.  An excerpt:

The sooner politicians embrace the reality of a center-left America, the sooner they'll actually stand up proudly for progressive legislation, rather than running like half-baked Republican knockoffs. There's a powerful, rational, patriotic argument for every progressive vote and every progressive bill. Make the case, Democrats. Don't run away from reality into the twisted contradictions and hypocrisies of right-wing frames. Voters want strong leadership and conviction more than they want conservative policies. Show them.

We Set Free

We Set Free

Luke 13:10-17

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

19 September 2010



    Let's talk about healing.

    This story, which is only found in the Gospel of Luke, is similar to many other stories told of Jesus. Jesus heals a physical ailment by word and touch. The story identifies that the woman is crippled by a spirit, meaning that Jesus' miracle of physical healing was also a spiritual exorcism. All of this activity runs counter to the official rules of religious observance, because Jesus does it on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, during the service. Then we get an exchange in which he calls the assembled congregation "hypocrites."

    Well, first off, there is more here than we could ever get to in one sermon, but I chose this text because it helps us in exploring the theme of our current sermon and worship series on who we are as a church and how the faith we proclaim might just appeal to those who are searching for something different from the religion they may have experienced before.

    "Now, why did I pick this story," you might ask, because "we don't engage in charismatic healing services. How could this be about us?"

    My theme today is "We Set Free," because, as a church, proclaim a message of liberation. As this Lukan story demonstrates, liberation or freedom, is theologically interwoven with healing. Our contemporary reading makes the same point. The play Angels in America explores how issues of political and personal freedom are intertwined with religious themes of healing and wholeness.

So, I want to spend some time talking about this connection between liberation and healing and then invite you to think with me about our ministries that emphasize these theological acts.


    You might be surprised to learn that current, even liberal, scholars of the historical Jesus have studied the healing ministry recorded in the gospels. Earlier generations of liberal scholars often dismissed these miracles as clearly not historical. But that has not been the trend of late.

    John Dominic Crossan, for instance, in his magisterial book The Historical Jesus makes the miracle stories central to his interpretation of the life of Jesus. He did that by drawing upon significant anthropological research into records of ancient cultures and contemporary societies which still believe in and practice witchcraft or magic. One thing this research revealed is that a magical worldview which accepts physical healing and the exorcism of demons is quite common, and it is very often common in periods of political oppression, particularly during colonial rule by a foreign empire. These societies view themselves as possessed by an outside force – the ruling empire – and re-enact that possession on the level of the personal body. So, if you look at the historical record from the time of Jesus, you learn that there were prominent faith healers and miracle workers, including Honi the Circle-Maker and Hanina ben Dosa. Research has also shown that magic traditionally operates outside the religious establishment and is viewed as a subversive activity.

    Crossan, then, concludes that exorcism and miracle healing in the time of Jesus or in any colonial context is "in fact, individuated symbolic revolution."


    It was easy for liberals to dismiss stories of healing and exorcism as long as they believed that the fundamental issue involved was belief in supernatural activity. More recent research has revealed, however, that the fundamental issue is not supernatural activity; even if the ancients themselves may have believed that supernatural agents were involved. They were simply using their worldview to express a spiritual reality. That spiritual reality remains true for us today. What is that?

    We can become possessed by social structures and systems that are beyond our individual power. Also, physical illness can result from political, cultural, and economic realities. Let's take a moment to consider these.


    Shortly before leaving Oklahoma City, the Interfaith Alliance, on whose Board of Directors I served, became involved with the state's Department of Human Services in an educational campaign entitled "Place Matters" which focused on health equity. The director of the state program explained, "there's more to our health than bad habits, health care, or unlucky genes, and that the social environment in which we are born, live and work profoundly affects our well-being and longevity."

    The United Church of Christ has been working on this issue for a few years. Some of you may have heard of the term, "environmental racism." The UCC realized that most of the major areas of environmental concern were actually in areas where the poor and racial minorities lived.

Some of you may have alo seen the PBS documentary, "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick." This documentary demonstrates a startling fact, that zip code is one of the best determiners of overall health. Certain neighborhoods are far more unhealthy because of many factors – pollution, difficult access to fresh food, substandard housing, crime, lack of social structures.

And, of course, how people ended up in the physical locations they are in is often the result of decades or centuries of government policies related to housing, race, employment, etc. Study into health equity has revealed that almost every area of social life has some relationship to health policy. Dr. David Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health says


Housing policy is health policy. Educational policy is health policy. Antiviolence policy is health policy. Neighborhood improvement policies are health policies. Everything that we can do to improve the quality of life of individuals in our society has an impact on their health and is a health policy.


    The latest trend in public health concludes that social factors are significant determiners in illness. I think that the average peasant in Jesus' day would have believed that.


    Beyond the conclusion that physical illness can result from political, cultural, and economic realities, it is also true that we can become possessed by social structures and systems that are beyond our individual power.

    Walter Wink, a contemporary American theologian, has written about these demonic powers from a contemporary mindset. He calls them the "Domination System" which includes things like consumerism, colonialism, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. They aren't literal demons possessing our society, but they are systems made up of institutions and cultural practices.

    I also think of some of you who have become unemployed during this financial recession. Economic forces and policy decisions far beyond your individual control have affected your lives. Some of you who are minorities have experienced prejudice. Many of you women may have had to battle sexism to get ahead in your careers. I think of Dorothy Hill's story of getting kicked out of seminary because she was supposedly a trouble-making woman.

    Sometimes these outside social forces can be so powerful over our lives, that they can weigh upon us spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. Maybe this experience of feeling helpless and at the whim of forces beyond our control is what the ancients called demon possession.

    Walter Wink uses this very story from Luke as an illustration of how the healing of the woman is actually Jesus' confrontation with the Domination System. Wink points out that in this story: Jesus calls the woman a "daughter of Abraham," giving her full covenantal standing on her own as a woman; he breaks the rules by healing on the Sabbath; he touches an unclean person; he places her in the center of the synagogue, a place of male prerogative; and he claims that her illness was not from God but was satanic oppression. Wink then concludes:


This tiny drama thus takes on world-historic proportions. In freeing this woman from Satan's power, Jesus simultaneously releases her from the encompassing network of patriarchy, male religious elitism, and the taboos fashioned to disadvantage some in order to preserve the advantage of others. Her physical ailment was symbolic of a system that literally bent women over. For her to stand erect in male religious space represents far more than a healing. It reveals the dawn of a whole new world order.


    Though we may not share the supernatural worldview of the ancient world, I hope you can see how these stories of Jesus' miraculous healings and exorcisms do identify spiritual and social realities that we are still acquainted with in 2010. If you can grasp this, then you'll also see how themes of liberation, salvation, and healing are intertwined theologically.


    This was clearly demonstrated during the crisis generated by the on-set of AIDS and HIV, a crisis which continues despite medical advances in the Western world. On the continent of Africa maybe 1/3 of the population is HIV positive. There are something like 40 million people currently living with HIV worldwide. Over 25 million people have already died of this disease with thousands more dying every day. In the United States, over 400,000 people are living with AIDS, with over one million being HIV positive. Recent studies demonstrate that in current trends, people of color, African Americans and Latinos are the hardest hit populations in the United States. Thirty years ago prejudice towards gay men delayed adequate treatment and quality care. Today the epidemic targets other traditionally marginalized groups of people.

    In his play, Angels in America, Tony Kushner imagines a future of hope, blessing, and life. It is a place of physical and spiritual healing, not only of the infected body, but of broken relationships, of the body politic. It is a new world, a long-promised millennium, the time in which it has been imagined that God's reign will come fully upon the earth. Much like an Old Testament prophet, Kushner realizes that justice and freedom rely upon spiritual healing and wholeness.


To put it simply, our social justice work and our congregational care are not fundamentally separate from one another. One way we care for people is by working for their liberation from oppressive social systems. And one way we work for social justice is by providing ministries of health, wellness, and care.

    First Central has a long history of proclaiming liberation and the healing effects of such action. We were one of the congregations who supported the Ponca chief Standing Bear in his landmark 1879 federal court case which concluded that Native Americans were "persons within the meaning of the law" and have the right of habeas corpus. We have advocated for the rights of women, for civil rights, and as an open and affirming congregation have stood for the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the church and society.

    Or consider a number of our current mission activities. We have on-going projects concerned with conditions of poverty on Native American reservations. We are involved in a number of projects that feed the hungry. The Siena Francis House feeds the homeless, while the Saturday neighborhood meal through Neighbors United feeds this neighborhood. Plus we contribute to the food pantry every month.

In her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass traveled the country visiting liberal and mainline churches which were vital and growing. She discovered that they had ten traits in common and one of those was ministries of healing. These ministries looked different in different settings. Some had robust prayer ministries, others had parish nurses, some offered a wide array of programing on health topics. Each of the churches viewed themselves as ministering to the whole person – spirit, mind, and body. They rooted their practices in the biblical story, in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and in God's desire for a restored creation.

I hope as we explore new avenues for ministry with our new governance structure, that we will keep these sorts of ideas in mind as possibilities to which God might lead us.

    The theological acts of liberation and healing are intertwined. Our experience of them is not, in the end, radically different from that of Jesus' contemporaries. Let us view this gospel story as an invitation to acts of care and justice.

Diana Butler Bass concludes,


Salvation is . . . a lifetime of practice, receiving God's healing grace and power, being changed by it, and offering healing back to the world. The healed heal.