Saturday, December 25, 2010

January Faith Happening Letter

Happy New Year! The adventure of 2010 has morphed into the hope of 2011. That means that it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. A new chance to start over. To begin again. To start things afresh. For some of us, our resolution might be to exercise more, watch TV less, spend more time with family, eat organic food, stop smoking, etc. There are many good things that are worth resolving to do. And a new year is a great time to start.

As we think about our personal New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to invite everyone to think about the New Year’s resolutions that we have for our faith journeys. To help us ponder this idea, here are a few questions for meditation: How is God speaking to you? What is God calling you to do? What is God calling you to be? Where is God calling you to go? Who is God calling you to be with? What things is God calling you to heal? What part of your faith journey is God calling you to focus on? How is God calling you to be active in the shared ministries of Faith?

Every person will answer these questions differently. The point here isn’t to tell anyone what to do or how to answer. The goal is simply to invite questioning. Not the kind of endless questioning that is anxious-making. Instead, it’s the kind of questioning that moves us onward. It keeps us searching, listening, and praying. In progressive Christianity we call this “living the questions.” It’s the kind of life that is lived with an open mind that is eager to learn, an open heart that is eager to share, and an open hand that’s eager to receive.

As we “live the questions,” we may find that our New Year’s resolutions change over time. Not because we have stopped doing them, but because we are called in a new direction. God’s call in our lives changes as we journey. We’re not called to stay on one pathway forever. Instead, we’re called on a holy adventure. In this adventure with God, we’ll take many different pathways and directions. God isn’t a boring God. God is the Great Adventurer that goes with us on the great adventure of life.

Psalm 139:7-12 describes God’s adventurous presence in our lives: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” May these words of Scripture bless you on all the adventures of 2011.

Enjoy the New Year!


Pastor Brian

For The Bible Tells Me So (Film)

Sunday, January 9th at 10:35am
Cost: FREE

All are welcome to join us for a free viewing of the award-winning documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” This film explores the intersection between faith and homosexuality in powerful ways.

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate?
Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families - including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson - we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard's Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, “For the Bible Tells Me So” offers healing, clarity, and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual orientation.

“For the Bible Tells Me So” has won many awards, including the Audience Award for Best Documentary at Outfest Los Angeles, Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and the HBO Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Provincetown International Film Festival.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Phyllis Tickle on Advent

This Advent season, Patheos is hosting a new video series, “The Coming of God: Reflections on Advent,” featuring well-known progressive Christians on what Advent means to them.

In the first video, renowned author and speaker Phyllis Tickle shares her thoughts on Advent, “the most grand of the Holy seasons.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Preparing for Jesus the King: December 5th

This Sunday we're going to explore the Biblical understanding of Jesus as "King." What kind of king would he be? What kind of people would he help? What kind of foreign policy would he have? How would we serve a king like this? To explore these questions, we'll look at Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72, and Matthew 3:1-12.

Creative worship. Scriptural exploration. Illuminating preaching. Traditional music. New music. Communion celebration. Prayers for one another. And more.

All are welcome this Sunday at 9:30am.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Faith Happenings Letter

Dear Friends and Members of Faith UCC,

Christmas is the season that we celebrate the incarnation of God. The presence of God in the world – in our world. Not born into wealth and privilege. Not born on a regal mountain or grand fjord. Not born with power or clout. Not born to middle-aged, socially secure parents. Instead, God was born far away from all of those things.

Love was born in a rural, forgotten part of the world. Love was born in a feeding trough of a rickety barn. Love was born in the presence of watchful cattle and stinky donkeys. Love was born to na├»ve, anxious teenagers. Love was born as a baby – giggling, crying, sleeping, and all the other stuff babies do. Love was born with a need to be fed, nurtured, and snuggled. Yes, God was incarnated in this little expression of Love we call Jesus.

In Jesus, we see God’s incarnation revealed in a unique way – a nearly scandalous way. It challenges our notion of God being a bearded old man, an all-powerful ruler, or a CEO. Instead, the birth of Jesus reveals a God who isn’t afraid of real life. God isn’t afraid to be a dependant baby. God isn’t afraid of pregnant teenagers or smelly animals. God isn’t afraid to be in the midst of financial hardship or housing problems.

The God revealed through the birth of Jesus is a God who isn’t afraid to be present through the real “stuff” of life. Perhaps that is why people call Jesus by the name Emmanuel – God-with-us. God is with us through all situations in life. God is here to bring forth hope out of difficulty. God is here to bring forth joy in times of despair. God is here to bring good news to the poor. God is here to bring forth justice in systems of inequality. God is here to bring forth light in the darkness. God is here to bring forth divine love to all humanity.

God isn’t just sitting on a cloud in Heaven, removed from the world. God is right here, right now, working in and through each of us. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God is scandalously present in the everydayness of life. And through God’s radical incarnation in our lives, each of us gets to give birth to Love anew. Love is born anew each time the love, justice, and mutuality of God is shared.

Joy to the world!


Pastor Brian

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Faith @ Carver

Iowa Women’s BasketballSunday, December 5th @ 2:00pm
Meet at Faith @ 1:15pm to Carpool
Tickets are $1

Thanksgiving will be over.
Christmas will be weeks away.
You'll want something fun to do.
Hang out at Carver with your Faith friends.

RSVP by signing up at church, commenting on this post, or e-mailing Pastor Brian at Please let us know by December 1st so we can buy a block of tickets together. And remember, tickets are just $1!

All are welcome.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holden Worship Service - Nov. 21st

Advent celebration. Good music. Warm candles. Evocative Scripture. Relevant readings. Healing prayer. And more. All are welcome to enjoy Holden Evening Prayer this coming Sunday at 9:30am. Enter into the Advent/Christmas season with this meditative-yet-celabratory service.

Plus, all are welcome to join us for Holden Evening Prayer on December 1st, 8th, and 15th at 7:00pm. These advent evening services will help open us to the spirit and joy of the Christmas season.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Advent Evening Worship

On December 1st, 8th, and 15th, we will be sharing in a unique worship experience called Holden Evening Prayer. This service is musical, meditative, and nourishing.

The Christmas season can be a hectic time. Plus, we live in a fast-paced world of cell phones, e-mails, and Facebook. With life zooming forward, it can be hard to slow down and really enjoy the season. So our evening worship services will help us to slow life down a bit. We will leave the busyness of life behind and enter into the sacredness of Christmas.

Good music. Warm candles. Evocative Scripture. Relevant readings. Spiritual activities. And more.

Enjoy the serenity and refuge of Holden Evening Prayer. Be still. Be relaxed. And be nourished.

All are welcome to celebrate Christmas with this contemplative worship experience.

December 1st, 8th, and 15th at 7:00pm

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What is Salvation? Exploration this Sunday.

Are you saved? Are you in the process of getting saved? What does it mean to get saved? Is salvation an ongoing process? This Sunday we'll look at Luke 19:1-9 for some answers. In this text, we encounter the story of Zacchaeus meeting Jesus. This story gives us an interesting look into the meaning of salvation. Sound interesting enough? Well, come this Sunday to discover how salvation, Petro-Carbo Salve, and you are all related. Plus, we'll have music, prayers, Communion, and a celebration of the ministry of a long-time member of Faith UCC. Come this Sunday at 9:30am. All are welcome.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November Faith Happenings Letter

Greetings, Friends and Members of Faith,

Faith UCC has been active this year. We have worshiped God in creative ways, given away school supplies, shared backpacks of food, supported the domestic violence shelter, served meals for the community, celebrated weddings for many different kinds of couples, shared joys and concerns, commemorated breast cancer awareness, held a rally to restore civility, etc. We have gotten many “thank you” notes, been in various newspapers, appeared on TV several times, and won an award. It’s clear that our church is making a difference in our community. As the great Christmas text says: “God has lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). While some groups talk about serving the community, our congregation is out in the community embodying the love and justice of God. At this time in the Church year, it’s good to look back and reflect on the shared ministry that we have done together. It’s truly making a difference. “Hope” and “change” are not just slogans at Faith. We are choosing hope and working for change with every ministry that we do together. It’s exciting to be part of a congregation that is so committed to living out our faith in such bold ways.

Faith UCC continues to journey boldly into the future. At this time of the year, we also reflect on our shared ministries and financial stewardship for the coming year. We think about what we want to give back to God. We think about how we want to invest our money into the mission of the church. We think about how we want to invest our time into the shared ministry of the church. We think about how we want to shape the coming year as a community of Christians. We think about all of these things and more. In the end, we think about how we want to be involved in God’s work in the world.

Faith UCC has an amazing vocation. We have been invited by God to join God in caring for God’s world and people. Plus, God gives each of us various talents, gifts, resources, personalities, etc., so that we may all join in this vocation in different ways. One amazing way we get to serve with God is being a part of Faith UCC. In this congregation, we get to pool our gifts and resources together in order for our ministry to be even stronger. And our shared ministry sends ripples of God’s love and care into our community and world.

In the coming year, God will continue to bring God’s love to and through each of us. Thanks be to God!


Pastor Brian

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rally To Restore Civility

Are you tried of being told to pick sides? Liberal vs. Conservative. Moderate vs. Extreme. Democrat vs. Republican. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. Pro-War vs. Anti-Military. Communist vs. Capitalist. Mainline vs. Evangelical. Protestant vs. Catholic. Christian vs. Muslim. Mac vs. PC. Are you tried of these false choices? Are you tired of the shock jocks like Sean Hannity and Michael Moore making it seem like we have to hate our friends and family on the other side? Are you tired of the loudest, most divisive voices taking up so much space on TV? Are you tired of some cable news choosing soundbites over nuance? Are you tired of the lack of civil discourse? The good news is that you're not alone!

Jon Stewart is tired of all that too. So he's going to host a Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC on 10/30/10. The rally is meant to gather people together who want to get beyond the overly simplistic and overly divisive "sides" that are often presented by politicians and the media. In the end, the event is supposed to rally people around ideas like civility, dialogue, and a more sane approach to real issues. Because of that, some people are calling it the Million Moderate March.

Faith UCC is going to host an Iowa City chapter of the Rally to Restore Sanity. But we're going to call it the Rally to Restore Civility. The purpose is the same: rally people around radical ideas like civility and respect.

We're going to explore Galatians 3:23-29 and its message for us today. Apostle Paul provides us with an excellent example of how to bring different "sides" together.

All are weclome this Sunday at 9:30am.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It Gets Better Prayer

Holy One, we recall the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was a teenager who was bullied, beaten, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery. He knew what it was like to be knocked down by everyone in his world. And, thankfully, life got much better for him. So we pray that life does, indeed, get better for every young person who faces difficulty, harassment, or violence.

May life get better for the young people in special education. The young people who are intimidated and recruited by gangs. The young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered. The young people with disabilities or mental illness. The young people who are pregnant – and have to think about adoption, abortion, and other decisions that are way too heavy for someone so young – yet they have to make these decisions even as they feel ostracized.

Dear God, we pray for all of the young people in our neighborhood, country, and world. And we pray that life does get better for them, no matter what they face. Being a teenager is hard enough without all the extra “stuff.” The tough stuff. So, we pray that life gets better for all of them.

But don’t let this prayer simply be an empty platitude to make us feel better on a Sunday morning. Things don’t always easily get better. Sometimes these teens are given more than they can handle by the world. And they need our help. So, we pray for you to help us, to help them.

Help us to build a world that is more inclusive of and accessible for young people who need special education. For some of us, this is easy. For others, it’s not. When we don’t know what to say or do, inspire us with words and actions that can help bring smiles and remove stigma. In everything we do, may we empower and love them like every other child.

Help us to provide a sense of community, belonging, and safety for young people, so they aren’t intimidated by or recruited into gangs. This will take creativity in our community, as we witness an upsurge in gang activity – especially on the SE side of Iowa City. So, we pray to you, Creative Creator, to help us find a way to make our streets safer and children happier. And may places like “The Spot” offer secure and fun alternatives for them.

Help us to overcome the religious stigma against LGBT youth. Prejudice in the name of Christianity is a strong force in our world. So we, as Christians, have a special role in overturning this discrimination in the church and wider society. Give us the wisdom to listen to, stand beside, and support LGBT communities. And give us the courage to be a public witness to your love for each and every one of your perfectly designed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Help us to offer a welcoming and safe place for youth with disabilities and mental illness. Not to feel sorry for them, or to treat them like helpless children, but to empower them to achieve their greatest potential despite their difficulties. May these young people, like all young people, know they are loved and created by you – and will be loved and cared for by us.

Help us to offer empathic ears and welcoming arms to pregnant teenagers. May we support them during their difficult decisions, and help them to find organizations like United Action for Youth, Faith Aloud, and Avoid the Stork. Plus, Holy God, may our schools offer our youth comprehensive sex education so that they can be empowered to make judicious decisions with the best information available. In the end, we pray for a dramatic drop in teen pregnancy – an end of teen pregnancy – so that every family can be started at a time that makes sense for them.

Holy God, may all the young people who face difficulties, like Joseph, find that life truly does get better. For every single one of them. No more prejudice. No more bullying. No more beatings. No more suicide. Just better. Every day. Because of you. And because of us. And because it’s the right thing to do for kids. May there be more fun. More smiles. More inclusivity. And more empowerment.

Like Joseph and his family, help to make life better for all of us, Gracious God. Amen.

This prayer was inspired by the It Gets Better Project.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This Sunday: Effective Communication, Jesus Style

Any time two or more people are gathered together there is potential for conflict. All you have to do is go to a family reunion to know the reality of that. Families, like offices or teams or churches, are collections of diverse people. And here's the kicker: Almost everyone has a different perspective than almost everyone about almost everything. It's just the way things are. Everyone is unique. And that uniqueness presents a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity is that diversity can help us grow and develop beyond "the box" of our individual perspectives. The challenge, then, is to use diversity in productive ways.

This sounds easier said than done. And it is. Despite our best attempts, there will still be conflicts. Thankfully, in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives us ways to handle conflict in effective and healthy ways. This Sunday, we'll explore the tips that Jesus shared. So if you'd like to know how to get along with others - even when there is conflict - come to church this Sunday. We're going to explore how the wisdom of Jesus can be applied to our daily lives.

In the end, we'll discover three important things happen when we transform conflict into something productive through healthy communication. First, we feel better. Second, we lose an opponent and gain a partner. And, third, we realize that Jesus truly is present when two or three people are gathered together. It's not magic. It's just the message of Jesus!

All are welcome to join us for worship this Sunday at 9:30.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Successful Aging Events

Balanced Lives: Best Policies for the New Economy
October 20-22, 2010
The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
This conference, co-sponsored by JCLC, examines the most effective ways to provide job security, family time, child care, quality education, retirement security, preventive health care, sufficient leisure, community engagement, economic safety nets, access to nature, nutritious food and other key ingredients of happy lives. The conference includes a series of panel presentation by policy experts and distinguished speakers. For more information and to register, click here.

Creating the Second Half of Your Life: Intelligent Planning for Midlife Change
Thursday, November 4, 2010
The Kirkwood Center, Cedar Rapids, IA
JCLC, along with Kirkwood Continuing Education and other area sponsors, invites you to attend this one-day conference designed to help you make intelligent midlife decisions that will lead to greater personal fulfillment and satisfaction in the years ahead. The Creating the Second Half of Your Life brochure includes the conference schedule and registration information.

Live Well – Plan Well: For You and Your Family
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Hotel Vetro, Iowa City, IA

The focus of this seminar, co-sponsored by the Iowa Insurance Division and the Iowa Department on Aging, is on consumer and financial protection and education for older Iowans. Sessions are scheduled to include: Fighting Financial Fraud; Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions; Choosing Facility-based Care; and Accessing Services to Stay at Home. There is no cost to attend the seminar series. Lunch will be provided and the Live Well Plan Well events are open to the public. For more information or to register, click here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ask Boldly, Live Justly

This Sunday we'll look at Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104 as we explore ways to ask boldly and live justly. Plus, we'll enjoy music from Godspell, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, etc. Intersted in more? Join us this Sunday at 9:30.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bill McKibben in Iowa City

World-famous environmentalist Bill McKibben will be at the Englert Theater in Iowa City this Wednesday, October 13th at 7:00pm. The event is free and open to the public. He will be speaking about creating a sustainable world. For more info click here. Or for his recent article in Newsweek click here.

McKibben's new book, Eaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet, is described by Publishers Weekly in these words:
"The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization. His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt maintenance as our mantra, to think locally not globally, and to learn to live lightly, carefully, gracefully—a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Think Pink Service

Think pink and wear pink this Sunday. We're going to have a Breast Cancer Awareness Service. We hope to raise awareness and hope. We'll have upbeat music, relevant preaching, pink prayers, etc. The prayers will focus on the women we have lost, the survivors, and our hope for a cure. We'll also explore Psalm 3 and its message for the battle against breast cancer. Plus, Pastor Brian and Sara will play their song, "Victory," which is about one woman's connection to Psalm 3 as she battled cancer (and won!). All are welcome. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

Update: The Cedar Rapids Gazette did an article about the service here. Hopefully articles like this and services like ours will help us in our battle against cancer - and our journey toward victory.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

1 a Minute Live in Iowa City

1 a Minute Live: Supporting Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Wednesday, Oct 6th at 7:00pm
Marcus Sycamore Cinema 12, Iowa City, IA

The night begins with a LIVE panel discussion about breast cancer survival and hopeful advancements. Included in the discussion will be Melissa Etheridge, Olivia Newton-John, Jaclyn Smith, Namrata Singh Gujral, and Barbara Mori. The panel will be broadcasted live from LA.

Following the panel discussion, there will be a special viewing of the docudrama 1 a Minute, written, produced and directed by Indo-American actress and breast cancer survivor Namrata Singh Gujral and narrated by Kelly McGillis. The story portrays one woman’s journey through the various phases of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Click here for more info or to buy tickets.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October Worship Events

October 3rd

World Communion Sunday. Join us for a hymn sing that will focus on songs from around the world. Plus, we'll explore the Great Feast in Luke 14:12-23 and what it means for us today. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

Installation Service. Celebrate the official start of the collaborative ministry between Faith UCC and Pastor Brian. There will be upbeat music, exciting preaching, guests from the wider community, and food afterward. Sunday at 4:00 PM.

October 10th

Breast Cancer Awareness Sunday. We'll explore Psalm 3 and its message for the battle against breast cancer. Plus, Pastor Brian and Sara will play their new song about Psalm 3. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

October 17th

Shared Ministry Sunday. Paula Forest will be preaching and leading worship. Come explore the intersection of Scripture and real life. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

October 24th

Details Emerging. But do not fear. It will be an experience of the-ordinary-meets-the-holy. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

October 31st

Civility Sunday. Jon Stewart is hosting the "Rally To Restore Sanity" in order point out the importance of civil discourse in our nation. This Sunday, we'll be hosting a local branch of this rally for the same purpose. We'll explore Galatians 3:23-29 and how this Scripture invites us to be more civil and united in our church, nation, and family. Sunday at 9:30 AM.

October Faith Happenings Letter

Dear Members and Friends of Faith UCC,

We continue to journey boldly together into the Fall season – and into the future. While the media shares things about deceitful rhetoric about Islam, polemic political campaigns, and other deflating topics, we share many exciting things ahead as we continue to follow God-in-Jesus.

First, we have an exciting online presence at On this website, you will find pictures, updates, weekly announcements, Faith Happenings, spiritual reflections, Scripture for the upcoming worship services, links to our online discussions, messages of support for our Muslim neighbors, etc.

Second, adult education is back in full swing. During the month of October, we’ll be engaging in spiritual creative writing. Join us after worship as we explore and experiment with different kinds of writing as a spiritual practice. These sessions will be relaxing, encouraging, and fun. Come for all the sessions - or come for just one. All are welcome.

Third, we have new art in the sanctuary that comes directly from artists in Central America. This beautiful, fair-trade art serves to remind us of the creativity of God’s people and our connection to the world-wide Body of Christ.

Fourth, we’ll be having a fun-filled Harvest Dinner and Auction on Saturday, November 6th. The festivities will begin at 6pm with a delicious dinner. After the meal, we’ll be having an auction to raise money for a projector for our church. The projector will be used to show reflective, spiritual videos/images during worship as well as used to show movies and documentaries that will help us explore faith through film. Come for the food, stay for the fun!

Fifth, it’s my pleasure to announce that world-famous author and theologian, Brian McLaren, is coming to speak in Iowa City on March 4th, 2011. People often travel across the country and spend their hard-earned money to hear him speak. But we get to hear him for FREE. So be sure to come and listen to McLaren speak about following Jesus in the 21st Century.

Like I said, we’ve got a lot of exciting things going on at Faith UCC. We’re a smallish church, but we’re mighty! And if all this sounds good to you, please begin thinking about how you would like to be involved in our financial stewardship and shared ministry as we continue to journey boldly into the future. God is doing exciting things through our Church!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Facebook Question: What Is The Holy Spirit?

The Facebook question for October is: “What is the Holy Spirit?” Simple yet profound. There are many directions you could take this question. What is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do? Where is the Holy Spirit? What is your favorite image of the Holy Spirit? What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? The list of questions could go on and on. Please answer the question in any way that is most meaningful to you. What is the Holy Spirit? Please click here to join the discussion on Facebook. Every reply will enrich every reader.

Responding to Luke 16:19-31

Today in worship we explored Luke 16:19-31. What if Jesus really meant it? How would this change our lives? For Shane Claiborne, this meant learning from Mother Teresa and then starting The Simple Way. For each of us, it might mean something else. Here are five ways that we can live out the radical message of Luke 16:19-31: (1) Pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (2) Simplify life. (3) Make a donation to Neighbors In Need. (4) Sign the One Campaign's petition to eliminate the transmission of mother-to-child AIDS. (5) Continue to come to church and read this blog to discover opporunities to live out the Gospel in the community through our mission activities.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Sunday: Parables Gone Wild

Jesus was an edgy guy. This Sunday we're going to look at his teaching in Luke 16:19-31. It's about the rich man and Lazarus - and what happens to them later in their lives. Apparently the Gospel of Luke isn't a fan of rich people who ignore the poor. So, this Sunday, we're going to explore this text. Does God have a special care for the poor? Does God have a special plan for the rich? Is the Gospel of Luke pro-poor, pro-rich, or pro-everyone? What does this say about Jesus? What does this say about us? As we explore this parable, we might find some surprises as we go along. Plus, there will be live music, authentic prayers, and a refreshing worship expereince. All are welcome this Sunday at 9:30.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spiritual Creative Writing Group

Set your creative side free! Join us in exploring and experimenting with all kinds of writing as a spiritual practice. We agree with Brenda Ueland who said: "Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say." Each person who participates will be proof of this fact. Plus, everyone will be invited (but not expected) to share their writing with the group. The hope is that we’ll grow as much from our own writing as from each other’s writing. These sessions will be relaxing, encouraging, and fun. Come for all the sessions - or come for just one. All are welcome.

Dates: September 26th, October 3rd, October 10th, October 24th, and October 31st
Time: Ten minutes after worship (10:40-11:40)
Location: Sanctuary
Leader: Sara Klosterboer

Click here to check out our other opportunities for going deeper in our faith.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Installation Celebration

Come one! Come all! On Sunday October 3rd at 4:00pm, Pastor Brian will officially be installed as the pastor of Faith UCC. There will be music, food, stories, and more. Rev. Jonna Jensen will be preaching, Sara Klosterboer will be providing music, and members of Faith UCC will be hosting. Let's make it fun - and pack the place. We'd be glad to have to set up extra chairs, so feel free to pass this invitation along to others who may be interested. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rally Sunday

Everyone is invited to Rally Sunday this Sunday. Worship will include a time to explore our hopes and rally around ways to live abundantly. After worship there will be many fun activities to kick off the Fall season. Potluck Lunch "featuring" Pastor Brian's Famous Spaghetti. Bocce Ball. Ladder Ball. Wii Bowling. Previews of upcoming events. And probably even more! Please join us for this fun time of worship and rallying. Just bring yourself and some food to share.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Prayer Around the Cross this Sunday

Join us for prayer around the cross this Sunday. It will be a meditative worship experience like no other. It will include: silent meditation, candle lighting, scripture reading, reflective prayer, and contemplative music from the Taize and Iona communities. If you're having a busy Labor Day weekend, this service would be an excellent opportunity to experience a moment of peace, relaxation, and deep Sabbath. All are welcome.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September Faith Happenings Letter

Dear Members and Friends,

Fall is upon us! That means it’s time for cooler weather, turning leaves, football season, visiting local apple orchards, and so much more. Plus, after a busy summer, the Fall is also a return to more regular schedules. Often, for the church, this means more people are able to come to worship on Sunday morning. And that is an exciting prospect at Faith.

Lately, we’ve been trying different styles of worship. One of the more interesting has been conversational sermons. This is where I give some background on a text, introduce a theme, and then invite the congregation to preach the sermon with me. Basically, it looks like a Bible study during worship. It’s been fun to get different perspectives on a text or topic each Sunday.

During the August 29th sermon, we discussed the problems that face the church as well as our hopes for the future. Many good ideas were shared, as we explored ways to help the church thrive. The list that was generated gave me a lot of hope for the future of this congregation. If we begin to implement even a few of these ideas, it will help us remodel the church in some exciting and effective ways. And that reminds me of HyVee.

HyVee on Waterfront is undergoing a remodeling project. While they are working on the store, they are remaining open for business. It’s a little awkward. But it’s working. Their true-yet-slightly-cheesy slogan is: “pardon our progress.” It’s a way to acknowledge the current messiness of the work, yet invite people to focus on the benefits of the remodeling. In the church’s ongoing work, perhaps we too need a sign that reads “pardon our progress.” We don’t need to close the church. We can do the remodeling work as we, too, stay open. And, we, too, can focus on the end result of a remodeled and renewed existence.

It’s an exciting time to be at Faith. Please come to worship each Sunday to join us for conversational sermons that explore relevant topics such as hope for the future of the church, protecting marriage equality, honoring the Sabbath in our busy lives, etc. You never know when a conversation we have in worship might just appear in Faith Happenings – or even be the start of a change in the congregation. All are welcome to be a part of the action!

Please keep reading Faith Happenings to check out some of the exciting upcoming events. Fall is going to be a fun season at Faith UCC!


Pastor Brian

Facebook Question: What Is Church?

The Facebook question for September is: “What is the Church?” Simple yet profound. There are many directions you could take this question. What are we meant to do? What is our mission? Who are we? Whose are we? Who are we called to love? The list of questions could go on and on. Please answer the question in any way that is meaningful to you. What is the Church? All are welcome to go to the discussion section on our Facebook page and discuss their understanding of the Church. Every reply with enrich every reader. Click here to add your thoughts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Appeal for Pakistan Flood Relief

Today the United Church of Christ issued a special disaster appeal seeking $300,000 to support the emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation initiatives of Church World Service in Pakistan.


The torrential rains and flooding that have affected Pakistan in recent weeks continue, with at an estimated 1,600 dead and 17.2 million affected. Some 1.5 million people are now homeless.

The floods which began in the northern parts of country have spread to four provinces covering over 132,000 square kilometers, or about 82,000 square miles. (Pakistan's total square miles: 340,132.)

As the rains continue, the waters are moving downstream like a rolling earthquake affecting Punjab and Sindh provinces further south. In Sindh, villages in the area of Dadu and Mehar Taluka have been flooded. Thus far, some 186 villages in Sindh have been affected in seven local municipalities, affecting 38,656 individuals, according to CWS staff in Pakistan.


CWS is coordinating a response in a wide geographic area, including the distribution of emergency food packets and shelter kits. Mobile medical clinics are providing emergency health care. Read More


1. Pray for the people of Pakistan, their leaders, and all emergency response workers.

2. Please help the people of Pakistan by sending gifts payable to your congregation marked for "Pakistan Flood Relief" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.


Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "Pakistan Flood Relief" to Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.


Make a secure online donation to Pakistan Flood Relief.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Church for a New Age

Many churches are losing members and stuggling to thrive. At Faith, we are going to ask an important question. How can we be an exciting church filled with vitality - and members, despite the downward trend in many churches? In our rapidly changing world, church might have to look different than it did 10-20 years ago. Everyone is welcome to come to church this Sunday to explore ways that we can be the church in our age of Facebook and the Daily Show. Come join the discussion.

Our Scripture for this Sunday is Psalm 23. It's one of the most popular texts in the Bible. It's often used at funerals and in hospital chapels. But it's also featured in secular music and movies. Clearly it's a popular poem. If you want to do some early exploring, check out how Psalm 23 could help us image a new future for the church. Then come to church on Sunday to share your ideas. It's going to be a conversational sermon. Yup, you're going to be giving part of the sermon. It'll be fun. All are welcome.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fabricating Our Perception of Beauty

Dove produced a 74 second film that explores the process of modeling. A woman walks in. Makeup is caked on. Photos taken. Photoshop alters the photo. The altered picture is placed on a billboard. In the end, the girl on the billboard doesn't even look like the original model who walked in the door. No wonder our perception of beauty is so skewed.

Please watch this video. Then show it to a group of teenagers.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Open Letter About Cordoba House

I would like to cut through the spin of opportunistic politicians and profit-driven pundits in order to offer some reflections that I hope will help to show the beauty of the Cordoba House project, sometimes mischaracterized as “the Ground Zero Mosque.”

Cordoba House is protected by First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA. This Amendment protects the freedom of religion for all Americans – no matter our religious perspective – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, etc. If the builders of Cordoba House, a Muslim community center, aren’t guaranteed this Constitutional right, then the freedom of religion for all people is threatened. This is something to take very seriously.

Cordoba House is being organized by Feisal Abdul Rauf, who works to improve relations between Muslim Americans and other Americans. In fact, in 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Many people, including University of Iowa alum and progressive Muslim author, Reza Aslan, consider Rauf to be an important leader of Islam in the USA because of his commitment to pluralism and peace. Imam Rauf is a model for us all.

Cordoba House is being built by The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, two organizations that seek to improve the relationship between Islam and the West. In the weeks after 9-11, we asked moderate Muslims to step forward and speak out. Now that they are coming forward in such important ways, we should welcome their efforts with open arms.

Cordoba House is named after Cordoba, Spain, a city where Muslims, Jews, and Christians thrived together successfully for many years. This name is significant because it reminds people that, in the words of Feisal Abdul Rauf, "Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth." We should hold Cordoba up as an example for the USA. Our nation should be a place where all people, no matter their religion, can live together in peace and prosperity.

Cordoba House is a community center that will feature a fitness center, culinary school, childcare services, etc. It will also feature a prayer room. Such a building would be similar to a JCC or YMCA. These kinds of organizations provide services that are good for the entire community.

Cordoba House would share the neighborhood with a Mosque, Masjid Manhattan, that has been in the area for over 30 years. Clearly, Islam has been a part of the heritage of New York for a long time. Muslims are not exotic outsiders to be feared. They are friendly neighbors to be treated like we would like to be treated. The Torah and Gospels remind us to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” And that includes our Muslim neighbors.

Cordoba House is a product of moderate Islam. It has nothing to do with fringe, fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is political fundamentalism that has declared war on everything and everyone that stands in the way of their political agenda. Conversely, the form of Islam that is promoted by the sponsoring organizations of Cordoba House would be committed to a spiritual and peaceful form of Islam. It's important to remember that Islam, like every other religion, has a lot of diversity. We must not hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of extremists that claim their religion any more than we would want to be held accountable for the actions of extremists that claim our own religion.

I support not only the Constitutional right of the building of Cordoba House, but I also support the moral imperative of standing beside people who work to build a more peaceful and pluralistic world. Supporting the construction of Cordoba House would honor the freedom of religion in First Amendment and the voice of moderate Muslims. In a world of ongoing misunderstanding and extremism, we could all benefit from the pluralistic work that could be done in places like Cordoba House.


Rev. Brian Brandsmeier

WARC Events

The Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC) at the University of Iowa will hold its annual open house on August 24th and music festival on September 16th-18th. Come to the open house to enjoy refreshments; opportunities to meet staff members and volunteers; and learn about the center's services and activities. Come to the music festival to check out voices like Janis Ian; Leslie and the Lys; and SONiA and disappear fear.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Harvest Dinner and Auction

On Saturday, November 6 (a non-home Hawkeye football Saturday) the Worship Committee requests the honor of your presence to a Harvest Dinner/Auction at Faith United Church of Christ. Festivities will begin at 6 pm.

After a wonderful dinner, there will be an auction to raise funds to purchase a projector to be used as an aide during worship services. Auction item ideas may include, but not restricted to: any service you can perform (sewing/mending, babysitting, card making, cakes/cookies/desserts/baked goods of any kind, motorcycle rides, etc. Let your imagination go wild!

Please put this on your calendars and get ready for a wonderful evening of food, fun, fellowship and down home goodness!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Intrigue. Mystery. Conspiracy. And God. This Sunday.

Intrigue. Mystery. Conspiracy. And God. Interested? Well, we might have just the thing for you. So-called "renewal groups" are trying to steal churches from progressive denominations and convert them to fundamentalism. It's called steeplejacking. There's a book about it. And pastor Brian has blogged about it. It seems like too much of a conspiracy theory to actually be happening. But it is happening. And it's hitting Iowa churches hard ever since the Supreme Court made marriage equality legal here. The "renewal groups" want to close or convert progressive churches so that we can't speak out for justice from our perspective. If you want to know more about these groups, come to church this Sunday. If you want to help build an alternative to this movement, come to church this Sunday. If you want to protect marriage equality, come to church this Sunday. We'll be discussing these topics, exploring Scriptural wisdom, singing songs of hope, and praising God for God's abiding presence in our lives. All are welcome to join us this Sunday.

We'll be looking at Psalm 72 and Amos 5:21-34, if you want to read ahead. It's some good, edgy Scripture. Amos is especially prophetic. He's kinda like the "Michael Moore" of the Bible. He's not afraid to do some bold and controversial advocacy through his writing. He's all about justice. So, Amos will help us find ways to "let justice flow like mighty streams." And in places where God's justice is not flowing very well (such as equal rights for the LGBT community), Amos will help us find ways to let the dammed river flow. Come check out God's edgy prophet for justice this Sunday.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Congrats to the 13 couples from Missouri who got married today at Faith. May your beautiful weddings lead to happy marriages. And may your marriages lead the way to a future where all gay and lesbian couples can get legally married all over the world.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Twain Backpack Stuffing Extravaganza

This Sunday, 15 August, please help stuff over 100 backpacks for students at Mark Twain. You have already assisted tremendously in purchasing supplies that go into the backpacks, you have helped sew the backpacks together, and this is just one more step in the process to give the Twain kids, our neighbors, what they need to begin the school year.

The stuffing assembly line will begin after church, and is a fun activity. Amazingly, it does not take all that long with many willing hands in the mix.

And if you are free on Tuesday night, the 17th, come help hand out those backpacks at the Mark Twain ice cream social for kids and parents. When the students pick up those bags, you will see very happy kids and very grateful parents. Talk to Pam Zehr on Sunday about Tuesday night details.

Mary MC

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Work of Ordinary Saints

Sara Miles believes that everyone can act like Jesus. It's not only ordained clergy who can do real ministry. And it's certainly not something that only "holy" people can do. Everyone is called and empowered to be a minister just by being a follower of Jesus. And in truth, every person can be a "holy" person because God's abiding presence is with all of us.

Sara’s new book, Jesus Freak, is about her conviction that ordinary people are “authorized and empowered to do Jesus’ work of feeding, healing and raising the dead.” The Holy Spirit moves through us all - so all of us are divinely empowered to do ministry each day. Ministry can take many different forms: serving the poor, talking with friends, welcoming a stranger, being a kind presence at work, etc. All of this can be done as part of God's work through us.

Sara is the director of the Food Pantry at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Each Friday hundreds of families gather at the Food Pantry to receive food. Some people also stay around to help serve others. It's all a part of the work of ordinary Saints. Sara says, “We are gathered around an altar and surrounded by saints. Everything is free and everyone is welcome. It's like a Farmer's Market in Heaven.”1

Check out her interview with Spencer Burke below:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A New Kind of Church: Anne Rice Is Welcome - And So Are You

Do you want a unique church experience? Want to praise God without being forced to adhere to certain doctrine? Want to go to a church that believes in disorganized religion? Want to hear some rap? Want to sing some songs? Want to explore Genesis 19 and Ezekiel 16? Want to discuss the real sin of Sodom? (Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with homosexuality.) Want to explore ways to avoid the real sin of Sodom? (Spoiler alert: it has everything to do with hospitality.) Want to talk about the Marriage Equality Bus that is coming on August 13th? Want to watch the brief-yet-powerful documentary, Heartland Transport? Want to share in Holy Communion, even if you've been told you're not holy enough? Want to come to a church that would proudly welcome Anne Rice, especially after her recent Facebook posts? Want some yummy treats? Well, look no further! You can get all this and more by coming to worship this Sunday @ 9:30. All are welcome!

Marriage Equality Bus Schedule

Friday August 13th

04:45 am - Gather at Metropolitan Community Church, downtown St. Louis
05:00 am - Load bus and passengers
05:05 am - Leave Metropolitan Community Church
07:15 am - Stop in Hannibal Missouri for 15 minute break
07:30 am - Leave Hannibal Missouri
10:25 am - Arrive at Johnson County Administration Building
10:55 am - Leave Johnson County Administration Building
11:05 am - Arrive at Faith United Church of Christ, Iowa City
02:45 pm - Leave Faith United Church of Christ
02:55 pm - Arrive Devotay
03:00 pm - Eat Lunch
05:00 pm - Leave Devotay
07:00 pm - Arrive Hannibal Missouri for 15 minute break
07:15 pm - Leave Hannibal Missouri
10:30 pm - Arrive at Metropolitan Community Church, downtown St. Louis

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

August Letter

Dear Members and Friends,

We are facing a bit of a crisis in the UCC. It's a crumbling institution. Scores of members have left. Thousands of churches have closed. Denominational leaders are overworked and understaffed. Seminaries are laying off tenured professors and selling their buildings. The list goes on and on. "Mainline Churches" like the UCC have now become "Sidelined Churches." And the emergency is clear to many people. This time of crisis and transition needs to be addressed. If nothing changes, we will fail for sure. But if we act creatively and innovatively, we’ll succeed in some very exiting ways. So, it's time for an extreme makeover!

The task is upon us to join together in an effort to rebuild the Church into something more effective and efficient in our changing world. This seems like a big task. And it is. It’s going to take a group effort – and a whole lot of good conversation and hard work. But I am convinced that nothing short of the survival of the “Mainline Church” is at stake. A time of great transition is before us – and we need to find ways of addressing this transition in order to do effective ministry in the future.

The best way to address our crisis is to continue to reform the Church as each generation has done. Jesus started a reformation of Judaism. Martin Luther started a reformation of Catholicism. Now we need to start a reformation of the “Mainline Church.” We stand in a long line of faithful people who had to address changing times with deep reformation. Sound exciting? It is! The Church was never meant to be boring! The following five ideas are meant to encourage conversation about how we can engage in this exciting reformation.

(1) Sermons could be more conversational, giving space for everyone to contribute ideas.

(2) Encourage all people to be theologians (people who think about God), not just pastors and seminary professors.

(3) Enthusiastically engage in shared ministry, so we can all put our faith into action. We have the pleasure of being the Body of Christ in the world. This makes us part of a movement – part of something bigger than ourselves.

(4) Help the Church to be more fun through fellowship, humor, art, shared meals, special music, meaningful worship experiences, etc.

(5) Have an internet ministry. Not just a website, but an active online presence that inspires interaction and connection.

The list could go on and on. And I hope many different people add many other ideas. We need an effective list. The times are rapidly changing. So, we need to work together in order to realistically and faithfully face the revolutionary shifts that are taking place in our world, and explore ways to do effective ministry in the midst of that transformation. The Church needs an extreme makeover. So let the creative planning and relevant reforming begin!


Pastor Brian

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Facebook Question: Who Is God?

The Facebook question for August is: Who is God? Okay, that's a big question. But it might be fun to explore some of our understandings of God. Some directions that you might take this question could include: Who is God to you? What is your favorite image of God? What is your favorite name for God? How do think God is active in the world? How is God active in your life? Etc. The list of questions could go on and on. The Bible features many different descriptions of God - and so does our church - so feel free to respond to this question in the way that you feel most compelled. There are no right or wrong responces. This question is just meant to inspire conversation. So please click here and discuss: Who is God?

Summer Hymn Sing

Faith UCC Inaugural Summer Hymn Sing
Sunday August 1st @ 9:30 AM

Hymn (noun) a song or ode in praise or honor of God
Sing (verb) to perform a song or voice composition

This Sunday’s service will be an old-fashioned “Hymn Sing.” All parts of the service will be musical, i.e. will be celebrated by the singing of hymns both new and old.

We need voices and audience members to help us perform these songs in praise of God.

Come join us, you are always welcome at Faith!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer For Marriage Equality

Everyone is invited to One Iowa's Stand Proud, Vote Proud kick-off in Iowa City to rally support for marriage equality and civic engagement.

Summer For Marriage Equality
Thursday, August 5, 11 a.m.
Iowa City Public Library
123 South Linn Street, Iowa City

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back To School 2010 (Update)

Dear Faith Friends,

Pastor Brian has posted Back to School information on our Faith blog, which has me in awe of the multiple methods of communication in our reach. Please forgive me for being relatively “old school”, but I had a little more information that I’d like to pass along and I’m still struggling to be a successful blogger.

As in past years, we are again sponsoring the Mark Twain school children, helping to provide their back to school supplies. I learned this summer that 80% of the Twain children qualify for free or reduced fee lunch. We are trying to organize enough book bags and supplies for 180 children out of the approximate 230 children who attend Twain. I met with the principal Mary Bontrager last night, and she said that 71 of the children who attended Twain last year left the school (moved or otherwise stopped attending) at some point in the school year. So their enrollment is ever changing and challenging, and with that their need for school supplies.

Some of the school supplies are being purchased again this year in bulk from the Consultation of Religious Communities (CoRC), but some are either under supplied or not supplied at all. The missions committee is carefully looking at the supplies needed, and how we can best use our resources to meet the needs of these children.

So we are once again asking for your help! If you like to shop for school supplies, we have a list of suggested items below that we need and would be very grateful to receive in what ever quantity you can supply. But we are also very grateful for monetary donations; we have been scouring local advertisements, swooping up supplies as they become available at seasonal sale prices. Here’s a list of items and local prices this week:

Hand Sanitizer: This week Office Depot has their 8 oz of Purell available for $4.59, but it is free with a mail-in rebate. There is a limit of 5 per household. So if you are willing to purchase 5 containers of the product for $26.70, all your money will be reimbursed in a check to you. It’s a lot of money, and of course it takes a while for your rebate check to come back to you. But the end result is free hand sanitizer. If you mention Mark Twain while at the check out, 5% of your purchase will go to Twain as a gift card from Office Depot. All in all, a pretty good deal. Per Ev and Carl’s suggestions, I’ve also looked for hand sanitizer at Dollar Tree. They have a 12 oz product available for $1 that seems to be of good quality and scent, so that is also an excellent option.

Scotch Tape: CVS has a “buy one get one” special currently. Target has “buy 3 rolls, get one free” for $2.50. Dollar Tree has a three pack of Scotch brand tape for $1; again an excellent option.

Pencils (# 2, no mechanical): K-Mart has a box of 10 for $.25, but there’s a limit of 4 (I asked management, and they allowed me to buy 40 boxes because it was a donation to Twain). Walmart has a box of 2 dozen for $.94.

Scissors (all pointed, no blunt): Target has 1 for $.50, HyVee has 1 for $.50, Walmart has 1 for $.74.

Please bring your items to Faith by this Sunday, July 25th. We know we are rushing you along, but we will need to count the items donated and shop for those still needed, and time keeps ticking away.

Thank you all for wading through this long letter. Mary Bontrager was simply in awe of the work being done here at Faith for the benefit of her school children. I keep thinking, “Only at Faith” is this kind of generosity and compassion possible. I’m sure there are other communities that can rally around a cause, but I’m grateful and blessed to be a member of Faith.



Back To School 2010

We'd like to invite you to help support efforts to provide Mark Twain Elementary with school supplies. A majority of their students live below the poverty line and are in need of basic supplies for the coming year. Helping to provide for their basic needs is a concrete way that we can embody the Gospel and enact God's vision for a better world. Here are five options for this week that have been compiled by Pam Zehr.

(1) Hand Sanitizer

Office Depot: 8oz bottles for FREE. They are $4.49 up front, but we get a mail-in rebate for the entire cost. Limit 5 per household.

(2) Scotch Tape

Target: 3 rolls + 1 free for $2.50.
CVS: Buy 1 get 1 free.

(3) Pencils

K-Mart: 10 for $.25.
WalMart: 24 for $.94.

(4) Scissors

Target: 1 for $.50.
Wal-Mart: 1 for $.74.

(5) Cash

We can obviously use cash to purchase any other needed supplies.

Thank you for your time, consideration, and ministry.

"Theology After Google" by Philip Clayton

A note upfront to the reader: Spencer Burke, Tony Jones, Tripp Fuller, I, and a bunch of others are embarked on a revolutionary project to get theology out of the classrooms (and pastors’ studies) and into the streets (living rooms, pubs, etc). In this short post I write about this project under the title “Theology After Google.”

Though I was trained as an academic theologian and have published a number of brainy books, I no longer believe in theory for theory’s sake. This short post is no exception. I want to stimulate your mind, but I also want to get you to do something. (Of course, it’s you who has to decide what you’re going to do.)

The network I’m involved with — Transforming Theology — is partnering with The Ooze to put on a first-of-its-kind event in southern California this March. It’s all about theology after Google: what it is and how to do it. We call it “leveraging new technologies and networks for transformative ministry.” I hope this post will influence your view of what the church and its theologies need to become. I also hope it will convince you to come to Claremont this March 10-12 — to listen, and to speak your mind in response.

Why is it that most Americans today don’t walk down to their neighborhood church on Sunday mornings for worship, Sunday School, and a church potluck?

Although some Christians seem to get it that “everything must change,” why is it that the vast majority don’t seem to recognize the enormous changes that are already upon us?

Do we really inhabit two different worlds: those who text, Twitter, blog, and get 80% of our information from the internet, and those who are “not comfortable” with the new social media and technologies?

Could we today be facing a change in how human society is organized that is as revolutionary in its implications as was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over 500 years ago? If we are, what does all this have to do with theology and the church?

This is not Kansas Anymore...

Let me not mince words: for better or worse, I’ve cast my lot with a rabbi named Jesus. That makes me one of his followers, whom individually people call “Christians,” and who as a group are known as the church. Church will still exist in AD 2100. But I’m not convinced that Church 2100 will look anything like Church today.

Of course, church has theological definitions, such as “the Body of Christ,” the community of the redeemed, the locus where the sacraments are celebrated, the place where Christians gather forworship, teaching, and community. But what church actually is has always been deeply affected by the world around it. When that world changes, so too does church. Everyone acknowledges that we are living in a time of revolutionary change. So tell me why we don’t think church is in for some radical changes?

Consider this comparison. On the eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the expansion of a young nation westward toward the Pacific Ocean, churches played very specific social functions. Not only were they the center of religious life, the place where one came to be baptized, married, and buried (“hatched, matched, and dispatched”)... and everything in between. They were also the heart and soul of the community — the center of social, communal, political, and even economic life. There was simply no other game in town. The church stood for the moral values of the community, “what made America great.” When you see the white steeples in a New England town, or when you drive through Midwest towns with a church on every corner, you realize how central a social institution the church once was.

But things have changed. It’s obvious that churches no longer play most of these social functions. We are now a massively pluralistic society living in an increasingly globalized world. Every major world religion is represented among United States citizens.

Take the question of authority. In the frontier town, the Southern city, or the New England village there was the authority of the law and the government. A lot of folks weren’t very educated, so they didn’t read much, and there was no radio or TV. The pastor of the church was not only the moral and spiritual authority — the representative of the only true religion and its obviously true scriptures — but also probably the most educated person in town. He (there were virtually no female pastors!) spoke with authority on a wide variety of issues that were important to the society of his day.

Contrast that with today’s situation. Rarely are pastors approached as figures of authority, except (sometimes!) within their own congregations. Radio, television, and the internet are our primary authorities for the information we need, with newspapers, advertisements, and movies coming in a close second. For many American Christians, (“Your Trusted Source for Free Daily Inspiration & Faith”) is a bigger authority on matters of Christian belief and practice than any pastor. We love self-help books, so we’re more likely to read Spirituality for Dummies than to go to a group Bible study. Forty years ago people were influenced in their judgments about religious matters not only by their pastor but also by the editorials in the Religion section of their local newspaper. Today the blogs one happens to read are more likely to
influence her beliefs.

Where’s the Revolution?

I’m almost embarrassed to list these differences, because they’re so obvious. But here’s the amazing fact: Denominations aren’t changing. In most cases they’re not planning for and investing in new forms of church for this brave new world. (There are some great exceptions.)

This is not a matter of blame. The assignment of the administrators who head up denominationsis to run the organization that they’ve been given. I once heard a major national leader say to a group of similar leaders something like, “We all know that the ship is in gravedanger, and it may go down. But we all seem to have the attitude, ‘Not on my watch!’”

Pastors have a bit more latitude. Individual pastors and churches are doing amazing things across the U.S. (and outside it); so are para-church and extra-church groups, organizations, and ministries. But in most cases, it’s the denominations that determine how pastors are educated, what kinds of ministries they can engage in, and what kinds of church assignments they get. A lot of young men and women lose their idealism in seminary. (That’s a damning fact that I, as a seminary teacher, take very, very seriously.) If they have the good fortune to depart seminary with their idealism intact, they’re generally assigned to a traditional church that has virtually no youth or younger families present, an average age of 60, and a major budget crisis on its hands. The orders are, “Keep this church alive!” The church members like the old hymns and liturgies; they don’t like tattoos, rock music, or electronics. They are about as likely to read and respond to blogs as I am to play in the Super Bowl. So the young pastor folds her idealism away in a closet and struggles to offer the traditional ministry that churches want.

In short: the majority of our resources continue to be flung at traditional church structures. Those doing the real revolutionary work, those trying to envision — and incarnate — the church of the future struggle on with the barest of resources. This is not smart. Let’s do something different. Let’s do it now.

Theology after Google

I used to think of theology as an academic discipline. Although about Christian beliefs, its primary goal was to meet the standards of the Academy. When I finally got the stars out of my eyes and began to look around more closely, I realized that the “trickle-down effect” — the idea that the brainy books in academic theology flow through pastors to help congregations and ordinary Christians — is no longer happening. If it ever did. By and large academic theologians are not addressing the questions that lay Christians are asking; or they’re answering them so incomprehensibly that only other academic theologians understand them.

Now when I use the term “theology” I mean the questions that all Christians ask and the kinds of answers that ordinary people give, no matter how hesitating and uncertain. This new definition has a wonderful implication: theology is tightly bound to whatever church is at a given time. Theology is about what the church is now and what it’s becoming. So “theology after Google” means: What must the church become in a Google-shaped world?

Here’s my answer in five theses. Whether you love them or hate them, I hope you’ll interact with them:

(1) Theology is not something you consume, but something you produce. In the Age of Gutenberg, you read theology in a book; you heard it preached in sermons; and you were taught it by Bible teachers. In the Age of Google, theology is what you do when you’re responding to blogs, contributing to a wiki doc or google doc, marking up a Word doc on your computer, participating in worship, inventing new forms of “ministry,” or talking about God with your friends in a pub.

I remember participating in 1991 in the birth of what would eventually become the worldwide web. (People now call it Web 1.0.) One used a protocol called “ftp” to access documents on someone else’s computer. No mouse and no pictures, but still: amazing — you could read someone else’s stuff without needing a floppy disk! What most of us now do is Web 2.0. We contribute to, mold, and play at the places we visit; we go there to do things. (If you’re unsure about this, watch a kid playing on the web. My seven-year-old twins will click on anything anywhere on any webpage to see what’ll happen and what it will do. The idea that the internet is about passive reading of content never occurred to them.)

(2) No institutions, and very few persons, function as authorities for theology after Google. Ever since Jesus’ (often misunderstood) statement about Peter that “on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16), the church has had issues with authority. The point is too obvious to need examples. The pastor standing up in the pulpit in the early 1960s was still a major authority. Of course, pastors still stand up in pulpits today, and some still view themselves as indispensable purveyors of truth.

But the world is changing around us. Those of us who speak in pulpits are having to rethink our relationship with the audiences we address. Most people today shrug their shoulders at those who claim to be authorities in religious matters. (For many of us, scripture continues to be an authority, but the way in which it’s an authority has changed massively over the last 30 years. More on that topic the next time I write.) Theology today means what some number of us find plausible about our faith or are convinced of. Our leaders are people like Brian McLaren or Tony Jones or Spencer Burke — people who say things that ring true to us, so that we say, “Yeah, I think that guy’s got some important insights. I’m going to read his blog or find a way to talk with him, and I’m going to recommend to my friends that they do the same.”

(3) Theology after Google is not centralized and localized. Likewise, the church cannot be localized in a single building. We find church wherever we find Jesus-followers that we link up with who are doing cool things. This point is huge. Denominational officials and many pastors have not even begun to conceive and wrestle with what it means to work for a church without a clear geographical location.

(4) The new Christian leader is a host, not an authority who dispenses true teaching, wise words, and the sole path to salvation. I first really got the host idea in a conversation with Spencer, and it has turned my understanding of Christian leadership upside down. Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life — or the activities that transform our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our God. It could be an older Christian who convenes discussions at a church, a house, or a pub. It could be Shane Claiborne leading an activity at The Simple Way on Potter Street in Philadelphia, say a time of gardening in the communal garden that gives you a sense of community that you’ve rarely had but always longed for. It could be a website or a blogger that you frequently go to, where you read others’ responses and add your own thoughts. Christian leadership is about enabling significant community around the name of Jesus, wherever two or more are gathered in His name.

(5) Theology after Google does not divide up the world between the “sacred” and the “secular,” as past theologies so often did. All thought and experience bears on it, and all of one’s life manifests it. Thus the distinction between one’s “ministry” and one’s “ordinary life” is bogus. All of one’s life as a Christian is missional.. The great 15thcentury theologian and mystic Nicholas of Cusa imagined God as a circle whose radius is infinite and whose center is everywhere. It only takes a second to realize that Cusa’s picture wreaks havoc on all geometries of “inside” and “outside.”

Here’s the picture: I find myself a follower of Jesus; that part seems to stick and to deepen the longer I live. I’m not sure exactly how I got here; it’s almost like it happened to me. I call it grace. I find others around me who follow the same Teacher and who therefore struggle with many of the same questions and issues that I have. They help me understand myself and remain faithful to my Guide. I call them church.

But what exactly do I believe? What must I say, and what should I not say (and do)? This quest is more open-ended. It’s filled with uncertainties and indecisions, and it’s constantly evolving. That quest just is theology. It’s everything I think about and do. It’s reading the New York Times headlines online each morning when I awake. It’s the philosophy text that I teach in a classroom or the intriguing idea about christology that I talk about with friends over a beer. It’s our attempts to be involved in authentic forms of ministry and Christian community, and the questions we ask about whether those attempts are really faithful and how to make them better. It’s that recurring question, “What should I do with my life?”

In the book that Tripp Fuller and I just published, Transforming Christian Theology, we argue that theology is about attempting to answer the Seven Core Christian Questions. These questions have impressive-sounding names: theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology. But they are really just the simple, recurring questions that every Christian wonders about as he or she struggles to be a Jesus disciple: Who is God? What are human beings? How are we separated from God, and how can that separation be overcome? Who is Jesus Christ? What or Who is the Spirit? What is the church, and what should it be doing? And what is our hope for the final future of the cosmos and humanity?

These do not have to be high-falutin’ debates sprinkled liberally with Greek and German technical terms. The most humble attempts to answer these questions, in word and action, are as authentically theology as are the rarified debates within the Ivy Tower — indeed, they may be more authentic than what academic theologians do. Call it the Theology of the Widow’s Mite.

All right, what can we do?

Theology after Google is about what you do, not about passively reading stuff. So here’s what I hope:

• I hope you’ll comment on this post. Take a minute to write a sentence or two of response. I am equally intrigued by disagreements as about agreements. Participate! That’s what counts. The rest is merely listening, a kind of theological voyeurism.

• Talk about these issues with friends. Blog and post on your own. If you go to a church, talk with church leaders about theology after Google. Set up a discussion group in your home or some other venue. Theology after Google (Church 2.0) is a network of networks. Every group and every network counts.

• Come to the Big Tent Christianity conference September 8-10 in Raleigh, NC. Interact with Brian McClaren, Keith Ward, Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler Bass, Bill Leonard, Tony Jones, Harvey Cox, Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, Tripp Fuller, and other speakers. Participate in the workshops. Let your voice be heard, and thereby change what other people take home. Be transformed by what you hear, and then “go thou and do likewise”!

Philip Clayton is Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology and head of the Transforming Theology project. He made the journey from conservative evangelical to liberal before staking his tent with the emergent church. His most recent books are Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action and Transforming Christian Theology. This article was originally published in the Winter/Spring edition of Creative Transformation.

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