Sunday, March 27, 2016


Easter is the most significant day on the Christian calendar to me. The resurrection is the anchor for my faith. It's only been recently that I've learned that there is freedom to celebrate this, and celebrate it heartily. For many Christians Easter follows a fast that creates an eager longing for the celebration of Easter Sunday, though the celebration usually ends that same day. For some Christians, Easter is the one time of year to go to church, and not much thought is given to Easter before or after the dress-up Sunday.

For other Christians, and this is true of many of those who share my Christian heritage (the churches of Christ), Easter is mostly ignored. There may be a mention of celebrating the resurrection weekly while others do it only annually. If there is no mention of that, it will likely be ignored, even though the crowd is larger, the ladies and girls are wearing bright new spring dresses, the men are wearing pastels, hams are in the oven at home, baskets are filled with candy, and an Easter egg hunt is planned for the afternoon. To these Christians, the holiday is only secular and there is no special celebration of the resurrection on this Sunday.

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of Hezekiah restoring the Passover in Judah as told in 2 Chronicles 30:1-23. It had been years even centuries since Jerusalem had celebrated the Passover. Hezekiah invited those left by Assyria in Israel to come join the festivities. The king, the Levites, and the people were bursting with excitement. The people were so excited that many, especially the guests from Israel, observed the Passover while unclean because they couldn't wait until they had time to become clean. Hezekiah prayed and God healed them. The festivities lasted a full week, as prescribed in the law, but that wasn't enough for them. They wanted more celebration! So they agreed to continue another seven days of celebration of the Passover. God's law has been discovered! The land is rid of idols! Many from Israel have come to Jerusalem for the first time for this important celebration! This is Judah's first Passover in ages! With excitement and agreement, they continued celebrating another full week.

What a beautiful picture of restoration of joy in the Lord!

I believe the church at large, and especially those in my religious camp, need this type of celebration of Easter. We have ignored Easter long enough. We need a Hezekiah-like searching for those outside who give scant thought to the resurrection. We need a long, joyous, and creative celebration of music and art and clapping and shouting for joy and anything new and beautiful. While we have those in our presence who may never attend church any other time, why not blow them away with our excitement for Jesus and his resurrection? We need a renewal of our commitment to take up the worthy vocation of serving people. We need to show the world that the resurrection brings life and joy and hope, not just to "a people" but to "ALL PEOPLE".  And filled with love for God and love for his people we bring life and joy and hope to all through our renewed vocation fueled by an exciting and refreshing celebration.

Like Hezekiah, our renewal may only be a one-time thing. It may only last two weeks or six weeks or two months. But it would be better for it to start joyously and fizzle than to never happen at all. But who knows... It may be just the spark needed. It may be just the renewal and energy that begins a sustained new vocation that touches and changes many more lives.

Note: Lest anyone think I'm this clever, this is more or less NT Wright's thoughts applied specifically to the restoration movement.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Books of 2015

I meant to do this back in December. I simply haven't been writing as much lately. I haven't written about running and I haven't written about theology. I've still been reading quite a bit about both, but I just haven't been writing as much. I should start writing more again. Another reason I haven't written as much, especially about theology, is that writing has been cathartic for me. Now that I'm in a community that allows for differences in theology. I've been able to get things off my chest without needing to write it down. Ahhh. What a relief! This has the added benefit that I've learned a lot from others and that I've gotten some immediate corrective feedback that wasn't harsh and didn't require complete agreement and wasn't compounded by the stress of heaven or hell stakes.

In addition to the books listed below, I spent a large amount of time in Genesis and Chronicles (both first and second) and the minor prophets in the Old Testament. I also spent a good deal of time in 1 Corinthians and Matthew in the New Testament. I didn't read much variety by way of blogs this year. I did read a good bit from Jay Guin at, but he posts very often and his posts are sometimes so long that I simply didn't have time to read nearly all of his stuff, but I enjoy what I read. I also read Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed when I can. He also posts very often, so I by no means read it all.

Anyway... The books of 2015 in no particular order...

  1. Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman. I really liked this book. I wish Bart Ehrman could have somehow maintained his faith through his studies. He's a very smart and articulate man. He very honestly sets forth the difficulties that are in the Bible. Those who suggest that the Bible has no difficulties or contradictions or those who suggest that all of these difficulties and contradictions are easily resolved may be offended by Ehrman's work. Also, Ehrman shows a good deal of respect to scholars who have seen the same evidence that he has seen but who still maintain their faith. As Ehrman says in this book, he's just bringing to light to the general public, the laity if you will, things that pretty much any seminary student already knows. I highly recommend it to anyone who's serious about the Bible and theology. Seminary students and scholars won't find anything new in this book, but I did.
  2. The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd. Another very good book by Greg Boyd. I didn't just like this book, I loved it. Boyd expresses several things that have been on my mind for years. I get so fed up with the political posturing of evangelical Christians in America. Many have made being a conservative a pre-requisite for being a Christian. The evangelical right puts much energy into turning America back to God. I hear too much talk about making America a Christian nation like it once was. Boyd argues that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. There is only one kingdom God is interested in today and that kingdom is ruled by King Jesus. Greg Boyd is an outspoken and devout pacifist. Given that my roots are in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, I really can relate to and understand his pacifism. Pacifism has had strong support in the Restoration movement, perhaps most notably with David Lipscomb. Unfortunately, the Restoration Movement has by and large drifted away from pacifism and has taken on the war-like conservative rhetoric of other evangelical denominations. I still lean strongly toward pacifism, tempered with the notion that pacifism will be beautiful and ubiquitous in the afterlife, but it's just not practical in the now-life. Sometimes, good guys have to use violence in this fallen creation. I believe that God has called many to pacifism and I respect that and I believe God is using them for great good. I also believe that God has called some soldiers and policemen and He uses them for great good. Anyway, this is one of the best books I've ever read, even if I don't agree with some of it.
  3. The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley. This was a very nice debut by D.M. Pulley. A good, original thriller. There was lots of back and forth from 1978 and 1998. Sometimes that was difficult for me to follow, but it really worked well for the book. Also, I LOVED that this was set in Cleveland. What an unusual setting for a thriller! That's Pulley's hometown, and after reading the book I visited Cleveland and the accuracy with which she described the city was incredible. I also spoke to some of the locals about the events described in 1978, and they all remembered it. This was a well-written book. Any Clevelander would probably enjoy this book. And if you're not from Cleveland, the story is exciting and interesting enough to reel you in anyway.
  4. Crow Hollow by Michael Wallace. If you like historical fiction, you'll probably dig this book. It was a good story of a mother in search of her child that was stolen from her. It paints the horrific picture of the savage violence that accompanied the settlement of the English in New England. The reader gets to experience the brutally cold winters, the treacherous travel, the deceptive politics, and the religious division of the pioneers of the 1700s. And it wasn't all bad stuff, either. There is triumph, mercy, nobility and love all along the way, too. I recommend it. 
  5. The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns. This book was similar to Jesus Interrupted mentioned above, except that Peter Enns did not lose his faith like Bart Ehrman did. I really liked this book. Enns contrasts a "rule-book" approach to the Bible to a story or narrative approach to the Bible. Must read.
  6. Repenting of Religion by Greg Boyd. Greg Boyd urges the church to repent of judgment and turn to sharing the love of God. This is an excellent read. His main point is that judging is the original sin. It's partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It's a very interesting perspective, and it seems clear that the church is guilty of judging to the point that we do not love as Jesus loved.
  7. The Forgotten God by Francis Chan. We went through this in a Bible Study. I had read it before, but it was good to read it again in a community setting. It's a challenging read, and one that I struggle to implement.
  8. A Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight. A life-changing and thought provoking study of the apostle Paul. I'll probably read this one again. And again. And again. The main point is that we show the world who God is when different people (white, black, old, young, Hispanic, Asian, man, woman, rich, poor, intelligent, simple, gay, straight, engineer, accountant, artist, teacher, student, author, etc. etc.) all come together and live in a community of love. The tragic reality is that churches are segregated along many different types of lines, but especially racial lines. And there's a description of the prepositions of love that is so true that it brought me to tears. Must read.
  9. The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis. I kinda feel guilty for listing this one among the books I read this year. I didn't make it all the way through it. I liked what I read, but I didn't really love it like I usually love C.S. Lewis's writing. I'll probably take another stab at this later. As usual with C.S. Lewis, put your thinking cap on before you read.
  10. Surprised by Scripture by N.T. Wright. There wasn't much, if any, new material in this book. But it was good to see N.T. Wright tackle some contemporary issues. It is more or less a collection of essays that may be available elsewhere, but have not been collected together before this book. I especially liked his comments on religion and science, women in ministry, and the problem of evil.
  11. Troublemaker by Leah Remini. If you've ever tried to leave a cult or a religious sect with cult-like tendencies, you will be able to identify with many parts of Leah Remini's story. Though I'm no prude, I found her language to be unnecessarily harsh and vulgar and that detracted from the book. Besides that, I did  enjoy hearing her tell her story and I hope she continues to find peace and healing outside of Scientology.
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I reread this book for two reasons. First is that my daughter had to read it for school, and I wanted to talk to her about the book and story. Second was to prepare for reading Go Set A Watchman. I hadn't read To Kill A Mockingbird in years, and I was reminded why this is an American classic. What's not to love about this book? 
  13. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I had to read this because To Kill A Mockingbird was just so good. I liked Watchman, but it was no Mockingbird. One of the lessons that stands out to me even though this is a work of fiction, is that it is improper to judge historical figures by the moral standards of our day. As progressive as Atticus was in Mockingbird, he was on the wrong side of segregation in Watchman. The other lesson I learned was from Jean Louise. Even if you're right on an issue, you won't win people over by angrily arguing your point.
  14. The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton. This is a very important read for anyone who has struggled with the disconnect between the fundamentalists' young earth and the scientific evidence for an ancient earth. Walton helps to heal the divide by pointing out that Genesis one is about functional origins and does not address the topic of material origins. His main point is that there is no need for the friction between those who believe in a young earth and those who believe in an ancient earth. A functional origin and temple centered view of Genesis 1 really says nothing about material origins and hence the age of the earth. 
  15. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. It's not often that I say this about a book, but I hated this book. It's not because I disagree with it, though I certainly disagree vehemently with most of it. I really wanted to give this book a fair shake. I went into it with an open mind, and I will say that Dawkins makes some valid points. However, his tone ruined it for me. I have never seen such arrogant, elitist vitriol and chronological snobbery. Do you believe in God? Then Richard Dawkins despises you. Reading this book reminded me of how I felt when I read Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank. It's a book that resonates well with those who agree with it, but that insults those who do not. I would like read another book that tries to build a case for atheism. I'd love to better understand the position, and this book helped some with that, but I had to overcome his condescension and insults just to get to his actual arguments. Then, he went way overboard by saying that raising a child in a religion is a worse form of abuse than sexual abuse. I don't think I can ever read another word from Richard Dawkins. Only read this book if you agree with Dawkins or if you love being insulted by an elitist.
  16. Make it Stick by Peter Brown. This was a great introduction to the science of learning and remembering. It gave me some great tools to use as I try to learn new material and make it stick so I can use it later. Highly recommended. The main point is spaced practice is critical to learning and learning that is difficult sticks better than learning that is easy. 
The best book I read this year goes to A Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight. This is a very important book. The church desperately needs to mix it up. the world is a segregated mess. Right now, the church looks like the world in this. The church needs to be a salad.