Thoughts

Bridgebuilders

When I was working as a chaplain at Seven Ranges Boy Scout summer camp, we sang a song from Will Allen Dromgoole’s poem “The Bridge Builder.” It’s the best explanation I’ve heard for working with Boy Scouts: An old man going a lone highway, Came, at the evening cold and gray, To a chasm vast and deep and wide. Through which was flowing a sullen tide The old man crossed in the twilight dim, The sullen stream had no fear for him; But he turned when safe on the other side And built a bridge to span the tide. “Old…
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4 Reasons to Sing Christmas Carols During Advent

It’s easy for us pastor types to get upset about singing songs out of season. For the same reason that you shouldn’t sing Easter songs on Good Friday or during Lent (“Up from the grave he arose”? Not yet!), you shouldn’t sing Christmas songs in Advent. This is theologically sound and correct. It is the way we have celebrated Christmas for generations (before mass media Christmas music consumption). So why does just about every church sing Christmas carols during Advent? I haven’t done any real research on this, but I imagine it has to do with preparation. Christmas songs are…
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Racism and Tribalism in NEPA

The church has an important role to play in the areas of racial justice and immigrant justice. Perhaps your ministry will be multicultural and multiracial (that would be awesome), but even if it is not, the church has work do to as we work to reconcile our past, the possibility of the future and the realm of God for which we all hope. Write a reflection on the issue of cultural sensitivity, racial justice, or reconciliation and how you anticipate it will play into the work you do in a new ministry. The Northeast PA region has a long history…
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The Stolen Mind

This past week I had the chance to sit down and try a project I’ve been eating to do for a while: rewrite an old, public domain science fiction story from Project Gutenberg and update it for 2015. The Stolen Mind is a story that appeared in “Amazing Science Fiction” Volume 7 in 1930, and I’ve rewritten it below. It was a fun experience for someone like me who’s never done fiction before, like writing with training wheels on, and I might try another in the future to learn more about writing fiction. The Stolen Mind  By M. L. Staley …
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I serve a branch of Christianity that has lost about two thirds of its members over the past few decades, consists mostly of churches with less than 100 members, and is currently fracturing over issues such as gay marriage, LGBT ordination, and – of course – money. It’s often lambasted for being liberal and its members are called “the frozen chosen.” So why would I choose to stay within this denomination? Because there’s no place I’d rather be. There is no doubt in my mind that our denomination has been facing a crisis in its identity and how it relates…
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Telling the Story

As comfortable as I am speaking in public (a blessing I do not take for granted!), I’m not as much a student of the art of preaching as I could be. And so, in an effort to expand my horizons, I recently started preaching in a narrative style, aiming to simply retell some of those “good old” stories. This is a little bit of a shift, because I’ve always had the temptation to drive home a big idea with every sermon. Somewhere in the back of my mind lives a little monkey telling me that every sermon has to change…
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Tower of Babel

Here’s an old exegesis of the Tower of Babel story I wrote in college: The structure of this text frames the story around action. After the introduction in verse 1, the story begins in earnest with human action, which occupies verses 2-4. God’s actions follow in verses 5-8, with an epilogue in verse 9 explaining the effects of God’s actions. When God acts, it is with such great force that humans are instantly overcome. The author simply emphasizes that God acts powerfully and finally. God’s strong actions in creating these different languages show that God clearly desired a diversity of…
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Christian Americans

I love America. Now that I’ve made that clear, let me talk about how difficult it is to love America and God at the same time, and to do it in a way that respects both the country and the deity. When I was in Boy Scouts growing up, we learned flag etiquette – things like not letting the flag touch the ground, putting the flag on the speaker’s right, saluting while you say the Pledge of Allegiance, how to fold a flag, and so on. Working at a summer camp, I even trained boys on how to perform a…
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Perfectly Depraved

The first of the five points of Calvinism is Total Depravity: as I understand it, the idea that on our own we can do no good, but that the good things we do are a result of God’s grace working through us. This leads to a troubling, ambiguous place: how should I feel about good works? Good Works are Good Good works are something to be proud of. I should try to be as good as possible, because faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Responding to God’s grace by loving others, not being jealous, greedy, lustful, mean-spirited, etc. is…
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5 Great Things About Small Churches

As a small church pastor, I have to believe that small churches can and should do great things as small churches without becoming large. This means that no matter the size, a church has something good to offer, that each church has a purpose given by God other than to grow or die. I think small churches offer a few competitive advantages, to use the language of economics, that we ought to take advantage of, instead of sitting around being envious of megachurches. (Note: This almost goes without saying, but megachurches and program-size churches have their roles too, and are…
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