Plagiarism, Privilege, and the State of Christian Publishing

The words of a fellow Minister in the UCC, Rev. Emily Heath: “I’m left with this fact: a man walked into a Christian publisher with my own words – words deemed too controversial for publication – and got those same words published. He took my testimony, and the testimonies of an unknown number of others, and he cashed in on them. I don’t care about the money, but I sure can’t ignore the irony. When privilege is combined with mediocrity and dishonesty, it’s hard not to feel frustrated when it gets rewarded.”

Emily C. Heath

For the past several weeks I’ve been reading about the Rev. Bill Shillady and his book, Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Clinton. During the campaign Shillady sent Secretary Clinton daily devotions to strengthen her faith and keep her focused on the work at hand. When I heard the book was coming out, I made a mental note to buy it.

Then I started to hear about allegations of plagiarism, and about how Shillady had used the work of others without properly citing it. I was saddened to hear that, especially given how easy it is for an author to say “this idea is not mine…it comes from this person”. Giving credit where credit is due should be standard practice, especially among preachers and writers. After a few days, though,I didn’t pay too much attention to the story.

Fast forward to earlier today when…

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Lord of the Flies

The recent news that a remake of the classic film, “Lord of the Flies” with an all female cast is in the works has sparked quite a bit of backlash.  Reactions have ranged from outright derision and mocking to those who point out that the original book (and film) are about toxic masculinity (implying that the plot’s basic premise can’t work with an all female cast).

Hmmm.

I remember that many years ago I was the only male in my department within a large and well known company.  And, every so often, my boss – who’s office was directly across the hall from mine – would rush out of her office, muttering  “I hate managing women, they’re so damned CATTY!” as she ran down the hall.

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Going Too Far

Some thoughts regarding the push to get advertisers to drop sponsorship of Megan Kelly’s new show in advance of her first broadcast tonight, in which she interviews a conspiracy theorist who’s said some really vile things about Sandy Hook and its victims…

In a Huffingtonpost article, Emily Peck says…

“We unleashed this monster, and sometimes it’s a great weapon for social justice and sometimes it’s people censoring and sometimes it’s both.”

I know people who were very close to some of the Sandy Hook victims, and others who were deeply involved in ministering to the survivors. And so, I know that conspiracy theorists like the crass and hate-spewing blabbermouth Ms. Kelly interviewed (to be broadcast this evening) should not be given a chance by anyone, let alone competent journalists (of any political stripe) to spread their hateful and hurtful poison.

But I think the author of this article is right. Trying to shut down the broadcast of something, because we have PREJUDGED it to be abhorrent is censorship, and will ultimately do more harm than good. We don’t yet know how she will portray this guy or his message.

We can go too far, and this is such a case.

Sermon: It is Hard to Say Goodbye

Saying Goodbye is essential to our walk with Christ. It is essential in our relationships with each other. And, is essential in our own growth as living, loving, spirit-filled human beings.

We all say goodbye in many ways and in many different settings: the death of a loved one; the loss of a job or a retirement; College Graduation; the birth of our first child; the end of a relationship. All of these mark the end of one chapter in our lives and the start of another.

Saying “Goodbye” recognizes that something we value, something that is essential to who we are right now, is ending.

Most of us have had to say “Goodbye” to loved ones who died. And someday, those we love will say Goodbye to us when we die. With death, all that we are slips beyond human grasp. All that is left of us here in this world are the memories of those who knew us – good memories and bad; memories that those who love us will carry with them as they move forward into their own future.

Death means saying goodbye to those we love.

The loss of a job or a retirement is another way of saying goodbye: it marks the end of a way of life or a career. We must say goodbye to the friendships and the community and sense of self that are all wrapped up with that position. We are no longer a teacher, or a manager, or a police officer, or a writer – or a preacher. Part of our identity dies, and will never come back again in exactly the same way.

Leaving a career means saying goodbye to a big part of how we see ourselves, and what defines our place in this world.

College Graduation is another way of saying goodbye. …Yes! School is done! But what now? Get a job?? Be responsible?? Rent an apartment and get a car??? OMG, I have to “adult” now??!!  …Nah, I’ll just move back in with my parents!

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An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

I absolutely agree!

Trinity's Portico

Dear Frank

Can I call you Frank? This is just pastor to pastor. Feel free to call me Peter. Anyway, I have to say I was flattered when I learned that your Decision America Tour took a detour off the beaten path to call upon us “small community churches.” We are nothing if not small. We seat 30-40 on a good Sunday. And we are a century old fixture of our small community. Most often we are overlooked and overshadowed by mega-churches and politically influential religious voices like your own. We don’t hold a candle to an auditorium filled with the music of a one hundred voice choir led by professional musicians. We probably will never be recognized in any nationally syndicated media. After all, we don’t do anything really “newsworthy.” We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can (which sometimes isn’t…

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Sermon: Powerful Witness

We are called to witness, not to win. We are called to testify to the Gospel of Christ through our lives: our individual lives; and through our life together as a community of faith…. This is our powerful witness.

The Lectionary theme this week is “Powerful Witness”. And, our readings from both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John both reflect on this in different ways.

In Acts 2, we see a community united under the guidance of the Apostles. They are enthusiastic about their newfound faith; and they share it in profound and moving ways. The boldness of their faith is a powerful witness that liberates their neighbors.

But in John 10 we see a community (from several decades later, actually). Here, they are metaphorically represented by the sheep huddled together under the care of the Shepherd. With the last of those who actually knew Jesus now gone. The people feel lost, exposed, and don’t know where to turn to find protection from the dangers that are all around them. They are looking inward. They are not looking outward any more. Their call to bear witness to the Gospel has been set aside.

But, at the end of this passage, Jesus says to them, “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be liberated, will go in and go out, and will find pastures.   … I came to give life with joy and abundance.” They’re being reminded that because they have entered into the Shepherd’s flock, they are already liberated: They must go out, and they must find new pastures. The pasture is a place where they will find sustenance, and where they can be heard as the Gospel, which flourishes within them, breaks forth.

The community we see in John wants to sit passively under the protection of the Shepherd. But instead, they are told they aren’t going to be allowed to sit there in the sheepfold and be safe. They have to move, they have to leave and go forth. The Apostles may be gone, but the Gospel is still here; and will not allow them to be silent. And yes, the thief is coming to steal and slaughter and destroy (that is their intent). But Jesus is already here, and will instead give life with joy and abundance. The thieves were defeated before they ever got there.

Now, the Acts 2 church is young and open to radical change, to trying new things. But in John, we have a more mature community. The Acts 2 community is clearly a powerful witness to those around them; and we are told that the Johannine Community (the community in the book of John) will be as well. In both cases, the promises are there, and will be fulfilled. They shall both be powerful voices for liberation; perhaps (like in John) in spite of themselves; even with the Apostles now gone.

We see a movement between these two readings, from the enthusiasm of youth to a more mature, more cautious perspective, born of experience and the inevitable losses and disappointments that we all encounter in this life. With more maturity, we can better anticipate the struggles that lie ahead, but that also means we worry more, that those struggles will be too much for us.

A friend and fellow minister recently expressed his feelings about trying to make progress on the many social justice issues that he and all of us here, care about so deeply. I’ll summarize what he said…

“My experience has been that for most people it’s hard to stand up and publicly testify about issues such as gun violence, equal rights, war, poverty, etc. Most people lack the confidence, commitment or conviction it takes to stand up and speak out for justice on a regular basis. They don’t want to offend[. They don’t want to] come off as taking sides on an issue. It’s divisive and risky, even if you have the time. Still, there is always hope, and the struggle continues.”

His perspective is borne of hard experience, like that of the Community in John. They, and he, and we, all know how tough it is to be a witness at all, let alone a powerful one. You feel the resignation in my friend’s words: as he sees it, people just aren’t in it for the long haul, it’s too hard. It is hard.  It is a struggle. But, the hope never leaves.

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Sermon: Redeemed

…our flaws and our failures are not counted in God’s judgment of us. What counts is our willingness to do what is right, even if we don’t succeed. … It’s the Heart that matters, not the Head…. God judges our hearts.

gettyimages-660179780-1024x566This morning, I thought we should tie up some of the loose ends I’ve left from our last two sermons.

Two weeks ago, in the sermon “Very Good” we learned that God sees only the goodness that is an inescapable part of who we are; and which God deliberately put into us at the very beginning. All are just as loved by God as we are; and all anyone needs is a revelation of this Love; a love which heals us from all of our iniquities.

Last week, on Palm Sunday we remembered that we’ve all betrayed Jesus, even God betrayed him. And that we cannot help but muck things up, because muckiness is also a part of who we are.

In other messages I’ve given here, we’ve talked about how – because we are conscious of ourselves, and have the freedom to choose right from wrong.  Then we must have the right to fail. This is also part of who we are. And, we not only can fail, we must. We must  have the freedom to fail, and will, even though we don’t want to.

These messages are somewhat at odds with each other. Two weeks ago, we talked about how we are all, in our heart of hearts, “Very Good” and that God sees the goodness in us, and is determined to save us for that reason.

But last week I said we are creatures of sin, we are always making choices that increase our separation from God. This seed of corruption is buried deep within us: and is a very necessary seed.  If we are to be worthy of Love, and not simply puppets of the Almighty, then God must allow us to be able to distance ourselves from God. We must have the right to fail. We must have the right and power to betray others, even betraying the Son of God himself.

So, how do we reconcile all this? Yes, we are, ultimately, Very Good: beloved children of God. And yet, we killed the Son of God through the sin that is part of who we are.

And, how does this all tie into our hope for redemption, for our salvation which is promised by virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection?

First, let’s begin by talking about sin.   When we refer to “sin”, what are we talking about?

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Sermon: Betrayed

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God. Why?

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The Flagellation of Christ (Rubens, 1607)

There is a whole lot of betrayal going on in this morning’s dramatic reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s count the ways…

First is Judas, The Betrayer, who sells Jesus out to the Chief Priests for 30 pieces of silver. And then there are Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who fail to stay awake while Jesus is praying; and then all the disciples desert him and flee. Caiaphas and the Council stage a trial, using false witnesses and evidence to condemn him to death. And, Peter betrays Jesus again – three more times, before the Cock crows; just as Jesus foretold.

And then, Pilate ignores the plea of his wife, betraying her. And, the Chief Priests betray Jesus again, inciting the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas. – Which means all the people (and our pamphlet reading makes it clear we are among those people) betrayed Jesus, too, Matthew has us saying “let his Blood be upon us and on our children…!” They knew what they were doing. Even the bandits hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus taunted him.

And finally, Jesus calls out “Eli Eli Lema sabachthani!” meaning “My God My God, why have you betrayed me!?”

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God.

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Sermon: Very Good

There are no simple answers in this world. There is; simply, Love.

HeavenOrHellWe share with all Christians the understanding that all need the healing touch of God.  But, differences in how we understand our faith affects how we perceive the world, and how we interact with others.

I particularly remember one couple I knew years ago, who were among my most trusted and supportive friends at the time. Great people.

One day they were speaking of their second home in the mountains, where they planned to retire. It was completely “off the grid” – no connections to utilities of any sort, not even a mailing address. They never let anyone know exactly where it was.

They were also fairly conservative in their faith, and this sounded a lot like a refuge from the Apocalypse. But, they were such reasonable, balanced people! I knew that couldn’t be the case. So, I teased the wife, saying “Then I suppose the gas masks, concertina wire and machine gun nests are all just for show”?

Looking a little shocked, she said (dead serious), “How’d you know?”

“How did I know what?” I asked in surprise.

“How did you know we had gas masks?”

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Sermon: The Stranger

I wonder: who is the strangest stranger in this story? Who is the one who is most “other”? The woman? No. She is a Samaritan living in Samaria, in the town right there. Everyone knows her. Who, then?

Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796
Angelika Kauffmann; Christ and the Samaritan Woman: (1796)

I love the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. It’s a story rich in metaphor, allegory and symbolism. I could probably write a dozen sermons on it!

This morning, we’ll dig down on one specific aspect of the many meanings found in this story.

Because of its length, I’ll give a synopsis in place of our normal practice of reading the full passage.  We’ll then  watch a video that presents a modern reinterpretation of this passage, and conclude with a short meditation.

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Sermon: Lent

Lent helps us see that we are the root of the problem; but also that God intends us to be part of the solution as well.

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Did you know that the word “Lent” comes from an ancient Germanic word that means “To Lengthen”? (Lenten -> Lengthen) It was originally used as a term for the season of Spring– referring to the lengthening days of the season.

Lent is not mentioned at all in the Bible. So, it is not really “Biblical” in the strictest sense. Which is why many Protestants, such as the Puritans and their descendants (including us) did not observe it until just the last few decades.

And yet, Lent is deeply rooted in the Bible. Its 40 day duration is very deliberate, consistent with how the number 40 is used throughout the Bible. (Well actually, Lent is 46 days long, if you count Sundays. But, Sundays are already devoted to our relationship with God. So, Lent is about finding God is in the rest of our week as well!)

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of the 40 days and nights it rained during Noah’s great flood, cleansing the Earth. We are told Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, seeking God’s will and direction for his people. We know the Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert to free themselves from the presumption that they knew better than God. And, Elijah spent 40 days wandering in the desert before reaching that little cave on Mt Horeb where he encountered God. In this morning’s story from Matthew, Jesus fasts and prays in the desert for 40 days before his encounter with the Tempter.

In the Bible, the number 40 is used to represent times of contemplation, judgment and preparation. Its metaphorical significance thought to originate in the 40 weeks of a human pregnancy. And this is why the 40 days of Lent are devoted to fasting, to meditation and to other acts denying us of things we are used-to. It’s devoted to transformation. Lent breaks us out of our normal routines.   By doing so, by breaking away from our normal lives, we open ourselves to God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit within us.

So, Lent was a very intentional creation by the Early Church. It is intended to help us to examine ourselves, and our relationship with God. It is meant to give us the space and time we need to discern what is really important in our lives, and in our faith. Lent challenges us to grow.

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Sermon: “With”

“…whether Women or Blacks or Jews or Japanese or Gays or Muslims or Hispanics or Native Americans are human is not the issue. They are, obviously. The real question is: are we?”

dsc_0168One point I was hoping to make with the “Hope” video I was going to show at the beginning of today’s service was that the “Women’s Marches” around the country on the day after the inauguration were not “Protests.”

Now, a “Protest” is where you stand against something – some event or social ill or person. And, certainly this was an impetus to the creation and organization of those demonstrations; but to “Protest” is not what I saw when I was there: it was not why millions of us came together.

We came to be with each other! We knew it was important to show through our physical presence, that we will support those who are being marginalized. We came because we care. We came because we will no longer stand by while our neighbors are being silenced and oppressed. We gathered together out of love, not out of hate.

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