Author: Dennis

What Do Epiphany and January 6 Have in Common?

What does January 6 have to do with Epiphany?  What does a day where we talk about mysterious strangers from a distant land visiting Jesus have to do with the day where a mob attacked the US Capitol?

Epiphany has a lot to do with January 6 if we really look at the Epiphany story.

We remember the story from our childhood, where Wise Men from the East follow a star. They come to Jerusalem and to the royal palace to ask the King where is the King of the Jews?

That bothered the king.  Herod was the king of Judea, put in his role by Rome.  He in turn supported great building projects that showed off this backwater part of the empire.

Since he didn’t come from the line of David, his rule was somewhat illegitimate, and he probably was aware of this fact.  So much so that he would lock up or kill members of his family!  When the Wise Men come and ask where the King of the Jews was, Herod was upset.  Someone was coming for his throne.

Herod is wrapped into the bearings of power.  He is in Jerusalem the center of power, he has the blessing of Rome.  When the Wise Men went to see Jesus, they went to not somewhere in Jerusalem, but in the small town of Bethlehem going to a small house where Mary, Joseph and the Baby resided.  It was there that these Wise Men honored Jesus, giving him gifts. No one knew about Jesus.  He wasn’t at the center of power but on the margins. He didn’t have the power of Rome behind him.  Jesus didn’t look powerful.  

On January 6, we are looking back at what took place at the US Capitol.  Former President Donald Trump didn’t want to concede the Presidential race to former Vice President Joe Biden.  He tried every trick in the book to find a way to remain in power.  He tried in the courts and lost almost all of his cases.  He tried bullying state officials in certain states to find votes for him.  That didn’t work.  Now he was trying to persuade (aka bully) Vice President Mike Pence to not accept the certified votes.  Pence refused and that is when we saw what happened at the Capitol.

Donald Trump wanted power. Not unlike Herod, he was insecure. Trump wants nothing more than to be successful and he was willing to do anything, even if it meant weakening our democratic process.  

Donald Trump and Herod were powerful men.  They were tapped into the ways of the world where power can be used to dominate others.  They would do anything, in order to remain in power. For Herod, it meant sending his soldiers into Bethlehem and killing every male-born baby under the age of two.  For Trump, it meant riling up his supporters and pointing them down to the Capitol where they would protest the certification of the presidential vote (and basically riot in the Capitol).

But Jesus is the Servant-King.  When he grows up he will serve others by healing and welcoming people.  Jesus ends up on a cross; the ultimate sign of living for others.

January 6 reminds us that there are still rulers that will do anything to keep their power and they are always threatened by the power of the true Lord, the true King, Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, who do we follow?  Are we tempted by the ways of power, like Herod and Trump? Or are we willing to follow the baby who grows up to be a servant?  Will we look for God in the world’s trappings of power or will we find God on the margins?

I hope you have a good Epiphany.  I hope you will not be tempted by kings and presidents and follow the one who died for us and redeemed all of creation.

#epiphany #january6 #politics #uscapitol

Black Lives Really Matter

Black Lives Really Matter

If I were to say, Black Lives Matter? What would you do?

For some, this phrase seems at least on its face rather racist. White Americans wonder if Black Lives Matter that no one else’s lives matter. Others confuse it with the leftist organization with the same name.

For others, it is a symbol of Black Pride or solidarity with African Americans. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter became a phrase used worldwide. One memorable use of the phrase was uttered by Republican Senator Mitt Romney as he joined a march of young evangelicals marching in solidarity.

But what does the phrase mean from a theological standpoint? What does it mean for a Christian to say, “Black Lives Matter?”

I recently interviewed my friend, Drew McIntryre. Drew is a Methodist pastor in North Carolina and he wrote an essay in Firebrand magazine on this very subject. You can listen to the full interview:

If you don’t want to listen to a full hour podcast, you can listen to a 10-minute snippet of the interview:

A few months before I chatted with Drew, I spoke to a mentor, Doug Skinner, about race relations and communion. You might not think these two things go together, but they do.

Finally, I interviewed Chris Mackowski who is the editor of the Emerging Civil War blog. One of the things I was interested in talking about is his experience going down to Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA right after George Floyd’s death. He gives a moving account of seeing this through the eyes of a civil war historian and also witnessing some of the anger that African Americans felt in the wake of another death at the hands of the police.

#blacklivesmatter #theology #methodist #racism

Episode 65: Possession Obsession

Episode 65: Possession Obsession

When I first started the EnRoute Podcast (which was called something else), I tended to do a lot of solo podcasts. But there were a number of issues I wanted to get out there into podcast-land before Christmas. Hence, episode 65 which is called “Possession Obsession” (which is the title of a Hall and Oates song.) The focus of the episode is on my obsessions. I’ve written a lot over the last few years about the downfall of Sears and Kmart. One of the best podcast episodes is about Sears. What all these articles and the podcast below are saying is that Sears isn’t dying because of Amazon or bad decisions in 1986. They might have a small role, but not the main role. The main reason is because of a hedge fund manager that has caused two well-known chains to falter. Listen to the episode below to learn about the story.

But I wanted to come clean about why I’ve written so many articles and made podcasts about these two retailers. What it comes down to is a strong belief in the free market, a belief in the necessity of unions and respect for the working men and women and a dislike about the financialization of America.

I also talk a bit about the media’s role in this story. Save for some business reporters, the media pretty much ignored the story. I explain why.

Finally, I talk about my time as a writer with Frum Forum a news website by David Frum. Frum Forum was started in 2009 and brought a number of writers to talk about forging a conservativism that can win again. Frum was ahead of the curve in making the case for a larger role for the government among conservatives. I make the case that we need to have a website like this today. (You can read a written version over at Medium.)

You can listen to the podcast below, on your favorite podcast app or use the YouTube link below.

Episode 60: We Have Some Healing To Do

Episode 60: We Have Some Healing To Do

It was in the early 1990s and I was sitting in the basement of a church in Washington, DC. The church was having a special board meeting to decide on calling an associate pastor. There was some controversy because the pastor was in favor of LGBT equality and at that time it was still a live issue in mainline Protestantism, especially in the American Baptist Churches, the congregation’s denominational affiliation. You may think you know how this is going to end, but it ended in a way that surprised people. It was an example of a search for common ground which seems so alien to our society today. In light of Thanksgiving, a time when we worry about having political arguments, I’m sharing this podcast episode from March where I share the story of two women and the work of finding common ground. I hope you will give it a listen. You can listen to it on YouTube below and on various podcast platforms.

#commonground #civility #polarization

What Christians Don‘t Get About Economics

What Christians Don‘t Get About Economics

During my time in seminary and the years following, I would hear something from mostly mainline pastors that I didn’t agree with. They would talk about the concept of scarcity and how it was wrong because God is a God of abundance. That would cause me to scratch my head. I knew enough about economics to know that scarcity was not born of greed. Instead, it was saying that there’s only a certain amount of a good and you have to figure out how to best distribute these finite resources.

Why do pastors get this very simple concept wrong?

I got to talk to long-time friend Michael Kruse about economics and faith. Michael is an economist and wants to help Christians understand the “dismal science.” You can listen to it on YouTube and on various podcast platforms such as Spotify. Please give it a listen!

#economics #theology #church

Episode 50: The Problem of Inclusion in Mainline Protestantism

Episode 50: The Problem of Inclusion in Mainline Protestantism

One of the biggest gifts Mainline Protestantism has given to many people is the work of inclusion.  It’s the belief that churches should be places where the walls that separate people by race, gender, sexual orientation are torn down.  Mainline churches were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, welcomed women into roles of leadership and allowed LGBTQ persons to participate openly in church life.

But are there limits to inclusion?  For many years, the Mainline churches were involved in demographic inclusion, like we just discussed above. The goal was to bring diversity into the life of the church, but the basics of the faith, like what is found in the Nicean or Apostles Creed such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the Resurrection would be held in common.  But over the last two or three decades, there has been a shift towards what might be called conceptual inclusion.  Inclusion here is not about the role of women or LGBTQ people in the church, but about allowing heterodox ideas in the larger church.  Those ideas would include the views shared earlier like the divinity of Christ or the Resurrection.  

What kind of church does that look like? According to Episcopal Priest Frederick Schmidt, it leaves Mainline Protestantism with no reason for existing.  Schmidt is currently the Vice-Rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Nashville. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and academic. Before his current position, Schmidt held the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directed the Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. We talk about the dangers of conceptual inclusion, the loss of religious language in the public square and in the church and what this all means for Mainline Protestantism.

Geoff Mitchell on the Future of Mainline Protestantism

Geoff Mitchell on the Future of Mainline Protestantism

In the 1950s, Mainline Protestants were the largest group of Protestants in the United States. Since then, the churches have seen decline and their footprint in American culture has shrunk. Members have left, churches have closed and budgets shrink. Does Mainline Protestantism have a future? I interview Rev. Geoff Mitchell about this important tradition.

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Chris Mackowski on the American Civil War

Chris Mackowski on the American Civil War

The American Civil War is a pivotal event in the history of the United States. Fought between 1861 and 1865 is a story of a sundered nation, a battle of justice for African Americans, the end of slavery and the reconciliation of the American nation. We talk to Chris Mackowski of the Emerging Civil War Blog to talk about Civil War History and how it affects America today.

Emerging Civil War Blog

“Stonewall Jackson Is Down”

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Meditation on the Chauvin Verdict

A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Meditation on the Chauvin Verdict

For those of you who don’t know, I do a podcast called Spheres of Influence which focuses on religion, politics and culture. The following episode started as a blog post for the church website, was adapted to the weekly evening prayer on video and now is a podcast. I hope you give it a listen. I focus on the verdict of Derek Chauvin, and the witnesses who saw him killing George Floyd. They challenged the official story and made the difference in seeking justice. I hope you give it a listen.

Spheres of Influence

The following is the audio version of a meditation Dennis did for his congregation yesterday, looking at the murder of George Floyd from a religious standpoint.

Show notes:

Evening Prayer (Midweek Vespers) for April 21, 2021
Written Version from the Church website
Press Release from the Minneapolis Police Department

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