The Christian Hospitality Blog

Formerly the Irreverant Reverend Blog, the focus of this blog has been changed to ideas for promoting Christian Hospitality.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What is Christian Hospitality?

What is Christian Hospitality? Brian D. McLaren, a veteran Pastor, explores the subject in Newsweek's "On Faith" Blog.
Check out an excerpt below:
Sally Qunn's tribute to Tim Russert, and in particular the story of her choosing to take the eucharist at Tim's Catholic funeral, reminded me of so many stories I've heard through the years ... stories of sincere people with little or no religious commitment, meeting someone like Tim Russert whose faith was real and winsome, and through them being drawn closer to God, or at least to the possibility of searching for God.
Sadly, some of the
responses to her story also reminded me of these stories, because very often, when people began reaching toward God, they would naturally seek out a church. But what they often met in the church was disdain, rejection, critique, exclusion, judgment, and other less-than-hospitable treatment. No doubt, the people who "welcomed" them this way thought they were doing the right thing, and perhaps they were from some vantage point. [snip]
In my book "A Search for What is Real" (Zondervan, 2007), I wrote a chapter that could be helpful to both the insiders and outsiders. It was called "Why Is Church the Last Place I Think of for Help in My Spiritual Search?" I talked about three types of churches.
First, there are Type 1 or "finders only" churches - and these are represented by the most critical responses to Sally's story.
Second, there are Type 2 or "seekers only" churches, which "attract the kind of people who are turned off by ... Type 1 dogmatism." These faith communities welcome everyone, but they become less hospitable the clearer and deeper a person's spiritual commitments and experiences become.
I end up highlighting the need for more Type 3 or "seeker-finder" faith communities, groups which take on the dynamic challenge of being highly welcoming to seekers and skeptics, while having high levels of commitment and deep reservoirs of theology in their core members.

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Monday, April 28, 2008


Pentecost is one of my favorite Christian holidays. This year it falls on May 11, the same day as Mother's Day. Pentecost was a Jewish holiday, and the followers of Jesus were gathered to celebrate it shortly after the resurrection of Jesus when little flames appeared above each of their heads, representing the Holy Spirit of God. We still celebrate this holiday every year. A fun way to celebrate is by creating a candle display, either on the communion table or some other spot near the front of the church.
Another fun activity associated with Pentecost is inviting members of the church to wear red or other colors seen in fire, such as orange or yellow.

You can also adapt the Tibetan idea of making prayer flags. Since the holiday is associated with the Holy Spirit, which blows through the people like a wind, it is a good way to involve people in celebrating Pentecost. Prayer flags are simple cloth squares on which people write their prayers. They are generally strung on long strings and hung where the wind will catch them. Tibetans leave their flags up and allow them to unravel in the weather, but you can take your flags down after the holiday if you like.

Since Pentecost is also considered the birthday of the church, some churches light candles on a birthday cake and sing happy birthday. Here is a link to directions for a Pentecost cake.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Manga Jesus

If you've ever wondered, as a blogger on has, "What would Manga Jesus do?", now is your chance to find out. Apparently the holy scripture is getting the Manga treatment, according to an article in the New York Times.
Ajinbayo Akinsiku wants the world to know Jesus Christ, just not the gentle, blue-eyed Christ of old Hollywood movies and illustrated Bibles.
“For the unchurched, the book is to show that this thing, the Bible, is still relevant,” Mr. Akinsiku said.

Mr. Akinsiku says his Son of God is “a samurai stranger who’s come to town, in silhouette,” here to shake things up in a new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels.
“We present things in a very brazen way,” said Mr. Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.” “Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy.”
If you want to check it out, it will set you back $12.95 in most bookstores and comic outlets that carry it, although you can get it for less at

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beating the Holiday Blues

It's gray and rainy where I'm at today, and I'm facing the first Christmas since the sudden death of my mother earlier this month. In short, I, like millions of people, am going into the holiday season with some dread mixed into my usual anticipation. But, in addition to being a grieving daughter who needs to support a grieving father, I'm also the mom of young children who deserve a beautiful, spiritual holiday filled with wonder and joy. What is there to do?
Beliefnet blogger Therese Borchard has come up with an excellent guide for heading off holiday blues. If there is any chance that you could end up depressed and worn out by the holiday season, I urge you to check this out and put a high priority on following her very good advice--especially if you are a woman.
As you probably know, women have traditionally shouldered a disproportionate amount of the holiday tasks. Admit it, ladies--part of it is our own doing. If you are like me, you are prone to Martha Stewart Syndrome--wanting your home and gifts and holiday cooking to shine with unrealistic brightness. Martha Stewart happens to be blessed (or maybe cursed?) with an unusual ability to go at full steam with just a few hours of sleep, and she has a large staff to help her achieve holiday perfection. If you don't have these advantages, cut yourself some slack, skimp on the decorating, and go the "semi-homemade" route with the cooking.

My mom was prone to worrying about everyone else's well-being when her own family history and underlying conditions indicated that her own heart health was in danger. Putting yourself and your health first is not selfish; it could be what enables your family to be blessed to celebrate many more Christmases with you in their midst. If you are young and healthy now, great--start early and develop great habits. Don't be afraid to explain to your loved ones (even children) that you need to take care of yourself and your own needs. It will probably make you a better parent (less cranky, at least, I'm guessing) and you will be providing them with the lasting legacy of great role modeling.

Most of all, make time for your spirit this Christmas. Go to church every Sunday in December, not just Christmas. See an uplifting movie or play, such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Carol" or the more contemporary "Family Man." Carve out time for prayer and meditation. It doesn't have to be stiff and formal. One of my favorite meditative things to do this time of year is to sit alone with the Christmas tree lit and the other lights off for a few minutes before bedtime. The beauty of the lights and the memories attached to the decorations lifts my spirit.

Take care of yourself this holiday season, and may God bless us all, everyone.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

When Doubt is a Good Thing

As a Pastor I've preached lots of sermons on the idea that it is okay to doubt. Usually the sermons come on the Sunday after Easter, when the church hears about how one of the disciples, Thomas, doubted the Resurrection of Jesus and (the risen) Jesus handles his doubts with compassion.

Until yesterday, though, I never thought how important doubt can be to one's own sense of well-being, until I heard a radio interview with Shalom Auslander on the program Fresh Air. I've heard Auslander before, on my favorite radio program This American Life, and I found him, like most of the contributers, to be insightful and funny. Until now, though, I had no idea that there was a darker side to his Ultra-Orthodox Jewish upbringing.

Auslander grew up in a disfunctional family with an angry dad, and in his heart of hearts is an image of God very much like his own dad--a mean bully. Years of therapy, cutting himself off from his family, and extensive study of religion have not budged his conviction that God is real, and also a meanie who is out to get him if he disobeys a long list of ridiculous laws that are impossible to obey perfectly and that he has therefore abandoned. If you've ever wondered why people hate religion and find it to be oppressive and evil, Shalom Auslander is Exhibit A. He wants to have doubts, he behaves like a person who has far more doubt than faith, but the fact is that he has never had a single real moment of doubting.

So, what is the solution? The Soviet Union outlawed religion and it just went underground. Today the Russian Orthodox church has regained its stutus in Russian culture. And, on a deeper level, the Soviet society never did away with the oppressive aspects of religion that folks like Auslander condemn. On a recent trip to Russia, we brought back Soviet propoganda that could have been written by Jerry Fallwell. It focused on the importance of avoiding strong drink, tobacco, and extramarital sex, and on taking care of your kids and working hard without expecting any reward except solidarity with comrades. I don't think I have to tell you how successful this propaganda was in reducing the Russian appetite for pleasures of the flesh. If anything, the lurid way it depicted these excesses may have given them the extra thrill of forbidden fruit for some citizens.

When it comes to religion and morality, there's the soft sell, the hard sell and then there is indoctrination. The United Church of Christ, my denomination, is dominated by churches that practice the soft sell and emphasize the postives of living a moral life--like, you don't have to keep your lies straight if you don't tell any! Soviet propaganda represents the hard sell. What Shalom Auslander experienced was indoctrination, and it led him to the opposite extreme of behavior after he left his home and school, because he had yet to develop a moral compass based on personal integrity.

I am personally morally opposed to participating in indoctrination, but according to how our US Constitution is currently interpreted, religious indoctrination of the kind Shalom Auslander experienced as a young child is perfectly legal. In a recent court case, the leader of a small sect in Utah was convicted and sent to prison for indoctrinating an underage girl that she must marry her cousin and submit to having sex with him. Most indoctrinated children are not encouraged to break the law or to submit to becoming a victim of a crime, however, so prosecution will do little to ease the pain of people like Shalom Auslander.

I think the question is, do those of us who find comfort and joy in religious faith owe some kind of moral debt to those like Auslander whose lives are shattered by religious indoctrination? Auslander resents people like me, what he would call religious moderates. He believes that people like me make it possible for groups like Al Queda to perpetrate unspeakable crimes against humanity in the name of religion simply because we lend legitimacy to religion. I don't agree with him, but how do I reach out and try to help someone who thinks I'm perpetuating evil just because I like to pray, read the Bible, sing hymns and eat suppers with others who like the same things? It's kind of hard to blame the guy for seeing things in black/white, either/or terms, given his first eighteen years of life, but I'm not going to be able to see things the way he does, so how do we bridge the gap?

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Monday, August 06, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about weddings lately, partly because I have an anniversary coming up on August 18 and have also been invited to co-officiate at a family wedding on the same date. Weddings have become a giant industry in my lifetime; the average American wedding now costs $30,000. TV shows like "Bridezillas" (a documentary-style show on the Women's Entertainment network that features out-of-control brides in the last few frantic weeks before the wedding up through the reception) only seem to increase America's appetite for bloated nuptials. The divorce rate seems to have stablilized, but the rising cost of weddings seems to be having little effect on whether the marriages that weddings are supposed to be about ultimately go the distance.

Churches and other houses of worship are increasingly moving out of the wedding loop. Millions of people have weddings performed by Justices of the Peace or by friends who have gotten ordained online for free through organizations like The Universal Life Church (word to the wise--weddings performed by such ad hoc clergy are not valid in several states and jurisdictions, including Connecticut, where I live). Reception venues, eager to cater to couples, make it easy for them to have weddings on site, eliminating the trouble of commuting from a house of worship. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I would like to feel that the counseling and support clergy provide to couples help them to make stronger marriages, but the research about divorce prevention is new, and new counseling techniques coming from the research is not common and doesn't yet have a proven track record. Churches could have a positive effect in encouraging couples not to over-spend on weddings, but most have been reluctant to venture into that territory. In fact, I don't know of a church that has a ministry to would-be couples in this way.

I can only speak for myself and my own wedding and marriage. We spent way below the national average at the time (then the average was $20,000) and six years and two kids later, we still like each other and feel madly in love. I would have done some things differently if I had it to do over, but nothing that would have increased the total expenses. One thing that I think was different for us was how much both of us planned the wedding together. We designed the invitations and a wedding website together. I did most of the heavy lifting but my husband more than pulled his weight.

The site that does the most to help would-be brides remain sane in the face of enormous pressure to be model-gorgeous and have a perfect wedding is The articles there don't generally address spirituality directly, but helping people not fall into a commercialized trap has a spiritual dimension to it. It includes articles about the very latest books that dissect wedding-related craziness. It also helps women connect with a community of others thinking deeply about weddings and marriages.

Ecomall offers ideas for "green" weddings, and the whole idea behind green weddings is to limit conspicious consumption, so that is a good place to look for ideas to keep weddings less crazy and less expensive as well.

My favorite book for helping plan a wedding that prepares you for marriage is Becoming Married by Herbert Anderson and Robert Cotton Fite. It is available through It comes from a Christian viewpoint but the wisdom in it is universal.

Do you have wedding wisdom our questions to share? Post your comments here.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Synod is coming!

Today's cool link is about General Synod, the national meeting of our denomination, is being held in Hartford on June 22-23, with some pre-synod events also scheduled for June 21. This is the 50th anniversary of our denomination and some really amazing events have been planned. Highlights include a launch of the Amistad in New Haven on June 21, a conference on the environment planned in Hartford for the same day, a multi-site event called "Synod in the City" to be held all-day Saturday, June 23 and featuring major speakers and performance events, including Senator Barack Obama, Bill Moyers and many others, and a festival worship on June 24 at 3 pm. Some events are free, others require registration. Volunteers are still needed. Check out all the info here.

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