“Out of Bounds” A Devotion on Numbers 11:29

But Moses said to Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” —Numbers 11:29

The people of God have always wrestled with the question of where God’s Spirit is at work. In Numbers 11 we hear a strange story that raises this very question.

Moses had gathered seventy of the elders around the tent of meeting. God took some of the spirit from Moses, and put it on these seventy and they prophesied. But there were two men, Eldad and Medad, who missed the memo and remained in the camp. Still, the spirit came upon them and they prophesied in the camp. Continue reading

“The Ministry of Not Giving Up”

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” —Galatians 6: 9

My mother-in-law is 86. Every day she engages in some form of political protest, such as contacting her representatives by phone or writing them a letter. This is part of her personal faith discipline. Continue reading

“Helping those who have no helper”

helper“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
—Psalm 72: 12

Psalm 72 begins “Give the king your justice, O God.” It implies that justice is a God-given matter, and though in our time we have no king, the seeking of justice remains one of the marks of authentic government. Continue reading

“And in a supporting role . . .” Hulda the Prophet

Hulda 2“Hilkiah (the high priest) and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe.” —2 Chronicles 34:22

The prophet Hulda gets a scant 9 lines in the Bible, and in them we learn more about her husband than we do about her.

Nonetheless, she must have been impressive, for when King Josiah needed a prophet to authenticate the Word of God, it was to Hulda that he turned. Continue reading

Remembering Rubem Alves (1933-2014)

Rubem AlvesRubem Alves, the Brazilian writer and theologian, died last week at the age of 80. I had the privilege to get to know him during one of his visits to the United States in the early 1980’s. He came to Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine, where I was the chaplain at the time. One of my unofficial duties was showing hospitality to visiting scholars, and so over the course of a week or so, I shared several meals with him and  drove him around town to see the sights. I remember I took him shopping for his family at T. J. Maxx. He had a shopping list from his wife, and was very methodical about what to bring home to Brazil.

He was one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever met. A professor of philosophy, he was interested in literature, music (he wrote eloquently about Vivaldi), education and psychoanalysis (in which he was trained.) He was such great company, full of ideas and ready to discuss a world of topics. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a great laugh

He loved poetry and his 2002 book, The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet (SCM Classics) is an important work in the field of theopoetics.  He went on to publish over 40 books on a wide variety of subjects.  A popular lecturer and speaker he was also a columnist for his local newspaper.

He is often credited as one of the founders of liberation theology and his dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary was later published under the title A Theology of Human Hope (Corpus Books, 1969) with a foreword by Harvey Cox. It was an important early work in English on the subject.

I just learned of his death from a tweet from the World Council of Churches, memorializing his many contributions to the ecumenical movement. The remembrance of him from the WCC can be found here.

I recall him with great affection and give thanks to God for him.

Here is a quote of his:

“Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. . . . Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.” (From There is A Season by Joan Chittister)

 

Remembering Willis Elliott: theologian and gadfly

Willis ElliottMy dear friend and colleague Willis Elliott has died. Scott Paeth’s FB post today captures some of the essence of Willis:

“For those who did not know him, he was the often-insightful/often-infuriating gadfly of the United Church of Christ, and a long-time participant in the Confessing Christ group. He died old and full of years”

I met Willis at the very first Craigville Colloquy back in 1984. He spoke at dinner about the “Christian Connection,” the often overlooked piece of the four-church merger that became the United Church of Christ. I thought, “Who is this guy?” Smart, articulate, funny, and insightful. He had a full white beard like Santa Claus, and I thought he was really old, but that was thirty years ago so what did I know?

Later we had him at my congregation as a speaker and with his wife Loree a guest in our home. He was a brilliant, multi-lingual polymath, a former fundamentalist, and at times as difficult and uncompromising as Jeremiah. If there had been a shop that sold iron yokes, Willis might have purchased one. But he could also be an encouraging mentor. Years ago I did a presentation at the MA Conference annual meeting and afterward he made a point to come up and thank me. He also said, “I didn’t know you had it in you!” That was Willis.

In the 1990’s he was one of the founders of Confessing Christ in the United Church of Christ, along with Gabe Fackre, Fred Trost, Jim Gorman, Leslie Zeigler, Barbara Clemons, Bennie Whiten, Herb Davis, Andy Lang, Ted Trost, myself and many others. “Confessing Christ” was an invitation to “joyous theological reflection and serious theological work” on behalf of the ministry and mission of the United Church of Christ.

For years we had our Confessing Christ annual meeting at the church I was serving in Pittsfield, MA, and I got to know Willis well. He was one of the least compromising people I have ever known, and the least career oriented. He had been the librarian and Old Testament Professor at New York Theological Seminary, and before that had served on the national staff of the UCC.

He was a deeply committed Christian, reading the Bible every day in the original languages. His “Think-Sheets,” free of an editorial hand, were challenging, quirky, often brilliant, and, just as often, maddening. They always made you think.

In his latter years his eyesight waned, but he kept up a lively correspondence and participation on the Confessing Christ list-serve conversation.

The “thickness” of the conversation in the United Church of Christ, and the great church, will now be poorer for the loss of his voice, but he had no doubt, and neither do I, that he is now numbered among the great cloud of witnesses. I thank God for him.

Thoughts and a Prayer on Martin Luther King Day

MLK Memorial(Last month I was visiting my son in Washington, D.C., and I revisited the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” I also visited the Martin Luther King Memorial for the first time. It was dedicated in 2011, and this was my first time in Washington since then. I was deeply moved by both monuments, and struck by how much of Dr. King’s Dream, especially around economic justice, is still unfulfilled. People often forget that he was not only a tireless worker for civil rights, but also for peace, and the rights of workers and the poor.

This prayer of invocation is from our local Martin Luther King Service from a decade ago.)

“Lord God, we give you thanks for the blessings you have so generously lavished upon us, for all the ways you provide for our life with both daily bread and spiritual nourishment. It may be cold outside, but let us be warm in here, warmed by the presence of this congregation, warmed by the memory of Martin Luther King, and warmed by the power of your Holy Spirit, whose fire kindles our courage, and makes us bold for your kingdom and its righteousness.

Forgive us those times and places when we have let you down, when we have not answered to the better angels of our nature, when we have danced to the world’s tune and listened to the seductive voices of the powerful and privileged as if their voice was your voice, and worshiped the manifold idols of our own imaginations. Turn us again to you and your righteousness. Keep us from the temptations of an easy virtue and a pious complacency.  Remind us that the commitments to righteousness, justice and peace for which Dr. King lived and died are still not accomplished.

So be about us and within us and among us this afternoon as we worship you and remember your servant Martin.  Be especially with our preachers and speakers and singers and musicians.  And let this time together be precious time, let it be your time, that we may catch a glimpse of your new heaven and new earth, when all the deferred dreams of many generations will be finally fulfilled, when all, from the least to the greatest, will see you and know you, when war will be no more, and prejudice and oppression shall cease, and none shall be afraid.  Amen”

(Dr. Floyd’s invocation from the Martin Luther King Memorial service at Second Congregational Church (UCC), Pittsfield, Massachusetts on January 19, 2003)