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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things (American) Evangelicals Might Have Forgotten About

This is a short review of American Evangelical Protestantism and European Immigrants, 1800-1924 by William J. Phalen. 

American Evangelicals often forget, or don't even know, just how many of their current practices started. For example, the association of evangelicalism with the Republican Party seems like something natural for many Americans.   However, there were historical and sociological reasons for such associations that often escaped religious reasons.  

In this text, we get a glimpse of quite a few historical associations.   Phalen uses primary documents from both sides to make his points, and there is much to be learned here. Speeches, sermons, and articles used by evangelicals get to speak for themselves.   Much time is spent specifically on the plight of Irish American immigrants and the struggles they faced as they came to the United States.  German and Chinese immigrants also get some attention, but the focus is definitely on the Irish. 

After doing a quick google search, it was easy to find out why Phalen had written this book; it was his dissertation at Rutgers.  Although there is at least one significant difference, the addition of a chapter on the  Social Gospel, for the most part the book follows Phalens' dissertation.  The only reason I bring this up, is that is how this book reads- a dissertation by a PhD in history.  It does not significantly interact with motivations or reasons, let alone the diversity of beliefs within American Evangelicalism at the time.  It is accessible to the lay reader, but is often stagnant and tepid.  

I would recommend this book to undergraduates needing an introduction to the history of American Evangelicalism in connection with immigration.  It serves to acquaint us with ideas such as nativism, early prohibitionist stances, ruralism, and the Know Nothing Party.  I would never recommend it on its own.  Probably the best writing deals with the connection between the development of parochial and public schools in this country, but even in this area I would recommend reading this book alongside either books on the history of education or the primary documents.  

Phalen's work may be appreciated for turning our (American Evangelical Protestants) eyes towards history which often informs our present.  Nonetheless, this text requires supplementation to provide the full picture of history.  

Thank you to the publisher, McFarland, for my review copy.

The book is currently for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. It has a suggested retail price of $45, typical for a book intended more for an academic audience. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sharing a Meal

Last night, I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen for a while. The meal was nothing spectacular, although it was one of my favorites. We are nearing the end of a media series with my youth group, and he had come to share about his visual media company with my students.  After group, we crossed the road and went to a great local restaurant.  We ate and talked about our lives.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about what sharing a meal with someone means.

It's hard to dislike someone when you eat with them, especially if the food is inviting.  We ate Mexican food last night.  My friend commented on something we both enjoy about this type of dining- the chips and salsa.  When you share food like that, more family style, it's extremely hard to dislike someone.  The only way I could fake that is by not eating the chips and salsa.  We ate guacamole too. If I'm thinking about things I don't like about someone, I am not going to enjoy my meal, and I am certainly not going to share food with them.

If you have ever been on an awkward date, you know exactly what I am talking about. If things start to go smoothly, you may choose to share the chips or other appetizer with the person.  As long as you feel  weird about the other person, you avoid those things like the plague.

Conversation is a natural part of eating.  I realize some people like to rush through their food, and I have been known to eat a whole pizza in five minutes.  However, when you sit down at a table with someone, order your food, and wait for it to arrive, you are forced to talk with the other person.  Listening and asking questions is essential at this point.  Otherwise, your conversations become one sided or pointless.

Fortunately, I enjoy hanging out with my friend. He's a great guy.  This just made the meal that much more enjoyable.

Reflecting on it though, I did wonder how much harder it would be to have division, strife, jealousy, and envy within the church if people were to eat together.

I think two major things would be necessary to build community for the church during meals.

First, meals need to be consistently and consciously slow.  Slow eating is all about enjoying the company and enjoying the food, not rushing through.   Conversation naturally flows out of the relaxed atmosphere of a slow meal.

Second, we would have to get out of our regular patterns of who we acquaint ourselves with in our seating patterns.  We'd have to get out of the comfort zone and be willing to put ourselves in vulnerable places, at least at first. I think community would be a natural outcome after a while, but we would have to really practice listening and sharing.

Maybe I am just crazy about food, but then again, the church did use to share meals together.  Sometimes it created problems, but other times it did seem to really foster community.  Wouldn't it be great to find more ways to foster community in the church?

Maybe I am just crazy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This post comes from my youth ministry blog; we are celebrating Good Friday with a modified Seder meal this coming Friday, April 6th.  


I don't know if you are familiar with Passover or not.  Growing up as the son of a pastor, it was something I was fairly familiar with. My family participated in a few Seder meals over the years, and we read the story of the Exodus many times throughout each year (you can read the whole book of Exodus, but I would recommend starting by reading 3:7-10). 

Today, I spent about 2 hours making my own matzah (unleavened bread) for our Seder meal we will celebrate on Good Friday.  It was the first time I had done so, and I was surprised at how much I learned through the experience. 

First, the process really does get you thinking about what it means to follow God when He tells you to move.  The Israelites were told to prepare their food quickly, eat it, and be ready to leave the land of slavery (Exodus 12).  As I prepared and cooked each piece of matzo, I had to move fairly quickly.  It wasn't something I could deliberate on.

As a Boy Scout, I learned the motto well, "Be Prepared."  Many times in my life, I have wanted to be prepared for the future- going to college, arriving for a job interview, getting married, etc. Although there is nothing necessarily wrong with preparation, it does have the danger of controlling our lives. This is true when we use preparation as a means to worry, and Jesus warned against worry (Matt. 6:25-34). 

In contrast to preparation caused by worry, we have to be ready to respond to God. This readiness comes from the realization that our plans must be held lightly, and when God directs us we must follow.

The second thing I realized while making matzos was that God really does want us to be dependent on Him.  Our readiness to respond must always be placed in the context of relationship.   What does it mean to live with God?  It means we our lives clearly reflect our dependence on him as His people…and that might still sound a little mysterious to some people.

Let me put it this way- we all need food, shelter, and clothing.   Without these things we fail to thrive. The people of Israel could have seen God’s call to follow Him as the losing of their stability and shelter- a very real threat to survival and thriving. When the people of Israel decided to follow God’s instructions, they visibly showed their trust in God.  This is how God became their shelter and provision (for a good example of community praise to God for provision, see Psalm 136).

In other words, the bread of Passover reminds us that everything we have comes from God who has provided. He provided for His people in the past and he continues to provide for us. We must live with the Lord day by day. If your life does not show that, then you probably are not dependent on Him. 

I actually hurt my hands a little while kneading the dough to flatten it. In particular, my wrists are still sore from working the dough.   I still feel the resistance from making the two inch balls of bread.  Again, this process brought me to an awareness of God’s work with His people. 

Both individually and communally, God has faithfully brought His people to salvation. In a piece of matzo, we see this through the history of tradition. Tradition exists to remind us of what God has done.  Some people fall in love with tradition for its own sake and become nostalgic.  Instead, I believe God wants us to see tradition in terms of fulfillment.  The work has been done for us and we now share in the richness of tradition.  

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).  Partially, he meant that he had come to fulfill the plan of salvation.  In Jesus, the work of salvation has been fulfilled, completed, and made ready for us.   To live without knowing Jesus is to starve, lacking the bread of life, which has been kneaded and worked out in salvation history. This is not just a metaphor; Jesus is the actual means by which we have life.  This is why He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

This Good Friday, we will be celebrating the culmination of salvation history- the cross. We are going to do this through the sharing of a Seder meal.  Hopefully, we will all be reminded of just why Good Friday is truly good. It is a celebration of the Bread of Life, who brings new life to those who are called by His name.