Iona Musings

Iona Musings

Not I—not anyone else, can travel that road for you.
You must travel it yourself.

~Walt Whitman

A slight wind sweeps over the rocky hill, a cool relief after my quick walk and brief climb. Shoes off, I lean back on the grassy spot I’ve claimed and look around to get my bearings. Wide expanses of blue sea encircle this small island I’ve just arrived on. Green pastures filled with grazing sheep and cows stretch out below me. Occasional white farmhouses dot the landscape. Across the bay, small islands and the rocky coast of Mull are visible. In the distance, I can see the Abbey – outpost of monks and pilgrims, survivor of centuries of harsh coastal weather, and emblem of the holiness that permeates this sacred isle.

I have arrived on Iona—place of pilgrimage, refuge, and prayers. A spot thought to be so holy that only the thinnest of margins separates heaven from earth. The thinnest of thin places. A small western isle where an Irish abbot established a monastic community around 563 CE, and where pilgrims have been traveling ever since.

Our ferry has landed moments before, and I immediately felt drawn to walk to the hill of Dun-I (hill of Iona) – the highest spot on the island. I’ve come as part of a group of pilgrims from across the U.S. and Canada with Shalem Institute, a leading contemplative organization based in Washington DC. We each come for our own reasons, though connection with the holy and with the earth are the themes of our collective journey. Continue Reading..

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Reflections by Pastor Lee Ann Bryce of First Congregational UCC, Fort Worth, TX. Delivered during a Service of Lament, Healing, and Courage at Amistad Chapel UCC in Cleveland Tuesday. Shared with permission.


This is a beautiful church
and we’re grateful to be here,
but I want to talk for a moment about gay bars.
I came out as a lesbian many years ago
and I’ve noticed that at times,
particularly early in our movement for equality
gay bars have been referred to as a sort of necessary evil;
at one time, they were one of the few public places
where LGBTQ people could meet and be in community.
The truth is
long before we were widely welcomed in churches,
we were welcomed in gay bars.

And so to me, gay bars and nightclubs,

many of them at least,
are like churches.
Or at least like churches should be –
places where you are welcomed just as you are.
Continue Reading..

The Sweet Kingdom of Jesus

The Sweet Kingdom of Jesus

“Listen to what your heart is telling you.”

I had the delightful experience of attending a middle school play recently: Cinderella and the Candy Kingdom. It’s the usual Cinderella story, but set in a world of chocolate, sugar and sweets. Plenty of puns made it a very fun show: the wicked stepsisters of Cinderella were named Kit and Kat. The prince of the kingdom was named Reese, who rarely appeared without his squire, Hershey.

While Hershey won the audience with his consistent jokes and eager banter, it was Prince Reese who brought home the underlying meaning of the play. In the world of the Candy Kingdom, everyone loves sweets: first dessert, second dessert, third dessert. Whip cream and chocolate syrup on everything. You get the idea. Yet the young prince has a secret: he doesn’t like sweets. In other words, he’s not like everyone else. He doesn’t belong. Not only that, he’s in line for the throne, but isn’t the “right kind of prince.” Continue Reading..

The Ancient Wisdom of Proverbs

The Ancient Wisdom of Proverbs

I was invited recently to participate in the 30 Seconds or Less project of presenting every book of the Bible for Lent. In thirty seconds.

That wasn’t at all intimidating! I was to try to distill the ancient wisdom of the book of Proverbs down to thirty seconds. Or less. Fortunately I was also given a chance to state what I thought the “Good News” of Proverbs was, also in thirty seconds.

Here are my attempts, with text and video. Enjoy!
Continue Reading..

Why I Can’t Agree to Disagree

Why I Can’t Agree to Disagree

The Gospel Coalition posted a piece today asking whether or not Christians can “agree to disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and marriage. I deeply understand the desire for unity in the church and share it myself. I have quite a few friends who hold to a conservative view on these matters. I disagree with them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t have a relationship. But can we be in the same worshiping body? [By which I mean denominational/institutional affiliation—not a worship service] That is another question.

I am inclined to not want to “agree to disagree” on this issue. There are a couple of points at which unity is very difficult here.

1) Understanding of the Bible. Most who have an “open and accepting” view toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have evolved in their understanding of Scripture, based in large part upon biblical scholarship, personal study, experience, reason and prayer. Some of this scholarship is recent, much has been around awhile. Continue Reading..

A Revolutionary Love for All People

A Revolutionary Love for All People

I haven’t posted much on the current election, but I really enjoyed these comments from the civil rights advocate and writer, Michelle Alexander. This is an excerpt from a longer recent Facebook post, but this was the part that resonated the most with me:

The conversation that I most want to have right now doesn’t have to do with Bernie or Hillary [or this election]. What I most want to talk about is this: What kind of revolution do we think we want and need? And what, exactly, are we willing to do to bring it to life? 

I am grateful that Bernie Sanders has called for a political revolution, and that millions are responding with energy, enthusiasm and a genuine desire to build a movement that will give our nation a chance at having a real democracy where people actually count more than corporate dollars. But the truth is that the political revolution did not begin with Bernie Sanders and it certainly will not end with him — whether or not he is elected. And it’s also true that we need much more than a political revolution; we also need a moral, cultural, and spiritual revolution — an awakening to the dignity and value of each and every one of us no matter who we are, where we came from, or what we’ve done.  Continue Reading..

On Restraint

On Restraint

I had the privilege of attending an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, near Catholic University in NE Washington DC this week.

Under a dreary winter sky we walked toward the large cathedral, a few others blowing in alongside at the end of this busy workday. The large wooden doors welcomed us into the immense Basilica, where some hundreds were gathering to mark the start of this impending liturgical season.

I haven’t often made a big production out of Lent, in my personal life nor in congregational settings (production might be the wrong word here—observance?), though I’ve increasingly made varied attempts to recognize, honor, and live into it at some level over the years. Sometimes us Protestants tend to forget about Lent until Holy Week. Better late than never?

After finding a pew somewhere in the middle of this huge church, we sang a processional hymn. Many voices joined the cantor, singing; “Again we keep this solemn fast, a gift of faith from ages past, this Lent which binds us lovingly, to faith and hope and charity.”

It got me to thinking about the gift(s) of tradition—here we stood, as many have stood before us, in this vast, holy space—the largest Catholic church in North America. I am one who is quick to question, wonder, and ask whether various traditions, rituals and observances are worthwhile—Why are we doing this? When did it start? What purpose does it serve? What is its intent? How does this fit in the larger picture? Is there some Scriptural connection or basis? Is it still life-giving?

The next line of the hymn we sang went: “More sparing, therefore, let us make the words we speak, the food we take, our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense; learn peace thru holy penitence.”

Sitting in this vast, austere setting, with the wind blowing harshly outside, and pew after pew of darkly clad worshippers stretching out in front of me, it was easy to get into the spirit of “sparing.” I felt ready to abandon all extravagance for the next 40 days. Ready to swear off dessert and good wine. Ready to speak only when needed. To limit my too-frequent (and ill-fated) attempts at humor.

Could such restraint really lead me on a path of holiness and deeper connection this season of Lent? I think it actually could. I understand the possibility for “traditionalism” or “legalism”—but I also understand rhythm and season and intentionality. And if one’s heart is to seek fullness or satisfaction elsewhere than in the usual outlets—good food, glib conversation, excessive entertainment—I have to think one might well find it.

The idea of putting ashes on the forehead, as best history can remember, began about 1000 years ago. As I left my pew and stood before this graying, wise-countenanced African-American priest, and heard him say in a serious voice: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”—it had the intended effect. It reaffirmed the words of the hymn we had moments before sung, and I was ready to “more sparing make” quite a few things.

In the end, I haven’t necessarily decided to give anything up—except perhaps, as Pope Francis reminded, indifference—but I do long to give in to this desire to be mindful of what I eat and how much, what I say and how, where I give my time and to what, and see if this old tradition might have plenty of life left in it. I suspect I won’t be disappointed.

bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch. Listen to Bryan’s weekly podcast: Pub Theology Live! on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET.

The Parable of the Ten Servants

The Parable of the Ten Servants

A new take on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Bryan Berghoef

And he told them this parable:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten servants who went out to meet their master. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took no weapons nor did they take any means of defense with them. The wise ones, however, took care to bring swords along with their concealed knives. The master was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “An intruder! Defend yourselves!” Continue Reading..

Say My Name

Say My Name

Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.

A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?

Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?

Apparently not.

This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.” Continue Reading..

Pope Economist

Pope Economist

Guest post by Chris Lubbers

How can anyone take Pope Francis seriously about economics? What does he know about it?! I mean, listen to this “social justice” nonsense from his speech today.

Any economist knows that businesses hire people only if both sides freely agree to the terms of employment.  But the pope argues that employers have an enormous advantage!

“It is not… difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. … In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. …[A] master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.”

Then the pope suggests, again contrary to what every economist knows, that our job creators are being selfish and inconsistent in opposition to a minimum wage!

“Our merchants and master manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods, both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits; they are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains; they complain only of those of other people.” Continue Reading..