Our New Religious Pantheon

The ancient Greek stories of the pantheon of gods were full of lust, envy, jealousy, and revenge.  Though gods, they acted just like humans. They could be tricked, lied to, and make deals.  They are fickle at best and even in their most glorious moments act in ways that are selfishly motivated. They really serve better as cautionary tales rather than models to follow. (For a great summary of ancient Greek pantheon read “Mythology” edited by Edith Hamilton.)

In America, we have created our new religion pantheon of gods and goddesses with their own special powers and temples.   Our pantheon of gods are usually built around real people who did impressive things.   Their temples are movie sets, concert venues, and celebrated theaters.  Their feast days occur nearly daily with award banquets, premier days, and contests where viewers get to elect the next god into the pantheon. Our pantheon of warriors are not in fact warriors at all but athletes who conquer their foes on the playing field rather than the battle field.

With the recent biogenesis clinic problems that MLB is facing in suspending twelve players for 50 games and one of their most notable warriors Alex Rodriguez through 2014, we are reminded much like the Greek pantheon, our gods are all too human.  Celebrities, politicians, athletes, entertainers, and others we hold up as our heroes fall from grace on a regular basis, some even end up as convicted criminals.  We watch their larger than life dramatic stories much like the Greeks listened to the pantheon of old. We scrutinize their actions and celebrate the consequences to their actions as though they are fictional people without real feelings, damaged hearts, and wounded families. It serves as our entertainment and as our worship.

 The one big difference between the Greeks and us is that the average Greek probably didn’t believe they could become a god. True enough some humans married gods or had half-god half human children.  But for the most part this was not the norm.  But these humans never became gods or were ever worshiped themselves.

We have moved from the worshiper to the worshiped.  We can become a god.

We are training our children that through hard work and focus they can become gods in professional athletes, musicians, or the next governor. The biggest church in many states is their state university football stadium (it certainly is in my state) or pro baseball teams cathedral.  We drive our kids from soccer, to band, to baseball, to dance, to whatever else because we may not admit it, but we really believe these kids will go pro and become a god.

We can have a difficult time  seeing the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it in the midst of this pantheon of athletes, entertainers, and other gods. Our worship of anything other than God is an idol.  But to believe we are not worshiping these things is to lie to ourselves. We may not have mythical heroes of ancient tradition, but we certainly have a growing new religious pantheon full of temples and gods all across this country. None of them are Christ.

Greg Mamula is an ordained minister and the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska.

Blogging… I quit

It’s that time of the year where I usually say, “I’m done. I’m done blogging. I quit.” It’s summer and my focus on blogging usually takes a dive. My children are out of school and the lake calls to me to swim. Then, I question if I want to continue to write blogs. I’ve been doing it for over 4 years now.

After 414 blog posts, I ask, “Is it time to end it? To quit?”

It is time to end it, for now…

One thing I learned writing my Judson Press book, “The Work of the Associate Pastor” (My mom thinks it is a great book and you should buy it) is that you cannot blog and write a manuscript at the same time. You just can’t…well, you can but it is really difficult. Blogging requires regular rest and sabbath.

I’m working on my second book this summer. My goal is to have the introduction and two chapters written. What’s the topic? Well, I can’t give everything away. I will tell you that it is on Baptist life. So far, the introduction is written and I keep telling myself that I’m going to have fun writing this book. Writing a book is a labor. If you don’t have fun with writing it becomes an obligation. Obligations are no fun.

So there it is. I quit.

I’m done writing blog posts this summer. Other quest contributors may post on my website, but I’m taking off July and August.

See you in September!


Baptists and BBQ in Kansas City

I’m here in Kansas City for the American Baptist Church USA Mission Summit Biennial. That’s a mouthful. American Baptists get together every two years for meetings, worship, share resources, and attend to the needs of the denomination (elections, motions, etc…).  You can read about the last biennial info here and here.

I’m also here for the famous Kansas City BBQ… well, that’s just a bonus. I’m also here for meetings as a Board of General Ministry director. For the last few days we met to attend to the business of the denomination and also met collectively with the boards of Home Mission, International Ministries, and Ministers and Mission Benefit Board.

We spent some time getting out of the meeting room and visited several American Baptist supported ministries.  Our breakout group went to Bethel Neighborhood City in the Kansas City Area. This 100-year-old ministry is a vibrant American Baptist ministry that has helped thousands of people find community, learn job skills, and find meaning in life. As a Board, it was very helpful to see our efforts and historic support working for the Kingdom of God. We met folks who started in the program as children and then went on to become staff and board members.

On Thursday the second American Baptist Theologians conference at Central Seminary. Break out sessions and papers were presented. My friend and fellow board member Jonathan Malone present a paper on denominational life. It was exciting to see so many American Baptists talking about the future of the church, theology, and ABC life.

Check back for more updates on Baptists and BBQ!

Also, please follow me on Twitter for updates @alanrud and use the hash tag #missionsummit2013

The stress of the movable Sabbath

Someone at church once asked me, “When is your day off?”  I replied, “Friday.”

“Wow.” He said. “I wish I could have Friday’s off. Must be nice.”

“Well, I don’t many Sundays off. That must be nice to have a Sunday or a full weekend off.”

The reality for most ministers is that Sundays are a true “work day” – we labor. Leading worship, preaching, greeting, teaching Sunday School, marriage counseling, Bible studies, and church meetings occupy most of my Sundays (as well as my weekdays).  And why not? That is what pastors do, right? Sure. It’s what we are supposed to do.

But, it is not always easy.

As the only full-time ordained pastor on staff, it’s hard to get away for a weekend. Most families enjoy graduations weekends, beach or lake weekends, reunions, weekend family celebrations, camping weekends, friends weekends, or even that ultra cheap last-minute fight to Miami for the weekend.  I hardly ever do those things. For me, I have to plan weeks and months in advance to take a Sunday off.

Sunday is the Sabbath Day for most Christians but for ministers, we need more true Sabbaths. A weekend with a Sunday of rest from our labor, which is ministry. A weekend where we are not counseling, preaching on Sunday, visiting people in the hospital on Friday, attending a meeting Saturday morning, officiating a wedding or funeral on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, that Sabbath Day for me is Saturday. Other times it is Monday.

As a pastor, I have a movable Sabbath.

A movable Sabbath is convenient but it is stressful. Having a day insures a type of rest but not knowing when that day will be makes my family life unpredictable. Sometimes, I don’t get a Sabbath let alone a weekend. Daily staffing needs, counseling, trouble shooting urgent demands, congregant frustrations and mediating conflict every day of the week are typical requirements. It’s a constant crescendo of events. It’s exhausting. My labor comes home with me everyday. It never turns off. My wife, children, and even some friends, have a connection to my labor at church.

I covet and miss the freedom to block a weekend for my family and my friends on short notice. Sure, there is the vacation week, but I miss a lot of important family and friend events on weekends because Sunday is a fixed ministry labor day. The stress and demands and fulfilling so many expectations leaves me drained. When I come home for my day off, I have nothing left to give my immediate family.

In posting about this stress on Facebook, a few friends had some responses to Sabbath and stress. My friend and mentor, Charlie Updike posted:

One of the things I’m aware of at the end of the journey is that I wish I had taken a Sabbath approach to the Sunday work and take a Sunday off every seven weeks…that is still preparing and preaching 45 Sundays a year.

Another minister, Liz Lemery Joy posted,

I began taking a hard look at that beginning last February. I creatively had to cut back a little. It’s hard to do in ministry… I schedule set times for rest in my calendar now. I believe we need to incorporate the Sabbath rest- in order for God to be able to minister to us, get refreshed and energized

A member at my last church had the best advice (Thanks Scott!):

Tickets to the Washington Nationals…….road trip, hot dogs, cold beer…..come back refreshed and ready to save some souls!

This year I decided to do something different. I took advantage of some family gatherings clustered togeter. I’ve told my church leadership that I need this time. It is stress reliving and very fulfilling. We leaders and ministers need to plan for the sustaining practice of intention fixed Sabbath weekend rest.

I’m moderating #chsocm tonight

I’m moderating #chsocm on Twitter tonight @ 9:00 p.m. If you are a church-ie social media type, just join in on Twitter with the search and hashtag #chsocm.

A lot of you are wondering, “What the heck is #chsom?” It’s Church social media. #ChSocM (ch-sock-em) is a weekly Twitter-based chat about using social media to build church and faith. Welcoming, informative, ecumenical. Tuesdays, 9PM, ET. Commentary, interviews, transcripts, and fun stuff on the blog.

My good Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest friend Meredith Gould started the Twitter chat topic/community about 2 years ago. Since then, it has grown into a weekly meet up for lay people, pastors, seminarians, and social media church geeks (that includes me).

Don’t be a non-participate observer! Join in! (I loath the word “Lurker” or “lurking” for social media listening. It’s too creep-stalker-ish. See you tonight on #chsocm!

Church uses vandalism for social media message

What do church leaders usually do when someone vandalizes the side of a church with graffiti? Cover it up, repaint, or remove the vandalism. A church in Randolph, New York was recently vandalized with the words, “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” The church responded in a remarkable and unconventional way.

Grace Episcopal Church allowed the vandalism to stay, but the church added their own reply:


The above picture circulated around Facebook and Twitter with folks generating a conversation about spirituality and community.

Elizabeth Drescher at Religion Dispatches covered the story and found out why the church responded in this way and how it relates to modern religious expression:

Rather than approaching the tagging as a criminal act, however, church leaders decided to take the graffiti seriously as an expression of something spiritually meaningful—a cry for help.. They approached it relationally, using the church building itself as a social media platform, and responding with their own message of hope.

It’s the story of a fairly traditional church actively recognizing that religious doubt, religious critique, and all manner of theological questioning that once would have been seen as belonging squarely within the clapboard walls of a village church unfold in a much wider, much more broadly networked universe.

What started as a process to respond to church vandalism turned into a broader conversation on social media. With hundreds of shares, likes, and comments on Facebook and Twitter, this church’s vandalism response sparked mostly positive reaction. Some of the replies on the church’s Facebook post tell of the conversation around suicide, religion, and young people:

“As a pastor who has lost a young adult son to suicide, let me add that the forum is 100% appropriate and the response is as well. Song lyrics or no, any indication that an individual might be contemplating suicide needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.”

“I’m not of this faith, but I really respect and admire this response. It goes beyond religion for me. It comes down to basic, good old-fashioned human kindness, which, sometimes, is the one thing a desperate person needs.”

“This is what I got from this message (go ahead and kill yourself God loves you) should have been worded differently indeed! And so as long as I ask for forgives before I kill myself its all good right.”

“I think the response was great — people in that much pain need to know that not only does the Church love them, but that God loves them. Who knows, this might be just the turning point that this person needs to know that people and God cares”

“my experience working with suicidal people is that the thing that might encourage someone to get help is the sense that someone has heard them. We also don’t know if the person who painted the original message is suicidal or whether the are in profound grief after someone else’s suicide… or if something completely different is going on. You can’t really counsel an anonymous message written on a wall – sounds like the parish is doing the best they could have done under the circumstances”

This story is a lesson in leadership. Rather than react with, “Who would dare do this!?!” The church was proactive and asked, “Why is this person hurting so much to do this? What can we do to reach out in an equal response?” Many Christians and churches are quick to judge, but we must find creative responses to brokenness – as Jesus did.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: Did you thank the Lord?

As stories come out of Oklahoma’s terrible tornado that left dozens dead, one cable anchor received an unexpected response from an interviewee.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed a survivor only to find that she did not share the same religious beliefs:

“We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job,” Blitzer said to Rebecca Vitsmun

“You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

 “I — I’m actually an atheist,” she said.

“You are. All right. But you made the right call,” Blitzer said.

“We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord,” Vitsmun said.

Was it improper for Blitzer to ask such a question?

How do you think the interviewee handled the question?

Respond using the Facebook window below or the comment box at the bottom of the post.


Is this art or sacrilege?

When does art cease to be art? Where do we draw the line? Case in point: A naked street performer took a ride on a moped with a cross. The artist called his performance art. That has some Christians up in arms. Unfortunately, someone took pictures.

This dude must be Superman to carry a cross of that size.

And then there’s this one:

Again, super human strength.

Brian Ashcraft incorrectly identified a cross is a crucifix. A crucifix is a cross with Jesus on it. A cross is without a dying Jesus. (The word “Crucifix” comes from Latin word, cruci fixus meaning “one fixed to a cross”.)

So, what would drive someone to do this? The performer said,

“Every time I finish a run, I always check online to see what people online are saying about me,” said Li. “The internet creates such a wonderful way to interact, and I really want to see what others think of this thing I’m doing. It makes conversation online.”

So, is this art or sacrilege? Comment below via Facebook or Disqus.

Great Pentecost Resources


Looking for some great Pentecost resources? The folks over at http://bluetruckpublishing.com got you covered.

“Anything but Ordinary – readings for worship during Ordinary Time (Pentecost to Last Sunday of June)”

This collection of liturgical helps is the second worship resource from Don Durham. Each of the pieces are tied to the lectionary readings for the day and every Sunday includes:

Invocation/Call to Worship Responsive Reading Benediction

There is also a free stock image included inthe purchased download. You can preview a sample of this product for free on the Blue Truck blog here. Don also wrote “Lenten Liturgies” and it received 5 stars and this review from a worship pastor: “A well written RCLliturgy resource. A steal at 99 cents even if you don’t use all of the resources. The Palm/Passion Sunday resources include both thematic elements to allow for Holy Week flexibility.

Download here.

A visit to Mount Saviour Monastery


Recently, I spent a few days at Mount Saviour Monastery and it was an incredible time of reflection, prayer, and spiritual enrichment. I also instituted a social media blackout. I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect. My friend and follow pastor David Bennett invited me to come.

In seminary I studied the monastic life and learned of the rich tradition in spiritual community. I was surprised with how God spoke to me and how I connected to a deeper prayer life. The monks pray based on St. Benedict’s monastic order and the Liturgy of the Hours:

  • 4:45 am: Vigils
  • 7:00 am: Lauds
  • 9:00 am: Mass
  • 12:00 pm: Sext
  • 3:00 pm: None
  • 6:30 pm :Vespers
  • 8:15 pm : Compline

I wish I could say I was up at 4:45 a.m. but I was at Lauds every morning. The rhythm of the prayers is worshipful and reflective. The monks lead in singing hymns, psalms, prayer, and responsive liturgy. I was amazed how the song and prayer centered me. I can’t say that I came away from the experience with a profound insight in to God but did receive peace. Eating meals in silence help further the sense of listening rather than speaking. Humility of the monastic life requires one to listen instead of being quick to speak.


The monks tend to sheep, the farm, serve meals, and keep the property running. Mount Saviour Monastery is a place that houses a small group of monks and priests. There were some visiting Catholic deacons on retreat. In addition, there were visitors for the day.


Our accommodations were basic. A 10 x 6 foot room with a bed, desk, and window. Such simple rooming reminds you that basic comforts is all one needs to live a life of prayer. And like living in a dorm room in college, I didn’t make my bed for this shot.


The experience was an examination of how the monastic life is not a crazy way to live. Perhaps we live the crazy life: weighted down many possessions, worry, fear, and the general rat race of our culture. Living a life of prayer and worship is so freeing. We continuously consume social media, entertainment, and news. We have to take Sabbath and get away from those things in order to focus on “God things”.

The social media blackout

Social media can take a toll on your life. Keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites is exhausting.

On average Americans spend just as much time on the Internet (13 hours a week) as they do watching television. That adds up to 26 hours — a little more than a day of our week — spent in front of a screen.

We can suffer from social media. Managing several social media accounts while holding down a job and life can be taxing. Social media is a world of instant communication and demand. We can’t possibly keep up with the check-ins, pictures, internet memes, Words with Friends, internet news, and Twitter trends.

Sometimes, we need a social media blackout. Usually, a social media blackout happens when a company or celebrity has an embarrassing moment and they go silent on Facebook and/or Twitter. Example: Anthony Weiner, and his… ahem, Twitter problem. After everything went down, Weiner went silent on his active Twitter account.

The social media blackout I’m thinking about isn’t because we have done something wrong but because we need a break.

Taking breaks or sabbath is a requirement in life. Just as our bodies need rest, our minds do too. From time to time we need a mental health day. A day where we disconnect from the craze of the world and focus on things that we love. Walking, reading, spending time with family, or going to a movie are all things that help us refocus.

Taking a social media blackout from the dependence on technology harks back to the day when humans relied on their own skills and gifts. A social media blackout helps us to realize that meaningful connections are made through relationships, not digital networking. True love and friendship are found with time spent together, and not through a computer.

For the next two days I’m doing a social media blackout. No Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or Foursquare check-ins. I’m going to a monastery to do some reading and writing. To recharge.

Do you need a social media blackout? How have you taken a social media break? What practices do you find meaningful during a social media blackout?