Advent Calendar 2015

Advent is the time in the church calendar when we wait for the coming of the Christ child. It is marked by the observation of the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. Each Sunday of Advent the church observes a different theme of this journey: hope, peace, love and joy. Candles are lit as the light of the world (Christ) is drawing closer to us.

During this time, we are called not to run to the manger but to wait… that’s right…. wait… for Christmas. Sure some people have decorated their entire house on November 1 but Advent calls us to slow down, be more reflective and wait. It is through this intentionality that we begin to see and experience the message of hope, peace, love and joy in our own lives and the world around us

There is something freeing, however, in slowing down. We are able to take in all that is around us and see how God is moving in our lives in ways that we would have looked right over had we not taken a moment to be reflective and aware.

How are we using this time of Advent to prepare and to wait? Are we rushing from store to store buying mountains of gifts, trying to equate our love for someone by how big the price tag is?

Don’t we want Christmas to be something more than lights, too much food, elves on the shelf and Santa? Why can’t this time of Advent propel us into a deeper sense of the Divine around us and with us? Where are the places God is leading us to? These are the thoughts that we take with us during this journey to the manger.

Use this calendar each day of Advent to prepare yourself for the coming of Jesus into the world.

Each day has a scripture and something to pray for or to reflect on. Let us journey to together to find the Christ-child, the source of all hope, peace, joy and love this Advent.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

 

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Advent Calendar 2015 PDF

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Creative Commons LicenseAdvent Calendar 2015 by Rev. Evan M. Dolive, M.Div. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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Stop Taking Attendance!

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At a church I used to serve there was a well-intentioned person who after every service would tell me how many people were in attendance. “We had 47 today, Preacher,” he would say. I could hear the disappointment in his voice when he would have to tell me a low number like 35. A smile beamed across his face when we had more than 50. No matter the number, he would tell me without fail.

In every church that I have ever visited or served there has been an emphasis on the number of people that attend the morning worship services.
After years in the ministry I have come to the conclusion that the church needs to stop taking attendance, immediately.

For many churches the process of collecting attendance is to get an accurate account of people in worship, to measure how many people occupy space in a pew. Some churches have note pads in the pews so people can fill out their information and place it in a designated area. Others have a volunteer to manually count the people in attendance. No matter how small or big the faith community is an attendance is taken. Some congregations publish the number of people in their church bulletins or have it on a sign in the sanctuary to compare last week to this week.

For too long churches have measured their ‘success’ and ‘failures’ on the number of people that darken the door on 11am on Sunday morning. The quickest way to get people to wring their hands in worry is to tell them that numbers in worship have dropped. Visions of the church closing its doors will run through people’s minds inciting more and more anxiety.

It’s no secret that the church in the American culture is not where most Christians would like it to be. The church was once the central hub of the community is now a place where people go on Sunday mornings if they want to. The church has been in a decline for some time and I believe this has caused us to become more inward focused. As the church began to experience decline numerically the church’s reaction was to try making everyone left happy including the ministers, elders, deacons, lay ministers, organist and even the custodial staff. The boat was not rocked, things stayed the same, a course was laid in and no deviation would be acceptable.

I believe that this is the wrong approach. One time when I was interviewing with a church for a position they inquired if I had any plans that would help the church grow numerically. The answer I told them I believe with all my heart and prompted a bevy of puzzled looks. I told them that I was not a ‘numbers guy.’ I did not measure the success of the church in how many people showed up on Sunday morning. Is Lakewood in Houston, the largest church in America, a “more successful church” because they average several thousand people each week? No. Most churches just want bodies in the pews and babies in the nursery but this is the wrong approach.

I would rather have fifty people in church on Sundays that went out and touched a hundred people’s lives, than have a hundred people in church that only touched fifty.

The church has become too worried about having more people than the other churches in town. The church needs to stop looking inward and start looking outward. There is a world that is in desperate need of a Savior right outside the walls of the church. The time we spend in meetings or around the pot luck lunch table talking about how big the church was in 1947 is wasting everyone’s time.

I have to admit that even I can fall into this number trap. It can be disheartening when a minister prepares a sermon or the choir works diligently on a piece and only a handful of people are there to experience it. I have to remind myself that the people who are in attendance are there to experience God and worship and that is it. God can use all sizes of churches and faith communities to promote God’s message of love, peace, joy and reconciliation.

I want people to experience God in the same way that I do but I am not beholden to a number.

Let’s start taking a new kind of attendance, one that is centered on the other, not bodies in the pew.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan


Photo Credit: “Checked_tick” by Oliver Tacke via Flickr. Used Under The Creative Commons License 2.0.

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT

Baby, you're a firework

A little over two years ago I started this blog.  I had started writing a religious column for the local paper and I wanted to share those posts with people outside of Southeast Texas.  Over time I began to add my sermons in audio form and even write more article that were only ever published on this site.  Every once and a while someone would comment or like my post which was nice but it was for my own edification and sharing my understanding of the faith I hold so dear.  I loved hearing from people (even people who disagreed with me); it was a good outlet for me.

In March 2013, evandolive.com got a little busier when my open letter to Victoria’s Secret went viral (to the tune of 4 million+ people).   It was during this time that I had the idea for a book.  I began thinking about how in all of marketing there is an element of fantasy and perfection and somewhere along the line society began to blur the two together. Don’t believe me? Try to find a Middle School aged boy who does not think that Axe Body Spray will attract the opposite sex.  Why?  Because this is the core of their marketing campaign. On top of that, how do people of faith respond when the image of God is being distorted to only encapsulate one body type or the so called “ideal body type”?

After working on a proposal, a detailed outline, numerous sample pages and various edits, I am happy to announce that I have entered into a contract with the Pilgrim Press, the publishing house for the United Church of Christ, to publish my first book!

I am very happy, excited, nervous and scared all at the same time.

As of now, the working title is The Distortion of the Imago Dei.

I have been busy getting my idea down on paper (via Google Drive) trying to synthesize it all.

I want to thank you for all of the support you have shown me over this past year; if my letter had not gone viral I am not sure I would be making this announcement today.

Thank you for all your support as I embark on this new journey!

Stay tuned for more updates!

OK… back to writing… I have a deadline to keep.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

 


Photo Credit: “Baby You’re A Firework: Fireworks at Disneyland, Anaheim, California” by Kevin Dooley via Flickr. Used Under Creative Commons License 2.0

The Next Step: Board Certification

Application for Board Certification

Nine months ago started a new (sorta) ministry path and accepted a position as a chaplain in Southeast Texas. Having completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) I had the training and skills to begin this new journey.  At first it was a bit of a “culture shock” from church based pastoral ministry but I am enjoying it.

As part of my position at the hospital I have worked for the last few months on completing my application to become a Board Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains.  Last week after a couple months of writing off and on, I submitted a large stack of papers, reflections and critiques as part of my application.

My goal is to sit before my certification board at the national conference in Anaheim, CA this June.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

The Person Who Was Missing From The Nye/Ham Debate

The internet has been a buzz after the “Creation Debate” between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis.  The debate focused on the question “is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”

Ham is the founder of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky which postulates the world was created how it is described in the book of Genesis and believes that the world is only 6000 or so years old (this model is known as Young Earth Creationist.)  Nye showed another side stating that science and evolution were the models of creation that should be accepted.

Both people gave their reasoned arguments in a bevy of pictures, graphs and charts.  They had their particular point of view and they were showing the world how they understood the world to work.  Ham is a Christian literalist and Nye is a Scientist.  Both are coming from completely different angles while looking at the same thing.  On one hand you have Ham trying to make the model of Creation found in the Bible fit the world around him and on the other you have Nye who uses the empirical method to be certain about his beliefs.  Both of these men were using their view to be the one that should be seen as true and authoritative.  Here in lies the problem.

Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) articulated the notion of perception when he wrote:

“Just as if A, B and C should each put on different colored glasses;  A puts on green spectacles, B yellow, and C blue; each one of them looks through his own glasses at a piece of white paper and concludes he is right, not remembering that he has his spectacles on.  Thus to A it appears green, to B yellow and to C blue.  They begin to argue on the subject, and it is impossible for any of them to convince another that he is wrong- each one feels a conviction next to absolute certainty that his opinion is right. But D, who has no spectacles on, and who is standing looking on during the contest very well knows that they are all wrong; he sees the spectacles on each man’s face and accounts for the difference.”[1]

Throughout the debate I could not help but to think that one person was missing: the person who doesn’t see religion and science as mutually exclusive.  Where was the person of faith who is OK with a bit of mystery in the world and OK with the notion that the world might not have been created in seven 24 hour days?

The problem with this type of debate is the same problem that people have with the political pundits in Washington: they are too polarizing.  Both sides think they have it figured out.  This is being played out in our society; a Gallup poll stated that 42% of voters claim to be Independent, while 31% affiliate with Democrats and 25% with the Republicans.  People more and more do not like to be “nailed down” in one camp or another.

Some of the biggest complaints I hear from people not in the church or those who recently left is that some churches have “it all figured out” and leave no room for questioning or growing or new ways of looking at something.  Learning, growing, shaping and forming our own ideals is something that we instill in children when we teach them critical thinking.  Why do people in some churches feel they have to become robots of their church or pastor and just spit out what they have been told to believe?

The creation debate more than likely didn’t change anyone’s mind about how the world came to be.  If anything those on either side felt their guy “won” and their view was shown in the best light.  Then there are those who struggle with faith and how the world works in harmony together.

They were left out.

The way I see it is that both Ham and Nye missed the mark.  Ham is using the Bible as a science book– the Bible is a book of faith and people’s experience with the Divine.  Nye did not leave any room for mystery and faith; it was charts, graphs, facts and figures.

There has to be a balance made.  Faith and Science do not have to be at odds with each other.  The debate was too focused on facts and not on mystery.  Where was the presenter who said “I’m not sure how this all happened, but I have faith?”

In Christ,

Rev. Evan


[1] Mark G. Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship: the Shaping of Contemporary Disciples Identity, rev. ed. (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1997), 42.

14 Books In 2014

My new year’s resolution is one that I think many people make: to read more.

I enjoy reading and I even have a Kindle.

I have an ever growing list of books that I want to read, should read and have been recommended to me but by consequence of having a full time job, preaching on Sundays, a wife and two kids, time is scarce.

So this year I am going to make a goal to read 14 books in the year 2014.  I know to some avid readers out there 14 is the standard quota for a week but I am taking baby steps here.

I hope to write reviews on the books I read during this challenge and you never know maybe I will surpass my goal of 14.

If you have any recommendations for me feel free to comment below!

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

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Review: “Soul Repair: Recovering From Moral Injury After War”

English: A folded American flag held by a Unit...

English: A folded American flag held by a United States Marine at the funeral of Douglas A. Zembiec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never served in the military.  I have had family and in-laws who served this country in a variety of capacities though the armed forces.  Now more than ever, the public is keenly aware of the movements and campaigns of the US military are leading in the Middle East and around the world.  New stations cover a returning solider, coming back home to a throng of people cheering and waving US flags; we get choked up when we see a solider surprising their family; we stand and clap during sporting events when a service person is recognized on the jumbo-tron.

While all of these things are wonderful expressions of thankfulness and gratitude, what about what is going on in the inside of the solider, inside their mind, their heart and their soul?  Can one ever understand what life is like in service to the country?  Can one ever understand the what life is like in the line of fire? to shoot a gun? to have bombs go off near you? to lose a friend? to kill someone?

How does one (if ever) reintegrate into a fast paced, self centered, on the go American society?

The book Soul Repair: Recovering From Moral Injury After War takes a look at the notion of moral injury in returning combat veterans.

Moral injury results from having to make difficult moral choices under extreme conditions, experiencing morally anguishing events or duties, witnessing immoral acts, or behaving in ways that profoundly challenge moral conscience and identity and the values that support them. Moral injury is found in feelings of survivor guilt, grief, shame, remorse, anger, despair, mistrust, and betrayal by authorities. In its most severe forms, it can destroy moral identity and the will to live. The struggle of combat veterans to return to civilian life can be even more difficult than serving in war and last a lifetime. (taken from http://www.brite.edu/soulrepair/)

The book profiles five different soldiers from different campaigns that the US has been involved with and their struggle with their own morality and faith and how their soul was injured during their deployment.  The book is written by Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini who both had family member serve in combat; both articulate that their loved ones were not the same people after their deployments.

This is an eye opening book to the pains and injury (not just physical) that combat has. I guess sub conscientiously knew it but I never connected the dots.  This text brings moral injury to the forefront, to a place where we as a society and nation are faced with it.  By hearing the stories of struggle and pain that the soldiers went through the reader is taken to a different place, into a world that most of us are not privy to.

The book states that returning combat vets are at a statsically greater risk for suicide and violence; this leads many to think that the pangs of war and combat are deeper than just what is reported on television.

Soul Repair does not hold back on its critique of the Veterans Administration and the US government for not support returning veterans.

Selected Quotes:

Moral injury results when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behoavior negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings. (page XV)

Veterans who struggle with moral injury are struggling to recover their lost sense of humanity, which they require to reintegrate into the human community. No easy shortcut can bring them home. (page 54)

Engaging in collective conversations about moral injury and war can help us all to strengthen the moral fabric of society and the connections that tie us to the rest of the world. Our collective engagement with moral injury will teach us more about the impact of our actions and choices on each other, enable us to see the world from other perspectives and chart pathways for our future. (page 114)

The Disciples of Christ in 2011 voted to look into the notion of moral injury and how the church can help veterans from all campaigns with moral injury. Thanks to a grant Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas opened the Soul Repair Center.

I support the work of the Soul Repair Center and I pray that it will be used for the healing and restoration of all people who are faced with moral injury.  The authors note that the church used to assist with the transition of those returning from war who had “shed human blood.” They had to undergo “a rehabilitation process that included reverting to the status of someone who had not yet been baptized and was undergoing training in Christian faith. … this ancient form of quarantine was required because early Christians understood that killing or participating in war, regardless of of the reasons, injured the souls of those how fought. (page xviii)”

I recommend this book to anyone who has or has had a member of their family in military combat, no matter how long ago.  Moral injury is something that has been with humanity ever since the first war broke out.

 

Book Link
5 out of 5 stars
★★★★★
In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Film Review: For The Bible Tells Me So

Film poster for For the Bible Tells Me So - Co...

Film poster for For the Bible Tells Me So – Copyright 2007, First Run Features (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most divisive topics that is dividing the Church today is the issue of homosexuality.  For decades (if not longer) this has been an issue (whether we like it or not) on the forefront of Church. Recently some denominations have had decisions and votes on whether or not to ordain open homosexuals; it has caused dissension, grief, hurt feelings and in some cases it has cost ministers their job. Many churches and even denominations have decided that in the interest of keeping everyone happy, they have not or will not broach the discussion at all.

In matters of church conflict or even church doctrine, the normal question to ask is “What does the Bible says regarding this issue?” It is a natural place to start.  However, there are varying ways on which the Bible can be interpreted and thus a problem can emerge.

The film, For The Bible Tells Me So, explores the issue of homosexuality as it relates to the Church and Christianity. This film tries to demystify the stigmas that have been placed on a certain group of people and tries to look at the issue from different angles.

Film Synopsis from forthebibletellsmeso.org:

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate? Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families — including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson — we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

This film dives into the Biblical text from a number of different perspectives trying to encapsulate the essence of the text as the original authors intended.  Scholars from many different denominations and faiths weigh in on this issue.

This film is presented in a way that brings in new ideas and understandings about homosexuality and how the Bible has been used and mis-used to subjugate a particular group of people. The interviewees do not hold back with their position and thought process when it comes to the controversial issue.  They are open about their feelings and in some cases have regret for the way that they treated their child when their child came out.

One of the positives of the film is that it does try to show different view points with regards to how different families  react to their children telling them they are homosexual– not all families reacted the same way then or even now.  For many it has been a journey that they have to take one day at a time.

I believe that this film is an excellent conversation starter no matter what side of the issue you are on; the key (as with many controversial topics) is that those watching must do so with open eyes, hearts and minds.  For many Christians this has become a hallmark issue; it has become the benchmark of righteousness and orthodoxy.  It is easy to hear something counter to your belief system and immediately get defensive and stop listening.  It is in those moments of struggle where we can learn and grow.  It is through difficult situations and conversations when we are able to open up to the possibilities of seeing a particular issue in a new light.

The website for the film also has two discussion guides (here and here) for further study and dialogue.

Overall, this film is well done and thought provoking.

I highly recommend it.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars
Film Website

Watch this film on Netflix

In Christ,

Rev. Evan
(Trailer Below)


Trailer

Review: “The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation”

One of the most talked about and polarizing texts in all of the canon of Scripture is the book of Revelation.  This book has been the subject of fiery debates, discussions, theological stances, studies and TV programs on TBN.

At first glance the book of Revelation doesn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the New Testament.  It’s style and language are different than anything else in the Bible.  Reformer Martin Luther (as well as others) wanted the book to be removed from the Bible.

When it comes to interpretation of this book there are several camps of thought but I will highlight two of them:

  1. Dispensationalism– a literal understanding of the book; the book portrays events in the future that marks the Second Coming of Christ into the world.  The book is a coded message that the faithful need to understand so they can be on the look out of the signs of the return of Jesus Christ. This method of understanding the book of Revelation was first postulated by John Darby in the late 19th Century.
  2. A message or story of hope and support for a persecuted community– The message of Revelation is one that encapsulates the pain and struggles of a community trying to live and survive in a society that did not like them.

The Rapture Exposed puts forth the thesis that the book of Revelation has been misunderstood for many years.   The author claims that the book was not meant to be a future predicting, dispensational text,where people are trying to connect events in the world to the ancient text.  The author believes that the message of Revelation is really a hopeful one.

The book looks into the nature of Dispensational theology and how the text does not support this idea; one of the most popular modern versions of the this theology is the Left Behind series.  This series has sold millions of books world wide and even spun off into three films (with a reported reboot coming soon starring Nicolas Cage).  The Left Behind series follows the life of people who have been left behind after the “rapture” of all Christians on the earth.  They have to battle the evil Anti Christ and try to get the message out about the salvation of God in Christ before God destroys the world and starts anew.

The author, Barbara Rossing, writes:

To understand the biblical basis for much of today’s end-times thinking we have to begin our story further back than the book of Revelation. In the view of Darby and other dispensationalists, God’s whole biblical plan for the end-times is already mapped out in the Old Testament. The entire end-times framework of Darby’s dispensationalist system is based on just three verses at the end of chapter 9 of Daniel! (page 25)

The problem according to Rossing is that the Book of Revelation has been distorted to fit the model of theology instead of the Book itself shaping a model of theology.  She points out that no where in the text does the word “Anti Christ” appear as well as there is no mention of the Anti Christ establishing a covenant with Israel and then breaking that covenant.  These items have been read into the pages of scripture and made to fit.

Rossing lays out well reasoned arguments on why the message of Revelation is one of hope and not World War III. The message of Revelation is one that is centered in the notion of God’s revealing and redemptive power now, not in some predetermined future date. She writes,

Like the visionary journeys of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Revelation’s vision of seals, trumpets, bowls, and other manifestations are meant to be a wake-up call. They unveil the urgency of God’s justice and judgment by taking us on terrifying journey, all with the goals of persuading us to ally ourselves with God’s vision for our world. The journeys are not intended as literal predictions of events that must; they are nightmarish warnings of what may happen– if we do not follow God’s nonviolent Lamb. (page 91)

The Book of Revelation has been used as a tool for right action and orthodoxy (correct belief). The mode of thinking is: one does not know when the end of the world will be so you better get right with God or you will witness the destruction of the world. The faithful of God, however, according to dispensational theology, will have a front row view of the end of the world and humanity from Heaven.

Revelation is not a book written to inspire fear or terror. But it is definitely written to increase a sense of urgency for our world. It is an apocalyptic wake-up call for each of us, precisely because there is hope for us and for our world. … Revelation teaches us a fierce, urgent, and wonderful hope– not an easy comfort, but a hope that knows the reality of terror and evil and still can testify to God’s love in the face of that terror. (page 170)

Overall I thought this text was a good overview of the pitfalls of a literal interpretation of Revelation and I believe that the message of hope as laid out in this text is a refreshing one, one that the church needs to hear more of. This type of hopeful theology is one that is not being promoted and propagated in the church today; if it is for may it is falling on deaf ears.

★★★★☆
4 out of 5 stars
Amazon Link

In Christ,
Rev. Evan

Sojo.net gets 10,000 signatures on Victoria’s Secret Petition

A ministry colleague emailed me and told me that Sojourners had online petition encouraging Limited Brands to stop targeting young women in their marketing campaign; they cited one of the many article written about my letter in their petition information. I was honored that they asked me to write a piece about my experiences and thought process behind writing the letter to Victoria’s Secret.

Sojourners has been petitioning Victoria’s Secret to stop objectifying young girls; they have had about 10,000 people sign their online petition.  When some one signs it an email is send to Limited Brands.  According to a follow up piece on Sojo.net (see below), Victoria’s Secret has given them the same standard answers.  Catherine Woodiwiss, the author and Associate Web Editor of Sojourners, writes

This statement about “Bright Young Things” — what Sojourners has always made clear was a campaign, not a line — does not address Sojourners’ central concerns over reinforcing confusion about the value of young women, to young women. Over the action alert’s charges that oversexed objectification contributes to a culture of abuse, rape, and distorted worth, Victoria’s Secret gave no comment.

Please read the articles below and consider signing the petition.

Thanks for reading and supporting me.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan


My article Link on sojo.net

Follow up article- 10,000 Emails, Victoria’s Secret Continues Business As Usual 

Consider signing the petition to tell Victoria’s Secret to stop objectifying teen girls.

Sojourners’ Bright Young– What? Campaign (via Facebook)