Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Book Review: God and Hamilton

God and Hamilton:
Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired
By Kevin Cloud

Reviewed by Kerry Greenhill

In God and Hamilton, Kevin Cloud has written a thoughtful exploration of twelve spiritual themes found in Alexander Hamilton’s life and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal Broadway musical.

Beginning with an enthusiastic appreciation of the musical itself, with consideration of the ways that theater can be a spiritual “thin place” to experience moments of transcendence, Cloud then focuses each chapter on one of his identified themes. He examines the theme as played out in Hamilton’s life and in the musical, and connects it with personal, biblical, historical, and contemporary examples.

This is a thorough, accessible, well-researched and compelling book, worthy of individual reading and group study. There are certainly instances where I felt Cloud left some problematic theological assumptions unexamined, as when he relates a story by another author of an infant’s drowning, without a theological response to the explicit statement that “God could have stopped it.” His chapter on Equality is a good beginning to inviting readers to address contemporary issues of racism and sexism, but could have gone much further. Cloud also engages in imaginative speculation about what Hamilton or other historical figures may have thought or felt in particular situations, which sometimes felt a bit forced to fit his chapter’s themes.

Overall, I enjoyed reading God and Hamilton. It is thoughtful, sincere, rooted in faith without being too preachy, and I would comfortably recommend this book for anyone who loves the musical and is interested in connecting Christian faith to history and daily life.

God and Hamilton on Amazon
God and Hamilton 
Kevin Cloud on 
Kevin Cloud on 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Home & Change: When You Can't Go Home Again

photo of a house at dusk with lights on, garden flowers in the foreground, text says Home and Change
Image by Dale Fredrickson
by Rev. Kerry Greenhill
Preached November 13, 2016, at Lakewood UMC, Lakewood, Colorado

Mark 6:1-6a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.



“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to”
- John Ed Pearce

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
― Warsan Shire


Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Picture “home.”
What images come into your mind?
What memories? relationships?
What sounds and smells?
When you are ready, you can open your eyes.

If childhood was generally happy,
“home” is probably a place with positive associations.
(I recognize this is not true for everyone,
and next week Pastor Dale will speak
about the pain we sometimes experience at home.)

When I think about “home,”
I think about all the places I have lived.
I know many others here in Colorado
are transplants like myself:
we grew up somewhere else,
maybe in multiple somewhere elses.

For some of us, Colorado now feels like home;
others see themselves as “sojourners,”
staying temporarily but still claiming home elsewhere.

Of course, “There’s no place like home for the holidays,”
and as we come up on Thanksgiving and Christmas,
many people will travel across the country
to gather with extended family.
Though a few years ago Garrison Keillor pointed out
that the first Europeans who settled in this country
traveled three months across an ocean
to get away from their relatives,
yet we remember and celebrate them
by going “home” to see ours.

They say you can’t go home again.
It never feels quite the same.

When you return home as an adult,
you find how much some things have stayed the same
whether in your house, hometown, or family relationships,
and what things have changed:
perhaps your views, your experiences,
or your acceptance of past patterns
in parent-child or sibling relationships.

Things may seem smaller.

You may fall into some old habits or patterns,
whether good or bad.
You may resist the old patterns,
especially between parent and you, the adult child.
You can continue the old traditions, or start new ones.

Sometimes the changes that make home feel less like home
are more personal.
New relationships, past arguments,
or a clearer or more public sense
of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity,
can affect how others relate to you,
and how you relate to them.

Some of you know that while I was born in California,
I lived in Australia for 9 years as a child
before my family moved to New Hampshire.
All of those places have some element of “home” for me still.
But when I was 26 and in my final year in seminary,
my parents separated,
sold the house that had been my home since 8th grade,
and divorced the following fall.
They have both since remarried,
bringing stepparents and stepsiblings into the mix.
I am glad that they both have found happiness in their lives
since they stopped making a home together,
but there is always at least a little twinge of sorrow for me
when I make plans to visit them for family gatherings.
They each have a new home,
but neither of those places are “home” for me.

In contrast, my in-laws, Dave’s parents,
are getting ready to move out of the house they have lived in
for more than 55 years.
It will be a big change for them,
and for their three adult children.
While we both value seeing our parents and siblings regularly,
his sense of going “home for the holidays”
is a little different from mine,
a little more familiar, more comfortable, more… home.
(And of course, we have our own home together now,
with two cats and 1.7 children.)

For some, this election season
may also have drawn attention
to how differently you see the world
from your parents/family of origin.
Or how different your own values are now
from what they once were.

I have several friends and colleagues
who have had to get off social media
so they can stay in relationship
with people they love
but with whom they disagree deeply on politics.
Some of those friends are now dreading
going “home” for Thanksgiving,
knowing that bridging the divide has only gotten harder.

Sadly, I have also heard a terrible number of stories
of people being kicked out
of their parents’ or other relatives’ homes
for their beliefs or their identity.
And far too many others,
especially immigrants, Muslims, and people of color,
being told that America is no longer their home,
since the election.

Home is complicated.

In today’s reading from Mark,
we find out what happened
when Jesus tried to go home again
as he was getting started in his ministry.

It didn’t go so well.

People thought he was “getting above his raising”:
“We know you, you’re just Mary’s boy, the carpenter.
Who are you to tell us what God is doing or saying?”

In Luke’s version of the story,
they actually seem kind of impressed at first.
But when he challenges them
on their low expectations of him,
and tells them God can’t do anything with them
if they’re being stubborn and arrogant,
they get so mad they try to throw him off a cliff!

In the Hebrew scriptures, we find the story of Ruth,
who refuses to “go home” to her family of origin
when her husband dies.
Instead, bucking the patriarchal culture of the time,
she clings to her also-bereaved mother-in-law, Naomi.

It’s like she’s saying, “I don’t know what lies ahead,
but I am no longer who I was before this grief,
and I can’t go backward, only forward.”
So they journey back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem,
where Ruth and Naomi make a home together
while planning for the future.

It makes me ponder:
What do we hope will happen when we go home?
Why is it so hard or disappointing
when we find it no longer feels like home?

I think most of us long for a sense of safety, comfort,
familiarity, and above all, unconditional love:
somewhere we know what to expect,
where we can be fully ourselves,
be fully known and loved just as we are.
A sanctuary, a refuge
from the challenges and cruelties of life,
where we can be renewed for the struggles we face each day.

For those who have moved away from home,
there may be a desire to prove ourselves:
we’re all grown up now,
we made something of ourselves,
we overcame what we were teased about
as children or adolescents;
we’re better, stronger, than who we used to be.

When we change through life experience,
it often feels like growth,
like hard-won lessons learned,
and it can be disappointing when those we love
don’t share or respect those changes.

But when we try to convey these new perspectives to others
whose views we once shared,
they may feel judged, belittled, or looked down on.
Instead of hearing us say,
“I have learned how to be better than I once was,”
they may hear, “I am now better than you.”

It is so hard to communicate the gifts of the journey
to those who have not traveled with us.
And to be honest, we who have traveled sometimes forget
that there are also gifts
and also journeys
in the “path” of staying home.

I think above all, Rebecca Solnit hits the nail on the head
when she writes,

“The desire to go home is a desire to be whole,
to know where you are,

to be the point of intersection of all the lines
drawn through all the stars,
to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world,
that center called love.
To… cease to speak and be perfectly understood.”

When we look to the Bible,
we find a narrative arc, from Genesis to Revelation,
that reflects the deeply human sense of estrangement,
of exile from our true home,
and journeying home again –
to a new home that God is still bringing into being.

From Adam and Eve cast out of the garden,
we see that humanity has always felt
that we do not live in the world we were created for,
and we do not live in the ways
of wholeness, safety, and loving relationships
for which we were made.

The Israelites survived slavery
as foreigners or "sojourners" in Egypt,
they wandered in the wilderness for forty years,
and finally came into what they understood
to be the land God had promised them
and built a nation there.
(Of course, they continually fell short
of what God desired from and for them,
even or perhaps especially
when they were living in their new homeland.)
They lived through exile, return,
and multiple occupations by powerful empires.

At the time of Jesus,
and in the following decades and centuries,
the sense of home contained in the city of Jerusalem
was deeply threatened by the Roman occupation
and the destruction of the Temple.

The birth of Christianity as a movement
empowered by the Holy Spirit
meant that there was no longer
just one place on earth
that was considered most blessed,
the home of the Most High God.
Instead, the disciples were sent to “the ends of the earth”
to share the good news of God’s love
made known in Jesus Christ.

Finally, the vision of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation,
the river that runs through the city of God,
with the tree of life on the banks
with leaves for the healing of the nations,
is a vision of global homecoming,
for all people as God’s children.

I think it’s important to note
that we do not go back to Eden.
We go forward to the City of God.

“Going home again,”
in the sense of going back
to the way things used to be,
is not an option.

Change is the only constant,
and we travel through time in one direction.
This is true for individuals, local churches,
denominations, and our entire nation.
We cannot go backward.
We have learned too much.
Our ways of being in the world,
individually and collectively,
the actions of the past 10 or 50 or 2000 years
cannot be undone or reversed.
We cannot go back to post-WW2 America
any more than we can go back to the time of Jesus
and live as his disciples did then.

Jesus invites us to the journey of discipleship,
not to the safety of home,
as we seek to follow him in our lives and in the world.

As Bishop Karen Oliveto has said,
“We have to get more comfortable
with being uncomfortable.”

That includes home not feeling like home any more,
and family members misunderstanding
or disagreeing with us.
It includes finding new family along the way,
the family of God.
Of course, sometimes that family
will be more diverse than we are comfortable with,
and our new kin will also disagree
and misunderstand and be in conflict with us, too.
And we will have to figure out
when to listen and when to speak,
when to stand up in solidarity with those who are vulnerable,
and when to sit down at the table
with those whose views are very different from our own.

Getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable
includes learning to feel at home on the road,
and welcoming strangers into our home-places,
whether literally or figuratively.

It includes trading safety for courage,
comfort for adventure,
familiarity for trying new things –
and a willingness to be wrong or to make mistakes
along the way.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” - Matsuo Basho

But when we journey with Jesus,
life still includes unconditional love.
It is a journey toward wholeness,
for ourselves,
for all people as God’s children,
and for all of creation.
We learn to build a home with God wherever we are.

And it is a home that has room for newcomers and outsiders,
a home that has room for mistakes and failures,
a home that has room for new ways of being family
and new visions of being beloved community.

So maybe you can’t go home again
in the sense of going back to the home
that was home when you were a child.

But maybe you can go home again,
to whatever home is now
or is becoming:
the home of the journey,
the home we are creating together
out of love and justice and diversity,
out of compassion and peace and inclusive wholeness,
the home God is calling us toward
again, and again, and again.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Book Review: Lessons in Belonging

Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, by Erin S. Lane

I am less than halfway through this book, and in the midst of a busy Advent season at church with all the typical preparations for Christmas of a family with a young child. I want very much to sit down and spend a couple hours reading more of Erin Lane's story. She writes compellingly of her own spiritual journey, her skittishness about settling down longterm in a place, a community, and yet her half-embarrassed desire to feel a sense of belonging and connection that she can trust.

As someone born on the cusp of Generation X and the Millennial generation, and as a fellow seminary graduate, I resonate with some of what she describes, while other sections are more individually her particular experience or personality. But throughout, I appreciate her theological reflections along the way, and her thoughtfulness about what parts of her own story might be broader, typical of her generation or of humanity in general.

I believe that American society in the 21st century is deeply skeptical of earnestness, intimacy, discipline, and commitment, and the Christian faith offers meaningful resources to consider and respond to the culture around us. I love the idea of the church as "a vehicle of disillusionment" (p. 14), in the best sense - stripping us of the romantic-but-ultimately-unhelpful visions we have of relationships and life in general, helping us to see more clearly and live more truly and deeply.

I recommend Lessons in Belonging for anyone who likes the idea of church, but not the reality; anyone who loves and is invested in the church, who wants to understand younger, less-committed-to-institutions generations a little better; anyone else who identifies with the statement, "I want to belong, but I don't know how."

Erin Lane's website
Lessons in Belonging on Amazon

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

This Day in History

70 years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

50 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Each day, we get to choose which values we will live out:
Violence - or nonviolence?
Destruction - or democracy?
Death - or life?

My friends, let us choose life. In all its complicated, messy, painful glory. In all its beautiful, transcendent, infuriating mystery.

Choose life, not just for yourself or for some, but life abundant and eternal, with liberty and justice for all, with compassion and hope for all, with beauty and wholeness and joy for each person, each nation, each ecosystem of this amazing universe that God created.

I believe that is how we draw close to God, by drawing closer to each other, by seeing God's divine image in each face, by recognizing each person as our sister, our brother. By listening to the cries of those who suffer and taking action for love and justice and healing.

Choose life. It isn't always easy, but it's the best way forward.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Pray Like a Gourmet

Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul, by David Brazzeal
Reviewed by Kerry Greenhill

I am a prayer book junkie. I love books on prayer and spirituality – I love buying them, love reading them, and sometimes I even put them into practice. Sometimes. So while I liked the premise of Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul, I didn’t expect to learn much that was new, or gain insights I hadn’t heard before. I was pleasantly surprised.

The extended metaphor of prayer as a meal we can enjoy in God’s company works on many levels. I have to admit, the first couple chapters I was resisting the author’s style and found it a little cheesy. But that may say more about my inherent skepticism than a flaw in the writing.

The insight I found most intriguing is the idea that you can plan your prayer time – like a menu – based on types of prayer (praise, confession, lament, joining, etc.) and modes of expression (writing, music, movement). I realized that my unexamined expectation was that you schedule your prayer time, then it just happens – maybe with words, maybe with silence, but spontaneously, as the Spirit leads. I like the idea that the Spirit can lead you through planning a richer, more diverse, and more creative combination of approaches than whatever your default is.

I also appreciated the specific suggestions for how to experiment with the different types and modes of prayer. There are lots of ideas for practical application here, along with sound theology that leaves room for readers of a variety of perspectives.

I love the high-quality paper and full-color artwork that graces the pages. One minor frustration was that some of the text is in yellow or orange, making it difficult to read. Fortunately, these are generally only a word or phrase here and there, so it doesn't interfere significantly with the book's readability.

Ultimately, I found Pray Like a Gourmet to be an interesting, accessible read that would work well for individual or group study. I commend it to all who are seeking to expand or deepen their prayer life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.