Rescuing Islam's heart: 2-20/21-10
A theology of community: 2-23-10

An African-American lectionary: 2-22-10

People who understand African-American history (and Black History Month is exactly the right time to pay attention to this) know that the historically black church has in many ways been the glue that has held together the black community.

Now there's a new liturgical tool to help pastors of such churches as they wrestle with the weekly biblical texts from which they preach.

It's called the African-American Lectionary, and is designed to help preachers in historically African-American congregations understand "what it has historically taken for the African American community to strive and thrive in challenging situations," says Rev. Martha Simmons, creator and director of the lectionary.

A lectionary is a collection of biblical texts that run in yearly cycles. For instance, in the Revised Common Lectionary used by many Mainline churches, there are three-year cycles that take the preacher through four texts each Sunday -- one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Psalms, one from one of the gospels and one from another New Testament book. The preacher generally picks two of them to use as the basis of the sermon.

The lectionary has its drawbacks, but in some ways it is designed to prevent preachers from relying  solely on their favorite biblical texts. It requires them to exegete passages they might not otherwise tackle.

This cyclical scriptural reading is not unique to Christianity. For instance, in Judaism there's even an annual holiday, "Simchat Torah," which marks the end of one year's cycle of reading and the beginning of the next. As Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, the co-author of my new book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, writes in his book, Accessible Judaism: A Concise Guide, Simchat Torah "is in many ways the most joyous celebration of the year. . .The services are characterized by dancing and singing with the Torah and playful pranks and jokes are acceptable parts of the celebration."

At any rate, the new African-American Lectionary site also provides commentaries that are "designed to address the liturgical moments of significance to most African American Christians."

In all, it's an intriguing idea, though I'd issue the caution that such tools, if misused, can further divide the church at a time when its divisions already are shameful. But instead of that I hope it's used as a way to appreciate and celebrate a particular heritage.

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I mentioned here the other day that I was intrigued by Tiger Woods' mention of his need to return to Buddhism in his mea culpa speech. This piece from MSNBC is one of the few I've seen since then that has taken that part of Woods' remarks seriously and has helped non-Buddhists understand that tradition in more depth.


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