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Life Threatening

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

The news story reported that the injuries of the accident victims were “serious but not life threatening.”  It struck me that in addition to being a welcome medical diagnosis, that phrase is also a not-so-welcome description of a very prevalent misunderstanding of discipleship.  Serious, earnest, studious?  Certainly.  But life threatening?  That’s just not in our frame of reference.

So what of Jesus’ words about crosses and losing our lives?  The usual reading strategy, most often unspoken, is to assume that Jesus was “a special case,” or that the things Jesus speaks of in this week’s Gospel passage are either historical relics or are addressed to those who live “way over there” in uncivilized places where fanatics run crazy.  Put this interpretation of the Gospel passage with an Epistle reading for the week that one commentary calls “a miscellany of moral exhortations,” and you have a nice little collection of texts suitable for a Sunday in the long sleepy stretch of Ordinary Time.

Craig Hovey will have none of that.  He writes profoundly in To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church that every church is meant to be a martyr-church even though not every Christian’s witness will be a martyr-witness.  The witness of the martyrs “is not only the business of a select few but the shape of the body in which all Christians share” (14).  Hovey argues that since no Christian can know whether she will be killed for her faith until the actual moment of death, martyrdom is an open possibility for every Christian.  If we assume that “we” are not a martyr-church, he charges, “we have ceased to live with a proper and appropriate antagonism to the world in attempts to preclude the possibility that we might die the death of Christ,” thus securing “our own fates as nonmartyrs” (18). READ MORE

Scream

The Self Under Attack

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10 OR Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

We live in times of anxiety about identity. Philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that modern people are especially pressed to play some active role in determining who we are. We construct our identities not only in conversation with others, though this is an important part of the process. We are also involved in a “self-conversation,” as the story of our lives will often be an uneasy weaving of various threads. These threads are born out of the transitions of our attachments and allegiances over time. Moreover, some new threads will be defined by overcoming earlier ones—i.e., the new, fit, and productive me supersedes the lazy couch potato.

How these threads remain together may itself be an important moral task, a task of proper story construction, or integrity. We face a great temptation to protect our identities against attack. It’s a strange war we wage when fighting for our identities, for we project outward a war raging within. It is difficult to locate one’s enemies in such confusion. For instance, I was raised in a Catholic church, a tradition from which I was in a sense orphaned (or, at least, put up for foster care). Later on, I was taken in by a Protestant community. How do I narrate that story? Dark to light? We are tempted, even here, to do violence to ourselves. READ MORE

Tilling and Keeping: A Report on Gathering 2014

In July we gathered to explore our call to “till and keep” the very good creation of God. Over 140 participants gathered in Chicago, traveling from California to New York.  There were a record number of first timers at the gathering this year—new friends that we hope will continue to join us. 

Our three plenary speakers guided our conversations at the gathering.  First was Norman Wirzba, who renewed our understanding of the very good creation and called us away from the language of “nature” that obscures our view of a world to which God has already given value.  Second, was Ched Myers who called us to learn our watersheds and place our discipleship within our local ecosystems. Third, we heard from Philip Bess who led us through an exploration of how we might imagine a city such as Chicago or the space of a church campus as a more human scaled and ecological space.  In addition to our plenary speakers we had a number of excellent workshops exploring climate conversations in the church, green burials, poetry, local activism, and craft.

As always worship was at the core of our time together.  We were led skillfully in music by David Butzu and heard powerful preaching from Jesse Shuman Larkins, Sally Youngquist, and Jim McCoy.  Debra Dean Murphy and Sharon Huey created beautiful liturgies that facilitated our common prayer and worship.

There were several new elements at the gathering this year.  Key among them was a film festival.  The festival kicked off Thursday night with a showing of an episode of the Showtime documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously” followed by a Q&A with Anna Jane Joyner, a preacher’s daughter turned climate activist who was featured in the episode.  On Friday, after enjoying a meal featuring a variety of locally grown and organic foods, we watched ten films submitted from a variety of communities from Christian colleges to churches.  Members of each community were on hand to personally share about the practices shown in the films.

Once again our time together served as a renewal of subversive friendships new and old.  We hope that the practices and reflections shared this year will bear fruit in the individual communities of all those who gathered.  To that end the audio from the workshops and plenaries is posted online.  There will also soon be a page featuring selections from the film festival and a pamphlet reflecting on creation care practices in the coming months.