bLOGOS

WHAT IS bLOGOS?

The Ekklesia Project “bLogos” seeks to bring together relevant theological commentary from our contributing editors and from the wider electronic world.  It regularly reflects on the news of the day from an EP perspective, asking what the news we are offered might look like from an angle that is God-centered, church-centered, peace-centered and political.  In so doing, we hope that our commentary helps members of the church to think more critically and theologically, and to see daily events and ideas in new ways.

And we invite you who read to join the conversation by leaving a comment on our posts.

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The World We’ve Made

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Hontar: We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.
Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world… thus have I made it.”

-Robert Bolt, The Mission

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Whatever your opinion of Barack Obama, you can’t deny the last full week of June was kind to him, climaxing on Friday as he celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage and delivered a moving eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, killed in the terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

I’ll let others dissect the political implications of Mr. Obama’s recent good fortune. I’ll likewise refrain from comment on the same sex marriage decision. I have good friends on both sides of that issue, some of whom – again on both sides – have been treated quite shabbily by those with whom they disagree. This week’s readings point through the news to something deeper.

What might it mean for North American Christians that the first mixed-race President of the United States spent a morning in June, 2015 cheering a political milestone for gays and lesbians, and that same afternoon eulogizing an African-American man murdered, along with eight others, because of the color of his skin? This ought to matter. Even in an era of much-discussed church decline, the world in which these events occur is – for good or ill – much as we have made it. Read more

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Classic posts

For this week’s lectionary, we have two great posts from previous trips through the cycle: Debra Dean Murphy’s  “The Hemorrhaging Woman”  from 2009 and Brian Volck’s  The Encounter More Than the Cure from 2012.

Hurricane

Storm of the Spirit

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalm 107
Mark 4:35-41

Mid-May of this year, the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life released findings from a recent survey that indicates a decline in the number of Americans claiming Christian affiliation, especially among Mainline Protestants and Catholics.

When the report was first released, reactions among those I know varied widely, from alarm, to those who met the findings with resignation and acceptance, or frankly as old news. As a divinity school student, preparing for perhaps a lifetime of full-time Christian service to the church, I have wondered at my curious position as someone apparently hoping against the odds. Am I tying myself to the bow of a sinking ship? Read more

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Large Things in Small Parishes

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 4:26-34

The Texas historian of a generation ago, Walter Prescott Webb, has a wonderful paragraph in his classic book, The Great Plains. He contrasts the West with the East in the raising of cattle and notices that even though the West raised fewer cattle than the farms of the East, it was the West that defines for us what cattle raising is all about.

Webb writes, “A thousand farms in the East will each have six or seven cows, with as many more calves and yearlings – ten thousand head. But they will attract no attention … In the West a ranch will cover perhaps the same area as the thousand farms, and will have perhaps ten thousand head, roundups, rodeos, men on horseback, and all that goes with ranching. … The East did a large business on a small scale; the West did a small business magnificently” (p. 227).

I like Webb and I like what he says. The romantic notion of ranches, big cattle drives, cowboys, horses, spurs jingling, dust blowing, with perhaps some rousing Elmer Bernstein music in the background is magnificent. Nevertheless, I am more taken with his line, “The East did a large business on a small scale.” It was the small farms that did the large business of raising cattle.

Webb’s line reminds me of one from the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas who wrote, “I was vicar of large things in a small parish.” It is a line, along with Webb’s, that keeps telling me of my vocation and the vocation of the church. Read more

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Rejecting the God Who Is

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Mark 3:20-35

Even those sympathetic to the cause of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were a bit shocked by the brazenness of the young organizer. President Johnson, the same president who would later sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, asked King to tone down the spectacle a bit—there were, after all, elections to be won and constituencies to satisfy.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain strength through the tactics of non-violent resistance, the establishment grew increasingly uncomfortable. White pastors across the South, in an attempt to keep the peace, appealed to King to be patient. Those with less sympathy to the cause of Civil Rights were quick to vilify and attack the calling and character of the preacher-King.

The great irony of all this was that it was taking place in the South, in the midst of one of America’s most deeply religious landscapes. In a time and place where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say ‘God is our King,’ or ‘Jesus is our Lord,’ the man whose life so clearly sought to resemble that Lord and King was vilified and ultimately silenced. Read more

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The Economy of God’s Redemption

Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

When I teach Christian Ethics, I try to compensate for my students’ general lack of theological literacy by taking them on a whirlwind tour of the biblical narrative. The main thing the Bible has to teach us, I often tell them, is who God is and what God is up to, with the latter showing us a lot about the former. What God is up to, I suggest, is some variation of the same thing he’s been up to since he approached Abram somewhere around 4,000 years ago: a work of healing, cosmic in its scope, in which (as some of the Ekklesia Project’s own literature points out), God’s called and gathered people are both recipients and partners.

This is the fundamental economy of God’s ongoing work to heal the brokenness of his beloved Creation. God calls regular folks, all of whom share in Creation’s brokenness, often profoundly so, and then empowers them, collectively and individually, to be embodied witnesses to God’s now-yet-coming reign. Read more

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The Advocacy of the Spirit

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Although this piece is about Pentecost, I am writing it on the Feast of the Ascension. This fact along with the Pentecost reading from Acts 2 brings Elijah to mind. Like Jesus, Elijah ascends into heaven. Unlike Jesus, he does not conquer death prior to his ascension. Like the followers of Jesus, Elijah has powerful experience of the Lord’s presence.

In 1Kings 19 Elijah has just accomplished the most powerful act of his prophetic ministry. On behalf of the one true God, Elijah has challenged the prophets of Baal, who enjoyed the favor of the king and queen. God vindicates Elijah’s bold fidelity and Elijah purges the prophets of Baal. Ahaz and Jezebel vow revenge; Elijah flees. He is now a fugitive from royal justice. This is an incredible reversal of fortune. This is not at all what Elijah anticipated or what he thought God had in store for him. Read more

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Two Christianities

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the Devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?” She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?”

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday mornings, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80 to 100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack into a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards. Read more

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What Is Love?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (15:17)

Love, love, love. All you need is love. Warm fuzzies! What is this longing in our hearts for togetherness? Is it not the sweetest flower? Love!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (15:12)

Um. As I have loved you?

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (15:13).

Ohhhhhhhh.That.

John reminds us that the kind of love Christians are called to embody takes a particular, cruciform shape. Read more

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Abiding Fruit

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

While admiring a tree in full bloom, Joseph Parker, a Congregational minister in Victorian England, noticed that under the wide-spreading branches there was a huge limb of the tree withering away. He realized that “the same sun that created the blossom was causing the tree branch to wither.”

To the living tree whose roots were struck into the earth the sun was giving life, but to the branch cut away, having nothing but itself to live upon, the sun was pouring down arrows of destruction. The great sun, so hospitably full of light, kind, friendly, was feeding, like a mother-nurse, the living tree, and was killing with pitiless fire the sundered branch.

“As is the double effect of light,” Parker says, “so is the double effect of truth” (Apostolic Life, vol. 1, p. 167).

Parker burns away any sentimentality in what is at stake in “abiding,” and in what “removal” and “pruning” entail. The purpose, after all, is fruit-bearing, which in John’s Gospel is described in Jesus’ response to the Gentiles’ request to see him: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). Read more