Identity Politics

First Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Luke 4:1-13

This time of year, especially every fourth year, we find ourselves in the US of A faced with representatives of the powers and principalities of this world. They offer to order the nation around things we most want – psychological safety, economic security, access to “someone like me” brokering power – in exchange for allegiance symbolized by a vote. Some even cite Scripture (or attempt to) to make their case, ostensibly as a proxy for shared identity and commitments with a desired bloc of voters.

It’s not so different a scenario from the story that confronts Christians this time of year, every year on the first Sunday in Lent. Jesus is faced with a representative of the powers and principalities of this world who offers authority in exchange for allegiance. The devil even cites Scripture to make his case – for what it’s worth, more accurately than most of the presidential candidates – as part of his test of Jesus’ freshly baptized identity. Read more

Make Peace

Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:68-79
Luke 3:1-6

I’d bet that many of you, like me, keep a to-do list or three to prepare for the Christmas season. It’s busy, with priority to any of the following in a given week: light stringing, card sending, cookie baking, tree decorating, gift shopping/wrapping/exchanging, party hosting, open house attending, feasting with friends/family/colleagues. There might even be a few extra church services on the calendar and a parade or two.

In the second week of our liturgical season of preparation (Advent), Luke gives us opportunity to consider who we prepare for and the implications for Christians located in a consumer capitalist, xenophobic, racist, increasingly oligarchic 21st-century nation-state that glorifies violence (have you sung the National Anthem lately?).

Zechariah, priest and prophet, proclaims that his son, John, is Jesus’ opening act. He’ll “go before the Lord to prepare his ways,” i.e. forgiveness, mercy, light, and peace. (1:76-79)

Peace. It’s a welcome word for a world rife with violence, fear, oppression, terror. The global catalogue of injustice and brutality is lamentable and long and lengthening. You no doubt can add to it examples from your own community, household, or congregation. Read more

Truth Telling and Race in the “United” States

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Ephesians is written to the ekklesia, the gathering, a “new humanity” in which dividing walls are broken down through Christ’s submission-to/assumption-of the state’s bone-breaking violence in his own body. This passage advocates truth-telling for the upbuilding of Christian community so that we are transformed by and participate in God’s character revealed in Christ: self-sacrificing love for the sake of others.

I offer a truth that is not new or of my own thought, but I believe it will continue to be a (perhaps, the) primary challenge for the church as it fleshes out this calling in this country at this time.

The church abjectly fails to embody the beloved community as long as it recapitulates racial divisions inherent in the culture in which it’s situated. Read more

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

Words

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
John 2:13-22
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I have an almost two year-old friend, Azalea, who is stringing sentences together into increasingly complex stories. A most recent tale that Azalea tells involves Muppet, her cat, sitting in Azalea’s yogurt. Said story is followed by a big little-girl grin, not only because she gets tickled recounting it, but also because she has learned that she can evoke a similar response in other people. She looks for her audience to understand and react to what she says, and she delights in it. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of her conversation.

Although she can’t put words to the concept yet, Azalea is quickly learning that language is power. Words shape reality and emotion. Deployed well and with care, words are a means of grace that create and foster connection: making possible conversation, defining the contours of experience and feeling, offering the ability to acknowledge vulnerability, make commitments, name and address injustices, admit wrong and heal wounds.

Such is the power of words that the early church designated the 40 days of Lent as time necessary to prepare catechists to understand and respond to the words/questions that would be asked of them at their Easter baptism. Read more