Benedict and Jeremiah

Two very public, very controversial religious leaders have addressed the nation in as many weeks and the differences between them couldn’t be more striking. Pope Benedict, during his stateside visit earlier this month, spoke the truth about American Catholicism with equal parts commendation and critique. His humility and shy grace were evident in his speeches and sermons and in his carriage and demeanor (all of which was a little disconcerting to those who remember when his public persona—fair or not—was that of the rigid, humorless Cardinal Ratzinger).

Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, has come out swinging. In a series of increasingly hostile speeches he has assumed the pose of the put-upon, the tragically misunderstood. At first he had a point: reducing thirty years of sermons to thirty seconds of incendiary sound bites was irresponsible and misleading and did serious damage to Wright himself, to Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations, and to the (multivalent) tradition of black preaching in America. Read more

Prayer Pet Peeves

abstract image of person prayingWorking, as I do, in low-church Methodism in the South, I’m called upon regularly, in a variety of contexts, to offer extemporaneous prayers. I also frequently hear others—both clergy and laity— pray “on the fly.”

Extemporaneous prayers can be as varied in substance and style as those who offer them, but I have to say that the longer I am in this setting where extemporaneous prayers are valued as “authentic” and “heart-felt,” while historic, liturgical, or other written prayers are subject to suspicion or seen as a crutch for the less articulate (how ridiculous), the more I long to retreat to a corner somewhere, cover my head (and ears), and pray the rosary. Read more

Suffering and Abundance

an abstract picture of Christ“When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Any time sheep are mentioned in the Bible people sometimes go a little soft in the head, inflicting a nursery-rhyme cuteness on stories and images that often have a political, subversive edge. This Sunday’s passage from John’s gospel should give us pause if we are tempted toward such silliness. The text is cryptic, even a little caustic, and it’s not at all about sheep, but about deceivers who pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting. Read more

The Road to Exile

a road sign indicates curves in the road aheadIt isn’t likely that the text from 1 Peter will take center stage in many sermons this Sunday, but in thinking through all of the day’s appointed readings—their particular concerns and their possible associations, it’s not a bad place to begin. For one thing, we read portions of 1 Peter for several consecutive Sundays during Easter of Year A in the common lectionary, passages which constitute something of an Easter catechesis for the great fifty days. But more than that, the letter’s theme of “exile” gives us a useful framework for interpreting our own life and witness in light of the familiar Road to Emmaus story. Read more

Do You Believe in the Resurrection?

women at the tomb see risen ChristThere were doubt and struggle on that first Easter morning and in the days and weeks that followed. But doubt and struggle were not obstacles to faith; they were its necessary precondition.

Throughout history and into our own time there have been persons on a mission to “prove” the resurrection as historical fact, and there have been others intent on disproving it. Last spring, CNN aired a special program called “What Is A Christian?” It was predictable and disappointing in ways that these sorts of shows almost always are: The earnest host, the likable Anderson Cooper, introduced segments about healing, global warming, miracles in the Bible, and then believers were pitted against non-believers, persons of faith against skeptics and naysayers, the would-be “provers” against those intent to disprove. Read more