This week we begin the all-too-short journey toward Advent, that season when the Church’s prayer is the urgent and expectant: “Come, Lord Jesus.” For most folks, the Advent hymns and prayers invoking Emmanuel, God-with-us, conjure up domesticated images of babies, a glowing virgin mother, and churches gathered to sing carols and raise candles high into the air. These are comfortable images for us. We like to be in control of our lives and our futures—and this Christmas story is one that we’ve long had our hands on. Jesus the baby does not threaten us. And so, because we’ve already got this part of the story down pat, we use these 4 weeks of Advent to do more important things – like shop, cook, clean, and party. We’ve got Advent under control; we could do the season on auto-pilot. Yes, Come Lord Jesus, so we can finally open our presents. Read more
It seems that wherever you turn these days the buzz word on the street is “leadership.” The failure of the financial market, when not being blamed on minorities or the poor, is blamed on a failure of leadership in government and industry. For too long the standard of worth for CEOs and economic strategists has been a cut-throat measure of greed and self-interest. In the religious world, too, the decline in attendance and influence of mainline congregations and denominations has been attributed to a lack of effective pastoral leadership. Books filled with strategies and tactics (Is there really a difference?) on the subject of effective leadership fill the shelves of bookstores, both sacred and secular, with the promise that the right organization and charisma can lead even a failed organization or congregation strongly into the future. Read more
A few years ago, I was a passenger in a car that was in a minor accident in a local shopping center parking lot. Both cars, the one I was in as well as the one that sideswiped us, were traveling at an appropriate parking lot speed of about 2 mph. The collision, which put a fairly large dent in the front fender of my friend’s car and a crack in the front headlight on the other car, resulted in no injuries, no irreparable damage, and certainly no more pain and suffering than that of having to sit in the Wal-Mart parking lot for an hour in the middle of December while the police report was filed. As an adult passenger in one of the vehicles, I was, of course, asked for my license and a brief statement to corroborate the story of the two drivers. Being that it was my first real traffic accident to speak of, I had no idea what to expect after that point.
Imagine my surprise when, on each of the following three days, I arrived home from school to find my mailbox absolutely overwhelmed with offers from local law offices pandering for my business. Read more
When I read the Ascension texts for today (or this upcoming Sunday if you are in a Protestant tradition that celebrates the Ascension on the following Sunday), my tendency is to immediately jump to the conclusion of Luke’s report in Acts 1 when the angels appear to ask the disciples: “Why do you stand looking up at heaven?” I hear in this question an affirmation of my own need for action—the angels are telling those disciples to get on with it already. There is work to be done witnessing, proclaiming, releasing the captives, caring for the sick, and forgiving enemies, among other things! Read more
“Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” — John 9:40-41
When I was in seminary, one of the questions that we were instructed to ask ourselves in any ministerial context was: “Where and who are the invisible people?” This question was intended to help us to find those people in every community that are out of sight and out of mind to so many in the church and to ask the crucial questions about why they had been relegated to the margins and pushed “out of sight.” I was in a meeting recently when someone critiqued this language of invisibility. Invisibility, she argued, indicates that there is something inherent to the person or group of people that makes them unseen. The real issue is not that they are invisible, but that we are blind to them. These people and communities exist, materially and concretely, in plain sight—but those of us who inhabit our middle class, mostly Anglo, mainline society are able to live our lives comfortably pretending as if those on the margins do not exist. Read more