DEATH BANQUET

Take Comfort

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a

A week ago Saturday, I heard myself mumble “so much for Thanksgiving.” We gathered with new friends, a family in many respects the mirror image of our own, and we had eaten like princes, albeit a feast we (or, certain among us) had a significant role in preparing. The people Jaimee and I once mentioned we should incorporate into our celebration for fear they had nowhere else to go conveniently dropped out of mind in the later stages of planning. Our habit of pondering how good it would be to reach out to the lonely has not yet become a skill for making it happen. Or, perhaps, such skills are subject to perpetual atrophy.

It may be that my Thanksgiving dinner, however sumptuous, unsettled me because of what I was bringing to the table. Instead of the labor of lovingly preparing food together with others, during the days leading up to the holiday, I was sequestered with my computer grading papers, worrying about what my students and colleagues were thinking of my performance during the first months on the job. The pear cobbler that likely evoked shared experiences for those who worked together in its preparation, for me was just a delicious thing to be consumed. Forgetfulness of the lonely, lack of preparation and crude (unsocial) desires for comfort food: “three strikes,” I hear the umpire say, “you’re out!”

Comfort… Read more

Deadly Distractions

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:1-14

On a recent morning, after listening to my wife read the gospel passage where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet, my mind, distracted by a crying child and the anticipation of a day of teaching, was able only to form a somewhat vague prayer: “Lord, help us to discern the kingdom of heaven, and to turn our hearts towards it.” Read more

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

Something to Do

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-27
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

A couple of weeks ago our family moved about 180 miles south and east to Dayton, OH, In the spring, I had been offered and accepted a job teaching Christian ethics to business students at the University of Dayton. I have been out of full time work for two years.

To get this job was a homecoming: I was now “Lecturer in Christian Ethics” at a good university. What’s more, in coming to this position I am being welcomed by friends—friends associated with the EP, as it happens. Who I am, what I have to offer, has been affirmed by persons who know something of me. Given the specific nature of the position, I was being affirmed not only for what I had done, but for what they believed I could do. Read more

Coming In, Going Out

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:36-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Theologian David McCarthy, in a recent book on the Communion of Saints, puts forward the notion of “social desire.” “Our social desire,” he writes, “is our desire for shared life. It is a desire for a meaningful life. It is a desire and hope that my everyday endeavors do not stop with me, that who I am as son, brother, friend, father, theologian, neighbor and coach does not end with how it makes me feel…” Rather, he avers, social desire seeks connection with others in a metaphysical framework that orients us socially, makes us whole in community.

The Communion of Saints, he claims, embodies the kinship, with others and God, that grounds us cosmically. McCarthy’s words seem to me an explication of these terse few lines from Acts 2, which describe the openness and sharing of the post-Pentecost church. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all each according to each one’s need.”

If social desire is so basic, and Luke’s church embodies it so well, why do I find it so difficult, sitting or kneeling or standing in church of a Sunday, to open myself to God and fellow members? Read more