Science, Church Signs, and the Hope We See

Proper 14, Year A

Matthew 14:22-33

I have long been a fan of the church marquee.  I don’t generally pay attention to the service times or the pastor’s name written large; what I look for is a good word, a funny saying, some pithy call to the Christian life.  I am, of course, often disappointed.  Some jokes fall flat, some scriptures are ripped from their contexts, and often the theology is an abuse of all that is good and beautiful about our faith.  But often enough the signs are just right.

I recently saw a few online that gave me laugh or at least a humored groan: “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.”  Or “Adam and Eve, the first people to not read the Apple terms and conditions.” Or “This too shall pass, it might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”

As I drove past a church in my city, I recently saw a LED marquee with the message: “We are praying for scientists that they may find a vaccine.”  There was something in that message that didn’t sit well with me, a problem that I couldn’t quite articulate.  It wasn’t that I am against scientific inquiry or that I think praying for scientists or even a vaccine is a bad idea.  Much of my own life has been formed by scientific modes of understanding, I once even imagined that science would be my career.  I often read books written by scientists and I own a microscope, telescope, and dissecting kit with which I engage in my own explorations of the world, often with my children, whom I encourage to pursue knowledge through scientific means. But still, I had some sense that there was another message the church should have been offering. Read more

The Witness of Scars

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

John 20:19-31

I’ve been going outside a lot lately, finding my kin and connection with the creation that I can embrace with no worry of shared infection. I’ve been watching birds, many now migrating to their Summer homes from far south to far north. I’ve been learning to identify butterflies and exploring their fascinating interconnections with plants. And I have been paying attention to trees, watching a wide variety of oaks sprout in my yard from the places they were planted by squirrels and jays.

One of the beautiful things I’ve come to recognize about trees are their scars. Look closely at any of them and you will see some evidence of the life they’ve lived–a branch shorn off by a browsing deer, a crown pierced by lightning, the enclosure of bark around an insect attack. So much of the experience of a tree is there, evident on its body, available as a witness that life keeps going.

The witness of trees has been helpful to me in this time when COVID19 has kept me away from so many I love. What a strange Holy Week, to worship in an empty church and preach into a webcam! I usually come to Easter Monday worn out, but this year I felt more depressed than tired. I missed the many bells and alleluias ringing out on Easter vigil and it just wasn’t the same lighting the Paschal fire, when its flame could not be passed, candle to candle, throughout the church. This time is like a cut on a tree trunk, a damaging pain with sap oozing to the surface. Read more

Allegiance or Admiration?

Third Sunday After Epiphany

Isaiah 9:1-4

Matthew 4:12-23

I am generally protected by my choice of media from the glamour and gossip side of the news. I don’t consume all that much of it and what news I read and hear is limited, mostly, to the websites of the established newspapers or the carefully worded renderings of NPR. But on occasion a story that is clearly the domain of the grocery store magazine rack makes its way even to the most serious news outlets. Such has been the case with “Megxit,” the leaving behind of the British royal family by Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle.

There is just something about royalty that worm its way through even the most disciplined journalistic standard. Perhaps it comes from our childhoods where all the best stories are replete with kingdoms and palaces. There just aren’t that many fairy tails, ancient or modern, about the deliberations of democracy.

Perhaps our curiosity about formally recognized royals is also born from the truth that we are all in fact kings and queens of a kind, with power over a realm all our own. As the philosopher and spiritual teacher Dallas Willard has put it, “Every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’–or a ‘queendom,’ or a ‘government’–a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.”

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Hope Without Pretending

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentacost

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.
– Ian Hamilton Finlay

The novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen seems to have a talent for roiling the opiners of contemporary culture. Whether it is his disdain for social media or his dismissal of shallow environmentalism, Franzen can write what seems like a subdued and reasoned essay and invite a flurry of blog posts in response, such as a recent piece on the webpage of Scientific American that was intelligently titled: “Shut up, Franzen.” It’s a prophet’s fate to invite such reaction and I think Franzen has the prophet’s gift of speaking uncomfortable words. His most recent essay to such effect was a piece in the New Yorker titled “What if We Stopped Pretending?” Read more

Answering Tyrants and Their Tweets

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

“You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness
against the godly all day long?…
You love all words that hurt,
O you deceitful tongue.”   -Psalm 52:1,4

“Be like an astute businessman: make stillness be your criterion for testing the value of everything and choose always what contributes to it.” -Evagrius

No preacher can read Psalm 52 this week, with its condemnation of a tyrant that loves “lying more than speaking truth” and “words that hurt,” without thinking of Donald Trump and the latest of his racist outrages.  Add to that Amos, who receives an oracle that condemns a people of religious pretenders more interested in economic exploitation and power than goodness, and we have a scriptural witness that seems tailored for our time.

But in reading the whole of our scriptures for Sunday, I cannot help but think that there is “a better part” that we must choose—a stance that begins with Amos’s call to “be silent,” continues in the example of the green olive tree in Psalm 52, and rests with Mary’s listening at the feet of the Lord.

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