The Naked Emperor and the Foolishness of the Cross

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:14-29

There is a single light in the room, twin giraffes holding up the bulb beneath the shade. My daughters are in bed, their heads appearing from beneath the covers. I sit in an easy chair in the corner and read: “Many years ago, there was an Emperor who was so very fond of new clothes…” This classic tale, captured and known to us through Hans Christian Andersen, is the story of an Emperor who is taken in by con-artists who weave a cloth they say is visible only to the intelligent. No one can see the cloth, of course, because there is no cloth to be seen, but no one will admit it because they buy the lie and do not want to be seen as unworthy. They all keep the illusion going until one day the emperor goes parading naked through the streets, followed by his royal court holding the train of his non-existent new clothes. No one in the city will admit that they do not see the clothes until a child, in his innocence, exclaims: “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” And in that innocent exclamation the spell is broken as the people begin to say, “Listen to the voice of the child!” The Emperor, still caught up in the lie, keeps going, walking on in his underwear. Read more

From Confusion to Conspiracy

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-31

There’s a conspiracy at work, undermining the institutions of power, subverting politics, threatening the markets, turning the tables on all those who feel secure in the status quo.

It’s a conspiracy that began long ago, behind locked doors. It started in the fear of those early disciples who were thrown into confusion by the cross. Their leader was dead. It looked like that was that. But now the word was spreading that somehow Jesus is back from the grave, that what God did for Lazarus, God now did for Jesus–that even death couldn’t contain this life that had come into the world in all its abundance. Read more

Learning to Forage

First Sunday After Epiphany
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 4:1-11
The trail descends from the pavement above, concrete giving way to packed mud, quartz, and shale, roots running here and there across the path. Below the trail, the ground slopes, settling into a creek that eventually flows to the Arkansas river. Throughout the late summer, and well into the fall, this slope would be pocked by the orange trumpets of chanterell mushrooms, fruiting from the unseen mycelium below the surface of the soil. On our weekly walks in the woods, my daughters would compete for the privlege of cutting them from their stems, collecting them in the cloth bags we’d brought for the purpose.

This was one of my family’s first attempts at foraging, going for the ready pickings of easily identified mushrooms that no one else seemed to be harvesting in our local urban woodland. There was something delightful about gathering food each week from the forrest floor, food that we’d done nothing to earn other than noticing its ripeness for the taking. My small exercise in gathering was a reminder both of the abundance of the world and of the reality that the best things available are not what we can buy, but what we can accept as gifts. Read more

Come and Look

Easter 6, Year A

Acts 17:22-31

John 14:15-21

Do you have a dog and do you walk her?  Or a child?  A walk with a child or a dog can be an exercise in frustration.  Dogs and children don’t walk in straight paths, they meander, zig zag, go up and down, stop and start.  This can be a problem if you have a destination in mind, if you want to get somewhere, but if you want to see?  A walk with a dog or a child can open up whole new modes of perception.

This is the truth that Alexandra Horowitz writes about in her book On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to Observation.  Horowitz, a cognitive scientist by trade, takes walks with eleven experts, each one helping her to see the journey in a different way.  From a geologist and a sound designer, a dog and a child, and a host of other curious observers Horowitz learns to see her Manhattan neighborhood in whole new ways, noticing what she’d long ignored, seeing what she’d never been able to perceive, all because someone came alongside her and showed her what had always been there.

On those walks Horowitz writes: “I would find myself at once alarmed, delighted, and humbled at the limitations of my ordinary looking. My consolation is that this deficiency of mine is quite human. We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.”

Horowitz sounds like the prophet Isaiah when he proclaims the message of God:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’ (6:9) Read more

Given Lives in a Given World

Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

Matthew 5:38-48

In his essay, “Two Economies,” writer and farmer Wendell Berry recounts an exchange with his friend Wes Jackson.  The two were struggling to come up with an economy that would more appropriately value what is valuable since the money economy was clearly failing on that account.  Berry suggested that perhaps an economy based on energy rather than money would be more comprehensive, but Jackson rejected that measure as still too small.  Frustrated, Berry asked Jackson what economy would be large enough.  Jackson replied, “the Kingdom of God.”

As we work through the Sermon on the Mount we find Jesus in the role of the new Moses, on the new Sinai, teaching God’s people the renewed Law.  The instructions offered are how these people gathered as Jesus’s disciples should enter into the reality of heaven—the place where God’s will is done.  Read more