What Are You Preparing For?


Proper 14 (C)
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

If you’re planning on buying a winter place in Miami Beach, I wouldn’t advise it. It’s an island and the only thing on the rise there is the sea level. As Elizabeth Kolbert chronicled last fall in the New Yorker, when a super tide comes crashing in it floods the the lawns of million dollar homes and soaks sports cars in corrosive salt water. This is happening more and more. It will keep happening more and more.

The city of Miami Beach is, of course, working to correct the problem. They are looking to levees and pumps and all sorts of feats of modern engineering to keep business going and insurers from declaring the place uninsurable.

With enough pumps running, enough machines working, enough ingenuity and the sheer verve of the human spirit they will be able to beat this thing and keep going as they’ve been going. Unless, the water keeps rising. Unless, they’ve been basing their plans on a lie all along.

Those who want to save Miami Beach through more building and more pumps are like the people of Judah when Isaiah came to warn them of their ways. The fundamentals of their society had been corrupted and was unraveling as a result, but they kept on sacrificing in the temple, pretending that everything was just fine, God would keep them just as God always had. They had ceased to be in relationship with a living God, responsive and adaptive, and had become instead engineers of the sacred. As such, they had become idolaters, more interested in controlling the holy than in living in reverence of it. Read more

Photographer: Brad Coy (CC 2.0 License)

What We Owe

Luke 7:36-8:3 (Proper 6:Year C)

At one time I taught at a Christian high school where most kids were relatively well off and for the years I taught there I always worked in a discussion on privilege. The students would assure me that they were not privileged and that their parents weren’t either. “My dad built his business from scratch,” they’d say, or “my parents have worked hard for everything they’ve got.” The lines, rehearsed and repeated, were the same every time.

I’d lead them through a series of exercises and thought experiments that would help most, in the end, see their advantages—the head start, however hard the work, they had over many others from different backgrounds and races than their own. But I’d always leave a little sad, because since this was a Christian school it should have been one saturated in gratitude. These children had been firmly raised in the belief that salvation comes from Jesus, but they’d also been taught that everything else comes from hard work and the beneficence of the free market.

I thought of that time when I read the Gospel for this Sunday. It is a passage about gratitude and the hospitality that comes from it; about debt and the jubilee release of all debts. It is a profound study in vulnerability and knowing the truth about our selves.

Simon doesn’t know that he’s in debt. He enters the scene as someone confident that he is not a sinner, wondering in his mind how Jesus could not immediately know that this woman was someone who owes a debt to God and to society. Read more


Danger: Holy Ground

Third Sunday in Lent, Year C

Exodus 3:1-15

Psalm 63:1-8

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

I have two daughters; one is four, the other one. I am not a particularly anxious father, but it doesn’t take much to recognize the fragility of life, the many dangers that threaten it. There are cars, there are electrical sockets, there are long flights of stairs; there are hard things and sharp corners, there are choking hazards everywhere. The world is full of dangers and part of the process of growing up is learning the habits to avoid them.

“Don’t put that in your mouth.” “Don’t put your finger in that socket.” “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Watch for cars in the parking lot.”

We know these things; to avoid them feels instinctive…until we have children, until we realize much of our ability to avoid danger has been learned through teaching that ingrains these lessons in our bodies.

There are other dangers that even adults forget, whole peoples even. These dangers are subtle or incremental, but dangers all the same. Dangers like climate change and soil erosion, dangers for which our culture has not yet written a protective response in our bodies. Then there are dangers unlike any other dangers, ultimate dangers like God. Read more

Tilling and Keeping: A Report on Gathering 2014

In July we gathered to explore our call to “till and keep” the very good creation of God. Over 140 participants gathered in Chicago, traveling from California to New York.  There were a record number of first timers at the gathering this year—new friends that we hope will continue to join us. 

Our three plenary speakers guided our conversations at the gathering.  First was Norman Wirzba, who renewed our understanding of the very good creation and called us away from the language of “nature” that obscures our view of a world to which God has already given value.  Second, was Ched Myers who called us to learn our watersheds and place our discipleship within our local ecosystems. Third, we heard from Philip Bess who led us through an exploration of how we might imagine a city such as Chicago or the space of a church campus as a more human scaled and ecological space.  In addition to our plenary speakers we had a number of excellent workshops exploring climate conversations in the church, green burials, poetry, local activism, and craft.

As always worship was at the core of our time together.  We were led skillfully in music by David Butzu and heard powerful preaching from Jesse Shuman Larkins, Sally Youngquist, and Jim McCoy.  Debra Dean Murphy and Sharon Huey created beautiful liturgies that facilitated our common prayer and worship.

There were several new elements at the gathering this year.  Key among them was a film festival.  The festival kicked off Thursday night with a showing of an episode of the Showtime documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously” followed by a Q&A with Anna Jane Joyner, a preacher’s daughter turned climate activist who was featured in the episode.  On Friday, after enjoying a meal featuring a variety of locally grown and organic foods, we watched ten films submitted from a variety of communities from Christian colleges to churches.  Members of each community were on hand to personally share about the practices shown in the films.

Once again our time together served as a renewal of subversive friendships new and old.  We hope that the practices and reflections shared this year will bear fruit in the individual communities of all those who gathered.  To that end the audio from the workshops and plenaries is posted online.  There will also soon be a page featuring selections from the film festival and a pamphlet reflecting on creation care practices in the coming months.


Hating the Godfather

Proper 7, Year A

Matthew 10:24-39

The Godfather, the classic 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola, opens with a garden wedding at the family estate.  It is a homecoming for Michael Corleone, the favorite son who’s just returned from a tour in World War II and is enrolled at Dartmouth.  The picture is clear early on—Michael loves his family, but he doesn’t want to be a part of it.  The Corleones are a crime organization and they are as tight knit as they are patriarchal.  They have a culture all their own, an import of Sicilian semi-feudalism where powerful families are essentially rulers of small fiefdoms—thus the idea of the godfather.

Michael wants to live a more Americanized life with an American girl.  He wants to be a part of a different kind of social order than the one in which he was raised.  And yet the whole drama of the film is the dissolution of this ideal.  Michael is drawn back into the life of his family and its social order and realities.  He ends up replacing his father as the Godfather.  If only he had hated his father and mother, his sister and brother, a little more.

The teachings of Jesus we find in the Gospel reading for this Sunday are hard, unsettling verses. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus as some peace preaching proto-hippie with a sentence like Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If we are going to be Jesus followers we can’t hope to just all get along with the ways of the world.  Division and strife, Jesus tells us, will be the marks of the coming of his coming.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring peace by settling all of the social relationships of the day; he came to create a Kingdom in which authentic shalom—overwhelming peace and wellbeing—would be possible.

Jesus is following Jeremiah here in dismissing the kinds of peace that does not change the fundamental violence of the way things are.  “Everyone is greedy for unjust gain,” Jeremiah proclaims, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (6:13-14).  As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, “Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order.  ‘The family that prays together stays together’—but such sentiment cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.”

Jesus is calling for us to see God as our Father, the community of disciples as our brothers and sisters.  He is calling us to move into a different identity than the one we are given at birth by our family and our society.  We are a military family, we are a patriotic family, we are Southern family—these identities won’t stand.  Our only hope is that our biological family will join us in the new family of God.

Jesus is paraphrasing the verses of Micah 7:6 in this teaching on the strife that will come to families.  This is part of a passage in which Micah is describing the dissolution of society.  It is there that he speaks of the break down of the family, but his response isn’t to say lets work on restoring family values and teaching kids to respect their parents.  Instead, Micah goes on to say, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (7:7).  In other words, the solution to the break down of society isn’t to restore and reaffirm the social order.  It is instead to have our lives reordered by God.

So what does this look like for us?  Jesus certainly isn’t instructing us to go start a fight with our parents or pick a conflict with our brothers or sisters.  He is only calling on us to enter into his way and life, to join the family of God.  If we do that he is simply warning, strife will come and you will have to bear your cross.  It might be that we choose to leave a corrupt family business or one that works to destroy the world, it could be that we find that we have to quit our jobs because of its exploitation of people or the creation, it could be that by simply living a life that doesn’t worship money we find that others take offense.  The conflicts aren’t ours to choose, they are simply the admission price of following the Prince of Peace into his eternal, just and beautiful Kingdom.

If you want to see the alternative just watch The Godfather Trilogy.  In the end Michael Corleone dies a violent, lonely death—his soul and body broken.  What life could he have had if he had chosen a different kind of belonging, if he had chosen to live for God rather than the Godfather?