Dressed in Something New

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 22:1-14

Sunday evenings, I help set the tables for the urban dinner church where I am the community coordinator. In our small congregation, anyone is welcome, and often anyone comes. At our tables, those who might not usually set foot in a church for a multitude of reasons find their way in for a warm meal and a cool respite from the Houston heat and humidity. At the table, we find friendship, and get to hear the good story. As our pastor says week after week, “All are welcome here – believers, skeptics, sinners, saints. All are welcome at Christ’s table.” Read more

Look, I See the Heavens Opened

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

 One way of reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is to understand it as a story about theological imagination, and how it is we come to envision the world rightly.

At the center of this story is a nameless child who, being rather remarkable in her imaginative capacities, manages to see beyond the ordinary around her to a world shot through with importance and the work of the Spirit.

In one particularly poignant passage, she’s considering freaks in the freak-show at the fair, and understands them to be martyrs, supposing that what the adult tents contain must be about medicine. She decides she’ll be a doctor, but then reconsiders, thinking she’ll be a saint, but even that doesn’t fit, for she knows her sins. As the story goes,

“She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick. She could stand to be shot but not to be burned in oil. She didn’t know if she could stand to be torn to pieces by lions or not. She began to prepare her martyrdom, seeing herself in a pair of tights in a great arena, lit by the early Christians hanging in cages of fire, making a gold dusty light that fell on her and the lions. The first lion charged forward and fell at her feet, converted. A whole series of lions did the same. The lions liked her so much she even slept with them and finally the Romans were obliged to burn her but to their astonishment she would not burn down and finding she was hard to kill, they finally cut off her head very quickly with a sword and she went immediately to heaven. She rehearsed this several times, returning each time at the entrance of Paradise to the lions.”[1]

This kind of imaginative vision stretches beyond herself to the world around her. Where some see freaks, she sees temples of the Holy Ghost. Read more

Embracing Place

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


What will I do? What
will I do without exile, and a long night
that stares at the water?

-Mahmoud Darwish, from “Who Am I, Without Exile?”

What is exile in American culture? What is home?

The way we might define both perhaps differs dramatically from how they might have been defined a century ago, or how they are still defined in cultures less marked by our infatuation with transience. To know exile, we must first know home, and we are arguably a culture of non-places. With mobility a marker supposedly for our freedom, we fall too often for the lie that transience is the path to transcendence.

We have perhaps embraced the nomadic as a symbol of what it means to be successful. What is the old adage we use about our gain of influence? We say that we’re “going places,” or “on our way to the top.” Ambition feeds the lure of mobility, and we are tempted to take as normal the illusion that human beings are free agents, untethered from the constraints of place and earth.

Lest I seem to be launching a curmudgeonly critique which might merely fan the flames of nostalgia for a different time, let me note how this is for me confession. I am a prime example of the impulse toward mobility: In my fifteen-ish years of adulthood, I’ve made nine interstate moves, and have lived in seventeen different apartments or living arrangements. As I write this, it doesn’t seem possible that these numbers can be true – and yet they are.

And I am not alone. Read more