By the Sea, on the Road

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-6(7-20)
John 21:1-19

A few years ago, my wife Lisa and three young kids joined me for the first time at the EP Gathering in Chicago, making a family vacation of it. During the time we spent in that metropolis, we took in some museums, visited Lake Michigan, and saw the fish at the aquarium. It was a busy few days. But of all the things we did, simply getting around might have been the most stressful. For kids used to walking down the sidewalks of Erwin, Tennessee (population 8,000), attempting to navigate the hustle and bustle of a city of millions was a new experience altogether, and as a parent, it was important to me to make sure they did it safely. It was up to me and Lisa to take their hands when we came to a busy intersection. It was up to me and Lisa to speak clearly and sometimes firmly as we gave instructions about how we were going to catch a bus or hop on a train before the doors closed.

Throughout those few days in Chicago, our chief responsibilities as parents were to keep everyone together and to keep everyone safe. The kids’ chief responsibilities were simply to trust us, to listen to us, and of course, to obey us. It’s hard to be an adult sometimes. But it’s hard to be a kid, too. Responsibility is hard. So is dependence. And for those of us called to follow Christ, living in that tension is sometimes the hardest thing of all. Read more

The Witness of the Vulnerable

Presentation of the Lord
Psalm 84
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40
In a 2016 interview, Peter Mommsen, the editor of Plough, posed a question to Stanley Hauerwas about the campaign for the acceptance of euthanasia and its connection to a desire for control. In response, Hauerwas said, “I say that in a hundred years, if Christians are identified as people who do not kill their children or the elderly, we will have done well. Because that’s clearly coming.” Hauerwas’ words, which have been oft-quoted in the two years since, have been on my mind in the past couple of weeks, as the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. and policy discussions in New York and Virginia have thrust the issue of abortion, always a prevalent topic, into the spotlight of social media and other contexts of debate. In the midst of a discussion that can be so inescapably polarizing, Hauerwas’ words remind us, as followers of Jesus, that so much of our witness and so much of our identity hinges on how we value—not just in word, but in deed—the most vulnerable among us. Read more

Surprised by Beauty

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21

For those who attended the EP Summer Gathering earlier this month, the occasion provided the opportunity to spend a few days worshiping together, cultivating friendships, and reflecting on the importance of beauty for the church. Throughout the gathering, especially as I listened to Scott Cairns’ plenary talk on Sacramental Poetics, I found myself giving thanks for the people in my life who continually draw my attention to the beauty all around me. Among the many influences who have taught me about beauty and challenged me to grow in my understanding of what is beautiful and true, it should come as no surprise, are the people I share my life with on a daily basis—my wife and my children. In particular, my youngest son, who is five years old, reminds me regularly what it might look to live in a state of wonder at the beauty of the everyday. Read more

Driving Force

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

As most readers of the book of Acts learn very early on, any perception of this document as a utopian vision of a pristine church is severely misguided. While it is clear that the Christian community in those earliest days and months and years following Christ’s resurrection experienced triumphant and powerful highs the likes of which it has rarely seen in the centuries since, those early followers of Jesus also experienced crushing defeats. For every day of Pentecost there was a trial before the Sanhedrin. For every healing, there was an imprisonment. For every Barnabas, deemed the “Son of Encouragement,” there is an Ananias or Sapphira, trying to pull a fast one not only on the Christian community, but on the Holy Spirit. Read more

No Ground for Boasting

We’re currently in the midst of one of our most enduring cultural liturgies—awards season. With the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, the Grammys this past Sunday, and the Oscars on the horizon, along with a slew of other, less publicized events, this is the time of year when the titans of the entertainment industry gather to honor the achievements of their peers. They will gather for lavish meals. They will hand out trophies. They will make speeches. They will tell inside jokes and laugh loudly at one another’s scripted attempts at humor. They will raise their glasses to their fellow artists and smile insincerely when their colleagues win an honor that they themselves were passed over for.

While we may be somewhat used to this annual ritual, I think that if an spaceship were to land outside of such an awards ceremony, and a group of aliens were able to look in on what was transpiring, it would probably strike them as fairly odd. For all the glitz and glamour and emotion that seems to be bound up in these events, for all the ink spilled by critics and entertainment journalists about who should and shouldn’t win these awards, these shows are ultimately an opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back. Each ceremony is little more than a roomful of beautiful and wealthy people telling one another what a great job they’re doing. And this year, with the spate of revelations about the predatory misuses of power and influence among the upper echelons of Hollywood, these opportunities for self-congratulation seem a bit awkward, if not completely hollow. Read more