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

Bearers of Good News

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
John 1:6-8, 19-28

It’s an apology we’ve heard (and possibly uttered) so many times that it has become cliché: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but….” Yet, while many hackneyed old chestnuts have at their heart some measure of truth, I think that this one, at least in the world where we currently live, rings false, insofar as it stands in stark contrast to the spirit of our time. The fact is, many people take a certain delight in being the bearers of bad news. We occupy a cultural and political climate that is positively rife with bad news, of innumerable varieties. From salacious narratives of men behaving badly to the often extravagant failures of individuals and institutions in power to a constant catalog of taboos and norms that those in power are stomping on with every passing day, there is no shortage of bad news to report. Read more

Who’s in Charge?

For anyone who spends any amount of time listening to our national conversation (if we can call it that), whether tuning into more traditional forms of media or wading into the facebook/twittersphere –where there is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed–it should be painfully obvious that we, as a people, have a hard time with authority. Not just with obeying authority, an issue that we have always wrestled with. We also have a very difficult time discerning authority, knowing how to recognize authority, and ascribing authority to all the wrong things and people. Thus, we allow our actions and words, the practices we embrace and the stories we tell, to be shaped by this confusion. Recent debates over flags and anthems, standing and kneeling, free speech and censorship, demonstrate that we don’t even have a common language for discussing these matters, let alone common convictions about what God’s people should do when confronted by competing, and sometimes mutually exclusive, claims to authority. We argue endlessly over who is in charge, when deep down inside we all want to be in charge. Read more