Overcoming Epistemology

Trinity Sunday


Psalm 8

…one God, the one beginning of all things, the wisdom by which every soul is wise, and the gift by which all things blessed are blessed…the Trinity of one substance…the beginning to which we return, the form (or pattern) we follow after, the grace by which we are reconciled…the one God whose creation gives us life, through whose re-forming we live wisely, by the love and enjoyment of whom live blessedly.” – Augustine, Retractions

The doctrine of the Trinity can present itself as quite an intellectual puzzle, perhaps especially to the monotheistic believer, and it is therefore rightly called a “mystery.” However, attending to Trinitarian orthodoxy and its implication of us and God can bring spiritual renewal, when we first make ourselves aware of certain habits of thought we moderns possess that render the Trinity a moral and intellectual “problem.” Read more

Where in the World?

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17 (25-27)

One of my prized possessions is a cassette recording of Thomas Merton lecturing his fellow monks at their Kentucky monastery during Advent of 1964. He tells them that we must come to see that Christianity exists in history, and that we have to see Advent in terms of contemporary history. He details some then-current events: the shootings and killings in Mississippi, the war in Rhodesia. Then he says, “Pious meditations on how rough Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus had it are meaningless unless I have some response to the sufferings in the flesh today. Events are manifesting a reality which is present. We’re living in Advent. What’s happening around us is the Advent liturgy of 1964.”

Merton’s words shed light on every season of the church year. In this case, they raise the question of the difference between mere pious mediations on the early disciples gathered at the festival in Jerusalem and the events that indicate we are living in Pentecost. In seeking an answer, we do well to remember John Howard Yoder’s caution against reading “the surface of history,” that is, making simplistic connections between current news reports and the mysteries of what God is up to in the world. But with that due caution, what is the 2013 Pentecost liturgy? Each appointed Scripture text provides not only a lens through which to see the world but also a unique focus on the gift of the Spirit.

In Acts 2, the out-pouring of the Spirit is a dazzling convergence of Passover and Pentecost, signs and wonders that extend God’s message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. The coming of the Spirit crosses countless barriers, and, in Augustine’s words, “gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages.” Where in the world is that happening? Read more

Ascension and Embrace

The Feast of the Ascension
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24: 44-53

Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.                 

                                                                            John Donne, Ascension

I was puzzling over what to write here when across my Facebook newsfeed came the story of a New Englander (a “Yale grad” the headline noted) who has offered a burial plot for the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Three weeks after Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police, and with no cemetery willing to receive his remains, Douglas Keene of Vermont made the offer to Tsarnaev’s family on the condition that it be done

in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to ‘love thine enemy.’

It is surprising how surprising Keene’s simple, straightforward gesture seems. But it strikes me that part of its beauty is that it invites us to remember what crucifixion-resurrection-ascension make possible:  the overcoming of our violence and our need to scapegoat and exclude. In Jesus’ living and dying, in his rising from death and his ascension into heaven, a new social order is opened up to us–God’s new creation–in which enemies are loved and we are free to relinquish the cherished fiction of our innocence.

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Our Place Redeemed

Sixth Sunday in Easter

John 14:23-29
Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

In our contemporary world, it is difficult to belong. We are so busy and on the move, it seems to be better to keep commitments to a minimum. 20% to 30% of all Americans move each year and the average American moves fourteen times over a lifetime. Poet, essayist, and editor of Poetry magazine Christian Wiman remembers that when he was thirty-six years old, he had moved forty times in fifteen years. He said he owned nothing that would not fit easily into his car. When talking about this with some friends, all of whom were in their twenties and thirties, all smart, well-educated and upwardly mobile, they compared notes and realized that between them they had lived in every state and dozens of foreign countries. Not one person lived near where they were born and raised and none of them ever asked anyone else where they’re from, “skirting the question as if it were either too intimate or, more likely, too involved to broach.”

We are a society that believes in being mobile – people with no sense of belonging to a place or to anyone else but themselves and who can pick up and move whenever the corporation, the job, the career demands it. Read more

Believing and Proclaiming

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Sharing a household with beloved in-laws who watch TV regularly and don’t hear as well as I do, I have learned to turn away from a blasting televisions, as it strives to capture my attention with its show of urgency or of overwhelming sensation. Yesterday afternoon was somewhat of an exception. When my dear mother in law instructed me in a whisper to ‘turn on the TV’—she was on the phone at the time—I felt a sense of foreboding. As I pondered the clicker, I felt caught between my habit of flatly refusing such invitations to be informed—a habit rooted in a general distrust that what the TV anchors would express as urgent truly was—and a nagging sense that I could be neglecting a civic duty by not paying attention to the story. I turned it on long enough to get the gist of what happened at the Boston marathon, before turning my attention back to playing with my five year old daughter. Read more