Strangers and Other Gifts

“Hospitality” is an overused word in our culture. We speak of the hospitality “industry,” a 3.5 trillion dollar service sector of the global economy. “Hospitality management” is now offered as a degree program in most colleges and universities.

For many people, hospitality is exercised primarily as a form of social entertaining: magazines like Southern Living set impossible standards for home décor, flower arranging, menu planning, and so on. The people we invited into our well-scrubbed homes to sit at our perfectly-set tables and eat our carefully-prepared dinners (meant to impress more than to nourish) are usually people of our own socioeconomic status, people pretty much like us. Read more

Walking with God Slowly

Many of us remember the experience of having someone, usually a parent or grandparent, tell us when we were young, “You know, when I was your age I had to walk to school and it was uphill both ways.” That old saying has been echoing in my head a lot lately. At least since I’ve been walking from my house to the church occasionally and then back again. When I used to drive the same route I knew it was uphill both directions but not in the same way I now know. To be more specific, it is more uphill going than it is coming back and the tilt to one side is hard on the ankles. Read more

Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful spring day in central North Carolina. The summer heat and humidity that will oppress us for weeks on end is not yet upon us. Recent rains have made everything green and lush. The azaleas are past their prime but the camellias are in top form.

It’s a beautiful day. It’s also the day that voters go to the polls to decide local, state, and national primary contests. Holding our primary as we do in the month of May, we’re not used to mattering much on the national scene. Party nominees are usually firmed up long before now. But you know that your state counts when the former President of the United States visits places like Louisburg, Lenoir, Elizabeth City, and my humble town of Apex. Read more

Benedict and Jeremiah

Two very public, very controversial religious leaders have addressed the nation in as many weeks and the differences between them couldn’t be more striking. Pope Benedict, during his stateside visit earlier this month, spoke the truth about American Catholicism with equal parts commendation and critique. His humility and shy grace were evident in his speeches and sermons and in his carriage and demeanor (all of which was a little disconcerting to those who remember when his public persona—fair or not—was that of the rigid, humorless Cardinal Ratzinger).

Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, has come out swinging. In a series of increasingly hostile speeches he has assumed the pose of the put-upon, the tragically misunderstood. At first he had a point: reducing thirty years of sermons to thirty seconds of incendiary sound bites was irresponsible and misleading and did serious damage to Wright himself, to Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations, and to the (multivalent) tradition of black preaching in America. Read more

Obama and His Preacher

Barack Obama has endured criticism for his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and for his association with his now-retired pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Wright’s inflammatory remarks have met with angry disapproval. Yet this reflection is not about Rev. Wright. I am writing, instead, about Obama and his understanding of the Church.

Political pundits have said that Obama should publicly refute his pastor. They have written that if Obama had any integrity, he would withdraw his membership from his Trinity church. These people are merely revealing that Obama’s understanding of the gospel is far more mature than theirs. Indeed, these “experts” cannot fathom the integrity that Obama has shown.

Thus far at least, Obama’s actions and words witness to an understanding of the church that is orthodox and biblical. In the tradition of Christian faith, Obama seems to understand that we do not “choose” our church, nor does the church exist to please us and to meet our needs. Rather, the church is the body of Christ. It can be wrong, and often is. Its preachers can speak words that are not the gospel, and we often do. Read more