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

Finding Our Voice

Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10: 11-18

“If our practice of the gospel is easy, it may be that we have not quite understood the obedience to which we are called” Walter Brueggemann, Gift and Task (143)

My children are eight and ten years old. They are sponges with ears. They hear and absorb everything, whether it be snippets of news stories on the radio or the ruminations of fellow third and fourth graders on the playground. Times being what they are, our “making sense of the world” dinner conversations of late have been a test of my ability to recall 9th grade civics. Read more

Fear and Trembling

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear straw hats and velvet to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.

– Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”

I once heard former stand-up comedian turned Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, speak at a Christian literary festival, where I found her precisely as billed: entertaining, insightful, and provocative. In the Q&A portion of the hour, a particularly earnest-sounding audience member asked what practices she engaged to “bring her closer to God.”

At this, the tattooed Reverend scrunched her face and said, “Why would I want to do that? Every time I find myself close to Jesus, I’m asked to love someone I hate or forgive someone I don’t want to.” Her response was met with scattered laughter, the nervous sort that suggests both recognition and chagrin. Over the top as Bolz-Weber’s answer was, she clearly hit home with some of us, me included. Read more

From Confusion to Conspiracy

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-31

There’s a conspiracy at work, undermining the institutions of power, subverting politics, threatening the markets, turning the tables on all those who feel secure in the status quo.

It’s a conspiracy that began long ago, behind locked doors. It started in the fear of those early disciples who were thrown into confusion by the cross. Their leader was dead. It looked like that was that. But now the word was spreading that somehow Jesus is back from the grave, that what God did for Lazarus, God now did for Jesus–that even death couldn’t contain this life that had come into the world in all its abundance. Read more

Easter Bewilderment

My grandma’s ashes are on my bookcases in a striped canvas bag. She died in December after an unexpected and intense two-month decline. To add insult to injury, my dog was diagnosed with lymphoma three weeks later. Cue two more months of death watch. His bodily breakdown included mid-night trips outside to pee every night (him, not me) and feeling the full brunt of sleep deprivation (me, not him). Last Tuesday, the tumors took on a life of their own that finally ended his. Last Thursday, I got him back and took the liturgically apt opportunity to add ashes to ashes. He’s in a box next to my grandma.

Death, in and of itself, disorients the living. While the ashes collect dust, my 92-year-old grandpa is dreaming about my grandma going for walks and not coming back. He hears her calling his name at night. He’s adjusting to life without his partner of 64 years. I pull in the driveway and catch myself looking to see if the dog is waiting for me at the fence. It’s a habit the age of a fourth grader.

Lent has been – as my friends say – heavy, deep and real. Read more

The Time Has Come

We live in a world that is consumed with time. In our personal lives, this takes the shape of making sure that we have arrived at a particular place at a particular point in time: When does my class begin? When does work shift start? When do I need to pick my kids up from school? When does this appointment or event begin? This is seen in larger systems as well. Trains and buses in large cities arrive and leave at specific times, and we are reminded about this constantly at the platform or the bus stop. In financial transactions, profits are often earned through the precise timing of buying and selling commodities, with any minor variation effectively ruining such gains. In many parts of the world this past week, we were confronted by time by adding one hour to our clocks. Through all of this, we discover that our lives are dominated by timetables, schedules, and appointments, some of which are posted on office doors or recorded in daily planners, and some of which are simply inscribed in our daily habits. Read more

Draining the Swamp?

I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Our willingness to read Scripture and to be read by Scripture is a sign of humility that we take our place as small players in a huge story, the general shape of which can’t be determined or ruined by us.
—Sam Wells

It is difficult to hear this week’s Gospel reading without the current catchphrase “drain the swamp” ringing in our ears. For me, that phrase has a face. Bob Murray is the CEO of Murray Energy Corporation. In a recent televised interview, he spat out his contempt for EPA employees while celebrating the appointment of Scott Pruett as head of EPA and rejoicing over his own newfound influence to roll back environmental regulations. “This is a wonderful victory,” he beamed. Narrowing his eyes at the interviewer, he continued, “I have fought this fight every day. And now I’m going to bury the sons of bitches.” Read more