Wendell Berry and the Given Life

“[Wendell Berry’s] work reminds us, then, that our faith must be embodied, that it must go to work in local, loving economies that strive to honor the immeasurable gift of life.”

Ragan Sutterfield is an Ekklesia Project endorser and former Gathering planner. Christianity Today’s review of his book on Wendell Berry is our current Signs of the Times article. You may read it here. 

 

 

The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more

A Fickle Popularity


Palm/Passion Sunday

Psalm 118
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Among the more difficult aspects of adolescence is that so much hinges on that most elusive and most fickle of realities—the esteem of their peers. While obtaining that coveted commodity – admiration from one’s classmates – is difficult, holding on to it seems nearly impossible.

As I think back on my own time in high school, I can remember hearing—and sometimes voicing—the common complaint that the teenage experience felt like a cutthroat popularity contest. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising or disappointing to wake up and find, decades later, that our society, populated by alleged grown-ups, still resembles nothing so much as a popularity contest.

While we would like to buy into the myth of self-assurance and pretend that we are the kind of confident people who don’t care what anyone else thinks, we live in a world that runs on social media “likes,” positive Yelp reviews, blog post clicks, and television ratings. It’s tough not to get swept up in such things, whether you’re a minister scanning attendance records, a professor flipping through class evaluations, or a Facebook user wondering why there aren’t more thumbs-up icons next to your latest witty and/or profound reflection on theology, politics, or televised sports. It’s important, from time to time, that we turn down all of this noise and allow ourselves a reminder of what this anxious striving after popularity and acclaim actually accomplishes, and just how capricious such pursuits can be. Read more

An Astonishing Thing!

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9: 1-41

There were things I learned in my theological studies that really stood out for me, which I don’t have to return to my notes or books to remember. One of those is how 90% of the “you”s in the Bible are plural, referring to either Israel or the church (and the difficulty caused by a language that does not currently distinguish between the plural and singular forms of that pronoun—Canadians don’t have the “you all” found in parts of the United States—in a North American culture that is highly individualistic). Another is that the purpose of the four gospels is to convince the reader(s) of who Jesus is. This is particularly true for the gospel of John, for it is on this—belief that God is revealed in Jesus—that everything hangs. Read more

Desert Transformations

Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

During Lent, God calls us to the desert and we go. We become like the Israelites in today’s first reading from Exodus, called and saved by God from slavery in Egypt, brought safely through the Red Sea, and now wandering in the desert for forty years (although for us, it’s only forty days). Our salvation may not be from slavery, but we still claim that salvation as ours and we often use terms related to slavery to describe our salvation: freedom from addiction, from slavery to sin, from bondage to a world that wants us to worship money, power, and false gods.

Christians have loved deserts, real and symbolic. We have preserved sayings of various desert fathers and mothers from the early centuries of the church in Northern Africa. We want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus himself. So we manufacture our own deserts: giving up some sort of food here, contributing more money there, adding some prayer to the whole. Each of these becomes one way of paring our lives to essentials, so that we can see God.

Yet today’s scriptures suggest for us that the thing we think we are doing in the desert – the spiritual preparation we are doing to receive God – might not in fact be the thing we are doing. Read more

Securing Our Place

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

The chief temptation of Lent is not that we will give in to our appetites but that we will enjoy seeing how right we can be. We set out a program of spiritual self-improvement, to fast and give alms, to skip the chocolate or alcohol or meat or TV, to make a few visits to someone who is lonely. Or we do none of those things, knowing that in this way we prove we are not the kind of people who go in for works-righteousness. Either way, we enjoy a chance to try to prove to ourselves that we are good, or at least better than some. We secure our place.

The life of faith is not like that. Read more

Reality Therapy

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32:1-11
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Lent is as much about seeing well as it is about doing good, which is to say it is about learning to see ourselves as we truly are. It is a kind of reality therapy for the self-deceived and morally apathetic, which is to say, most of us.

It begins on Ash Wednesday by disabusing us of our easy rejections of finitude, reminding us that our destiny, at least penultimately, is to return to the earth from which we have come. In the ensuing 40 days, Lent offers to reveal to us all of those idols that have captured our hearts and diverted our attention from the things that most matter. It confronts us not simply with our self-destructive habits, but with our abject inability to do anything about them. Most importantly, it reminds us that all of our brokenness has been taken up into the grace of the triune God, who through the cross of Jesus makes possible an infinitely better way. Read more

As We Watch

Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

“…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
– Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated August 6, yet the gospel passage itself is closely associated with the beginning of Lent. The Revised Common Lectionary proclaims it on the Sunday before Lent while the Catholic Lectionary does so on the Second Sunday of Lent. Both lectionaries give the First Sunday of Lent over to the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Why should the Transfiguration story – which each of the synoptic gospels places about midway in the course of things – mark our yearly return to the Lenten journey? Standard answers include that the association is already implicit in the synoptic accounts, which place the story near Jesus’ final turn towards Jerusalem; that the Taboric vision is a preview of Christ’s crucified, resurrected, and glorified body; or that the passage links the Old and New Covenants, with Moses and Elijah serving as metonyms for the Law and prophets.

Whatever the explanation, the Transfiguration, with its cryptic signs, wonders, and occasions for awe, has long proved a source for profound theological reflection, fascinating Christological speculation, or incisive literary analysis. It can also stand out from the rest of the gospel narrative as a baffling anomaly. Read more