Behold, How Good and Pleasant

If you mourn the splintering of Christianity, if you pray that all may be one as Christ and the Father are one, and especially if you, in whatever Christian tradition you worship, yearn for a strong ecumenism in which Christians speak from the heart as the Holy Spirit guides them, refusing to merely paper over substantive differences, then there’s something you must hear. Read more

The Binding of Isaac: Gen. 22: 1-14

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went, / And took the fire with him, and a knife. / And as they sojourned both of them together, / Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father, / Behold the preparations, fire and iron, / But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering? / Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, / And builded parapets and trenches there, / And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son. / When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven, / Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, / Neither do anything to him, thy son. / Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns, / A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son, / And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” Wilfred Owen, 1920 Read more

Gospel Nonviolence, Untranslated

I won’t weigh in on the latest election year “religion and politics” silliness involving Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and the Obama campaign except to note that Mr. Obama, who could easily have been much harder on Mr. Dobson, has said what any respectable candidate for the office of Commander in Chief must, namely: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values.” (“Universal” in this case presumably means “Early 21st century consumerist North American,” but I may be missing something.) Read more

The Making of Many Books

I oversee a book club in the church where I work. We haven’t come up with a name more descriptive or imaginative than “book club,” so many people assume we’re a lot like the stereotype: women who gather to discuss the latest Oprah pick and drink lots of wine. We do drink wine and share a meal together every time we meet, but no Oprah books for us. And there are men in our group, too. And our members range in age from their early 30s to their late 60s. (One woman in an assisted-living community is a “virtual” member, keeping up with the club through our email discussions; she’s in her mid 90s). Read more

Third Sunday After Pentecost

What does it mean, I wonder, to hear this week’s appointed scripture texts if you are a Christian in Myanmar or in the Sichuan province of China? What would you make of all this talk of mountains shaking; the sea roaring and foaming; swollen waters on the earth; rain, flood, wind, destruction, death?

Those of us who have never experienced the kind of catastrophic devastation associated with cyclones and earthquakes can too easily romanticize the natural world, admiring only its beauty: a breathtaking sunset, a beautiful beach, a majestic mountain. As modern suburbanites and urbanites we’re happy with our isolation from nature’s wild, unpredictable side—as our neatly landscaped lawns and pretty container gardens make plain. We like nature well enough; so long as we can manage it—so long as it doesn’t try to hurt us. Read more

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

Habeas Corpus

In the Common Lectionary for Protestant churches, tomorrow is the second Sunday after Pentecost. In Roman Catholic churches, however, it’s Corpus Christi: not a city in Texas, but the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. From Thursday until Sunday, more traditional Catholic churches will hold processions, and countless homilies will be devoted to what it means live, move and have our being in Christ’s Body. A recent post on Theolog, the Christian Century blog, has me thinking about how various Christian traditions embody “Real Presence.”

I wonder how much anger and division could have been avoided if excessively-precise definition and binary theorizing hadn’t left so little room for the Holy Spirit. I, for one, recall the Franciscan nuns teaching me to find Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, in the Body gathered for liturgy, in the Word proclaimed to the assembly and in the Stranger.

Where do you find Christ when you are least disposed to recognize him?

(Originally published Saturday, May 24, 2008)

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

Trinity Sunday

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar, the only feast day in the liturgical year devoted to a doctrine of the Church. Many on this day will be tempted to dust off the clumsy analogies: The Trinity is like a three-leaf clover. The Trinity is like the three phases of water—liquid, solid, steam.

No wonder people in the pews often rebel against doctrinal sermons. Read more

The Full Gospel Anthem

In Jesus Christ we have faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen God. In the incarnation we learn of the love of God for His creation; in the crucifixion we learn of the judgment of God upon all flesh; and in the resurrection we learn of God’s will for a new world. There could be no greater error than to tear these elements apart; for each of them comprises the whole. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

That early evening in Dillsboro was the kind that makes Smokey Mountain summer dusks famous. It was 1974 and I was singing with a resort ministry group. We had just finished an unforgettable feast of trout and country ham at the Jarrett House. Now the little church across the street was pleasantly filled to hear us. The evening could not have been more perfect. Read more