Getting Small

About the time I was in college, young comedian Steve Martin had a routine called “let’s get small.” Playing on the mid-seventies countercultural “let’s get high” Martin invited everyone to come to his house and “get small.” Martin said that “getting small” was dangerous for children because they would get “really, really small” and it was also impossible for the police to put you in jail for being small because you’d walk out right between the bars. It was a short, quirky piece of the sort that made Martin famous.

If it was countercultural in 1977, “being small” is even more so in 2008 in a culture that seems to idolize the Big and encourages everyone to “get big or get out” as a Secretary of Agriculture once told farmers. Read more

Tasting Death, Tasting Life

(Matthew 14:13-21) Immediately before the story of the feeding of the five thousand is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer’s head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the crowds fed on the beach with bread and fish (a detail unique to Matthew’s version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John’s demise. Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and ultimately the plated head to her mother. That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew’s gospel (recall also the women who appear in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in chapter one) is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas’ 1990 essay from Theology Today.

Also interesting is the juxtaposition of fear and death (in the story of John’s murder) with that of fulfillment and abundance in the feeding narrative. Read more

The Metaphysics of Discipleship

Perhaps the recurring issue in discussions of Christian discipleship regards simply whether or not it is something that Christians should think they can actually do. Not long into the established church’s history the notion became prominent that the ethics of Jesus, particularly as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and other prominent texts in the gospels (cf. Luke 6:17-46; 14:15-34), simply cannot be done by people who live in the real world. They are rather “counsels of perfection” which are either only for a specific clerical or monastic caste (as in Medieval Catholicism) or they are simply there to remind us all of our complete inability as sinners to conform to God’s commands (as in Luther and most of Protestantism after him). Read more

Shrubs and Kingdoms

a divided line drawing. On the left, a person plants a seed. On the right, birds in a large shrub. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” — Matthew 13:31-33

It has often been pointed out that when Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a shrub, he is having a bit of fun with us. But finding the humor in the Bible isn’t something we overly-serious modern readers are very good at. We’re more likely to treat parables like this one as if they were folk-wisdom formulas for personal or group success. Think about sermons you’ve heard on finances (“your small gift, sown in faith, will produce a big return!”) or church growth (“if we’re faithful, God will make us grow!”). Read more

Imagining the Road We Share

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. — Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

“I’ve been to conferences on race and racism before, but this is different,” I was told several times at this summer’s Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago. I agree. There was far less nonsense and posturing than I’ve endured at previous, allegedly “frank” discussions of race. We spoke, sang and worshiped together, without the “It’s a Small World After All,” ceremonies that suggest a few up-tempo songs will make restitution for centuries of bad theology and worse ecclesiology. The mood steered a difficult course between penitential and determined. Read more

Gathering Gifts

It’s been more than a week since the Gathering ended and my head is still swimming and my heart is still full. There is always so much to take in when we meet each summer for conversation, worship, learning, and fellowship.

I traveled to Chicago this year with three good friends from my church—new endorsers of EP and first-time Gathering attendees. These friends—Judy, Chris, and Greg—were overwhelmed by all they encountered (in the best possible sense of that word) and we continue to talk about what we experienced, hoping that our own transformed thinking about matters of race and racism in the body of Christ might come to bear good fruit in the ecclesial context in which we find ourselves. Read more

Fasting Against a Divided Body

One of the great joys of our EP Gatherings is eating together. We break bread with friends old and new, discovering at a common table our common life in Christ. That makes it all the more painful that many of us who endorse The Ekklesia Project cannot come together as one body at the Eucharistic table of our Lord. Several years ago, we spent an entire Gathering exploring that pain. Read more

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