How Can We Know the Way?

a person walks down a path leading to a mountain It’s become our routine. No sooner have I strapped my two year-old son, Elijah, into his car seat and started driving us on our way than my son pipes up from the back seat, “Hey mom, where are we going?” I always answer him very clearly. “We are going to the grocery store,” I say, or “We are going to the library.” To which Elijah always responds, “Hey mom, where are we going?” This kind of back and forth, repetitious toddler-talk used to frustrate me until it finally dawned on me that it was not as if Elijah hadn’t heard me or hadn’t understood me. Instead, like a child needs to do, Elijah needed to ask his question more than he needed to hear me give him an answer.

I think about my two year-old son when I read Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Read more

Prayer Pet Peeves

abstract image of person prayingWorking, as I do, in low-church Methodism in the South, I’m called upon regularly, in a variety of contexts, to offer extemporaneous prayers. I also frequently hear others—both clergy and laity— pray “on the fly.”

Extemporaneous prayers can be as varied in substance and style as those who offer them, but I have to say that the longer I am in this setting where extemporaneous prayers are valued as “authentic” and “heart-felt,” while historic, liturgical, or other written prayers are subject to suspicion or seen as a crutch for the less articulate (how ridiculous), the more I long to retreat to a corner somewhere, cover my head (and ears), and pray the rosary. Read more

Jesus, Gates, and Sheep

sheep walking through a gateIn preparation for this year’s Triduum, the three solemn days leading into Easter, those in my parish chosen to proclaim scripture were expected to attend at least one group practice session. In that sense, at least, my parish takes “performing the Word” seriously. We received our texts well in advance in order to prepare, and our practice consisted of reading aloud while a woman from the parish, well known for her attentive, moving readings, offered helpful suggestions. One gentleman read a brief excerpt from John 14, including the familiar passage, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Upon saying these words, our normally laconic coach interrupted, saying, “That’s something I don’t believe by the way. I know Buddhists and Hindus who are far holier than most Christians.” Read more

Suffering and Abundance

an abstract picture of Christ“When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Any time sheep are mentioned in the Bible people sometimes go a little soft in the head, inflicting a nursery-rhyme cuteness on stories and images that often have a political, subversive edge. This Sunday’s passage from John’s gospel should give us pause if we are tempted toward such silliness. The text is cryptic, even a little caustic, and it’s not at all about sheep, but about deceivers who pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting. 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

The Road to Exile

a road sign indicates curves in the road aheadIt isn’t likely that the text from 1 Peter will take center stage in many sermons this Sunday, but in thinking through all of the day’s appointed readings—their particular concerns and their possible associations, it’s not a bad place to begin. For one thing, we read portions of 1 Peter for several consecutive Sundays during Easter of Year A in the common lectionary, passages which constitute something of an Easter catechesis for the great fifty days. But more than that, the letter’s theme of “exile” gives us a useful framework for interpreting our own life and witness in light of the familiar Road to Emmaus story. Read more

Do You Believe in the Resurrection?

women at the tomb see risen ChristThere were doubt and struggle on that first Easter morning and in the days and weeks that followed. But doubt and struggle were not obstacles to faith; they were its necessary precondition.

Throughout history and into our own time there have been persons on a mission to “prove” the resurrection as historical fact, and there have been others intent on disproving it. Last spring, CNN aired a special program called “What Is A Christian?” It was predictable and disappointing in ways that these sorts of shows almost always are: The earnest host, the likable Anderson Cooper, introduced segments about healing, global warming, miracles in the Bible, and then believers were pitted against non-believers, persons of faith against skeptics and naysayers, the would-be “provers” against those intent to disprove. Read more

The Violence of Love

mural of Oscar RomeroEaster Monday marked the anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while celebrating the Eucharist at the chapel of Divine Providence Cancer Hospital in San Salvador on March 24, 1980.

We should not wonder that a church has a lot of cross to bear. Otherwise, it will not have a lot of resurrection. An accommodating church, a church that seeks prestige without the pain of the cross, is not the authentic church of Jesus Christ. (February 19, 1978) Read more

The Face of Race

a face made up of sections of different faces

At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. – Barack Obama, 19 March 2008, Philadelphia 

When William F. Buckley died a few weeks ago, much was made of his love of language and his penchant for polysyllables–sesquipedalian that he was. Where a simple expression would do, Buckley preferred instead to dazzle and intimidate with word choices that were exotic, obscure, inaccessible. For Buckley it was all about vocabulary (though of course his politics were pretty scary). Which is exactly what it is not about for Barack Obama. Read more

Nice Guys and Crucifixion

palm leaf
Even if we have somehow managed to remain blissfully ignorant of where our Lenten journey has been taking us, or with whom we are traveling, the traditional Gospel text for Palm Sunday—and indeed, all of Matthew’s Gospel from Chapter 21 on—serves as a rather abrupt aide memoire. For some time I couldn’t really get my mind around the significance of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. Why a colt; why the palms; why the coats in the road; why the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David?” And what did any of that have to do with Jesus’ going immediately from this spectacle to the temple and picking a fight with some of the most powerful men in Jerusalem? Did Matthew or one of his redactors omit or edit out an important transition between verses 11 and 12, or was I simply missing something? Read more