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

Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful spring day in central North Carolina. The summer heat and humidity that will oppress us for weeks on end is not yet upon us. Recent rains have made everything green and lush. The azaleas are past their prime but the camellias are in top form.

It’s a beautiful day. It’s also the day that voters go to the polls to decide local, state, and national primary contests. Holding our primary as we do in the month of May, we’re not used to mattering much on the national scene. Party nominees are usually firmed up long before now. But you know that your state counts when the former President of the United States visits places like Louisburg, Lenoir, Elizabeth City, and my humble town of Apex. Read more

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

When I read the Ascension texts for today (or this upcoming Sunday if you are in a Protestant tradition that celebrates the Ascension on the following Sunday), my tendency is to immediately jump to the conclusion of Luke’s report in Acts 1 when the angels appear to ask the disciples: “Why do you stand looking up at heaven?” I hear in this question an affirmation of my own need for action—the angels are telling those disciples to get on with it already. There is work to be done witnessing, proclaiming, releasing the captives, caring for the sick, and forgiving enemies, among other things! Read more

Benedict and Jeremiah

Two very public, very controversial religious leaders have addressed the nation in as many weeks and the differences between them couldn’t be more striking. Pope Benedict, during his stateside visit earlier this month, spoke the truth about American Catholicism with equal parts commendation and critique. His humility and shy grace were evident in his speeches and sermons and in his carriage and demeanor (all of which was a little disconcerting to those who remember when his public persona—fair or not—was that of the rigid, humorless Cardinal Ratzinger).

Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, has come out swinging. In a series of increasingly hostile speeches he has assumed the pose of the put-upon, the tragically misunderstood. At first he had a point: reducing thirty years of sermons to thirty seconds of incendiary sound bites was irresponsible and misleading and did serious damage to Wright himself, to Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations, and to the (multivalent) tradition of black preaching in America. Read more

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