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Dancing Lessons

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

As I write, Daniels and Danielles, along with their sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents and great-grands in the faith are on their way to Babylon – oh, I mean Chicago. A great family reunion will take place, new friends will be made, and those unable to be physically present will be there through the power of the Spirit and the airwaves of technology.

We pray that into the center of Chicago this week there will be an ascent of sorts to a holy mountain, ruled over by a King who is “strong and mighty”, the Lord who has proven to be “mighty in battle,” having defeated the greatest of all enemies by being raised from the death of a horrible cross. This holy mountain, which we are all invited to ascend, is not without requirement. In fact, the requirement seems quite unobtainable. Our hands must be clean and our hearts pure. Truthfulness is required, and I don’t know about you, but there seems to be more than one version of truth floating around out there as well as myriad of ways to get our hands dirty as we grab for life in the midst of Babylon.

Yet, we do not go alone. As St. Bernard reminds us, “such a High Priest became us because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the holy mountain; he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” Read more

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Classic posts

For this week’s lectionary, we have two great posts from previous trips through the cycle: Debra Dean Murphy’s  “The Hemorrhaging Woman”  from 2009 and Brian Volck’s  The Encounter More Than the Cure from 2012.

Hurricane

Storm of the Spirit

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalm 107
Mark 4:35-41

Mid-May of this year, the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life released findings from a recent survey that indicates a decline in the number of Americans claiming Christian affiliation, especially among Mainline Protestants and Catholics.

When the report was first released, reactions among those I know varied widely, from alarm, to those who met the findings with resignation and acceptance, or frankly as old news. As a divinity school student, preparing for perhaps a lifetime of full-time Christian service to the church, I have wondered at my curious position as someone apparently hoping against the odds. Am I tying myself to the bow of a sinking ship? Read more

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Large Things in Small Parishes

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 4:26-34

The Texas historian of a generation ago, Walter Prescott Webb, has a wonderful paragraph in his classic book, The Great Plains. He contrasts the West with the East in the raising of cattle and notices that even though the West raised fewer cattle than the farms of the East, it was the West that defines for us what cattle raising is all about.

Webb writes, “A thousand farms in the East will each have six or seven cows, with as many more calves and yearlings – ten thousand head. But they will attract no attention … In the West a ranch will cover perhaps the same area as the thousand farms, and will have perhaps ten thousand head, roundups, rodeos, men on horseback, and all that goes with ranching. … The East did a large business on a small scale; the West did a small business magnificently” (p. 227).

I like Webb and I like what he says. The romantic notion of ranches, big cattle drives, cowboys, horses, spurs jingling, dust blowing, with perhaps some rousing Elmer Bernstein music in the background is magnificent. Nevertheless, I am more taken with his line, “The East did a large business on a small scale.” It was the small farms that did the large business of raising cattle.

Webb’s line reminds me of one from the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas who wrote, “I was vicar of large things in a small parish.” It is a line, along with Webb’s, that keeps telling me of my vocation and the vocation of the church. Read more

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Two Christianities

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the Devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?” She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?”

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday mornings, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80 to 100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack into a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards. Read more