Gifts in the Wilderness

By Ben Lee

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16:2-15

Matthew 20:1-16

During my family’s annual week-long family reunion, my parents would sometimes find unique things for us to do as a family. One year, when I was around twelve years old, he decided to rent a boat and take us out to a nearby island. Many of my cousins and I spent the day snorkeling and collecting shells, rocks, and even a few fossils. The next year, he arranged for us all to go on a deep-sea fishing trip for the day. After these two years, I began to expect something even better. I even had the gall to say “What are you going to do for us this year? It needs to be something that is more exciting than deep-sea fishing.” That was the year that my dad decided to do nothing. I was furious. It was going to be the worst year ever. Forget the fact that even being able to take a week-long vacation was a tremendous privilege.

The more I calculated what was coming to me, the more I distorted the dynamics of the gift that was being offered. And so my dad withheld that particular gift, lest I confuse the reason why he was offering it in the first place.  Read more

How Much is Enough?

The post for this week is from the archives:

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 4-35
Mark 9:38-50

Years ago in a cartoon in the Houston Chronicle, in the first frame was a man, obviously an American middle-class male, standing next to his car, saying to it, “Because of you, the air is foul. The globe is warming.” In the next frame, the man is pumping gas into the car saying, “Because of you I’m entangled in the affairs of countries that cause me headaches.” Next frame, while he is slumped in his seat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Because of you our central cities are empty and I waste half my life in traffic to the burbs.” Next frame, kids are getting in and out of the car, “Because of you my family is one big frantic snarl of hectic schedules.” Next frame, while holding his paunch with littered paper cups and french-fry containers around him, “And because of you I’m an obese drive-thru addict, a coronary just waiting to happen.” In the last frame, the man is hugging his car, “What would I do without you?” Read more

It Can’t Come Soon Enough

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

In the undergraduate Christian Ethics course I teach just about every semester, we are talking this week about a notion many of my students seem to regard as quaint, if not downright archaic, namely sin. Among the more important points I have tried to highlight is one well-worn in many strands of Christian tradition; sin is self-destructive, in that it separates us from our true ultimate end and therefore from the possibility of genuine flourishing as women and men made in the image and likeness of the Triune God. Insofar as it is self-destructive, moreover, sin is by and large its own punishment, for it entails forever restlessly seeking happiness in places it doesn’t exist, except as the palest simulacra, which are bound always to disappoint. Read more

Coming In, Going Out

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:36-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Theologian David McCarthy, in a recent book on the Communion of Saints, puts forward the notion of “social desire.” “Our social desire,” he writes, “is our desire for shared life. It is a desire for a meaningful life. It is a desire and hope that my everyday endeavors do not stop with me, that who I am as son, brother, friend, father, theologian, neighbor and coach does not end with how it makes me feel…” Rather, he avers, social desire seeks connection with others in a metaphysical framework that orients us socially, makes us whole in community.

The Communion of Saints, he claims, embodies the kinship, with others and God, that grounds us cosmically. McCarthy’s words seem to me an explication of these terse few lines from Acts 2, which describe the openness and sharing of the post-Pentecost church. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all each according to each one’s need.”

If social desire is so basic, and Luke’s church embodies it so well, why do I find it so difficult, sitting or kneeling or standing in church of a Sunday, to open myself to God and fellow members? Read more

How Much is Enough?

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 4-35
Mark 9:38-50

Years ago in a cartoon in the Houston Chronicle, in the first frame was a man, obviously an American middle-class male, standing next to his car, saying to it, “Because of you, the air is foul. The globe is warming.” In the next frame, the man is pumping gas into the car saying, “Because of you I’m entangled in the affairs of countries that cause me headaches.” Next frame, while he is slumped in his seat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Because of you our central cities are empty and I waste half my life in traffic to the burbs.” Next frame, kids are getting in and out of the car, “Because of you my family is one big frantic snarl of hectic schedules.” Next frame, while holding his paunch with littered paper cups and french-fry containers around him, “And because of you I’m an obese drive-thru addict, a coronary just waiting to happen.” In the last frame, the man is hugging his car, “What would I do without you?” Read more