Responding to the Word

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Nehemiah 8:1-10
Luke 4:14-21

This week, there are two stories about people reading God’s Word – and about the importance of words for who we are, and how we are to live. Reminding ourselves of the importance of words is especially important in our social media age, where we write words rapidly, sloppily, and frequently. Our culture is prone, I think, to devaluing the impact of words.

Yet words do matter. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is maybe a cry of a bullied child hoping to make hurtful words disappear, yet in fact we know that words can and do hurt and – try as we might – words are never mere words, and often do not disappear at all! Read more

Embracing Place

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


What will I do? What
will I do without exile, and a long night
that stares at the water?

-Mahmoud Darwish, from “Who Am I, Without Exile?”

What is exile in American culture? What is home?

The way we might define both perhaps differs dramatically from how they might have been defined a century ago, or how they are still defined in cultures less marked by our infatuation with transience. To know exile, we must first know home, and we are arguably a culture of non-places. With mobility a marker supposedly for our freedom, we fall too often for the lie that transience is the path to transcendence.

We have perhaps embraced the nomadic as a symbol of what it means to be successful. What is the old adage we use about our gain of influence? We say that we’re “going places,” or “on our way to the top.” Ambition feeds the lure of mobility, and we are tempted to take as normal the illusion that human beings are free agents, untethered from the constraints of place and earth.

Lest I seem to be launching a curmudgeonly critique which might merely fan the flames of nostalgia for a different time, let me note how this is for me confession. I am a prime example of the impulse toward mobility: In my fifteen-ish years of adulthood, I’ve made nine interstate moves, and have lived in seventeen different apartments or living arrangements. As I write this, it doesn’t seem possible that these numbers can be true – and yet they are.

And I am not alone. Read more

Broken Symmetry

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twentt-First Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Luke 17:11-19

The real trouble with this world of ours, says G. K. Chesterton, is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. “It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.”

Chesterton imagines that if a mathematical creature from outer space saw a human body, he would at once assume that the human body is a duplicate. That is, a person is really two people: the one on the right resembling exactly the one on the left. An arm on the right, one on the left; a leg on the right and a leg on the left; the same number of fingers at the end of each arm, the same number of toes. Twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, even twin lobes of the brain.

So when the creature found a heart on one side, he would obviously deduce that there was a heart on the other side. And just when the visitor thought he was most right, says Chesterton, he would be most wrong. Chesterton calls it “this silent swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything” (Orthodoxy, p. 81). 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