Inside and Out

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I was leaving a meeting with several clergy members. Just behind me, close enough that I could overhear their conversation, was the long-time pastor of the leading Baptist church in town and walking alongside him was the moderator of our local ministerial alliance, who happened to be the pastor of the local Unity congregation, fifteen members strong.

My own experience with ministerial alliances, especially in other cities, was that they were ecumenical, even interfaith, so I never thought twice about whether our moderator was Unity or Baptist or Muslim. Apparently, not everyone agreed. Since the Unity minister’s election, most clergy in town had quit coming to the ministerial alliance and my own suspicion was that they were boycotting the alliance, (a suspicion later proven true).

The Unity pastor was inviting the tall steeple Baptist pastor to the alliance meetings, “We’d love to have you join us the second Tuesday of each month at noon.” The Baptist said, “Well, we have staff meetings on Tuesdays and I’m usually tied up.”

So the Unity guy replied, “I bet we could re-schedule our meetings to accommodate you. We’d love for you to come.”

The Baptist stopped, turned to the Unity pastor and said, “Children of Light have nothing to do with Children of Darkness. I won’t be there.” The Unity pastor was stunned, shocked into silence while the Baptist walked away without another word. Read more

In the Dark

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 139

It seems funny in the weeks following the dazzling brightness of Epiphany to reflect on/in darkness, but that’s where I’m headed. In part because it’s heavy in the text, but also because I’m hypersensitive to it. Something of a spiritual/emotional “darkness” has been hanging out with me as of late.*

Were it possible, I’d rather slam the door in the face of darkness than spend time with/in it when it knocks. I don’t think I’m alone in that. We as individuals and communities typically want to bring light (flash, night, or flood) and all it represents – understanding, goodness, clarity, often God – into both physical and metaphorical darkness.

Depending on circumstances, the absence of light can be uncomfortable or disorienting at best, and at worst isolating, despair-filled, panic-inducing and terrifying. As Barbara Brown-Taylor writes in Learning to Walk in the Dark, “Darkness packs a different punch for different people” (13). Read more

“Luminous Darkness”

Epiphany 5A
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

Who among those who have read the gospels does not know that Christ has made all human suffering his own?

Origen, “On Prayer”

On Sunday, when I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, my breath caught a little. I didn’t know him, of course, though I’ve admired every performance of his I’ve seen. (Oh, the power of cinema to make us feel like we know the actors we love—indeed to make us love them in the first place.) Hoffman was an actor of astonishing intuition and virtuosity. As one writer put it, “he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture.”

It would be tempting to narrate Hoffman’s all too brief life and tragic death within the tired tropes of celebrity culture (money can’t buy you love; movie stars are desperately lonely people) but, thankfully, I’ve seen none of that in the moving tributes I’ve read to Hoffman’s life and art.

In particular, James Martin, SJ, recalls spending time with Hoffman in preparation for the off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot:

Phil, as everyone called him, projected a unique blend of relaxed intensity as a director . . . He approached the text with an almost scholastic seriousness, carefully attending to every line in the script . . . From time to time, to illustrate a thorny point, or to describe the emotion that might underlie a scene, he would offer a story from his own life. “Did you ever have this experience?” Phil would ask, and recount a tale illustrating despair, or hope, or joy, or betrayal or trust . . . When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable—or, in his words, the personal anecdote—in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive . . . In Phil’s words, Jesus was always suggesting, in order that the decision to follow or not follow was always that person’s own decision.

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Darkness and Light, and My Son’s Need to Know Where the Bad People Go

Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Dallas, my current hometown, is full of huge churches with important pastors. The church where I serve is tiny by comparison, and outside of our little baptist tradition (i.e. not SBC) no one knows or really cares what we are up to week to week. Fine by us, but it is a stark contrast to the giant religious groups flanking us on all sides. And these important pastors have been given access to thousands upon thousands of itching ears each week. They are the arbiters of right and wrong, light and dark, heaven and hell. So when something like a massive school shooting happens, they are armed to the teeth with explanations and remedies.

It should have come as no surprise that the Newtown shooting would elicit such clarity from the pastors. More than one broke it all down with the convenient metaphor of darkness and light. Read more

God Made Visible

John 1:1-18; Matthew 2:1-12

What makes God visible?  That was the question that struck me reading the lectionary passages for this week.

This is one of those rare weeks in which the Episcopal Church (my tradition) varies its readings from the standard Revised Common Lectionary, so I read both the gospel readings from John 1 and Matthew 2:1-12 (Episcopal).  Reading both was instructive because both are about God being made visible.

In John 1:18 we read, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”  This comes after we are told of the light coming into the world, a light that makes God visible by dwelling with us and making us children of the light with “grace upon grace.”
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