By the Sea, on the Road

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-6(7-20)
John 21:1-19

A few years ago, my wife Lisa and three young kids joined me for the first time at the EP Gathering in Chicago, making a family vacation of it. During the time we spent in that metropolis, we took in some museums, visited Lake Michigan, and saw the fish at the aquarium. It was a busy few days. But of all the things we did, simply getting around might have been the most stressful. For kids used to walking down the sidewalks of Erwin, Tennessee (population 8,000), attempting to navigate the hustle and bustle of a city of millions was a new experience altogether, and as a parent, it was important to me to make sure they did it safely. It was up to me and Lisa to take their hands when we came to a busy intersection. It was up to me and Lisa to speak clearly and sometimes firmly as we gave instructions about how we were going to catch a bus or hop on a train before the doors closed.

Throughout those few days in Chicago, our chief responsibilities as parents were to keep everyone together and to keep everyone safe. The kids’ chief responsibilities were simply to trust us, to listen to us, and of course, to obey us. It’s hard to be an adult sometimes. But it’s hard to be a kid, too. Responsibility is hard. So is dependence. And for those of us called to follow Christ, living in that tension is sometimes the hardest thing of all. Read more

Who’s in Charge?

For anyone who spends any amount of time listening to our national conversation (if we can call it that), whether tuning into more traditional forms of media or wading into the facebook/twittersphere –where there is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed–it should be painfully obvious that we, as a people, have a hard time with authority. Not just with obeying authority, an issue that we have always wrestled with. We also have a very difficult time discerning authority, knowing how to recognize authority, and ascribing authority to all the wrong things and people. Thus, we allow our actions and words, the practices we embrace and the stories we tell, to be shaped by this confusion. Recent debates over flags and anthems, standing and kneeling, free speech and censorship, demonstrate that we don’t even have a common language for discussing these matters, let alone common convictions about what God’s people should do when confronted by competing, and sometimes mutually exclusive, claims to authority. We argue endlessly over who is in charge, when deep down inside we all want to be in charge. Read more

Love = Obedience

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Commandments. Rules. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. We scoff at rules. We chafe under the control of those who make them. We bend them and break them and try to explain them away. Sometimes rules seem out of date, senseless.

Have you ever seen those lists of the nutty rules some states still have on the books? In Tennessee, it’s illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. In Indiana, it’s against the law to shoot open a can of food. In Kentucky, it’s a crime to use a reptile during any part of a religious service.

Many Christians are big on rules. It’s common in my community to see Ten Commandment signs posted in driveways. Don’t you find it a little odd that the one religious message we stake out in our front yards is the Ten Commandments? Why don’t we see signs that proclaim, “Jesus is Lord! God is love! Christ is risen!?”
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A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

For most of my life, I have been a sports fan. I will readily admit that I’ve spent far too much time watching games, reading articles and updates about my favorite players (although my means of doing so has changed dramatically—I used to watch the mailbox for the arrival of Sports Illustrated for Kids; now I simply check my Twitter feed), and listening to the so-called experts argue loudly about sports-related topics on ESPN and on various radio call-in shows.

Last week, as the professional basketball season reached its halfway point and conversation began heating up around various players’ contracts and potential trade deals, I heard a lot of discussion about a topic that I’ve probably encountered a million times but never really thought about: the “opt-out clause.” Read more

Hearing and Obeying

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35:4-7A
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

My mother – who, while alive, would have been mortified to be called a saint – often told us how God spoke to her in her prayers. She said so without irony or apparent metaphor, nor did she claim special standing, privilege, or insight. In fact, she gave no reason to believe her experience wasn’t available to every praying person. Furthermore, she never claimed to speak for God to others and, as far as I could tell, God’s speaking to her was more important than the words themselves, if indeed what she understood herself to hear were words. In truth, I’ve never understood quite what she meant. Her experience was not mine, though I’ve never doubted she had profound encounters with real presence. Read more