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the movement of humility

We live in a context of stratification where much of society is ordered into separate layers or castes. We are identified as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Our language reflects this up/down (superior/inferior) paradigm. We want to be at the top of the heap, climb the ladder of success, break through the glass ceiling, be king of the hill. This same kind of thinking seeps into our theology. When we talk about humility, we think mostly think in terms of lowering ourselves, willfully participating in downward mobility. This type of up/down language is certainly present in biblical texts (James 4:10 is one example), but I believe that the kind of humility we see in Jesus requires that we step outside of a strictly up/down paradigm. Instead of viewing humility as getting down low or stepping down a notch on the ladder of society, perhaps it is more helpful to think in terms of proximity and movement.

Jesuit theologian, James Keenan, notes that virtues and vices are not really…
Recent posts

crash course in surrender

Surrender. Not the most popular word or concept in today's world. To the athlete trying to best the competition, surrender is not an option. To the military commander in the middle of a skirmish with the enemy, surrender is shameful. To a political candidate vying for votes, surrender is weak. To someone trying to convince a skeptic about the merits of their beliefs, surrender seems faithless. And yet, surrender is a posture Jesus modeled for his followers. He prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done." When he was wrongly accused and condemned to death, Jesus did not defend himself or demand justice. He surrendered his life. Most often, the disciples did not understand Jesus's refusal to exert his will over others. They lived in a context where the people with the most power made the rules, so the exertion of power was seen as the only agent for change. But Jesus insisted on showing them another way, a way not reliant on threats, coercion, or pressure tactics. He is …

Names of God: El Shaddai

One of most prevalent names we have for God is Almighty. We find this designation appearing not only in the scriptures but in creeds. The Nicene Creed begins: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…” In theological terms, we find this aspect represented by the word omnipotent (omni = in all ways, potent = powerful). All of these words refer to a being who has complete, unlimited, absolute power.

This is meant to be comforting, I am sure, but think for a minute about someone having unlimited power. As George Orwell famously said, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think we can safely say that power in itself is not a good thing. The other factor to consider here is this: what kind of relationship do we have with those in positions of power? Michael Reeves notes that if God is The Ruler, the one in charge, giving the laws, then “my relationship with him can be little better than my relationship with any traffic…

ears and swords

I am a disciple of Jesus and recently, I find myself identifying with that early disciple who brings a sword to a prayer meeting. Right after celebrating the Passover meal with his closest followers, Jesus goes to a secluded place to pray, and his disciples follow him. In the account in Matthew 26, it tells us that the followers of Jesus have a hard time finding enthusiasm for the task at hand - prayer - but when an armed crowd shows up to arrest Jesus, everyone is suddenly wide awake. Jesus addresses the armed men calmly, not resisting arrest, but one of the disciples perceives a great threat. He pulls out a sword and goes on the attack, chopping off the ear of the high priest's slave. Surprisingly, Jesus has no harsh words for the disciple turned betrayer, Judas. Instead, he rebukes the devoted, loyal defender: the disciple with the sword. Why? Because Jesus doesn't need defending or protecting. He doesn't need an army. Jesus wants his followers to be true followers, to…

Peace is...

This past week, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room while my mom had cataract surgery, a minor outpatient procedure. I watched people come and go and, after a few hours, it began to dawn on me that people who arrived after I did had already left the hospital. The nurse had informed me that it would take about an hour, but as the minutes ticked by, I knew something was amiss. That moment when you realize that something is not quite right, that things are not going as expected, you have a choice: you can start to panic, imagining every possible horrific scenario, or you can choose peace. I knew that my mom was surrounded by capable health care professionals, so I said a prayer of trust and surrender and continued to read my novel. Shortly after that, a nurse came into the waiting room and sat down beside me. She said, "You mom had an episode during surgery..." Once again, I was faced with a choice: did I let anxiety or peace rule the day? I chose peace and smiled at the …

what's the story?

I like to read stories. I also like to write stories. I have done a fair bit of both and, over the years, I have learned a few things about what stories do and do not do. In essence, a story is a trajectory. It sets the reader or listener on a path toward something or someone. It has a beginning (a specific starting point in time), it has a middle (in which characters face various challenges, setbacks, and victories), and an end (which is not really the end, but an invitation for the reader to imagine past the last sentence). Stories are always partial and incomplete. They never tell it all, but they do set us on a particular journey. What stories do NOT do is seek to make a case for absolute truth statements. Stories do not prescribe a particular plan of action in order to achieve certain results. Stories do not give us universal rules and regulations. When we try to force stories to perform apologetic, didactic, or juridical tasks, we end up mishandling them. A story invites people…

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

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When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…