Reading the Bible is a little like being jettisoned to the other side of the globe. We find ourselves where they speak strange languages, tell jokes that go over our heads, celebrate strange customs, and basically leave us feeling lost and bewildered a big chunk of the time.
Many 1st century Jews awaited a messiah who would flex his celestial biceps, body slam Rome, and beat his chest to the applause of the liberated masses. Just as David iced Goliath and sliced off his head, so the New David would be an ass-kicking, pagan-thrashing, political powerhouse who would make Israel great again by decapitating their Roman overlords.
You probably have some human faces pressed together in your pocket. A penny portrait of Lincoln. A Jefferson nickel. A quarter icon of Washington. We do like our money to have a human element to it.
This black-and-white photograph, taken in the l890’s, perfectly captures in a single image what it means to flourish as a human being in an imperfect world. We may not be challenged by any physical disability, but all of us are lacking in one way or another. And our impairments are the very reason God pairs us with others. In those pairings, in those dependent relationships, we learn that we not only need others, but are in fact created to need others.
While wombs become killing fields,
and a holocaust smokes out of our nation’s heart,
where are You, O God of life?
If we make a list of the moments in our lives that have shaped us as individuals, our list will comprise good and bad things we’ve done. On the “Good List” might be getting married, having children, earning a degree. On the “Bad List” might be going through a divorce, betraying a friend, getting a DWI. Things we do, actions we take, alter the course of our lives. They shape us (and sometimes warp us) into the people we’ve become.
If we’re going to raise well-adjusted children who have a shot at doing well in the world, having healthy relationships, and avoiding the toxic temptations of this life, then a good first step is to stop trying to boost their self-esteem.
When we got home from church, Mom would walk in the front door, pull on her apron, and go to work in the kitchen. A little while later, we’d all take our places at the table for the Sunday meal. It might be chicken fried steak. Or baked lasagna. Or hamburgers.
In a cartoon in The New Yorker this week, a patient sits expectantly on the table as his doctor glances down at the charts. “Here’s your problem,” the physician says, “it looks like you’re paying attention to what’s going on.”
If there’s one thing that we in the church do extremely well, it’s ignoring the greatest threats that face us. We roll massive Trojan horses inside our sanctuary walls while feverishly battling the mosquitoes that buzz around us. And once we wake up and grasp the true danger—if we ever do—the damage done is often incalculable.
When reading a book, especially a controversial one, it’s useful to treat it like a house we’re considering buying. From the curbside, it may bedazzle the eyes, but there’s more to a house than its walls, windows, and roof. So we step inside. There too we may see some attractions: fresh paint, new flooring, fancy fixtures.
In conversations with other Christians about the vast number of world’s religions, I usually encounter two different convictions.
Our deepest fear, writes Marianne Williamson, is not that we are inadequate. Or that something will happen to our children. Or that we’ll be raped or murdered or robbed.
Here’s what will happen. Maybe you’ve already been through it. Or maybe you’re living through it right now. I don’t know what will trigger it—I’m no prophet—but I do know, sooner or later, something will.
One of the reasons social media works so well is because we all like to talk about ourselves. It’s a basic, universal fact of communication. The difference in social media is this: we can talk about ourselves to a massive crowd inside our minuscule screens, feel our confidence balloon as “likes” multiply like rabbits, and—thank goodness!—no one is there to rudely interrupt us by talking about themselves.
The only politician mentioned in the creeds of Christianity is the one responsible for executing its founder. Of Jesus we confess that he was crucified for us “under Pontius Pilate” (Nicene Creed) and “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” (Apostles’ Creed). That is the church’s political statement every Sunday.
If I hand you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to make a list of what’s wrong with the world, where would you start? Maybe you’d reference recent headlines: assassinations of police officers, systemic racism, the rise of radical Islam. Or maybe you’d start the list with other wrongs, such as generational poverty, sex trafficking, child abuse, abortion, or political corruption.
Yesterday afternoon, the first reports of a terrorist attack in Nice, France, started coming in. The driver of a truck decimated scores of innocent people in the street. Eighty four people are dead, including several children, and many more are wounded. Like everyone else, I was shocked, sickened, and angered by this horrific slaughter. I also felt something else, something I can’t find a single word to express.
It can seem, in times of violence, when people are calling for political, cultural, and legal changes, as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant if she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.
Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied girly-men. Such words hardly come to mind when you gaze upon the prophets of old. These men were, well, they were men, and you knew it. Sir Robin of The-Search-for-the-Holy-Grail fame would not have made the cut. They all had their weak moments, but mere moments they were.