Category Archives: divinity

Gestating Jesus

Christmas

This Advent season I’m writing reflections on the lectionary Gospel readings forLight Reflections and reposting them here. Please feel free to borrow and steal anything from these that might be helpful in your own Advent sermon,teaching, etc., work.

Luke 1:39-55
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Last week I wrote that the terrifying image of Jesus with a winnowing fork is a far cry from the babe in the manger who we anticipate this time of year. This week we are reminded that these two images are not so far apart at all! Whether it’s Jesus at the end of time or Jesus entering into time, the Good News is consistent – his arrival will raise those whom our world sees as lowly and it will humble those we imagine to be mighty.

In the first few weeks of Advent, we’ve mostly pictured Christ’s arrival coming from somewhere distant Continue reading

Time and Space for Good News

After 8.5 hours...just exited The Clock to a beautiful morning

Through Advent, I will be writing reflections on the lectionary texts for the website Light Reflections, and reposting them here. Hope you enjoy! Please feel free to use any of them in sermon, teaching or other church education type prep.

Luke 3:1-6

3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

These stories about John in the wilderness are so familiar that I risk no longer fully hearing them. I can jump right over the political positioning in the first few lines to get straight to the heart of proclamation because familiarity makes me think that’s where the meaning is. But not this year. This year I’m trying to dwell in the time and space established by those first few lines to see what might reside there. Continue reading

The Gift of Alienation

Through Advent, I will be writing reflections on the lectionary texts for the website Light Reflections, and reposting them here. Hope you enjoy! Please feel free to use any of them in sermon, teaching or other church education type prep.

WEEK 1: Luke 21:25-36
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ Continue reading

Good-bye to the God of Capital Letters

I’ve long defended praise and worship music to friends who claim it is too simple theologically. “It’s not about the theology,” I’ve argued, “so  much as it’s about a meditative practice.” The reason I used to love P&W, and in surprising moments nowadays, still do (albeit with a touch of nostalgia, an emotion that never sits right with me), is its chant-like quality. There’s the possibility of losing myself in the repetition, and opening my eyes surprised to find out I’ve been swimming in the deep waters of the Divine. But in recent years, I’ve found this depth harder and harder to plum. Even so, it hasn’t been the simplicity that has bothered me, and I’ve struggled to figure out what it is that I fail to connect with.

I visited a church a few weeks ago, heavy on P&W – and all of a sudden it struck me: I can’t handle all those capital letters projected onto the screen:  Continue reading

Praying in Pictures

Last week I wrote about how faith crises can lead to identity crises – if my life is organized by my faith, a loss of faith tends to result in a loss of order to my world, a loss of understanding about who I am within that order. But there have also been moments in the midst of that crisis when I have experienced the surprise of grace, where I have experienced a fresh perspective on God that has come, it seems, as a pure gift from God. This week I want to share a story about that happened in the midst of teaching.

I teach theology – this is a vocation so deeply connected to my faith, that it’s difficult to picture it from a place of weak faith. How can I teach my students to preach the gospel when I’m not all that sure of the gospel myself? How can I teach my students about God’s love when I’m not all that sure God loves me… Continue reading

Accidentally Dying to Self

I shared last week about how writing a dissertation chapter about the forgetfulness of God started to feel like I was slowly killing God…not by crucifixion, as an orthodox view might have it, but by the slow deterioration of dementia and aged decline.

In a sense, I was trying to frame the ways in which our post-Christian culture tends to view God – as diminished, ineffectual and humiliated. Initially, with the project, I was wondering: if we think carefully about how our culture views God, perhaps we can think more honestly about how we might embody God’s grace and love within that culture…particularly for those people who are marginalized because they are seen to embody similar characteristics to those I was exploring in God. But the writing process didn’t result in such a joyful faith-based stance. Instead, as I felt the death of God, I realized I was also participating in a death to self. Continue reading

God’s Forgetfulness

I ended up erasing the final chapter of my dissertation and replacing it with another. The one I initially intended was simply too much of a mess, and too risky to do well with the limited time (and, more importantly, limited skill) I possessed in that moment.

In a nutshell, the constructive theological moments in my dissertation were all inspired by conversations between my own academic theological ways of speaking and the everyday theological ways of speaking articulated by people in my church (this conversational process was more formalized through certain forms of academic methods, but I won’t bore you with that here). The final chapter was inspired by a conversation about God’s eternal nature in one of the Sunday night theology classes I taught at the church.

One of the women in the class said that some time she spent with a friend who had Alzheimer’s Disease had helped her to understand God’s eternity Continue reading

Between Ignorance and Desire

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been reading Wendy Farley’s, Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation. The book is beautiful, full of gems that stimulate the imagination to theological pondering. In one section that particularly gripped my thoughts, she writes of the Christian propensity to hold our beliefs too tightly by the presumed (but erroneous) power and authority of our own knowledge. It is hubris, she argues, and I would agree, to think that we can know anything about God – the deep, profound mystery of Divinity – with any semblance of certainty. Walking by faith encompasses walking by doubt, I interpret her as saying. But she frames this relationship in a much more compelling way than I have previously heard articulated: “Instead of reifying any authority,” she notes, “we might explore faith as our capacity to dwell in the breach between our ignorance and our desire” (42).

I loved this image: faith dwelling in the breach between ignorance and desire. Continue reading

I don’t love you; I always will

It’s pretty easy to turn a love song into a worship song. We’ve all been teasing Contemporary Christian artists for doing so for years. But what about turning an anti-love song? And what about a turning that doesn’t water down the longing for the lover with the bile of cliched romance?

I immediately loved “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars the moment I heard it (even as the video is pretty terrible…sorry for that, unless you enjoy overly-dramatic singing and gratuitous cleavage-shots which, undoubtedly, many do). But I digress. The song’s achy intensity resonates with my aesthetic sensibilities. What I love most is that the yearning of the song is the yearning for an unloved lover. Don’t we all have those in our past…the lover whose touch haunted us long after they left, but who we might never place on the short list of lovers who we actually loved? Or even the yearning for the hint of a lover – a flirtation never consummated but which lingers in our imagination?

In the world of the song, the couple is committed to a life together – whether in memory or in reality remains unclear – without love. And yet the yearning does not waver. If anything, absent love the commitment grows stronger. The song inspires worship because it poses the difficult question: could I continue to choose God absent loving God? And it articulates a powerful answer Continue reading