Saturday, May 21, 2016

Is This Your Favorite Sunday?

Clergy frequently joke that nobody wants to preach on Trinity Sunday. Our central theological doctrine stretches even the most able mind to the point of breaking. And let’s face it, doctrinal sermons rarely leave congregations rolling in the aisle laughing or reaching for the kleenex.
And yet, when they’re talking seriously about their craft, most of the preachers I’ve talked to about preaching on Trinity Sunday admit that they actually like it. That goes for me, too.
Edvard Munch's "Three Girls on the Jetty"
So it is with some regret that I find myself not preaching this Sunday. But those of you who read along with me on a regular basis know that I’m not likely to let a thing like that stop me from posting something as the Church gathers to ponder the nature of the Triune God.
So here’s the plan. I’m going to give you a couple of excerpts from past posts with links to the whole piece. Then, I'm going to share some links to blogs that I find helpful.
Here’s the first excerpt:
Of all the Sundays of the Church Year, there is no more appropriate day to reflect on Christian belief than Trinity Sunday. Along with the Incarnation, the Trinity is our central, non-negotiable belief. Now you might think that I’m about to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. And you would be mistaken.
Instead, I’m going to remind us that the Trinity and the Incarnation are Mysteries. We root our lives in and bank our lives on Mysteries. And yet some of us erroneously approach Christian belief as if it could conflict with natural science. We are mystery people, and yet some of us treat belief as if it were a kind of scientific knowing.  (from “Mystery and Belief”, May 31, 2015)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Body of Truth

A friend of mine from South Louisiana told me, “Those Cajun boys know how to dance.” She was talking fondly about a particular young Cajun man as if to say, “I love dancing with that guy.”
I wondered what it must be like to dance so well that other people want to dance with me for the sheer joy of it. To move with such energy and grace and abandon that others are swept up in the movement.
Willam H. Johnson's "Children Dance"
From time to time I find myself—with some reluctance—on a dance floor. While I’m under no illusions about my abilities, I do still aim for a sort of John Travolta thing.
I’m not thinking of the wiry, lithe Travolta of “Saturday Night Fever.” Instead, I picture myself as the older, chunkier Travolta of “Pulp Fiction.” 
In that film, his Vincent and Uma Thurman’s Mia win a twist competition at a fifties-themed restaurant called Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Their version of the twist was way cooler and, well, hotter than anything Chubby Checker ever dreamed of.
My flailing arms and wooden footwork bear no resemblance to Travolta’s sensuously effortless turning and twisting. A fair description of my dance moves might include words like awkward and stiff.
And yet, despite my clumsiness, my wife Joy and I have fun when we dance. It always takes me a few minutes to get past my self-consciousness, to push through my fear of looking foolish. But everything changes once I get over myself and get into the spirit of the thing.
Being the Church is a little like dancing. Actually, it’s a lot like dancing. That’s because the Church is the Body of Christ in motion.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Claudia, Her Sisters, and the Ascension

Claudia, Anna, and Amy made a date to share a pizza. It was the Thanksgiving holiday.
As BrenĂ© Brown tells us in Rising Strong, Claudia was visiting her family in Madison, Wisconsin. Amy—the youngest of these three sisters—had texted Claudia with the pizza invitation. Her idea was to get together without the parents for a little sister-time.
As it happened, Amy did not attend Thanksgiving dinner or any holiday event at her parents home that year. In her late twenties, Amy had struggled with depression and alcoholism since high school. She got sober briefly when she was eighteen, spending the next decade in a declining spiral of sobriety and relapse.
Henri Matisse's "Three Sisters..."
Over the years, Amy would show up for some holiday gatherings. When she was drunk, predictable chaos and heartache ensued. On sober visits, her parents lavished attention on her. Their parents’ focus on Amy served only to remind Claudia and Anna how Amy’s disease had dominated the family dynamic and robbed them of their youth.
This year, Amy’s absence infused the family with an aching heaviness. Nobody talked about it. They all just felt the slowly moving train wreck that was Amy. And because they were family, they were all going off the rails with her in haunted silence.
Claudia and Anna took leave of their parents to meet Amy for dinner. Claudia later told BrenĂ© Brown, “I just thought we could have one meal together… Three sisters sharing a pizza and catching up. Like a normal family.” (Rising Strong, Kindle Locations 2035-2036)
Amy had texted her address, but as Claudia and Anna got close, they grew increasingly uneasy. Their parents had offered to set Amy up in her own apartment, but Amy had declined. She didn’t want their meddling and their control.
The surrounding neighborhood was sketchy. Their hearts sank when they rolled up to the actual address. It was a long abandoned store. Plywood covered broken windows. The door was broken.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Keeping Our Word

When our oldest son Andrew was about three, he loved climbing things. Ladders, trellises, trees. They all beckoned him to clamber up toward the roof or the sky. In the house, we found Andrew mounting our coffee table and leaping off.
Not wanting him to mar the furniture or bump his head, we told him not to do that. Since this made no sense to him, he kept scaling the coffee table and leaping off, only to have us put him in time out for a count of ten. Eventually, he got the point. At least, he got a point.
Gustav Klimt's "Apple Tree"
When he thought I wasn’t looking, Andrew got on the table and jumped off. 
Before I could say anything, and without having seen me, he said, “Time out!” He walked to the accustomed corner, counted to ten, returned to the table, and repeated the process a few more times.
That wasn’t quite what we had had in mind.
Sometimes I suspect that Jesus looks at his Church and, with patience and love, shakes his head and thinks, “That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
Jesus had said, “Those who love me will keep my word.” (John 14:23)
With all the best intentions, people have taken his words to heart. And gotten them completely wrong. 
They assume that Jesus means, “If you love me you will follow the rules I’ve given you.” Sincerely trying to follow Jesus, some people believe that Jesus’ word—his logos—is a moral code. A set of do’s and don’ts.
But let’s do a quick review of Jesus’ teaching in John’s Gospel. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Even This

My mother Trudy used to tell me about a dachshund she once had. When she was feeling low, she would sit on our front stoop. The dog would join her on the top step and lay his head in her lap. From time to time he would look up at her in brown-eyed sympathy.
She would say, “He always knew when I was sad. And he would sit with me to make me feel better.”
Trudy never sulked or moped about. She loved to laugh and to eat, to cook and to buy gifts for the ones she loved. And yet, a continuous stream of tender sadness ran through her heart.
Mary Cassatt's "Mother and Child Smiling at Each Other"
During the Second World War, she had endured the allied bombing of her hometown Linz, Austria. Toward the end of that war, the Nazis confined her to the concentration camp Mauthausen. 
She had married unwisely, eventually escaping my father’s control and abuse. Her older son Joseph died. And Marie—her only daughter and my little sister—died as well.
Sometimes mom would drift back in her memory to earlier days and talk about “my little girl.” She was never maudlin or weepy. She seemed to be taken up into a tender nostalgia for what might have been.
This same woman who had suffered so much loss never gave in to despair. 

Even when we were broke and homeless, she always believed that things were going to look up soon. Her response to my own meltdowns and hissy fits was always the same. “Remember, tomorrow is another day.”
Paradoxically, my mother knew about hope precisely because she knew about loss and sorrow and pain. Her theology was not sophisticated. Her faith was simple but deep. It could be summed up in this phrase that I borrow from Rob Bell: even this.