Monday, December 20, 2010

Christ of the Birds

Amid the crumpled grays and browns
of these late December leaves,
scattered and muted on cold-laden grass,
juncos come in mass, hop the ground here about,
for seed, for moisture, for life in itself –
their slate-colored bodies instantiating
a beauty so subtle, a glory all but hidden,
small and flitting through the dull
of this dusk-fallen hour.
Christ of the birds of this world
came down, came down,
to birth, to death, to winter among us,
wanting sorely to be graced,
as even juncos under heaven.
Christ of the birds, Christ of all creatures,
come again, come again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3 Advent 2010.

Cold rain over night, with temperatures close to freezing. Now at dawn fog settles in and fills the spaces between houses and trees, between heaven and earth. To this world, God, you came to us in Jesus, vulnerable as a child, tender as a hope. Thus you bless this cold and fog, thus you bless us, with blood and bone of your love, with life both now and ever. May we, with cold and fog and all elements of this world, kneel in thanks and praise before this lowly child, savior and lord of all creation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hope - Some Thoughts on 1 Peter 1:1-12

We commonly use the word “hope” in at least two senses. Some times we speak of “hoping against hope.” In this sense we use “hope” to indicate a kind of doggedness of will, but it is a sheer doggedness without real expectation of fulfillment. Hope thus experienced is more desperate than it is, well, hopeful. At other times we speak of “hope” more in terms of confident expectation, of trust that something will occur or be fulfilled. Hope thus experienced is not desperate but, well, truly hopeful.

Peter, a disciple of and witness to Jesus, wrote this letter to followers of Jesus scattered around Asia Minor in the early 60s A.D. He wrote to encourage and foster hope and faithfulness in those dispersed Christian communities. The hope of which he spoke was hope of the latter kind – expectant and confident of fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world and in the lives of his beloved people.

Peter wrote of hope not because he was naïve. He had seen the worst, from his own failure before Jesus to Jesus’ horrible death. Yet he knew also the great mercy of God leading to new birth, to new life in the risen Jesus. In a sense, after all he had been through with Jesus, Peter knew this mercy better than he knew his own failure or any other failures in life. God – loving, good, and powerful – thus gave him hope in Jesus.

Nor were Peter’s readers naïve. They knew trouble, discomfort, and adverse circumstances. Though they lived in it, they were “strangers in the world.” This was a period of increasing persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. They suffered or expected to suffer. Yet they also experienced God’s mercy and new life in Jesus. God thus gave them hope in Jesus.

We may look at the world around us, and at our own life, and we may ask what hope there is. Is there only hope against hope? Or is there true hope – expectant, trusting, confident? There is hope, declared Peter, not by ignoring trouble and adversity, but amid trouble and adversity, in that God in mercy gives us new life in Jesus. Through worship, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and faithful living, we experience Jesus, and God fashions hope in us, more each day. And so in turn we become agents of hope in a world in desperate need of it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Few Glorious Moments

A few glorious moments this morning just as the sun emerged above the horizon, after overnight rains, with high remnants of clouds dark gray above, but brightly illuminated underneath with stunningly pink-to-red-to-orange trailers toward the earth. A sky saturated with creation's splendor.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Church: First Fruit of Re-Creation

In To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (p. 158), James Davison Hunter remarks that ecclesiology is, for what he terms the neo-Anabaptist perspective, the form of engagement with the world. This stems from the significance of the communal aspect of Christian faith in this view. The individual is of course significant, but Christ formed a community of believers or followers: the church. Christian ethics is not solely or even primarily individual. It is corporate; it is ecclesiological.

Hunter is right about this in a certain sense. However -- and I am not necessarily reacting to Hunter or to any person in this so-called neo-Anabaptist perspective -- I contend that the reason for the existence of the church is not to engage the world. To employ Hunter's terms, the reason for Christ forming the community of believers is not in order to have a form or means of engagement with the world. The church is not utilitarian in the divine economy. The church is essential in the divine economy. The purpose in the divine formation of the church is the re-creation of the cosmos. The coming-into-being of the church is fundamentally an act of redemption or salvation, first and last, not ethic or mission. Ethic and mission derive from that redemption which is the divine formation of the church. Ecclesiology gives rise to ethic and mission. Or perhaps a more nuanced way of putting this is to say that a comprehensive ecclesiology seeks to understand and explicate both the essential being of the church (redemption, re-creation of the cosmos, the vanguard of the new humanity) and the necessary acts of the church in manifesting that being (ethic, mission). In the end the church is not a divine tool to engage the world outside of the church through ethic and mission. Were that the case, the church would cease to exist in the age to come. Rather, the church is the first fruit of the divine re-creation of the cosmos. In the age to come, when all of time and space are made new, beyond sin and death, in God's grace and power, the church will be the last fruit of that re-creation. Outside of the church will be nothing, for the church will be all, as God will be all in all. With and in God, the church will humbly and joyfully persist in God's good re-creation.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Mystery of Coming-Into-Being

The mystery of the involuntary coming-into-being of anything, including you and me, must continue to astonish us, inducing wonder and humility.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On a Sense of Place: From Edwin O'Connor's "The Edge of Sadness"

"For this was a moment I had postponed for a long time, and one I had never dreamed would finally take place.... I had come back, not to stay, but only for an hour or so -- long enough to see and savor again...that small and surprisingly unchanged part of the city where I was born and had spent so much of my life, where I knew every building and back alley as well as I knew my own front yard, where I had been a young priest, where I had had my own parish, and where, as in no place else, I had belonged, I had been at home. I suppose it's the mark of the provincial man, but in any case I find I have a special and lasting love for this place, which is so obviously just a place, which has no particular beauty or grace or grandeur of scene, but which is, quite simply, a neighborhood, my neighborhood, a compound of sights and smells and sounds that have furnished all my years. What kind of a man is it who, after almost fifty years, can still spend half his time remembering the cry of the chestnut man, as it came floating down the street on a winter night...?"

This novel is one of the finest I have read. I recommend it to my friends.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Conviction and Humility

Grant us grace to pursue passionate conviction with commensurate humility. Conviction without humility tends toward coercion and eventual violence. Humility without conviction tends toward mere sentimentalism and eventual subjectivism. Passionate conviction with commensurate humility. This is the way of truth in love.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Disappointment and Hope: Martha Speaks to Jesus

In the daily lectionary for today, the gospel passage -- John 11:17-29 -- locates us in the midst of the story of Jesus and the raising of Lazarus. Yesterday's text -- John 11:1-16 -- launched us into the story. Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, has fallen deathly ill. The sisters send word of the illness to Jesus. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live in the village of Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus, seeking to avoid further controversy and danger from his recent visit to Jerusalem, is a good distance away with his disciples, across the Jordan River. Though Jesus has a close relationship with the sisters and brother, when he receives the news of Lazarus' condition he enigmatically decides to remain in the trans-Jordan area for two more days. After those days, Jesus determines to go to Bethany in response. His disciples, deeply anxious, remind him of the danger in being so close to Jerusalem. As they all know too well, powerful figures in the city desire to do away with him. Nevertheless, Jesus departs for Bethany, and the disciples grimly accompany him.

Martha, hearing that Jesus is nearing the village, goes out to meet him. And here we come to one of the truly plaintive addresses to Jesus in the entire gospels. Martha greets Jesus with these words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." (John 11:21, 22; NRSV.) Do we not hear the anguish in the conditional statement, "If you had been here..."? Do we not perceive the rebuke in the unstated conclusion, almost accusation, "...but you were not"? And so Lazarus, dear brother of Martha and Mary, has died, to the sisters' great sorrow. Then Martha continues to Jesus, "But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." (John 11:22; NRSV.) And do we not hear in this second statement the beginnings of Martha's inward movement of heart and soul toward trust and hope in Jesus, despite the disappointing and painful circumstances? In these two sentences addressed to Jesus, we come to one of the great significances for us of this gospel story of death and life.

For just as we find ourselves at this point in the midst of the biblical narrative of Lazarus' illness and Martha's response to Jesus after her brother's death -- a response marked by seeming disappointment and anguish, then tentative trust and hope -- so we hear the story speaking to us in our particular circumstances. Most of us at times find ourselves disappointed and even anguished with life, whether a specific situation or a more general and overall character. We, like Martha, live in the narrative of those two sentences. Frustration, sorrow, pain. Jesus, if only you were here, things would be different. Trust, hope, love. Jesus, you are compassion incarnate, life in and beyond death. All things are possible with you. Between our birth, rebirth, death, and resurrection in Jesus, the story of our life moves through the hard space, the potential space, between Martha's two sentences: a narrative of lament and praise interwoven.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Photograph

Is this that moment for which we wait,
when the late-summer rose,
lifted on green thorny cane
and full scarlet-crowned,
opens to petaled perfection,
exquisite in flowing form,
just before the photograph,
then slip of time and space?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life Abundant

""The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10, New Revised Standard Version.)

Here we are in the final week of the Easter season in the church year. Last week we observed Ascension Day, Jesus' post-resurrection departure from this earthly sphere to rule the cosmos alongside God. This Sunday we mark Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, birthing and empowering the community of Jesus' followers for faithful life in this world.

Because of Jesus' resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Spirit, in a true sense we live in the season of Easter all year round, year after year. It isn't just for "spring." Jesus came -- lived, died, was raised -- that we might have life, life abundant, now and always.

To be honest, though, I don't actually feel that way all year round, year after year. I don't consciously experience Easter life all week or even all day, at least not that often. Spiritual faults, physical ills -- in me and in the larger world -- degrade and even war against life. The kingdom of God is here, to be sure, where people follow Jesus in faith, hope, and love. However, the whole of the cosmos, the whole of life, are not yet fully and finally transformed into that kingdom, both within and around me.

Still, I do feel, I do experience Easter life, life abundant, in moments and places, and even in stretches of time and space! When and where? What kinds of times, what kinds of places, what kinds of experiences pulse, quietly or vibrantly, with life abundant? When do I feel truly alive? What gives me a glimpse or an actual experience of the wondrous fullness of life Jesus came to birth and empower within us and within the entire cosmos? At times and in places when writing, exploring nature and history, photographing, and connecting with people, for example, I experience the instantiation of Easter life; and these are to be treasured and multiplied in the progressive transformation of all life in the kingdom of God's son.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

All a Kind of Praise

A brisk but glorious morning, with bright sunshine, trees greening, redbuds and dogwoods blossoming. I spent a good hour and a half early today slowly traversing a gravel country road in Fauquier County, Virginia, east of the Blue Ridge, with a farm and a lovely creek nearby, and a bald eagle flying over head at one point. All a kind of praise.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Day 2010

Karen and I participated in an Easter sunrise service (6:30 a.m.) at The Falls Church (Anglican), in the churchyard. Worship started in near dark among the graves; the sun ascended the horizon about midway through; by the end, as we ate and drank in Eucharist, the emerging leaves of the tall oak above us took on green in the light. In all, a splendid sacrament of life from death!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Way of the Cross: Multimedia Presentation

I commend this well-done multimedia presentation as a meditation for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some Thoughts on Galatians 6:11-18

Coming to the end of his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul summarized in his own handwriting his primary purposes in writing. Apparently an amanuensis or secretary had written down Paul’s thoughts to this point. Now Paul took over to emphasize his message.

Advertising, marketing, and public relations inundate our culture: business; education; politics; sports; and even churches. What appeals to people? How can our product, service, or idea be packaged and presented attractively to draw people in and win them over to make the purchase or join our side? How can we tailor language and image to lower resistance, touch a felt need, and sometimes even beguile?

Let us then read carefully the end of this letter. What message did Paul emphasize to the Galatians and indeed to all to whom he witnessed? Crucifixion! Paul pledged to advertise, market, and publicly relate nothing more nor less than the crucifixion of Jesus, and the critical need for us to be incorporated into Jesus’ crucifixion: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

This is the gospel: the cross of Jesus Christ! No one in Jesus’ day would have understood a cross as a piece of jewelry, a gilded symbol on a Bible or prayer book, a brilliant stained glass image, or anything of beauty. With deep shudders, they would have known a cross to be one of the most horrible evils invented and exacted by human beings on other human beings.

This – Jesus’ death by torture at the hands of political and religious powers, all because of our sin – is what Paul straightforwardly proclaimed in person and by letter. The saving death of Jesus is the one and only good news, above and even against all financial, philosophical, political, psychological, or spiritual advertisements to some other “good news” or good thing that will revolutionize our lives and satisfy us in heart, mind, or body. The only news that counts as truly good, as Paul affirmed and embodied, is new creation through death and resurrection in Jesus.

When we speak and act in the name of Jesus, what message do we live and present as God’s good news for us and for all people?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend in Winchester, Virginia: Saturday

With a temperature outside of about 16 degrees on this Saturday morning, snow began lightly around 8:00 a.m. as Karen and I breakfasted in the George Washington Hotel restaurant in Winchester, Virginia, where we are spending the weekend. We discussed some activities for the day, beginning with a drive west of 15 miles on Rt. 50 to the tiny town of Gore, VA, in a valley just into the Alleghenies. American writer Willa Cather was born in Gore in 1873; she lived there for ten years in two different houses before moving to Nebraska with her family. Both houses still stand; one is the house in which she was born. Just before Gore, on a gravel road about 100 yards off 50 are the remains of a house and small farm from at least the early 20th century, possibly latter 19th century. Next to that is a small, nearly forgotten family cemetery. Pioneer Jeremiah Smith moved onto the land in the early 1760s, with a grant from Lord Fairfax. He and a number of his descendants are buried there. Most gravestones are small, worn, even broken; names and people obscured by time, weather, inattention. Cold and thickening snow accentuated the poignancy. After exploring this area and the town itself, we headed back to Winchester. Along the way, sloping down the ridge into the Shenandoah Valley, we stopped along 50 so I could walk back up the highway to photograph ice formations on the rocks slanting high up on one side of the road. An interesting aesthetic and naturalistic experience as cars and trucks zoomed by on the snowy, icy pavement while I stood on the shoulder of the road. From there we aimed to visit the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley on the west side of Winchester. However, by that time (nearly 11:00 a.m.), snow had been increasing for a couple of hours, and the museum had closed due to weather! A portent as it turned out. We coped by going back to the hotel to park the car and focus on in-town adventure. Hence, we walked a couple of blocks to the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum in town. Too much to report on a fascinating visit there. A few details: the courthouse and yard were used as a hospital, prisoner of war facility, and barracks during the Civil War. There are graffiti inside from captured soldiers. Displays of Civil War relics and photographs are most interesting and informative. Meanwhile the snow continued heavily, with about 4 inches on the ground and the temperature at about 17 degrees. And so staff decided to close the museum early about 1:00 p.m.! We had had a good time there, and we were ready for lunch, so we didn't mind. We walked around the pedestrian mall of old town Winchester, and it became clear the town was starting to close up because of the snow. Many shops and eating places were closed or closing. We finally found a place for lunch, and that was good, for we were hungry and beginning to wonder where might find a place still open for us to eat lunch. After eating, we decided to walk the two blocks to the Handley Library, should it still be open, so we could explore the historical archives; but alas it too had closed early! And so at 2:30 p.m., after splendid adventures in history and geography and weather, we decided that returning to the hotel for reading was the best option for the remainder of the afternoon. Snow is now tapering off in the late afternoon, with about 5 inches in total, still very cold outside, and dark coming on. So far, with what we have done, and despite early closings, it has been an absolutely delightful winter day in Winchester and environs. The only question is whether we can find a place open for dinner!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Festival in Winter

A wet snow had fallen a couple of days before, in advance of a bitter cold front scudding in on fierce, northwesterly winds. In the early morning, the wind still blustering, under a gray-metaled sky with a thin band of ruddiness eastering along the Blue Ridge, I slanted across fields and lanes at the state arboretum in Clarke County, through snow now compacted and hardened to crust and ice.

Painfully cold at first, I lost most sensation in my ears and extremities after a while, such that I adjusted and moved past the worst of the pain. Nevertheless, I sought some refuge from the bitter wind by taking a path among scrub brush. The tall bushes and saplings cut the wind noticeably, and I felt more comfortable. The cold became distinctly more bearable, and I began to be able to focus more closely on the surroundings.

Amid this severe beauty, I continued on the path into a wooded area, even more sheltered from the wind. Now it was just cold, around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but tolerable. I stopped to observe, to watch and listen, in the calm at my level, while the heights of the trees, 40 to 50 feet above, swayed and rattled in the wind. I became aware of other movement and sound around me; and I wondrously realized there were at least several dozen cedar waxwings flitting around me in the woods, clustering on tree branches and fallen logs to eat of berries and drink of snow. The whir of glossy brown wings and bodies, basically unconcerned with me, took over my senses while I stood as still as I could.

The cedar waxwings and I were in a stand of hackberries. The common hackberry tree produces a green fruit in summer that ripens reddish brown to purple in autumn. After a hard frost, the small berries are particularly sweet. Hence the congregation of waxwings, for these elegant birds dine largely on fruit, especially in fall and winter. Fruit constitutes such a significant part of their diet that they are known as frugivorous birds. They favor hackberries, when available, greatly.

And there, in my stillness, I stood, I watched and listened, for an indeterminate time. A half hour? An hour? A quarter of an hour? In that moment, that space, I could not tell. I lost track of time, of cold. I knew only the flashing mass of cedar waxwings at feast among the trees and snow.