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.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Amid the crumpled grays and browns
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
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
Monday, November 8, 2010
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
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
"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
Thursday, September 9, 2010
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
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?
Saturday, April 10, 2010
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
Friday, April 2, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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
Friday, January 15, 2010
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.