The Transfiguration has always bothered me deeply. Jesus takes his closest friends to a mountain and is “transfigured”: his clothes turn white, he talks with some Old Testament prophets, God says nice things about him; everything then calms and they walk down the mountain like nothing happened.
But… what is a “transfiguration”? Translators use that word because no one knows what this moment is or was. “Transfigure” doesn’t mean just a change in appearance, but an actual change in substance and form. There’s simply no word in language that can communicate it. “
Transfigure”, then, is an almost nonsensical word. It’s merely a placeholder for something whose meaning we can’t ever know. So even though the words sit there in black-and-white before us, we will never know nor have access to what this actually means or is saying. Continue reading →
As a child, the joy of Christmas morning was unmatched. Wide awake in my bed with anticipation, I would watch the clock count down. I was raised to believe that Santa might not come to kids who wake their parents up before 7am on Christmas morning. Once that magical hour struck, it was a flurry of shouts and laughter as a tornado of flying bows, ribbon, and wrapping paper unfurled in the living room beneath the Christmas tree.
Proclamations of joy aren’t hard to find this time of year, even outside of the church. And there are many reasons to be joyful in this season. There is something special about the smell of freshly baked cookies, gatherings of family and friends, gift-giving, candles, evergreens, and hot chocolate.
Yet, the joy of the Christmas season stands in stark contrast to the broken circumstances of our world. We see others who gather at Christmas, and it reminds us of our own loneliness. We see tables filled with plenty, and it reminds us of our own hunger. We see the gifts of others, and it reminds us of our own financial stress. Continue reading →
I started a company six years ago and I truly felt I was following God’s plan for my life. I saw him leading me through challenges, making connections, providing financially. I was filled with hope and motivation. I felt like what I was doing was helping people, healing friends and family. I was doing something I loved that connected me to God and his vision for my life.
If you’ve spoken to me in the last year, however, the road has been more bumpy and more challenging. And surprisingly, though at times I’ve been angry, confused, and discontent with the struggles of this company, I’ve been relying more on God daily than I had when I was praising him for all the ease and fun of this job. Continue reading →
Growing up, I was always intrigued by the story of Rahab. As a tween and teen, it was somewhat perplexing to me that the Bible celebrated this woman as righteous for lying to protect the Israelite spies. Given Rahab’s less-than-reputable profession —and a wealth of biblical heroes who did far worse than she — I’m not sure why the deceit was my biggest hangup. I do know, though, that ruminating on Rahab’s story was an important step in my journey toward a less black-and-white, judgmental kind of faith.
The story of Rahab begins as Joshua and his army are preparing to destroy the Canaanite city of Jericho as an offering to the Lord. In an act of treason, Rahab hides the enemy spies and lies to her own government officials regarding their whereabouts. We have no real way of knowing why she does this. What we do know is that, somehow, this Canaanite prostitute has heard about the miracles of the Israelite God, and she has believed. Continue reading →
The first time the phrase “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” meant something was when my beloved brother returned home from college—and the second time was when I moved away to seminary. Home takes on a new meaning once it’s been left behind.
Yet, home can also be elusive and painful. For anyone who has experienced exile or homelessness, job or school relocation, the question “where are you from?” can provoke painful memories of loss and loneliness. In a time of unprecedented transience, we might wonder where and when we will ever truly feel at home again. Continue reading →
Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.
To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.
During the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.
I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.
I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.
And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
This is from the Advent portion of W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. The full text is under copyright, but it’s in this book, if you’re interested.
From Part I:
[T]ime never moves and nothing can ever happen:
I mean that although there’s a person we know all about
Still bearing our name and loving himself as before,
That person has become a fiction; our true existence
Is decided by no one and has no importance to love.
That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome
The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even
The violent howling of winter and war has become
Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop. We are afraid
Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.
This is the Abomination. This is the wrath of God.
Part II, Chorus:
Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.
Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.
This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.
This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.
His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).
Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.
But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.
Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.
But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.
Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.
A Theology of Water & Advent
Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.
[TL;DR: Instead of gifts for my birthday, I’m asking for donations to Charity: Water to give clean drinking water to those with none. Give on my Campaign Page.]
The picture on this post is from my trip to Israel earlier this year. It’s from En Gedi, an oasis in the the desert, near the Dead, Masada, and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It is literally a random spring in the middle of the vast Israel wilderness.
I thought of this image as I was listening to a recent episode of The Liturgists podcast on suffering. They offered interviews, art, music, and poetry about the pain and injustice which exist on a global scale.
They lamented that many such programs leave us with no ability to do something in response. But they offered a way. They interviewed the founder of Charity: Water, a non-profit that focuses on delivering sustainable clean water wells in underserved parts of the world.
One of the best ways they have found to raise money is to ask others to donate their birthdays to Charity: Water. Instead of getting gifts, people would encourage others to give that gift-money to Charity: Water.
This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.
“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.
These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!
Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”
Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.
When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.
I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.
I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.