If God hadn’t tried it, we would always have wondered.
The world was a disaster in the old, familiar ways. Leaders lied and bankers stole. Lady Justice peaked under her blindfold. Nations built empires with mortar of blood. Husbands beat up their wives. Mothers sold their children for a quick fix. Brother betrayed brother for the price of a boast. The scorched and stripped soil wept silently.
The solution seems simple as it does satisfying:
Gather together all the good, decent, reasonable people, tuck them away inside a reinforced ark and/or bunker, then let loose the cannons of justice. Continue reading Going Under
Reflections on Israel/Palestine Trip, part 1
A suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem bus approximately 72 hours before I left for Israel/Palestine. I will admit, my heartrate accelerated a bit when I heard the news break on the radio. Inevitably the phone calls began rolling in—“Are you really sure you want to do this…?”
Continue reading Checkpoint Echoes
There’s a particular mystery to this story that I never even noticed until my professor Len called my attention to it this past fall. There are nearly 50 parables of Jesus recorded in the Bible—stories featuring farmers and bakers and bridegrooms and landlords and Samaritan heroes and prodigal sons. But out of all of these stories, there is only one character that is ever given a name: Lazarus. Unexpected details like this rarely appear show up in the Bible without good reason. So here we have a real mystery: what is the significance of this specific name for this particular story?
Continue reading Who’s Got the Keys
This passage from John 14 is one of the most beloved in Scripture, particularly in times of loss. It’s also one of those rare biblical passages that have become so deeply embedded in Christian imagination that even people who like me have never opened a King James Bible in our lives somehow intuitively recall it with the distinctive King James language: “in my Father’s house are many mansions.”
Continue reading Myth of Many Mansions
2 Corinthians 12:5-10
I have prayed for strength many, many times in my life. Before difficult conversations. In the midst of painful decisions. Every morning as I contemplate the insurmountable three steps between my bed and my beeping alarm. The one thing I have never asked God for—the one thing I have never heard anyone ask for? Weakness.
Continue reading Teflon Idols
(Reprinted from Mennonite World Review, Jan. 18 issue)
It’s no small thing to choose a first miracle. After all, this will be your public introduction, the image that will travel with your name as word of you gets out. Pundits and commentators will pick it apart for years, searching for clues of who you are and what you’re going to be about.
If I were in charge of Jesus’ PR department, I’d advise him to avoid any early resurrections, so as not to peak too soon. I might suggest walking on water as an eye-popping opener. Or maybe giving free food to the masses as a defining values statement. Expelling a demon sends a powerful message. Calming a storm has metaphoric resonance even a child can appreciate. A standard-issue healing sets a tone of gravitas.
Continue reading Raise Your Glass
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
For as long as I can recall, my favorite part of Christmas has been the Christmas Eve service. Growing up, I remember crunching through snow in bitter-cold darkness to attend the 11 pm service at the small, steepled church just up the road. There we would gather in a warm room, glowing all around with candles, and proclaim with John the glorious triumph of the Light.
Continue reading The Triumph of Light
(Reprinted from Mennonite World Review, Dec. 21 issue)
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” Immanuel. God with us. What a dangerous name.
Continue reading God with us
(Reprinted from Mennonite World Review, Dec. 7 issue)
One story in two tellings:
Telling #1 — Jesus and his disciples are visiting the Jerusalem temple. They’re sitting around, people-watching. They observe worshipers placing money in offering containers lined in the court of women. They’re not alone in their scrutiny; temple attendants and onlookers constantly hover here, noting how much each worshiper puts in the trumpet-shaped boxes.
Continue reading The Widow’s…Robbing?
Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-16
(Reprinted from the Mennonite World Review, Nov. 23 issue)
I’ve never been very good at keeping the Sabbath. To my knowledge, this is the only case where public admission of habitual commandment-breaking might actually get one a raise. We moderns have a term for compulsive productivity: we call it “job security.”
Continue reading Breaking Empire
I have a thing about endings. For me, the last few lines of a book or TV show or movie make or break it. The final words are the capstone, a revelation of what the writer believes was really the heart of her story. They are the words that linger, a bridge between the world of the story and the world we return to inhabit. I’ve been known to nurse a grudge for years against writers that blows an ending. (Eight years later, I still haven’t quite forgiven J.K. Rowling for the epilogue to Harry Potter.)
Continue reading Final Words
If I had to identify one crime as worthy of death by brimstone rain, I’m pretty sure offering your virgin daughters up for gang rape would appear high on the list. But that’s just me.
Continue reading Sodom Reconstructed
I’ve never been especially fond of the Parable of the Good Samaritan—or, as I like to think of it, “the Parable of Common Human Decency.” I mean, I know all the stuff preachers always point out about Jewish priests and purity codes. But seriously, who but an unfeeling sociopath sees a mangled, moaning human body crumpled up in a ditch and simply switches sidewalks?! It often seems like the story could be summed up in two short sentences:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” a man once asked Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Don’t be total jerk, and you’ll get along just fine.”
Continue reading Sociopaths, Samaritans, and All the Rest of Us
Confession: I really like Taylor Swift love songs. (I can almost hear the sizzle of respect evaporating.) In my defense, I do know it’s ridiculous—dances in a dingy parking lot, lingering looks that last so long it’s like the brain short-circuited. I’ll admit Taylor likely knows little of the patience and sacrifice that make up true, long-lasting love. But give her this—she really is the Master of the Flutter of romance’s first ten minutes.
I used to have a picture of relationship with God that looked a lot like a Taylor Swift love song: you show up on God’s porch in your best clothes, on your best behavior, smile on your face and flowers in hand. You knock fearlessly and God flings the door wide open—with just the slightest hesitation so as not to seem too easy. Then you enter straight-away, heart pounding, to dwell happily ever after in the house of God. Baby, just say yes; Amen.
Continue reading God’s Bloody-Knuckled Door
Like a lot of Christians, I’ve often found Jesus’ reluctance to talk about himself strange and even unsettling. This is a particular theme in the Gospel of Mark—Jesus seeming to go out of his way to conceal his identity. In moments of doubt, I’ll admit it’s crossed my mind that Jesus’ relatively modest self-descriptions (such as “Son of Man”) could be an indication he would not have claimed for himself the extraordinary status that others later ascribed him.
Continue reading The Proof of the Unblown Trumpet