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a long list of names

When I ask people what their favourite part of the Christmas story is, I get a variety of answers. Kids like the angels and the animals. Others mention the incarnation, the courage of Mary, the kindness of Joseph to a son who was not his own, the remarkable dreams which led the young family away from danger, or the excitement of the shepherds. Very seldom does anyone mention the genealogies. I am not quite sure why, but rattling off a list of people’s names (most of them long dead) is usually left out of nativity pageants. Perhaps we should change that.
The genealogies of Jesus are found in two places: Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Go ahead and read them now if you like. The family tree in Matthew is the shorter one, with only 42 names listed, while in Luke we find 77 names. Matthew, meant for a Jewish audience, focuses on the nation of Israel’s highlights. Luke, written primarily for non-Jewish ears, is much more inclusive. There are some other differences between the two genealogies. Since…

Revelation: a few notes

This fall, our small study group decided to take a closer look at the book of Revelation. All of us admitted that we found it a bit difficult to understand. The first time we met, we did a read-through of the entire book and it left us more baffled than ever, but also intrigued. As we have delved deeper into the graphic visions and vivid poetry, we have been surprised, over and over again. To quote one of the participants: "Mind blown...again!" It is more historical and at the same time more relevant than we imagined. It is more in tune with the rest of the biblical witness than we knew. It is more cohesive and intelligible and carefully crafted than we expected. And it is so much more hopeful than recent books and movies focused on the end-times led us to believe.

It is always best to view a book as a whole instead of plucking out provocative, twitter-size quotes, and an attempt at wholeness is my intent here. Though we are only half-way through our study, I want to give y…

the movement of humility

We live in a context of stratification where much of society is ordered into separate layers or castes. We are identified as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Our language reflects this up/down (superior/inferior) paradigm. We want to be at the top of the heap, climb the ladder of success, break through the glass ceiling, be king of the hill. This same kind of thinking seeps into our theology. When we talk about humility, we think mostly think in terms of lowering ourselves, willfully participating in downward mobility. This type of up/down language is certainly present in biblical texts (James 4:10 is one example), but I believe that the kind of humility we see in Jesus requires that we step outside of a strictly up/down paradigm. Instead of viewing humility as getting down low or stepping down a notch on the ladder of society, perhaps it is more helpful to think in terms of proximity and movement.

Jesuit theologian, James Keenan, notes that virtues and vices are not really…

crash course in surrender

Surrender. Not the most popular word or concept in today's world. To the athlete trying to best the competition, surrender is not an option. To the military commander in the middle of a skirmish with the enemy, surrender is shameful. To a political candidate vying for votes, surrender is weak. To someone trying to convince a skeptic about the merits of their beliefs, surrender seems faithless. And yet, surrender is a posture Jesus modeled for his followers. He prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done." When he was wrongly accused and condemned to death, Jesus did not defend himself or demand justice. He surrendered his life. Most often, the disciples did not understand Jesus's refusal to exert his will over others. They lived in a context where the people with the most power made the rules, so the exertion of power was seen as the only agent for change. But Jesus insisted on showing them another way, a way not reliant on threats, coercion, or pressure tactics. He is …

Names of God: El Shaddai

One of most prevalent names we have for God is Almighty. We find this designation appearing not only in the scriptures but in creeds. The Nicene Creed begins: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…” In theological terms, we find this aspect represented by the word omnipotent (omni = in all ways, potent = powerful). All of these words refer to a being who has complete, unlimited, absolute power.

This is meant to be comforting, I am sure, but think for a minute about someone having unlimited power. As George Orwell famously said, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think we can safely say that power in itself is not a good thing. The other factor to consider here is this: what kind of relationship do we have with those in positions of power? Michael Reeves notes that if God is The Ruler, the one in charge, giving the laws, then “my relationship with him can be little better than my relationship with any traffic…

ears and swords

I am a disciple of Jesus and recently, I find myself identifying with that early disciple who brings a sword to a prayer meeting. Right after celebrating the Passover meal with his closest followers, Jesus goes to a secluded place to pray, and his disciples follow him. In the account in Matthew 26, it tells us that the followers of Jesus have a hard time finding enthusiasm for the task at hand - prayer - but when an armed crowd shows up to arrest Jesus, everyone is suddenly wide awake. Jesus addresses the armed men calmly, not resisting arrest, but one of the disciples perceives a great threat. He pulls out a sword and goes on the attack, chopping off the ear of the high priest's slave. Surprisingly, Jesus has no harsh words for the disciple turned betrayer, Judas. Instead, he rebukes the devoted, loyal defender: the disciple with the sword. Why? Because Jesus doesn't need defending or protecting. He doesn't need an army. Jesus wants his followers to be true followers, to…

Peace is...

This past week, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room while my mom had cataract surgery, a minor outpatient procedure. I watched people come and go and, after a few hours, it began to dawn on me that people who arrived after I did had already left the hospital. The nurse had informed me that it would take about an hour, but as the minutes ticked by, I knew something was amiss. That moment when you realize that something is not quite right, that things are not going as expected, you have a choice: you can start to panic, imagining every possible horrific scenario, or you can choose peace. I knew that my mom was surrounded by capable health care professionals, so I said a prayer of trust and surrender and continued to read my novel. Shortly after that, a nurse came into the waiting room and sat down beside me. She said, "You mom had an episode during surgery..." Once again, I was faced with a choice: did I let anxiety or peace rule the day? I chose peace and smiled at the …

what's the story?

I like to read stories. I also like to write stories. I have done a fair bit of both and, over the years, I have learned a few things about what stories do and do not do. In essence, a story is a trajectory. It sets the reader or listener on a path toward something or someone. It has a beginning (a specific starting point in time), it has a middle (in which characters face various challenges, setbacks, and victories), and an end (which is not really the end, but an invitation for the reader to imagine past the last sentence). Stories are always partial and incomplete. They never tell it all, but they do set us on a particular journey. What stories do NOT do is seek to make a case for absolute truth statements. Stories do not prescribe a particular plan of action in order to achieve certain results. Stories do not give us universal rules and regulations. When we try to force stories to perform apologetic, didactic, or juridical tasks, we end up mishandling them. A story invites people…

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

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When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

God, the future, and trees

When you go to a financial adviser, they ask you three basic questions in order to discern how best to handle your investments.
1. What is your goal? (retirement, simple and sustainable lifestyle, travel, funds for children's education, etc.)
2. What is your timeline? (5 years, 20 years, 50 years)
3. What is your tolerance for risk? (are you willing to take chances? how do you handle setbacks? volatility?)

When we think about investing our lives in the kingdom of God, of living a life of faith, the same kind of questions apply. What do we desire or love? What are we pointing our lives toward? Do we frame things short-term or long-term? What foundation we are laying for future generations? How do we respond to hard times? Do we experience a significant amount of fear and paranoia or are we willing to take risks? Does our perspective take into account the long arc of redemption and grace found in Jesus?

When Jesus tells his listeners to seek first the kingdom of God, he is inviting…

The Rhythm of Life...

Think about a typical day in your life. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? What's your morning ritual? What do you do during your lunch hour? What's the last thing you do before you go to bed? We all have life rhythms. Every day, we do certain things at a certain time in a certain way. Most of the time, we don't even think about these habits; they are just a part of our life. Each of these small details may seem insignificant, but they are building blocks. The habits we inhabit are formative. This is because our life rhythms are connected to two big questions: What is the good life, the flourishing life? What is our vocation (what is God calling us to)?
Let's look at an example. Here is the daily rhythm of a Benedictine community in New Mexico called Christ in the Desert.

Vigils at 4 am (read 12 Psalms, scripture lesson, reading from Church fathers)
Lauds at 5:45 am (prayer and Eucharist)
Breakfast, personal time
Chapter Meeting at 8:30 am (work assignmen…

Hello, past... Goodbye, past...

We talk about the kingdom of God as having come (Jesus declared as much), as being present, and as still to come. In the first chapter of Revelation, the Almighty One describes himself as "who is, who was, and who is to come." So closely is the kingdom of heaven related to the king of glory that when you see one, you see the other. Both king and kingdom encompass the realms of past, present, and future. If our theology emphasizes one of these aspects to the neglect of the others, we end up with some pretty lopsided doctrines such as cessationism, over-realized eschatology, or gospel escapism. I won't take time to unpack any of these (perhaps in a future blog) because my point here is that our personal spirituality, like our theology, can get a bit off-kilter if we do not invite God and God's kingdom into our past, our present, and our future.

In the context of living in the kingdom, our past refers to that which we cannot change. It is our story, how we got where we…