The War on Advent

A couple of weeks ago a really bizarre controversy played out in America, wherein people freaked out about a Starbucks cup. While a refugee crisis heated up in Europe and the Middle East. And while thousands of college students took to the public square protesting racial inequality. But you do you, American Christianity.

This chatter means that we’ve reached an important moment in the church calendar: the annual war on Christmas is well underway. Now, I count myself among the many reasonable Christians who believe that this alleged war is total bullshit. Even so, there does seem to be something wrong about how our culture recognizes this season. Would I go so far as to say that we’re at war? That seems like quite a stretch. But for the sake of drama, let’s say that we are. It’s not a war on Christmas though – it’s a war on Advent.
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Energy, Urgency, and Mission

As previously mentioned, I’m really into the concept of church. And though I’m pleased to have been in a committed relationship to a church community for nearly six years, it means that I don’t see other churches very often. So it’s a treat for me when I get to check out a different church, especially a different kind of church, especially in a different country.

I recently attended a young, international, Pentecostal church in Norway. The Holy Spirit led me there insofar as it was the first result of a Google search. The lights were dim, the music was loud, the oldest person in the room was barely 40. There were flashy videos and catchy songs. The amount of energy in the room caught me off guard, and honestly, I couldn’t get into it. During the first song, one of the music leaders graciously informed us that “we’re dancing and clapping like this today because we’re excited about Jesus.” Continue reading →

What is Church For?

I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about church. Not God, or scripture, or prayer, but church. My church, their church, the Church, all the churches. Church culture fascinates me, even when I disagree with it. This fascination has buoyed me through several traditions, through years of studying things like history, art, philosophy, and theology, and led me to a season of working at a church doing some of the on-the-ground stuff that makes ministry happen. So I’ve invested a lot of energy – mental and otherwise – in this aspect of the faith. Which is why I feel okay tackling this question.

There was a season in my life where I was really pissed at the church. I had gone through an evangelical phase that left a weird taste in my mouth, and made me not want to be affiliated with Christianity. I started to come back around in college, but even then, I wasn’t totally on board with the idea of church. It seemed kind of like a useless formality: I was getting an excellent Christian education in school, which was supported by a strong community of peers who loved the Lord. But I went to church anyway and kept going back. It seemed like the right thing to do, even before I understood why. Continue reading →

Midway Along the Journey (on Growing Up with Dante)

It’s always fun to revisit an old copy of a great book – the snarky notes and shaky underlines function sort of like a photo album or journal, providing interesting insight on a younger self’s heart and mind. It’s also interesting to ask, “how has this changed me?” As with friends and experiences, I have been changed by certain books.  

Most recently, the great book that’s been on my mind is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Rod Dreher, one of my favorite contemporary writers, speak at my alma mater on the topic of his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life. Naturally, this got me in the mood to crack open my copy of the Divine Comedy, which I originally read as a freshman in college. I’ve been reading a couple of cantos before going to bed each night for the past week or so, and obviously I’m reading it through a much different lens than I did when I was in college. Eventually, there could be a blog post about that, but for now, I’d like to think about all of the ways that Dante has changed me, and the things in this text that have stuck these past five-ish years.  Continue reading →

A Bloody Cross, An Empty Tomb

Masaccio. "The Holy Trinity," 1425. Florence - Santa Maria Novella.

Masaccio. “The Holy Trinity,” 1425. Florence – Santa Maria Novella.

There’s this painting in this church in Italy of the crucified Christ. It’s big, it’s raised up high, and it’s painted in such a way that it looks dimensional – like an actual crucifixion is taking place within this church.

From where they’re standing, the viewer sees Christ. You see his father above him, and the Spirit between them. The Son is flanked by his mother and disciple, and two of the artist’s patrons. Despite the bizarre and gruesome way in which our Lord was killed, it’s a pretty ordinary scene, one depicted in many places and times.

But it’s what sits beneath it that’s particularly interesting: a skeleton. At eye-level, there’s a nearly life-sized depiction of a human skeleton, nestled beneath the crucified Christ. This anonymous body – meant to represent Adam, or the artist, or humanity, or the human condition, or whatever – lies in a tomb. Above him are the words, in Italian: I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.
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Am I Better than a Frat Boy?

 

Another fraternity has gotten itself into some trouble, and since this one was pretty close to home, it’s been all over my newsfeed. Last week, Penn State suspended its chapter of Kappa Delta Rho, after it was discovered that the frat had a secret Facebook group which publicized photos of, amongst other things, drug transactions and unconscious women. People seem pretty outraged (though perhaps not entirely shocked) by this, both the fact that it happened in the first place, and that it happened so brazenly.

Adding fuel to the media’s fire, one KDR member somewhat infamously (and anonymously) gave a statement defending his fraternity, saying: Continue reading →

Pigs, Demons, and the Problem of Evil

I had the honor of being featured in Liberti Church’s Lent & Easter Prayerbook again – the reflection I wrote accompanied this past Sunday’s reading (Mark 5:1-16). Here’s an excerpt:  

The demon possessed man was destroyed by evil.

His body, his mind, his relationships – utterly and tangibly ravished by the second-most powerful force in the universe. We learn in today’s reading that this is the kind of evil with the strength of an army – it cannot be bound. And yet when it meets the Son of God, it is feeble and desperate.

The evil we see here is real and mighty. And even though our lives may look a lot different than that of the man we meet in this story, we’ve all encountered the same kind of evil. It alienates us from our God, our community, even ourselves. Every aspect of creation is affected by it. It has overtaken our lives.

For the rest, head over to Restoration Living, or check out the Prayerbook itself.

Jesus, You Party Animal

One of my favorite New Testament stories made its way into my reading this week. I’m talking of course, about the first part of John 2 – the wedding at Cana. I love this story because it’s when Jesus reveals his glory to his disciples. 

Just kidding. I love it because of all the booze.

I promise this isn’t just because I really like wine. There’s a lot of great stuff in this story that I think might get overlooked, since the nature of this miracle seems so different than that of the others. But here’s the good stuff that stuck out to me this time around:

Jesus and his crew partied, and they partied hard. John doesn’t say too much about the newlyweds or other wedding guests, but whoever they were, they ran out of wine before anyone was ready to call it a night (…awkward…).  Continue reading →

Of Palm & Ash

Lately I’ve been thinking about the life cycle of a palm branch.

Just under a year ago, I purchased hundreds of palm branches from a florist down the street, and spent the afternoon trimming them down so that the following Sunday – Palm Sunday – my congregation could wave them around and mark the beginning of Holy Week in style. These leaves were vibrant and fresh, recently plucked from a tree in some perpetually lush part of the world.

The leftover branches ended up on the floor of my office next to my desk. They sat there unnoticed for the better part of a year. And they died: they gradually lost their color and their moisture, turning into crunchy, pasty-yellow things. Continue reading →

The Surprisingly Feminist Story of Jesus

In 2014, in America, Christianity is often associated with the oppression of women. That’s pretty embarrassing, and it’s one of those things that makes it hard to call one’s self a Christian in the public square. I will note that some of this association is probably falsely construed, or at least, exaggerated or misunderstood. But some of it isn’t. It pains me to acknowledge that things like oppressive gender roles, unequal compensation, unfair/absurd expectations, and rape culture have been advanced in the name of Christ.

The great irony here is that the story of Christ could be read as one of the first feminist manifestos. Continue reading →