Returning

You know that feeling of returning to a place that you’ve been away from for a while? Much about it is familiar – even nostalgic – the way it looks, smells, and feels. And this initial familiarity is comforting, until you take it all in and realize that something is different.

A friend of mine has a farm in Tennessee, which has become one of those places for me. I’ve been there a handful of times over the course of several years, and each trip has been spaced apart enough that major life stuff has happened in between. Since I’ve known it, very little about the farm has changed. The house, the lay of the land, even some of the rituals we’ve developed in going there are all intimately familiar. I can pinpoint spots that remind me of specific people or jokes or meals – things I haven’t otherwise thought of in years. And despite all of this, each time I go there, it feels a bit different, not because the farm has changed, but because I have. Who I am and the things I carry affect how I perceive the world, even the places I know best. Continue reading →

This Is (Epiphany)

It’s January, and in case you hadn’t heard, it recently snowed a lot in the American northeast, where I live. By this point the snow has lost its charm and is becoming an ugly inconvenience. That’s often how January goes around here: it’s cold, dark, gross, and boring. It’s also Epiphany, a tricky little season that’s sandwiched between and probably often overshadowed by Christmas and Lent. But that name – Epiphany – is dazzling. In our common vernacular, epiphany means a realization. It’s ideas, thoughts, and observations coming together in a meaningful way. It’s a sigh of relief as something is resolved. It’s a convergence. Continue reading →

This City & My Soul

About three years ago, I set out to research and write my undergraduate thesis, a lengthy piece that I called, “The City and the Soul: American Architecture and the Good Life.” In it, I wanted to discern how good architecture and urban planning make us better people. It was cute, what I was trying to do, in the way that a college student talking about the very real world is always a little adorable. That’s not to suggest that I find this prior writing misguided – actually, I continue to stand behind much of what I said back then. But I had no idea what I was talking about. Or, maybe that’s all I had – ideas – and a decent set of books and theories to back them. Continue reading →

With Us

We all know the scene: it’s nighttime, probably a little bit chilly. A faithful carpenter and his pregnant fiancé are far from home, living as oppressed but obedient people under Roman law. She goes into labor, but they can’t find a room or any other suitable place for a safe childbirth, so they settle for a barn. There are animals and all the fun sounds and smells that animals make. There’s straw, and dirt, and poop.

It’s an undignified and unsexy entrance into the world for anyone, let alone God himself.

The prophet Isaiah foretold of this baby, and even some of the events surrounding his untimely birth. When the ancient Israelites were going through a bit of a rough patch, God used Isaiah to promise his people a sign, a solution to their problems. A child. Born to a woman – a virgin mother. In a rando village. And she’d call him Emmanuel, which means God with us. Continue reading →

Peace in Our Time

It’s either terrible timing or divine providence, but as I sat down to write this, the world continues to react to a series of violent attacks in Europe and the Middle East, which ended hundreds of lives, and have left families fractured and cities in mourning. Around the world, people are calling for prayers, solidarity, and peace in our time.

When we envision peace – that mysterious ideal which so many of us long for – it usually looks like one of two things. Sometimes it’s serenity or tranquility. It’s lying on a beach disconnected from everything, totally carefree. It’s inactivity – no obligations. Or, in times of crisis, it looks like resolution: an absence of conflict in our homes, cities, and world. It’s people setting down arms and finally getting along.

But in times of deep sadness and destruction, these visions of peace feel less than satisfying. They are true and good, but in the face of evil our hearts crave something more. The good news of the gospel is that the peace that God promises to us in Jesus is not mere inactivity or absence, but flourishing, restoration, shalom. It’s alive and active.

Read the rest on the Liberti Church blog, or in the prayerbook.

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.
Continue reading →

How to Live in Times of Fear

Sometimes I find myself walking through my South Philadelphia neighborhood, alone, in the dark. It’s generally okay, even pleasant, but occasionally I’ll see or hear something that makes me nervous. Later, when I’m sitting safely at home and scrolling through headlines and blog posts about things like gun rights or, more recently, refugees, I try to remember that feeling of fear and vulnerability.

I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I suspect that us humans are wired to be afraid of each other. We’re suspicious of unfamiliar experiences or people. And why shouldn’t we be? We have no reason to trust that which we don’t know, or to believe that it won’t harm us. Our bodies and minds simply desire self-preservation. Continue reading →

The Mountain

Several months ago, I found myself lost on a cluster of mountains. It was supposed to be a fairly quick and direct little hike, which had seemed simple enough when I planned it before setting out. Alas. The trail was poorly marked, and I didn’t have a map or GPS, so within an hour I realized that I was on the wrong trail, headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. I spent the afternoon trying to rectify this mistake, to no avail, instead tripling the distance I originally intended on going, and climbing up and down all these little mountains in a pretty nonsensical way. Of course, I had to keep reminding myself that everything would be okay: I had plenty of food, energy, fresh water, sunlight, and most importantly, literally nowhere else to be (#vacation). Even if my initial plan was a bust, it was fine – maybe even better – for me to spend seven hours wandering around this mountain range.

At some point during this venture, I was reminded of Dante, because I’m a little boring he was another person who got lost in the woods. In the Divine Comedy, Dante’s allegorical journey to heaven, he sets up Purgatory as a mountain. So the Christians who die with unresolved issues essentially become cosmic hikers. They forge uphill through a series of trials as they are purged of their sins and climb closer to Paradise. Mt. Purgatory’s trail is cyclical – it winds around the side of the mountain, so these hikers climb gradually in circles, which grow smaller and smaller the higher they go. Continue reading →

The Tricky Rhetoric of Rights

Over 200 years ago, in a stuffy brick building a few blocks north of my apartment, a bunch of white dudes got together and ratified the Constitution of the United States. Western Civilization has been messed up ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Constitution. It’s provided a nice bit of structure for these past 200+ years, and is full of fun little rules like Article I, Section 9, Clause 8. And those first ten amendments they eventually added – the Bill of Rights – sure do come in handy sometimes. I like it when the government promises that I can say and write what I want, and that I can practice whatever religion I want and even get together in public with people who are like me. All of that is fine and good. What I don’t like is how we’ve established a weird culture around these rights, which has affected how we think about ourselves, others, and our society. Continue reading →

Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Dead?

This is going to sound ridiculous, but this post is the direct result of a dream that I had several months ago. Back in the spring – in my real, awake-life – I was able to see Philly’s Wilma Theater’s wonderful production of Hamlet. Shortly after that, I dreamt that I was back in high school – one of those typical “omg I’m back in high school how did that happen?” dreams. (I’m not the only one that has those, right?). Anyway, I was in my AP English class, and we were assigned to write an essay answering the title question: why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dead? So I’m writing that dream-essay now. (It’s six months late – omg, did I fail??) Continue reading →