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 →

In Memoriam

Last week, I wrote an essay that I never wanted to write – some words which were spoken at my grandmother’s funeral. I’m putting this on the internet now, simply because I want as many people as possible to know what a phenomenal person she was, and what she has meant to me. 

For the past couple of years, on my birthday, I’d get a text from my Mom-Mom saying something along these lines: “Happy Birthday Alyssa! I still remember the day you were born, it was one of the happiest days of my life.” There’s no doubt in my mind that she’d say something similar about all of her grandkids’ birthdays, but I suspect that mine was particularly special. Being the oldest grandchild, the day I was born was the day that Claire Mullan became a grandmother. Anyone who has interacted with her for even a few moments in the past 24 years knows that this role was perhaps especially designed for her. 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.
Continue reading →

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 Keurig, the Chemex, and Dietary Gnosticism

Picture

There’s no way that anyone could be that happy while drinking instant coffee.

 

Over this past holiday season, I found myself in the coffee-machine sections of several retailers, in search of an espresso maker to give my mom. None of these stores had what I was looking for, instead, their shelves were well-stocked with assorted variations of Keurigs, Nespressos, and the accompanying accessories.

For those who may be unaware, a Keurig is a coffee-making device that is designed for convenience. There’s a small reservoir which users fill with water every couple of days, and coffee – which comes in pre-measured little pods (“K-cups”) – is dispensed in seconds through a small valve. Clean-up is a breeze – when you’re done, all you need to do is throw away the used plastic pod.

If the Keurig is at one end of the coffee-making-device spectrum, then the Chemex is at the other. For those who may be unaware, a Chemex is a glass vessel that is designed for making pour-over coffee. The coffee itself needs to be ground a certain way, and carefully measured (usually with a scale). The water needs to be heated separately, and brought to a specific temperature. When it’s just hot enough, it’s carefully poured in concentric circles over the coffee. The water-to-coffee ratio is important, and varies depending on the coffee itself; one coffee shop I frequent keeps their Chemexes on little digital scales, so they know exactly how much water they’ve added. The coffee slowly drips into a glass basin, and is served immediately. Continue reading →

6 Thoughts While Reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Unlike the hundreds of Philadelphians who took to the streets protesting yesterday, I didn’t do anything particularly special to commemorate MLK day. I did, however, conclude my three day weekend by re-reading Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I hadn’t read this essay in its entirety since high school. Since then, I’ve read some more stuff, thought a little bit about things like justice, and generally spent more time being alive – thus, my perspective on this text is a little bit different than it was five years ago (though that’s the beauty/point of re-reading great texts, isn’t it?). Here’s what stood out to me this time around:

He’s writing to pastors. I didn’t realize this before today, or at least, it didn’t stand out to me as notable before. But that’s jarring – one of the single most important documents in recent history is a polite yet fierce argument about why white Christian leaders should care about things like justice and human dignity. This gem particularly stood out to me: “In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’ And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.” Here’s hoping that the church as a whole has made steps in the right direction on this one. Continue reading →

LOL

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French designer Jean Jullien’s tribute to those lost in the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

 

Last week, people died because of some jokes: five cartoonists, defending their work, and over a dozen others, collateral damage in a grotesque war. Stéphane Charbonnier, Charlie Hebdo’s editor, in a bit of bravery that has been quoted dozens of times in the past several days, once said that “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

A lot of people have trumped what has happened in France up to freedom of expression. That’s not not true, but at the end of the day, Charlie Hebdo is satire, and the cartoonists and their colleagues were murdered over punchlines.

Jokes could be vain, extraneous to society’s real work, a mere luxury or distraction. Or, as Charbonnier seemed to believe, they could be worth dying for. Continue reading →