Is Trump America’s Lent?

Like many Americans, I’ve reached the point in the election cycle where I’m having to actually consider what a Trump presidency would look like for the country – a notion that most of us laughed off just a few months ago. It’s a disturbing prospect.

Something that I’ve found fascinating in all of this is the general public response to Trump’s candidacy thus far. I try to follow a wide range of news sources and thought leaders – some are pretty liberal, some are pretty conservative, and a few fall in between. In the past week or so, there’s been this funny little trend, where commentators are struggling to determine how Trump’s gotten so far, and why he’s doing so well. It’s funny to me because people from all over the spectrum seem to agree that a Trump presidency would be terrible – it’s almost always treated as some looming potential disaster – and now they’re trying to figure out why this bad thing is happening and how we can stop it. The theories are varied, conflicting, and definitely interesting. But I come away from all of these articles (but especially the ones written by and for conservatives) with the same question: if a Donald Trump presidency is so obviously bad for America, then who on earth is voting for him? Continue reading →

A Hog & Me Both

Somehow, in a weird way, Lent has become my favorite time of year. It’s the refreshing stability of rules and rituals. It’s the way that winter’s thawing into spring mirrors our hearts as we move toward Easter. It’s the challenge of tangible fasting and existential honesty. There’s a lot at play here – I love it all. And each Lent, I find myself revisiting one of my favorite short stories, Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation.

In this story, we meet Mrs. Turpin, a woman understood to be ugly both inside and out. Brutally bigoted, condescending, and self-righteous, Mrs. Turpin takes cruel joy in the belief that she is fundamentally better than the people surrounding her. We meet her before and during a life-changing encounter that shakes her to her wicked core, leaving her rethinking everything she thinks she knows about herself. After a stranger sees her for who she really is and calls her to “go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” Mrs. Turpin finds herself questioning God:

“What do you send me a message like that for?” she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?”

Head to my church’s website to read the rest, or, download their Lent Prayerbook.

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 →

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 God of Bread and Wine

There’s this painting by Salvador Dali hanging somewhere in the National Gallery entitled “The Sacrament of the Last Supper.” Here, Dali is depicting what many other great artists before him have depicted – one of the most crucial, remembered, and celebrated meals in history. His rendering of this moment is transcendent. Christ, surrounded by his followers, is clean, pure, and translucent. The communion elements are laid out on the table before him in perfect symmetry. It’s a cleverly crafted and deeply thought-provoking work of art, an excellent demonstration of Dali’s genius and skill.

But it’s all wrong.

At the last supper, Jesus does indeed represent the clean and pure lamb of God – figuratively. But he had just spent the day hanging out in ancient Jerusalem, and, in an act of great humility, washed his disciples’ feet (with his hands, without gloves. Disgusting, and beautiful). His clothes were not clean and his hands were not pure. And he was there, physically, tangibly; not hovering above the table like a ghost or something. He was and is God, and he was and is man too. His body was at that table and with his friends, breaking bread and sharing wine.

And that bread and wine were not pre-packaged or store-bought, purchased hastily and thoughtlessly on the way to a friend’s house for dinner. Someone, possibly someone in that household or eating that Passover meal, made them from scratch in a very physical process.

Days before, that bread was grain, gathered from a nearby field and ground into flour. It was prepared quickly – unleavened – and taken out of the oven just hours before God himself took it and said, “this is my Body, broken for you.” The wine, on the other hand, would have required much more time. While unleavened bread is a helpful reminder of the Israelites‘ urgent flight from Egypt, wine reminds us of something else. Waiting and patience, perhaps. Those grapes were taken from a vine long ago, processed and left to ferment in a cool, dark place, for months, or possibly years. Jesus loves good wine, so I suspect that this was a particularly excellent batch, brought out just for this occasion. And he took it and said, “this is my Blood, shed for you.”

There’s a version of the Prayer of Thanksgiving that we say during ordinary time that really captures the holy physicality of this sacrament. Just before ordaining the elements, the minister prays, “And as this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that your whole Church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

When determining how his people would eternally remember him, I don’t think Jesus chose to use bread and wine on a whim. He didn’t have some sort of arrangement with Welch’s or Franzia, nor did he simply grab whatever was laying around the house. To be sure, it’s no coincidence that bread and wine are simple and common household items, but they are also delicious, skillfully prepared, and point to an Incarnate God, a bloody sacrifice, and a united Church.

The gifts of God, for the people of God.