May 23, 2021
Recently, I’ve been looking at getting a bike. It’s always a challenge to find kinds of exercise that I actually enjoy, and after a trip a few years ago where we rented bikes, I discovered it’s a lot of fun! But while I was researching to figure out what would be a good kind to get, what to start with, and what wouldn’t be a huge waste of time and money to buy, I kept being confronted by this indecipherable jargon. What does it mean that the wheels are 700-35? What’s a derailleur and is the brand important? What’s the difference between a hybrid, a road bike, and a cruiser? And when I’d search for answers, it was more insider language.
What happens when the words we use, the language we speak, becomes a barrier to sharing the gospel? We have a lot of insider language in the church—who else talks about paraments, or liturgy, or witnessing, or reconciliation? But on that first Pentecost of the Church, it was actual language that was the barrier. Peter and the other apostles, gathered in the upper room, spoke Aramaic and maybe some Hebrew and Greek. But all that changed when the Spirit fell on them like tongues of fire.
May 16, 2021
A little while ago, we took Hazel to a zoo with a little playground/amusement park in it. There was this one carnival type ride, the kind where you sit in a bee and it whirls around in circles, and she wanted to go on it. I took her through the line, and got her in the seat, but I couldn’t sit with her because the ride was sized for children her age, and I had to step behind a railing because it was against the rules to just stand near the ride while it spun. Honestly, it was surprisingly hard to walk away and let her sit in the ride alone.
Normally, one of us is always there when she tries something new—at the bottom of the slide to catch her, there to push or catch her on the swing set, that kind of thing. But this was the first time I’d ever left her alone to figure things out, and it worried me. Would she get scared when it started to spin? Would she freak out when she realized I wasn’t there with her? Would she try to get off the ride while it was still moving? But thank goodness she handled it like a champ, and immediately wanted to do it again.
May 9, 2021
Back several years ago when I started learning how to play the banjo, I remember the hardest part was learning the basics. See, there was this music teacher who had graciously put up a series of videos on YouTube for anyone to watch so they could learn how to play, and I used those. And what made it so hard wasn’t the technical parts—where to put my fingers, or how to hold the banjo, or how to structure a chord—no, it was his basic instruction: “practice this one lesson for a week before you go on to the next lesson.” So I did what he said, and I practiced my bum-ditty strumming for a whole week before I even touched the fret board. Y’all, I’m not patient so that was pretty hard.
That’s the thing about practice, though. You don’t pick up a football and immediately run a complex play. You don’t put on your dancing shoes and immediately run a masterful routine. You don’t play a tuning note and immediately start singing a complex harmony line. You practice first. You do the basics, repeating them over and over, putting together the building blocks until you get really good at it, and then you can do the harder stuff. And it’s the same with love: you don’t go out into the world and immediately love all people like Jesus loves them. That’s what we’re doing when we get together as Christians, is practicing how to love.
May 2, 2021
Years ago, back when I was growing up and my family lived in Virginia Beach, we went on a trip to see my grandparents down in North Carolina. While we were gone, a hurricane came through town and split one of the trees in our backyard. And I remember when we came home, it was a while before my parents could get the broken limb removed from the yard, so my brother and sister and I would play games in the branches. One lesson that we learned, though, was that when a branch gets cut off from its source, it starts to wither. It’s like how Jesus says that the branch that doesn’t abide in him withers. We need to be connected to our source of life.
Grapevines are old images of the Bible. In the Old Testament, God is described as planting a vineyard and tending to it. One really important passage about God planting a vineyard is a song in Isaiah. In it, God describes planting a vineyard, lovingly preparing the ground and setting up a winepress and a watchtower. But when harvest season came, the vines produced sour grapes. Something went wrong, and it ruined the harvest. It’s a metaphor for how God’s people went astray, and rather than producing good fruit—the kind of society and people God intended—they went their own way.
April 25, 2021
My first job was as a line cook at a fast food restaurant. I had been raised with a strong work ethic, so in a lot of ways I think the managers really liked the fact that I stuck around for quite a while. Even after I went to college, when I’d come home over the summer they had that same job waiting for me. But I remember one particular summer, not long before I left for seminary, it occurred to me to wonder why I was working so hard at this job. After all, in the seven years that I had worked there, I was still being paid minimum wage. It seemed silly to give it my all when the company I was working for was literally only giving me what they legally had to and nothing more. Why should I do more than the minimum, since that’s all they’re paying me for?
Which is to say that I get what Jesus meant when he said that the hired hands don’t care about the sheep. When it’s just a job, just time and effort you give in return for money, there really isn’t any reason to go above and beyond. They didn’t have a stake in the success of this flock, after all. And when the hired hands saw a wolf—menacing, dangerous, deadly as it was—it only makes sense that they’d figure “I’m not getting paid enough to die for these sheep,” and run away. But the thing is, the sheep believed they could trust those hired hands to keep them safe.
April 18, 2021
One of the things I love about the Easter season is how, week after week, we keep coming back to hear about how Jesus shows up, and the disciples are shocked, and we get to keep revisiting just how completely off-the-rails nutso it must have been for them that first Easter. I mean think about it. Before this, people didn’t come back from the dead. Before this, resurrection was a thing that was assumed to be in the long-off future. So when the disciples were discussing “these things,” they were talking about all the crazy stuff that had been happening.
The story of the empty tomb, first reported by the women. There was this extraordinary interruption to how normal things were supposed to happen, where tombs keep their dead and angels don’t announce resurrections. It was impossible, because it had never happened before.
They talked about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, swearing up and down that they had seen the risen Christ, even broken bread with him. But that’s crazy! Jesus was dead, and they all knew it. They saw the cross, they knew about the tomb. The dead stay dead. It was impossible, because it had never happened before.
Then Peter—the impetuous rock of the disciples—was saying that even he had seen the risen Christ! Had Peter just lost his mind in the grief? Had his impulsiveness somehow sapped his brain and now he was talking crazy about Jesus not being dead anymore and showing up to chat? It was all impossible, because it had never happened before.