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The God Trump Card

21 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

In part because I was lucky enough to receive an excellent theological education from grade school through seminary, I wince when I hear someone start a sentence with, “God says…” or even, “The Bible says…” Quoting the Bible does not mean quoting God, and even quoting the Bible has to be done with great care and reflection. These phrases can stunt conversation and dialogue, two things I’m in the business of promoting. I call it playing the God card, or throwing Bible bullets. The God card and Bible bullets are difficult for many people to argue, even though they so often used inaccurately.

Inevitably, during election season, the Bible gets dusted off to do the work of promoting person and political agendas. My instinct, backed by my deep respect of the Bible and its power to be used or abused, is to tread very lightly here.

Years ago, I had one professor who had been studying the Hebrew Scripture his entire adult life. He seemed to know God through his studies in a way I only dared to hope. He started the course by sharing some guidelines, some things to consider when approaching the sacred biblical text. I found it exceedingly helpful, so I put them in my own words. Every time I teach the Bible, now, I start out by sharing them, too. Students always seem to find it a helpful place to start. I find it a helpful place to come back to and revisit. I hope you do, too:

Be mindful of how who you are changes how you read the Bible.

The text is not the same as the interpretation of the text.

We are reading a translation, and every translator carries a bias.

No passage has a single meaning.

Reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience. It was written in a time long ago, in a place far away.

Talking about the Bible with people who think and live differently than us will make the truth more complex, richer and more full.

The Bible contradicts itself and never attempts to be consistent. It interprets itself.

There is a difference between believing in the Bible and believing in the God of the Bible.

Reading the Bible literally is a fairly recent phenomenon.

There are several different genres in the Bible– poetry, myth, genealogy, law, parable– that deserve to be read with different lenses.

Not everything in the Bible happened, but that does not diminish the story’s truth.

Context is key. Taking a verse out of context limits the power of the passage. We must study the passage by looking at what comes before it and after it, by putting it into the context of the whole Bible, and considering the historical and political context the passage is set in. This takes work, challenging us to not just read the Bible, but study it.

Not every Bible passage is equal in its influence over our faith life.

The Bible does not have answers to all our modern-day questions.

O Anthiphons

14 Oct



The O Antiphons are the Church’s prayer for the last days of Advent. Beautifully illustrated by Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, each card has a visual and a prayer poem by Joan Mitchell, CSJ. The original antiphon and its scriptural sources on the back. Click here to view a sample.

Only $15.00 per set (price includes shipping!).
Order online today!

The Ladybug vs The King

14 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Devon Christopher Adams

Photo via Flickr user Devon Christopher Adams

I walked into a Bible college auditorium filled with undergraduate students to hear a man I deeply respect preach about restorative justice work. I walked in late, having mistakenly assumed that chapel happened in the chapel and not the main auditorium, but I caught the end of the last worship song before the message:

Behold our God seated on His throne

Come let us adore Him

Behold our King nothing can compare

Come let us adore Him!

The lyrics, and a large group of young people singing those lyrics, triggered something in me. I crossed my arms over my chest, looking down at my feet. The refrain repeated enough times to give me space to think about my thinking. The metaphor of God as king is popular and pervasive, but clearly that day it was an image that was standing in my way of worship. God as a man, a rich and powerful man sitting still was not working for me. I have not had any direct experience with kings, in that way the metaphor seems old and far away. My mind when tot the closest thing in my context– the image of a male political leader, sitting back comfortably while his subjects tremble– that image I can easily conjure up. I also have direct experience of everyday men, turning chairs into thrones, bloated with entitlement, expecting to be adored. Thinking of these men doesn’t bring me to a place of awe and wonder. Instead of opening me up, it shut me down. Instead of closer, God felt far away.

Just a day earlier, I presented a much different metaphor for God to a bunch of little kids during a children’s sermon. We were working with Psalm 23, and to make it real to kids, I focused on God being with us as we walk in darkness. Halloween is coming, after all. I proposed that luckily, our God isn’t afraid of the dark. Then I pulled out my son’s nightlight, a ladybug, whose shell has stars and a moon shape holes in it. You can choose to project red, green or blue light through the ladybug, and a colorful star-filled sky will appear in the darkness, filling the entire room. “Sometimes we wish God would just turn on the light and make the dark go away,” I said. “But I think God is more like this ladybug nightlight. God sits with us in the dark and works to make that darkness more beautiful.”

The contrast between a throned king and a ladybug nightlight is laughable. It initially strikes me odd that a genderless inanimate object is the more effective metaphor for God for me. In other ways, it makes sense. It’s close, comforting, and intimate. It’s harder to project this idea into our world because it, like the God as rock metaphor, only works as an idea. It infuses the nightlight with meaning, but there is no real risk of unearned adoration of the object. God as a towering male King works as a God metaphor for some, I’m sure. Today, I’m sticking with the ladybug.

Gospel Reflection for October 16, 2016, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

12 Oct

Sunday Readings: Exodus 17.8-13; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.18

“Take up my case. Give me my just rights against my opponent.” – Luke 18.3

The widow in Jesus’ parable this Sunday is not asking for food and basic necessities. She is seeking her “just rights.” The word in Greek, ekdikeo, is not the usual term for justice but a word that means settling with an adversary. We have a widow with the means and moxie to take someone to court. When the judge finally acts, it is because he fears the widow will disgrace him.

This widow is a woman of voice and action who wants a judgment against her adversary and won’t be silenced. She is like the Mothers of the Plaza de May who have protested the “disappeared” in Argentina since 1977. This year the founder Hebe de Bonafini met with Pope Francis, who told her, “When I meet a woman whose sons were murdered, I kneel down before her.”

How is the widow in the gospel a model for Christians? What evils does the judge represent that Christians must resist? Who do you know who protests like the widow?

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7 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Donna S

Photo via Flickr user Donna S

The task was to dissect the story of the Israelites and the golden calf with high school youth. I went straight to jealousy, and we easily talked about coveting cool shoes, the newest iPhone, easily earned high test scores, raw hockey prowess or the attention of a particular person being given freely and enthusiastically to someone else.

What, though, does jealousy have to do with love? What does it mean that God wants our attention?

We talked about misplaced attention in our society, again with ease. We focus so much time on a particular kind of standardized test points-driven classroom educational success. We let our social media image and images carry too much influence. We take part in the build up and take down of celebrities. Golden calves everywhere.

The idols we have created, however, are metaphorical. I would argue this makes it easy to discuss what we have idolized and paid too much attention to without actually taking steps to dismantle the idol or build a new shrine. The world of actual golden calves and ritual sacrifices seems far away. We can say what we shouldn’t be about, but what, then, are we willing to stand up for?

I have a small, raised platform on my desk that looks like a candle stand. On it, I originally placed two votive candles. My spiritual director encouraged me to light the candles, each representing a baby I lost to miscarriage, whenever I felt sad. Lighting those candles validated my experience and honored the existence of the life that was indeed present in my body. I’ve added things over the years since, little trinkets that symbolize other things and moments on my journey. It is not a shrine or an idol. It’s a tangible place for me to go to honor who God made me, the path God put me on and thus the God who has walked with me on the journey with compassion and love.

In our worship communities today, distanced from ritual sacrifice where we are in no danger of constructing an actual golden calf, how do we take tangible steps toward giving our attention back to God? What can we build to show God our commitment to what God is all about in the world? What is worthy of reverence, time, attention and worship?

What would you put on your shine?


6 Oct

Gospel Reflection for October 9, 2016, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

5 Oct

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-17

Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten lepers cleansed? Where are the other nine?” – Luke 17.17

In Sunday’s gospel only one of the ten lepers Jesus heals returns to thank Jesus. The passage prompts us to practice gratitude to God and to one another. Being alive calls us to appreciate the Creator. Evolution deepens the story of God’s creative love in which we live. We see with eyes that have evolved over millions of years in creatures that sought light. Our stem cells contain the memory of God’s love unfolding. To be part of giving life gives parents their moment in the evolution of all that is. The birth of a child takes them to a place of awe and closeness to God. The child immediately breathes in the oxygen that plants and trees make every summer day out of sunlight. Our lungs tie us to the outside world we share with all that squirms, flies, blooms, and in each of us says than you. Our hearts tie us to one another.

What are 10 things you are grateful for today? Use the question every day.

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Unchristian Certainty

30 Sep

I am walking with youth through a unit on Faith and Science. Can you believe in God and science, the Bible and evolution? Can you seek God in what you know as well as what you don’t? I’m finding the matter at hand repeatedly comes back to unfair assumptions about certainty. Certainty has become a value of society. It helps young people (dare I say all people) feel competent and worthy of being taken seriously. We associate it with confidence and knowledge. All too often we look to our political, scientific and religious leaders to exude certainty. In the midst of uncertain times, we wager it may help us feel safer. It rarely does.

At the core of both faith and science is not certainty, but wonder. Boiling either area down to certainty limits it greatly. It limits God. The deeper we get into the disciplines of both science and religion, we gain knowledge, yes, but also awe. Modern-day astronomers look up at the stars and think more and more that we are not alone, that we may never have one set of scientific rules to live by, that we are made of the stuff of stars.

Maybe it is time for all of us to embrace doubt as a friend:

Doubt then is not our enemy but our great friend. For it keeps us from the most unchristian of things: assuming that we possess certainty, that we need not think about our faith or love our neighbors, and worse, that we become certain is no longer (by definition) faith; it has become idolatry, where we no longer seek out a living personal God but make this God into a frozen idol. The truth, then, is that there can be no relationship at all when it is based on certainty. I cannot really love my friend and embrace the fullness of his being if I assume I know him with certainty, if in being with him I keep saying, “I know you; that’s not what you think. I don’t need to hear you, see you or learn from you. I know you certainly. You cannot change.”

–Andrew Root and Kendra Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry 

The seriousness that Root and Dean bring to the matter of doubt and relationship is refreshing. Indeed, we do not want to limit our loved ones with certainty, so why ever would we want to limit God? Embracing wonder and doubt invokes love yet again, where we leave room to be surprised, we leave room for growth.

Gospel Reflection for October 2, 2016, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

28 Sep

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 9.13-28; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my follower; whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14.26-27

Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples as he goes. Jesus is out to shock them out of popular expectations of the messiah. The conflicts Jesus faces will demand suffering and ultimately his life in a cruel death meant for insurrectionists against Rome. The sayings in Sundays gospel insists discipleship may ask our all, too. Our commitment may pull us away from family and safe and comfortable homes. Jesus’ life and work were scandalous, and disciples who try to live and do as he did can expect to endure shaming, harassment, and even violence. His disturbing words frighten us. Like the disciples we are on a journey. Our commitment unfolds day by day in our giving.

Share an experience that challenged you beyond anything you imagined.

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