Monday, August 29, 2011


He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
-Luke 4:17-21

This was the text for today on Sacred Space. It's an old friend, one of my favorites. I've always understood Jesus to be referring the text to himself, but today I was struck by another possibility.

Jesus says "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." What if the "Spirit of the Lord" is upon those hearing him, and it is those hearing him who the Lord is sending to proclaim release to the captives? It's a very non-standard reading, but I think it fits with Jesus' teaching.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I was thinking about the story of Zaccheus this morning.

Zaccheus tells Jesus he will give half of his wealth to the poor and pay back four-fold anyone he has defrauded. Jesus replies, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham."

A standard Protetestant reading of this event is that because Zaccheus has come to faith in Jesus he has been saved. The fact that Zaccheus doesn't say anything about having faith in Jesus isn't really a problem because his actions demonstrate it. Obviously no Christian (Protestant or otherwise) would interpret this as saying that Zaccheus is being granted salvation because of what he has promised to do.

But what if the thing he is being saved from is his old lifestyle? "Today salvation has come to this house," Jesus says. Whatever has happened, Zaccheus' salvation has just taken place. In John 3:19 Jesus says, "And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." Can we say that Zaccheus has been "saved" from that "judgment"? It seems to me that it fits.

So all that was just floating around in my head today. This afternoon I took a minute to look up the story and read it. This is a much richer story than I had previously appreciated. The first verse floored me:
He entered Jericho and was passing through it.
I don't know how I have not noticed this before, but "Jericho" and "passing through" appearing together make for some serious allusion. In general, whenever I see a mention of Jericho I think of the Israelites' entry into the promised land and the specific phrase "passing through" draws my mind to the crossing of the Jordan through parted waters, which itself draws in the crossing of the Red Sea. Maybe I'm reading too much into this particular translation of the Greek διήρχετο, but then again maybe not. The Bible does tend to do things like that.

Next it says,
He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not
Ain't that the truth! How often does "the crowd" keep us from seeing who Jesus is? Maybe that's just me.

Here's my favorite bit though. Jesus says to Zaccheus, "I must stay at your house today." The crowd says, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." But we're in Jericho. The spies that Joshua sent into Jericho stayed in the house of Rahab, the prostitute. Wouldn't you think the people living in Jericho would know that story?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Following Christ

We had a reading yesterday in church of an excerpt from Kierkegaard on the topic of being a follower of Christ and not merely an admirer. This is a subject that frequently weighs on my mind. Quite often I suspect that most of Christianity has contented itself with a pale, bourgeois idea of what it means to be a follower of Christ. We'll do (or at least say we'll do) whatever can reasonably be expected to fit into a standard 21st century American life, but certainly no more. We don't want to be religious fanatics, after all. But weren't Jesus and his disciples religious fanatics?

The danger, I think, is that when most of us want to be more religious, we think in terms of being more strictly moral. I'd be the first to agree that moral fanaticism is an awful thing. But that's not what I see when I look at the life of Jesus.

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? How do I do that in my life? Do I live the way Jesus would live if he were an upper-middle class American software engineer with a wife and two daughters? Or is that already a contradiction?

Paul says somewhere that we're to live out the life we had when we were called to be Christians, so I think that means the wife and kids can stay (lucky for me!) and probably the job I have too. But from there it's so easy to slide all the pieces of my life back into place from my spending habits to what I do with my free time. What if Jesus were an upper-middle class American software engineer with a wife and two daughters who wasn't terribly financially responsible and spent all his free time riding a bicycle or watching TV?

Part of my problem is ADD. I'm immobilized by big tasks. I don't know where to start. This weekend I had to pack all the junk in my garage. I began by standing out there for a while feeling overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. But this is something I've been working on recently, so eventually it clicked -- pick something up and put it in a box.

And I guess that's what I need to do with following Christ. I'm not likely to strip naked and change my entire life in an instant the way St. Francis did. For me, I think, it's going to require listening for Jesus' call and doing one thing. I'm not satisfied with where that gets me, but at least it gets me somewhere.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I visited the Sacred Space site today. I was looking for something, some connection to God. I've always loved Sacred Space, but I haven't been there in years. I visited today. God was in it.

The prayer for the day today said this:
Lord, I cannot find you in time past or time future; only in this present moment. ... It is no use looking before and after and pining for what is not. The now is all that I have.
I'm not generally a fan of scripted prayers that are directed to the mind of the one praying rather than to God, but this one struck a chord.

I have been pining for the past lately. I've been lamenting the spiritual habits I used to have. I said last week that I think I'm as close to God as I ever have been, but today I think that's not really true. I can feel that I'm missing something I used to have, and I've been looking back trying to find it. But the prayer from Sacred Space reminds me that God is not in the past. God is here and if I'm not finding God here and now, it's most likely because I'm looking somewhere else.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This Is Gonna Hurt

I've been reading David Lose's book Making Sense of Scripture recently. It's a pretty good book, and I'm getting more out of than I expected to.

Yesterday, I was reading the part where Lose is talking about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection as the center of scripture. He addresses the three main types of atonement theory briefly, but then suggests that it will be more helpful to think about the Cross and Resurrection in terms of what it tells us about God and our relationship to God. I like that.

He starts by saying that the first thing it shows us is that God is holy and we are not or something to that effect. I was put off by this and a bit surprised. It's traditional, sure, but throughout the book Lose had been presenting a more post-modern approach to things.

Then he brought together a bunch of references to explain what he meant, beginning with John 3:17-20
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
OK...not what I was expecting. He goes on to connect this with the story of Adam and Eve hiding from God after they ate the apple, the story of Isaiah worrying about his unclean lips when he sees God in the temple and the story of Peter asking Jesus to leave his boat because he (Peter) is a sinful man. Those were what I was expecting, but the reference to John 3:17-20 had changed my perspective.

Perhaps it's not so much that we can't live in God's holy presence as we don't want to. And the Isaiah story, along with John 3:19, suggests the reason. We don't want to have a burning coal pressed to our unclean lips, even if that is the gateway to the presence of God. It makes me think of the way my daughter would rather walk around with a splinter in her foot than submit to the tweezers that would pull it out.

On the cross, Jesus takes all our sin and brings it into the presence of God. It's not pretty. He comes out the other side shining like the sun but still bearing scars. What does this tell us about the God who rescues the world with a flood, who recreates Israel by sending them into exile, who saves us all by sending his Son to die?

When angels appear to people in the Bible, the first thing they say is "Don't be afraid." Maybe the next thing they should say is "This is gonna hurt." Faith, I think, is the art of trusting the first part, even while knowing the second, and the cross is a picture of that kind of faith.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


A few years ago, I was fairly satisfied with my spiritual life. That may sound good or bad, depending on your theological slant, but generally I was happy with it. Then sometime, maybe five or more years back, it started to unravel.

I'm not having a crisis of faith or anything. I think I'm as close to God as I've ever been. What I've lost is religious practices. I don't go to church often. I don't read the Bible often. I don't pray often. And when I try to re-establish these practices, it doesn't stick.

Blogging isn't a very traditional spiritual discipline, but it's been very helpful to me in the past as a way to organize my thoughts about religion and about God. It's another indicator of how my religious discipline has been. I've tried to re-establish the habit a few times, but without much success.

I'm trying again -- not just with blogging, but the other spiritual disciplines as well, beginning with prayer.
Let us arise, then, at last,
for the Scripture stirs us up, saying,
"Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Rom. 13:11).
Let us open our eyes to the deifying light,
let us hear with attentive ears
the warning which the divine voice cries daily to us,
"Today if you hear His voice,
harden not your hearts" (Ps. 95:8).
-Rule of Benedict, from the Prologue

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Blogging Venture

I know, no one blogs anymore. If I'm going to be doing something new I should be doing it on Twitter or Facebook or something, right? But I like the blogging format.

Contrary to all reason, I'm attempting something that will, to some extent, rely on participation from other people for its success. Since you're reading this, I'm hoping you'll be one of those people.

A while ago, I was listening to Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. Somewhere in there he says this:
I don’t think any of the writers of the Bible ever intended people to read their letters alone. I think they assumed that people who were hearing these words for the first time would be sitting next to someone who was further along on her spiritual journey, someone who was more in tune with what the writer was saying. If it didn’t make sense, you could stop the person who was reading and say, "Help me understand this."
I really like that. It occurred to me that most of the time when I've blogged about the Bible here, I've been sharing what I think it means. I decided it would be a good idea to try blogging about the parts that I don't understand.

That's where you come in.

What I think I'm going to do is follow the weekly lectionary and every week blog about whatever question or doubts I have about it. I'm hoping some good people will stop by and share what they do understand, or at least ideas that they have.

Here's the address of the new blog:

Please stop by.