Before Bethlehem

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The joke is told about a priest, Father Murphy, and little Eileen O’Connell, a third-grader in his catechism class. Father Murphy was explaining one day that Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jewish life, and died a Jew. The implacable, red-haired Eileen O’Connell shoved her freckled arm into the air and shook it violently. “Yes, Eileen,” the unflappable priest responded, “What is it?” “Well, Jesus may have been a Jew, Father Murphy, but his mother was a Catholic!”* … [Read more...]

Part Two of the Curious Case of the “Kick Ass” Messiah

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Last week, I gave Christian Piatt a hard time. Why? Because I thought he oversimplified the world of Jesus. As Christian put it, in his typically vivid way, Jesus offered salvation, but “not in the way they [the Jews] had expected. They longed for a conqueror to ride in, kick ass, and take names, but instead he arrived as the Suffering Servant” (page 47).The Jews wanted a “kick ass” messiah, but Jesus came as a suffering servant.This isn’t true.If this isn’t true, then what is? Well, … [Read more...]

The Curious Case of the “Kick Ass” Messiah

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Don't be surprised if, during Advent, you hear a sermon that goes something like this: The Jews wanted a political messiah, but Jesus brought a peaceable kingdom.The Jews wanted someone to destroy Rome, but Jesus came to make peace.The Jews wanted a military ruler, but Jesus inaugurated a spiritual reign. I’ve heard this formula so many times that I’ve developed a gag reflex to it. Yet it keeps coming up. I was reading Christian Piatt’s Postchristian, for example, and came across this s … [Read more...]

You’re Welcome

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Some places I just want to pass through.Toll booths, for instance. Call me predictable, but I’ve never had a hankering to hold onto my money, incline my seat back, and sit under the neon lights of a toll booth.Dental chairs, too. Not my style to sit there longer than I have too, even with those nifty spittle-dotted sunglasses on. (I’ve tried to get my dentist to offer mani-pedis during cleaning visits, but he won’t bite.)Drivers’ license offices don’t invite me to settle into those pl … [Read more...]

Why Protestants Should Read Jon Sweeney’s Latest Book on Saint Francis of Assisi

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I spent a week recently in Assisi, reflecting upon the legacy of St. Francis, with Jon Sweeney, author of When Saint Francis Saved the Church, as my companionable guide. That book is written by a Catholic, published by a Catholic press (Ave Maria), and directed toward Catholics. Why, some of you might ask, should Protestants read this book? Good question. Let me tell you. Embracing SilenceMany of us Protestants aren’t very good at silence, at meditation, at listening prayer. W … [Read more...]

Double Vision, Saint Francis Style

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Two BooksI came to Assisi with two books, or parts of books in hand: pages 559-594, torn out of Rick Steves’ Italy, and Jon Sweeney’s When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages. Both have served me well. Rick Steves got me around this spectacular hill town in Umbria—the right tickets to buy, cafés with wi fi, viewpoints, basilica tours.Jon Sweeney’s book led me in another direction—an unexpected one—on a sort of pilgrim … [Read more...]


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