The Summer of ’17: Jacob’s Ladder and Esau’s Tragedy

Every year, without fail, we sang the chorus Jacob’s Ladder at church camp. Sung by a hundred Long Island high schoolers, it was interminable. (It never sounded like this. Wow!) We certainly had no idea this was a Negro Spiritual with a history that stretched back 150 years or so.So we sang it. We sang the life out of it. We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,Soldiers of the cross. We sang the next verse. Every rung goes hi … [Read more...]

The Summer of ’17: a Summer of Trysts and Turns

The lectionary last week ...Wait! Did I start a blog post with the word lectionary?How boring is that?Actually, not at all.For this entire summer, the summer of '17, I'm working with Tommy Williams, the affable and able pastor at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Houston, to offer a series of podcasts that follow the lectionary texts from Genesis. For about 20 minutes each week, we chew over (with surprisingly few belches, given how undigestible some of this stuff is) stories … [Read more...]

The Curious Case of the “Kick Ass” Messiah

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...]

Doves and Kisses–A Reading on Betrayal

I sat down this morning to read Psalm 55: "Oh, that I had wings like a dove. I'd fly away and be at rest." But it's holy week, with Maundy Thursday tomorrow--Judas Iscariot's big day--so I couldn't read Psalm 55 without one eye trained on Jesus' betrayal.As I read Psalm 55, I couldn't shake the rhythm of betrayal in the gospel of Mark.So I turned from Psalm 55 to the gospel of Mark. As I followed the story of Jesus and Judas, I couldn't help but trace the movement of Psalm 55.Rather t … [Read more...]

My Dad’s Old Purple Dinosaur Tie and the Creation-evolution Debate

My wardrobe (if you could call it that) is, well, outdated, so Priscilla and I took the plunge and went to Nordstrom, where a guy named Nick helped me figure out what to do. I brought old slacks, old sports jackets, and about a dozen old ties. Natty Nick went nuts. He loved the old ties—silk ones that belonged to my dad, a gray knit one, paisleys in purple and light blue.Natty Nordstrom Nick even liked my purple dinosaur tie. No, not Barney, but a purple tie with brontosauruses—or is it bro … [Read more...]

Simeon’s Song and the Clarity of Christmas

We are obsessed with power, but the story of Jesus begins in the corridors of powerlessness—in the Jewish temple, though not among the hustle of priests and the din of the Pharisees’ discussion of Torah, but at the seemingly insignificant fringes of Jewish life, in the world of widows and old men. The scene is prompted by the appearance of peasant parents from Galilee who are so poor they can't afford the offering of sheep for purification after the mother gives birth; this peasant couple brings … [Read more...]