Is there room in our lives for visions we cannot explain? Have we closed our minds to truth that doesn’t fit our rational categories? In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard shares stories of doctors who performed early cataract surgery in Europe. When a doctor removed bandages from one girl’s eyes, she saw “the tree with the lights in it.” Those words sent Dillard on her own journey. “It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all, and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured…I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance…The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 33-34)
We could give explanations for what happened to her. Or we could remember a time when we sensed the presence of the Holy in our own lives. Perhaps we’ve never told anybody about it – “it was less like seeing than being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.”
Jesus was concerned about the very poor.
I’m not trying to pile on Mitt Romney after the bad week he had. I think he and most other politicians are concerned about poverty, too, despite their occasional inability to do much about it. But their concern differs greatly from Jesus’. More about them later.
Exploring Jesus’ concern for the poor and excluded reminds us of the close connections among wealth, health, and social acceptability. Chronic illness, disability, and poverty typically go hand-in-hand. Also, human wholeness is not easily divided into separate categories, as if economic, psychological, and physical wellness operate in isolation from each other. Acts of healing and empowerment always carry political, religious, and social significance.
“Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31 NRSV).
Coincidence? God’s sense of humor? I don’t know, but I do know that this passage from Isaiah is a biblical text that every Christian athlete from high school to the NFL seems to know and hold dear. “Isaiah 40:31” is among the biblical citations that Tim Tebow emblazoned on his eye black during his days as quarterback for the Florida Gators. He chose that particular verse to wear in a game against Kentucky in September, 2009, while he was battling a respiratory illness.
Once every four years, it happens like clockwork: Primary Season, when all across America voters trek to the ballot box to make history while our presidential contenders battle for every vote. This year, we watched as Mitt, Newt, and Rick traveled from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina and saw the casualties occur along the way. Michele Bachmann is gone, Rick Perry fizzled, and Jon Huntsman faded away. Now it’s on to Florida for the January 31st primary. And there in Florida, the voters are preparing.
The National Latino Evangelical Coalition launched its “Nuestro Futuro” campaign, a national campaign to register new Hispanic evangelical voters, particularly young Latinos and Latinas. Since the Hispanic population now comprises 16% of the United States, this is an important constituency for all candidates. All across America, similar groups are gathered: groups with powerful voting blocs, wanting to be sure that the next Commander-in-Chief attends to their concerns. And indeed, as all of these groups gather and cast their votes, they will have an impact. By next November, only one will be standing: the Republican who has the onerous task of taking on an incumbent president. Signs will litter the landscape, bumper stickers will consume our cars, and no one will want to turn on the TV for fear of the endless inundation of resonant, assured voices repeating the mantra: “I am _______ and I approve this message.”
By Greg Carey
Readers almost always gravitate to the same question. Why do Simon and Andrew, then James and John after them, abandon everything to follow Jesus? Mark leaves no doubt as to the immediacy of their response. Seeing Simon and Andrew casting for fish, Jesus says, “Follow after me, and I will make you to be fishers for people.” And immediately, Mark emphasizes, they leave their nets and follow Jesus. Likewise, Jesus immediately calls James and John while they are mending their nets. These two abandon their father in the boat with his hired workers to come after Jesus.
Biblical stories often frustrate us by refusing to provide all the details we desire. John Grisham would do better. If John Grisham had written Mark, we’d overhear a little dialogue between Simon and Andrew concerning Jesus. Stieg Larsson would have accompanied James and John through their morning routine. Patricia Cornwell would have clued us into the rumors that attend Jesus’ arrival. Even the author of Luke’s Gospel provides a little story that explains why the disciples find Jesus compelling. After a night of unsuccessful fishing, Simon, James, and John allow Jesus to use their boat as a podium. Jesus tells the men to put out and fish again. Simon grumbles, but an overwhelming catch of fish convinces him that Jesus is the real deal (Luke 5:1-11). No wonder Simon and his colleagues leave everything to follow Jesus! But Mark remains reticent.
This upcoming weekend leads into the day which celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a preacher, pastor, and civil rights activist. When people remember Dr. King, one of the first things they may think of is his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 for the March on Washington, D.C. for Civil Rights. He was a gifted orator rooted in the black church tradition. But he was so much more than an effective communicator. He had a deep concern for the racially and socioeconomically oppressed who suffered under the unjust hands of modern day pharaohs.
This concern led him to fight for human rights through nonviolent resistance. He fought for racial justice on behalf of those who were deemed non-human to such an extent that they could be fire hosed down like dogs in the streets by policemen. He fought for economic justice, working on behalf of the poor and died fighting on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, TN as part of the Poor People’s Campaign. He called for peace and an end to the Vietnam War. Dr. King was indeed a “drum major for justice.” But what many tend to overlook is the spiritual foundation for that particular drumbeat.
By Andy Watts
Christians seem to have a genetic disposition for describing people and events through a biblical lens. It makes sense. We are story-formed people, and the Bible shapes our political, moral and social imaginations.
It follows, then, that our judgments about Presidents and presidential candidates will also arise from our Bible-shaped imaginations.
For example, at the 2008 Republican National Convention, former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs spoke of John McCain and Sarah Palin as if they were a modern-day Amos and Hosea. Some Christians have likened George Bush to the “man of God” of Chronicles and Kings. Others have heralded John Ashcroft as “Daniel of the Year.” Barack Obama has been declared both the “antichrist” and the “Messiah.” And Christians have compared Newt Gingrich to King David for his marital problems as well as his extraordinary gifts.
The enactment of religious rituals for children in the Jewish faith of Jesus’ time is the background of this only biblical glimpse we have of Jesus’ early infancy. This luminous text of hope from Luke’s Gospel is pictorial in its rendering of Jesus presentation at the temple. As a newborn, he is brought by his parents to be circumcised and officially named, following the custom of their faith.
Luke’s description of Jesus’ “bris” at the age of eight days leaves an indelible tableau in our mind’s eye. Four adults are part of the scene, eager to see this child launched with due ceremony and love. We can almost see them posed on the front steps of the Temple! They are proud, happy and awed by this child. Along with Jesus’ parents, there are two other adults of deep piety, Simeon and Anna, who respond to the occasion. These two devout and faithful people are recorded as praising God. God has granted them the opportunity to witness the arrival of an infant whom they understand to be the central change agent for the cosmos.
Our culture today is full of laments about the Christmas holiday.
Some bemoan the ever earlier advent of the season. Doesn’t it seem that Christmas decorations line the aisles of stores earlier and earlier every year? Doesn’t it seem that Christmas songs are piped into elevators earlier and earlier every year? Doesn’t it seem as if all the fall holidays are melding into one long anticipation of Christmas? Before long, we might wonder if Labor Day will one day mark the end of summer and the beginning of the holidays. Some of us worry that drawing the advent of the Christmas season earlier and earlier in the calendar is motivated not by a wish to extend the real purposes of this celebration but to draw us to open our wallets more and more, earlier and earlier. If we only look at our local stores, we might be easily convinced that the primary purpose of Christmas is buying stuff.
I left St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in New Haven with a soaring spirit. The Lessons & Carols service—quintessentially Anglican worship interweaving Scripture and music—had just concluded. Particularly memorable had been a haunting setting by Roderick Williams of one of the seven Greater Antiphons of Advent: “O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel” (“O Adonai, and leader of the house of Israel”). This stunning piece has a dark edginess that beautifully captures what waiting for God can be like. Dissonances rise and clash above powerful choral continuities; impressions of order are challenged by free-form melodic descants; a tenor solo seeks valiantly to unfold the narrative of Israel’s redemption against the backdrop of luminous but subtly disturbing musical chaos.
O Adonai, and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and to him gave the Law: Come to redeem us with outstretched arm.