“Follow *me,” Unreading the Gospel of Mark Chapter 8

The year during lent I have been making 1 hour videos walking through the Gospel of Mark in a way the recovers some of the shock and awe of how it would have originally landed on people’s ears.  If you were going to watch just one, this would be the one to watch.

Mark chapter 8 remains one of the most influential pieces of literature on my life.   Buckle up, and sorry I get all emotional at the end.

Unreading, Mark Chapter 8

The Dangerous Vulnerability of What Comes Next: A Christmastide thought about the 3 wise men and trying to be wise.

I can think of two particular stories to illustrate how I have been feeling this Christmastide.   The first s the famous ending of the classic movie the graduate.   Dustin Hoffman dramatically storms the church and steals his love, Anne Bancroft away form the altar where she was almost tragically married to some other dude.   The two board a passing bus and the camera lingers on them…a little too long, just long enough for those of us watching the scene to realize that starry eyed feeling of them staring in each other eyes quickly becomes awkward and uncertain in hardly any time at all, in less time it takes for the scene ti finally, mercifully fade to black.   The other time was when I made the highly emotional, thrilling and conflicted drive to my first day of university.   So many days I had been anticipating the drive and the drive itself was both wonderful and terrifying.

 When I finally pulled on to campus I remember parking my car, getting out and looking far off to the ocean horizon, and then turned and face the buildings and literally said to myself, “Now what?”   To call these moments anti-climactic is somehow entirely wrong, they are both exactly climactic and exhilarating, but like all real human moments,  they keep going.  There are the few moments after every spectacular  moment when we are returned to the hard churned out work of time and remember just how mundane each of our lives insist on being.   Every Oscar winner eventually has to set Oscar down and use the bathroom.  Every medal winning Olympian still awaits they have to take NyQuil to barely, and miserably sleep through the night to wake dehydrated exhausted, and cranky.   And even the Holy family had the morning after.   The shepherds looked at each other and said, “soooo, well, I guess we should be going…” and even the Holy family had the morning after.   The shepherds looked at each other and said, “soooo, well, I guess we should be going…” and Mary with her eyelids half open said,  “yeah thanks for stopping by to worship God-incarnate that just popped out of me, g’night, drive safe,” only to be awakened a few hours later by a cold and hungry baby Jesus who was not yet so keen on acting like the divine king we had been expecting…  and, of course, there was the first diaper, when one half of Joseph’s mind was asking, “Is he ok? Is this poop normal? I should ask my mom,” and the other half was saying, “So you, mr poopy-butt, have come to save us. Alleluia. Alleluia.”

Continue reading

It’s Not About the Chocolate: Grace and self improvement in the season of Lent. 2017 UPDATE

I like to repost blog entries from earlier years, not only because I like to revisit
what I was thinking at the time but I like to consider how changes in our context changes what is important to say in an particular moment.   When I wrote this, I really wanted to underscore the need for grace, in the sense I wanted to emphasize that what happens in lent at its best is a gift of God and not a mere matter of will-power as I am sometimes tempted to think. This year is different.

This year I have been experiencing how this is true on a visceral level. I am somehow more aware than I am unable to say very much that is to interesting or helpful given our current profound division and tension.  In Advent, I even suspected out loud that I (and all of us) might be due for an exorcism.  I still think that is true.   I still think our imaginations are dominated by someone else’s playbook.  We are still speaking someone else’s language and hearing someone else’s song.   That is all the more reason I feel the need to return to a conversation about grace before we go any further.

If we are going to end up anywhere but in the middle of an inevitable mess, we will need an intervention, an in-breaking of insight, an impossible way out of Egypt, …deliverance? Grace.

It is a good day, today, Ash Wednesday 2017, to remember that we don’t have to rely on our mere will power to get us there.   There is a lot of will power going on around us and it seems to be sending us in circles.  More is waiting for us.  More is at hand.  More is near.   But ‘more’ asks that we throw ourselves into it’s fire. I’d like to think I am ready, willing, and able… but more importantly, I am at least just willing if not ready and able, that God will get us there.

Here is my post from before…

Continue reading

What is so Magical About Christmas Eve and Christmas? Not much…unless…

I recognize that, theoretically speaking, there isn’t anything that is more special about tonight than any other night.  so.  there.

At least  December 21st, the winter solstice, has some astronomical significance.  But there is nothing about the sun, moon and stars that seem to put Christmas Eve, Dec 24th on the “Big Deal” calendar. Historically speaking, it was Emperor Julius that declared December 25th the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but actually the calendar itself has changed since then.  In fact, in Russia, the orthodox church still celebrates Christmas on January 7th (which would be December 25th in Julian’s Calendar.)  And even if you’re looking for the actual feast day for Saint Nicholas, the day when children used to put their shoes out in hopes of getting gifts, look to December 6th in western countries, not, “Christmas.”

So, again, there is nothing officially magical about this particular night. If you think about it, it is just a night on which Christians continue to tell a part of a very elongated story about the life of Christ that takes up some part of every season of every year.   And they do it over, and over and over and over again.  So, there you have it.  It is not a magical night.   …Unless, of course, you believe, as I do, that telling stories changes everything… Continue reading

The Discipline of Hope, {Advent 2, 2016}

wws-cynicsCynicism. In many ways it seems like the most logical, natural way to wrap up a year like 2016. There have been so many unexpected deaths: Natalie Cole, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Gwen Ifil, Florence Henderson, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder. (Whew. And those are just a few.). All of these have been layered over a world hell bent on violence, and a campaign so full of insult and vitriol that even some of the campaigns’ mangers were at each other’s throats after the election. So it was a surprise, but a very small one, when many of my friends who had been supportive of the protests in the Dakotas, responded cynically to the news that the Army Corp of Engineers decided to stop the pipeline construction, at least for now. This was supposed to feel like good news. Within hours of the news going public my social media feeds were flooded with cynical claims that the announcement was a ploy just to get protestors off the land, that it wouldn’t be honored by the powers behind the pipeline, or that it was just a stalling tactic and a PR move.

This cynical turn would be negligible had it not been such a sudden, broadly expressed, and widely accepted sentiment. Even if these fears prove to be true, the speed that they were communicated and embraced said more about the habits of our hearts than our insight into the world. We have been steeping in a rhetoric of deep conflict and distrust for months and years on end. We have become so accustomed to enmity that assuming the worst no longer feels like pessimism, it feels like a practical defense mechanism, a way of tempering or restraining our hopes. It seems as if lowering our expectations actually seems like a useful, if not necessary practice to prepare us for when the other shoe inevitably falls.

I understand its appeal. Presuming the darkness is an endeavor that is rarely disappointed. But I am a Christian, and this is Advent, and it strikes me that cynicism, in its many forms, runs cross grain to the hope I am to be cultivating, especially during this time. Therefore it has no place in my life. So, Now what? What do we do when the most logical, natural conclusion, is incompatible with Christian practice and convictions? What do we do when it runs cross grain to our faith? Continue reading

Six Advent Practices to Set Us Free From 2016.

Continued from “I Think I Need an Exorcism, and You Probably Do To.”  Part 1

advent-journey-1So here we are at the end of a year that has captured our imagination if by no other means than the fear and spectacle of it all.   Not only have our thoughts and feelings been driven by the political circus of this year, so have some of our actions.  It has demanded our attention, but now it is Advent.  It is time to redirect our attention to where it belongs.

Continue reading

I Think I Need an Exorcism, and You Probably Do Too… Part 1

christmas-journeyFaceBook is admittedly a strange land. Is it not? And it has been clear for quite some while that we don’t really know how to dwell there as our best human selves. Even so, in the past few weeks I have noticed something in myself and in others that has lead me to an admittedly bizarre but entirely sincere conclusion: I may be in need of an exorcism, and it is very probable you might need one too. Continue reading

Its Jesus, Not Dinosaurs…that are coming. Advent Day One

Ah. I begin Advent again with boxes and branches strewn about my small living room.   I just put in the last of what I call the Deadly Poultry Dishes in the dish washer and hope that I have done so prudently enough to keep the infinite number of possible turkey based bacterial death contaminates at bay… I guess we will see soon enough. I worked too many hours selling self described “magic” gadgets to strangers over the past two days and I feel harried and hurried and anxious and I feel certain if I sit down to finish writing this I will once again be late for Church.   It appears that I am exactly where I should be to begin advent. Continue reading

Five thoughts on the war on Starbucks cups.

imageOk. Let me get this over with. As you may well know, there is a small noisy minority of Christians barking up the wrong cup. Their logic is, well,  illogical (no snowflakes = war on Christmas?). I can easily explain how people, who are Christians, are doing it wrong and doing some very unchristian things. That is paranoia looking for an opportunity. But before any of us hop on board the rant express, I invite everyone to remember a few things about how we got here. Continue reading

How to Change a Life With Two Shoes, a Good Story, and Some Gravity

friendship-in-christSome time in the late nineties I was going through one of the worse depressions of my life. It wasn’t one of those depressive episodes where you try to hide what is going on. I had a resigned sort of exhibitionism. Why not spill all my beans? Beans just end up getting spilt eventually anyway… It was dark. People would walk by and ask, “How are you today Doug?” and immediately regret it as I answered them honestly and talked them through the vast landscape of my existential angst. It was usually met with one of four responses, that were for me both a source of dark entertainment, my own gothic improv stage. Here are the four things people would most often do: Continue reading