Sunday, April 20, 2014

Resurrection 2014

Here's the thing: even though we call it Good Friday, we teach it wasn't just an ironic twist. We know it was a real death, a horrific state execution, by one of the cruelest forms of execution that the world has ever known. We do not teach that the suffering wasn't really suffering, that the blood wasn't really bloody, that the grief, disappointment, and anguish were misspent emotions.

We teach that all that pain and darkness can be redeemed.

At least, at our best, that's what we teach.

It was not, in the end, "all good." It was not merely that we couldn't see the big picture, that we couldn't see the plan, didn't have enough faith. This horrific, cruel, bloody death was real and worthy of grief.

But this "all bad," in the end, does not stay in lament.

Child of God, every dark thing, every hurtful thing, every grief-making event of your life is not an illusion. If you're paying attention, you know it's not "just a bad day" that we ironically call "good."

But, Child of God, holy Image of God, what I would tell you is that within the community of the beloved, in closed rooms and broken bread, the possibility, even the promise, of redemption may be revealed. When it is, it will be surprising and it will not seem nearly as real as the suffering, but it will be there and it will bind up your wounds and open your mouth with the sweetest Alleluia! 

Resurrection will catch you, astound you, and you will not be lost.

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Just Another State Execution

What else do you say?

Jesus wasn't the first or the last person to die on the cross. It was a Roman Empire way of dying. It was a non-citizen way of dying.

Religious and secular power had a part in his execution---but he's hardly the first or last to lay claim to that combination, either.

At Passover, a child asks: "why is this night different from all other nights?"

We Christians might ask: "why is this execution different from all the other executions?"

We'd do well to remember that it isn't, that any execution is a sad, painful, shameful way to die.

Can God redeem even this? 

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I would invite you to click here for a story about an art piece that I find appropriate for entering the scandal of the cross. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Something about friends and ritual and prayers and thanksgiving. Bread and wine and dirty feet washed clean by your master, your servant. Something about humility and betrayal and the order of things.

Something about loving like Jesus the night before he dies.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I just got out of a lecture by Doran Larson, a professor at Hamilton College (the lecture was at the University of Houston-Downtwon). He is promoting a new initiative, the American Prison Writing Archive. He has edited and published a book of prison writings, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America.

I purchased his book afterward and so I have no idea what I have in my hands now. He said the writings are a chronicle of life inside the largest prison system in the world, a system that has a population larger than Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States (hence the title of the book). This is not a book about innocence, but about human suffering. It is also, as he said, a chance for prisoners to be seen as something other than their crime.

It's a true and terrible thing that we tend to define people by the worse thing they ever did.

Believing in grace, I need these stories to remind me of the humanity behind every awful action we're capable of perpetrating. Perhaps you do, too.

The online archive is a site for the essays that couldn't fit in the book. As it's brand new, they're hoping for volunteers from across the nation to help transcribe the scanned essays, so the essays are searchable. Not that I need one more thing to do, but I hope I'll be able to help do at least a handful of essays. If you're interested, you might want to contact Dr. Larson, which you can do from the American Prison Writing Archive site.

This being Holy Week, of course, I flashed upon the arrest of Jesus---although sadly his incarceration was too brief for him to take up pen and write anything. But Paul did, when he was incarcerated. There are others. Last century saw some significant writings from the incarcerated Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is a grand tradition among Christians (and other relgions) for writing from prison.

Of course, we tend to think of all those men as innocent. Again, this book is not a book of innocence, but of suffering. The American prison industry is huge, larger than any other nation on earth, much larger than other nations we tend to think of as being under a police state.

And we treat our prisoners poorly. The other reason Dr. Larson named this book Fourth City is because he said there was, across the nation, a similar culture exposed in each letter, a language with it's own idioms, an internal logic for how to move through the culture. Our prison system is, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate urban sprawl, spread sea to shining sea, a city of corruption and violence.

Did you know prison officers have a lie expectency of 59 years? They die young not from violence, but from hypertension and related disease. It's not only the prisoners who suffer.

It seemed fitting to hear this lecture on the Wednesday of Holy Week. It seemed fitting I pass a tiny bit of it on to you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Breaking Into the Cycle

Jesus asks us to turn around, turn away from the patterns of the powers that be. It feels like it gets harder to do. We live in a world where it's increasinly hard to buy a shirt or shoes and know for certain that no one was exploited in the transaction. Slavery is alive and well, whether as domestic workers held hostage for lack of citizenship or sex workers shuttled about to gratify anyone with the cash and the urges no one taught them to control. We eat what we want and what we want is often junk.

And we enter these scenes, wearing the work of corporations-who-are-people, thinking we're free, thinking . . . someone has to do the dirty work . . .

This is the cycle and pattern and web of our sin.

Speaking out against these powers are what got Jesus killed. I'm certain of it. And those of use who have never been so much as threatened . . . perhaps we're complicit . . .

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week 2014

The underside of 59 South at Chimney Rock, Houston, TX. The very slim line in the middle is a sliver of night sky.