A Different Kind of Power

One has to admire James and John’s audacity, as misguided as it was. But it appears they had either forgotten, or missed, what Jesus had already told them about the nature of power and where it resides. I empathize with them. I get it. They probably felt justified in their request.

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His Most Prized Possession

On the surface it seems perfectly obvious. Jesus tells a wealthy man to sell all he has and give it to the poor. When the rich man hears this he is “shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” It seems Jesus’ words also shocked the disciples too, who wondered, if this is the expectation, then “who can be saved?”

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One Humanity

I don’t believe this is a text just to people who are divorced or considering divorce. That’s not who Jesus addressed it to, and we shouldn’t relegate it to a limited audience either. Jesus is speaking to all of us as he calls forth a way of being that is one flesh, one humanity. This, I believe, is a word of compassion for us all. Yes, compassion.

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What’s in a Name?

There was a pause, some nervous laughter, and then a recognition that she had named something important: as long as we are more focussed on finding new followers for our own project than on the faithful work to be done, we will always be divided rivals competing for the victory of our mission.

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Being Real

Imagine if just one of the disciples had been able to set aside their insecurity to ask Jesus if he would say a little more? Would that have freed up the others to ask their questions? What kind of conversation might have ensued? Would it have fostered more trust and greater understanding between the disciples instead of competition and the need to posture with one another?

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The Crumbling House

The house, the house, the house! We finally had it, and yet the deeper impulse behind the desire remained elusive. After a few months of living crammed together, we began expanding our home’s footprint. It wasn’t just going to be sufficient, it was going to be the biggest house in the whole development. The yardstick for our desire, our success, had moved.

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Expectations

It turns out, Jesus is. Once again, he takes the system and turns it upside down, blowing up societies’ rubric for what makes somebody a good person.

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Sustenance

Food sustains our bodies but also draws our communities and families together. It feeds our needs at many levels. This week’s lectionary text, with Jesus addressing a crowd, tackles this truth.

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Flesh and Blood

I’ll be honest, today’s passage makes me cringe. The language Jesus uses is cannibalistic; it’s scandalous. “Eat my flesh. Drink my blood.” Yuck. Am I right? As someone who presides over the communion table, hearing Jesus speak about His body this way makes me super uncomfortable. 

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Bread of Life

Fear, it appears, has just as much to do with our own disposition as it does with the message itself. The headline of 300 murders solicited a fear of destruction and violence. Jesus’ headline of a new, albeit very diiferent kind of life, released a fear of change among those listening: a fear of letting go of beliefs that bound them, a fear of what might happen if the way of Jesus really was true. 

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Bread is Essential

There is a tendency with this passage to spiritualize it, to contrast the bread that is made of wheat, yeast, salt, and water with bread that is made of love, justice, peace, and hope. All of which sounds nice but can taste like so much air to a hungry person. 

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Serving Without Seeking the Crown

Jesus resists this temptation. He does not use the opportunity to advance himself. Jesus shows us what is at the heart of incarnational ministry: coming alongside those we serve and inviting them to participate in their own healing.

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Get Some Rest

So did He ignore rest or is there something I am missing? I’m beginning to think that my own concept of rest must be sorely lacking as clearly, Jesus is modeling something that does not come naturally to me.

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Otherness to Outsider

There is a unique pain associated with this brand of dismissal, akin to the sting of rejection but accompanied by shock and disbelief (“I thought of all people they would understand!”).

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Power

At first glance, the fifth chapter of Mark is full of stories that appear to be mostly about healing. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus casts out demons from a young man; and today, we see him heal a woman and raise a girl from the dead. Healing is clearly an important and wonderful part of the narrative.

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Can We Hear?

These stories, sometimes referred to as myths, don’t just shape how we see ourselves in the present moment, they also affect how we understand what is possible in the future.

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The Unreasonable Work of Liberation

He must be possessed, they say. Because God’s logic looks like insanity to those of us who’ve become accustomed to the world’s logic. All this disruption, this chaos, must be demonic, they say.

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Do Not Pass Me By

When I woke up that morning I promised myself “never again.” My heart cannot sustain it. My body cannot sustain it. My soul cannot sustain it. This non-stop movement, constant going, day by day, this making a way.

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Pentecost

All around our communities, in myself, and in our churches, we continue to be held captive to this imperial dream — unity, control and stability through enforced uniformity.

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“Union?”

Before we got married, my wife had these words engraved on our wedding ring, “to our dream.” The first time I read them, I wasn’t sure how to respond. So, I just smiled and said something like, “how thoughtful.”

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Bittersweet Fruit

As I was telling David how terrible hell would be, he turned to me and said, “And what do you think this is?” He pointed to the rotten wood poles that held the rusty tin sheets that served as walls for his shack. The metal sheets had as many holes as a slice of swiss cheese. Then, I heard the two children he had already brought into the world even though he was just fifteen. And I smelled the rottenness of the dirt floor, wet with the sewer water that came from the toilet next to us. At that moment, I realized that I was sitting with him in hell.

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The Invitation

I repeated my words: “Cut. It. Back. Prune, yank, trim and remove.”

As soon as I said it, I saw her wince.

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The Good Shepherd

This week is Good Shepherd Sunday. Thank goodness, because I am feeling like a sheep in need of a good shepherd, and so are the communities we serve.

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Peace Be With you

But if I’m honest, I am still wondering – what are the actual, tangible things that make for peace? This seems like the million dollar question for the Church to ponder … especially as ones who are proclaiming this peace.

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The Reality of Resurrection

At the start of Holy Week Manila and nearby provinces entered into another lockdown, causing difficulty for many, especially the most vulnerable. This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. Many people in the under-resourced areas of Manila are living on daily wages, and when these meager means to support their families are cut off, you can feel the fear in the air.

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Easter Sunday

He has risen!
May the presence of the Crucified-Risen One slip behind walls of our well-defended lives today and surprise us with love’s confounding joy.

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Holy Saturday

It’s Holy Saturday and Mary is on my mind. Actually, she’s at work in my heart. Maybe that’s because I too am a mom.
I love being the mother of two sons. They have drawn me out in ways I didn’t think possible. For example, I think of myself as even-keeled and chill. Like Mary, I can hold a lot in. However, I came to discover that’s not always the case.

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Good Friday

I immerse myself in the brutal agony and devastating beauty of the Via Dolorosa where my soul quickens and finds its home inside the unfolding drama of the ultimate consummation of humanity and divinity. I am among the women standing at the foot of the Cross — those midwives of the cross — bearing witness to Jesus’ labor, attending to his last words, his last breath. I receive “It is finished” in one hand and consider “It has begun” in the other, letting such a juxtaposition work its mystery in my mind and heart. (Christena Cleveland)

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Maundy Thursday

Each year at the L’Arche Tahoma Hope community where I serve, we have a Maundy Thursday service that includes a communal foot washing. Like most things at L’Arche, it’s both reverent and comical … lots of laughter and giggles, folks that are ticklish or nervous, moments of silence and bursts of joy. It’s one of my favorite celebrations. Feet are washed, hearts are warmed, walls come down.

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Transfer or Transform?

A week ago, a 21-year old white Christian man, baptised and active in his local church, walked into three spas near Atlanta, Georgia with a gun and killed 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian American.

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Strange Fruit

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin’s knee was pressed into Mr. Floyd’s neck as he lay face down in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Bystanders pleaded with the officer to stop while Mr. Floyd pleaded for his own life, “I can’t breathe!” The video went viral and the whole world listened to George Floyd call for his mama with his last breaths.

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God’s New Age

In this week’s text, Jesus foretells his death. He relates it to a moment in the Bible when God used Moses to save the Israelites from snakes by looking at a … snake. It was unusual, to say the least. In the same way, Jesus reminds his listeners that his salvation will happen, but everything about it will defy our expectations.

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What if it’s Love?

n the spring of 2012, a group of students from one of Montreal’s finest universities, Concordia, broke into the Dean’s office and ransacked it. They tore documents, broke the computer, and flipped the desk. This was part of a province-wide student strike against the tuition and fee hikes being imposed on our publicly funded higher education institutions. At its peak, a quarter of a million students took to the streets.

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The Tertium Quid

Ever move from applause to rebuke in the blink of an eye?    We continue in our Lenten journey to the…

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Remember our Baptism

Alimentando El Pueblo (Feeding El Pueblo) is a food distribution initiative that specifically caters to the Latinx community in my area….

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Ash Wednesday: The Sound of the Genuine

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Christians worldwide will enter into a heightened time (40 days) of prayer,…

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Transfiguration of Power

Recent events in Myanmar and the Philippines loom large in my mind as I write this reflection from Manila. Myanmar…

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Just As You Are

Jesus took time for prayer. This isn’t the only place we see that. There are more than thirty references to…

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Be Silent O Unclean Spirit

In the text today, Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit and speaks truth with authority and authenticity to him. And it triggers his whole…

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Ad-liberation

A local Pastor was telling me about her neighbors’ reaction to a proposed winter shelter. It was set to be located in a large and currently empty community center in their affluent neighborhood.

Every year in the Pacific Northwest winter, unsheltered neighbors die of exposure to the cold—the shelter will offer a simple place to sleep during the hardest months. But on this neighborhood’s local social media pages, in the press, on the TV news, and in government hearings, compassion was hard to find.

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Being Seen

I watched a movie the other night called “The Orator.” Set on the island of Samoa, in the present day,…

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Almost Drowning

I was baptized into an Evangelical church when I was seven years old and it was a terrible experience. My…

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Born in Community

Tell me your birth story. If you are someone who has birthed a baby, you have heard this question countless…

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Anna The Prophet

At age 84 my aunt helped lead her aging church through a very challenging process around a divisive issue. She did so with remarkable skill and grace. She’s always looking toward the future, even if it does not include her.

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Hoping for Change

In the Spanish language the verb esperar means both “to hope” and “to wait.” It is a beautiful Advent verb,…

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Mary’s Light

She was a high-school senior. She told me she wasn’t feeling well and asked if I could give her a…

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Light from Darkness

A prison cell may be the last place we look for light; they are dim by design. But in my…

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On the Edges

Wilderness.  Uncultivated. Uninhabited. Inhospitable. Neglected. Abandoned. Disfavored. Dangerous. These words are commonly used to describe places of “wilderness.” And yet,…

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Blue(s) Christmas

We don’t listen to Christmas music in my house until after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday morning the prohibition is lifted…

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A Tale of Two Daughters

Life had been slowly bleeding out of her for 12 years, so in one final act of desperation she reaches out to touch her last remaining vestige of hope: the edge of the robe of a great teacher in whom she would now put all the faith she had left. Note here that Mark emphasizes the woman’s faith rather than Jesus’s power.

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Are You the King?

On the eve of a battle in the year 312, Constantine had a vision. He saw a cross in the sky and he heard God say, “By this, conquer!”

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Not One Stone

The city where I serve is no different than any other city in this country. A litany of the same issues show up on the city council agenda every two weeks: violence, unemployment, immigration, disparity in the education system, community safety, homelessness, policing, economic development and housing issues, just to name a few.

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A Lesson From Uncle Tim

Joyful thoughts come to mind whenever I see my niece Shaianne; none of them begin with the prefix “dis.” She uses a wheelchair, but I never think of her as disabled or disadvantaged.

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Only Love

“Love God. Love People. Nothing Else Matters” became my mantra during my single, young-adult years; life seemed simple without the tether of expectation coming from academic degrees, job titles and the financial responsibilities of parenthood. Those words from the mantra of my youth are a paraphrase from Jesus in our Gospel text this week.

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Blind Bartimaeus

Beautiful questions yield beautiful answers. They open space for the Spirit to work, and involve us in our own transformation. Ultimately, they free us to see in new ways and act creatively. On the other hand, small questions yield small answers. The Japanese word “mu” can be understood to mean “un-ask the question.” Mu is the appropriate response when the question is too small fortruth to emerge. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is, in effect, saying “mu.” He is helping us find larger more beautiful questions, and he uses questions of his own to get us there.

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Under The Table

I currently spend my days assisting staff at a nearby elementary school. Our team gets the call when students have serious issues with behavior or cooperation. This week, I was summoned to a normally tranquil kindergarten class, where a five-year-old was out of his seat, hiding in plain sight behind a giant smart board.

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Can Evil Drive Out Evil?

“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

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New Skin to Bear the World

“I am suffering, it really hurts. It has been unbelievably painful for me to be confronted with the enormous division that exists in Nicaragua between those of us who profess Christ. Supposedly we make up 41% of the population but we have not been able to find any unity of response in the face of the deep woundedness of our nation. Those who are reacting in an active manner in the middle of this crisis are judging negatively those who have chosen to remain in their churches praying and fasting and those who have chosen to pray are attacking those who are practicing active resistance. And then there are others who have simply decided not to express themselves nor respond in any way whatsoever.”

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The Question

In the text we’re tackling this month, Jesus is accused of being “out of his mind”…and worse. The scribes accuse Jesus of being Beelzebul, a demon who casts out other demons. Jesus absorbs the deadly accusation and turns it into a teachable moment. That alone is worth a lifetime of reflection.

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As if They Were Gods

I can imagine a mingling of terror, fire, and joy within Rev. Henry Highland Garnet as he hobbled to the podium on a chilly February Sunday in 1865. There was certainly a sense of terror during the last months of the Civil War and its steadily climbing death toll of 620,000 souls. Garnet’s fire came from his drive to abolish the institution of slavery and its horrors. Joy must have overtaken him, considering he had been born into slavery not far from the podium from where he spoke. And now he stood as the first African American to deliver a speech within the United States Capitol.

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No Greater Love

The ancient Greeks had four ways of talking about love. The highest, most idealized form was “agape,” which is divine love. It is the gold standard of love. The other forms of love were assumed to be lower, human or natural loves: “Storge” is the love of a parent. “Eros” is sexual or erotic love. “Phileo” is the love of a friend.

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Paradise in the Dust

If learning to read the Word from below is challenging and liberating to our faith in God, learning how to read the world from below is challenging and liberating to our faith in humanity.

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God’s Language

It’s cliffhanger season on TV right now. One of my favorite shows, “Grey’s Anatomy,” has their season finale tonight. I’m expecting something from Shonda Rhimes that will be both spectacular and frustrating. That’s the beauty of cliffhangers. When told well, they keep viewers expecting a great return next season.

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Union

To be one “as we are one.” Yes, this really is the heart of it! To become one. Union. Intimacy. The Gospel of Jesus opens us up to the possibility of becoming one in a way that seems utterly impossible – to enjoy unity without being in rivalry with anyone or anything. It is unity with and for everything – over and against nothing, not even death. This is the kind of unity that God enjoys and makes available to us. Impossible, but this is the promise of Jesus. This is Shalom.

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The Crying Monk

We are approaching the 6th Sunday since Easter, and the circumstances of my life have seemingly all but erased the memory of the resurrection. I need a reminder of the Good News. At first glance, I’m not sure I get that from today’s text.

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Waiting to Inhale

Martin Luther King Jr. was unsuitable for white teachers at my school, as he had not been thoroughly sanitized yet. And he was too theologically liberal to be mentioned in the pulpit of my church. The most I knew of him was that we shared a middle name.

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Power and Authority Reframed

In one of my favorite Ted Talks, Educational Technology Specialist Sugata Mitra discusses his experiments with “Hole in the Wall” computers. These are computer kiosks left in Indian slums, among children with no prior contact with PCs.

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Christ’s Dark Humor

On the eve of a battle in the year 312, Constantine had a vision. He saw a cross in the sky and he heard God say, “By this, conquer!”

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Wounded Resurrection

Jesus shows his wounds. He doesn’t hide them. They were not miraculously healed nor did they disappear. He was not completely “made whole” again. He continues to bear the scars of his crucifixion.

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Holy Saturday

It’s Christ The King Sunday in which we celebrate the reign of Christ dawning in this age and in the age to come. But, as we’ve seen throughout the Gospel of Matthew, it is an unusual, upside down kingdom that redefines power and relocates God at the bottom, not at the top.

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Good Friday

After dinner we walked to the vigil at the Plaza de la Constitucion in Guatemala City. When we arrived, the square was empty except for four women who stood around a lonely little fire at the center of the park. They were there to honor the memory of the 41 girls who were burned alive at a government orphanage on March 8, 2017 (March 8 is also International Women’s Day).

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Maundy Thursday

Joslynn, Nef, and Diane gazed thoughtfully during my clumsy response. They were confused about the many names Christians throw around. “What’s the difference between God, Lord, Jehovah, Jesus, Christ and all that?” was the question asked by some bright urban teens. Their continued attentiveness, a full ten minutes, was surprising. Even the most reticent-to-participate kid was listening carefully as clarity continued to elude me. So much for the notion that urban youth will only listen to Cardi B and The Migos.

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The Dark Prayer of Palm Sunday

I have a confession. Palm Sunday is confusing. It functions more like a parable than a celebration and it leaves me conflicted. The crowd that shouts “Hosanna, Hosanna” this week shouts “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” next week.

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When I am lifted up

I had a great conversation with a young man recently who was going to be baptized. I asked him what he thought about God and what he believes God thinks about him.

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The Death of a Little Jewish Guy

Craig Sanders needed three surgeries to survive his injuries after awakening to a severe beating back in January 2013, while detained at Camden County Jail. Giving credence to inmate reports from the jail, accounts of such beatings no longer alarmed me. Those of us working at street-level knew the war stories coming from the overfilled facility…

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What’s on Your Table?

The striking contrast of two completely distinct, but adjacent worlds, startled my senses and threw me into a state of disorientation. We were in Kolkata, India as part of a weeklong city consultation for doctoral students. One morning, without any particular instruction, we hopped off a bus in a neighborhood swarming with people. Drawn up in the movement of the crowd, we found ourselves in the midst of a high festival day for the Hindu goddess Kali; the crowd was flowing toward her temple.

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Alexamenos Worships a Donkey

It’s the second week of Lent and here we find Jesus teaching his disciples that, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31).

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Into the Wilderness

One of my brothers was a college football All-American. He broke and set many conference and national records. He was a Heisman trophy candidate his senior year, and the third pick in the first NFL draft. This was in the late 1970’s—well before social media. But for what it was, there was quite a bit of media attention that surrounded him.

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A Beautiful Cluelessness

I admit to a certain cluelessness regarding the transfiguration. After countless years of exposure to cleverly executed sermons, teachings, and writings by the best of our preachers, teachers, and scholars, I still don’t get what it was all about.

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Gathering at the Door

In last week’s passage, we saw Jesus exorcising bad religion as he cast out the “impure spirit” of a man inside the synagogue. The reflection challenged the traditional reading of the text. What if the impure spirit didn’t so much reflect the possessed man? What if it was actually a reflection of the religious authorities?

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Exorcising bad Religion

Jesus does not shy away from conflict in Mark’s Gospel. He turns and faces what most of us flee. In particular, he faces the religious leaders, who maintain the system that sorts people into clean and unclean. This makes the religious authorities nervous.

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Right Time Moments

During the season of Epiphany, I’ve committed to be more aware of the ways that God is present and at work in and around me each day.

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Da-n Straight That’s What I Am

I’ve rarely been called the n-word to my face, but I know what people are thinking. I’m a scary looking big dreadlocked 300-pound black guy who loves bench-presses and bicep curls. Racists tend to keep their biases to themselves or mask them in implicit language when I’m around.

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A New Year’s Rest-olution

John the Baptist appears in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and we are told that the “whole” Judean countryside and “all” the people of Jerusalem went out to him. It seems John has become quite the successful, suburban mega-church pastor with a huge commuter congregation. But he is clear that his show is not the best in town.

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Make Room

When the nativity tale declares, “there was no room at the inn,” I usually picture a robed man with a lantern sadly shaking his head “If you’d only gotten here sooner,” I imagine him saying, “I could have fit you in, but now, there’s no room.” But is this true?

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The Breath and the Glory

First it was an alarm, next came water and last week it was light. God uses each of these elements to wake us up. As we approach the eve of God’s arrival, are we still awake? Are we alert? Will we recognize the advent of our God?

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Light

I tried to sleep in a few weeks ago but failed to inform my children of this plan. My daughter came into the room and flipped the light on. “Ahhhh!” Pain shot beneath my eyelids…

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Awake in the Water

We would have called it the boonies or the sticks or perhaps BFE. Mark refers to it simply as the wilderness. Whatever the name, it was a place you didn’t so much go to as you went through.

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Stay Woke!

I hate to wake up. Yes, it beats the alternative, but it is so painful. The mattress, pillow, sheets and comforter offer such warm friendship while the cold, hard, dusty floor promises only pain.

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Given in Love

Kingdom not from here.

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Mercy or Sacrifice?

Whose sacrificial system is it?

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The Widow’s Might

A marginalized prophet gives all.

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Joy

Beyond the spiritual flowchart.

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Saper Vedere

Learning from a blind man how to see.

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Brigands of the Lord

Three dimensions in a two-dimensional world.

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Good God

Is there enough good for all of us?

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The Gift of Losing Control

Manning the gates against children.

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Scandal

The real threat that Jesus exposes in this text is the hidden envy brewing in the disciples’ hearts.

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Child in the Middle

…of danger.

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

Too far for comfort.

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