Peace – It’s Getting Complicated

The call to peace, in all of its complex, costly, extensive, nuanced layers, is now feeling rather akin to a call of vulnerability. It is the vulnerability that strikes me in this week’s lectionary reading. Jesus sends out his disciples, two by two, to bring this costly, complex, extensive message of peace to foreign villages, unknown houses, strange countrymen.

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The Cost of Following

Today’s passage tells of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man. This isn’t the only story about possession in the Bible, but it’s one of the more dramatic: exorcised demons cast into a herd of pigs, a man healed and restored to society, and a community struggling to grasp what God was doing right before their eyes.

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Where are his people?

Today’s passage tells of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man. This isn’t the only story about possession in the Bible, but it’s one of the more dramatic: exorcised demons cast into a herd of pigs, a man healed and restored to society, and a community struggling to grasp what God was doing right before their eyes.

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Spirit of Truth

There is a story that has haunted my country for the past six years. It’s the story of those killed in the government’s war on drugs. Police say 6,000 have died. Human rights observers say the number is closer to 30,000. Regardless of whose statistics you use, far too many lives have been taken.

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Pentecost

s Pentecost, the great celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s quieter in John than in Acts. There’s no sound of a violent, rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no crowd and foreign languages and accusations of drunkenness. In place of all that, there’s a promise uttered to a grieving group. 

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Then the World Will Know

In all my time of writing for the Word From Below, in all the reflections I have submitted, I have never felt a text so relevant and impossible as the prayer of unity we find in our lectionary text this week. In my country, and in many places around the world, it seems that division is at the center of our cultures and our identities. It feels like our unity is defined by enemies — by what we stand against, more than what we stand for. Is that true unity? Is that where our identity should be found?

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My Peace I Give to You

It’s late in the Easter season. The Resurrected Christ has been walking with the disciples — including you and me — for some weeks; soon, he will ascend. Today, in the liturgical readings, he reassures us that when he leaves us, he will send the Spirit to guide, to advocate, to teach, and to remind us of his way, truth, and life.

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How Long?

I do not like winters. My first ever taste of winter was when I went mountain climbing. I did not anticipate how much I would suffer from fatigue, high altitude exhaustion and unbearable cold and wetness. I remember daydreaming about my bed and appreciating the warmth back home that I sometimes took for granted.

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Do you love me?

One of my theology professors, Olivier Bauer, enjoyed playing with this question. His students would automatically answer, “Jesus’ Last Supper was in the upper room on the evening of his arrest when he introduced Holy Communion”, or something to that effect.

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Resurrection Sunday

Early in the morning, on the first day, God said let there be light. And there was light. And it was good. Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. It didn’t seem good, though. There was no light. All was dark. Mary came to grieve. She came to a tomb, a place of death.

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Holy Saturday

Friday night and Saturday are perhaps the strangest time of this strange, holy week. It is the time that all falls silent. There is nothing to do but wait. And it is not a waiting for new life. No one guessed what was to come. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus see to the burial, tending to Jesus’ mangled body with mercy.

I am captivated by these two disciples.

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Good Friday

War rages. Imperial powers invade and occupy other countries. 10.35 million people are imprisoned around the world. 884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water.

Jesus still thirsts. Jesus is still imprisoned. Jesus still resides in occupied territory. This is a story we need today as desperately as we needed it two thousand years ago.

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Maundy Thursday

It’s Thursday. We have followed Jesus this far. He has been anointed with beauty, spoken of death, and his betrayal has begun. Tonight, he kneels and washes his friends’ feet–all of them, yes, including Judas.

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Holy Week Wednesday

The week picks up speed and the mystery deepens. Jesus’ words about death and life are taking on flesh with startling speed. In this reflection, we’re taking Thursday night and breaking it into two pieces so that we can linger longer with the text. Today we are with Judas.

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Holy Week Tuesday

It’s Tuesday. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, and before everything else, he has been blessed by beauty for beauty’s sake. He has received humanizing kindness before the dehumanization and violence that is to come. But the week is rolling on, ready or not. 

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Holy Week Monday

It’s Monday. Jesus has entered Jerusalem. It’s gotten serious. We begin. We enter into this ancient story and rhythm with him.

But first, this happens. It’s almost embarrassing to begin this week this way. It is not dignified. It is not reasonable. It’s physical and intimate and profligate.

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The Donkey or the Horse?

This international tension would not have been foreign to Jesus and his contemporaries. In fact, the occasion that brought Jesus to Jerusalem — the Passover — was a highly charged annual event. It brought Jewish society together: the power brokers, the revolutionaries and the pious religious folk, to celebrate their liberation from imperial power.

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Leave Her Alone

This week’s scripture brings us to a well known story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus. As told in John 12, Mary uses a large amount of expensive oil to bathe Jesus’ feet and then dries them with her hair. This story is beautiful, but it’s also perplexing. The act of washing feet was already an act of service.

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The Invitation to Celebrate

The gospel text this week begins with a group of religious folk — “Pharisees and scribes,” but feel free to insert titles from your denomination — complaining about Jesus’ habit of welcoming and eating with “sinners.” In his very rabbinic way, Jesus doesn’t address the accusation head-on, but begins to tell a series of stories, culminating with the one that has come to be known as the “Prodigal Son.”

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The Constant Gardener

Everyone in the neighborhood called me Mr. Tim, but Jackie insisted on calling me Mr. Timmins. No matter what the others said, her weak but distinctive voice would boldly greet me, “Hi Mr. Timmins. I just need a dollar to get me something to eat.” This overly confident reassignment of my name

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Get Away from Here

This week, as we continue on the Lenten journey, we see Jesus determined to carry on with his mission to the end. The path ahead of him is dangerous, but he is prepared to pay the price. Some of his enemies know that Jesus does not easily change his mind. He is casting out demons and healing the sick. The good he does is threatening to bring down the entire system.

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No Buyer’s Remorse

This Sunday, we find ourselves at the start of lent. The spiritual sobriety of this season feels very reflective of the sobriety of Jesus’ actions during his temptation in the desert.

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Transfixed or Transfigured

The Transfiguration is the answer to the tension-building question that is repeated throughout the early chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke: “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”

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Loving and Forgiving Enemies

As I read our lectionary passage, I find the suggestion to love our enemies, and do well to those who abuse you, profoundly counter intuitive. A blessing for a curse, prayer for your abuser, love for hate; this seems like a ridiculous, if not dangerous, way to live. I grew up in a neighborhood where casting judgment on outsiders and knowing your enemy were keys to survival. To be honest, it was a pretty good way to build a community of brothers. We all knew who we hated, and it was the glue that held our corner of the neighborhood together.

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Hunger and Hope

This painting is called “Hapag ng Pag asa” (Table of Hope) by Filipino artist Joey Velasco. It’s his rendition of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with a few important changes that capture one’s attention and evoke so much emotion.

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From Now On …

I think the part that most bothered me about this (besides catching people like fish—do you gut them after you catch them?) was that it was all up to me. Would I let Jesus in my boat? Would I follow? Would I fish for people? My salvation depended on my choice alone.

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Whose Voice?

Burning in our hearts is the desire to encounter and experience the Divine. We yearn for this encounter, even if we aren’t quite sure what to expect from it. Those who heard Jesus were no different. They all had the same response as he read from Isaiah … wonder and amazement, even awe.

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The Only Path Forward

Jesus’ first miracle is to keep a party going. As far as first impressions are concerned, wouldn’t it have made more sense to give sight to someone born blind, or cast out some demons?

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Saving the Best for Last

Jesus’ first miracle is to keep a party going. As far as first impressions are concerned, wouldn’t it have made more sense to give sight to someone born blind, or cast out some demons?

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Baptized Into the Human Experience

I have known Susan for over 14 years. She’s a pastor here in Nairobi with a reputation for speaking her mind. Susan is passionate about working with youth and vulnerable women in our community. The locals see her as an advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable in society. Among her best friends is a group of reforming, hard core criminals.

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A Journey Toward Closeness

Last week, I was on the phone with Michèle*, a very gifted social worker and therapist. She is advising our organization for a research project we are coordinating that is looking to capture the narrative of Christian survivors of domestic violence and the church’s response.

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Becoming an Ass

When I think of baby messiahs, angelic messengers, shepherds and sheep, I think of a church Christmas pageant when I was in fifth grade. Christmas Pageants were always somewhat painful for me. Even as a child I didn’t think they expressed “God with us” — what theologians call the Incarnation.

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Blessed is She

Advent is about the birth of Jesus, of course. But for me, the beauty of these verses is the way God uses Mary and Elizabeth, people who would have been marginalized by society because of their gender, to teach us all how to relate to each other with an attitude of abundance.

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Belonging

Advent this year coincides with the election season in the Philippines. In my country, elections are often associated with polarization, division, hate, and sometimes even violence. But what is often neglected is that politics can also offer a deep sense of belonging that is similar to what people experience through religion.

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Prepare the Way

Anytime we read something like, the word of the God came to so-and-so, I’m tempted to imagine this happened in some alternate spiritual universe—one where there are prophets and visions and miracles—not my ordinary everyday world. But the author of Luke is at pains to tell us that this happened here, in the real world, at a specific time in a specific place.

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Look at the Trees

Um, what? Why the downer when I’m getting ready to hang Christmas lights and set out the manger? Even the first candle on the advent wreath is for “hope,” not a concept I generally tie to fear and foreboding.

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Forgive Them

By the light of being forgiven, we come to see what we are doing. The more we undergo forgiveness, the more we can tell ourselves the truth about the endless stream of scapegoats we produce.

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Some Good News

Perhaps this is what we are to testify to … the third way Jesus himself incarnated. At the cross, God absorbed into God’s self, in the body of Christ, all violence. God absorbed it, and did not return it. God suffered violence for all time and for all situations.

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Chewy Words

Just as the Sadducees in today’s Gospel refused to accept the realities of the resurrection, systems of privilege can be averse to the realities of those experiencing poverty, even while offering lofty banter on their behalf.

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Hospitality Inverted

There is a parade of attention around the celebrity Jesus as he passes through Jericho. The eyes of the crowd are riveted in the desire to get a glimpse of the great miracle worker and social (not yet media) influencer.

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Who is More Right?

To not judge ourselves in comparison to others is extremely difficult. Sometimes, the only way we know we are “right” is when we judge and compare ourselves against others; our opinions, our strongly held views, our values. The binaries of “right-wrong”, “good-evil”, “us-them”, etc. define who we are.

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The Joy of All Desiring

We don’t know the specifics of her case, though I like to imagine her as the Rosa Parks of her community. What we know for sure is that she ultimately wears out the unjust judge with her demands. He grants her request, if only to get some rest. Unfortunately, this describes the experience of prayer for most of us. We feel like we have to work as hard the widow to get through to God.

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The Salute of Grace

A children’s version of the story captures the triviality of the narrative – the last frame exclaims, “Don’t Forget to Thank Jesus.”In such simplified, moralistic versions of the story, the other nine lepers who don’t return to Jesus are vilified as ungrateful. However, we shouldn’t rush to cast judgment on them.

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Laboring in the Soil

It is an odd image in this week’s text:, uprooting a tree (already challenging) and planting it into a body of water that is salty (impossible). But it is not surprising to talk of agriculture in terms of challenges, impossibilities, and indeed, as an act of faith. In downtown Montréal, Innovation Youth has been growing our expertise in urban agriculture for several years.

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The Divide

I imagine the rich man at the beginning of his day. He is a man about town, with pressing matters on his mind and very important people to meet. I am easily persuaded that someone like him has no time to volunteer with a local charity or dedicate himself to the protection of the less fortunate. But then we find Lazarus right outside his gate.

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Burn the Ledger

Harry stopped me. He went out to his car and came back with a .357 Magnum. He laid it on the table, carefully covered his hands with his sleeves, emptied the chamber and handed me the gun. “It’s a gift,” he said. “I want you to have it.” He added with a warm smile. “It looks like you could use a little help around here.”

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Join the Party

I’ve been around a few “lost” people in my life over the course of my ministry. How many times have I heard (and said), “Man, dude is lost.” And in that statement, I feel sad and hopeless, like I have come to my limits in what I am able to do or offer. It requires too much sometimes, going after the lost.

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And a Kid Shall Lead Them

He was among several promising students whose families fled violence and economic crisis in their homelands, only to find a different brand of violence and economic crisis in Camden, New Jersey, USA. For these students, survival involves a series of practices, routines, and procedures only understood by those who have indeed counted the cost of the perilous cavalcade north.

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Guests of Honor

It’s the Sabbath again and Jesus is being carefully watched as he goes to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. He senses the angst in the hearts of those in attendance who are trying to maneuver into position nearest to the host. Jesus decides to expose those present at the dinner to the idolatry and rivalistic posturing of their internal ranking system by telling a pair of parables

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Giving up on Control

In this week’s text, the Rich Fool thinks he can control and manage his life into a state of blissful completion. His land has been productive, and he has more than he knows what to do with. All he needs is a strategy, and he’ll have it made. “I know! I’ll just build bigger barns! Then I can relax and I’ll be happy.”

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The Vulnerability of Asking

We live in a fast food, speedy lube, online banking society. Reading today’s passage, it’s hard for many of us to see prayer outside of this cultural lens. “Ask and it will be given” seems like a loaded statement, filled with pie in the sky, cake on your plate, North American theology.

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Will One Thing

Jesus and the disciples are on the move. They enter a village and receive life-giving hospitality from two sisters in the intimacy of their home. Martha prepares the meal while Mary sits listening at the feet of Jesus. It is a beautiful scene that lasts but for two verses before Martha barges into the living room from the kitchen, upset that her sister has left her to do all the work by herself.

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Hostility and Hospitality

Filipino Muslims are our closest siblings, yet we are divided by our differences and a lack of trust. We were not prepared to address this lurking and lingering issue. We walked, as it were, down the road Jesus describes in his parable, asking whether we would continue to affirm the ossified lines of our identities, or transcend that which divides us?

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Being Sent, Being Received

All of these refugees are our sisters and brothers, daughters and sons of our loving God just like we are. They, too, are a part of the Body of Christ. Most of them, if not all, have probably been baptized, and by virtue of their baptism, they are sent – sometimes by direction, other times by desperation.

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Let the Dead Bury their Dead

True confession, the relationship with my brother was broken. It was a love and hate relationship that hurt both of us deeply. We wounded each other in ways that we may never realize. His sickness and death, however, just brought all of the wounds to the surface.

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The Cost of Liberation

We see people in our cities struggling everyday with their own demons: mental health, substance abuse, homelessness and more. We know, however, that their healing and restoration will require some sort of sacrifice on the part of the community and of the individual.

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The Right Word at the Right time

Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” That’s odd to me. Up to this point, Jesus has already unloaded many things on to the disciples – a lot of important things. In fact, we know from 15:15, that Jesus had made everything known to them that the Father had made known to Him.

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Advocate or Accuser

Pastor William Quiñonez has spent the past 5-6 years in a weekly visit to a maximum security prison spending time with members of a notorious street gang who have been incarcerated for unimaginable acts of brutal violence. Pastor William’s “pulpit” has been a seat perched atop the cages where the gang members are held in groups of 10-15.

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May they be One

Unity does not mean uniformity, but to remain in love, despite all tensions and all conflicts. It’s a love that creates a deep unity, like that which exists between Jesus and the Father. The unity in love revealed in the Trinity becomes the standard for our own relationships.

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A Different Kind of Peace

At the meeting Ben asked the leaders if they still believed in the “tactic” of nonviolence. Before Ben could finish the question, Minnijean Brown interrupted energetically. She said to Ben, “Did you say tactic? If you think we used non-violence as a tactic, then you don’t understand our movement.

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Two Letters

How are we to live our everyday lives in light of the Risen one? What difference does it make? What changes? What is new? Two letters. That’s it. In all the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples, its my favorite. It’s a small word, but it is everything

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“Member-ing”

Membering one’s self back to the Body is needed in order to experience the fullness of what it means to function in the same manner that God intended for the Church. When done well, membering helps to foster the kind of culture or environment in which belonging can take place.

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Grace in Galilee

The first ever encounter between Jesus and Peter happened on these same shores where Peter had grown up. Now, in this final chapter of the Gospel of John, the last encounter on earth between Jesus and Peter occurs once again at the same place…

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Peace be with you

As if moved by this intuition, Thomas insists on a direct encounter with the risen Christ – one that will transform his own experience of pain. It’s not enough for Thomas to simply see the risen Christ. He must touch the wounds.

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Easter

The Lords says: “I will create… I will rejoice… I will take delight… I will answer… I will hear.” There is no question who is making things happen here. Only God can make these kinds of declarations.

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Holy Saturday

Is it just me or does Saturday seem like a low point in Holy Week? I find myself wondering why Holy Saturday is even in the story. Was it really necessary to wait for the Resurrection?

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Good Friday

It’s Good Friday. Jesus is on the cross. In the synoptic Gospels, the witnesses stand at a distance. But in today’s text, I can’t help but notice the women “standing near” the foot of the cross.

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Maundy Thursday

It’s Maundy Thursday, and today we read one of my favorite scenes in the Bible. It’s just hours before Jesus is betrayed, and I think it’s worth taking note of how he decides to spend this last evening with his disciples. He washes them, he feeds them, he gives them a new command: “Love one another.”

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Ishmael, Isaac, and Palm Sunday

Between 1979 and 1981, twenty-nine young black people fell victim to a serial murderer in Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t know any of their names.I do have the name of JonBenét Ramsey indelibly sketched in my mind. Unlike the black children in Atlanta, JonBenét was a white American child of promise…

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Discerning Death, Embracing Life

Mary approaches Jesus and smashes an alabaster jar of extravagant perfume, lavishly pouring the precious oil out upon his feet and wiping up the excess with her untied hair. What an arresting image of unbridled devotion and love. There is a time for counting the cost, and there is a time for extravagance.

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Transforming Oikos

I have seen first-hand how eating together creates a community. We Filipinos like to eat together. Common meals are easily transformed into festive celebrations. In the Philippines,  a church that eats together is a vivid image of the church truly becoming a community of faith.

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Repent or Parish?

Imagine that you are the innocent victim of violence. Now imagine a preacher telling you that you must repent, or you will perish. Just exactly what is the victim of violence and oppression supposed to repent of? And at whose hands will we perish? God’s?

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The Fox and the Hen

This image conveys a different notion of sacrifice for me than the cross. Jesus on the cross, hanging alone, has always felt distant for me. I’m an “observer” to this act of love.When I consider the metaphor Jesus offers here, of himself as a mother hen, my imagination about God is peaked in new ways.

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Transfixed or Transfigured?

The whole scene is an invitation to recount the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai; however, there is a notable difference. While glory came down from above unto Moses, here the glory is emanating directly from Jesus. While Moses exudes a reflected light, Jesus is the source of his own light.

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The Womb of Mercy

My usually precise colleague aimlessly fiddled with his food, pondering the proper tone with which to broach a delicate matter. He was looking for words to express his concerns related to me openly talking about my poverty during times when I preached and taught. He’d rather me use other language than “I’m poor.”

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A Well Kept Secret

My usually precise colleague aimlessly fiddled with his food, pondering the proper tone with which to broach a delicate matter. He was looking for words to express his concerns related to me openly talking about my poverty during times when I preached and taught. He’d rather me use other language than “I’m poor.”

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Can Girls Fish?

All the images I saw on the walls of my Sunday school classrooms were pictures of white children and a white Jesus who looked like a surfer. And then there were stories like today’s Gospel in which boys were the lucky ones. They were on the shore that day to receive the amazing invitation from Jesus to follow him.

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Are you in or out?

Taking a deep breath, Jesus knows his proclamation will transform the cheering multitude in front of him into a mob of murderers behind him. He points to two stories that his audience would have known well.

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The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Yes, the whole world is a burning bush ablaze with God’s glory, if we can only see it, calling us to join the wildly liberating work of God among the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. If this isn’t cause for celebration, it’s probably because we don’t easily identify ourselves as poor, captive, blind or oppressed.

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Baptized into One Body

“Will you renounce evil in all of its forms?” I’ve often wondered if I should ask those being baptized to list all the specific ways evil shows up in their lives, and how they plan to carry out their “renouncing.” (I don’t know if I’d actually use the word renounce…but I digress…).

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Baptism

Baptism is an initiation into our most sacred vocation—to become fully human and know ourselves loved by God. No moral system, no matter how good, can produce this vocation. We become human, not through morality, but by receiving and giving mercy.

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The Magi and the Baptism

This week we celebrate Epiphany, and next week the baptism of Jesus. What do these events say to our souls? How is God’s love transforming us as we meditate on these events?

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Jesus Loses his Family for his Father’s House

I have always thought this to be an awkward Gospel story. Mary and Joseph lose their child and don’t realize it for a whole day! My sister has seven kids and forgot one at the mall once. But, Mary and Joseph only have one child—and they lost him? Talk about free-range parenting!

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The Waiting Rooms of Christmas

Her picture popped up on my computer screen this week after clicking on an email from a friend—a sweet, but seemingly exhausted, 5-year-old Honduran refugee. The email author: a Street Psalms’ friend and InnerCHANGE missionary, Nate Bacon. He had joined up with the caravan of Central American immigrants on their Northward trek to the U.S. When he finally caught up with them in Huixtla, Mexico he did not find a “band of marauding criminals” nor a “threatening throng of terrorists,” but “groups of family members of all ages set on pursuing life.”

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The Waiting Rooms of Christmas: The Wilderness II

Advent gives us an excuse to consider again the nature of a God who comes to be with and in a people. If the Incarnation is anything, it is the God-in-flesh ONE who turns things upside down and inside out, simultaneously scandalizing and comforting us. This is the God we are waiting for and the God we will welcome—anew.

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The Waiting Rooms of Christmas: The Wilderness

A smartly dressed, well-heeled crowd pressed their way through a cold December evening in 1851, seeking to find comfortable seats within the warm confines of New York’s Metropolitan Hall. The hype for this event was incredible. It would become part of an annual phenomenon, featuring big and plenteous voices, gathered to sing out the scriptures, as arranged by George Frideric Handel in his oratorio, “The Messiah.”

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The Waiting Rooms of Christmas: Apocalypse and Holy Defiance

Welcome to the first week of Advent. If you are new to the liturgical calendar, Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it marks the beginning of the liturgical year.

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The Word in the Temple

We’ve had a week to digest the Nativity Feast. The magic of Christmas finds its way into even the most…

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The Word Revealed

  Joy is the purest form of gratitude, and gratitude is the most genuine gift we can give to God….

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The Word at Home

We began this year’s Advent series by exploring The Waiting Rooms of Christmas. We waited in the Apocalypse and peace…

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The Way of the Cross?

“Build that wall! Build that wall” “Go back to where you came from.” “Pack your bags! Pack your bags!” On…

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Stone by Stone

This week’s text is difficult. It is the reminder that peacemaking is not for the faint of heart. The text…

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Children of the Resurrection

The Gospel not only empowers us to see, but to see from a particular vantage point-through the unconstrained eyes of…

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Zacchaeus: A Wee Little Man Was He (Not)

This week’s Gospel text is a narrative some people grew up singing in Sunday School: “Zacchaeus was a wee, little…

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Superhero Spandex

Superhero movies are all the rage recently. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons why…such as an affinity for…

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Faith from Below

This is a familiar parable Jesus uses to teach us about the nature of prayer. The widow shows us what…

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Becoming Human

This week’s text is a difficult one. The disciples want Jesus to increase their faith, which is the very thing…

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Not Even Abraham

This week’s text is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lives a life of plenty,…

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The Gospel Hustle

In my neighborhood, this would be called a hustle. I see it every day. This parable sounds like a contemporary…

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The Math of Mercy

Fifteen years ago this Sunday (9/11) something awful happened, and I do mean aw-full. Most of us were filled with…

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