Showing posts from March, 2012

What is the Missional Church: “In” But Not “Of” Yet “For” Culture

Trying to define the church’s relation to its culture is kind of like eating soup with a fork. That’s because both culture and church are dynamically related to each other in ever-changing ways that defy our best efforts to classify them. That does not mean we should stop trying, only that we cannot hope to fully succeed. And it’s a good thing too!

I begin with three terms often used to qualify the noun “church” these days: “parallel,” “alternative,” and “counter.” These terms certainly overlap though they are not identical in meaning. I believe they provide us with a continuum of relationships or forms in which church and culture may exist in different circumstances. The phenomenon of the triple point of water may provide a helpful analogy. The triple point is that point of pressure and temperature where water, ice, and vapor coexist in a state of stable equilibrium. Alterations in pressure and temperature, however small, can change all of the substance to either ice, vapor, …

Eleven theses on love (Ben Myers)

1. I have observed in my own handwriting a peculiar involuntary tic. My capital E is normally executed with three strokes: a sharp L-shape, followed by two swift horizontal strokes. It is a crooked, abrupt, ungainly sort of letter. But whenever I write the word Elise – my wife's name – the E takes on a completely different form and style. It is executed with a single fluid cursive stroke; it is curved, almost elegant, like a back-to-front 3. It is the only time my handwriting produces such a shape. Under all normal circumstances, my E – like the rest of my handwriting – is a rather jagged, haphazard, Runic, pagan-looking thing. But just ask me to spell my wife's name, and that first grapheme is mysteriously transfigured into something smooth, Cyrillic, serenely clean and Christian. As though it were inadequate to assign to her name any regular letter of the Roman alphabet; as though she required her own distinct letter, without which her name cannot be spelled or uttered; as t…

Daily Prayer During Holy Week

These services for Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer during Holy Week are adapted from Daily Prayer: Supplemental Liturgical Resource 5 of the Presbyterian Church (Westminster Press, 1987).

They are designed for corporate use but can be easily adapted for personal prayer.

The readings for each day are generally distributed as follows: Morning Prayer, Old Testament; Midday Prayer, Epistle; and Evening Prayer, Gospel Lesson. Should only one or two services a day be observed, the readings may be redistributed accordingly.
Musical settings for the canticles can be found in the Presbyterian Hymnal. Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2

—Passion/Palm Sunday—

O Lord, open my lips, Psalm 51:15 and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Tell the daughter of Zion: Behold, your king is coming to you! Matthew 21:5, 9 He is humble and rides on a donkey.
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosan…

The Great Pattern for Reading the Bible

The biblical story is often told and retold by means of patterns. What I call the “Great Pattern” is that found in the Exodus story: liberation/wandering/promised land.

This pattern begins at the beginning: creation. God frees being from the shackles of non-being. Creation “wanders” from its beginning toward full flourishing in God’s new creation (Rev.21-22), the promised land.

The Exodus itself is well known. Liberation from Egypt is followed by wandering in the desert. Finally the people arrive at the threshold of the promised land.

Entry into the promised land is told by this pattern. The liberated people cross the miraculously dried Jordan into Canaan. There they “wander” while attempting to pacify the land according to YHWH instruction. Finally, the promised land is theirs.

Isaiah promises the people in exile that YHWH will perform a New Exodus for them. They will return to the land. However, once there they wander. All is not well and the great promises accompanyin…

The Grim Comedy of St. Mark’s Passion Mark 14:1-15:47

A Blog by Debra Dean Murphy
March 30, 2012 (

The passion narratives of the Gospels are dramatic and absorbing. As many times as we may have heard or read them, they can still hold our attention, grip our imaginations. Liturgically, year after year, we find ourselves riveted by the unfolding drama as if we didn’t know what was coming next. Such is the power of good story-telling and the giftedness of a good story-teller.
As compelling as the narratives are, it is also important to step back a bit from the particulars and consider other elements of the story-telling process. Elements like: the Gospel writers’ own time and place; their shaping of other sources for their unique literary and theological purposes. In this year’s appointed Gospel reading for Palm/Passion Sunday, there’s an odd double-trial scene that raises interesting questions about these kinds of story-telling elements—about setting, cont…

What “The Hunger Games” and the Prodigal Son Have in Common

On the face of it Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and Jesus’ parable are strange bedfellows. Their story line is light years apart, their “points” don’t seem to converge, in short, what do these two stories have in common?

It seems to me that both stories have a common ending. We celebrate the father’s prodigal love in welcoming and celebrating his wayward son home, but Jesus’ story does not end there! Rather, it ends with the father trying to persuade the elder brother to join in the party and similarly welcoming his prodigal brother home. And we are never told what happens! We are left to imagine various responses and ultimately to decide how we are going to respond to God the Father’s prodigal saving love for prodigals and “righteous” alike. In this way Jesus pulls us into his story and makes us characters in it (as it were) needing to make our own decisions and responses to its drama.

“The Hunger Games” trilogy likewise leaves the story open-ended. Each of the main characters ha…

Redeeming Ritual by James K.A. Smith (The Banner, February 2012)

Jan 6, 2012 — Protestants tend to brace themselves at the mention of the R-word: ritual. The word is a trigger evoking a Reformation history that has sunk into our bones. We associate ritual with dead orthodoxy, “vain repetition,” the denial of grace, trying to earn salvation, scoring points with God, “going through the motions,” and various other forms of spiritual insincerity.

Anyone who has mastered a golf swing or a Bach fugue is a ritual animal.
And yet we affirm, even celebrate, ritual in other spheres. We recognize that the pursuit of excellence often requires devotion to a regime of routines and disciplines that are formative precisely because they are repetitive. Anyone who has mastered a golf swing or a Bach fugue is a ritual animal: one simply doesn’t achieve such excellence otherwise. In both cases, ritual is marked by embodied repetition. Ritual recruits our will through our body: the cellist’s fingers become habituated by moving through scale after scale; the golfer’s wh…

Spikenard Sunday/Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

by Columbia Lutherans on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 11:55am •


“I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by-and then we will have two good ideas. What might that second good idea be? I don’t know. How could I know? I will make a wild guess that it will come from music somehow. I have often wondered what music is and why we love it so. It may be that music is that second good idea’s being born.

“I choose as my text the first eight verses of John twelve, which deal not with Palm Sunday but with the night before-with Palm Sunday Eve, with what we might call ‘Spikenard Saturday.’ I hope that will be close enough to Palm Sunday to leave you more or less satisfied. I asked an Episcopalian priest the other day what I should say to you about PalmSunday itself. She told me to say that it was a brilliant satire on pomp and circumstance …

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 4)

Mark 14:1-15:47

1 It was two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and legal experts through cunning tricks were searching for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 2 But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.
3 Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? 5 This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
6 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. 8 She has done w…

Communion Calisthenics

The actions of Jesus at the Last Supper form a compelling paradigm of the life of Jesus the meal celebrates. I suggest we use that paradigm as a way to “practice” or exercise the faith we profess. I call them “Communion Calesthenics.”

The four actions of Jesus are:
-receiving (taking the bread offered him by others)
-thanksgiving to God
-breaking the bread
-giving it to others

These “Communion Calesthenics” are perfomed by standing up, lifting your arms over your head with palms open to receive the bread. Then you bring your arms down and put your hands together palm-to-palm in a praying posture. Thirdly, move your arms apart in a tearing motion for the breaking of the bread. Finally, stretch your arms straight out holding the bread out to those who need it. Repeat these motions until you can do them smoothly. Say “receiving,” “thanksgiving,” “breaking,” and “giving” as you make the gestures. Increase speed in moving through these gestures as able.

What do these “communion …

Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture Is the Right One? By STANLEY FISH

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
March 26, 2012

The topic this past Sunday on the show “Up w/ Chris Hayes” (MSNBC) was the statistical correlation between deniers of global warming and religious believers. Participants included such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” and Steven Pinker, author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” a new book arguing that the world has gotten less violent as the tide of fundamentalist faith has receded and given way to the dictates of reason. It was no surprise that the panel’s default position, stated almost explicitly by Susan Jacoby, was that religion clouds the mind of those who, if they were only sufficiently educated, would arrive at the conclusion supported by the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence and reject the blind adherence to revealed or ecclesiastical authority that char…

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 3)

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So this is where it all ends, what it was all about – death on a cross. The One who was “equal with God” becomes “obedient to the point of death,” emptying and humbling himself, descending into ignominy and the obloquy of a hideous death reserved for traitors and runaway slaves! What c…

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 2)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4 The LORD God
gave me an educated tongue
to know how to respond to the weary
with a word that will awaken them
in the morning.[a]
God awakens my ear
in the morning to listen,
as educated people do.
5 The LORD God opened my ear;
I didn’t rebel; I didn’t turn my back.
6 Instead, I gave my body to attackers,
and my cheeks to beard pluckers.
I didn’t hide my face
from insults and spitting.
7 The LORD God will help me;
therefore, I haven’t been insulted.
Therefore, I set my face like flint,
and knew I wouldn’t be ashamed.
8 The one who will declare me innocent
is near.
Who will argue with me?
Let’s stand up together.
Who will bring judgment against me?
Let him approach me.
9 Look! The LORD God will help me.
Who will condemn me?

This is the third of Isaiah’s poems about the figure of the Suffering Servant. This servant is a figure for both the people of Israel as they were supposed to be and an individual…

Lent and Narnia (5)

The Horse and His Boy features the deadly sin of pride. Three characters are particularly infected.

-Bree, a captive talking Narnian war horse is overly concerned with how he looks and what other horses will think of him

-Aravis, an escaped princess of Calormene, is prideful to the point of manipulative narcissism; even as a runaway she demands to be treated as royalty.

-Prince Rabadash, however, the heir-apparent of Calormene’s throne, is Lewis' supreme example of pride. Lewis parodies him in a comic way to demonstrate the absurdity of his pernicious pride.

If pride is indeed the most devilish of the deadly sins, then Lewis advice about dealing with the devil becomes relevant to his treatment of Rabadash. He takes Thomas More’s counsel that "the devil . . .the prowde spirit . . . cannot endure to be mocked" and Martin Luther's that "the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to the texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flount him, for he cannot…