Showing posts from 2019

Independence Day 2019

Each July 4th, Americans celebrate the 1776 declaration of independence from the colonial power of England.

How good it is to loose the bonds of oppression, to gain freedom from powers which promote injustice and inflict harm, to find liberation from that which keeps us down. Not only tyrants, but illness, poverty, hunger, racism, pain, depression... whatever has us chained.

Today is also a good day to remember and honor our DE-pendence, something we tend to view less favorably. But it is our reality. We depend on so many things that are good and right. We depend on those who do the work we cannot, who grow our food or fix our roads, or expand the frontiers of science or enliven the soul through the arts. We depend on just laws and equal rights.

We depended upon our parents to bring us into the world. We depend on family and friends, teachers and mentors, on those who care for us when we cannot, and upon those who love us and those we love.

And yes, we depend upon the love and mercy o…


Memorial Day is designated to remember those who died while in the U.S. military services.

It recognizes not just those killed in battle, but all those who gave (and lost) their lives: through illness, accident, suicide, or any other cause. Their profound gift and sacrifice to their nation deserves our honor and memory.

There is not always a straight line between what the armed forces do and the liberty we treasure. But the willingness to put their lives in harm’s way makes those who serve in the military worthy of our gratitude and honor.

For those who died while in uniform, there are no veterans’ benefits, no parades, no chance to live the lives they might have. To them we owe a debt we cannot pay.

So let us give what we can. Care for those who survive them. Love of country and patriotic service to our shared ideals and our constitutional union – even when they may be a bit tattered. And let us never take their sacrifice for granted.

Remembering today Capt. Charles U. Warnick (Civil…

Resurrection Day

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [who had come with Jesus from Galilee] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.Luke 24:1-2*

It is remarkable that the Church makes so much out of nothing.

You know, the women who loved Jesus, went to the tomb that morning with nothing but some burial spices to wrap his body, so it would stink less and rot slower.

They had nothing. Their teacher, their friend, their good shepherd was dead. All they could do was go through the motions, do what custom required, honor his meaning in the life, and hope they could get past this, somehow move on.

And then, even his body was gone. Any empty tomb. Nothing there. Nothing to see. Nothing left.

Who could have imagined what God was doing behind the scenes? Who could have imagined what God was doing with nothing.

Same as always. God has always been making something out of nothing.

Order o…

Saturday of Holy Week - Veiled

Yesterday it was done. Finito. They laid him in the tomb and rolled a stone against the door.

Today... nothing. The scriptures are silent. While the holy day of Pesach (Passover) and Sabbath take place, the story takes a rest.

The rivers of lambs' blood from the Passover sacrifices have been washed down the mount. People have gone to their homes to observe the Passover Sabbath behind the safety of their doors. Jesus' disciples are in hiding, in shock, in disbelieving grief, some in fear and trembling, hoping that further retribution will pass over their doors. Probably the Roman soldiers are on alert for further disturbances, but keeping a low profile, expecting that with the holy day arrived and the latest messiah safely in his tomb, things will quiet down.

But no one can be sure. I imagine the holy city taking a breath, waiting to see if things get back to normal.

The sudden, violent death of a loved one throws the world into chaos. Any sense of safety and stability is comp…

Friday of Holy Week - Weep

He laid down his head, and died.

There is a lot more in the story. He didn't get there by accident, or by himself. It took an empire, an unholy collaboration of Roman and Jewish law, of rulers, and soldiers just following orders, and people running away, standing by in shock, or just minding their own business.

But it winds up with the poor guy hanging lifeless on a cross, a rebel against the state, just another dead peasant.

Weep for him and weep for yourselves. Weep because he is not the first and is not the last. Weep because of his holiness and weep because of his humanity. Weep because we have not done what we ought to make a world without grosses, without warfare, mass shootings, "intimate" violence, poverty, oppression, domination and humiliation.

Weep because this incarnation of love was valued as less than nothing.

Every death, it seems, is in some way a slap in the face to hope. Even when expected, even at the end of a long happy life, even when it comes as a …

Thursday of Holy Week - This is my body

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

There is so much sacred tradition around the "Last Supper," "Maundy/Holy Thursday," and the Christian communion meal. It may be difficult to see this event without the gloss of sanctity.

Jesus, fortunately, kept it simple. It was bread and wine shared among friends and colleagues. We don't need centuries of liturgical theology to understand that.

Bread and wine, body and blood. The coming days (and centuries) will make much of what the…

Wednesday of Holy Week - Who will contend with me?

"Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me"Isaiah 50:8.

It sounds like an ill-advised taunt. The adversaries are actually close by. They are visible and powerful.

For Jesus, the adversaries were the ones in charge of the current world order, the Powers That Be. The Empire, from Caesar, through the foot soldiers of the Roman legions, to the tax collectors. The local authorities, from Herod, through the Temple hierarchy, to the pious, who enforced religious rules without regard to God's justice-loving priorities. And the "ordinary folk." The friends who betray. The doubters, naysayers, and gossipers. The ones who speak right, but do wrong. Or the many who watch, yet do nothing at all.

Those were the adversaries Jesus faced. But the Powers That Be are still with us. They exist in every time and every land. You can name the ones you see today. They are the systems, and the people in them, who are in the grasp o…

Tuesday of Holy Week - Like a sharp sword

"He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away"Isaiah 49:2

This is another text read as a messianic prophecy. I am interested in this "weaponized" Messiah, who is like a swift arrow, whose mouth is a sharp sword.

The prophet here speaks of the nation Israel in much the same terms as a commando. Armed with sharp weapons but undercover. There is a stealth quality to this mission. Is the Messiah coming like a thief in the night, unseen until his mission is in progress and unstoppable?

Sharp edges can reveal things. Swords in battle decide victory and defeat. A surgeon's knife divides flesh, that a tumor might be seen and excised. A word directed like a razor can cut what is false from what is true, divide wrong from right.

These are not cost-free actions. Swords in battle cost lives and limbs. Even healing surgery involves blood. Speaking straight can hurt, can provoke reactions,…

Our Lady of Paris

I have never been to Paris, nor is it a city which which has occupied my imagination. But its great Cathedral of Our Lady has been a cultural and spiritual center for 850 years. Built upon the site of a Roman temple, the place has been one of hope for even longer.

Some draw a firm line between stone and wood and human lives. We can be very thankful that no lives were lost in this terrible fire at Our Lady of Paris. Yet great buildings are more than their construction materials. They have their own lives, as the places which thousands and millions have inhabited.

In the case of a cathedral, centuries of prayer, of work, of alms giving, of serving food, of great arts, of holding the body of Christ make them more than dead stone. While the stones are not alive, many living souls would have sacrificed their lives to preserve this great place, a national symbol, a worldwide cultural treasure, and a place of living faith.

The scenes of the burning affected people worldwide. Some recall prio…

Monday of Holy Week - Here is my servant

"My servant will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth..."Isaiah 42:4

The suffering servant songs of the prophet Isaiah are seen as prophecies of, and ways to understand, the Messiah Jesus.

You can see the palms and perhaps hear the Hosannas in the background. Jesus looks over Jerusalem and weeps (Luke 19:41). He knows what is likely to come. By Friday afternoon, he will be crushed, and justice will appear to have been crucified.

Does the Empire always win? Will might always make its own right?

The question is still with us. We are still blind and lack the courage to break chains. Prisoners still being led into dungeons, and blindness is touted as right.

It is all the more troubling to us when this same servant song says that the hoped-for savior "will not cry or lift up his voice."

The prophet's song goes on to declare that new things are coming. That takes the eyes of faith. The crucifiers are still before us, blinding us …

Praying the Psalms

It was eleven years ago that I started City Called Heaven. I began with lectionary reflections for Lent 2008.

Now we are at the threshold of another Lent, and I am happy to announce the launch of a new blog,

It was in my early days as a chaplain that I started to rely on the Book of Psalms as a resource for prayer and faith. It speaks of God and to God in varied voices, and is distinctive in its ability to give voice to deep emotions: joy, despair, confidence, pain, rage, hope, pleas for rescue and complaints at injustice. will offer brief reflections on individual psalms, giving priority and focus to those used in the Revised Common Lectionary for the 3-year cycle of church readings. I do this in part to aid preachers, who tend to neglect the psalms as a resource for preaching. Yet the congregation reads a psalm each Sunday. And those words can speak directly to the heart.

Live today are 63 articles, representing just over half of the 10…

Which Lincoln to remember?

Each February, historians are polled for their rankings of the best (and worst) Presidents. However you choose to rate their performance in office and place in history, Abraham Lincoln surely stands alone like none other, excepting that singular first President, George Washington.

While other Presidents steered the ship of state in times of war, none did so when the nation was at war with itself, citizen killing citizen at a rate of at least 180,000+ Americans per year over the four years of warfare.[1] While 16 times Presidents were elected with less than a majority of the popular vote, Lincoln had the second lowest vote percentage ever, and the lowest ever to win election by the electoral college.[2] While other Presidents were opposed and hated, no other's election triggered armed rebellion. Lincoln, and the events he presided over, led to the first Presidential assassination. And Lincoln was the only President bold enough to risk - and win - freeing America's slaves.


A letter to those urging patience with injustice

I was thrilled to hear Martin King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail read today on the radio. If the Church ever decides to add to the New Testament, this is my #1 nomination.

Today we justly see King as a hero, but that was not how most saw him at the time. He wrote the letter on scrap paper, smuggled it out of jail, and the NY Times turned it down for publication. In the letter, King notes his stand in the prophetic tradition, but also his status as a "n-----r" and "boy" (and implicitly as convict).

"At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.... But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? -- 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice? -- 'Let justice roll down like waters and rig…