For a number of years our church has had a pastoral internship program designed for intensive discipleship training and character formation. From time to time, our interns are asked: “Is your church a cult?” We laugh about this, but the concern is understandable, especially given the society we live in.
Our teacher cautions us that the corpse pose is the most difficult of all yoga postures to master, but after an hour’s exertion in warrior pose, downward-facing dog and cobra, the prospect of relaxing horizontally on one’s yoga mat brings both relief and the impertinent question, “How hard can it be?” Fascinated, I report to my husband, “Every day at the conclusion of yoga class we practice dying.” “That’s interesting,” he says, trying to share my enthusiasm. “It’s kind of like Lent,” I venture. "Lent is when we’re supposed to practice dying, right?”
It turns out that the center of the Milky Way may smell like rum and taste a bit like raspberries. Ethyl formate, one of the molecules that gives raspberries their flavor and rum its smell, has been found in space. In a way this is hardly remarkable. After all, it’s no surprise that we are made of the same stuff as the stars.
“Tell me a story.” No bedtime liturgy would be complete without these four magical, sacred words, or the four magical words that follow: “Once upon a time. . . .” Story shapes us. Fantastical bedtime stories fill us with fervent hopes for lives full of high adventure and romance, through which we learn chivalry, fidelity and courage.
When I was a child, I loved Palm Sunday because we got to act out the biblical version of a ticker-tape parade. Later I learned of the ephemeral quality of stardom and parades and decided that Palm Sunday and Passion Week belong together. As a pastor, I have accepted the dismal fact that most of our people skip Thursday, Friday and Saturday, slipping from parade pandemonium to Easter ecstasy with none of the suffering and pain.
Some years back, I was surprised to hear John called the beginner’s Gospel. Surely the Gospel to begin with was Mark, the shortest and most likely the oldest, or Luke, with all those wonderful stories. John seemed to me a second-semester topic—or a graduate-level course. I saw it as an astonishing theological elaboration and re-presentation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth seen in the other books. The testimony of those sources needed to be heard first, I thought, before John’s majestically self-describing Christ could be understood.There was an additional reason that I thought it a mistake to hand the fourth Gospel over to “baby Christians.” I thought the book dangerous.