The lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday are the same each year. So it almost doesn’t feel like Ash Wednesday if I go through the day without hearing Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
Monday lectionary email, archived here on Friday.
I am a fan of mysteries. I love watching detectives in movies and on television. I love mystery novels so much that I don’t just read them on the beach. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t try to solve the puzzle before the end of the story. I like to experience the mystery as it unfolds. I especially love unsolved mysteries, those brainteasers that simply cannot be wrapped up tightly leaving no lose ends. Stories like mountaintop visions of transfigured splendor.
In 1947, Langston Hughes published the poem "Luck." It could be read as an ode to love. It could be read at weddings along with 1 Corinthians 13, the biblical ode to love. But that would miss the point of both the poem and the scripture.
For several years, I directed the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. The center hosts five initiatives that together address and support the long arc of ministry through a variety of resources and research projects. Its name--the Center for Pastoral Excellence--has been somewhat controversial.
We've been hearing for a while now about the "spiritual but not religious." There are all kinds of reasons why people might rather be spiritual than religious. One is that the church has turned people off with its own mistakes.
As anthropologists have shown us, cohesive communities usually have narratives, traditions, and symbols that have shaped their collective psyches and have powerfully bound them together. These traditional practices make up their thought world, and when a person is displaced from that world, it makes less sense to carry on the practices. My father grew up in a clan society in pre-Korean War North Korea. His grandfather was head of the Shin clan.
I've always assumed that the revelation here is that Jews should let the gentiles into the community. But perhaps the revelation is at least as much the fact that the gentiles want to be included.
On a shelf in our church library you can find a “Reading Guide” made by a fourth grader. It lists the types of books appropriate for different age groups and advises: “Remember--Kids (8-12) when you start the Bible, go at your own pace. It's a long book!”
I don’t have the nerve to stand up on Christmas Eve and preach about the choreography of childbirth, but I wish I did. I wish I had the nerve to preach about Mary’s increased estrogen production, a few days before birth (estrogen that will soften her cervix, and help her blood coagulate after delivery). I wish I had the nerve to preach about Mary’s and Jesus’ pituitary glands producing oxytocin, which in turn allows Mary’s contractions to accelerate.
This story is full of echoes—most famously, Mary's song echoes Hannah's. But there is another echo: Elizabeth's praise of Mary, which gets taken up into the Hail Mary, is an echo of Deborah's song in Judges 5.