But If Not

In Daniel 3, three young men refuse to worship the statue that had been constructed in their midst. The pompous, erratic king craved the affection and loyalty of his people so much that he threatened to execute detractors. Those who wouldn’t bow would be thrown into fire. The three men blatantly disregarded the king’s orders.

The king asks the young men why they refused to bow. He gives them another chance to do so, to compromise their allegiance to God. Their response, in verses 17–18: “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

The phrase that catches my eye here is, “But if not . . .” As the story goes, the young men persist in their disobedience. They are thrown into the fire. And, unexpectedly, as far as the king is concerned, they are untouched by the fire. God does, in fact, deliver them. But I come again back to this phrase, “but if not.”

The response of these three young men opened up two possibilities: God might deliver them, or God might not deliver them. They seem sincerely to have believed that God might not deliver them in this situation. In both scenarios, though, what did not waver was their allegiance to God. In other words, how God chose to be present in this situation did not influence their trust in God.

You might say, “Well, this is all irrelevant, since God did, in fact, deliver them.” I have personally been challenged—directly and indirectly—by people to “have faith” that God would deliver always, every time. Even to leave the door open to God’s possible non-intervention, they told me, was to show my own lack of faith. Some would say that God will always deliver, if only we have a faith that is strong enough. The obvious implication is that if we are not delivered, then we did not have faith.

This is devastating theology. And it’s bad theology. These three young men showed willingness to consider that God might not deliver them. They thought that God might allow them to be burned by fire. The fact that God did not allow it does not change (a) that they were open to it and (b) that their trust in God was strong, even though they were willing to consider the possibility that they would die in their faith.

Luckily, this story isn’t the only one we have to work with. In Mark 14:32–42, we find Jesus at the end of his life. He’s in a garden at night. He’s praying. And he—Jesus Christ—prays, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me . . .” He prays that God would take “this cup”—referring to his upcoming betrayal, suffering, and death—from him. He wants to be delivered. His prayer continues, “yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He sets his own desire to be delivered alongside his desire to be obedient to and trusting of God. And we know how that works out. He is not delivered. He is burned by the fire, so to speak.

So which is it? Will God deliver, or will God not deliver? When Christians find themselves in the midst of challenging life events, they rightly wrestle with how they should view those experiences. Some Christians suggest that true faith will trust that God always delivers people from difficult experiences. Other Christians hint at the inevitability of all Christians experiencing suffering and persecution.

I think life would be easier, less messy, if one of these extremes was always right. If God always delivered or never delivered, then at least we could talk about how God consistently works. But the fact that God seems to deliver in some situations, but doesn’t deliver in others, makes things more challenging, I think.

From these two examples out of the Bible, I wonder whether the focus of these approaches to the issue misses the point. In both cases—with the three young men in Babylon and with Jesus in the garden—we see people who completely trust God. In one situation, God delivers. In another, God doesn’t. Yet in both cases, the people involved do not base their trust in God on the outcome of their particular experience. Rather, their experience becomes a space for them to show, to work out their trust in God.

One of the main implications for Christians, I think, is that we can acknowledge that we live in a world that has been created by and is governed by a good and trustworthy God, but that in this world, God allows us to experience hardship.

The one thing that the three men from Daniel and Jesus in Mark have in common is this: they trusted in God even while knowing that death was a real possibility. They knew that dying was an option that was on the table. In one case, it didn’t happen; in the other, it did. And this isn’t the whole story. Throughout the Bible and on into the history of God’s people in the world, some have been spared death because of their faith, others have gone to death because of it.

One of the characteristics that has marked those who are mature in faith is that they have come to the point that the trust God even if they should face death. Their willingness to consider that death might be a possibility for them didn’t show a lack of faith.

Those who trust in God are those who believe that death isn’t the final word. Death isn’t the end of the story. This is not to deny the reality or significance of death. Jesus himself prayed that he might not face his own murder. But it is to place death within a wider frame of reference. Every human will face death, by “natural” means or by other means. However, God is the God of the living and the dead.

I wonder whether too many of us Christians are motivated by a fear of death. Fear is real; fear should not be ignored. But when fear is founded on a desire to control the outcome of a situation, I wonder whether it debilitates us.

If, God, you deliver me, then I’ll praise you. But if not, if you, in your wisdom, do not, then may I be one who trusts you, regardless.

“So You’re Tellin’ Me There’s a Chance!” Dumb and Dumber and the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

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If you turn to the New Testament, you will see the authors often using the Old Testament, usually to talk about Jesus. Sometimes they quote it directly; sometimes they borrow images or pieces of it. If you ever go look up the passage that they supposedly quote, you may find yourself wondering, “Have they even read that passage?” Sometimes, they do not even seem to care about how that quotation functioned in its original usage.

This could be a problem for many Christian readers because they assume that Jesus was a direct fulfillment of things spoken of in the Old Testament. However, those things in the Old Testament do not actually seem so related to Jesus, after all. So what’s going on?

One day, my son asked me, “Dad, what’s your favorite comedy of all time?” I honestly can’t pick just one. But I decided to answer in terms of which one has been the most influential. And without a doubt, the answer is Dumb and Dumber. I’ve watched this movie hundreds of times. I know it by heart. I still haven’t seen the sequel; I have a general no-sequels policy. But the original, well, it’s amazing.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how it has so become a part of me that I quote it even unintentionally. This is especially true when my brothers and I are together. I can’t tell you how many times the line, “So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance!” has entered our discussion. Rarely are we talking about the movie; hardly ever are we worried about the line “fitting” with how it originally functioned. Rather, we are tapping into our shared memory and experience with that movie. We are connecting the present conversation to past moments together. It’s a way of giving certain significance to the present that it wouldn’t otherwise had.

I wonder if the New Testament authors aren’t using the Old Testament more like my brothers and I use Dumb and Dumber (I imagine you haven’t heard the Bible compared to that movie too often…). I wonder if they are using the Old Testament not to “prove” Jesus is a certain person, but rather to tie Jesus into the older, shared memory.

Because here’s the thing: the authors actually aren’t so interested in “proving” to themselves that Jesus is anyone, that he’s the Messiah, etc. They take those things for granted. Because of what they experienced in his life, death, and resurrection (and yes, I think he was really raised from the dead), they already believed he was the Messiah. Instead, they are interpreting Jesus. and one way they do that is through the Old Testament. So since they take Jesus — his life, death, and resurrection — for granted, and since they take the Old Testament for granted, they reflect on both in light of each other.

What emerges is something new, something that pulls together the two strands to create a new pattern. Jesus doesn’t have to “fulfill” some specific verse of Scripture. Rather, in his life, death, and resurrection, he embodies who God has always been and what humanity is called to be.

Where Can You Find God?

Where can you find God?

One person says, “I find God when I’m in the forest. I look at those magnificent Redwoods; I hear the music of the stream dancing beside me; I watch the Bald Eagle swoop from its perch.”

This is good. God is there.

Another says, “I find God when I’m sailing on the Pacific. I see the dolphins emerge playfully from the water; I hear the waves pound against the shore; I dive below, and see the elaborate coral.”

This is good. God is there.

Yet another says, I find God when I look up into the dark sky. I see the moon reflecting the sun’s light; I look for Mars, off in the distance; I watch a meteor crash through the atmosphere.”

This is good. God is there.

But God is not only in those places.

God can be found walking with those who have been enslaved by other humans. God can be found holding the hands of children on the pediatric oncology floor. God can be found washing the grime off the feet of friends.

God can be found opposing those who raise themselves up haughtily. God can be found rescuing those who cannot free themselves. God can be found running after those who run away. God can be found weeping with those who weep. God can be found laughing with those who laugh.

The resurrection, in fact, turns the whole matter on its head. Rather than asking, “Where can God be found?”, the more fundamental question is, “Who is being found by God?”

Good Friday and the Oklahoma City Bombing

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The wood pulled on the flesh on his back. Sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eyes. The gathered crowds derided him. Overcome with shame and humiliation, he walked on.

He neared the destination. The via dolorosa led him south on Harvey Avenue on that April day in 1995. The volume of the mob rose as they saw him approaching. They taunted him, cursed him, spat on him. Stripped naked, he had nowhere to hide. He crawled on toward the place.

They led him to the entrance of the building. They shoved him through door. He looked around and saw them all there — the young and the old, those whose would remain in this spot eternally. One hundred sixty-eight of them, in total. Nineteen children. Nineteen children. Here, he knew, they would give their last breath. Their life would be vanquished. He sobbed uncontrollably.

The clock approached 9:00 a.m. Only minutes to go. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” He looked each victim in the eyes, one last time. He gathered the children and embraced them.

The clock struck 9:02. Darkness filled the sky. The world lamented. The precious had been shattered by the vile. In the rubble, with the one hundred sixty-eight, God lay, dead.

Had To

[Reflection on John 4:5-42]

I’ve spent a good deal of my life doing things that I had to do. When I was a kid, I was told I had to go to school. I found out soon, though, that there were exceptions to this — such as when I was sick. I took advantage as often as possible. I even got creative — I may or may not have held a thermometer up to a light bulb in order to show that I had a fever. I’m sure my mom was onto my scheme when the thermometer read one hundred six degrees. I had to do my homework. I had to eat dinner. I had to go do yard work for my aunt.

The had-to’s don’t stop with childhood. In college, I had to get a job if I wanted to be able to take Robin out on a date and to pay for an engagement ring. We had to go to the hospital when Robin went into labor, despite the fact that I didn’t believe her when she told me she was going into labor. We had to change diapers when the baby pooped at night time (I invoke my fifth-amendment right concerning whether I was actually asleep all those times when I supposedly didn’t hear the baby crying…). We had to work to support our family.

Now, along with all these real had-to’s are some others that are more debatable. I had to get the iPhone 7 when it came out. I had to eat that second brownie…lonely was lonely in the pan, all by itself. I had to watch that fourth episode of The Office…it just started automatically playing!

Jesus had to go through Samaria, John tells us. Word about him was spreading, and a potential conflict with the religious leaders was emerging. Jesus had been down in Judea. He had even gone to Jerusalem. But hearing that word was spreading, he decided it was time to return to his native Galilee. And he had to go through Samaria on the way home. If you were to look at a map of Israel, you might say the same thing. You would notice that Jerusalem, in Judea, is in central Israel, and Galilee is directly north. Between the two is the region of Samaria. Thus, for Jesus to travel directly to Galilee, he had to go through Samaria.

In Jesus’ time, Jews and Samaritans were not friends. John tells us this. The woman was aware of it, too. There were bitter religious, social, and cultural factors at play. But the point is: Jews did not have to go through Samaria. In fact, they took a different, longer route regularly so as to avoid the region altogether. If anything, they had to avoid it.

Further, men didn’t have to talk to women alone. The disciples raised this very issue. Especially at a well! This scene often led somewhere. The whole meeting-a-woman-at-a-well scene shows up a few times in the Bible, actually. In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The servant travels to a different land, and he finds himself near a well. Then, a woman approaches. The short of it: the woman is Rebekah, Isaac’s eventual wife. A few chapters later, in Genesis 29, Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, finds himself at a well. There, he meets Rachel, his eventual wife. So in John, when Jesus meets a woman at a well, we might think, “Red alert! Red alert!”

Jesus was convinced that he had to go to Samaria. He was convinced that he had to speak with this woman. He was certain that he had to hear her, to speak to her, to identify her needs, to share with her the message of the gospel. Despite all the boundaries that he was crossing, despite the ways in which those closest to him might chastise him for doing what he “shouldn’t” do — Jesus went.

This woman would have been easy to pass by. She was insignificant, in most ways. Interacting with her would bring Jesus serious shame. He would be rejected by his own people. All of this was according to the standards of humans. Jesus, however, operated according to God’s way of doing things. He knew what truly mattered.

Jesus understood his mission. The Gospel according to John opens in this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. (1:1–5)

Jesus knew that allegiance to God meant moving out of the center, out from the spotlight, and going into the cracks and crevices of society. He knew that this is where God would be. So in order for him to remain close to God, he had to follow where God went. He had to go proclaim to those who despaired, those who dwelt in darkness, that the light had come.

In the chapter before this one, Jesus speaks with a man named Nicodemus, a religious leader. They speak at night, in darkness — unlike with this Samaritan woman, whom he encounters in the light. In that interaction, Jesus offers perhaps the most famous words from the entire Bible:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (3:16–17)

This Samaritan woman believed. She recognized in her encounter with Jesus that God knows everything about her. But she also recognized that even though God knows everything about her, he still loves her. He loves her so much that he sent his Son for her. Those who choose to step out of the darkness, into the light, find that though they might have expected to be hit with the hand of judgment, instead they feel the warm embrace of love. In God’s way of doing things, the light shines into the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Jesus Expects You to Be Perfect

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When I was younger, I was obsessed with the NFL. I loved watching, I loved pretending to play, I loved reading about it. I would watch every Sunday. I memorized every Super Bowl winner. I couldn’t get enough.

I was intrigued when I learned that in the history of the NFL since the Super Bowl was invented, only one team has ever finished an entire season without losing at least one game, and that team was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. A few have gotten close, but haven’t quite made it.

The most recent close-call was the 2007 New England Patriots. This team made it all the way to the Super Bowl without losing a game, and then, in a dramatic upset, they lost to the New York Giants. The 1972 Dolphins retained their title as the “Only Perfect Team.”

The word perfect usually means for us something like “the best,” or “without error.” Nothing wrong at all. So when we talk about the perfect day, the perfect meal, a perfect test score, we mean that it couldn’t have been any better.

On a few occasions when I have spoken with those who are outside the church, I have heard them say, “The reason that I do not go to church is that the church is full of hypocrites. Christians think they are perfect, but I know better…!” In my experience, serious Christians are far more inclined to go in the opposite direction — it is their imperfection that functions as the foundation of their faith. They know just how non-perfect they are; this is why they so happily receive the grace of God through Jesus. I have heard, in fact, many Christians say — either in word or via bumper sticker — that “I’m a Christian; I’m not perfect.” In other words, they claim that their being a Christian is a way of expressing how short they fall.

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says to his audience, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus issues several difficult commands in the Bible. He says to one, “Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and then come, follow me.” He says to others, “If you even so much as have a lustful thought in your heart, you have committed adultery.” But I have to say that for me, more than any of these, I am not sure what to do when Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If perfect means what I think it means, then I know I’m far from perfect, and have no hope of getting there. And I’ll let you in on a little secret, just between you and me: I know you’re not perfect, either. Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone.

So how can we take seriously what Jesus says here? If Jesus means what he says, then what is he commanding? It would perhaps be helpful to begin by looking more closely at what he means by the word perfect. If you were to look at the Greek text of the New Testament, you would discover that the word translated perfect comes from the Greek word telos. This word telos means “ultimate aim or object.” It is as if you are standing at the starting line of a race, and you look out to the checkered flag. The flag is the telos — the goal, the objective, the aim. This word that has often been translated perfect might be more appropriately translated complete, as many modern translations have it. “Be complete, therefore, as your heavenly Father is complete.” This helps to bring some clarity. I can complete a race without it being a perfect race — I might fall down several times along the way, bumping and bruising myself to get there, but still arrive.

But I’m still left wondering: complete in what sense? What is the aim, the objective? How could I possibly be complete in any way comparable to God? I would like to identify what this is not in order to bring better understanding to what it is. First, Jesus does not envision complete, perfect faithfulness. He is not so naïve as to assume that those who follow him will never mess up. In 1 John 1:8, the author says, “He who claims that he is without sin is a liar, and the truth is not with him.” Jesus is not saying to his followers here, “Be completely faithful, therefore, as your heavenly Father is completely faithful.”

Neither does Jesus imagine that his followers would be complete, perfect in power. He does not imagine that we would be able completely to overcome anything that comes against us, that we would be completely free from sickness or disease, that we would be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. In 2 Corinthians 12:8–10, Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh.” We cannot be sure about what he means here, but whatever this “thorn” might be, it was something undesirable. Paul says that he requested three times that the Lord take it away. Then, he conveys how the Lord responded to him: “My power is made perfect, complete in weakness.” It is often through human weakness, not power, that God is revealed. God chooses that which is deemed impotent by the world and reveals through it his glory. Jesus is born of a young (probably twelve- to thirteen-year-old!) peasant woman — definitely not the image of power. Jesus is not saying in Matthew, “Be completely powerful, therefore, as your heavenly Father is completely powerful.”

Finally, he does not think that we could be complete, perfect in knowledge. When my brother was in second grade, he came home one day, strutted into the kitchen, and said, “Mom, I want to learn a foreign language.” She replied, “Oh yeah? And why is that?” He responded, “Well, I’m in second grade now, so I’ve basically mastered the English language.” How often do we think we know more than we really know! The older I get, the more I realize what I do not know. If you hang around the church very long, you’ll see that there is a lot we do not understand. You might hear us say, “God is one. There is only one God. But…God is three persons — Father, Son, and Spirit. But only one God…” Or, “Jesus was fully human. But he was also fully God.” The other day, I heard a mother talking about a deep theological conversation she was having with her five-year-old. “Mommy, when was God born?” “Uh…God wasn’t born. God was just always there.” “Mom, that doesn’t make any sense!” Tell me about it, kid! Whatever else Jesus might have meant, he surely did not wish to say, “Be completely knowledgeable, therefore, as your heavenly Father is completely knowledgeable.”

If we wish to get a better sense of what Jesus has in mind, we need only to return to the passage we have read. There, he says this: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.” Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Do you have any enemies? I had an enemy during my sophomore year in high school. His name was Josh. (This is not his real name.) Now, Josh hadn’t hurt me, he hadn’t insulted me. In fact, he hadn’t really done anything to me. But Josh was dating Sarah. (Also not her real name.) And I didn’t think he should be dating Sarah. Sarah and I had choir together. The happiest moment of my daily schedule was walking to and from choir with Sarah. The worst part of my day was returning to the cafeteria for lunch, to see Josh waiting for her. I don’t think I ever prayed for Josh. If I did, it probably was something like, “Dear God, please help Josh’s parents to find a new job in Anchorage, Alaska.”

Who are your enemies? Osama bin Laden? Adolf Hitler? Kim Jong-un? Nero? Donald Trump? Is it your ex-spouse? Is it your cousin, your mother, your son? Perhaps it’s your actual neighbor. We all have enemies. Jesus knows we have enemies. Jesus had enemies. And still, Jesus could boldly command, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

The reason he gives for this is this: “When you do this, you act as children of your Father in heaven.” It’s tough when you grow up to realize that you’ve become the very parents you said you would never imitate. If you were to look at our children, you would notice quite quickly which traits they inherit from which parent. Two have dark hair; two have lighter hair. Two sit down at meal time and inhale their food; two are not very interested. The first two years of our oldest son’s life, my wife was convinced that something was wrong, that he was broken. She was convinced of this because every day, he would pop up at 5:00 a.m., bright-eyed and ready to go. She was sure that no reasonable human being would ever wake up that early on purpose! Sorry, Robin, but you married an early-riser!

Jesus says to the crowd that they will be known as children of their Father in heaven not by how many Bible verses they can recite; not by how often they go to church; not by how much money they donate. He says that they will be known to the world as children of their Father in heaven when they love even their enemies. He says that the Father gives sunshine to the faithful and to the wicked; he pours rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. He makes no distinctions in bestowing his benevolence. He loves all. So Jesus says, “Be complete in showing love to alleven your enemies — just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to all.”

Perhaps Jesus is naïve in thinking that we can actually love all, including our enemies. We might be inclined to think that such a thing is impossible; that we could be so completely consumed with love of God and love of others that this love motivates all we think or do. It is impossible. But we worship a God for whom all things are possible.

Happy Hour with Grandma

[The following was an experience that my cousin and I had with my grandmother when we were in the eighth grade. The experience remained between my cousin, my grandmother, and myself for her whole life. I decided that the appropriate time to reminisce was…during her funeral.]

One Friday afternoon, while my cousin and I were in eighth grade, we found ourselves waiting at my uncle’s house until my grandmother ended her work shift and could take us to her house. We both had 32 oz. sodas with us (that’s so much soda!), and we sat down under the fan and watched T.V. After an episode of Ren and Stimpy, my cousin beckoned me into the kitchen. We opened up the cabinet under the sink, and there sat several bottles of liquor. We smiled at each other — though both of us were terrified and had no idea what we were doing. We grabbed the first bottle, which happened to be vodka.

We looked at each other and giggled, in Beavis-and-Butthead fashion. Finally, he turned the cap with uncertainty. He removed the plastic lid from his 32 oz. cup, and I removed mine. “How much do you put in?”, he asked. “Uh…I don’t know.” We agreed that we shouldn’t do too much, so we settled on…filling half of our 32 oz. cups with vodka. We grinned with our newfound sense of manliness. Then, we took a sip. We both pretended as best we could that we enjoyed the taste. I don’t know that either of us actually took another drink, though. We placed the straw in our mouth and acted as if we were sipping it.

The time came for us to leave with our grandma. We grabbed our belongings, as well as our 32 oz. cups of vodka–Pepsi (emphasis on the vodka), and jumped into my grandmother’s car. I sat in the front seat; my cousin, in the back. My grandma turned the key.

Before she drove off, she said, “I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink?” My cousin and I became deer in headlights. The manliness dissipated. I slowly turned toward him in the backseat; both of us sat stunned. Not knowing what else to do, I slowly passed my grandma the mixed drink. She grabbed it and took a big swig. Her expression shifted instantly. In what seemed a thousand years, she sat silently contemplating.

Finally, she looked at me and said, “Something about that doesn’t taste right. It tastes flat.” Then, without another word, then or ever, she handed the cup back to me.

Remember: A Ghost Story and the Lord’s Supper

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A couple years ago, Robin and I saw a movie entitled A Ghost Story. In this movie, written by David Lowery and starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, a recently deceased man now exists as a ghost. In a unique, yet simple, rendering, Lowery’s ghost — played by Affleck — wears a white sheet with black eyeholes. At times, this seems childish, and intentionally so. It brings together childhood images with deep matters of life and loss.

Without saying too much about the film, I would only say that one of its main themes is this: The places we go, the people we love, the things we do — all of these become forever intimately intertwined with our own identity.

In a very real sense, our brains break down the linearity of time, so that certain people and places can cause us to be transported to other moments. Seemingly insignificant moments can be loaded heavily with meaning after the fact. Simple conversations and shared experiences can become some of the most crucial in our lives. I am still amazed how walking into a place from my past, with its sights and smells, can dramatically take me back to those times.

The timing of this movie was fitting, personally, as we were in the midst of packing for a move. After seven years in our house — during which time we welcomed two children into our family, I completed a Ph.D., we celebrated ten years of marriage, and more — we were packing up and turning the page to a new chapter in life. I had become highly nostalgic. Every space was invested with a high level of meaning, as I knew the time to move on drew near.

In many ways, though, I knew that we would take with us memories that will live on beyond that time. So I know that those years — the good and the bad — will go with us.

This line of thinking also taps into what the church has long said as it has reflected on its meal, the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Sadly, many Christians have assumed that Jesus meant, “Think about me.” Much like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, Christians are to “think happy thoughts.”

But much more is going on. Jesus is saying that when we share the meal, we participate in a moment that breaks down the barrier of time; past (when Jesus shared the meal with his disciples), present (when we partake), and future (when we “feast at your heavenly banquet”) collapse. We grab hold of something in the present that brings us actively into a past action and a future action, both of which empower and invigorate our present.

Memory is one of the most precious gifts we humans possess. It is equally responsible for grief and joy. At the end of the day, it’s often all we have to remind us of the life we have lived.

Introduction to the Bible

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I read the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day.” Today’s was particularly appropriate for me, as someone who regularly leads others in reading literature (for me, it’s the Bible). The title is “Introduction to Poetry,” by Billy Collins. I’ve reproduced that poem here, but I’ve replaced the word poem with the Bible.


I ask them to take the Bible

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide


or press an ear against its hive.


I say drop a mouse into the Bible

and watch him probe his way out,


or walk inside the Bible’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.


I want them to waterski

across the surface of the Bible

waving at the author’s name on the shore.


But all they want to do

is tie the Bible to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.


They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.