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"He Reads Well"

“He Reads Well”

I was both thrilled and intimidated when my church asked me — then a 29 year old college minister — to become their interim pastor. While I loved to preach, I was nervous about having to prepare practically every Sunday. I treated those sermon manuscripts like so many of the doctoral seminar papers I was producing during that crazed period of life — composed on an Apple Macintosh and printed out on a dot-matrix printer mere minutes before the sermon was “due.” I would step gingerly toward the pulpit with my Bible and still-warm sheaf of 8.5 x 11 pages,…

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Just My (Christian) Imagination Running Away With Me

Just My (Christian) Imagination Running Away With Me

This article was originally posted by the John Jay Institute, as part of an online symposium it held on Christian Imagination a couple years back. It’s been lightly edited.

It’s embarrassingly difficult to find oneself largely without answers but with questions, especially in the context of beautiful reflections on art, liturgy, the imago dei, and other affectively-charged elements of the Christian imagination. For example, the question of the imagination’s being ‘fully redeemed’ is one that a stubbornly literal-minded person cannot quite wrap his head around. Awash in thoughts of family farms sold, inheritances forfeited, and next-of-kin pawning them back, such etymologically-constrained…

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Praying Twice

Praying Twice

Editor’s note: the following post touches on sensitive topics such as child abuse and should be read with discretion.

I am a member of one of the very smallest of American fraternities: the tiny and shrinking group of men who grew through early adolescence singing in Anglican boychoirs. Because I could and can sing, I was given in loco parentis when I was ten years old to an institution that trained boys to sing in an ancient English tradition of choral worship. We wore red or black cassocks and white surplices with ruffs loaned by the local Episcopal parish. The pictures were…

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When Death Happens To The Unknown Next Of Kin

When Death Happens To The Unknown Next Of Kin

My 67 year-old brother-turned-sister had retreated into work over the last 15 years. She was a bus dispatcher, but was, by all accounts, totally dedicated to being “at work”. No friends outside of the office, no hobbies.

So when she told her co-workers that she was going home after a morning shift to return for the night shift to “Do some things at home” it was unusual.

She never returned. They found her body, in bed, on Monday morning.

I wish it was a surprise. I wish I could say I now will miss her. But we had not spoken since I was…

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Navigating the Denominational Food Court

Navigating the Denominational Food Court

One of the mixed blessings of Martin Luther’s 500-year-old legacy is finding one’s place among the hundreds of denominations which roughly fly under the Protestant banner. In other words, how does one find the “right” denomination, assuming you profess faith in the lower-case catholic church? This is a particularly acute question for me, born and raised by Southern Baptist parents and educated and ordained in Southern Baptist institutions. As you might have guessed, Southern Baptists are rarely invited to sit at the cool tables in the denominational cafeteria (and often for good reason). A pastor friend once led his well-heeled…

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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

When I was a kid attending Sunday School in a very traditional Baptist church in the Midwest, we learned Bible stories… I became familiar with the regular cast of characters like Adam and Eve, Noah, David, Moses, etc. I could tell you that Moses parted the Red Sea; Adam and Eve ate an apple; David slew a giant (thanks to a relative who gifted me one Christmas with 12-inch David and Goliath action figures!). As a teen, I would learn that the book of Leviticus was all about how family members in the same house should not undress in the…

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Jesus Has Left the Building: Architecture and Artificial Intelligence

Jesus Has Left the Building: Architecture and Artificial Intelligence

“God is in the details” is reputed to have been uttered by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe back when Mid-Century modern architecture made the idea of “expressive” details sexy to the world of architecture. Now the mention of God in architecture is a little “off” for most of my fellow architects. Like most in the over-educated 21st century “elite” demographic, my people are pretty secular, often beyond agnostic (yes, I am an architect).

The increasingly common public perception is that religious architecture can be appreciated as God-blind aesthetics, not manifesting soul-grabbing faith. In Spain the Sagrada Familia church is seen…

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Gospel Moshing: Adventures at Metal Shows with a Spooky Friend

Gospel Moshing: Adventures at Metal Shows with a Spooky Friend

Maybe we, why don’t we
Sit right here for half an hour?
We’ll speak of what a waste I am
And how we missed your beat again

I swear we need to find some comfort in this run down place
To bridge the gap of this conscious state that we live in
And I’m short on time

– “Writing on the Walls,” Underoath

Nearly all of my best memories from college center on my close-yet-mysterious best friend named Tyler, who became mythical in our friend group because of his penchant for mischief and his unerring tendency to seek out and bask in all of the absurd things of…

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Tom Petty, Three Chords, and the Church of Free Falling

Tom Petty, Three Chords, and the Church of Free Falling

This piece was written by Andrew Johnson. 

My mom texts me Monday morning to let me know that Tom Petty had been hospitalized after a cardiac arrest. I follow the news off and on the rest of the day, seeing conflicting reports over whether or not he had died. This confusion over Petty’s death, especially following Sunday’s news of 59 people killed in Las Vegas, leaves me feeling particularly helpless and disillusioned with how quickly we as a nation can share bits of information but somehow fail to find shared meaning.

So I leave work a bit early, walk half a mile…

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Is There Any Comfort? Remembering the Reformation 500 Years Later

Is There Any Comfort? Remembering the Reformation 500 Years Later

We are now less than a month out from our upcoming conference in D.C.! Come celebrate 500 years of grace with us, October 27-29—you can register here.

With the Reformation on the brain, here is a fantastic piece written by our friend, Jonathan A. Linebaugh.

In 1519, Thomas Bilney sat in a small Cambridge college with a book in his hands. It had been two years since a German monk named Martin Luther was said to have nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg—hammer blows that were later remembered as the start of the Reformation and were rumored to have shaken…

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PZ's Podcast: Question (LIVE), On the Road to Love & Easier Said Than Done

PZ’s Podcast: Question (LIVE), On the Road to Love & Easier Said Than Done

EPISODE 230: Question (LIVE)

The fact that the mainstream churches are hiding their Light under a bushel is the primary reason for their atrophy. The fact that most of our churches are “missing in action” when it comes to the seemingly insuperable pain of living that we bring to them and to their representatives — well, that, I believe, is the main cause of their numerical decline.

Today I want to posit an alternative to this almost willful but in fact mostly unconscious suppression of the Primary (i.e, the Gospel Word) in favor of the secondary (i.e., “issues” of the day) and…

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PZ’s Podcast: I Live on a Battlefield

He’s back!! Sincerest apologies to all the faithful PZP listeners who noticed that the cast had disappeared from iTunes this summer. We’ve had some technical issues which have now been resolved, ptL. Older episodes (pre-210) should be back on iTunes soon. For now, though, we have a brand new one for you:

EPISODE 229: I Live on a Battlefield

A penetrating comment recently from a friend set up a chain reaction inside me that’s resulted in this new cast. After a long hiatus and with the support of Mockingbird, I’m starting back up and hope these new episodes may speak.

My friend, who is about my age, observed that everyone we know, without exception — that’s the “hard” part of the saying — has suffered some arresting impasse or insuperable loss, some decisive disappointment or unconquerable conflict, which they simply cannot get over.

I agree with my friend.

Moreover, people in situations of undeniable blockage often turn to God, or whatever/wherever they think God may be. And it is there, at this conscious point of need, that churches “come out” as being out of their depth and shockingly irrelevant to human suffering. Sadly, I know — Mary and I know.

In points of distress since 2007 we have tried so many parishes and churches. We have crawled on our knees to hoped-for altars of comfort and hope, and received… nothing. I mean, nothing! There are exceptions, such as All Saints, Winter Park (FL) and Calvary/St. George in New York City. And there are others. But for the most part, you abase yourself in search of a word of hope and grace, and you get a junior-choir awards ceremony; or a sermon consisting wholly of platitudes without a single illustration; or an exhausting summons to a social cause; or a public baptism of perfect strangers who are actually strangers to the parish but can fill up some pews on a given Sunday. “It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder/How I keep from goin’ under” (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, 1982)

So I’m talking today about the universal in-reach of pain, and some of the resources I have found in recent months to stanch it. And I promise you, this is “Only the Beginning” (Chicago, 1969)…