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Under Robert E. Lee’s Shadow: Growing Up in The Lost Cause

It was announced last Thursday that the six story tall statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond Virginia’s Monument Avenue is going to be removed. It is a response to the murder of George Floyd and the following week of protests and riots in the city. The news says that the rest of the Confederate […]

Good Luck With That Self-Sufficiency You Speak Of

Jesus invited us to a dance, but we have turned it into a march of soldiers. – Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom One of my favorite parts of the daily liturgy I read comes at the beginning of the evening liturgy, which I always read at some point in the afternoon–a time when I’ve exhausted […]

The True Churches on Adjustment Day

If, in these tenuous times, you’re the sort of person who’d enjoy a whale of a tale about societal collapse, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more inventive entry than Chuck Palahniuk’s Adjustment Day. Equal parts screwball satire and thinly veiled prophecy, the writer of Fight Club sends up our contentious culture with a riotous story of revolt and reorganization. Not for the faint of heart but in the right hands it could make a terrific cult TV series. The class revolution that culminates on ‘Adjustment Day’ begins in the basements of churches, which the demagogue at the center of the plot, Talbott, describes in vivid terms (while duct-taped to a chair):

“His tongue crowded with food, Talbott had cited the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Prior to it the dispossessed and powerless had gone to churches for comfort, and in those the disenfranchised had discovered they weren’t alone in their misery…

Choking and sputtering, Talbott had said, ‘Those groups… recovery and support groups are the new churches.’ He’d said that traditional places of worship had been reduced to crass theaters where people went to signal their status and virtues. A true church had to serve as the place where people went in safety to risk confessing their worst selves. Not to boast and display their pride. Those who attended recovery groups, they arrived defeated. They told the story of their failure. Their sins and shortcomings. To admit their culpability, and in doing so they receive a communion with their flawed peers.”

The Cross Brings Mercy and Comfort

Yesterday morning, Comfort sailed into New York harbor. A few days ago, Mercy arrived in Los Angeles. I’m not sure I have ever witnessed a more powerful image of the Gospel.

How MLK Got His Name

Perhaps you know the story: In 1934 the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta sent its pastor Michael King, Sr. to attend a Baptist World Alliance Meeting in Berlin. The trip included a whirlwind visit to a number of other sites, but apparently the time in Germany (just as the National Socialists were starting their rise) had such an impact on Michael that he decided to rename himself and his 5-year-old son after the Great Reformer. Thus, father and son became Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr.

Somehow I don’t think we’ve ever posted this beautiful portion of MLK’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which he sounds more than a little like his namesake, especially toward the end, ht SC & JF:

I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

Connection

For 30 years, I have designed places for people to live when they are at the edge of coping. When creating anything, knowing those who will use the creation makes the creation better. This year, I have been part of an effort to make a safe harbor for the young who are lost. Listening to […]

Another Week Ends: Religious Decline, Peloton, Halloween Righteousness, Reformation Day, and Kanye

1a. This week featured a point-counter-point on the religious decline in America. Fewer people are going to church, particularly millennials. Accordingly, Christine Emba sees genuine cause for alarm. Millennials prefer low-cost, substitute religions (read: seculosities!), and the church may not be there as a fallback option in the future: Faith and practice can’t persevere through […]

Shaping the Future

The following was originally delivered as a keynote at the 149th Annual Episcopal Diocesan Convention in Harrisburg, PA. SHAPE is a verb and a noun. I shape buildings every day. So I verb-shape to make noun-shapes. I am a Christian, too. Over the last 40 years, I have designed and worked on worship spaces. But […]

In the Midst of Life We Are in October

What images come to mind when you think of Halloween? Ghosts? Skeletons? Gravestones? Some Christians cry foul at such “morbid” imagery, but it seems to me this stems from a safely modern, bourgeois outlook. Our older brothers and sisters in medieval Europe most assuredly wouldn’t know what to make of the bland, sterilized Christianity regnant […]

Memory and the Trauma of History

What does remembering tragedies like September 11th accomplish here and now? What do we channel in remembering, and what dangers are there in it? “Remembering,” I once heard a minister claim, “is the art of the mature.” I wrote it beside the second verse of Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget […]

Salvation by Transaction: On Institutional Decline

Transaction Man, the new book from Nicholas Lemann, details the recent history of big ideas, the “master organizing principles for society.” Heady at first blush, the book becomes a keen survey of anthropology and how actual people live and work. Lemann employs “Transaction Man” as a catchall denoting some or all of the following: someone […]

Never Forget: Celebrating the Memorial of Our Redemption

This week, more than any other week in America, we are reminded to “never forget.” While those words convey a broad message, they somehow recall a set of very specific images: a passenger plane flying into the South Tower; a firefighter climbing a crowded staircase; a man, upside down, in free fall. If you were […]