Archives For Drew Colby

The latest in a series from my brother from a different mother, Rev. Drew Colby:

“The white person entered the voting booth burdened by the load of guilt for having enjoyed the fruits of oppression and injustice. He emerged as somebody new. He too cried out, ‘The burden has been lifted from my shoulders, I am free, transfigured, made into a new person.’” Pg. 8 No Future Without Forgiveness Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“This is not an example for the morally earnest of ethical indifferentism. No, it flows from our fundamental concept of ubuntu. Our humanity was intertwined. The humanity of the perpetrator of apartheid’s atrocities was caught up and bound up in that of his victim whether he liked it or not. I used to say that the oppressor was dehumanized as much as, if not more than, the oppressed…” Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“I believe that movements of racial justice must be redemptive, rather than punitive. And yes, I believe that we must provide the possibility of redemption for everyone… We must do this, I believe, because our redemption is tied into their redemption. And we will not be free until we’ve all been redeemed from unredemptive anger.” – Ruby Sales

Hear me out!

In earlier posts I’ve tried to argue that for racial reconciliation to advance, we may have no choice but to offer some version of amnesty for all White racism. As an example, I referred to the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s dependency on amnesty as the means by which reconciliation and healing could begin.

But there’s a problem. Amnesty is not equal to reconciliation. Forgiveness is not equal to justice. So, where is the justice? Where have forgiven sins gone? Who is going to pay for this? Below I intend for my answer to simply be, “Christ. On the cross.”

Christ on the cross bears the sins of White racism, for White racists, in solidarity with the victims of White racism.

That’s the answer. If it’s not the answer, then we are doomed. Dead in our sin. But the witness of the church that still holds on to this old substitution business, is that Christ died for us, the ungodly, the racists, the descendants of plantation owners, and slave owners, and war criminals, the black-faced and white-hooded.

The only way for White folks to be liberated enough to put down defenses and face the truth is faith in the good news that Christ is our substitute, and our sins are forgiven.

See, I was formed in a tradition that resists subsitutionary atonement, a theological understanding of Christ’s work on the cross as the Son receiving the wrath of the Father (which just means God’s righteous anger) as the penalty for our sin. In this way he serves as our substitute and dies for our sin (and in his death our sin dies with him!).

I was taught to resist it because it suggests an image of God as an angry, abusive father. I was taught instead to see God as a loving divine being who couldn’t hurt a fly.

It’s not that the latter understanding is wrong; but the longer I live the more I think I need a bigger God than that. I think Northam and Herring and Trump and all of us white dudes need a bigger God than that.

I’ve always been aware of race since my youth. I was blessed (and I don’t use that term lightly) to go to Middle School and High School in predominantly Black schools. I was the one white boy in the gospel choir, and the first among my white-church friends to know all the words to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”  It was a gift.

I think that’s part of why in seminary I was captivated by Black Liberation Theology (see James Cone). Here the cross is seen not as God’s wrath visited upon God’s son. Instead it is interpreted from the perspective of the Black experience of oppression. Christ is less sacrificial lamb atoning for sin, more divine victim of a wrongful conviction and swift lynching. In Black Liberation Theology, Christ dies in solidarity with the oppressed and his resurrection is the promise that “trouble don’t last always.”

It’s an enlightening perspective. It’s helpful not just for Black Christians but for all Christians. It’s also one in an ever-growing family of liberation theologies (feminist, womanist, queer, trans, latinx, etc) which, thanks be to God, give voice to the Christian witness of many oppressed communities.

But there’s a pattern to most liberation theology.

Often in America when folks take seriously the voice of the oppressed, the oppressors are White Men. Like Northam, and Herring, and Trump, and me.

That’s probably why “White Liberation Theology” may sound like an effed-up version of white fragility that would attempt to white-wash or even steal liberation from people of color and other minorities. That’s why I asked you to hear me out.

Initially it sounds foolish if not harmful. I mean, from what could White folks possibly need liberation?

Sin. That’s the answer.

Sin has us bound. And not just little “s” sins.

I’m talking about sin as the human condition which permeates human society.

In this conversation, I especially mean to refer to the structurally- reinforced, multi-generational sin of racism in America.

In ways we do not understand, in ways we cannot control, and in ways for which we will never be able to atone for our sin which is “known and unknown.” We are bound in the sin of racism such that to be born white is to be born into sin— born under the dominion of the Power of Sin with a capital S. It’s as important as it is forgotten that the language St. Paul uses about Sin is the language of captivity.

Sin isn’t what we do so much as a Pharaoh to whom we’re all— but white people especially— in bondage.

And— Paul again— the only way to be liberated from the Power of Sin is not exhorting sinners (in this case, white people) to refrain from sin (in this case racism). According to Paul, the pardon produces what the proscription of the Law cannot.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, our help and salvation, is the news of free, unmerited, grace. Absolution.

The way we’re liberated from our bondage is by hearing the promise that (while we were yet sinners— worse even than sinners, enemies of God) Christ died for the ungodly. Christ has paid the debt our race has incurred over the centuries. The only way out, and the only way through this impasse is for the sin of whiteness to hear and trust that it’s forgiven, born in Christ’s own brown body.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) From the white perspective, this is the liberation we need, for Christ to have become our sin, to have become the sin of our racism, so that his death is the death of the retribution which our race actually deserves.

How does the old hymn put it?

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, 

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul”

In the cross of Christ, God’s righteous anger at all the sin of the world was poured into his Son and in his death,  it was born away forever and all sin, even the worst atrocities in our history, is forgiven. This is White Liberation Theology. I propose that it is only under the proclamation of this absolution through atoning work on the Cross (as our substitute) that White folks are liberated for the ministry of reconciliation.

To be a Virginian

Jason Micheli —  February 7, 2019 — 2 Comments

This one comes from my friend and colleague, Reverend Drew Colby.

There’s an anonymous quote which gets recited on occasion in Virginia that goes like this:

“To be a Virginian either by birth, marriage, adoption, or even on one’s mother’s side, is an introduction to any state in the Union, a passport to any foreign country, and a benediction from above.”

This week we are reminded that to be a Virginian is also to be acquainted with the disease of racism. As revelations about our governor and attorney general have surfaced, many of us Virginians are honestly unshocked; but not unmoved.

For white Virginians there are likely a spectrum of reactions to the news. Mine was, in part, to reflect on my own racism. I’ve never painted my face black. I’ve never worn a KKK hood. But I do remember the first time I said the N-word. I didn’t say it as a put-down or epithet. I said it the way my black friends seemed to say it.

I went to a predominately Black school and so I had heard the N-word used commonly by my Black classmates. Like all middle schoolers I was trying on new identities to fit in. I even loosened my West End of Richmond braided leather belt and pulled down my pleated khaki shorts once I got on the bus each day so I could “bust a sag” like the cool kids. I ended up just choking off my husky rear end half-way down so I looked like I had two buts.

It was in 6th grade gym when we were playing basketball and I thought I’d try to fit in by talking like the cool kids too. A classmate made a three pointer and that’s when I said it.

“Nice shot nigga…”

I know, it’s cringy on so many levels.

The room went silent and frozen except for the slow bounce of the basketball coming to a stop.

“What did you just say?” asked my classmate.

Another long silence.

Then my friend Ricky spoke up:

“He didn’t say nothin’. Come on let’s play.”

Ricky checked the ball and we moved on. With those words “He didn’t say nothin’,” my sin was blotted out. I had been given mercy. I had been saved. And I believe that Ricky offered me that day is, unfortunately, one of the only things that can save Virginia.

As my friend Jason Micheli once said on his podcast, these days:

“Those who want to expose privilege often do so in finger-wagging ways; and those like me immediately get defensive.”

That’s a good part of what we’ve seen in the last week, and in many ways it’s something we see everywhere these days. As famous people are “found out” to have made major mistakes, intentional sins, and horrifying yearbook photos, they’re called out and, rightfully, exposed as unworthy of the position and prestige of the office they occupy. What seems to happen in the aftermath is a variety of forms of self-preservation, particularly a stance of defensiveness with an excuse-laden apology that no one is really eager to accept.

What I haven’t seen much of, but what I regret to report may be the only way to get from the feigned racial reconciliation we have had thus far in Virginia to actual reconciliation, is some version of what post-apartheid South Africans called amnesty. Perhaps if these politicians were told they would be permitted to stay in office if they were willing to give a full account of their racism, they would have the space necessary to actually, honestly, confess and repent.

The absolution in our liturgy always comes after the confession of sin, it’s true, but if every Sunday is a little Easter then the confession is only made possible in light of the mercy made known to us already in Christ and him crucified.

The Law, Paul says, not only accuses us but exhortations from the Law elicit the opposite of their intent.

Thus, call-outs in our culture, as appropriate and righteous as they are will only exacerbate racism not eliminate it.

Amnesty Mercy is what we need.

Mercy is what all of us need.

To be a Virginian is to be acquainted with the disease of racism. Not just acquainted, afflicted. To be a White Virginian is to have inherited the legacy of slavery like a gene, to have been born into it like, well, like sin. To be a White Virginian is to have a particular version of Psalm 51 to pray, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a racist when my mother conceived me.”

In Virginia our racism is so pervasive and thorough that the only way through it is to seek and swallow the good but grueling declaration “your sins are forgiven.”

The alternative, shame, is too much to bear.

And, as a future post about post-apartheid South Africa will suggest, I really believe it is only in the context of unmerited forgiveness that we can truly know our sin, have the space to face it honestly, and repent.

Maybe that way we could one day say “To be a Virginian either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one’s Mother’s side is, by the grace of God, to be acquainted with both the sin of racism and the joy of reconciliation.”

During the recent Day of Service at the Virginia Annual Conference of United Methodism, some clergy and laity took part in an in-service on racial reconciliation sponsored by a commission of the larger Church. My good friend Rev. Drew Colby shared these thoughts there and for the blog. What Drew says about race specifically I think could be extended to the category ‘social justice’ more broadly, particularly in a culture such as ours that is increasingly polarized into Christian flavored political tribes.

“I am a proud associate pastor. A group at our church has been meeting for about nine months. Inspired by the protest and tragedies in Charlottesville they started meeting to discuss racial reconciliation. They’ve used resources that the General Commission on Racial Reconciliation has offered and they have learned a lot. I want to offer something else that may help continue to move the conversation forward; and that is the Gospel.

GCORR does good work charting the nature of systemic racism. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) such resources addressing the nature of systemic racism are not hard to find in our culture. Many other outlets are examining the reality of systemic racism in our culture and many do so better than the Church. If someone is looking for a thorough and thoughtful analysis of systemic racism and how it impacts all of us unawares, I’m not sure the Church is the institution to which they should turn. I don’t mean this apologetically. I mean only to suggest that this isn’t the particular gift God has given the Church to offer our culture when it comes to race and racism.

I think the GCORR’s work could have even broader impact if it helped Christians use more theological language in our conversations about race.

That is, I wish our conversations on racial reconciliation (and social justice) could more often begin with the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ has already begun and guaranteed our reconciliation. Indeed, I suspect it would change the tenor of our debate about race (in the Church, at least) if it was couched in terms of scripture’s gospel promise that reconciliation- including racial reconciliation- is already an accomplished fact to celebrate and not an aspiration to exhort. The Gospel given to us by St. Paul isn’t that the dividing walls between races should be torn down but that in the cross of Christ they have been brought down. The difference between those two tenses, between the indicative and the imperative, changes the entire tone of our discussion from exhortation to invitation. Contrary to what one of the preachers at Annual Conference said, it’s NOT our job to redeem the world but to celebrate that in Christ the world has already been redeemed and to invite people to live into this, the true story of the world.

To frame our discussion of race more theologically would help us see clearly that as the Church, we are coming at this broad and insidious societal problem from a unique Chistological perspective. We start with an eternal hope—Wesley might even say an assurance—about what it is that is possible in the Power of the Gospel. And this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that racism is a sin, for which demon possession is the best NT correlative, which means it is something Christ has born in his body and from which the Risen Christ is working to heal us.

When white people like me are afraid of seeming racist, I think it shows our lack of faith that our sins are forgivable. No, that our sins are forgiven.

Forgiven people are unafraid to confess our need for forgiveness and sanctification. GCORR works to deconstruct our denial or avoidance of racism. The help I think I really need, and I don’t think I’m alone, is help articulating and remembering how, as a disciple of Christ, racism is something I may confess, unafraid, trusting that Christ has broken down the dividing wall, and in his Name grace abounded and still abounds sufficient to reconcile what was divided.

Patience

Jason Micheli —  February 27, 2018 — Leave a comment

Here’s a sermon on Mark 8.31-38 from my friend and colleague, Drew VanDyke Colby:

 

Did you know that here at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church we have a discipleship plan? We do! When we first started to write down how it is that disciples become disciples at St. Stephen’s we were sure that we wanted something special. We were Northern Virginia people in a Northern Virginia church, we wanted the best plan to make the best disciples. At least I did…

 

I wanted to be able to greet new people and say, welcome to St. Stephen’s a place where God isn’t just an angry dude in the sky who wishes you would come to church more often. No, here God is the one who has saved the world from sin and evil and death. Has saved you from this. AND has saved you for something: which is discipleship. Christ in his cross has invited you to get behind him and follow him into the perfect love of God and neighbor. I wanted to be able to say, we’re different, and we have a plan for you! And I wanted it on the website, and in the welcome center, and in neighborhood mailings, and roadside banners. I was pumped!

 

The threat here for Northern Virginia people in a Northern Virginia church is that what’s intended as a gift to be received will quickly become another ladder to climb, and another achievement to accomplish. If you were to describe the posture of a Northern Virginian you might name things like hard-working, efficient, results-driven, busy, upwardly mobile, and in traffic. So, In order to avoid a posture towards the God of upward mobility, we name in our plan the postures of Christ instead. Postures we believe Christ welcomes us into as a way to get behind him and follow. This Lent we are looking for these postures of Christ in the scriptures each week. We looked at humility on Ash Wednesday with Pastor Abi. And last week Pastor Mark tried to convince us that the posture of self-control was fun. I actually think he did a good job.

 

In fact, we’ve asked folks to share with us some artwork on these postures. [pictures on screen] This one by Gabby Ducharme is called “Ball of Events” with the explanation “we encounter many colors of trouble as our life rolls on. This develops patience. And that is the posture of Christ we look for this week: patience.

 

One day Jesus and the disciples settle in for a chat. Jesus says to them, “who are people saying that I am?” They say “some say Elijah, others say John the Baptist, others say one of the other prophets.” Then Jesus says, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, our idiot-in-chief, says “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” Peter is right. Jesus tells them not to spread this around because, the timing isn’t right. It’s not time yet for that to be revealed. And then Jesus talks about what it really means to be the Messiah, the Christ, also known as the Son of Man. Here is what he says it entails.

 

A reading from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (The word here is even stronger than that. He’s berating Jesus)

But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Word of the Lord

Peter messed up. We should not be shocked. He had the best of intentions. He thought that the Messiah, the Christ was the one who was going to Make Israel Great Again, by any means necessary. Peter and the disciples had planned to be part of a winning revolution, and they were looking for a guy who would overtake this corrupt government and throw a big military parade in the capital as he took his throne. Peter and the other disciples were walking around strapped, with swords at the ready at Jesus’ signal to cut off some ears and start the revolution.

 

So, when the leader of their movement says, look guys, I’m gonna lose, Peter’s instinct was to say, like hell you are! We’re destined for glory, there is no way I’m letting you lead us to suffering. And Jesus whips back, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

 

And finally we see Jesus behave like a human! Finally, Jesus loses his patience, just like we do. Or does he? What if this is actually not a story of Jesus losing his patience, but of Jesus exhibiting patience.  

 

Not just the patience of a teacher with a distracting disciple; but a bigger picture patience. The patience of one who is willing to suffer, and endure discomfort, because he trusts in something bigger. Do you believe in that kind of patience? I do. And actually, it’s a very old Christian tradition. Don’t believe me? Ask an African.

 

Picture Africa. It’s the year two-hundred-four. The church there has no missionaries, they have no evangelists, they don’t even use the word evangelism. They have no neighborhood mailings, or eggstravaganzas, or welcome centers, or websites, or google ads, or roadside banners. The general public, interested parties, would-be visitors who are curious about becoming Christians are not even allowed in worship. Members only. To top it all off, the church is either barely tolerated by the government, or actively under threat. And in these conditions in Africa, in 204, the church is growing like wild flowers.

 

Scholars disagree on the actual numbers; but it’s clear that the growth was staggering. And in Africa, in the year 204, one of the leaders of this growing church was named Turtullian. And when he sits down to put into writing what makes the church the church, what does he write? A treatise called “On Patience.”

 

In it he first admits he has none, and gravels at the feet of Jesus, the only one who does. Then he explains that this is one of the greatest gifts that awaits us in Christ is a capacity for patience, and in fact, their survival as church can be owed to his patience in them. See, Turtullian is writing to Christians who are being jailed and killed. It was a time when your neighbor could find out that you went to bible study and turn you in to the authorities. And what was Turtullian saying to them? Stand up? FIght back? No. He was saying, “Patience. Have patience. It’s free. It comes from Christ.” In more specific terms, just so you’re not confused, what he’s really saying is, “Be willing to suffer for this. Suffer. It’s okay. It comes from Christ, and in a sense, Christ comes to us in suffering.” He writes, “When God’s Spirit descends, then Patience accompanies Him indivisibly.” And “Patience is hope with the lamp lit – or Patience is hope with the lights turned on.”

 

Fast forward another 50 years. Cyprian, an African, and a bishop of the church writes another treatise, On the Good of Patience. Then fast forward another hundred and fifty years. Augustine of Hippo, an African, writes his teaching On Patience.

 

For the church in its first few centuries, under persecution, and before finding its way to cultural power, the church was growing and growing, and if you asked its leaders why, they said, it’s because we have been given the patience of Christ.

 

To be clear, we are not talking here just about the patience you and I lack in traffic, or in the grocery line, or when we’re waiting on someone to reply to a very important text. No, this is big-picture patience. Patience in the midst of suffering like cancer. Like estrangement. Like prolonged conflict. Like perpetual war. Like profound segregation. Patience when the future is unclear. Patience in the midst of suffering like the suffering Christ was about to endure when Peter tried to stop him.

 

If you’re like me, when you’re in that kind of situation, everything from bad traffic to systemic injustice, if you’re like me, you’d like to fix it. Now. Demand. Protest. March. And the Spirit very well may be behind that; who am I to say it’s not.

 

But, we also have another well-established tradition of what some Christians have always been able to do in situations like this: it is patience. Don’t believe me? ask an African. Because what our African ancestors of the faith tell us is that there is no suffering we can endure that Christ will not endure with us or has not already endured for us.

 

Still don’t believe me? Ask an African-American. Just as our generous God spoke through the church in Africa in its first 500 years. God has also spoken in the last 500 years through the descendants of enslaved Africans in our own country. In both cases, through the faithful of African descent, Christ has modeled for the church the posture of the long-suffering patience..

 

There are countless examples of this, but, as we near the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, I have one example I’d like to share from the civil rights movement. In this clip, you’ll see a young man leading a group to go and register to vote in their precinct. Their plan, should the courthouse be closed, is to pause for a time of prayer at the courthouse and return home. Watch with me what happens next.

Watching that, we may want to race in there and shake that officer and shout in his face or worse. Like Peter, we probably would love a show of force to put that officer in his place! But the young man in that video does not seem to require that from us. He seems to be well planted, sure, and patient. How is that possible? How, in the midst of suffering, and in the face of such antagonism is he able to be patient? Two words: first, practice. The posture of patience. Long-suffering. It’s a posture that is learned through practice; and learned quickly by people forced to practice in suffering regularly.

 

And the second word? Christ.

 

The patient love that young man showed his enemy, even inviting him to pray with him, or at least pray for him, has its source in the patience of Christ. What is not pictured in this clip is what likely happened immediately before this confrontation: Christian worship. One thing that was true of the vast majority of civil rights demonstrations, protests, and marches is that they started in a church, praising God, focusing on Christ, and getting behind Jesus.

 

See, when Jesus rebuked to Peter it was a command. “Get thee behind me. I’m not gonna let nobody turn me around.” And then he went and fulfilled his mission. So to us, the people of his resurrection, the command “get thee behind me” ceases to be an admonition and becomes an invitation.

 

For it is Christ who suffered patiently so that those who suffer would not suffer alone. It is Christ who suffered at the hands of the upwardly mobile so that their upward mobility could be redeemed into humility. It is Christ who took the hate and violence that should have been directed by him toward murderers, and terrorists, and demagogues, and slave traders, and school shooters, and instead bore it in his own body out of love for the unlovable, like me. And today, we who suffer, and we the perpetrators of suffering are invited once again to hear the words of the crucified and resurrected One. “Get behind me. Get behind me and walk the patient way of love trusting that there is nothing that can defeat the one whom you are behind.”

 

The invitation to get behind Christ is an invitation to be covered by him.

Christ covers over our sin–he gives us some cover and invites us behind him to walk in the way made possible by his salvation.

And, for those of us that are not persecuted, the invitation is to find refuge from our own demons, destructions, and delusions of grandeur and to get behind him.

 

That is the invitation answered by those early Christians in Africa, those Christians of the civil rights movement, and it is Christ’s invitation to us today. I stand as one thankful to have been commanded and invited and welcomed behind the cross of Christ; and it is in his name that I invite you once again, or for the first time, to flee from sin, be patient in suffering, and get behind Christ. Hear the good news, The Risen Christ invites you saying, “Get behind me.”

So may it be. Amen.

To Christ! Cheers!

Jason Micheli —  January 5, 2018 — 1 Comment

I couldn’t have more respect and fondness for my colleague Rev. Drew Colby. He asks great questions, pushes back where he should, and cares deeply about his vocation and preaching office.

He’s also a good writer and savvy theologian. I wanted to share his Christmas sonnets here before 3 Kings Day hits.

Twelve sonnet-esque toasts to our Lord on the Feast of the Incarnation

Preface:

These poems are to be read like toasts, in good cheer. They’re all based on “types” of Christ in the manner of Christological typology–an ancient interpretive tool understanding Christ as the fulfillment of God’s activity throughout salvation history. Christ is the new Adam, the new Isaac, the new Moses, etc. Ideally, these could be read as a part of a feast. Perhaps a 12-course meal on January 5th, the 12th night of Christmas? Each course could start or end with one of these toasts. You’d be sure to have drunk the full breadth of Christmastide–good to the last drop. I’ve never tried that… Maybe next year.

 

1. To Christ the New Adam

 

To Christ the Lord a brand new Adam, he

The Breath of Life into our our dust re-breathed,

To him all laud and honor be assigned,

Humanity’s designer now designed.

Once Adam and his counterpart would walk

The garden every evening for a talk

Til temptation’s taste God’s grace betrayed.

These friends of God were naked and afraid.

This Adam is our ancestor and kin,

But now true human life again begins.

Old Adam’s peace with God, as friend,

Is why this re-cast Adam does descend.

Old Adam’s story, our disgraceful fall.

New Adam’s life, and death, redeems us all.

 

2. To Christ the New Noah

 

To mind, as friendly beasts around Christ stood,

There springs a tale of water, beasts, and wood,

Of Noah called to build for God an ark

As storm clouds gathered, ominous and dark.

The Holy family in a stable hid

As Noah and his family also did.

God tried to wash all fallenness away

From death’s deep wake, to dawn a better day.

God chose to never try the flood again,

And here is where our dear Christ enters in.

For him, the wood: The manger, then the cross.

Baptismal waters wash away our dross.

His Spirit is the dove on Calv’ry perched

The Christ-constructed arc is now the church.

 

3. To Christ the New Isaac

 

To Christ the Lord, a brand new Isaac, he

A shoot from Jesse’s Abrahamic tree.

Old Abe was promised kids at ninety-one,

Young Isaac was his Sarah’s firstborn son.

And he was their beloved pride and joy,

But God asked Abe to sacrifice his boy.

In faithfulness and fear Abe acquiesced

I still can’t see how this was heaven-blessed.

Then God stopped Abe and proved in Isaac’s life

That this is not God’s kind of sacrifice.

The faithful need not sacrifice another

We need not separate a child and mother.

Instead the sacrifice New Isaac gives

Is off’ring his own life so all may live.

 

4. To Christ the New Joseph

 

Imagine Christ the youngest of 12 brothers

His swaddling cloth a coat of many colors.

Eleven brothers did, as Judas will,

Sell Joseph out, a perfect plan, until,

Cast out he finds himself in Pharoah’s court.

The nascent Christ is Joseph, of a sort.

A dreamer, to be sure, but fully wise,

By his own tribal kin likewise despised.

The technicolor curtain to be torn,

To conquer o’er the grave is Christ now born.

Seek solace from this famine-fallowed land.

New Joseph sits enthroned at God’s right hand.

From siblings’ malintented cross of wood.

Came resurrection, God’s intended good.

 

5. To Christ the New Moses

 

To Christ the Lord, a brand new Moses, he

Has come to finally set all people free

To break the chains, the bars, the whip, the rod,

To bring for all earth’s Pharoahs signs that God

Has heard the cries of slaves to greed and might.

He recapitulates Passover night.

In Moses’ basket, Mary lays I AM

Who gives himself to be our Paschal Lamb.

And as in desert wilderness they saw

The gifts of water, manna, and the law

So Christ brings streams of mercy, bread of peace,

And to those held in bondage, sweet release.

As Moses brought commandments from above,

Christ’s new commandment, as his name, is Love.

 

6. To Christ the New David

 

To Christ the Lord, a new King David, he

Has come to rule the world with equity.

From Bethlehem, the Lord’s Davidic home,

Behold he comes to mount his manger throne.

Though Samuel warned a king was a mistake,

As all they do is take and take and take,

The people Israel insisted still

To be like other nations was their will.

Heart-broken over this unfaithful bride,

Their God in perfect patience did provide.

And though King David reigns the Hall of Fame,

This day three Kings bow down at Jesus’ name.

While most kings only take and take some more,

This Christ, new-born, is gracious evermore.

 

7. To Christ the New Ruth

 

To Christ, a recast Ruth, the nearlywed,

We raise a toast as they lay down their head.

Our Christ, like Ruth (Naomi’s foreign friend)

Committed to a promise, without end.

As Ruth was loyal in the midst of grief,

So Christ shows faithfulness, beyond belief.

They both attest, “Where e’er you go, I’ll be,

And, “We will one forever-fam’ly be.”

From boundless fruitful freedom, now enfleshed,

The firstborn of the harvest to be threshed.

To gather in the sheaves of broken dreams,

Our broken, banished-barley souls to glean,

In Christ, a Ruth, to us God self-entrusts

That none can put asunder God and us.

 

8. To Christ the New Jonah

 

To Naughty Nineveh God sent him out.

“You must repent or else,” he was to shout.

But Jonah ran from God and said “No way!”

Aboard a ship he slipped into the spray.

While playing possum, fleeing from the Lord,

His fellow sailors tossed him overboard.

Like Nineveh, our world is sick with sin

But Christ will walk where Jonah fell right in.

Once, Jonah prayed for 3 days in a fish

Then hurled ashore, he granted God’s own wish.

Where Jonah feared, our Christ was thrice as brave:

And for our sake was swallowed by the grave.

To Christ the Lord, a brand new Jonah, see?

Plunged into death he rose to victory.

 

9. To Christ the New Way (Based on writings of the prophet Isaiah)

To Christ the Lord, the Newly-Lighted Way

Isaiah’s glimpse foretold is here today.

In desert exile from the garden, we

Have prayed in shadow bent on feeble knee.

Arise and shine because the Light has come.

The lion and the lamb at last are one.

So walk in light and shout the great Amen.

Our Zion king instructs from Bethlehem.

The good and level road is ready now.

Convert your weapons, dare to share the plow.

Come ruler, president, and governor

And meet your lowly subjects’ comforter.

Trade evil for the Good, do not delay.

For this is Christ’s inauguration day.

 

10. To Mary Bearer of God

 

If Eve is mother to our wanton shame

Then Mary is a mother free from blame

So ponder with me now this “mother mild”

At once both meek and mighty, like her child.

A pregnant teenaged girl true wisdom had

Contemplative but fierce and shocked but glad

Tis she who births our Savior full of grace,

In labor’s pain rebirths the human race.

Her babe is firstborn of creation, true,

Which means, in theory, she’s our mother too.

The Theotokos is her name in Greek

The bearer of the one the wisest seek.

She bears God into life, and so, may we

Be bearers of the Light we long to see.

 

11. To Christ our Sin

 

Let us who know our sin now raise a glass,

To Christ the scapegoat flanked by ox and ass,

Our asses for to save, he takes on skin,

The guiltless bears our guilt, becomes our sin.

By faith, through tears, he downs a poisoned chalice,

His body filled with all our lust and malice.

Who Peter once denied, becomes denial.

The righteous judge endures the time of trial.

Who Judas once betrayed becomes betrayal

Consumes the murderous rage by Cain enabled.

The depths of all our evil, sin, and death,

Is crucified in flesh by holiness.

And can it be? Let all our tongues employ!

The wrath of God has sin in Christ destroyed.

 

12. To Christ the Word Made Flesh (John 1)

 

To Christ the Word made flesh now let us sing

As we behold the poe’try of this thing

This Word was with and was what Wonder wrought

This wondrous Word without which we were naught

Mere mortals mystified by elf on shelf,

This Light now lit is light that lights itself!

The True Light that enlightens everyone

As if there is no shadow, only sun

Unbowed, unbent, unbound by time and space,

From faithful fullness giv’n as grace on grace

He deigns to dine despite those that deny

This life that lives so all of death may die.

So in the name of Light and Word again,

I wish you Merry Christmas, friends. Amen.


Reflections after the Las Vegas Sutherland Springs shooting.

The supposition that policy change according to Caesar’s politics is somehow more powerful or effective than the Church’s politics of prayer and worship of the Crucified Christ, I believe, is exactly what’s wrong with the Church and it’s witness to the wider culture:

We live in a time when tragedies are often remembered by the simple name of a place, like Columbine, Ft. Hood, or Virginia Tech. We mention them in conversation like, “After Columbine, we needed metal detectors at schools;” or “We used to be able to ignore some behaviors; but that was before Virginia Tech.”

Other traumatic events are either less institution-specific or more widespread, so we refer to them by the name of the town in which they took place: Charlottesville, Charleston, Houston, Barcelona, Brussels, and now “Las Vegas.” This is not something reserved to the modern era… remember The Alamo? And for a long time, wars have been memorialized simply by the names of the nations in which they were fought: Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq. But, the depressingly high rate of new place-name-memorials has felt historic to many of us.

Regularly, the news reports casualties of gunfire, war, or natural disasters which can be counted in the dozens, the hundreds, and even, God help us, the thousands. And I’m met with the one-two punch of, on the one hand, shock and grief; and, on the other, numbness and avoidance as I sip my morning coffee calculating how today’s casualties will stack up to yesterday’s.

Was this hurricane bad enough to warrant a benefit concert or telethon?

Were today’s IED casualties enough to warrant a press conference?

Will we find out the motivation of the gunman?

Will legislators feel called (or tempted) to turn this into actionable legislation that will change the tide of disaster response, military engagement, international aid, or gun policy in America? How long until they use it to solidify their re-election)?

How long until writers, bloggers, and pastors come out with their commentaries, and retorts, and soap boxes? (In my case, the answer is about a day, 2 cups of coffee, and 1 beer, then a week of prayer and editing)

Tragedy, trauma, and indescribable suffering are becoming ordinary. Perhaps because more tragedy is being reported more quickly. And, perhaps that is because the 24-hour shit-stream of news and information has us hooked on sensationalism.

Whatever the cause, the effect is that I found the sheer violence of the past month (Harvey-Irma-Maria-Las Vegas) both exhausting and routine.

Of course it’s depressing and sad… but I’m kind of too tired to lament, or think critically. And, it all comes so frequently now, I feel like you and I don’t have time to fully react. So, we take short cuts. We fall back on the modern liturgies of tragedy.

News strikes of tragedy.
We listen to hear just how bad it is, to figure out which part comes next.

If it’s bad enough (and the victims are like us enough) we say/post/tweet something about our thoughts and prayers.

If we don’t want to do that, we say/post/tweet something about how thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, and we want people to act.

If we ourselves want to (appear as if we want to) act, we say what “someone” ought to do:
Often the someone is Trump.

Otherwise, it’s a call for more gun-control.
Or less gun control.
For mental health services.
Or better home training.
For more from FEMA.
For more from Trump.
For a local way to help.
For an organization to which we should donate.

Basically, we virtue signal.

Because, in many cases, we have and/or want virtue! In almost all cases, though, regardless of actual virtue, we do this because it makes us feel better.

The liturgy of tragedy makes us feel better.

And it’s not over.

Next:
If we haven’t already, we blame someone.
Usually Trump.
Or blacks in Chicago.
Or Global Warming.
Or “the gays.”
Sometimes we tell someone we want to do something about this, even after the news-cycle moves on. And sometimes we actually do.
We march.
We protest.
We give.
We read a book.
We recommend a book.
We write blogs.
We engage in hard conversations.
Many of these actions are genuinely good, or at least come from a place of genuine desire for good. And, they probably should not be mocked.

But, here’s my main thesis…

The thing I hate most about the liturgy of tragedy, is that it eclipses the liturgy of life.

The latest tragedy–Las Vegas–the shooting of hundreds of people resulting in a rising death-toll of 50 or more–I learned about it from a Facebook post that said “Take your thoughts and your prayers and shove them up your ass. It’s time for gun control.”

I’m not upset about the call for gun control. I’m not upset that someone used the word ass.

Honestly, I’m upset at the devaluing of thoughts and prayers.

And I can’t believe how ridiculous writing that makes me feel.

But truly, I think this is something that may actually be worth saying. I am convinced of the power of thought and prayer.

I’m not saying I think thoughts and prayers are going to make this all better, or all go away. And I’m not–I mean very much so not– the kind of Christian who typically says, “I believe in the power of prayer,” where they might as well be talking about the power of a rabbit’s foot to ward off evil spirits, or an amber necklace to make their infant less irritating–I mean irritable.

No, I’m not tritely saying, “Prayer will get us through this.”
I’m saying that I think thought and prayer protects us from tragedy every damned day.
Not all of us. Not enough of us. But most of us.

Thought and prayer, particularly in the form of religious life, and even more particularly (in my case) in Christian worship of and devotion to the Way of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the most profound form of anti-terrorism, anti-violence, anti-hate, anti-poverty, anti-death, anti-tragedy, and down-right-anti-evil that humanity has at its disposal. I say this because, when I really think about it, I’m more than confident that, were it not for the church, there would be more gunmen, terrorists, hate groups, homeless, and dead.

In the age of social media and protest encouraging us to #resist and #persist, I don’t want it to be lost on us that the routine liturgy of life which Christians repeat week in and week out in prayer, study, sacrament, and service is resistance and persistence!

Our thoughts and our prayers are what stop us from killing each other!

And, depending on who is reading this, our thoughts and prayers may be what stop us from killing you! The prayer of confession which we pray gives us the gift of forgiveness for little things like lying and cursing which empower us to resist bigger things like cheating on our spouses, burning down our office building, or staging a violent coup.

The story of a garden, and a snake, a flood, and a holy family; of slavery and freedom, of power, and abuse of power, of injustice and righteousness, of God-with-us even in death, and Love raised to Life, it gives us a courage to admit when we are wrong and to find a common bond of humanity even with our most dire enemy.

The sacrament of baptism gives us a community. No, a family, to guide us when we’re out of line, and notice when we’re gone. To call us on our bullshit, and teach us not to be assholes. The sacrament of Eucharist fills even our bodies with grace that was won through non-violent resistance resulting in the death of an innocent victim. It forms us as people, and as a community, centered on a story of a death that ultimately ends all death. And the life of service to which we are sent from that table–it teaches us that care for the other is truer and more important than competition with or even safety from the other.

The church is many things. Including, often, an utter failure.
But the church is also, at some level, holy. And, even in its holiness, it may be that the sum of the church’s holiness is lived out in little more than a long-standing, never-ending liturgy of thoughts and prayers.

Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone no longer owns guns.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone is no longer a member of the KKK
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone has friends outside their race.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone who voted for Hillary invited a Trump supporter to coffee.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why a real estate developer refused to construct in a flood zone.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why a real estate developer built affordable housing in the same neighborhood they themselves would be willing to live.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone has a roof over their head when their family kicked them out of the house.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why a child of abuse is not destined to become abusive.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone was forgiven, and not killed.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why someone was imprisoned, and not killed.
Somewhere tonight, the church is why, in the moment just before someone died from a gunshot wound, they were unafraid.

In a world where the liturgy of tragedy has become all too familiar, still…

Thoughts and Prayers are the liturgy of life.

Thoughts and Prayers are resistance to the liturgy of tragedy.

Thoughts and Prayers are the persistent heartbeat of the church.
Thoughts and Prayers are the church exchanging the way of this world for the mind of Christ.

So, if you want to do something to mourn, to heal, to help, or to avoid becoming the terrorist you and I are all too easily capable of becoming, try some thoughts and prayers. Come to church. We will try it with you.

Because, in the end, the church is not actually why any of those good things happen. Those things happen through the church because of Christ. Because in Christ, Existence and Love took on flesh in Bethlehem and then Galilee happened and then Capernaum. And then Ganesaret. Then Samaria. Then Bethany. Then Jerusalem. Then Golgatha. Then the Garden. Then Emmaus. Then Jerusalem again. Then Galilee again. Then Damascus and Antioch. Then Corinth, and Thesalonica, and Ephesus. Then Jerusalem again. Then Patmos. Then Chalcedon. Then Rome. Then Nicea. Then Syria. Then Avila. Then Asisi. Then England. Then Norwich. Then Wittenberg. Then Oxford. Then Aldersgate. Then Baltimore. Then Birmingham. Then, eventually, in my life, Norfolk, and Richmond, and Williamsburg, and Winchester, and Upperville, and Alexandria, and Springfield, and St. Stephen’s.

Every event, in every place, in every time, is where tragedy has struck, is striking, or will strike. The only thing more definitive than that fact is that in Christ tragedy will not win. And it is to this truth, in honor of the victims of sin and death, that I devote my thoughts and prayers tonight.

Drew Colby

How important are our names? What should we remember about the past? What makes a holy kiss holy? These and more questions on this episode of Strangely Warmed with “special” guest Rev. Drew Colby.

The texts are Exodus 1.8-2.10, Isaiah 51.1-6, Romans 12.1-8, Matthew 16.13-20.

And stay-tuned, this week on Crackers and Grape Juice we have the preeminent Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, followed by two weeks in a row of David Bentley Hart. Coming up we have New Testament scholar Beverly Gaventa and liberation theologian Ruben Rosario Rodriguez.

And did I mention we also have a conversation with a Christian romance novelist coming up?!

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It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

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If you’re getting this by email, here’s the link. to this episode. Since there’s so many voices in this, I thought I’d post the video too. You can find it here.

In all the commotion of Holy Week, I forgot to push our latest conversation from Crackers and Grape Juice.

In Episode 89 (we’ve been at this almost a year now and we’re nearing #100!), Teer Hardy and I talk with our friend and colleague Drew Colby about racism.

Drew Colby is a UMC elder, pastor, and one of the podcast’s biggest fans. And critics. 

Coming up on the podcast:

Martin Doblmeier of Journey Films. Followed by Robert Jenson and Rod Dreher of Benedict Option fame. Stay tuned and thanks to all of you for your support and feedback. We want this to be as strong an offering as we can make it so give us your thoughts.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our website.

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the link.