Other Gods

On my drives from Davenport to DeWitt, and from DeWitt to Davenport, I listen to a lot of NPR. Last Sunday morning, as I was on my way to preach a sermon that touched upon violence at a house of worship, some people on Weekend Editionwere talking about violence at houses of worship and security at houses of worship. A couple of guests—a Muslim imam and a Christian pastor—said that they had armed security at their mosque and at their church. They needed to have armed security in order to keep their congregations safe. And I’m not about to tell them

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Searching for Sunday

For Lent this year, I led a book study of Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday at my church. I picked the book for a couple of reasons. First, Held Evans can write. As a memoirist, she invites her readers into her life in a way that is both informative an intimate. As a storyteller, she brings her readers into her experiences. So, for example, when she writes about serving communion at a Methodist youth event, you can see the faces in front of her in all their variety and strength and weakness. Reading her work is like reading a

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Before We Are Anything Else

We have spent the last twenty weeks—every week since Epiphany, way back in January—reading the gospel according to Matthew. That’s a long time to spend in one gospel. Over the last four months, we’ve heard Matthew’s version of the life of Jesus. The call of John the Baptizer, the temptation in the wilderness, the beatitudes and parables and sayings, the miracles, the triumphal entry, the last supper, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the short time that Jesus had with his disciples after the resurrection. Today, we’re leaving the gospel according to Matthew and entering the time after Jesus left the

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Two Stories

Right before today’s reading from Matthew, there’s another story. In this story, some soldiers discover that the tomb where Jesus was laid is empty, and they go to the chief priests and the elders and tell them. And the chief priests and the elders give the soldiers some money and tell them, “When people ask what happened, you must say, ‘His disciples came in the night, while we were asleep, and stole the body.” And the soldiers did that. They had a story about Jesus. It was a false story, but it gained traction. Matthew tells us that it is

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God Loved the World This Way

God loved the world this way: she created it. We’re never told why. We’re never told for what purpose. Maybe it was just a joyful act of creation; the kind of thing an artist does. But, for whatever reason that she made a world, she made a world, and she made it good. And she gave it as a gift to itself. And then we broke it. And God saw that the world was broken and came into the world as one of us: a little baby born in a manger in a backwater province of a powerful empire. He

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

When I was in middle school, I competed in the Optimist Club Oratorical Contest. I don’t remember what any of the official topics were, but I remember that my very first speech for that contest was about how people don’t listen to kids or respect the rights of kids… and about how people really should listen to kids and really should respect the rights of kids. And, of course, when I gave the speech at some ungodly morning hour—because Optimists meet for breakfast—the adults who were listening and judging… laughed. Because the idea of listening to kids and respecting the

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‘Baga! (2019)

Every year for the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of trekking back to my alma mater for the annual Knox Rootabaga Jazz Festival. I go partly for the fun of seeing old friends and making some noise in the Alumni Big Band. But I also go because this jazz festival at a small liberal arts college in Illinois is a place to hear truly innovative jazz. This year featured Xavier Breaker Coalition and Mark Guiliana Space Heroes, two groups doing amazing things and that you should definitely check out. Of course, the festival also featured the Knox Jazz Ensemble,

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The All Night Oil Shop

Once upon a time, when I was young, I was a terrible Boy Scout. I had been a Cub Scout. I had worked my way through the ranks. I was a bobcat, and a tiger, and a wolf, and a bear, and a webelos. It wasn’t too difficult. The Cub Scout motto is, “Do Your Best.” And if there’s one thing I can do, it’s my best… even when my best isn’t that good. But then I became a Boy Scout. Now, the way I remember is that when I became a Boy Scout, I got the first rank for

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Situational Poverty and Generational Poverty Are Not Useful Categories

This post is based, in part, on this post from 2017. It also incorporates some ideas from Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church). One of the strangest things that poverty skeptics try to do is redefine poverty. Most of us have a pretty intuitive definition of ‘poverty’: it means something like ‘not having enough money’ or ‘not having enough wealth’. Charity skeptics tend to make poverty about something other than money. Ruby Payne, for example, writes that “the ability to leave poverty is more dependent upon other resources than it is upon financial resources.” These

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A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

For Lent this year, a group of us is reading Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday. I’ve read it before, of course. But one of the joys of having a book group for Lent is that I get to re-read it… carefully… with and eye toward talking about it. And one of the things that Held Evans does really well is describe why she—who has struggled with her conservative evangelical upbringing and with the wider church for years—is still a part of the Christian church. She writes this: At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group,

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