Nov 06

Finding Ourselves Among the Saints

Two years ago Misty Copeland became the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. At the time she told reporters, “I had moments of doubting myself, and wanting to quit, because I didn’t know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level. At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. So it’s not me up here — and I’m constantly saying that — it’s everyone that came before me that got me to this position.” In a world—and not just the dance world—where pictures of success are still often filled with white faces, Copeland has become a model of new possibilities for people of all races. To those, like her, who have faced difficult circumstances just because of the color of their skin, she demonstrates the virtue of persistence and destroys the lies of limitations imposed on them. To those who have not faced such difficulties, she embodies a new world that is not chained by past prejudices and expectations. Misty Copeland is a gift, someone whose accomplishments are not just to be celebrated for their own sake but also for the fact that they make the world around her a better place. Continue reading

Feb 20

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

With the Sermon on the Mount, there is always the temptation to sing-song our way through the beatitudes and skip the difficult bits that follow: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart. But the beatitudes themselves end bracingly, like a cold shower when you would give anything for a hot bath. “Rejoice and be glad,” not in frivolous blessings, but in the persecution you may face should you actually put Jesus’s teachings into practice. Too many Christians have a persecution complex. There’s a great headline from a Christian comedy site that reads, “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk” (February 7, 2017: We don’t want to be seeing persecution under every rock, or to be blind to our human failures that others, outside the church, see too well. But the promise for Christ’s followers is still a promise of a hard road, not an easy path. Continue reading

Feb 13

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Merciful

God is merciful to you, so be merciful to everyone else. It’s a pretty simple equation, so you would think it’d be easy enough to put into practice. What we find, however, is that Christians struggle with being merciful. Instead of plucking the log out from our own eyes, many of us spend our lives hunting, like hawks, for the specks in the eyes of our neighbors. Instead of offering the bread of mercy to our children, the truth is we do sometimes give them the snake of judgmentalism. Rather than opening the door to those who knock and seek, we slam it shut. God is merciful to you, so be merciful to everyone else. The simplicity of the equation is belied by our repeated failures to hold up our side of the formula. Continue reading

Jan 30

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Meek

Ancient mothers and fathers of the church recognized that of all the things Christ asks of us, pursuing meekness, or humility, is the most difficult. The problem with trying to be meek is this: the harder you try, the less meek you’re likely to become. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be true, of course. You can make yourself appear meek pretty easily: let others go before you, don’t argue much, shy away from the limelight, let others take the credit. But while you’re doing those things, inside you can be thinking, “Look at how good I am. Look how humble I’ve become! I am really meek!” And when you do that, you stop being meek, no matter how meek you might seem to others. Continue reading

Jan 16

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Poor…

I think the Sermon on the Mount should come with a warning labeled attached: “Yes, this means you.” In this sermon we have some of Jesus’s most challenging and confrontational teaching, but the Sermon on the Mount is not difficult because it’s hard to understand. No, there’s nothing convoluted or obscure about the Sermon on the Mount. It is as direct and as straightforward as you could wish, and that’s exactly the problem. For most of the Sermon, the meaning couldn’t be clearer, and we don’t like what it means. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Your righteousness must exceed the scribes’ and the Pharisees’? Reconcile before offering your gift to God? Who wants that? Frankly, at some point, most of us don’t want anything to do with something Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. So we’ve developed cushions, devices to place between us and the sermon, to soften it’s blow. We say, “Oh, that’s too hard; Jesus couldn’t mean that we literally need to do any of that.” Or, “the Sermon on the Mount is for super Christians, but I’m just an ordinary follower of Jesus.” Or, “salvation is by grace, so there’s no obligation to follow rules anymore.” Continue reading