That it would happen on Valentine’s Day is atrocious; but that it happens at all, on any day in the United States of America is the absurdity of all absurdities.   According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 30 mass shooting incidents have occurred in 2018 as of February 14th.

Think of it:

30 mass shootings within 45 days;

one mass shooting every day and a half.

Regardless of our political stance, ideology or posture, surely we are troubled by these heinous and senseless acts of violence. Surely, our hearts cry, “Enough is enough!”

Christ, whom we believe to be God incarnate, said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!”   Today, we mourn with and pray for the families in South Florida; we mourn with and pray for the families of Sandy Hook, Tyler Texas, Las Vegas, Orlando and every other city and town across our nation that has been so indelibly affected by these types of acts.

But we must ask: is mourning and praying enough?

Of course, I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe, confidently, that God calls us, and equips us, to be about it;

God calls us to be about bringing “God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.” 

Scripture gives us a glimpse into what God’s Kingdom will be like:  

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
    the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
    and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
    their calves and cubs grow up together,
    and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
    the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
    a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.  Isaiah 11:6-9

I am confident that being about bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven does not include militarization of the world’s populace.

I am confident that being about bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t include de-funding programs that offer hope and help to persons with mental illnesses and their families.

I’m quite certain that being about bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t include ripping the safety net out from under the most vulnerable among us.

I’m sure that being about bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t have anything to do with covering up and making excuses for pervasive abusive masculinity and oppressive patriarchy.

Being about bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven does not have anything to do with the proliferation of white supremacy and everything to do with the eradication of racism of every form.

Being about bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven means pulling down the strongholds that prevent affordable housing from being built and living wages from being instituted; it means bridging the chasm between the “haves” and the “have nots” not widening it.

Being about bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven means putting a halt to predatory lending practices that intentionally target and harm the poor; it means holding pharmaceuticals and physicians accountable for endangering the lives of the human population for the sake for the dollar.

I’m confident that being about bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven has everything to do with lifting up the poor, providing sustenance and education to every child and opening the doors of the prisons for those who are unjustly incarcerated.

And my friends, I am positive beyond measure that being about bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven has everything to do with turning our weapons into plowshares and rest assured, that includes AR-15s.  (i.e. plowshares are used in gardens and being about bringing God’s Kingdom on earth has much to do with stewardship of the earth and its resources.)

I believe that all of the “ills” mentioned above, along with countless others have brought us to this place.  What place is this?  It’s a place of fear and diminution.  The battlefield has come home; it’s now in our own backyard; in our schools and in our places of employment.  The battlefield is on our streets, it’s permeating our social media and it’s showing up in our houses of worship!

And what do we do?  We buy more guns, build thicker walls, put up more gates, employ more metal detectors, enlarge the nuclear arsenal, become less trusting, get more segregated and stake our claim on the earth’s resources!  (all the things that are the antithesis of the gospel.)

We spend exorbitant amounts of energy and resources on making ourselves feel secure.   Yet, we are less secure than we have ever been.

I do not believe the answer is more weapons.  I believe the answer lies in men and women who claim to be Christ followers being about “bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Almost every protestant church in the world prays these words weekly if not daily: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I ask, are they not more than mere words?)

My friends,  “being about it” means doing more than offering our thoughts and prayers to those who have been affected by horrendous acts of violence.

“Being about it” means allowing the gospel to move from our ears to our heart, out through our hands and feet; it means getting involved; being socially active and politically engaged.

As proclaimers of the Good News of the Gospel, we are called to be renovators and reconcilers, we are called to be redeemers and reframers.

(And lest you get your senses hurt by my closing sentences, please understand I have crafted it purposely and don’t say them lightly.)

What the hell are we waiting for?  For Christ’s sake, isn’t it time we be about it?

lion and the lamb

I realize that by posting the following, I will send more readers to a specific post that I believe is so profoundly theologically flawed that it is dangerous.  However, ipso facto I cannot remain silent.

In a piece published by CharismaNews, a certain preacher, hereafter referred to as “the writer” or “the author,” reminds us that the “mark of the beast” has been a dominant subject in eschatology (the study of biblical prophecies of the end of the age) since the first century, and many things have been called this that turned out not to be so. However, we know it will come, and it may be upon us.”  The danger arrives in what the writer states next.  He continues that, “few events in history have so remarkably fit the biblical scenario of this mark as the potential U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.”

Seriously?  “few events in history have so remarkably fit the biblical scenario of this mark as the potential U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.”

The writer spends the first of a 3-page article equating “same sex marriage” to the mark of the beast, only then to retract that statement by saying “even if this is not the mark of the beast, it will be for those who are now losing what they, in some cases, have given their lives to build, because they would not compromise their religious convictions in order to buy, sell or trade.” This is simply nothing more than manipulation and sensationalism.  If he honestly believes that God’s wrath will be poured out on this nation over the issue of homosexuality, he has not read scripture and his memory is failing him.

Has the writer forgotten that this country indentured an entire race of humanity and affirmed the ethos of slavery by holy scripture and proclaimed its “rightness” from the pulpits? Has he forgotten that this country eviscerated and continues to eviscerate communities of innocent men, women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Manila all in the name of American Imperialism or in the least, to satisfy our insatiable appetite for oil.  Does he not realize that this nation has blindly accepted the rhetoric of self-absorbed power-hungry greedy politicians who claimed (and claim) these acts of decimation to be “God’s wars?”

Has the writer so easily forgotten the bulldozing of affordable housing and the creation of concentration camps on our soil called “ghettos.”  Is he not aware of the systemic injustice perpetrated upon our black and white poor so as to rack up huge fines and fees, thereby funding city government on the backs of those who can least afford it? Does he not realize that the number of references to usery in scripture far outnumber any references to homosexuality? How can the writer fail to see that the abomination of usery is part of the very DNA of this nation.  The love of money, which is the root of all evil, under girds the systemic injustice in this nation that is daily doled out by our banks, our courts, our police departments, our legislature and even our churches?

Micah_6_8_          Where is the author’s righteous indignation over this nation’s total disregard for the environment and our resources? And since the writer lifted up Ronald Reagan in his article, let us be reminded that it was President Reagan who un-installed the solar panels from the White House that his predecessor had installed as an example and call for Americans to be better stewards of the earth and the resources that God had given us.

Where is the writer’s righteous indignation over this nation’s hatred toward  the alien and the foreigner?  Where is his righteous indignation over the families who’ve fallen through the cracks in our healthcare system; the mommies and their babies that sleep in their cars because there is no “room for them in the inn?”  Read the Old Testament.  It is for these reasons, time and time again that the Prophets declared the impending judgment and wrath of God.

How dare the author isolate one sect of the American population and lay blame on their shoulders for all of the evils, atrocities and moral failings in our nation.  It’s theologically reckless.  It has been done in history, numerous times, and the results are always horrific, apocalyptic and anti-Christ.  There’s your beast!

One thing of which the author writes, however, is true.  We stand on the brink of a “new awakening.  The new awakening will be global and it will affect not only religion, but politics, education and economics; every fiber of our lives is going to change.  It’s a giant re-set.  In the words of Phyllis Tickle, it’s “a huge yard sale.” (3)

Awakening is the result of what New Testament writers referred to as metanoia.  Metanoia is a change of perspective and outlook that moves human beings beyond chaos toward a new harmony with God and divine things. (1)

Diana Butler-Bass writes in her book, Christianity After Relgion, “The Shepherd of Hemas defined metanoia as “the great understanding, or the practice of discernment through which human beings move from darkness toward the light. Metanoia necessarily implies human agency, and early Christian thinkers almost universally agreed that metanoia involved recognizing our estrangement from God and neighbor and turning of the heart and mind toward love.”

But alas, as we can read from the author’s rhetoric in the CharismaNews piece, it is not a new awakening that he is waiting for, rather he is calling for a return to “what-was.”  What we witness in this piece and others like it is actually a counterreformation of nativism which is, in reality, opposed to the new awakening.  The writer’s rhetoric is a shrewd manipulation to play on the emotions of the fearful and forward a conservative political agenda designed to turn the course of history back toward an “absolutist, death-dealing” God. (1)  The journey toward new awakenings is always rife with these kinds of voices; the fear-mongers who would take us back.

But we can’t go back.  

I believe God is calling American to both “mourn and repent;” collectively and individually.  But our “mourning and repenting” must be over a host of atrocities committed by this nation in the name of God, not the least of which is a self-loving arrogance that allows us to believe that we can label and condemn one group of people and incite hatred and violence toward them. (all in the name of God. Can we please stop using God’s name in vain?)

The next great awakening is coming, but it won’t be a return to “what-was.” It will be an advancement into God’s dream for creation. “Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

As it approaches, I for one had rather be a bridge builder than a fear-monger.

1.  Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler-Bass, HarperOne Publishing, 2013

2.  White America’s Greatest Delusion: They Do Not Know It and They Do Not Want To Know It, Tim Wise,

3.  The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle, Baker Books, 2008.

          Recently, during the practice of lectio divina with a small group of friends, the chosen scripture text was Psalm 62:1-2.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 
God alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”
          As is the practice with lectio divina, you eventually narrow your focus and attention to one word and you meditate on that one word.  It is in those moments of meditation that your being becomes still and in that stillness God speaks in various and wondrous ways.  I felt drawn to the word “silence.”
For God along my soul waits in silence…
                                   my soul waits in silence…
                                                                               in silence….
          I find it is increasingly difficult for me to be silent.  The world is a noisy place and if I’m silent, I might not get heard; I might not get noticed; I might find myself last in line. Additionally, more and more, I feel the pressure to say the “right” thing—so much so, that even when I think I’m listening—I’m actually crafting what I’m going to say next.  So—I’m not really listening.
         Earlier this week, a bit of “1st world” chaos was swirling and it was rattling my existence.  I was stressed with too many left-overs on the daily to-do list.   Things were noisy and anxiety was building.   In that moment, I remembered that I had failed to return a phone call from earlier in the day.  It was late but, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
          My friend and spiritual confidant, Kim answered.  She asked if I had time to “listen” to something.  (Listen?  Right now? Really?  Okay!  I agreed to listen.)  Kim wanted to read to me a devotional that she had prepared to share with her co-workers at a morning staff meeting the next day.   (As spiritual confidants, Kim and I test our theological grounding and understandings with each other on a regular basis.)
         I put my computer to sleep, turned off the television and gave her my undivided attention.   The house went silent and her voice began to speak.
                                     I “listened” intently.
                                                          Here are the words she spoke:
         When I was a young girl I liked to talk.  I liked to talk so much that I was often admonished for it on my report cards.  Beginning in the first grade and carrying all the way through my elementary years, my teachers wrote things like “Kim talks too much.”  “Kim needs to be quiet during class.”  “Kim is talkative.” One teacher even went so far as to bellow across the classroom one afternoon, “Would you shut up?”  But increasingly I find that I like to listen as I get older.  I particularly like to listen while I walk the greenway. 
         I like the way cardinals call out “pretty, pretty, pretty” as they flit from tree to tree.  The sound reminds me of my grandfather.  He used to tell me what the birds were saying as they sang.  I like the sound that great blue herons screech out.  It sounds positively prehistoric.  It even makes me think I might just happen upon a dinosaur, maybe just around the next bend.  And I love the soulful sound mourning doves coo at the dusk of the day.  It stills me… makes me even skip a breath. I also like to hear the little snippets of everyday life friends share with one another as they walk along the path… “So, she’s moving?  Yes, she’s moving to Raleigh, which makes me happy.  I want her to have a little bit of independence.” Although, I think I detect more sadness in her voice than happiness.  Or the woman who says, “You never did trust him;” which sends me into imagining what all he could have done to lose her trust.  Or the woman who excitedly says into her cell phone, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I catch a flight to Seattle;” and I immediately begin to conjure up visions of a family reunion.  That sounds like fun. 
          I like the way the wind sounds rustling through scruffy shrubs, skinny pines, Tarzan-sized vines, and assorted knotty gumball trees.  It reminds me of the prophet who says “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  I like the way bicycles sound as they cross over the uneven boardwalk “clump in major, clump in minor.”  More than the sound though is the feel of the draft passing bikes make!  You really learn to look forward to bicycle breezes during certain parts of the year.  And I like to listen to all the sounds my dogs make—the younger one sharp, strong “Yap, yap, yap,” which I translate to “Joy, joy, joy!” and the older one “Ka, ka, ka” which is an altogether different kind of joy, joy, joy.  These are a few of the things that bring me joy.  I wonder what brings you joy…
In that moment, I realized that the Divine Creator cared enough about me to make me do what I needed to do most in that moment—and that was listen!
                                                                           It is amazing what you hear when you really listen.
         Henri Nouwen understood listening to be an aspect of spiritual hospitality.  He wrote, “To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
         Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.

The front entrance to this Presbyterian Church in this small rural North Carolina town is massive. It contains four towering white columns. Columns, which I am certain, provide support for the covered entrance as much as they pay architectural homage to the era in which the church was built. The soaring columns convey a sense of loftiness, most likely a reflection of a bygone era when this church stood at the center of public life and discourse in this small southern textile town.

On this particular Easter Sunday, the entrance to this Presbyterian Church is in disrepair. The paint on the soaring columns is peeling. The cement and flagstone porch, covered in years of neglect, screams for a pressure washing. The window frames are busting, peeling and losing their century long hold on the muted stained glass. In reality, the building looks and feels more like a mausoleum. The physical signs of neglect are outward manifestations of a local church in disrepair. From all indications, this church, like so many, is dying.

The welcome sign out front, missing the letters “t” and “h,” reads “The Ear is the Lord’s.” The Sunday School rooms smell musty and seem purposeless. Bibles and songbooks and children’s toys look like they were left in mid-use; almost as if the rapture took place and sucked the life out of the building. The manse, too, is empty; vacated by a burned-out pastor under cover of night. Most Sundays, less than a dozen faithful members populate a sanctuary built to accommodate at least 250 living and breathing human beings.

Yet, on this drizzly and overcast Easter Sunday, at 10:45; fifteen minutes before the official start of worship, Janice is sweeping the front entrance at this Presbyterian Church. Yes…she is sweeping.

woman sweeping

Janice is in her mid-seventies. Her boney fingers clutch the broom handle with tenderness and while she sweeps, she tells me she has performed this task with regularity for the past fifty-some-odd-years. Janice sweeps in the face of death. In this geographical and spiritual location, where reality seems to raise its voice in verbose terms, “This is meaningless and unworthy,” she sweeps. I am tempted to join the refrain of reality and reprimand Janice for doing something as mundane as sweeping a porch when the church is dying. There are so many other needful things to be done!

But, as I watch and listen, the Holy Spirit grips my core and in one of those moments when heaven and earth intersect, I realize Janice is not unlike Joseph of Arimathea. For you see, Janice, too, even in the face of death, sweeps while “waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.”

Freedom For Ministry

According to Richard John Neuhaus, the Christian gospel is an interpretation of reality that bestows a “saving and order” upon our experiences. A holy imagination is mandated. Ministry requires it and cannot survive without it. It really is the task of the pastor, the preacher, the minister, or the under-shepherd (use whatever title you fancy) to hold in tandem the visible and the invisible.

In situations that seem desperately hopeless, as in the case of this particular church at this particular time, it is difficult, almost impossible, to “minister by hope beyond apology.” For I, too, am like those lofty columns. I am in disrepair! I battle a clamoring ego. I run from my own demons and I question the authority of the call. I am discovering how strenuous and grueling it is to buttress the invisible against the visible when the visible is so depressingly damning.

But, in spite of myself, and because I am drowning in an ocean of grace, I am set free to “sight, signal and support” the structure, albeit an imperfect structure, so that Janice, and countless others like her, can perform faithfully mundane tasks all the while waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.

The voice of Neuhaus, combined with an old woman named Janice and a good strong nudging of the Holy Spirit called me to “Repent and believe the good news.”  Because on this Easter Sunday Morning, the Kingdom of God has come near! It really has.

The temperatures this morning confirmed that the calendar is correct. It is January. But by mid-morning, the sunshine, Carolina blue skies and mid-fifties temperature gave way to rising expectations.  The season of newness of life is not far away and we anticipate its arrival.

After a lazy morning that included a sumptuous breakfast with friends in ball caps and yesterday’s clothes, we took advantage of the “spring-like” weather; ran a few errands and explored a few of our favorite shops.  As we meandered our way back to the sleepy bedroom town where we live, we shuffled through a few of our favorite Brooklyn Tabernacle tunes on the iPod. As we topped the hill toward a stop sign, we were feeling good and adding our harmonies to “I Was Made to Live for You.”

“I was created for Your glory
All of my days were made for You
Lord You have formed me and
You know me
You know me
Without You Lord what can I do
I was made to live for You…”

The car eased to a rest at the stop sign. (singing: “I was made to live for you”)

At that moment we noticed, from our left, two police cars with flashing headlights followed by a sea of cars with high beams engaged traveling toward us. (music still playing…”Lord, I give my life as a sacrifice for You. I give everything as an offering to You. I was made to live for you…”)

Vehicles in every direction had now stopped to offer their respect as the hearse and family cars slowly traveled past us.  In all honesty, my first reaction was one of, “O no—this is inconvenient—and I need to get home.”  Then it happened.  In the midst of this amazing and gorgeous life-filled morning, we were forced to stop and consider death.

The Psalmist encourages us to number our days. (Psalm 90:12)  I am confident that the Psalmist does not make this exhortation out of some sense of morbidity or gloom.  Rather, I believe, the Psalmist wants us to know that EVERYTHING matters.

Yes, every breath, every laugh, every tear,

every conversation, every birthday, every worship service,

every cup of coffee, every heartache, every breakup,

every reconciliation, every song, every note, every reunion—                  EVERYTHING MATTERS!

Just two verses before the exhortation to “number our days,” the Psalmist estimates that humans have “seventy some odds years of days.” (Psalm 90:10)  The music and lyrics from the iPod continued to fill the space. (singing: “I was made to live for you. No matter where I go You see me. Jesus You’re never far away. Help me to follow where You lead me. I open my heart to You today.”)

For a few seconds of my life, I am caused to pause and wonder, exactly for what are we created?

As a I write this, hospice has been called in to care for a relative that, by doctors’ estimation, has less than a week to live.  I also have three friends who, because of spouses and partners with serious health issues, have had their worlds turned upside down, disjointed and thrown into chaos.  Their very full, normal and perfunctory lives have been exchanged for existences dictated by blood test results, medicine, chemo treatments, doctor appointments, hospital stays, and all of the emotional and physical baggage and side effects that accompanies such.  Truth be known, these caregivers are exhausted; and if they were to be honest, they are frustrated.  But in an era of easy exits, inconsistency and very little stability, these caregivers are faithful.   Yes, faithful!

I’ve watched these partners change their schedules, inconvenience their dreams and pour themselves out for another human being.  Culture does not recognize faithfulness.  There is no glory in it.  There is no award to be received, no acceptance speech to be given and no accolades to satisfy our clamoring egos.  These faithful caregivers will not make the cover of any magazine; they won’t be promoted at work; there will be no increase in pay.  If anything, there will be financial challenges and insurance battles to test their fortitude and compound already frustrating situations.

But there is something innately attractive and compelling about faithfulness.

I watch these faithful friends and I am forced to consider, for what were we created?

Is it possible that we are, in fact, created to above all else, pour ourselves out for the sake of other human beings?  After all, isn’t that example given by the rabbi we claim to follow?  I call myself a “Christ-follower.”  But honestly, most days, I find myself wanting Christ to follow me and demand that others serve me.

Today, I got stopped by a funeral procession today.  In those few brief, divinely-ordained moments, God reminded me that I was not created to live for myself.  In fact, I am made to live for God.

When I was 5 years old, my Mom and Dad would stand me up on a chair between them at the pulpit on Wednesday nights in the little white concrete block church in rural Mount Pleasant North Carolina and we would sing, “For I was born to serve the Lord.”

“My hands were made
to help my neighbor,
my eyes were made
to read God’s word.
My feet were made
to walk in His footsteps,
my body is the temple of the Lord.”

I am convinced that the purpose for which we are created is wrapped up in serving others, being inconvenienced and pouring out of ourselves into the lives of others.  Think about it.  If this is our highest and greatest purpose, it certainly relieves the pressure and stress of trying to maintain our existence in a culture hell-bent on being first, getting more, looking younger, and out-doing the next person.

Interesting too that this weekend, we remember the life and legacy of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  According to him, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Thank God for funeral processions.  Funeral processions remind us to “number our days.”  Numbering our days reminds us to refocus our attention on our purpose.


It seems like I strolled through the season of Advent; casually and leisurely experiencing the sites and sounds and festivities.  Then, Christmas arrived.  It came with all the finesse and force of a 200 ton locomotive.  Just minutes before the midnight hour on Christmas Eve, after a long, busy and challenging day, I was standing with several hundred other people holding candles singing perfunctorily, yet loudly, “O Come Let Us Adore Him,  Christ the Lord!”

As a child of the church, I can confidently say I have sung the familiar phrases and refrains of Adeste fideles at least 6,432 times. (Okay, 6,432 times is a slight exaggeration—but you know what I mean)  This is a song that I know by heart; metaphorically and lyrically.   But that night, in that situation and on that occasion, certain words and phrases began to lift from the pages of the new Presbyterian Hymnal.

Living and breathing within the melody, harmonies and meter of that song are profound and weighty words like

“God of God, light of light.”

“Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb.”

“Very God begotten not created.”

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”

But these are only words.  Right?

No!  These are not mere words crafted to fit the rhyme in a melody or the meter of a song.  These words, when constructed in this manner to form these specific phrases have profound theological ramifications.

The author of the fourth Gospel was a craftsman and a wordsmith; he had an affection for words and was especially enamored with and specifically captured by “the Word.”  Hear the eloquence of his opening lines:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5 NRSV)


“The business of the world is carried on by words,” wrote Sir Daniel Hall in his introduction of his Digressions of a Man of Science. (Hoskyns, p. 136)  Likewise, John the Fourth Evangelist felt the full weight and pressure of that supposition as he picked up his pen to write down the things he had seen and heard, witnessed and experienced.  He knew the majestic power of words for he had been confronted by the words of Jesus. And in that confrontation, John had witnessed God’s unmistakable movement toward humanity; the incarnation.

That Jesus once spoke is more fundamental for our understanding of John’s gospel than is the history of Greek philosophy or the story of the westward progress of Oriental mysticism; even more fundamental than the first chapter of Genesis or the eighth chapter of the Proverbs. (Hoskyns, p. 137)  John, too, is concerned with words, because it is his purpose to portray a Jesus who spoke.  Therefore, John’s Gospel begins not with “In the beginning was God,” but rather with, “In the beginning was the Word.”  John knew and understood that the business of the world depends upon the Word of God both for its creation and for its salvation.

From the beginning, John makes it clear that the words of Jesus are meaningless apart from their relation to the word of God.  The words of Jesus are not isolated maxims, detached aphorism, or disjointed commands, powerful, but without connected meaning.  Because of their essential unity with God, John is pressed from the plural to the singular, from words’ to word, and from a series of words to “the Word.” (Hoskyns, p. 136)  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.”  (καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος)  The Word was not some lesser deity or another God, but everything that God was, the Word was and the Word has always existed.

Because John has witnessed the incarnation, his Gospel is full of movement and that movement is evidenced in the “Prologue.”  There is movement from the eternal to the temporal; movement from the divine to the human; movement from creation to revelation; movement from the Word to the Son of God.  The Word is God and in Jesus, the Word came forth from God.  History itself, for Christianity, is the symbolic locus of encounter with the divine.  The realization of the symbolic dimension of history was implicit and operative among Old Testament writers.  But in John 1:14, the notion of symbolic revelation becomes more focused and more explicit.  (Schneiders, p. 70)  “And the Word became in-flesh and tented among us.”  Theologian JoAnne Marie Terrell calls it “with-us-ness.” (Callahan, p. 186)

Regardless of the language you choose to communicate God’s movement toward us, John is intent and fixed on his readers understanding fully that God has moved from outside the bounds of history; invaded human time and space and set about revealing God’s live-giving purposes for humanity through and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Here, the humanization or “enfleshment” of the pre-existent Logos is flatly declared.  (Kysar, p. 45).

John Calvin used the language of accommodation to describe the movement of the Triune god toward humanity.  Karl Barth said the incarnation was an “extravagant condescension,” a movement downward that outweighs even the inconceivability of the divine majesty of God.  “Flesh, all that we are and exactly like us even in our opposition to Him.  It is become that he makes contact with us and is accessible for us.”  Now the Word, God’s self-revelation, has become human, incarnate, in order to speak to humanity in words that humanity could understand.  (Schneiders, p. 49)

For John, the “Word in-flesh” supersedes the philosophy of reason, the work of Lady Wisdom and the law given through Moses.  The Word in-flesh is an event of equal, if not greater importance than creation.  The identity of the Word has now been revealed, it is Jesus Christ, God the only Son.  John 1:17 is the first time the explicit name “Jesus Christ” has been sounded in the prologue, because that name only enters the story at the incarnation.  At the incarnation, the story of the Word becomes the story of Jesus.  Jesus is not the cosmic word of vv.1-2, but the Word in-flesh of vv.14-18.  (O’Day, p. 27)

John will invest his entire gospel efforts showcasing the identity of the Word in-flesh, relaying the power of the words of Jesus and pointing to Jesus’ function as revealer of God’s life-giving purposes.    In the Gospel of John, Jesus, the Word in-flesh will confront the unjust and death-bringing ways of the ruling elite (John 2:13-22), He will bring wholeness, healing and abundance (John 6:1-4), He will constitute a community of believers and give them concrete ways of being together (John 13), He will effect forgiveness and release (John 20:23), and he will open the door to the Household of God.  (John 1:12; 19:27).  John has borne witness to these words and actions of Jesus Christ.  John sees and knows that the world, including God’s chosen people, is dark, fallen and sinful and in need of spiritual re-birth.  John knows that re-birth is only available through the preexistent, enfleshed Word.  (Kostenberger, p. 41)

In making the journey to that “far distant country,” the second person of the Trinity laid aside his heavenly garments and slipped into the flesh of a naked new born.  His mother wrapped him in a piece of cloth and placed him in a feeding trough.  The significance of God taking on human flesh cannot be overstated.  And the Gospel writer adds richer nuance by use of the verb ἐσκήνωσεν. (John1:14)  The verb is most often translated “lived” or “dwelt,” but it literally means “put up camp or tented for a while.”  The meaning would not have been lost on John’s first readers.  God has come to take up residence among humanity in a way even more intimate than when he dwelt in the midst of Israel in the tabernacle. (Kostenberger, p. 41)  Even deeper, ἐσκήνωσεν intimates that Jesus is on a journey and camped out in this world for a time as part of his itinerary.  (Kysar, p. 45)  The Gospel writer will further develop this theology and employ the words of Jesus Christ to invite his readers to respond and participate in the journey.

It is important to notice the introduction of the first person plural pronoun in John 1:14.  With its appearance, the perspective of the prologue shifts from observation to confession.  This incarnation is both human and divine, both transcendent and immanent.  Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man; not a mixture of the two, not a spiritual mode, nor a mythological marvel and certainly not a super human being.  “What is at stake,” as Athanasius said, “is our salvation.”  “The doctrines of transcendence and immanence,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr., “are both half-truths in need of the tension of each other to give the more inclusive truth.”  (Callahan, p. 186)

Therefore, when we hear the word, even speak the words and our hearts are pricked by the power of the holy Spirit, we move from observation and mere utterance to confession: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, through him all things were made.  for us and our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. (Nicene, 1.2)

So Christmas comes, but it does not come silently.  Christmas comes with the full force of an invasion proclaiming the Word of life.  “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (The Message, John 1:14)

So, when we put words to melody and sing Adeste fideles, we are not just singing another Christmas song. Rather, we are articulating the theological profundity of the faith of the ages.  God has come.  God is with us; God is for us and God is in us!  “O’ Come Let us Adore Him—O’ Come Let us Adore Him!  O’ Come Let us Adore Him—Christ, the Lord!!”


Attridge, Harold W., Editor. Harper Collins Study Bible / New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco: Harper One, 1989.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I.II.  Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1956.

Callahan, Allen Dwight. True to our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press , 2007.

Hoskyns, Sir Edwyn. The Fourth Gospel. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1947.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2004.

Kysar, Robert. John, the Maverick Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press , 1976.

O’Day, Gail & Hylen, Susan E. John. Louisville: Westminster Knox Press, 2006.

Schneiders, Sandra M. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.  New York: Crossroad, 2003.

The following thoughts were written at Thanksgiving 2010.  My mother died 5 months later.  I reread these words every holiday season to remind myself of the important things in life.  So, forgive me for posting something from the past, but indulge me.  You might find it meaningful for you this holiday season.

Here I am sitting in my Mom’s and Dad’s little house awaiting the Thanksgiving meal. But this year things are different. My mother’s cognitive ability is slowly deteriorating. She is struggling to prepare the meal. It’s something she’s done with ease hundreds of times over the course of her life. Some days it’s the short term memory she fights to grasp. Other days it’s the long term memory that eludes her.

She talks to herself allot these days–almost constantly. Even the smallest mundane activities that you and I perform without thinking, she laboriously thinks through them then congratulates herself when accomplished with short words like, “Yes!” “That’s it!” “Nice” “Beautiful!” “Yes!”

In a very strange-bittersweet-but-inspiring-kind of way, God is reminding me today, that there is beauty in the “common and ordinary.” “Yes!” “That’s it!”

This morning God woke me up in a warm bed. “Yes!” “Nice!” “Beautiful.”

I got up without medical assistance of any kind and ate a good breakfast. “Yes!“

I will not go to bed hungry today. “Um huh. Yes!”

I will sit at table with my wonderful parents who have served God in full-time ministry for most of their lives. “Yes” “Nice!”

I get to worry and struggle over an Ethics paper and presentation due in less than 2 weeks. “Nice!“

I get to enjoy this amazing seminary journey with so many wonderfully articulate and compassionate people. “Beautiful!”

I get to face the struggles and challenges of ministry that will send me to my knees. “Nice!”

I get to go to work, interact with wonderful people, fight the day to day battles and make a living to support my family.  “Nice!”

God grant us the child-like faith necessary to see the beauty and experience the wonder of “flashing lights and lowering crossing bars!” (the common and ordinary) Help us to see life through the eyes of children and aging dementia patients. (It doesn’t take 9 volumes of Church Dogmatics and 4 years of seminary to expose the truth.) “Yes!” “That’s it!” “Nice.” “Beautiful!”

Be blessed, my friends, and be thankful! “Yes!” “That’s it!”


In the later years of her life, after the cancer and multitude of chemo treatments had taken their toll on her body, my mother did not like to have her picture taken.  Of course,  we too could see the manifestation of the rapacious appetite of the drugs and disease and respected her request.  But, I always managed to get her to be in a photograph with me.  And although the photograph is not very flattering, it is a priceless picture, nonetheless.

Me & Mom 2011

This year, I had the amazing privilege of working with and for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region at Levine-Dickson Hospice House at Southminster as a Chaplain Intern.  The experience transformed my life, my ministry and my understanding of pastoral care.  I served under the very capable tutelage and direction of ordained minister and chaplain, Jane Mitchell.  Although the calendar tenure of my time at LDHH-S looks lengthy (April thru December), the actual experience seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye.

The experience was rich and deep, rewarding and fulfilling because end-of-life care does not let you skim the surface.  End-of-life care demands that you look life in the eye; address it, touch it and feel it for what it is.  I likened the experience to traveling by train.  When you travel by train, you don’t follow the well-landscaped hypnotic manicured interstate system.  When you travel by train, you travel the back roads; you see the back yards and back porches.  You see the treasures and the junk.  It’s raw; it’s real and it’s engaging—it is life in its purest form.  Ironic that so much living goes on at Hospice.  I will always be indebted to the staff and team at LDHH-S.  They are amazingly gifted human beings who showed me what true compassion looks like and they taught me how to trust.

It was gift to be part of the 2014 Light Up A Life ceremony at LDHH-S on Saturday December 6, 2014.  I was asked to share my thoughts on grief and the grieving process.  What follows are the notes from my reflection for that service.  I share them here, now, with you.

Dolom by Kyle Rhodes

“Dolom” a sculpted mask by artist Kyle Rhodes

In this moment—in this very second as these words leave my lips, there are persons who are feeling the full measure of grief. In this moment, we stand with them, and they stand with us. They are not alone. And we are not alone.

Three years ago on Palm Sunday, our family pet of 15 years took its last breath as I held it. The following Sunday, Easter Sunday, my Mom who had battled Mutiple Myeloma for 11 years, had some sort of mini-stroke, she feel, broke her wrist, was taken to the Emergency Room, and by 10:00am on East Monday, we found ourselves gathered around her bedside in Hospice Care in Greensboro North Carolina. The following Saturday, while my mother still lay in Hospice Care, I walked the aisle and graduated with a Masters of Arts in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary. My parents, who had supported that endeavor, were unable to witness the graduation. The following Friday at 6:04am, My Mom breathed her last breath with me holding her hand. Two days later we celebrated Mother’s Day with my Mother’s body lying in state at the Funeral Home. I wrote in my journal, those three weeks were like the swinging of a pendulum—-I moved from deep sadness to extreme joy, from extreme joy to deep sadness, joy to sadness, sadness to joy.

Last year, a bright young 15 year old artist who attends our church asked me a simple yet poignant question. He asked, “What is your favorite emotion?” It was a question I had never been asked. I engaged the young man in conversation and as we talked, I realized in the depth of my spirit that joy and grief come from the same place inside of us.

I am convinced that without the deepness of our grief, we can never fully understand and appreciate the richness of life. Without tears, our laughter has no value. With no struggle there can be no appreciation for freedom. Without loss there can never truly be any “having.” And, I am convinced without grief, there can never truly be any joy.

I answered Kyle’s question, “Grief is my favorite emotion.”

A few weeks later, Kyle presented me with a mask that he sculpted. He named the mask, Dolum. Dolum comes from the latin word “Dorlore” which means, “deep sadness, grief.” If you look closely at Dolum, you will see the tears of grief on his face—but don’t stop there—keep looking, you’ll see that those tears have dropped on fertile ground and in that place, new life is springing up.

In the chapel at the LDHH-Southminster, there is a journal. People who wander into the chapel are invited to share their thoughts. I found these words written in that journal:

How badly will this hurt?
How deep will the cut be?
How weighty the grief?
How badly it will hurt is dependent solely on how goodly I have loved;
The cut will be only as deep as the measure of joy I experienced.
And the grief? Well, while weighty, I am confident that the grief will be in direct
proportion to the measure of the life I mourn. And I would not trade either.

In closing, I give you the gift of these words from White Elk, a Native American sage:
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice!”

Several decades ago, Lanny Wolfe was asked by his record label, the Benson Company, to write a Christmas Musical.  One of the songs he penned for that musical is “More Than Wonderful.”   However, the Benson Company determined that the song was NOT “Christmas enough” to make the cut—so, “More than Wonderful” was cut from the musical (Noel: Jesus is Born!).  Later, Lanny pitched the song to Sandy Patti, who shared it with Larnelle Harris.  Sandy and Larnelle decided to cut the tune as a duet and the song skyrocketed in the Contemporary and Church Music worlds.

When you read the lyrics and allow the melodies to flow over you like water, there can be no doubt that there is not song that represents Christmas more appropriately and as forcefully and fully as “More Than Wonderful.”

Our trio, Three Fold Chord, began singing an acoustic version of the song several years ago. It continues to move us, inspire us and focus us on the incarnational event that split history in two.  I am grateful that the Holy Spirit moved the pen of Lanny Wolfe to craft this beautiful song.  I am grateful that “the Word” was made flesh and moved into the neighborhood (as Eugene Petersen translates it in the Gospel of John).  And  I am thankful that “the finest words I know could not begin to tell, just want Jesus means to me.”

I hope you enjoy this music, its message and meaning as much as we enjoy singing it.

How then shall we live in response to the homosexual question?  The question begs to be answered in our schools, in our homes, in our local congregations, denominations and culture at large.  Any discussion surrounding the issue is sure to solicit impassioned language of “right” and “wrong.”  It turns on a question of ethics.  It is a “moral” question.  However, this way of seeing the issue merely polarizes the factions and degrades the discussion.  Richard A. Norris, Jr.[1]  clearly articulated the divisive nature and characteristics of the issue.

“In the first place, people are not, on the whole, in the habit of giving thought to questions of morality,    since where such issues are concerned everyone already knows the correct answers of ahead of time.  Thus a proposal to resort to reasoned argument will most likely evoke reactions of scorn, not to say skepticism.  Much of the opposition to homosexuality grows, after all, out of what Augustine and Pelagius alike called consuetude—social customs—or out of a perception that it is simply tabu, or out of fear and contempt directed toward a phenomenon that comes across as shockingly unfamiliar and ‘abnormal.’  What is more, much of the popular defense of it amounts to little more than militant assertion of a vague ‘right’ to be whatever one is.  To the extent that this is the case, however, moral considerations and arguments, of whatever sort, are bound to seem irrelevant, laborious and superfluous. In practice, the way to settle things—or so everyone seems to agree—is by the recitation of engaging and convincing catch phrases, and by the intermittent adoption of uncompromising poses.  But then in the second place, as everyone knows, different people—including different Christians—often operate with different notions of what it is that makes something morally right or wrong, and so of what it is that grounds ethical judgments—and hence, though this circumstance is seldom noticed, of what makes a question a moral question.”[2]

How then shall we live in response to the homosexual questions?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer is more widely known for the vitality of his theological work in The Cost of Discipleship and the short, nonetheless profound and very pastoral, Life Together.  But in the first substantial posthumous Bonhoeffer monograph published only four years after his death-by-hanging at Flossenburg, Ethics provides a rare glimpse into the complexity of what the pastor and theologian termed “concrete values” as exhibited by his own strategic ethical determinations.     If the reader of Ethics holds the content of the volume parallel to Bonhoeffer’s life, particularly his actions as a Christian dissident, advocate on behalf of German Jews and party to plans to murder Hitler, the reader will discover that Bonhoeffer points to the reality of God as the starting point of all Ethics.  “Right living” in any concrete situation is empty without acceptance of the ultimate reality of God.

“Whoever wishes to take up the problem of a Christian ethic must be confronted at once with a demand which is quite without parallel.  He must from the outset discard as irrelevant the two questions which alone impel him to concern himself with the problem of ethics, ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I do good?’, and instead of these he must ask the utterly and totally different question ‘What is the will of God?”[3]

Therefore, Brothers and Sisters, where can we go but to the one and the same start pointing point?  How then shall we live in response to the Homosexual question? The answer to the question is a question; “what is the will of God?”

This recommendation is not a polemic in favor of or against affirmation of homosexuality, same-sex orientation or the ordination of GLBT persons.  It is not a refutation of exposition of specific scripture passages.  It is not an attempt to change your beliefs or principles, regardless of what they may be.  It is not an attempt to posit a scientific position on the question.  It is not an attempt to further exacerbate the division, increase the tension or widen the chasm that exists within the church and between the church and the GLBT community at large.  This recommendation is an attempt to call the church, as Christ-followers[4] to actively discern the will of God with respect to the question of homosexuality (and the various nuances with which the question is imbued) through the rightful engagement of the character of God as revealed through creation and incarnation, Word and scripture, action, reason and experience.

At the core of any debate on any issue within Christendom is scripture.  This recommendation calls the congregation to evaluate scripture and determine its place within their “rule of faith.”  Calvin, the Great Reformer said God is not an “unmoved mover”, but is active in the world and has purposes of his own. Calvin’s God is a “chief actor in a story in which he gives us roles to play.   We ought not to rack our brains about God; but rather, we should contemplate him in his works.”[5]

To understand and know God it is imperative to pay attention to God’s acts.  Those acts are more important and of much more consequence than any speculation about what God is.  Those acts are detailed in Scripture.  In Calvin’s words, “God bestows the actual knowledge of himself upon us only in the Scriptures.”[6]  Scripture talks about a God who intervenes; hardens Pharaoh’s heart, parts the red sea, gathers his people in the wilderness and tabernacles with them.  This God of scripture is active; he moves and speaks.  Christian faith means affirming the centrality of the Bible.  Just as Jesus is for us the Word of God disclosed in a person, so the Bible is the Word of God disclosed in a book.  Being Christian means a commitment to the Bible as our foundational document and identity document.

The Bible is our story.  It is to shape our vision of life—our vision of god, of ourselves, and of God’s dream for the earth.[7]  However, Augustine of Hippo warned of a danger closely related to literal biblical interpretation as evidenced by the desire for absolutism so prevalent in certain sects of Western Christendom today.  Augustine wrote that if we understand something, then what we understand is not God—not that it isn’t from God, but that the understanding itself cannot encompass Him.  How can we really claim to serve an infinite God, but at the same time think it’s possible to understand more than just the most significant faction of who God is, let alone all of him?  Many in Western Christendom worship the sacred text more than the God revealed in the text; they worship truth more than the revealer of truth.  When we proceed in biblical or theological studies with the intention of attempting to know Truth, to uncover it through particular, measured methods, historical and scientific, we destroy the possibility of the impossible.[8]

God uses scripture to accommodate human capacity.  Scripture takes on the role of both Guide and teacher in order that we may know him in his works.  Yet, it is Calvin’s repeated analogy of scripture as “spectacles” that provided the most insight and profound illustration for the role of scripture in God’s self-revealing.  “For just as eyes, when dimed with age or weakness or by some other defect, unless aided by spectacles, discern nothing distinctly; so, such is our feebleness, unless Scripture guides us in seeking God”[9]  Through the “lens” of the Bible we see God.  And because the Bible is not just about god, but about the divine-human relationship, though that lens we also see our life with God.  What matters is not believing in the lens but seeing through the lens.[10]

The challenge to discern God’s will through the interpretation of scripture is overwhelming and daunting, but nonetheless necessary.  The church is encouraged to evaluate and employ the many hermeneutical practices available in today’s exegetical toolbox such as Source Criticism, Form Criticism, Historical Criticism, Sociological interpretation, Redaction Criticism, Social-Scientific Criticism, Textual Criticism, Structuralism, Rhetorical analysis, Canonical Criticism, Narrative Criticism, Audience Criticism, Rule of Faith, Existentialist Interpretation, Feminist Biblical Interpretation, Reception Theory, Afro-centric Biblical Interpretation, Ideological Criticism, Womanist Biblical Interpretation, Postmodern Biblical Interpretation, Reader-response Criticism, Post-critical Biblical interpretation, Post-colonial Interpretation, Historical and Contextual critique, in addition to midrash, metaphorical, folklore and literalism.

Eugene Peterson rightly discerned that Christians feed on Scripture.  Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body.  Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; (they) assimilate it, take it into (their) lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.[11]  In all of our efforts to seek God’s will through the understanding of scripture, we dare not fail to see the Christo-centricity of the biblical narrative.    Maximus the Confessor said, “So long as a person cleaves to the letter of Scripture, his inner hunger for spiritual knowledge will not be satisfied; for he has condemned himself like the wily serpent to feed on the earth—that is, on the outward or literal form—of Scripture (Genesis 3:14), and does not, as a true disciple of Christ, feed on heaven—that is, on the spirit and soul of Scripture, in other words, on celestial and angelic bread.  I mean that he does not feed through Christ on the spiritual contemplation and knowledge of the Scriptures, which God gives unstintingly to those who love Him…And this in turn is followed by a complete ignorance of the deification given by grace according to the new mystery.”

The purpose of the bible is not to forever weld us to an ancient culture.  The purpose of the bible is to tell us the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.[12]  Therefore, those who choose to follow Jesus will see Jesus as the center of the biblical story and interpret each passage in light of life of his ministry.  In the words of Abbot Jacque Duguet, the “most sublime occupation for a theologian is to search for Jesus Christ amid the sacred books of scripture.”  To quote Luther, “it is necessary to read scripture through the lens of the manger.”   Reading the bible in a certain way changes the heart.  The sacred text has the power to order the passions of the human soul into a receptive openness to God’s own character.  When God’s character is revealed, God’s will is discerned.

We claim the Bible to be easy to understand, so easy that any child can understand it.  But according to the Bible itself, at least some parts are very difficult to understand and easily misinterpreted.  Bookstores are lined with as many translations of the Bible as there are shelves.  Christianity in collusion with modernity commoditized the Bible like other products.  In so doing, as recognized by Brian McLaren, “we unintentionally sanctioned misunderstandings and bastard readings.”  The Bible’s ubiquity also fueled the perception that any individual may arrive at interpretations that are not only valid, but authoritative.  This individualism transformed the bible from the sacred text that gathers the community of faith into the ubiquitous text that divides through a multiplicity of divergent interpretations.[13]


The Character of God as revealed in Scripture and through the Word made flesh calls us to community.  “From its very beginning,” wrote Leslie Newbigin, “the Bible sees human life in terms of relationships. This mutual relatedness, this dependence of one on another, is not merely part of the journey toward the goal of salvation, but it is intrinsic to the goal itself.  For knowing God, we are dependent on the one whom he gives us to be the bearer of this relation…as a partner.”[14]  God chooses – elects – both the one who bears and the one who receives the message, drawing them together in community for the purposes of the one whom God sends to be the bearer of his salvation.  The deepest root of the contemporary malaise of Western culture is an individualism which denies the fundamental reality of our human nature as given by God—namely that we grow into true humanity only in relationships of faithfulness and responsibility toward one another.[15]

It is difficult at best, in religious organizations that are co-opted by a culture that promotes an ideology of individualism, to renounce our own ability and succumb to the call of Christ.  But it is that renunciation, according to Bonhoeffer, that is the prerequisite and the sanction for the redeeming help that only the Word of God can give.  Particularly in the midst of the schisms and brokenness that is evidenced in our denomination because of our responses to the question of homosexuality, Bonhoeffer’s words ring with proclaiming truth.  “Our brother’s or sister’s ways are not in our hands; we cannot hold together what is breaking; we cannot keep life in what is determined to die.  But God binds elements together in the breaking, creates community in the separation, grants grace through judgment.[16]  This community has at its heart the remembering and rehearsing of his words and deeds, and the sacraments given by him through which it is enabled both to engraft new members into its life and to renew this life again and again through sharing in his risen life through the body broken and the lifeblood poured out. It exists in him and for him.  He is the center of its life.  Its character is given to it, when it is true to its nature, not by the characters of its members but by his character.  Insofar as it is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the “lenses” through which they are able to understand and cope with the world.[17]

The Trinity

Jesus did not write a book, he formed a community.  The invitation to join into the circle of God’s community is an invitation extended from the “one who loves in freedom” and is exemplified in the richness of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The church’s ministry of healing is carried on in the midst of the suffering that comes from engaging with the powers; it is the very embodiment of characteristic and authentic Christian spirituality; and it is explained by the richest Christian theology—the doctrine of the Trinity, set within an eschatological framework in which the creator God designs to heal and renew the whole creation.  Within the framework of the doctrine of the Trinity there is room for Christ-followers to discern God’s will with regard to the question of homosexuality.  This recommendation is a call for the congregation to reclaim at the core of its faith the doctrine of the Trinity.  For in the doctrine of the Trinity the characteristics of God are evidenced, there is missional clarity, and a call to healing and reconciliation.

“Follow me” or “Do as I have done unto you”

In the footwashing event recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 13 the movement of rising and laying, taking, girding and putting is followed by an implied movement downward to the disciple’s feet where the act of washing takes place.  The movement of narrative in this passage skillfully reflects the movement ad extra of the Triune God.

(Jesus) “doth rise from the supper,

and doth lay down his garments,

and having taken a towel,

he girded himself;

afterward he putteth water into the basin,

and began to wash the feet of the disciples,

and to wipe with the towel with which he was being girded.”[18]

Jesus’ incarnational work not only created individual disciples, but called together a community of believers and gave them concrete ways to practice incarnation in his absence. And those ways become the identifying mark; agape one for another.  Agape is intrinsically connected to actions manifested in and through mutual service and responsibility.  This, then, is to become the realized narrative[19] for the community of believers.  The imperative of John 13:15 and the command of John 13:34 is a call to incarnational living anchored in the mission of God. The significance of the mission of God in discerning the will of God cannot be overstated.  It dominated the mind of Christ and became the “great commission” of the Johannine narrative.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”[20]  Christ-followers have been called to practice incarnation.

The focal point of incarnation is that God identified with humanity in its lowest form and set about revealing God’s life-giving purposes for all of humanity through and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Our own humanity is revealed in the humanity of Jesus Christ.  “He confronted the unjust and death-bringing ways of the ruling elite.  He brought wholeness, healing and abundance.  He effected forgiveness and release and announced God’s loving purposes.”[21]  “God’s love is not love from a distance, but love up close, love made manifest in a culturally particular, person-to-person way.”[22]  As such, incarnational living is missional at its core.  The movement is downward then outward.

“For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.”  “Just as the infinite Creator became incarnate as a human to reach finite people, so the divine revelation must take flesh in human languages and cultures.  Just as Christ chose to live in a particular time and setting, so we must incarnate our ministry in the contexts of the people we serve.[23]  Incarnational living is a risky endeavor.

Risky Business

The dream of spanning the Golden Gate Strait in California had been around for well over a century before the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic in 1937.  Construction began on January 5, 1933 and involved more than 10 different prime contractors, their subcontractors, countless engineers, designers and architects.  The most difficult part of the construction was the task of connecting the two land sided anchors.  Eleven men lost their lives during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, setting a new all-time record in a field where one man killed for every million dollars spent had been the norm.  The most conspicuous precaution was the safety net suspended under the floor of the bridge from end to end.  During construction, the net saved the lives of nineteen men who became known as members of the “Half-Way-to-Hell Club.”  Bridge building is risky business.

Building the Golden Gate

The uniqueness of the Christian faith is its call to be distinct, walking in a way that sidesteps social and cultural norms.  But the Christian faith calls for a specific distinction: love.  Not the easily discardable kind of sentimental Valentine’s Day love, but the no-greater-love-hath-a-person for-their-friend-than-to-lay-down-their-life-for-them kind of love.  Theologian Frances Schaeffer believed that love is the indelible mark that God gave to Christians to wear before the world.  Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.[24]  So, we’re called by Christ to be different by being loving—by choosing humility over hostility, by braving the unknown rather than huddling in safe enclaves, by daring to face people who we have offended and who have offended us, and inviting them into a reconciled relationship with God and one another.

The dichotomous relationship between the church and gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered (GLBT) persons has a traumatic history and continues to grow further apart.  Each group talks past the other rather than to the other group.  The result is that, by and large, the church knows gay people only in a narrowly focused two-dimensional light, and the GLBT community is left to search for God without the body of Christ to assist them, encourage them and validate their human existence as children of God.[25]

This recommendation is a call for the congregation to be in communion with gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered persons in its effort to discern God’s will with respect to the question homosexuality.  This is not a request for Christians to change their beliefs, but for Christians to move past their pre-conditioned default responses.  Christ-followers, in the mission of incarnation, are called to dialogue with and listen to the stories of our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered brothers and sisters.  To really see another is to see the Other, and to really love another is to love the Other.  When we are truly known by another, we are known by God, and to be truly loved by another is to know the love of God.  Dialogue is more than communication.  It is communion in which we are mutually informed, purified, illumined, and reunited to ourselves, to one another, and God.[26]  Reul Howe posits that every man is a potential adversary, even those we love.  But “only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another.  When dialogue stops or is non existent, love dies and resentment and hate are born.  But dialogue can restore a dead relationship into being, and it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.”[27]  The best communication requires drawing near, whatever the cost.  True communication is a risky endeavor.

The focal point of the GLBT-Christian relations is irrevocably linked to a set of questions that both communities not only ask each other, but have already each assigned their own right answers.  Do you think gays and lesbians are born that way?  Do you think homosexuality is a sin?  Can a GLBT person change?  Do you think that someone can be gay and Christian?  Are GLBT people going to hell?   Since the core questions will always be the same, we must elevate the conversation by reframing the questions.

Throughout the gospels Jesus was asked closed-ended questions twenty-five times by both his friends and enemies—eight times by the disciples, five by the Pharisees, four by the chief priests, four by Pilate and one time each by John the Baptist, the Jews, Sadducees, and the woman at the well.  Out of the twenty-five closed ended questions asked of Jesus, fifteen of them were asked by his enemies trying to shrewdly trap him in his own words.  Yet only once during his three-year public ministry, prior to his arrest and trial, did Jesus answer a closed-ended question with a closed-ended answer (Matthew 21:16).  Instead of responding to his antagonizers through the traditional means, Jesus counter-culturally reframed each question in such a way that brought intentionality to overarching kingdom principles.  This unmistakably demonstrates Jesus’ commitment to sticking to the process that he discerned best.  So, with Jesus as our guide, the church is called to reframe the questions and elevate the conversation.

Welcoming Grace is bound up in the reconciling act of Jesus Christ and is a manifestation of the mission of incarnational living.  Bonhoeffer called it the “truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ,” and defined it as “the misery of the sinner and the mercy of God.  For He has consigned all to disobedience in order that the may have mercy upon all.”[28]  “God’s grace is free and sovereign, and there is no place for an exclusive claim on his grace, a claim by which others can be excluded.”[29]  Welcoming Grace invites all to come to the table, and we, as Christ-followers cannot determine who is worthy of the grace of God.  Grace is not a commodity to be sold on the open market to the highest bidder.  It is the free gift of God firmly rooted in the covenant of grace.

God has always desired to hold his people in covenant embrace.  Time after time, God has said and is saying, “I will be their God and they will be my people.”  In faithfulness to that covenant, God in righteousness reached from the hindermost parts of what our frail language can only describe as the universe and he touched humanity.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory as of the only begotten of the father.  God revealed himself to us through his son, Jesus Christ and it is Jesus Christ who sets the table.  It is his table and no human being can keep another human being from it.  In the Gospel of Mark we are reminded of a time when the multitude was hungry, and the response from the disciples was “Lord Send them away.”  But Jesus did not send them away.  He did not send them away then and he does not send them away today.  There are many in the world who want to “come home,” but as Mother Teresa aptly expressed, “they can’t come home because none of the family are there to receive them.”

Descend into hell

This recommendation is that the church broaden its preoccupation with propositions to include the Mission of God; become students, seekers and learners of scripture who reclaim the doctrine of the Trinity and answer the call to incarnational living as it discerns God’s will in response to the question of homosexuality.  This process is not about a “hot-button-issue”; it is about faces, friends and children of God.  It is about Jesus Christ, whose love many find hard to grasp because of what they have felt from his followers.  Ultimately, they will know we are Christians, not by our proof-texting, but by our love.

“If the locus of the revelation of God was once in Jesus, it is now among and through the community of believers.  If you will, the community of believers displays the continuing incarnation.[30]  As a reflection of the incarnation, the movement ad extra of the Triune God must be the same; downward for us and outward through us.  The implication of such a realized narrative lived cannot be dismissed.  In the least, it will be counter-cultural and at its most drastic, it will be life expending.  As revealed in scripture and confirmed in the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus Christ himself descended into Hell.  As such, “He (Jesus) challenges us to face our fellow man without fear and to enter with Him in the fellowship of the weak, knowing that it will not bring destruction but creation, new energy, new life, and in the end, a new world.[31]    After all, following Christ is risky.

Works Cited

Attridge, Harold W., Editor. Harper Collins Study Bible / New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco: Harper One, 1989.

Billings, J. Todd. “Incarnational Ministry and Christology: A Reappropriate of the Way of Lowliness.” Missiology: An International Review, Vol. XXXii, No. 2, 2004.

Bonhoeffer, Diethrich. Life Together, A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York: MacMillan Company, 1964.

Borg, Marcus J. & Wright, N.T. The Meaning of Jesus Two Visions. New York: Harper Collins, 1989.

Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume I. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960.

Carter, Warren. John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006.

Harrison, Joel. Who’s Authority. blog,, 2010.

Hiebert, Paul G., and Eloise Hiebert Meneses. Incarnational Ministry; Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995.

Howe, Reul L. The Miracle of Dialogue. Chicago: Seabury Press, 1963.

Keck, Leander E. New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.

Kysar, Robert. John the Maverick Gospel. Louiseville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

Marin, Andrew. Love Is An Orientation Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

McLaren, Brian D. & Campolo, Tony. Adventures in Missing the Point How the Culture-controlled Church neutered the Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 2003.

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Norris, Richard A. “Some notes on the Current Debate regarding Homosexuality and the Place of Homosexuals in the Church.” Anglican Theological Review, 2008: 437-511.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Intimacy. New York: Harper Collins, 1969.

Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing , 2006.

Rogers, Jack. Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality / Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Louiseville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Schaeffer, Francis. The Mark of the Christian. Downers Gove: IVP Books, 2006.

[1] Richard A. Norris, Jr.  is Professor Emeritus of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and Priest            Associate of the Church of St. Ignatius of Antioch and Diocesan Canon in the Diocese of New York

[2] (Norris 2008)

[3] (Bonhoeffer 1964) pp 55.

[4] “Disciple” and its derivatives are terms which have been drained of potency of meaning within present day culture and sadly, within most sects of Christianity.  As such, I deliberately use the phrase “Christ-followers” in lieu of “disciples” as a forceful means of bringing to remembrance the nature and characteristics, words and deeds of the person who tenderly spoke the imperative “Follow me.”  In the words of Karl Barth, “There is no humanity outside the humanity of Jesus Christ or the voluntary or involuntary glorifying of the grace of God which has manifested itself in this humanity.”

[5] (Calvin 1960) p 61

[6] (Calvin 1960)  p 69

[7] (Borg 2003) p 38

[8] (Harrison 2010)

[9]   (Calvin 1960) p 159

[10] (M. J. Borg 1989) p 240

[11] (Peterson 2006) p 18

[12] (Rogers 2006) p 109

[13] (McLaren 2003) p 71

[14] (Newbigin 1989) p 82-83

[15] (Newbigin 1989)  p 231

[16] (D. Bonhoeffer 1954) p 108

[17] (Newbigin 1989) p 227

[18] John 13:4-5 YLT

[19] Leslie Newbign’s term “realized narrative”

[20] (Attridge 1989) NRSV John 20:21b

[21] (Carter 2006) pp. 212

[22] (Billings 2004)

[23] (Hiebert and Meneses 1995) pp. 370

[24] (Schaeffer 2006) p 59

[25] (Marin 2009) p 188

[26] (Howe 1963) p 106

[27] (Howe 1963) p 3

[28] (D. Bonhoeffer 1954) p 111.

[29] (Newbigin 1989) p 86.

[30] (Kysar 2007) pp. 135

[31] (Nouwen 1969) pp. 37