I can’t remember the first time I saw this map on the left. From my earliest days, this was just the way the world looked. I never questioned it. Until the day I saw the map on the right of the pair in Mr. Temple’s 10th grade history class.
Called the Gall-Peters projection, the map on the right approaches the problem of putting a spherical Earth on a flat piece of paper in a different way, with a shockingly different result.
On my internal map, the one I had never questioned, Africa and Greenland were about the same size. But as Mr. Temple told us, in reality, Africa is 15 times larger Greenland, and this new map showed it.
I will leave to others to describe how maps are made and why this makes a difference in how we think about the world; for the moment, it is enough to say that questioning something I had always taken for granted turned my world upside down. At first, it was disorienting, but over time, I learned that I could never return to my simple, unquestioned assumptions about the world.
Starting on January 23, young adults and university students will gather to take a hard look at the maps we have been given, to question the ways we have been taught to read the Bible that so often lead to death and destruction. We'll use the book Manna and Mercy to read the Bible with fresh eyes. From Genesis to Revelation, we'll dive deep into the Scriptures, and discover a new, life-giving way to read the story of God.
Like trying to project a sphere on a flat piece of paper, capturing the story of God in just one perspective is an impossible task. Reading Scripture is always a conversation that begins with humility and takes place in Christian community.
If you would like to join us for this 6-week conversation about reading the Bible with fresh eyes, email me to sign up, or attend our information session after worship on Sunday, January 14 in the Chapel Kitchen.
I can’t wait to read alongside you!
In the days after Christmas, children and adults alike will ask “What did you get for Christmas?” The pious answer is “Jesus”. The secular answer enumerates the tangible gifts that were under the Christmas tree. Both answers may be true and honest.
As we enter this New Year, I invite you to think about another kind of gift – spiritual gifts. God has graciously given each of us a variety of gifts. Period. We are gifted, each of us and all of us. In addition, God calls us and gives us the privilege of using these gifts for God’s glory and the betterment of the world around us. That, too, is a gift – the gift which gives us meaning and purpose in our lives.
If you are curious about your own spiritual gifts, there are several ways you may explore them. Starting next week, two book groups will gather to discuss Rediscovering Our Spiritual Gifts by Charles Bryant. Details are below. On February 10, our half-day Winter Retreat will explore “Interior Movements and Holy Desires: Discerning What is Mine To Do”. Retreat details are online . And if you can’t wait a moment more to explore your gifts, this online assessment will give you an immediate answer!
I hope you will join me in exploring your own spiritual gifts and seeking new appreciation for the gifts of others, for indeed, we start this New Year as blessed and gifted by God.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
According to Luke, the shepherds were the first to know. While minding their own business, that is sheep, some shepherds had a frightening vision of an angel. The heavenly messenger declared that the Messiah had been born in a nearby town. They would find the child wrapped and lying in a manger.
Unclean peasant shepherds would have had no reason to hope to see the Messiah. Surely, they longed for his arrival as did other Jews of their day, but as unclean, low-ranking citizens, they probably never imagined they would have the opportunity to actually see the Messiah, let alone be the first to do so. They had no reason to think they could witness such an event. The long-awaited One was expected to arrive in some sort of grand style to other people. And yet the angel declares that the shepherds would find the Messiah in circumstances similar to their own, in a peasant home, wrapped the way children were wrapped, looking very much like many babies they had seen. The child came not to unknown people in distant splendor; instead, the child came in a setting familiar to shepherds. Perhaps because it was familiar to them, they felt they could go take a look.
Do we sometimes wonder if Jesus comes for someone else? Maybe Jesus comes for those who are in some way better than us – maybe more pious or devout, maybe kinder or more loving, maybe more worthy or deserving? Or maybe Jesus comes for those who are in some way more in need than us – maybe those with more economic, health, or spiritual challenges than we. And maybe it is simply for reasons we cannot articulate, but we expect Jesus’ arrival is for anyone other than for us.
If the shepherds were invited to go and see Jesus, though they never could have imagined such an invitation, then perhaps that invitation is for us too. Perhaps we, too, should go and see what has taken place. The report is, "all who heard it were amazed." (Luke 2:18)
Jesus is born for us all, each one of us. Let us go, see, and celebrate.
May God bless you with deep joy this Christmas season.
This coming Sunday marks the third week of Advent. The candle lit on the Advent Wreath will be pink instead of purple, representing the much needed joy as we wait and prepare for Christ’s arrival.
In Out of Solitude, Henry Nouwen says, "Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can't find words to capture your complex emotions."
I have come to understand joy as actually containing an element of sadness. Unlike simple happiness, joy goes deeper—a kind of depth that is only reached through comparison with unhappiness, anxiety, uncertainty, and perhaps even despair. For me, these "complex emotions" as described by Nouwen blend together with happiness to form joy.
In both of our sons' birth announcements, Mel and I chose the word "joyfully" to describe their arrival. I didn’t understand the depth of this word at the time, but knew it just seemed appropriate.
As this time of waiting and preparation continues, let us embrace the joy of this third week of Advent and look forward to Christmas Day when we all can joyfully announce the birth of Jesus… Emmanuel …God with us.
On Sunday, I caught myself telling a lie.
In reminding our Youth Group that Advent is a week shorter this year because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, I said it was a gift that Advent is only 3 weeks instead of 4.
What’s the lie you ask? My liturgical time-keeping was correct; the notion that having a shorter Advent is somehow a blessing or an escape from another week before Christmas is what I got wrong.
The season of Advent is a gift from God, and it is the gift of a season to slow down, to wait, and to watch. It is the gift of being able to stop. The impatience of wishing this season of patience would be over one week sooner—that says more about me, and perhaps about you, than it says about Advent.
It is hard for us to stop. It can be a terrifying thing to give up our doing in favor of our being, to consciously choose stillness over activity, to let ourselves be healed of the dis-ease of being busy long enough to see what God is doing.
To stop like this is rarely easy, and yet as Isaiah reminds us , we will miss the chance to meet the author of justice, to hear the voice of peace calling out to us if we do not do the hard work of stopping our work.
Like so much of our life in God, this radical season of stopping is something we cannot do alone. So take some time during this Advent season, and read this article from Duke’s Omid Safi, which Young Adults will be discussing at our Pub Theology gathering on December 14. Or take a few moments in the evening to pause and reflect on God’s presence in your day, using this prayer our Youth Group is using for the season of Advent. Or maybe make the prayer below yours this Advent season, offering yourself to what God will give during this season of stop.
However you decide to mark this Advent season, however you summon the strength to stop, know that you are not alone. We are in this together. And when you see me next, why not invite me to pause and talk a while. We can catch ourselves telling each other the truth: that Advent is a season for stopping.
Journeying with you,
An Advent prayer :
God, grant me the grace and space to slow myself, to wait and notice, that my heart and my hands would be ready to receive what you are offering. Amen.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra claims there are five things we may not know about George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
1. A lot of people thought it was blasphemous.
2. It is not a Christmas piece.
3. It was written incredibly fast.
4. There is no definitive version.
5. King George II stood during the “Hallelujah” chorus… or maybe not.
One of the things we do know about Handel’s Messiah is that it will be performed at Duke Chapel three times this weekend. Many members and friends of the Congregation will be singing, while many other members and friends will be listening. The Messiah is a beloved annual tradition for both performers and audiences around the world. This year, here in Durham, the concerts will be particularly precious, as Director of Chapel Music Rodney Wynkoop has announced his retirement at the end of this academic year. This is the last season he will direct this masterpiece in his current role.
The text of Messiah is scripture. Early in the piece, we hear “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3) The season of Advent, which begins on Sunday, calls us to a time of expectation and preparation as we wait for the coming of Christ. The Messiah can help us with this preparation. You may choose to meditate on the scripture, attend a concert, or listen online (in some locations). You may also choose to thank one of the many people who bring the concert to us.
May we each seek to prepare the way of the Lord.
Many years ago I was present with a group of children who were asked to name the things they were thankful for. Several of the children mentioned they were thankful for toys. Trying to get them to think more deeply, the leader responded something like this: “Yes, we are thankful for our toys and other belongings, but those are just things.” The leader then asked, “Is there something besides a ‘thing’ you are thankful for? Perhaps a special person?” One child responded, “I’m thankful for the people who make toys!”
One Thanksgiving Day, about 30 years ago, I thought I didn’t have anything to be thankful for because my beloved Dad was comatose in a nursing home. I forgot to be thankful for his life and the unconditional love he showered on me. I forgot to be thankful for the care he was receiving as he neared the end of his life. And frankly, I forgot to notice the beautifully colored fall leaves as they fluttered down from the trees on the breezy fall days. There was so much I forgot about being thankful.
As we give thanks this Thanksgiving Day, and all days of the year, can we set aside our “things” and current life circumstances? Think deeply about what you are thankful for at this point in time. It may not all be full of laughter and happiness, but I guarantee it will be full of joy.
Members of the two book groups agreed; no one could recall hearing a sermon on the topic of simplicity. We could all remember sermons decrying materialism or warning against consumerism, but we had not hear of the positive value of simplicity.
In this month’s book group, members and friends of the Congregation are discussing Living the Quaker Way by Philip Gulley; the chapter on simplicity caught our attention. The author is clear to distinguish between “grim austerity and liberating simplicity”, as he pointed to the freedom from constant distractions. Practical notes about the difference between a “want” and a “need” along with the need for patience in working toward simplicity made the chapter accessible. A quote from a Quaker woman drew the chapter to conclusion; she said, “I am so grateful for all the things I no longer want.”
Decades ago, Richard Foster identified simplicity as a spiritual discipline in his book, Celebration of Discipline. In this article , Foster describes his understanding of this spiritual discipline. Like Gulley, he see simplicity as freeing.
As we approach the holiday season, a time many people find stressful and overwhelming, I invite you to reflect on the ways it “Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free”. In order to better focus on Christ, we may need to step away from some of the clutter of our culture’s celebration of the holidays. In doing so, we may find even greater reasons to celebrate. Perhaps we may find the “valley of love and delight.”
May the peace of Christ be with you.
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the reverence of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One.”
~ St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho)
It is hard to find the words to describe the events of this past Sunday.
One moment, we were celebrating All Saints Sunday, the day we remember those blessed ones who have walked before us in the way of Christ and inspire us to receive God’s blessing and share it with others. It was easy to think of the saints and remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And yet just as our service was ending, we were already mourning the death of 26 sisters and brothers in Christ at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Overcome with sadness and terror and anger, it was with broken hearts that we tried to make sense of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
In the middle of this emotional and spiritual earthquake, I was reminded of these words from St. Justin, one of the early martyrs of the Church. He describes the way following Jesus requires those of us who wish to be his disciples to lay down our weapons, take up our cross, and follow him, even unto suffering and death.
Especially in moments like these, this is perhaps the most unnatural thing we could do. When even churches are not safe from violence and bloodshed, it is easy to begin to tell ourselves that we need just a little more protection, just a little more security to keep us from being too close to the stranger, the other, and the neighbor it would be easier to ignore. This is not an apology for recklessness or an invitation to go looking for suffering; it is a steadfast refusal to answer violence with violence or live in fear of the other.
Justin’s most powerful word to his fellow Christians threatened by the violence of the Roman Empire, and to us who look to his example today, is that we are able to put down our weapons and cultivate a different way of life because of the future given to us through the Crucified One. The cross of Christ is God’s declaration that violence and death do not have the final word, and that God will not abandon us, even in the darkest night of our own making. God is the author of life, and there is always more to God’s story.
Our part to play in God’s story is this: to remember and to receive the difficult gift of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Let this be so.
Maybe you have leftover Halloween candy or are still savoring the All Hallows’ Eve service at the Chapel. Halloween was on Tuesday, All Saints’ Day was Wednesday, and this weekend we will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. Fortunately, as people of faith, we are not spooked by death nor frightened by the grave, and instead we celebrate the lives of the faithful whose life on earth is complete.
This time of year, I think of my father, because his birthday was on October 31. It’s years ago now that I led a simple funeral service for him in northern New Hampshire. The attendance was small as he had moved from the Detroit area where he lived and worked for the majority of his career. Dad was not a church goer, yet with confidence I read Matthew 25. The passage speaks of the time when the Son of Man comes in glory, separating the sheep from the goats, declaring “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Because of his dedication to caring for sick children and because of the promises of our Lord, I count my father as one of the saints I remember on All Saints’ Sunday.
We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). These witnesses include our ancestors chronicled in scripture, the heroes and heroines of the faith, and those who have been near and dear to us. We continue to love our family members and friends who have preceded us in death, even though that love takes a new form when they are no longer present. And one day, we will join that great cloud of witnesses, adding our voices to the celestial choir.
As you remember the saints in your own life, may we together sing our praise to God.
May the peace of Christ be with you.