Pentecost and losing the plot

Pentecost and losing the plot

Acts teaches us that when the people of God lose the plot, God will raise up those who still know the story—people like Stephen and Philip. The other bit of good news is that if you’ve lost the plot, it isn’t too late to get back in the story.

Eastertide emergency

Eastertide emergency

In sharing his scars with others, Jesus convinces the disciples, even Thomas, that the season of Eastertide is one of emergency, but it is ultimately one of hope. Our raw wounds do turn into healed scars. Life does overcome death. Depression does end. Love does conquer all.

Decolonizing Palestine: A review

Decolonizing Palestine: A review

Mitri Raheb’s latest book forces me to re-appraise my own Christian assumptions from the ground up, not just about Palestine and the most recent escalation of a longstanding practice of settler colonialism, but about my own complicity in settler colonialism here at home, and the ways all of that complicity and blindness is intrinsically related to how I’ve read the Bible and believed as a Christian.

Post-Passover reflection

Post-Passover reflection

The world has tried to bring an end to war and establish peace on earth. However, as the evil of war continues in Gaza, each of us at the community Passover Seder I attended, and those gathered in encampments on college campuses across the country, are keenly aware that peace is elusive and evil is persistent.

Self-care reclaimed!

Self-care reclaimed!

We embraced this sacred time to live the Scripture in the gospel of John 4:14 (NIV) “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

How can we love our neighbor in other people’s spaces?

How can we love our neighbor in other people’s spaces?

What matters is if I can be a good neighbor. What matters is if I can love my neighbor. If I go into someone else’s home or someone else’s place of worship, then as a Christian I believe that it is my duty to show Christ through respect and awareness of what others see as holy.

Celebrating National Arab American Heritage Month in 2024

Celebrating National Arab American Heritage Month in 2024

“The Middle Eastern Christians have been always open and diverse, and culturally engaged, both with the West and with the East and with the local people. They can be bridges and communicate things from different perspectives, besides sharing their own perspective.”

A conversion story

A conversion story

Often, the smallest things, like a mustard seed, can cause one to see the bigger picture. For me, that small thing was a tomato. That is why I implore you to consider the tomato for Earth Day this year.

Two Baptists sit down for breakfast

Two Baptists sit down for breakfast

House Speaker Mike Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries differ widely on many policy issues, but they are both Baptists, the kind that actually go to church. With that common ground, how could they end up so far apart on the issues? I suppose it’s kind of a Baptist thing.

How faith leaders can reclaim their civic role

How faith leaders can reclaim their civic role

Amid debates about Christian nationalism, the role of religion in politics, and other religiously charged issues, there is a path forward. A way for faith leaders of all beliefs and doctrines to productively engage in community life beyond their church walls.

Choose political neutrality

Choose political neutrality

As faith leaders today, consider a bold venture in the murkiness of political neutrality. Hide away political beliefs in holistic deference to Jesus Christ. Why? Faith leaders know the truth: ballots are temporary, but Jesus is eternal.

“You forgive us, we’ll forgive you” – The theology of John Prine

“You forgive us, we’ll forgive you” – The theology of John Prine

In the myriad streams of music that seem to think God and Country are one word, in the choruses of gospel music that claim God fixes everything for the faithful, in the hymnody of the church that sometimes overpromises the victory and understates the trials, we still need Prine’s commitment to tell the truth about a life of faith.

Women of the Way: Witnessing the call of all at dinner church

Women of the Way: Witnessing the call of all at dinner church

I have so many examples, so many names, of women who have shown me by their presence God can call anyone into the role of pastor. Recently, I’ve added two more to a constantly growing list: Pastor Sarah and Pastor Anna, a pair of priests who coordinate a dinner church in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Male clergy should be advocates for women in ministry

Male clergy should be advocates for women in ministry

In Galatians 3, Paul clearly asserts that the three most impenetrable social boundaries of the Ancient Near East, race, class, and gender, are forever breached when people enter into the fellowship of the church. I am certain that those who resist women serving in the ministry would fight to the death to end discrimination based upon race or class which might touch upon their own lives.

Here I am

Here I am

Whether we turn to the gospel of Mark, where Jesus asked two ordinary fishermen to “follow me” or turn to the gospel of Luke where Jesus instructed Simon to “let down the nets for a catch,” we come to anticipate an evolution of call, trust, teaching, and journey of faith to happen through these divine directives.

Her voice, her experiences. Why do they matter?

Her voice, her experiences. Why do they matter?

The voices and experiences of women matter. We are half of the human race. God chose to partner with a woman to bring Jesus into the world. If God entrusted that major role to a woman, I doubt that there’s anything this world can come up with to justifiably question our capabilities!

The new reading matter

The new reading matter

Inasmuch as Christians are a “people of the book,” we need to ask ourselves how being “people of the Internet” can still be an intellectual and spiritual practice that forms us in productive ways.

What is left in this life?

What is left in this life?

Inspired by the late poet Mary Oliver’s question “What is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life?” Dr. Mike Graves observes that we frequently focus on the birth, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, while ignoring or downplaying the fullness of the lived life of Jesus.

It’s in our bones

It’s in our bones

If our bones are alive, if they carry in them strength of our ancestors, trauma of humanity’s transgressions, even predispositions for nutrition… if they—like the Scriptures say—have the capacity to be troubled, to ask questions, to experience restoration, to be reanimated as recipients of God’s ruah (breath), then we have to wonder, what is in our bones?

Do we get him?

Do we get him?

We may have lost a potential friend forever, because we, for all our talk of love and grace and justice, made a mistake in ignorance that we accuse our enemies of making in malice.

Past the paralysis

Past the paralysis

Even if I do feel that paralysis, or when my natural tendency is uncomfortable making waves by speaking out or taking action, occasions arise when the opportunity needs to be created or demands my attention.

Faith and passion for food in holy synergy: a review of “The Just Kitchen”

Faith and passion for food in holy synergy: a review of “The Just Kitchen”

The Just Kitchen isn’t really a cookbook, nor is it a call-to-action collection of essays urging the reader to join the Slow Food Movement or tackle broken food systems head-on (although all these are good ideas to come away with). Instead, the authors ask the reader to plant themselves in a kitchen, suggesting one’s time there is transformative.

Being disciplined

Being disciplined

The Lenten season prior to Easter calls for us to practice spiritual disciplines for 40 days to prepare ourselves for hearing the sacrifice Jesus made that granted us eternal life. Whether it’s daily Bible reading or fasting or even “giving up something for Lent,” these are all ways to affirm the significance of having a more disciplined life.

On celebrating Black History Month

On celebrating Black History Month

There was, and still is, an urgency to publicly proclaim and celebrate the achievements, challenges and triumphs of Black folk. This month, and beyond, I encourage enthusiastic participation in activities, studies, and ceremonies that will increase awareness of our treasured African American history.

Jesus and Samaritans 2.0

Jesus and Samaritans 2.0

Jesus embraced the Samaritans—who were despised by his people—and lifted them up as heroes in many of his stories. His message: Let us, people of faith, embrace those who are despised. Let us live like Jesus and the Samaritans 2.0.

New Year’s reframing

New Year’s reframing

Ringing in the New Year offers an opportunity for new perspectives. There is the look back and the look forward, a combination of life review and life planning. How can or should we make use of this inflection point in light of Christian faith?

I never felt more Baptist

I never felt more Baptist

Walter B. Shurden gets a fair amount of credit for naming the four Baptist freedoms. Still, if I could make a small addendum to his famous book, I’d tack on the freedom of attire and self-expression. This is why you might find a Baptist minister in a robe on Sunday morning or a pair of overalls, perhaps even an apron.

Fostering deep community, strong spirituality, and rigorous discipleship

Fostering deep community, strong spirituality, and rigorous discipleship

In 2024 let’s commit to fostering deep community, strong spirituality, and rigorous discipleship. Baptists of all people should be communal people. Our theological and praxis foundations are built upon the need for us to read Scripture together, engage in social dialogue together, worship together, and share in mission and ministry together. We are not alone together; we are united together in Christ.

Dreams make us change direction

Dreams make us change direction

When we listen to our dreams we are invited to be like Joseph, and the Magi, and walk a different way. We are invited to be like Mahalia and Martin and share our dreams with others. Our dreams have the potential to erode the evils of Empire. We must only find the courage to take them seriously.

Epiphany aha: the Divine crumb trail

Epiphany aha: the Divine crumb trail

In January, Christians all over the globe celebrate the season of Epiphany. We commonly use the word “epiphany” to describe a revelation or an “aha” moment. The scriptures and the season of Epiphany explore the ways God surprises us when we open ourselves to new experiences, adventures, and opportunities God places before us. When we, like the magi, decide to follow God into unknown territory, we discover grace, forgiveness, love, compassion, spiritual insight, and even learn new things about ourselves and God.

‘Next of Kin’: a story of travail and hope

‘Next of Kin’: a story of travail and hope

Like its biblical inspiration, Next of Kin features strong female protagonists, breaking past obstacles of economic ruin and great hardship to find a way forward. The novel is its own story, not meant to present a story simply parroting the narrative beats of the Book of Ruth. Yet in its new setting, the story that the Book of Ruth tells gets a refreshed lease on life.

Taking stock of the life I lead

Taking stock of the life I lead

In a season of life where I need reminding that God can move in profound ways, I’m thankful for the highs that a card in the mail can spark. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met who are out there questioning. And I’m thankful for time, a constructed fabrication or not, as it forces me to pause and take stock of the life I get to lead.

Exchanging agendas with God: the beginning of discipleship

Exchanging agendas with God: the beginning of discipleship

At some point, if we are to become disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to make a holy decision to follow him. The precise details of how a disciple accepts the call of Christ and begins the journey of discipleship vary from person to person. But in every case the starting point involves an exchange of agendas between the disciple and Christ.

How still we see Christmas today

How still we see Christmas today

Whenever we move from one place to another, whatever the reason, we end up letting go of some traditions and adding new ones from the new place we call home. What are some Christmas traditions you used to practice and what are new ones that have gained new meaning?

Advent and AI

Advent and AI

The spiritual invitation of Advent and Christmas strikes me as precisely the opposite of “AI” or “hallucinate,” two words of the year for 2023. This season is all about paying attention, waiting, watching, listening. It is about bringing our fully embodied, fully incarnate sensory selves to be as present and intimate and awake as possible with the ever-astounding mystery and glory of being itself.

Joseph, backup quarterback

Joseph, backup quarterback

In the gospel narrative, Joseph is the backup quarterback. Mary is the star. And that is as it should be. Yet Joseph was faithful, devoted, and played his part well before he faded from the scene not long after the birth of Jesus.

Four ways to prepare for Christmas

Four ways to prepare for Christmas

From the word Advent also springs the word adventure. Imagine considering that there are adventures of faith for you. What would an adventure of faith look like? How would life be different if you actively chose to pursue an encounter with the Divine? To help prepare for those adventures of faith, consider four ways to prepare spiritually for Christmas.

A tender God

A tender God

May we remember something that is as true of God during Advent as it is at Christmas, just as it is true on Good Friday and in the Easter narratives of Thomas and the resurrection. That truth is this: we serve a tender God.

With the poor and meek and lowly

With the poor and meek and lowly

In his new book “Jesus the Refugee: Ancient Injustice and Modern Solidarity,” D. Glenn Butner Jr. appeals to Christians to see the ignoble reality of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt as a story that keeps repeating in human history and in this morning’s news headlines.

I put my grief in a suitcase

I put my grief in a suitcase

I’ve lamented my way through my time at Yale Divinity School, crying out in both pain and gratitude because I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and because my grandparents were not there to see me receive my Master of Divinity. I am becoming more fluent in the language of lament, learning its hollow vowels, complex conjugations, and myriad metaphors. And I thank God that God’s still patiently listening for my voice, even when I don’t really want to talk.

Cats and church growth

Cats and church growth

Just like meeting a cat when they make you break out in hives, meeting people where they live, where they grow, where they love—in the sacred interiority of their homes—is not an endeavor without risk. But it is in these spaces where we move from encountering the world and expanding the reach of Christian community, into what it means to make and build and sustain and nurture the relationships on which a truly redeemed world relies.

The Christians of Gaza

The Christians of Gaza

The voice of Palestinian Christians frequently speaks clearly in response to violence and injustice. The present war is no exception. Whether the church around the world listens or not is another question.

The relationship of hope and fear

The relationship of hope and fear

During Advent, many churches will sing the hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” with its lyric “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” We sing these words, but do we wonder why there is a relationship between hope and fear?

When hope is a four-letter word

When hope is a four-letter word

This Advent, I find myself again wondering where we can find hope in the midst of the tremendous suffering in our world. Amid public and private suffering, hope feels like a four-letter word.

Why you should buy your pastor an e-bike for Christmas

Why you should buy your pastor an e-bike for Christmas

In the winter of 2013, I started an experiment of walking, taking public transit, and bicycling for my job as a pastor. This fall I added a new form of transit, an e-bike. E-bikes are not for everyone, but they can be an alternative to cars for many, especially pastors.

Seasonal affective disorder and the gifts of advent

Seasonal affective disorder and the gifts of advent

This year, my sun lamp is my Advent wreath. I can’t explain how this works exactly. It only has the one light; there’s no way to turn on more and more of it as the Sundays of Advent pass. But I want to mark this beacon of light with some sort of reverence this December, to bless it in this season of darkness.

The joy that comes from Jesus

The joy that comes from Jesus

Advent reminds us that the best things in life are not the trinkets, toys, thrills, and temptations of this world that come from the outside in an attempt to give us a temporary thrill or some short-term pleasure. Life is about the gifts that God provides that work from the inside out and sustain us even when everything is not going our way. The themes of Advent point us to those gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy.

New church growth metric: How many dogs did you meet this week?

New church growth metric: How many dogs did you meet this week?

Do you want to know if your work as a pastor is having an impact on the community? Do you want to know if your church is transforming the lives of those outside its walls? If so, stop counting how many people attend worship or walk through your doors during the week. Rather, adopt this new metric: how many dogs did you meet this week?

Celebrating Advent and Christmas amid a war

Celebrating Advent and Christmas amid a war

On November 10, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem published a Statement on the Celebration of Advent and Christmas in the Midst of the War. I realized I needed to put the letter in front of our church council to see how, as a congregation, we might want to respond in solidarity. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Saintly ways: reading the lives of the saints today

Saintly ways: reading the lives of the saints today

Roman Catholics and Protestants alike benefit from being in dialogue, from sharing our stories with one another. For we enrich our understanding of what God is doing in the world and that the Spirit of God never ceases in empowering the faithful, especially in times of crisis and challenge. Yet stories of saints need to be read with care, lest in our telling, we are reinforcing uncritical readings of those stories that valorize issues of gender, power, and beliefs or practices best left in the distant past.

Bearing witness to the suffering of both sides

Bearing witness to the suffering of both sides

As we sat in a Shabbat service in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors over the past week, we saw unbelievable pain and grief. We also witnessed the mourning of our Palestinian siblings at a vigil. As Christians, we must bear witness to such grief, but we must not make the mistake of only seeing one side’s pain.

The love of Daniel Tiger

The love of Daniel Tiger

Just as Christ commands us to believe as a child, Fred Rogers, and now Daniel Tiger, keeps reminding us that we won’t always be the best, but we all deserve the chance to try to be the better version of ourselves. The Imago Dei. The one that God sees when God declares us beloved.

Pastoral care: don’t get hooked

Pastoral care: don’t get hooked

Pastoral care is an essential part of ministry. Individuals and families in the congregation are under our care. However, it’s easy for pastors to get sucked in doing more for people than is good for them—or for us.

We must deal with our public grief

We must deal with our public grief

When loss occurs, grief inevitably follows. Yet in public life, grief from our collective losses seems to routinely get short-circuited. We seem incapable of allowing it into our lives. But that stymies our shared project of creating communities that thrive, because it causes so many of us to pretend or wish our losses never happened. For others, it means a retreat from public life entirely.

PLEASE! Not in my name!

PLEASE! Not in my name!

I join with millions of people around the world pleading with America’s government to cease financial and military support for the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. Further, I join with a global community in calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to this war. All lives matter!

Beyond the legacy church building

Beyond the legacy church building

Too often a legacy church survives, or not, because of choices made about the church building. Fortunately, my 150-year-old congregation transformed the overwhelming burden of supporting our legacy church building before it was too late, but not without significant conflict and risk. Here’s what we’ve learned.