Cherry Bream, Flickr, under Share-Alike License

Thursday
Nov202014

Getting to Gratitude

From Theresa Latini

Sometime last week it began to snow here in Holland, MI. It hasn’t stopped. I wasn’t ready for it as usual. Rather naively I had hoped it would melt away like many early snows. Except it’s really not that early. I should know better. I’ve lived in Rochester, NY, in the snow belt where lake-effect snow is the norm, and St. Paul, MN where bitter cold temps accompany the snow. Actually sometimes there it is too cold to snow. I’ve always wanted to live in a place like North Carolina, in no small part, in order to get away from the long months of winter. The farthest south I’ve been able to get, minus one short stint in Virginia, is Princeton, NJ.

To be honest, at the first glimpse of snow, I tend to experience a wave of delight. I chalk this up to well-worn neural pathways developed during childhood. Hours of playing in the snow with siblings, cousins, and neighborhood friends, punctuated by hot chocolate breaks provided by my mother, were great fun. The fact that we practically got soaked to the bone didn’t seem to matter at all. So I was excited this year to introduce my seven-month-old daughter to the snow. I bundled her up in her brown bear bunting, and we pulled her on a sled. She laughed at the dog romping through the white stuff, however she wasn’t ready to make snow angels. That lasted about two seconds. Once I brought her back inside the house, the delight dissipated for me as well.

I headed to work and began to grumble about the weather, joking (sort of) that it was a result of sin’s effect on God’s good creation. By the way, this grumbling seems to be a communal art form in all the snowy, cold places that I’ve lived. Group grumbling creates solidarity. This past week, however, I wasn’t merely participating in this art form. I felt rather cranky about the weather. I realized that if I persist in this mindset, it is going to be a very long five (or six) months. So I thought to myself, there must be something I truly enjoy about this weather, some experience intrinsically related to the snow for which I can be grateful. What was the pathway to gratitude?

Wednesday
Nov192014

A Crushing Season

From Jennifer L. Holberg

On Monday, I had a real treat: listening to the brilliant poet Christian Wiman as he spent the day at the Buechner Institute.

Of course, his lecture, his reading, and the interview he did with my very smart friend, Jane Zwart, raised a number of fascinating questions that I’ll be mulling over (and maybe even reflecting on here) for a long while.

But one thing particularly struck me. Almost as a side note, Wiman briefly described Tomáš Halík’s radical rethinking of Jesus’ mustard seed parables. Halík, the winner of this year’s Templeton Prize, argues that the smallness of the mustard seed should be thought of not as a lack, but as a concentration. That’s already an interesting enough idea by itself, but what really grabbed my attention was Wiman’s comment—an aside really—that for the seed to have its full impact it “must be crushed.”

Tuesday
Nov182014

Armistice

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Armistice. Marked as the official end of World War I. The origin of Veterans Day in the USA. And I’m a week late for the tributes.

I am often envious, maybe almost jealous, of veterans. I wish being a Christian was more like being a vet—that it was foremost in our identities, that we were honored to be a part, that we had an innate bond with others who share this commitment, even if we had never met them.

Nonetheless, Veterans Day always makes me uneasy. I’ve come to see that my disquiet is far less with the veterans and much more with the way we mark the day. We’re used to hearing “Keep Christmas with you all through the year” and “Every day is Mothers’ Day.” More and more, it feels like every day is Veterans Day. What’s wrong with that, you may be asking. Finally, these men and women are getting the recognition they deserve. The stories of Vietnam vets coming home—shunned, reviled, called “baby-killers”—have sunk deep into our national psyche. Truly, a tragic blaming-the-victim if ever there was. But we’re way beyond overcompensating by now.

Monday
Nov172014

Faithful eaters

From Jessica Bratt

Last week I enjoyed meeting and hearing from Dr. Norman Wirzba during his visit to Nashville. Norman teaches theology and ecology at Duke Divinity School

In his writing and lectures, he invites Christians to think more deeply and theologically about our relationship to creation and specifically our relationship to food. As he put it, if you want to examine any sort of justice issue, food will connect you to that issue, whether it’s climate change, global health, domestic poverty, or any of the facets of our industrial agriculture system and what it means for animals, plants, and for the humans who are hired to grow, harvest, transport, and serve our food.

I find it bewildering to try to wrap my mind around the edifice that is the industrial agriculture system in this country, and to understand how any of us can make a difference. (Have you watched any bewilderment-inducing documentaries, like “Food, Inc.” or “King Corn”?) I was encouraged and inspired, though, by the elegant and compelling way that Norman invited us to focus on the changes we could make by simply investing some time and thought into our role as eaters. 

Sunday
Nov162014

Lamont Hatton and the Forgiveness of Sins

Several months ago, I was arrested by an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which introduced me to Lamont Hatton. On March 18, 1989, Lamont Hatton’s little brother, Terrence, was tragically gunned down over some perceived disrespect by a man named William Little outside a roller rink in a seedy part of southwest Philadelphia. Little was found guilty of 3rd-degree murder and did a decade in prison. He knew the man he killed had a brother, but he never met him, and when he got out of prison, he knew his victim’s brother was out there, somewhere. Over that same decade, Hatton nursed his rage and plotted his revenge. Lamont Hatton had a friend named Charles Hodge, who ran a barbershop and followed Jesus. Over the years, as Lamont Hatton plotted vengeance, Charles implored him to forgive Little. Charles also employed William Little in his shop. And so Lamont Hatton would walk into his friend Charles’ barbershop to get his hair cut, and sit mere feet from his brother’s killer. One day, he decided to do something—but what to do?

“How many times must I forgive?” This is Peter’s question, Lamont Hatton’s question, and our question. Forgiveness requires extraordinary spiritual and moral muscle, and often seems impossible.  And yet, forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian Church. When we say the Apostles’ Creed, the essential articulation of the Christian story, the Church stands to her feet, clears her throat, and announces, “I believe… in the forgiveness of sins.”  

Followers of Jesus are forgiveness-people: the center of a Christian’s life is a staggering, cosmic act of pardoning forgiveness. Christians, when they see the naked figure of Jesus of Nazareth, nailed up to the hard wood of a Roman cross, discover themselves stunningly, gloriously pardoned by God. And so they go on spreading God’s forgiving pardon around with each other, and everyone else they run into.

It may seem overbold to say, but the mere fact that, historically speaking, we live in a world where people generally believe that forgiveness is noble and good for one’s health is largely due to Jesus of Nazareth. The NYU professor David Konstan, in one wide-ranging survey of the relevant ancient literature, actually makes the case that forgiveness, as we conceive of it, was unknown in the ancient Grecian and Roman world.  

Into this world burst a movement of people who followed Someone who taught people to love their enemies, and pray for people who persecuted them; and these people actually believed that God himself loved his enemies—even to death! Hannah Arendt, the first woman given a full professorship at Princeton, goes to so far as to say, “the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.”

Lamont Hatton one day made up his mind to do something about his brother’s death. So he walked into the barbershop where his brother’s murderer worked: “You killed my brother,” he said. “But I forgive you.” Lamont Hatton had started following Jesus.

When Hatton, his brother’s killer, and their mutual friend Charles Hodge were interviewed together, they said, “Now, we can talk about redemption and forgiveness instead of revenge.”

This is what Jesus has done for the whole of humanity: help us start talking about forgiveness, instead of revenge—and, empower us to actually do it, too.

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).