The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Posts By This Author
A Benediction for Election Season
May you remember that all politics and all platforms and all legalities and all borders and all leaders are temporary.
May you recall that political movements and boundaries and personalities and programs are here one day and gone the next. All of these are passing away.
Let it Be
Every age must be baptized, this one as much as any before it.
The world made by men is passing away; successive scientific paradigms and technological achievements fall into times past along with the times that gave them birth. Ideas are tried and fought over, and even the best are eventually found wanting and impartial. Mansions, buildings and cities are erected and torn down or — in some places, slowly — worn down, and all the people that lived and moved and had their being in them are gone.
Yet the gospel is ever-new for Christ is not dead but alive. Despite appearances, resurrection and new creation are the end toward which all things are headed. Chaos, destruction and death are judged and in the time after the cross fight on with one hand bound, their ultimate defeat assured. The grave is now never the end.
And so there is no such thing as a "post-Christian" culture, only a new moment — right now — in which the mind of Christ, like leaven in bread, humbly seeks residence that it might by self-giving love transfigure and transform the present as it has the past and as it will the future.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Holy Eucharist: How We See Jesus in the 'Other'
When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.
This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.
Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.
Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"
Holy Week Reflection: God Made Flesh
The Cross is an inexhaustible mystery, but among the many things it does so well is make visible the love of God.
In Jesus Christ, God is not an abstraction, concept, or idea. The Unknowable is made known. The Invisible is made material. All mysticism is now grounded, and all agnosticism now countered, in this particular Person; there is now, paradoxically, a Measure within Measurelessness.
"For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body." (Col. 2:9) "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ." (Col. 1:19)
Conversely, whatever is not revealed in Jesus is not the Triune God.
Contemporary Christians (of all sorts of persuasions) tend to de-couple God from Jesus.
Finding Church Amid An Endless Winter
It seems like an eternal winter here in Detroit. The Associated Press, citing a National Weather Service analysis, reports Detroit is experiencing the most extreme winter of any city in the country. I don't know about that, but this winter is "getting real up in here."
At Holy Redeemer, the church just north of Detroit where I serve as pastor, the weather has impacted 9 of 12 Sundays since Dec. 15. It's hindered our ability to gather for worship, dented budgets, and made it hard to maintain community.
You can set your watch by the storms that arrive late on Saturday night and clear by Sunday afternoon.
Yet, time and again the congregation at Holy Redeemer manages to surpass my wildest expectations of faithfulness.
Salvation: All Is Grace
One sort of Christian believes taking Eucharist weekly saves her. Another Christian believes his confession of Jesus Christ as Lord saves him. Still another looks to his Baptism. Another to her participation in the body of Christ. One to his repentance. And another to her care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, and the poor.
We elevate one belief or practice over another, then divide ourselves as Christ followers by the priority we set when, in fact, all of these are taught as saving by Christ, who alone is our salvation.
Christ saves me, not the accuracy and purity of my beliefs. Christ saves me, not my works. Christ saves me, not the measure of my adherence to a doctrine or practice.
When all is said and done, many Christians tend to look to their habits, their faith, and their perseverance when it comes to salvation rather than to the work, belief, and faithfulness of Christ in us, over us, under us, and through us.
Making All Things New
The bearer of Good News, the one who carries the message of Resurrection, is not motivated by fear of punishment (either for herself or others) but by confidence in her experience of the love of God. She knows God's love is greater than anything in herself or in her hearers; that Jesus can conquer anything in them that is not controlled by holy love.
"Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love." 1 John 4:18
God's love has the final word, for Jesus has conquered the sin of the whole world and has defeated the grave. Christ's best messengers know this love by its all-consuming redemptive activity in themselves and confidently carry this love to others, without fear.
We Are Christ: Broken and Shared For the Life of the World
A respectful, bright young high school student asked me yesterday if Baptism and the Eucharist were not merely symbols.
The first thing out of my mouth, I suspect more or less unconsciously (I've never answered in this way before) was:
"When Paul talks about Christ being 'in us' or about 'putting on' Christ does he mean to invoke a metaphor or a reality? Does Jesus really make his home in us by the Spirit or do Christians, when speaking in this way, generally mean that Jesus lives in us only symbolically?"
This hit home — for him, for thirty young adults, and for me.
How We Know God
"God doesn't just hate what you do. God hates who you are." — A Well-Known Contemporary Preacher
What this pastor says above, as well as much of what he says in the sermon from which this line is taken, comes from reading the Bible as if every sentence in it can and should be read as bearing the same weight as all others when we answer the question: "Who is God?"
When we read the Bible with the first Christians we begin to understand that the way they read these texts is not the way an uber-rationalist modern reads them.
Since Jesus himself was the one who taught the apostles to read the Old Testament, the way the churches they founded read the Bible is important for us, too.
God never was only the words he utters, or the ones we utter about God — just like we are never the sum total of everything we have spoken or what has been spoken of us. There is so much more to the mystery of any person than mere words; how much more so the mystery of the divine persons.
In Guns We Trust
When the really hard stuff happens, when we witness the true face of evil, Americans have a predictable habit. Even as cameras feed the latest bubble-shattering violence into our family rooms, we start looking for someone or something — anything — other than the actual perpetrators to stone. We panic for a scapegoat.
We hunt tirelessly for the person (a parent, an educator, a cop) who didn't catch the warning signs, who failed to read a memo — anyone on whose shoulders we can cast our collective fear — then rush as many measures into place as possible, no matter the cost in treasure or freedoms, to regain an illusion of safety and impenetrability.
One iteration of that really hard stuff happened at Sandy Hook. The backstory is eerily familiar. A young man, left to stew in our culture's juices, fleshes out the nightmare in his broken soul, and deals out tragedy in living color as if the holy innocents of Newtown were mere pixels on a screen, points in a twisted "shooter." Now, just four months later, it's a swept-away moment of terror and sadness that everyone just wants to forget because it's unthinkable to think on it any longer.
Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown each stopped the nation in its tracks but we eventually moved on, and before anyone might guess, well over 3,000 more have died by gun violence in America since December.
Good Friday: How Deep the Father's Love Is For Us
The first Christians confessed that Jesus is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." Jesus is, they finally confessed after centuries of dispute, who the Gospels and the apostles plainly tell us: God without qualification. Bethlehem's baby boy grew to be the man from Nazareth, who is also from before time and forever the only begotten Son.
Jesus tells Philip that he and the Father are one; that if Philip has seen Jesus, then Philip has seen the Father. Paul tells the Colossians that Christ is the visible image of the unseen God. The Hebrews are taught by their apostle that Jesus bears the very stamp of God's nature.
If anything we think we knew about God before Jesus arrives in Mary's womb contradicts what we see and hear of Jesus in the Gospels, then we are the ones who are mistaken, the ones who weren't paying close enough attention before he came (yes, Jesus reveals the same relationship-initiating God of holy love we encounter in the pages of the Hebrew Bible); we are the ones who have, since his decades of extravagant humility among us as one of us, forgotten the Christ.
The Holy Week Journey
“Liturgical celebration is a re-entrance of the Church into the event, and this means not merely its ‘idea,’ but its living and concrete reality.”
—Fr. Alexander Schmemann
You and I bring our life experiences with us when we gather with other Christ followers for worship. Everything that has happened to us on our pilgrimage in this world accompanies us, in fact, wherever we go.
Our past is part of what makes us unique persons. What we have endured and felt and accomplished informs our conversations and often helps determines our actions in the present moment. This is what it means to be human.
Walking in the Father's Embrace
I try to be a diplomat, to err on the side of patience, when it comes to theological differences between Christians.
Reconciliation and peacemaking come natural. My wife says I stop sounding like myself when I'm hard-nosed or critical.
But recently, sitting across from a young man who heroin ("that boy") very nearly got the better of just days before, I lost at least a layer of my irenic self, lost a bit of my cool. When it comes to certain teachings, I'll not be as diplomatic in the future.
When are we going to stop teaching that the Father has to look on Jesus to love us? Why do we teach that the Father turns away from us, abandons us because of our sin? When are we going to stop teaching that the Father is angry with men and women or hates us (or stop projecting any other merely human emotion on to God?), conveying by our messages (verbal and nonverbal) that God despises that which he gloriously made in God's image?
The message we too often send is that Jesus must persuade the Father to love us, must plead with his Father not to forsake us.
Rand Paul, Drones, and Honor
While I stand with Sen. Rand Paul on the question of the use of militarized spy drones in American airspace and (potentially) on Americans, I am deeply troubled by our use of these weapons in other lands, too, where they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children and other innocents.
There's something dishonorable about killing without the risk associated with the act, no matter how heinous the target or valuable and beautiful the persons you put at risk in order to personally kill.
What Are We Guarding Against?
As I stood in line at Orlando International Airport, a little girl did not want to go through airport security. She was desperately clinging to her grandmother.
I had already been pondering, as I *always* do, the enormous investment the nation has made in these checkpoints, going on 12 years now, in response to the actions of 19 men. 19 persons. These lines are here forever now, just one more cost of the fall, one more insult to our usual illusion of normalcy.
I'm not inconvenienced by the searches or the scanners, or worried about my personal liberties, though half stripping in public is embarrassing (we men have to take our belts off). At least the posture in those full-body cylinders reminds me that, at a very real level, this ought to be my more constant pose: found wanting, presumed guilty, and in need of throwing up my hands in surrender.
Still, I marvel at the sheer amount of money we must spend for all of this equipment and personnel, hoping this all somehow makes us safe. I'm skeptical.
Christianity Is Not a Club
On the road, listening to NPR's Terry Gross interview Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, and having recently spent two hours at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum seeing the Nazis photographed, not in the usual black and white, but in the full colors of the natural world, it occurred that the human impulse to be part of an exclusive group has deep, powerful roots in religion.
People join "true churches" for this same impulse, a motivation that could not be further from the intention of the Gospel, which, at the heart of its mission, contains the abolition of exclusivity of any kind.
Christ following is not about joining the best club, but about following where Christ leads, straight into the company of every person, no matter their situation or circumstances, in order to be a servant to them, one who lays down his or her life, like Jesus, for the life of the world.
We were made for Communion with God and our neighbor, who Jesus tells us is every person.
Scientology, National Socialism, and other cults, past or present, religious or tribal, are modern forms of Gnosticism. They say, in varying ways, "We have something (usually 'knowledge') not publicly available to everyone and you must join us, submit to us, to participate in our secret." It's important to recognize that this is also an offer of power.
'Memento Mori' and Living Today to the Fullest
I awoke in the middle of the night last evening and walked the house in the dark. Kenneth and Caitlin were still stirring, as the older children sometimes do on the weekend. As I climbed the stairs back to our room I felt a wave of gratitude.
Here we are all under one roof for who knows how much longer, yet such a privilege to still be together even as four of seven attend college and work hard and make us proud as they figure out what's next.
I got back into bed and Debbie put her arm around me in her sleep. I said "I love you," and she whispered, half-asleep "I love you, too," and for that moment all was well, and I had a sense that all would be well in the future, come what may.
As I lay there in the stillness, an encounter from five years ago came back to me in vivid color. I had just preached the funeral of a man taken unexpectedly following a routine surgery. I was at the wake afterward and sat next to an unassuming man in his mid-50s whose suit was impeccable and whose polite manners suggested a quiet grace and a bearing of humility in his obvious accomplishments, but also a bit of world-weariness.
Eucharist: A Call For The Church to Be One
When it comes to sharing the Eucharist among faithful but separated Christ followers, I wonder if Jesus is waiting for the churches simply to be the Church?
For the sake of this uncommon meal and the One who gives himself to us in it we can partake together, not on the shaky foundation of our present tragic divisions but on the firm ground of our promised unity by joining now in the Great Feast we will celebrate with him forever in eternity.
It is, after all, his table. It is a table set not only in the presence of our enemies in this world but set also in the unseen realm of Christ’s anticipated future rule that in a mystery comes to each of our houses of worship simultaneously as we gather in hope to encounter his resurrected person, week in and week out.
In this scenario, we remain mindful and respectful of our present divisions yet act on the coming unity we know is ours now by promise because no prayer of Jesus, certainly not his prayer that we be "one," can ever fail (John 17).
Advent: Our Christmas Hope
This Advent, as we wait for the true light who is coming into the world (John 1:9) we pause and reflect on our Christmas hope. As a friend said last night, we do not linger forever in uncertainty but as an expectant mother who labors in anticipation of the joy her child will surely bring.
Our assurance of salvation — past, present, and future — depends on the unique person of Jesus Christ and our relationship to him, and there's perhaps nothing more central to Jesus and our relationship with him than that he became flesh, was made like us in every respect (Heb. 2:17), so that by grace we might become partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
This isn't something the church merely teaches but an event of history, revealed for all men and women in the one-of-a-kind person Jesus is, the human and divine Son of God. From the moment of Christ's conception, eternity himself inhabits time so that events of his life on earth long since past are forever present to us in Jesus. This is one reason our joy at Christmas is so palpable and real ... when we worship Jesus at Christmas, we are once again with Mary and Joseph on that cold, dark night as they swaddle “he who made the starry skies” and lay him in a manger.
Christians: No Need to 'Reclaim' Christmas
Are you put out that a community nativity display was nixed by a city council? Did a checkout clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Maybe Christmas music annoys you when the Advent fast hasn't even arrived?
Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.
How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might partake in his everlasting nature.
The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever "one of us," still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all persons, hallowing the far-flung cosmos — matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.