God

Living the Word: In The Cool of God's Shade

TreeofLife
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THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER can make for a preaching desert without an oasis in sight. This can be a fine time to take a vacation from the lectionary. Huge swaths of scripture go untreated otherwise—the entire Samson cycle, most of the cursing psalms, most of the gospel of John. One friend spends a portion of every year preaching through blockbuster movies and how they intersect with the scriptures. Another devoted a preaching series to favorite children’s books.   

Here in August the lectionary itself seems to take a vacation, visiting the discourse about bread in John’s gospel, inviting us to see every bit of bread, every bite of food, as filled with Jesus. Texts about water invite us to see all water as a sign of the God who creates us in the water of a womb and gives water for our salvation in baptism (an especially apt teaching point for those still sandy-toed from the beach).

A friend’s pulpit has on it “tree of life,” written in Hebrew—inviting all to see trees as reminders of the tree from which our first parents ate fruit forbidden to them, the tree on which Jesus was crucified, and the tree in the City of God whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

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How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Help Us Understand the Divine

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As a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction, my favorite stories were those set not only in a different time but a different world altogether. It’s exciting to enter into a wholly new landscape, and, as avid readers of both genres will say, there’s both power and joy in watching people and creatures do battle with the same forces we recognize in our daily lives (including, possibly, the power to overcome real-world social divisions — despite decades of the science v. religion binary, there’s ample evidence that both sides love hobbits).

Nine Ways Jesus Is Like the Doctor

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No matter how charismatic, merciful (usually), or full of truly ancient wisdom the Doctor may be, he ultimately knows himself as less than God. It’s not likely that the Doctor believes in God, and he has particularly bad associations with Christmas, and he recognizes that he isn’t the Lord — he’s just a Time Lord. He forces Amy to face the fact that he cannot save her — that he is just a madman with a box, nothing more.

 

Harry Potter and the Advent Devotional

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But perhaps the reason why the darkness cannot understand or overcome the Light is because it will not and cannot imagine reducing itself or condescend to be like its enemy in order to overcome it. Scripture describes an adversary who wanted to be like God, but doesn’t seem to understand that God’s very nature is “gentle and humble and heart.” The nature of darkness is not a generous one. It doesn’t offer light or heat or allow other things to grow. It isolates.

'Firefly' and the Dignity of Humanity

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Joss Whedon may not profess spiritual belief, but throughout his career, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his work has fascinated believers. This may be, in part, because Whedon is a humanist, and his belief in respecting the dignity of all people is a common theme in his work. Whedon’s shows consistently emphasize compassion for people of all backgrounds and worldviews, even (especially) when his characters’ beliefs don’t match up.

Han Shot First: Finding Christ in the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy

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Han shooting first isn’t just a better story — it’s also a truer one. The Bible is full of stories of people being given honors and responsibilities they don’t think they deserve (and to our eyes, definitely don’t). It’s in God’s character to want more for people than they want for themselves. This shows up again and again in the ways God interacts with our world. And we are made in God’s image — when we see this kind of story told well, we respond to it. The original version of Star Wars tells this kind of story about Han Solo.

 

Sacrifices to an Idolatrous God

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When my wife, Karen, and I lived in Jerusalem, we awakened each morning to see the rising sun shining on the Mount of Pentecost. It is the traditional site of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the Upper Room, and King David’s tomb.

The power of that image remains in our consciousness. But even more compelling was the view from our hillside terrace where we had breakfast and entertained our friends. Below, between our home and the holy “mountain” 100 yards across the Hinnom Valley, was the still garbage-strewn site of the Moloch cult’s altar where babies were sacrificed to the presumed angry Israeli god — a place condemned as cursed, with no buildings for 2,500 years.

The contrast was always startling. Land, hills, trees, military power, and false religion have become the idolatrous substitute for God himself, as church historian Martin Marty has noted. And the fact is that “children” such as Rachel Corrie, Israeli soldiers, Palestinian stone throwers, and totally innocent little infants are dying daily, as contemporary sacrifices to an idolatrous god.

Hearing God Sing

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What I am learning is that the new normal is not that I no longer experience God, but that God is meeting me in new ways. The new normal is that I don’t need to hear people play guitar telling me to feel God’s love from a stage. I find God’s love in much less conspicuous places, from the stranger behind me who felt too awkward to shake my hand, to the silly doodles my kids were making on the church bulletin. The new normal is that I no longer find authority in celebrity pastors preaching at me, but I do find it listening to unheard voices of small bloggers and older people who aren’t social media savvy.

The new normal is that I hear the "Roman Road" gospel preached and find it dull and superficial, and yet feel overwhelming conviction in the cross lived out by people who forgive their enemies.

The new normal is that although God has not changed, I have changed. And like a parent who stops cooing in baby talk, God is starting to speak in new, fresh ways to me.   

The Devil We Know

StainedGlass
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As a ten-year-old suburbanite, I saw a black dog stumble through the cul-de-sac without a collar and named him “The Devil.”

I remember a couple years later deciding I was wrong — that the devil was bearded, gendered, nocturnal, and afraid of my prayers.

I think about the devil differently now. I think less about bearded imps and more about the incarnations of evil I see around me: racist shootings, the disrespected bodies of women, dusty nukes.

The devil has evolved and morphed throughout Judeo-Christian history as well, going from absent, to messenger, to adversary, to the evil commander in an eschatological battle, to metaphor, to the Broadway sock puppet described in Stephanie Sandberg’s “Devils We Know” (Sojourners, July 2015). In many ways, the devil’s role in scripture is as changing and fascinating as the devil’s role in pop culture.

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