Dare to Sit With Suffering


The cross of Christ offers a place where the suffering of the whole world is connected. WELBURNSTUART/

Abram left his homeland on a promise and a prayer. God called. Abram went. The Biblical text makes it seem so simple. There are no signs of struggle or doubt. There is no grief over what is left behind, only the forward look toward a new land and a new future. Leaving home for Abram seems so easy.

As I reflect on this week’s scripture, I’m in Lebanon listening to stories of Syrian refugees who left their countryand their kindred to find a place of refuge. Unlike Abram, they did not leave on the promise that they would become a great nation. They left because bombs fell on their houses. They left because food became scarce. They left because they watched their loved ones die in the rubble as buildings fell to the ground.

As we enter into this season of Lent, it is fitting for us to pause and listen to their stories. Remembering Christ’s suffering is more than an exercise in gratitude. It is a chance for us to stand in solidarity with those around the world who suffer each day. It is a challenge for us to take our own suffering (be it large or small) and connect it to the suffering of others and to the suffering of Christ on the cross.

Finding Church Amid An Endless Winter

Courtesy Holy Redeemer Church

Courtesy Holy Redeemer Church

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.

The Spirituality of Imagine Dragons: Lent and Demons

Courtesy Imagine Dragons

Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, deals with his demon in their "Demons" video. Courtesy Imagine Dragons

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.

Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.

Coloring the Story

THE GRAPHIC NOVEL Radical Jesus, edited by Paul Buhle, has three distinct sections offering different expressions of Jesus’ life and social message. The brevity of the graphic novel medium allows the writers to construct a clear and distinct message in a moving art form.

Part one, “Radical Gospel,” illustrated by Sabrina Jones, uses biblical quotes to construct a visual story that connects the words of Jesus to modern situations. The black and white ink styling is simple yet profound.

While Jesus and his disciples are portrayed as first century Jews, the people Jesus interacts with and tells parables about are all in modern dress. This puts Jesus in an accessible conversation not only with his disciples, but also with the reader. In a collection of Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount, the art drives home the emotional impact of his words.

Jones does not shy away from the radical implications of Jesus’ message. My favorite of her modern interpretations is an image of the destruction wreaked by the 9/11 attacks, contrasted with Jesus’ reference to the temple in Jerusalem, where he exclaims, “The day will come when there isn’t one stone left on top of another that is not thrown down.”

The second section, “Radical History,” moves from the words of Jesus into the history of the Radical Reformation, continuing the narrative of people living into God’s dream for the world. The illustrations by Gary Dumm (with coloring by Laura Dumm) imitate the style of medieval art, with full-bodied pastel colors and static but emotional characters.

Presented as an anthology of stories by several authors, the assortment is anchored by an interpretation of the beginnings of the Anabaptists, a people who rejected infant baptism, seeing baptism as properly a sign of adult conversion and faith.

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'Son of God' Falls into Trap of Most Jesus Depictions

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 'Son of God.' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Son of God is Hollywood’s take on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While the producers clearly tried hard to use modern filmmaking techniques to bring scripture to the big screen, the attempt fell flat somewhere between the use of action-sequences, swelling music reminiscent of old Westerns, and unconvincing acting — Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who managed to look irritatingly self-satisfied for most of the movie.

Since faith is such a personal, spiritual experience, it begs the question: Is it possible to make the life and ministry of Jesus into a film that accurately reflects Christianity, or does such an effort cheapen beliefs?

New 'Miracle Machine' Turns Water to Wine (in Three Days)

Prototype of "The Miracle Machine," which claims to turn water to wine in three days. Courtesy

By turning water into wine, Jesus used his first miracle to keep the wedding feast going. 

Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:7-10)

But maybe Jesus won't be the only one reigniting the party with homemade wine. A new device called The Miracle Machine promises to make pre-aged wine in about three days.

It’s called The Miracle Machine (of course) and it’s basically a Sodastream for wine. Like its under-21 counterpart, the Miracle Machine uses water, yeast, grape concentrate, and finishing powder packets to create decent DIY-quality vino, virtually out of thin air. Just connect the machine to its corresponding iOS or Android app, input all the ingredients, and, in true miracle fashion, wait three days for your wine to rise triumphantly from the ashes of discarded flavor packets and tap water.

Just to be clear, Jesus didn't have to wait three days for his wine. 

The Blades of Grass in the Garden of Gethsemane Speak to Me

Yes, his blood was on us once,
making us famous blades within the blades
community. I mean, many of us
had taken blood and sweat before
from lions and dogs and even fallen birds
or lovers and killers and the killed
but this was the first time we took both
at the same time, from the same creature.

You humans have that saying,
Blood, sweat, and tears. By this you signify work.
Consider the lilies of the field, he said
of our cousins. They neither work nor spin
but I tell you that not even Solomon
in all his glory was clothed like them.

Yes, we’re a humbler variety of plant
but news of him comes every time you all do,
which is often now. There are tour guides who speak
all the human tongues, and we are trampled
for being famous blades
but then are resurrected.

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Tony Kriz: Christian Iconoclast

Courtesy of Tony Kriz

Tony Kriz and his new book, 'Neighbors and Wise Men.' Courtesy of Tony Kriz

Tony Kriz is, in many ways, the definitive postmodern Christian. He’s a Christian writer, teacher, and he even lives in intentional community with fellow Christ-seekers. He comes from an evangelical background, and, though he claims portions of the theology of his youth, he also continues to reinvent himself as he forges the path of Christ in his cultural context.

Known first in the public eye as “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s bestselling book, Blue Like Jazz, he is a voice and a presence unto himself. He’s more inclined to meet friends over a beer than he is to join a particular congregation in worship every Sunday. He is both deeply embedded in the Christian conversation and cultural identity and, at the same time, a stark contrast to what tradition dictates a “good Christian” should look and act like.

I shot a handful of questions his way after a recent book discussion we conducted at First Christian Church in Portland. Here’s what he had to say.

Pope Francis, Marc Chagall, and the Jews

Marc Chagall with Solitude, 1933. Private collection. ©Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris. Courtesy: The Jewish Museum. Via RNS

Novelist Chaim Potok captured the strain of transition from religious traditionalism to artistic expression in the fictional character Asher Lev. Asher, a young painter prodigy and son of a Hasidic luminary, is drawn to a Brooklyn museum where he surreptitiously views crucifixions and nudes. He then goes on to paint such scenes.

Asher’s mother tries to understand her son’s artistic longings, yet says in exasperation, “Your painting. It’s taken us to Jesus. And to the way they paint women. Painting is for goyim, Asher. Jews don’t draw and paint.”

Asher responds, “Chagall is a Jew,” but his mother cuts him off.

“Religious Jews, Asher. Torah Jews. Such Jews don’t draw and paint.”

Returning from a trip to Europe, Asher’s father sees the crucifixion drawings. In a rage, he asks his son if he knows “how much Jewish blood had been spilled because of that man?”

REVIEW: Well-intentioned 'Son of God' Doesn't Go Too Deep

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in “Son of God.” Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media / RNS

The first half of “Son of God” features an upbeat and kindly Jesus spreading the good word in familiar, if occasionally over-simplified, biblical phraseology.

Then things get bloody — thought not quite as graphic as in 2004′s “The Passion of the Christ” — when Jesus is seized, beaten, and crucified. The production values are modest and the special effects uneven in this PG-13 repurposed and condensed version of the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible.  (That series drew flack for casting an actor who resembled President Obama in the role of Satan. The film sidesteps any hint of controversy by keeping the devil out of this story.)

Son of God, which opens Friday, takes no real chances, opting for a moderately involving re-telling of an oft-told story.