Suzanne Ross 04-16-2014
Easter Sunday image by Adam Howie /

Easter Sunday image by Adam Howie /

The end of the Gospel of Mark is, shall we say, indecisive. Mark’s account of the resurrection begins with the women going to anoint Jesus’ body and discovering the stone rolled away, Jesus’ body gone missing, and “a young man, dressed in a white robe” sitting in the tomb. This man tells them not to be alarmed, as if that’s possible under the circumstances, and announces that Jesus “has been raised.” The young man instructs them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Really? Our dead friend is arranging a meet-up via an angel-gram? I think I’d react the same way the women do in verse 8: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Here is the note that appears in my NRSV Bible at the end of verse 8, which is followed by one more verse, the so-called “shorter ending of Mark:”

Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

I’m doubtful, too, but not because no one seems to know how the Gospel writer wanted to end his Gospel. But because doubt seems to be the reaction du jour. In the longer ending, we find out that the women break their silence, but those who are “mourning and weeping” for Jesus “would not believe it.” Mark tells us Jesus appeared to “two of them, as they were walking in the country.” But when they “told the rest,” again “they did not believe them.” This is completely understandable because resurrection cannot be considered part of normal experience, no matter what century you are living in. And yet the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection want us to believe in the reality of it, that Jesus appeared to them and they could experience his dead-yet-aliveness, normal human beings though they were.

Ron Stief 04-15-2014

Rev. Ron Stief, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ron Stief.

At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. But in light of new revelations of the CIA’s abhorrent acts of torture, it’s the United States that needs resurrection, too.

Details of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 torture campaign — made worse, if that is possible, by evidence of official deception — are described in key portions of the report on CIA-sponsored torture that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to release.

Though the public has not yet seen the report, current and former U.S. officials who have read it have disclosed information to The Washington Post, Human Rights Watch, and other sources that ought to disturb all of our consciences.

Greg Carey 04-14-2014
Courtesy Odyssey Networks

The empty tomb. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Easter Sunday marks the holiest, most exalted moment of the Christian year. In Easter services all over the world, trumpets and organs blast. Flowers transform churches with their brightness. Worship leaders boldly proclaim: “Christ is risen!” Congregations echo back: “Christ is risen indeed!” The cycle of celebration and repetition begins as it should — a festive proclamation of good news. In Christ God has overcome the powers of sin and death, freeing us to live with hope and promising us life. Not just life after death, but full life, divinely inspired life — life in the here and now.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Even in these festive moments, many people express insecurity regarding the quality of their own believing.

Matthew Soerens 04-09-2014
Unity concept, C Jones /

Unity concept, C Jones /

As we approach Holy Week, I’ve been re-reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. In John 17, as Jesus prays for his disciples and their successors in the hours before he is arrested, he prays for our unity as his church:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21, 23)

Central to our mission as Christ’s followers is to share with the world this good news: that the Father sent the Son because he so loved the world — but the best observable evidence of that Gospel reality, a unified Church, seems a distant, utopian dream. Just within the United States — this small sliver of the global church — we are divided by denomination, by race, by political ideology, and by the competitive human instinct that leads even those congregations who resemble one another doctrinally, ethnically, and politically to jockey over the same individuals in order to fill their sanctuaries (or auditoriums) and offering plates. Perhaps the situation is not quite so stark: I know that many — probably most — believers share the desire for unity. It just seems at times that we have so far to go, and might be drifting in the wrong direction.

Renata Sedmakova/

Resurrection of Lazarus by A. Badile. Renata Sedmakova/

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Nixon.

Some of us have stood at a tomb, faced an open grave, scattered the ashes of one beloved. We know what it’s like to be confronted with the stark reality of death and the flood of conflicting emotions that comes with it. I’ve stood at different sites at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho, and the Veteran’s Cemetery next to it, to bury my father, my brother, my nephew, my step-father and-step sister, my brother-in-law, not to mention my beloved piano teacher, and a dear high school friend. Not so long ago I stood by the open grave of Patrice Heath as her casket was lowered into the ground. We prayed and wept and celebrated her life, but it is not an easy thing, under any circumstances, to lay a loved one to rest.  

The ancient story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11:1-45 is just such a situation. It’s also another occasion to encounter Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. It’s a long, complicated story. You have heard it read. I will not attempt to unpack it all.

Joy J. Moore 04-04-2014

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A

Zach Czaia 03-05-2014

There are tour guides who speak / all the human tongues, and we are trampled / for being famous blades / but then are resurrected.

Jon Huckins 12-18-2013
RomanYa & zphoto/Shutterstock

Can we celebrate Christmas with Santa and Jesus? RomanYa & zphoto/Shutterstock

There is certainly a warm, nostalgic feeling about the Christmas season. Social media fill up with pictures of Starbucks holiday cups and we get the play-by-play of Christmas trees being purchased and filled with homemade ornaments. Holiday parties become about as frequent as breathing and there is a general sense of camaraderie among people who wouldn’t otherwise interact. 

As a local practitioner and neighbor, I’d even go as far as saying this season brings about the most opportunity for new relationships and shared life in the realities of everyday. 

Last week I was talking to my 3-year-old daughter about Christmas. She knows we are going to see grandparents and cousins and even knows a thing or two about gifts being exchanged. 

And then I asked her, "Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?" With a big smile, she said, "Santa!"

Now, I get it. She’s 3 years old, it’s kinda cute and harmless and whatever. 

But there is something to this. 

Our family never talks about Santa Claus, but we regularly talk about Jesus and even go as far as trying to live like him as best we can. When we do talk about Christmas and presents, we try to talk about how we will be giving them away to friends, family, and people who need them. 

But, despite our best efforts, Christmas is associated with Santa Claus. Now, if it were the historical “Santa Claus” who gave away his best to save the lives of some children, that’d be awesome. But, no, this is the Santa Claus of consumption who promotes values of selfish acquisition rather than sacrificial giving.

Diogo Morgaldo (center) plays Jesus in a scene of “Son of God.” Photo via RNS/courtesy Lightworkers Media

Studios and filmmakers are rediscovering a classic text as source material for upcoming mainstream films: the Bible.

Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.

Alongside the string of upcoming Bible-related films, producers from the History channel’s “The Bible” miniseries just announced that the series’ film adaptation “Son of God” will be released in theaters nationwide in February with 20th Century Fox.

Martin L. Smith 10-02-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Adam Ericksen 08-19-2013

Reza Aslan begins of his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, with a prescient warning: “Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see. Too often they see themselves—their own reflection—in the image of Jesus they have constructed” (xxxi).

I don’t think Aslan had himself in mind when wrote that statement, but you should be warned: the Jesus in Zealot is Aslan’s own false construction.

His central thesis is that the Jesus of history, and the God Jesus believed in, demanded violence in the face of political and religious oppression. Here’s one of the relevant passages:

[F]or those seeking the simple Jewish peasant and charismatic preacher who lived in Palestine two thousand years ago, there is nothing more important than this one undeniable truth: the same God whom the Bible calls a “man of war”(Exodus 15:3), the God who repeatedly command the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews, the “blood spattered God” of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3) the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies,” bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalm 68:21-23)—that is the only God that Jesus knew and the sole God that he worshipped. (122, emphasis in the original.)

The problem that I have with this passage is indicative of the problem that I have with the way Aslan constructs his Jesus. He constantly picks and chooses which verses from the Bible he uses to support his claim that Jesus was a warrior messiah whose goal was to violently overthrow the Roman and religious establishment. He peels away all passages that conflict with his construction so that he can show us what Jesus was truly like.

Well, what Aslan thinks Jesus was truly like.

Suzanne Ross 07-25-2013
Big Lights Big City promotional poster

Big Lights Big City promotional poster

How’s this for an unlikely scenario? One of the characters in Keith Huff’s new crime comedy, Big Lake Big City, is a petty criminal named Stewart who ends up not quite dead after a screwdriver accidently gets embedded in his skull. If the doctors try to remove it, he will die; if they leave it in, he will die. But somehow he isn’t dead yet. For a few days he walks around in a liminal space between life and death, more like a walking corpse than anything else. The sign of his violent demise is there for all to see but he manages to hide it under a Shriner’s cap. A pretty funny sight gag because you have to ignore that fact that the hat is kinda floating off kilter slighter off his head in order not to know something is terribly wrong.

Big Lake Big City is having its world premiere at Lookingglass Theater in Chicago this summer. After seeing the show and interviewing the lead actor Phil Smith for Voices of Peace Talk Radio here at Raven, I couldn’t help but see parallels to another unlikely scenario: a crucified man is resurrected with the marks of his violent death on his body for all to see. I’m pretty sure that Keith Huff did not intend to write a Christian allegory, but the themes of life, death, and resurrection reverberate through the play. Oddly enough, I think Stewart’s story can function as a parable of sorts for understanding the radical shift in the human relationship to death and violence that was made possible by the resurrection. Stay with me, now!

Nadia Bolz-Weber 05-31-2013
Bird tattoos come to life, Marianne D /

Bird tattoos come to life, Marianne D /

… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

-Romans 5

As many of you know, I have a regular spiritual practice of warning people that I will disappoint them. A couple times a year, we host a Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints brunch for newcomers. Everyone goes around the room saying what drew them to this community or what keeps them here. They usually say it’s a comfortable place where they can just be who they are or they love the singing or the community. One time someone said that their mom was Catholic and their dad was atheist and that this church kinda felt like a combo of the two. And while I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what that meant, I thought it was awesome. 

Well, I usually am the last to speak at these events and when I do and I always say how great it is to hear all of that, but that I need them to hear something. And that is that this church will disappoint you. Or I will fail to meet your expectations, or I’ll say something stupid and hurt your feelings. It’s not a matter of if it’s when. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.

Martin L. Smith 05-11-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Joe Kay 04-23-2013
Pentecost illustration, Molodec /

Pentecost illustration, Molodec /

We tend to consider the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost in two ways primarily. We see them as history, stories about things that happened a long time ago. Or we consider them through theologies about what they mean for us after we die.

Yet, there is a deeper reality to all of them. The cross, the empty tomb, the moment of divine inspiration are repeated every day and everywhere. They’re ongoing and participatory.

Many experience those moments of inspiration each day. They’re moved to help someone who is hurting, inspired to care for those who are struggling, emboldened to try to change their world in some way. They sense something divine in the small moments of life. They stand up for anyone who is being treated as less than an equal child of God. They see love at work all around them.

Spirit-filled moments happen every day.

Isaac S. Villegas 04-10-2013
Screenshot from 'The Undocumented,' airing April 29 on PBS.

Screenshot from 'The Undocumented,' airing April 29 on PBS.

At the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham last week, I saw Marco Williams’ new documentary, The Undocumented, which tracks migrants as they hike into the United States across the border between Mexico and Arizona, trying to escape the detection of border patrol agents, and trying to survive the deadly heat of the Sonoran desert.

The documentary follows a young man, Marcos Hernandez, as he tries to find his father, Francisco,  who was last seen in the desert walking for days in the 120-degree summer heat. Francisco left their home in Mexico with a coyote — man he paid $2,000 to lead him across the border — to make enough money to pay for his son’s expensive dialysis treatments. But he never called; he never returned. The coyote reported that he left Francisco in the desert because he was sick and couldn’t keep up with the other migrants in the group. Marcos fears the worst — that his father died of dehydration, of heat exhaustion. But to confirm the death he has to find the body.

The filmmaker focuses on the morgue in Tucson, Ariz., where the medical examiner investigates human remains, looking for clues that would help identify the dead in order to return whatever is left to family members and friends, to provide some kind of closure, to honor the dead with a burial.

In the film, Marcos won’t believe his dad is dead until he can see his dead body, or whatever is left of his body — a skull, teeth, his rib cage. He will not believe unless he can see.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). That’s what Thomas says to the other disciples about the resurrected Jesus; and what Thomas says about needing to see the body reminds me of the story of Marcos, about the need to see in order to believe.

Greg Carey 04-03-2013
Composition of the human body, malinx /

Composition of the human body, malinx /

Immediately following the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope came the predictable speculation. From the United States and other wealthy nations, folks wondered what the new Pope would say about issues related to gender and human sexuality. What about birth control, homosexuality, and women’s leadership in the church? Did the new Pope really support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in Argentina, as some reported? Others, including many from Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia responded to Pope Francis’ commitment to a simple lifestyle and his commitment to economic justice. While some fretted about his relationship with the Argentinian military dictatorship during the 1970s and 1980s, most have been impressed with his social witness. In one of his first public acts, Pope Francis entered a youth detention center in Rome and washed the feet of young offenders.

Lots of observers might wonder, “Why is the church expending so much energy on controversial social issues? Shouldn’t the church focus on spiritual matters rather than concerns of the flesh? Why does the church need to meddle in matters that lie beyond its purview?”

The Easter stories offer a direct answer. Whether we agree with the Pope or not, Christians care about human bodies. The resurrection story implies that bodies matter. Jesus’ resurrection is not merely a spiritual thing – the apparition of his ghost, or his ongoing spiritual influence. The Gospels all insist that the resurrection includes Jesus’ body.

Gordon C. Stewart 04-02-2013
Via Wikimedia Commons

Water tower located in Pleasantville, Iowa. By Ashton B Crew for Photo taken for Via Wikimedia Commons

In some way or other, I think it’s safe to say that we all have a kind of nostalgia for the innocence and purity of the Garden of Eden before what we call “the fall.” We have a sense that we are not supposed to be outside the gates of the Garden … out here. At the expulsion of the man and the woman in the story from Genesis, the cherubim (angels) are posted at the gate to be sure that those who have been expelled cannot get back in. The cherubim and a twirling, flaming sword keep Adam, Eve — you, me, all of us — on this side of the gate, outside the Garden of Eden.

Well it’s a story, of course, but isn’t it our story? Nostalgic for a world where nothing ever goes wrong. But illness comes, a marriage goes bad, a relationship with someone you love falls apart just when you think it’s to lead to something more permanent, you lose a job, you suffer depression, you suffer from an illness, you’re left alone in grief over the loss of a loved one. Or you yourself are dying, and there are wars and rumors of wars. We watch the children and wish that we could protect them, but we can’t, even though we are parents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles. Out here, outside the Garden, it’s rough sometimes.

Adam Ericksen 03-28-2013
Faith and doubt,  iQoncept /

Faith and doubt, iQoncept /

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Tripp Hudgins always gets me thinking. He is right that Rob’s chapter “Open” in What We Talk About When We Talk About God is about science and religion but that it’s also not about science and religion. This is the longest chapter of the book, and it’s full of scientific information that points to the mystery of the material world. What’s the point? As Tripp states, Rob is “asking for a little humility. He’s asking for a little poetic imagination. He’s asking for curiosity.”

That’s the point of the next chapter, too. Titled “Both,” in this chapter Rob points out a major problem we have with “God-talk.” That problem is language. Tripp set me up for this at the end of his post by asking, “Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words.”

When I was in seminary I learned about apophatic theology, or negative theology. It tries to define God by what God is not. A 9th century apophatic theologian named John Scottus Eriugena asserted, “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not because He transcends being.”

David Lewicki 03-27-2013
Darkness illustration, imy /

Darkness illustration, imy /

For the sake of the world, we should all be feminists. And given what we know about the role of independent, empowered women in the community of disciples, for the sake world, we might be “Christians.”

Raymond Brown, the late, great scholar of John, writes: “In this Gospel, where light and darkness play such a role, darkness lasts until someone believes in the risen Jesus.”  

Therefore no darkness, no heartbreak, no grief, no injustice can long stand where the Risen Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  The light shines in the darknessa and the darkness does not — cannot — will not overcome the light.