Archives For Jesus

* This article first appeared on Patheos on November 9, 2016.  

“This isn’t middle school anymore,” one of my ninth grade teachers used to say whenever someone complained about homework, “it’s not a bunch of warm fuzzies.” Neither is forgiveness, and for many of us the holidays can feel more like forgiveness boot camp than walking in a winter wonderland. 

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As our families disappoint once us again, old hurts flare up, and holiday shopping ends in shouting matches, forgiveness can like an assault to our humanity. Could God really ask us to stoop that low, to forgive that person Continue Reading…

Let’s be honest, we’ve all had days where work makes us angry. Thanks to Chris Dortch for being honest about it for the Finding God at Work series. 

 

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Blasted crape myrtles. I know most people wouldn’t describe them so, but their pretty, pink posies fall in droves, faster than my net can skim them off the water. I know I should enjoy the hot sun on my back, the cool breeze fighting back against the warmth, and the freedom for my mind to wander—from Aslan’s bright shore beyond the Great Sea all the way to the bloody streets of Victor Hugo’s French Revolution, from the emeralds of Oz to the dark stage haunted by the Phantom.


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The strong smell of chlorine wrenches me from the worlds whispered into my ears, and I have to step back before the fumes overpower me. I really should pay more attention to my job. This daydreaming landed me in the pool last summer. I pull out my headphones and focus on the plague of pink that has now consumed the pool. How is this even possible? There are more flowers now than when I got here half an hour ago Continue Reading…

My roommate walked in the door as I finished typing an email. As she asked me a question, my fingers went into autopilot. I clicked a few words, hit send, and started to answer her when it broke onto my consciousness that I’d tacked “Love you, Shannon” onto an email to one of my professors, a man in his fifties who also attends my church.

“Oh crap!” I burst into the middle of my roommate’s sentence, “I just typed ‘Love you’ to Dr. Zhivago.”¹

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While her diaphragm nearly seized up with laugher, I typed a hasty apology explaining how my roommate came in right as I was finishing the email and how my fingers went into autopilot and how I always sign emails to my family that way. I hit send again and, rubbing my face in disbelief, turned around to finish the conversation.

A shocking response

My roommate and I were still standing in the kitchen, my laptop doing penance on the counter, when his response popped onto the screen.

“Oh my word,” I said to her, “listen to this Continue Reading…

My friend felt guilty. A grad student and barely able to pay rent, he didn’t have enough money to tithe and worried that he was disappointing God. As I listened to the strain in his voice, it struck me that Jesus never taught about tithing.

 

Jesus’ silence on the subject is startling considering that money was one of his favorite topics. His voice fills the gospels with financial advice, stories about bosses, investors, and trust fund babies gone wrong. He admonished a rich businessman, commended a poor widow, and sent Peter to find their tax money in the mouth of a fish.

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In the church’s current fascination with tithing, it seems we’ve lost the breadth of God’s interest in our money. We’ve settled for an Old Testament rule, adding it to our checklist of ways to please God; but, by drawing a line around a part of our income and packing it off to the church, an orphanage in Africa, or the homeless shelter downtown, we’ve restricted the scope God’s interest in our money and, as a result, shrunk our relationship with of him Continue Reading…

Growing up in church, I wanted the truth of God to burn in my chest, but too often it sat shelved in my brain, collecting dust. In youth group, I learned about this disease. I had a breakdown between my head and my heart. Other people had it, too. In fact, everyone seemed to be talking about it, but while they diagnosed the problem in sermons, Bible studies, and at my Christian college, no one seemed to have a cure. 

 

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You can’t cure a nagging cough without treating the underlying pneumonia, but that’s what many Christians were trying to do. The gulf between our brains and our hearts wasn’t the problem, it was only a symptom of an underlying disease, an infection that started with Modernity. 

 

The real infection was the belief that truth is ultimately a package of facts Continue Reading…

This piece of flash fiction first ran in Warden Magazine, February 2016.


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Drops of rain gather on the sill, like peasants on a feast day, then tumble down the wall. The rivulets remind me of things long ago—the tall Scots pines at the river where Mamm used to scrub our clothes, the maidens’ ribbons at Beltane festival.

 

I watch the trickle find the ground and then trace its way along the wall towards the shadow in the corner. Slowly, a faint aroma, but rich and earthy, mingles with the familiar dank of stone and clay. Perhaps tomorrow, before Eucharist, the clouds will tire of our burgh and allow the sun to illume the greenness of that clump of moss.

 

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A shock of light outlines the window with its overhanging sign. When they asked me what to etch on it, I said “His Alone.”

 

Two years now I have spent behind these walls—these soldiers of my soul. They bind my body to this square of dirt, away from the plague of gluttony, the temptation of the minstrel’s song, and the lesser loves of ploughmen and bairns. I refuse to be this world’s chattle, harnessed to it like a ploughing ox. No, I will soar, like the goshawks in the sky beyond my window Continue Reading…

When I first saw The Tortured Christby Brazilian sculptor Guido Rocha, it didn’t ask my permission, it just went ahead and seared itself into my subconscious. Every couple of months since then, The Tortured Christ pops up, uninvited. All of the sudden he’s there, blood splattering on the carpet of my brain and his screams ricocheting off the walls. It’s rather uncomfortable. 


I’d prefer a visit from the placid Jesus–the one who’s taking his torture like a champ, the Jesus that dangles on the end of necklaces, Jesus-asleep-on-the-cross. But, this Jesus keeps showing up–skin retracting between his ribs, muscles seizing in agony–and, honestly, when he stops by, I don’t start humming worship songs or try to gaze deeply into his eyes. I want to look away.

 

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The truth is, there’s a lot of things I’d rather look away from–not just Rocha’s Christ–11.4 million Syrians who have been displaced from their homes. Four and half million of them eke out an existence on the border of other countries, without heat in the winter or basic health care, relying on UN food coupons to keep them just beyond the grip of starvation.   

 

I’d rather not notice the man who holds a plastic cup at the intersection several blocks from my house. It gets complicated to think about the addictions that might be driving him to the streets, the shattered family he represents, or the burden of what it means for me to get involved Continue Reading…

I don’t really like confessing my sins. It’s a lot like going to the dentist, which I didn’t mind until last October. I sat in the exam chair, looking up at the X-rays and trying to process what my dentist was saying. Not me, I thought, not after thirty-two years. The tiny spot on the X-ray, though, refused to illuminate. My dental sins had found my out. After years of not flossing, I had a cavity. 

 

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The problem with confessing is that it requires us to face the decay inside. A pearly exterior doesn’t matter—how often we go to church or the amount of our charitable donations. Confession, like X-rays, looks for the evil rotting beneath the surface. 

 

Maybe we read our Bible several mornings a week and feel pretty “spiritual,” but that’s like showing up to God’s Dental with two rows of shiny teeth. He’s more concerned with what’s under the enamel. His radiographs might find that we’re rolling out of bed, not to hear from the God we love, but to manipulate him—we give up twenty minutes of our time and expect him, in return, to answer our prayers. Our devotions, held up to his light-box, might actually reveal self-centeredness Continue Reading…

“Sir?” 

 

A woman’s voice ricochets inside his head. 

 

“Sir?”

 

He follows the line of chairs to the pamphlets, mounted on the wall, and the window beyond. A woman sits behind it, with the glass pane slid open, and points toward a young man who is taking off his headphones.

 

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Tires peel behind him and he works his neck around as far as it will go. A green car speeds across the parking lot and into the morning sun.

 

Sunlight.

 

He reaches to scratch his calf Continue Reading…

Ever since high school, I’ve had a rocky relationship with art. Every year or two, I’d find myself at an art museum, paying the entrance fee. Then, I’d speed through the exhibits, dodging clocks that melted into puddles and giant canvases covered in orange. I’d search for something safe, something familiar.

 

Finding a Rembrandt, I’d take refuge for a couple minutes—five if I was feeling artsy. Then, I’d sneak back to my car, hoping the docent at the exit wouldn’t recognize me. 

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A couple months ago, I found myself in a similar situation–this time sipping on green tea and insecurity in a friend’s apartment. I’d been riveted by a photo of Kylee’s latest painting, The Pure Look of the Bishop, and had asked (on impulse) to see it in person.


Now that the three of us, The Bishop included, were face to face, I wasn’t sure what to say:

“So…what’s the story behind it?” I ask. The Bishop’s blue and green eyes lock in on me from his chair against the wall Continue Reading…