An Act of Defiant Hope

Another subversive bible study from Walter Brueggemann. Re-posted from

This is an unabashed commendation of a book. The book by Franck Prevot is entitled Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees (2015). This children’s book, with its winsome art work, tells the story of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who learned from her mother that “a tree is worth more than its wood.” As she grew up she became aware that her people were deprived of much of their land for agriculture. She saw the devastation of the forests as her country gained independence from Britain. In the face of all the deforestation, her mother taught her:

A tree is a treasure that provides shade, fruit, pure air, and nesting places for birds, and that pulses with the vitality of life. Trees are hideouts for insects and provide inspiration for poets. A tree is a little bit of the future (21).

In response to the destruction of deforestation that she could observe, Maathai organized the Green Belt Movement to encourage villagers to plant many, many trees. She encountered much opposition from business interests and from the authoritarian government of Daniel arap Moi. She was imprisoned by the government for her oppositional stance, but slowly she is able to gain public support for her democratic vision of society. Her great courage led not only to many trees, but to the flourishing of democracy in her home country of Kenya. It is clear that her story is one that our children and grandchildren urgently need to hear, a story of courage in devotion to the wellbeing of the earth and its creaturely population. Click here to read the rest.

The Church of the Future

By Greg Jarrell, reposted from his substack newsletter (May 1, 2023)

I was grateful to get an invite from the North Carolina region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to speak at their annual gathering this past weekend. Unfortunately, their schedule got waaaaaaay behind, and I was scheduled to lead one of my walks in uptown Charlotte. So I have an unheard sermon, written for a very specific moment. These things take too much time and care. Somebody needs to see it.

Here’s the quick set-up: I was to be the third of three preachers offering a short homily. The first was to speak on the church of the past and the second on the present church. I was to offer some thoughts on the church of the future. The text tying it all together was Revelation 1:1-8. Verse 8 says “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I had seven minutes to deliver it. Part of the experience was to be me speaking way too fast. So, beloved, read as quickly as possible.

Here it is:

If I understand what has happened this afternoon, then we’ve heard Rev. Jones tell us about the past in order to describe the present we inhabit. We heard Rev. Dr. McHenry name the present we live in, which shows us what tomorrow looks like. And so, it must be my job in talking about the future to look backwards and describe that which is coming back.

What I am saying is that even here in these sermonic moments we have shared, we live in the swirl of time, the uncertain whims of temporality, the liberating unity of overlapping chronologies. The whole dizzying world of Revelation 1 is an exercise in shaking us from boring old, marching-on time and setting us into a disjuncture. In verse 8 we acknowledge the one who was and is and is to come. In verse 7, John can’t decide whether to use present of future tense. In verse 6, the present is extended into eternity; in verse 5, we get the logic-defying phrase “the firstborn of the dead;” verse four again speaks of the one who was and is and is to come; and in verse three we learn that the time is near (a phrase we will return to in a moment).

Continue reading “The Church of the Future”

Wild Lectionary: And Then the Stones Cried Out

2017-04-29 21.19.52.jpgBy Melanie Delva & Coyote Terry Aleck, re-posted from May 2017

The first three readings for this Sunday are a seemingly bizarre mix of passages dealing with stones.  First, the stoning of Stephen as he testifies to the glory of Christ. Then the Psalmist describing God as his “strong rock, a castle to keep me safe.” Finally Christ as the “living stone,” encouraging followers of Christ to, “like living stones, let [ourselves] be built into a spiritual house.” Stones that cause pain and death; stones that provide safety; stones that support new life. Continue reading “Wild Lectionary: And Then the Stones Cried Out”

My Heart Was Burning Within Me

By Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin, a sermon preached at St. Luke Lutheran Church (Portland), for Earth Day (April 23, 2023)

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 (First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament)

The Road to Warm Springs

On the same day, two of the followers of Creator Sets Free (Jesus) were walking to Village of Warm Springs (Emmaus), seven miles out from Village of Peace (Jerusalem). As they walked along, they were talking about all that had happened. Creator Sets Free (Jesus) came alongside them as they walked, but their eyes were kept from seeing who he was.

He said to them, “What are you talking about?”

They stopped walking and a look of sadness fell over their faces. One of the men, Honored by His Father (Cleopas), answered him, “How can you not know about the things that have happened in Village of Peace (Jerusalem)? You must be coming from far away.”

“What things are you talking about?” he asked.

“About Creator Sets Free (Jesus) from Seed Planter Village (Nazareth). He was a prophet from the Great Spirit, with powerful medicine, who did many good things among all the people. The head holy men and other leaders handed him over to the People of Iron (Romans) to be put to death on the cross. We had hoped that he would free the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel) from the People of Iron (Romans). It is now the third day since they killed him on the cross, but today some women told us an amazing story. Early this morning they went to his burial cave and found that his body was not there. They told us about visions of spirit-messengers who told them he was alive! Some of our men went to see with their own eyes and found the empty cave, but they did not see Creator Sets Free (Jesus).”

Continue reading “My Heart Was Burning Within Me”

Easter Faith and Empire

By Ched Myers, a brilliant Bush-era article on Luke’s Road to Emmaus story (this weekend’s Gospel text). It is more relevant than ever.

In the first-century Pax Romana, Christians had the difficult and demanding task of discerning how to cling to a radical ethos of life – symbolized preeminently by their stubborn belief in the Resurrection of Jesus – while living under the chilling shadow of an imperial culture of domination and death. Today, in the twenty-first-century Pax Americana, U.S. Christians are faced with the same challenge: to celebrate Easter faith in the teeth of empire and its discontents.

“The words empire and imperialism enjoy no easy hospitality in the minds and hearts of most contemporary Americans,” wrote the great historian William Appleman Williams a quarter century ago in his brilliant rereading of U.S. history. Yet today, because of the ascendancy of the New Right’s ideological project (whose intellectual architecture is typified by the Project for a New American Century), the words are increasingly used approvingly in regard to U.S. policy. We are indeed well down the road of imperial unilateralism, and are seeing clearly that this means a world held hostage to wars and rumors of war. The conquest and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have had an enormous human and political cost. Meanwhile, the Unites States has military bases on every continent and some form of military presence in almost two-thirds of the 189 member states in the United Nations.

Read the full article here.

The Healing Potential of Hatred

By Tommy Airey

Four years ago this month, Lindsay and I found ourselves, for a short time, living in Bend, a rapidly developing whitopia in Central Oregon where the Great Basin Desert meets the Cascade Mountains. While we waited for the birth of our nephew Milo Brooks, my brother-in-law and I spent several nights bonding over the Portland Trailblazers, who boasted a backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two smaller guards who played at obscure division one colleges. Lillard, who reps the number 0 to honor Oakland – his hometown – was and is the face of the franchise. His signature celebration is what fans affectionately refer to as “Dame Time.” After a big shot, he lifts up his left hand to the crowd and taps the invisible watch on his wrist. It’s not just game time. It’s Dame time.

In the first round of the 2019 playoffs, Dame and the Blazers were pitted against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook, the all-star point guard from L.A. who also wears 0. When Russ does something spectacular, he brings his hands together and rocks back and forth, like he is cradling an invisible baby. When smaller opponents (like Dame) try to guard him, Russ treats them like little babies. Lillard carries himself with a quiet confidence energized by who he is for (the team, the city, his family, his hometown). Russ stays locked in on who is out to get him (real or imagined). While Dame Time taps into self-love, Westbrook’s trademark gesture is a taunt. His staring, glaring brand of bully ball is dead-set on diminishing others. Russ was (and is) so easy to root against.

Continue reading “The Healing Potential of Hatred”

The Resurrection is Against the Law

BillAn excerpt from Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s classic Seasons of Faith and Conscience (1991).

The sealing of the tomb is, I believe, notoriously misunderstood. I grew up with a Sunday School notion that to seal the tomb was a matter of hefting the big stone and cementing it tight. The seal, in my mind’s eye, was something like first-century caulking–puttying up the cracks to keep the stink in. Not so. This is a legal seal. Cords would be strung across the rock and anchored at each end with clay. To move the stone would break the seal and indicate tampering. Continue reading “The Resurrection is Against the Law”

The Faith of Abused and Scandalized People

Lynching TreeOn Good Friday, we get back to the basics: an excerpt from James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2013).

The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst. Faith that emerged out of the scandal of the cross is not a faith of intellectuals or elites of any sort. This is the faith of abused and scandalized people—the losers and the down and out. It was this faith that gave blacks the strength and courage to hope, “to keep on keeping on,” struggling against the odds with what Paul Tillich called “the courage to be.”

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.

The Donkey-Human Rides Again

By Jim Perkinson, a Palm Sunday sermon for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, MI (04.02.2023)

And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Beth′phage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of an ass.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

So, begins the most profound communication in the public career of Jesus of Nazareth.  At the apex of his popularity, bringing his own movement “posse” from their home turf in the outback of Galilee to the central city in Occupied Palestine for an ultimate showdown in the Temple-State shrine, he confesses “lack.”  He “needs.”  And what he needs is a burro. Or ass.  Or donkey—they are all words for the same animal (but not a mule, as we shall see, and not a horse). 

Continue reading “The Donkey-Human Rides Again”

Wild Lectionary: No Peace in Heaven, No Peace on Earth

Vincent VanGogh’s Starry Night

By Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson, a re-post from April 2019

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3.1-2)

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12.51)

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!
(Luke 19.37-38)

In imagining ways to hear Scripture from the lens of “wild lectionary,” we tend to jump to details of life on earth: water, trees, animals, mountains. This focus on earth is challenged by this week’s passage from Luke, as Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem for what we’ve come to call “Holy Week.” For Luke tells us that “the whole multitude of disciples” proclaimed as Jesus came down the Mount of Olives, not “peace on earth,” but “peace in heaven.” What can they be thinking? What is the relationship between heaven and earth when it comes to making peace? Continue reading “Wild Lectionary: No Peace in Heaven, No Peace on Earth”