Faith

Good News: The Chaff's Gonna Burn

Good News: The Chaff's Gonna Burn

I laughed when I read the gospel in the lectionary last week.

John the Baptist often has that kind of effect on me, which may be the point. I don’t laugh out of ridicule or mockery. Rather, John wakes me to the unexpected and absurd nature of good news.

The laughter was specifically centered on a verse actually skipped by the lectionary, a non-important juncture, so it would seem, in the flow of the story of our Lord’s baptism.

I read it anyway.

Right after telling us about chaff burning with unquenchable fire, John the Baptizer’s narrator says: “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18).

Is that not hilarious? I could not contain myself.

Oh yeah, One is coming, John said, who will baptize us with Spirit and fire—sounds pretty cool—and then, smackdown, this Coming One will separate chaff from the grain and BURN IT WITH FIRE.

Which is good news, Luke says.

What the heck about burning anything with unquenchable fire is supposed to be good news? When is unquenchable fire EVER good news?

How We'll Christmas the 12 Days Through

How We'll Christmas the 12 Days Through

I woke up this morning in a bit of a funk. I felt aimless and overwhelmed at the same time. It’s still Christmas, but the “big stuff” is over.

Our big Carolina Christmas tour de family wrapped up on Christmas Eve, our church sang Joy to the World to the top of its lungs to welcome the holiday that night, and then we got to host the Carr Family Christmas for the very first time in our home on Christmas Day.

All the shopping, wrapping, prepping, and planning is done.

And yet Christmas is here. Christmas is still here, and as I type there are 10 more days of it stretching out in front of me.

How do we celebrate and revel in this holy hootenanny of a festival when the world’s moved on? I believe there is more to Christmas than opening presents and feeling nostalgic, but how do I live that out?

Well, I’ve been thinking and here’s where I’m at.

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Stir Up Sunday should be featured on an episode of The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (please tell me you’ve seen these; Aaron and I are obsessed).

On the last Sunday of the church year traditional liturgy rises in a cognate with Psalm 80:2: “Excita, quæsumus, Domine…,” “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” While hailing the divine, this liturgical invocation has also summoned many a British homemaker, cook, and baker to stir up their Christmas pudding so that it has time to mature before the big day.

I find the tradition charming and have embraced the fun injunction this Advent season through Sunday bakeathons.

But that phrase, excita , has stuck with me. Three out of the four Advent Sundays also begin with excita, calling congregations deep into the active wait for Christ.

When the invitation is made to God, however, as it is in today’s psalm, the question haunts me. What does it mean to say, “Stir up thy might, O God”?

What does God’s might look like? What am I really asking?

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

It is not every day that a conservative evangelical gets my attention. This week one such person did. Author and speaker Beth Moore wrote all of social media…

And great rejoicing ensued.

If Beth Moore is radicalizing—“rooting” in the embodied, incarnational love of God—then perhaps there is hope for the rest of us white, well-to-do people of faith.

We are probably the most difficult to reach.

Our ears are so stopped with comfort and luxury; it is easy to forget the naked and hungry.

Our shoulders are so heavy with the expectation to perform, achieve, and get ahead; it is hard to distinguish between the cultural, shame-induced patterns of white upper-middle class church folk and the radically nuanced gospel that is really worth of our lives.

Beth Moore sounds like John the Baptist to me this week.

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

We are coming up on the last push of Advent.

Now is the time when perhaps waiting seems most impossible. Indeed, for some families, gatherings with grandparents, cousins, great-uncles, etc. will begin in a matter of days. Church musicals and special services are whipping to a frenzy. And maybe our hearts are burning, just a little, with the strain of the wait.

Good. This is probably a safe indication that Advent is well at home with us, in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Keeping Advent in this space is possible and worth it. This could be the time in which it matters the most.

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. He was kind of a big deal, really. Only descendants of Levi could be priests and he was one of them.

We do not know very much about his economic status or learning, but we do know that he had responsibilities in the Temple—a turn to touch the holy.

That is always a big deal.

The lectionary tells the story this week of John the Baptist. Starting with Malachi we learn that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way; “The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1b). But this will not necessarily be an easy coming. It will be something to be endured like a “refiner’s fire” and “fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2). The messenger’s coming will require transformation of us all, but especially, Malachi says, of the descendants of Levi.

How interesting that John the Baptist’s own father was one such person.

Malachi believed that the all-male religious leadership he knew would especially feel the effects of the messenger’s coming—and that the well-being of the entire people would depend upon their heeding that transformation.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we see Zechariah tending his duties in the Temple. Along comes the angel Gabriel with good, good news. The messenger is coming, he says, and through your partnership with your wife!

Zechariah’s response, Say what? How will I know that this is so?

And the angel promptly strikes him mute.

St. Nicholas, Our Brother

St. Nicholas, Our Brother

The feast of St. Nicholas is upon us. Tonight lots of little shoes will be set out in hopes that he will stop by in the night. Our stockings are certainly hung with care.

I so enjoy the fun of this feast day because I enjoy our brother.

Though not much can be said for the St. Nicholas from our 21st century historicity standards, thousands upon thousands of faithful folks have carried stories about him through the centuries. These widely-held legends all have common threads running throughout as well, themes of generosity, liberation, compassion, and faith.

How We'll Advent this Year

How We'll Advent this Year

Advent began yesterday in a soft and glorious manner. The children called us to worship with their song and the family of faith looked on as Hope lit up the sanctuary. It is here. The season of watching and waiting is finally here.

Advent pasts have looked quite different than this one in the Coyle-Carr house. Until now, at least one of us has faced down finals and term papers ‘til Gaudete Sunday three weeks in. This time around, though, graduate days are behind us and a bump swells before us day by day.

Our family is changing and growing, as is its expression of vocation and faithful living. We are seeing things in new lights and from new angles. There is a stirring in our bones even as we feel the most at home yet.

I do feel rooted. My feet can almost find their way around here. I technically became a Texan last Friday.

And here comes Advent.

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

Advent begins today with what could be a rather ominous gospel reading.

We hear Jesus talking about the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Humanity—his own glorified return at the end of this age. The End is always tinged in mysterious light; it has been a source of anxiety for Christians since the beginning. “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). We worry about burning skies and brimstone, persecutions and purgatory—pretty much everything that is not found in this text.

In fact, the Teacher answers the anxiety of his disciples not with a series of warning signals, but a serious invitation to anticipation. To be clear, Jesus does not trivialize the disciples’ fears. He does not shame them for being confused or afraid. Indeed, the End could be scary for those not expecting it to come. But that is just it: Jesus gives us a heads up and a hand up—an invitation to anticipation.

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Well, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus is coming up, folks. Observance start tomorrow and in some places happens all day on Sunday.

It’s got me thinking.

To be completely honest, Jesus’ Ascension has always stirred up feelings of abandonment in me. Why did he have to go? What did it feel like to stand there on that mountain and watch your friend and savior disappear before your eyes, especially after the ultimate miracle of his resurrection? And why did he have to go so far away, all the way up to the “the right hand of God?”

The whole thing reminds me of that moment right after the goodbye while your love’s car rounds the corner out of sight.

And it doesn’t feel good. There’s an ache to it. It’s fine in the long run, really. Life goes on and there is work to be done. But, still. It hurts me to think of it--maybe especially because the separation my spouse and I had to endure so that I could finish seminary is still very fresh in my body.

I am bringing this to Christ’s Ascension; it’s all tied up.

The scripture today (find the whole list of daily lectionary readings here), however, upsets my despair. It disturbs this notion of an abandoning, far-away Jesus.

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

“Peace on earth begins at birth.”

I heard this quote somewhere years ago. It is a fairly popular refrain among female activists and birth-givers. I thought it referred to “calm,” “soothing,” or “natural” birth practices, or, I don’t know, trying not to make the baby cry. I thought it was about the baby’s experience.

However, my experience of finishing Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth on Good Friday and then going to services—all during peak ovulation and its brave hope—brought out a different and deeper meaning that extends and encompasses the baby’s experience, the mother’s, and, indeed, the whole human community.

If we truly respected women (or “womben”), life-making, and life-giving, there could be peace on earth. If we truly recognized and honored the sacred nature of the birthing process, the holy passage of it all, how could anyone move to diminish or destroy creation, that which came through such a sacred course? If we understood and honored all of the hope and tears and spiritual labor that went into one child—how could we ever take that person from this world, either with one bullet or hundreds of denied opportunities? How could anyone destroy a mother’s child? Someone who has come though the sacred gates?

Lent: How It's Keeping Us this Year

Lent: How It's Keeping Us this Year

Just shy of two weeks ago some dear colleagues and I were sitting at the community lunch table. Between tidbits from class and the day-to-day came, of course, a discussion of Lent. It was, after all, the week before Ash Wednesday: the beginning of many folks’ favorite time of Year.

Lent's popularity crosses all the major Christian traditions. Even evangelicals and capital “P” Protestants are doing it. My family kept Lent when I was a girl—and we were Southern Baptist!

There is something about this season of preparation, this invitation to turn and walk lighter in the shadow of the cross. It moves many of us in a deep way, like the gradual pull of an ocean current or the flirty come-hither dance of a fire’s flame.

Perhaps we know in our bodies—centers of integral discernment our brains oft ignore—that something important will be said and asked of us at Easter. We’ll need to prepare for that. It does a body good to prepare for the holy. I feel that need. All the ions in my body point toward that laden cross and empty grave.

Like the rest of the Year, Lent is something that happens--whether we “do” anything about it or not. Our “doing,” though, can help us become more aware of God’s wooing ways, of God’s invitation to the way of the cross.

Saint Anne on the Porch: A Peacehaven Chronicle

Saint Anne on the Porch: A Peacehaven Chronicle

Sharing another Peacehaven story from the memory-swamp in my brain. This one has wound itself around Transfiguration Sunday, which was yesterday.

A moment of glory--

We sat on the porch that morning. Our little band of Peacehaven dwellers gathered up like we were itching to get at something. It wasn’t quite hot yet, but almost. Anne sat on my left. We rocked our chairs together.

The brothers fiddled with their thoughts and various social negotiations—eyes darting here and there, with a “you know what…” followed by an awkward joke or two. We let it pass as a group. Those things happen. We kept rocking.

Then, all of a sudden, there was peace.

Brigid of Kildare: A Sister from the Womb of God

Brigid of Kildare: A Sister from the Womb of God

A few months ago a professor asked my colleagues and me to practice Lectio Divina with nature. Lectio Divina, or divine reading, is a spiritual way of reading scripture in order to listen for the whispers of God. It involves reading a brief passage several times while noticing with each pass which part seems to shimmer at the reader, draw the reader in, or ask something of the reader.

My professor wanted us to do this with nature. To go outside with God and discern that which God was asking us to see or to sit with.

Goosebumps still stand on my arms to remember the way matter and Mystery communed and communicated together that drizzly afternoon.

My experience went like this...

Where Healing Begins

Where Healing Begins

It had been quite a few months since my parents split.

It had also been quite a few months since my shoulders knew how to relax past my earlobes.

I was tight as a bowstring, ready to hurl my arrows of icy apathy on anyone who came close. I knew getting close would cause me to bend out of my rigid fortress, and I knew it would hurt.

As it was, drawn up like that, there was no feeling. I felt nothing. 

My doctor said I was depressed. No shame in it.

However, as a 17-year-old, there wasn’t much about my life that wasn’t shame-ridden.

My mom had left...