Formations 04.30.2017: Casting Anyway

The boat is empty and Jesus, though resurrected, is gone. I expect the absence, of both Jesus and fish, was new for the disciples. I would be surprised if they didn’t go into the night expecting to catch fish, dreaming about their haul. Though they might acknowledge the luck involved, it’s their job to outmaneuver chance and fill their nets.

Formations 04.23.2017: Sitting a While with Thomas

According to a new survey, fully one-fourth of British people who identify themselves as Christian say they do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Hobson urges a certain degree of restraint in our responses to such people. After all, our universal human experience is that dead people stay dead. To say otherwise flies in the face of all that we know about how the world works.

Formations 04.16.2017: In Graves and Gardens

As I’ve been asking who needs to hear my story of Easter joy, I’ve come up against another question—what story of Easter joy do I need to hear? And what I hear reminds me of a ghost story I first heard as a seventh grader.

Formations 04.09.2017: Jesus’ Death Foreshadowed

Jesus enters Jerusalem amid cheering crowds inspired by hope in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 13). They came out to meet Jesus because they had heard about the raising of Lazarus (vv. 17-18). Ironically, it was this same sign that led to Jesus’ death.

Formations 04.02.2017: Smells and Resurrection

How much is the experience of Lazarus’s death present in his resuscitated life? How does acknowledging his death change her memories of his life? What would Lazarus’s death mean for the life he returned to just after?

Formations 03.26.2017: Uber’s Lesson in Humility

Uber Technologies Inc. is an online transportation network company with operations in over 500 cities in sixty-five countries. It is also a company reeling from a spate of recent setbacks including sexual harassment scandals, allegations of a covert operation to avoid regulators in key markets, and a recently leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver.

Formations 03.19.2017: Light and Dark

I have a friend who cites learning to use the conjunction and more than or as the high point of his education. Conjunctions reflect the way we make sense of information. They allow us to show cause, to distinguish, to divide, to connect.

Formations 03.12.2017: Think Before You Speak

I must admit I wasn’t watching the Academy Awards last month when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally announced the wrong winner in the Best Picture category. Apparently, Beatty had been handed the wrong envelope—the one for Emma Stone’s Best Actress award for La La Land.

Formations 03.05.2017: Taking Off Our Masks

It’s that time of year when cheap plastic purple and green and gold masks are sold at the front of party stores. This means that it’s almost that time of year when we follow Jesus and those early Israelites before him out into the wilderness. Jesus goes out there, whether he knows it or not, to be tempted by the devil (4:1).

Formations 02.26.2017: Meeting the Author

Once in a great while, you hear or read a simple sentence that changes everything. For me, one of those sentences came long ago in a sermon preached by my college pastor. “There is a difference,” he said, “between reading the Bible and meeting the Author.”

Formations 02.19.2017: Tension and Resolution

In the first few months of my freshman year, the university orchestra played a concert at the opera house downtown. I went and somewhere between Brazilian samba, Argentinian tango, and Aaron Copeland, they played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

Formations 02.12.2017: The Space Between

I have a typewriter that I sometimes use. It’s modeled after an IBM Selectric, and even though I use it less than my computer, it reserves a permanent place on my desk. I recognize the absurdity of giving it exclusive access to this space. Still, I defend it by arguing that it makes me write more than edit an early draft.

Formations 02.05.2017: Moving Day

The first time I moved away from home was fairly easy. Then again, I only moved about forty-five minutes away in order to attend college. I was back again for the summer, and for numerous weekends throughout the academic year. My second move was harder: about six hours away to attend seminary.

Formations 01.29.2017: God’s Covenant with Noah

Two friends and I, waiting for others to arrive, had walked down to the southeastern end of Tybee Island, where the mouth of Tybee Creek and the Atlantic met. The tide started to come back in, and for whatever reason, we set our things down and dug channels with our feet to connect the tidal pools and the incoming ocean.

Formations 01.22.2017: Asking Paul’s Questions

In John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the first person Tom Joad meets after leaving prison and hitching a ride with a truck driver is Jim Casy. Joad finds him lying against a willow tree, whistling, and recognizes him as the preacher.

Formations 01.15.2017: A Year of Reconciliation

At Victoria’s traditional New Years Day levée, a reception hosted by political figures in Canada, Mayor Lisa Helps read a proclamation acknowledging the thousands-of-years history of native peoples in the region and called upon all Victorians to contemplate the meaning of reconciliation and to take meaningful action.

Formations 01.08.2017: The Gift of God’s Grace

It is a cliché of gift giving that babies and toddlers could not care less about the toys they receive on Christmas or their birthday. Instead, it’s the box that really matters. Despite the money wasted, such experiences of innocence are so valued that this scene became one subject of MasterCard’s many “Priceless” advertisements.

Formations 01.01.2017: Good and Best

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to give up almost anything to achieve it? You may know parents who scrimped and saved to send their children to college. You may know stories of athletes or artists who spend hour after hour perfecting their skills.

Formations 12.25.2016: God Is Born and Don’t Own a Car

This week, after a month and some change of waiting, Christ comes. Luke introduces us to the one who brings hope, love, peace, and joy, the one we’ve come to call God, as an infant lying in a feeding trough.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Formations 12.11.2016: Even in this Place?

John the Baptist heard the train coming before anyone else, but today he’s in prison. By the river he proclaimed, “Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt 3:2). Now he sends some of his disciples to find out if he got it wrong, if they should start looking for someone else.

Formations 12.04.2016: Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did.

Formations 11.27.2016: Paying Attention

As we enter Advent, we don’t only remember Ancient Israel’s hope and longing for God to rescue them. We also recognize our own hope that Christ would come as a fuller part of our world.

Formations 11.20.2016: God Wins

For all of its troubling images of evil and destruction, Revelation ends with triumph and joy. In heaven, the victory of God is proclaimed. The heavenly multitude anticipates the downfall of Rome—its greed, its oppression, and its war-mongering—and the Lamb of God prepares for his wedding banquet.

Formations 11.13.2016: Sing in Time

When I walk into a new sanctuary, I find a pew, pull out the hymnal, and look through it. I see if anyone’s names have been embossed on the lower right corner. I check to see how the church decided to phrase the words on the bookplate dedicating its use to the Lord’s worship.

Formations 11.06.2016: What Is God Worth?

Waste is all a matter of what something—or someone, or Someone—is worth. And worth, as you’ve probably heard somewhere along the way, is the basis of our English word “worship.” When we worship God, we’re expressing how much we think God is worth.

Formations 10.30.2016: Start Again

Harvey Thomas Young, a musician from Austin, Texas, wrote a song called “Start Again.” First a poem written on the back of a postcard to his brother in jail, his manager saw it and requested he set the poem to music.

Formations 10.23.2016: A Festival of Giving

Earlier this month, India celebrated its week-long festival of giving, Daan Utsav. This is a new holiday, first launched in 2009. It isn’t tied to any particular cultural or religious tradition, though an anonymous group of core volunteers manages the campaign.

Formations 10.16.2016: Eager Giving

McCoy Tyner was excited to go to work each night in December 1964. He and the rest of John Coltrane’s quartet were recording A Love Supreme, a musical prayer that became one of jazz’s greatest albums.

Formations 10.09.2016: The Discipline of Giving

Our October unit invites us to think about giving as another spiritual discipline. Maybe this one isn’t so obvious. Depending on your upbringing, you might have been taught that giving, especially giving to the church, was more in the category of a religious duty.

Formations 10.02.2016: Remembering the Tithe

Being told to tithe reminds me of those magazine covers in the grocery store checkout telling me I should use less salt and run more. I know they’re good for me, but I also don’t do them.

Formations 09.25.2016: Hope in Christ’s Appearing

In the religious circles I tend to run in, there are a lot of people who grew up in churches that were saturated with the teachings purported experts on end-times prophecy. They grew up with that kind of theology, but somewhere along the way, that theology got, well, left behind.

Formations 09.18.2016: Holiness

They told us to find something holy. We went up and took the Bible off the lectern in the fellowship hall and brought it back to the table. That wasn’t it.

Formations 09.11.2016: Encouraging Others

Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once explained that his coaching philosophy involved communicating three things to his players: “If anything goes bad, then I did it. If anything goes semi good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it.”

Formations 09.04.2016: Examples

The Thessalonians imitated Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. But they couldn’t do that forever without becoming examples to the many churches around them.

Formations 08.28.2016: Clinging to the Past or Embracing the Future?

In 1950, there were 67,000 coal miners working in eastern Kentucky. By 2014, however, that number had declined to only 7,000. The industry is clearly in a state of steep decline, and this has huge repercussions for those who have made their living in the mines.

Formations 08.21.2016: Complaining Together

In March, I listened to a Tiny Desk Concert while working on my thesis. I wasn’t paying attention to it until I heard the first line: “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death.”

Formations 08.14.2016: Singing the Blues

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Ted Slowik explained how, as a white kid growing up in the suburbs, his views about race were shaped in part by exposure to blues music.

Formations 08.07.2016: Obadiah

The truth is that we don’t know who Obadiah was. Some people even think his name, meaning “servant of the Lord,” was just a title. Whoever he was, he came from a world that was falling apart.

Formations 07.31.2016: The Things that Drive Us

Even though I grew up in the Midwest, my family roots are in Kentucky. It’s where most of my extended family lives, where I attended seminary, and where my thoughts always turn on the first Saturday in May.

Formations 07.24.2016: And Again

Jephthah speaks when he shouldn’t and doesn’t when he should. For getting these backwards, he kills his only daughter. It all begins after God’s spirit comes to Jephthah.

Formations 07.17.2016: Deborah the Judge

We traditionally call the biblical heroes who flourished from the settlement of Canaan to the rise of the monarchy “judges,” but that doesn’t quite capture their role.

Formations 07.10.2016: When Laughing Is Scary

May I begin by apologizing for what is to come? I was taught to do my best not to offend people, but this text makes it hard. In fact, I’m convinced that Judges 3:12-30 offends nearly everybody’s sensibilities in some way.

Formations 07.03.2016: Breaking the Cycle of Failure

She’lah Shreve is a graduate of George W. Carver High School in Birmingham, Alabama and is soon to begin his studies at Lawson State Community College. There was a time, though, when it looked like he would never graduate at all. Tenth-grade chemistry threatened to be She’lah’s downfall.

Formations 06.26.2016: Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Halfway through drafting this post, I realized I was guilty of oversimplification in order to find a moral in this story. I hadn’t determined if I would praise Mary for recognizing Jesus’ resurrection or chide her for missing it at first.

Formations 06.19.2016: Pilate’s Indecision

Pilate comes near the end of the story of Jesus. Whatever Gospel you’re reading, by the time you arrive at Pilate’s palace, you’ve already gotten a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. You’ve seen him heal with compassion. You’ve seen him go out of his way to include people that most would have written off.

Formations 06.12.2016: Grace at the End of the Line

Before beginning as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys, I graduated from Mercer University. In the three weeks between finishing school and starting work, I gave up on productivity and chose to go fishing instead.

Formations 06.05.2016: All You Have to Change Is Everything You Are

Why are so many celebrities willing to sacrifice who they are in order to achieve success and fame? Jan Aitken, a life coach based in Dunedin, New Zealand, recently pondered this question after watching a documentary about Janis Joplin, a stellar blues singer.