Formations 09.24.2017: Japanese General’s Gift Launches a Career in Science

John S. Blunt was a U.S. Navy Seabee during World War II. Serving in both the European and Pacific theaters, he acquired a number of trophies. Among them was a high-quality Japanese microscope. He had saved a Japanese general’s life by providing him with antibiotics from the American base’s medical dispensary.

Connections 09.24.2017: Somewhere between Heaven and Earth

David is feeling pretty good about God in Psalm 145. Unlike in other psalms, there’s no word about vengeance or swords or wrath. David spends the entire psalm, even through verse 21, proclaiming God’s wonder and nearness and faithfulness. What led him to write this psalm amid all the others so full of lament, fear, anger, and revenge?

Connections 09.17.2017: The View from Below

God is with us. Christ is present in us. These are, the Bible assures us, facts. But such talk can go to our heads. After all, if God is with us, shouldn’t we be able to look down on other people? And if Christ is present in us, shouldn’t we be able to pass judgment on folks?

Formations 09.10.2017: Americans Step Up Their Giving

Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall on the evening of August 25 near Rockport, Texas. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the US since Charley in 2004. Three days later, FEMA Administrator Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people may need shelter, and as many as 450,000 may qualify for federal flood victim assistance.

Connections 09.10.2017: Praise…and Vengeance

Psalm 149 begins with joy, exuberance, music, praise. It sounds like the best kind of worship service, when everyone’s singing in unison—or glorious harmony—and all are feeling good and right before God. It’s how we want things to be when we go to church with our fellow believers.

Formations 09.03.2017: To Share the World

In Judson Mitcham’s Oblique Lexicon, the entry, “Gift,” begins with a globe given to two brothers who never asked for it. For most of the entry, Mitcham describes one brother laying on his bed and tossing the globe up and down, hoping that a mountain chain might kiss the ceiling.

Connections 09.03.2017: Participation Trophies

Sometimes kids get participation trophies. You know—if you’re on the team, you get a trophy. If you come in last, you still get a trophy. Why? Because you participated. The practice is controversial among some adults who argue that we shouldn’t teach our children that they’ll be rewarded for “only” participating.

Formations 08.27.2017: Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

Let me tell you about Miss Margaret. When I was a seminary student, I was also the pastor of a mission church that met in a trailer park in LaGrange, Kentucky. We literally met in a mobile home that the local Baptist association purchased for us and set up on the site. I think our high attendance record was thirty.

Connections 08.27.2017: What about Me?

I write to you today after yet another harrowing time in our nation—a time when any progress we have made in race relations takes a few giant steps backwards. Once again we are reminded that the loud voices of a relatively small group are occasionally more powerful than the quiet voices of the many.

Formations 08.20.2017: Return Blessing for Evil

I have my parents’ bibles from when they were children, and they are more or less what you would expect—King James, leather bound, once gilded, and marked with standard features of childhood bibles. A blue sticker in the front flap of my mother’s bible shows Jesus’ name written in green block letters and arranged as a fish.

Connections 08.20.2017: Trajectory

The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves.” The most famous biblical Joshua led the Hebrews to occupy the promised land, which wasn’t easy since people lived there. So it’s more accurate to say that Joshua led the Hebrews to conquer the land.

Formations 08.13.2017: Persecuted Christian Seeks Asylum

What does it take to be “persecuted” around here? That’s the question that will soon be before the United States Supreme Court as Chinese Christian Ting Xue’s appeal of a Circuit Court decision moves forward. The former factory worker fled China after his arrest for attending illegal house-church gatherings in his native country.

Connections 08.13.2017: To Be Bold…

Surrounded by adoring, needy crowds, Jesus is bold enough to tell them enough is enough; it’s time for them to go home and move forward with their lives. He needs to recharge on his own with the Lord. I love many things about this brief story.

Formations 08.06.2017: An Eternal Perspective

Josh Ritter began The Animal Years by singing these words: “Peter said to Paul, ‘you know all those words we wrote are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go.’” Ritter weaves a story together about these two characters, and in it, Peter, or at least this Peter, struggles to hold to the his proclamations of faith.

Connections 08.06.2017: Knee-Jerk Compassion

This Sunday’s lesson focuses on the fact that we sometimes have inadequate resources to meet the great need before us. It asks us to honestly face and confess our inadequacy so we can be open to God’s provision. It calls us to trust that God will use our meager resources to help meet people’s needs.

Formations 07.30.2017: Life-giving Water

In the previous lesson, Judah’s restoration was described using the metaphor of the life-giving breath of God. Here, it is described as a river of water that flows from God’s presence. Where before, God’s presence had departed because of the people’s sins, now God has returned to a rebuilt temple with life-giving power.

Connections 07.30.2017: God Permits

The almost-comical family dysfunction continues in the story of Jacob’s dealings with his uncle Laban. As a woman in the twenty-first century, I sometimes try to add layers of modern interpretations to Bible stories. Let’s face it, if the incident in our text happened today, it would go differently.

Formations 07.23.2017: Looking at the Valley

In November 2015, at the Old Salem Cemetery near Uvalda, Georgia, Emory students uncovered a grave that had been lost for nearly 67 years. These students were in Montgomery County as part of Emory University’s Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project. This project seeks to use journalistic and historical methods to investigate and understand either unpunished or unsolved murders that were racially motivated.

Connections 07.23.2017: This Place

I saw the sign in a restaurant in a small Kentucky town: “There’s no place near this place like this place, so this must be the place.” If you wanted a decent meal in that area, it was indeed the place. Most of the time when I was in that town (and in that restaurant), I really didn’t want to be there.

Formations 07.16.2017: Jerusalem’s Collapse

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He first gained fame for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), in which he traced the geographic, environmental, and biological factors that led to the rise of Western civilization.

Connections 07.16.2017: God Answers

The dysfunction in some biblical families can be comical. It’s almost like the characters are actually caricatures, drawn larger than life to evoke humor and even a little ridicule. But while these caricatures can make us laugh, more often than not they also make us uncomfortable.

Formations 07.09.2017: Ezekiel’s Silence

John Cage’s three movement composition “4’ 33”” begins the moment the pianist sits down and closes the lid. After three sections, each one adding up to four minutes and thirty-three seconds, the performance is over. No notes are played, but to say that no music is up to debate.

Connections 07.09.2017: The Rube Goldberg Matchmaking Machine

Rube Goldberg, a University of California at Berkley-educated engineer, laid out sewer lines and water mains in San Francisco in the early years of the twentieth century. He was also a cartoonist whose work became nationally syndicated. He specialized in drawing machines that went through many convoluted steps to accomplish a simple task.

Formations 07.02.2017: Excessive Politeness Can Be Deadly

A recent study in Seattle has concluded that “overly polite” 911 operators are partly to blame for slower police response times and, ultimately, loss of life for some callers. The report, released in November of last year, found the operations of Seattle’s 911 call center “potentially dangerous.”

Connections 07.02.2017: God Provides

I work for the Jay’s HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Macon, Georgia, that serves children with cancer. We give meal certificates and gas cards to families who travel for treatment, take care packages and toys to children who are stuck in the hospital, provide a fun playroom where kids can stop by after visiting the chemo clinic…

Formations 06.25.2017: A Little Child Will Lead

Margaret Wise Brown transformed children’s literature by bringing new educational theories from the Bank Street School into her stories. She held that children, unlike adults whose understanding of the world made it uninteresting, experienced the world as strange and mysterious.

Connections 06.25.2017: Birth Stories

An angel flew up to me and asked, “What circumstances would you like to be born into?” I said, “I’ve been watching those folks Champ and Sara Ruffin down there in Barnesville, Georgia. They’ve wanted a child for years. They’re hard-working folks. They’re good Baptists. I’d like to be born to them.”

Formations 06.18.2017: Everybody Has a Sermon

From 1993 until 2004, CBS News ran a feature called “Everybody Has a Story.” Someone would throw a dart at a map of the US. Then correspondent Steve Hartman would go visit the place where it stuck, pick a name at random from the local phone book, and do a story on the person he found (assuming they were willing, of course).

Connections 06.18.2017: When God Comes to Visit…

Sometimes our questions don’t have clear answers, and for me, that is especially true of questions about the Bible. Some questions matter a great deal, and many more are merely the result of curiosity. The challenge is to figure out which questions matter and try to find the best answers to those.

Formations 06.11.2017: A Crack in the Road

On the record Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, Patterson Hood tells a story about a man driving the Savannah Highway in North Alabama. Above an environment built with an acoustic guitar droning over two chords, a drum set playing everybody’s first rock and roll groove, a pedal steel whining, and a few voices falling and rising over one syllable, Hood speaks plainly about the road.

Connections 06.11.17: Creation Celebration

The Genesis reading in our lesson text, which is excerpted from the lectionary first reading (Gen 1:1-2:4a), does not mention the three persons of the Trinity. Even if we stretch our interpretive imaginations so that “God” refers to the Father and “a wind from God” (1:1) to the Holy Spirit, the text nowhere mentions the Son.

Formations 06.04.2017: Come, Holy Spirit

One of the oldest songs of Pentecost is Veni Creator Spiritus, attributed to the ninth-century monk and theologian Rabanus Maurus. This hymn to the Holy Spirit is traditionally sung on Pentecost and other occasions (ordinations, church dedications, etc.) to invoke God’s transforming power.

Formations 05.28.2017: The Lord’s Will Be Done

About poems, the poet Richard Hugo says there are two subjects—the triggering and the real. The triggering subject compels the poet to write, but poets must uncover the real subject as they write. Though the triggering subject is necessary for creation, Hugo recognizes that writers’ perceived responsibility to it may stop a poem before it even starts.

Connections 05.28.2017: Worrying about Worrying

I have two dogs. Or maybe they have me. One is named Rainey, the other Stevie. They’re both mixed breeds. They’re also both rescue dogs; we adopted them from animal shelters. Each is about six years old. They differ from each other in lots of ways. Rainey is black while Stevie is brown. Rainey loves people while Stevie is leery of them.

Formations 05.21.2017: Anonymous Strangers, Angels, and Pixies

I’ve never (that I know) met an angel. The closest I can claim was more of a pixie. Here’s how it happened. I had a pretty rough time my first semester or so. I was living farther from home that I ever had before. I struggled with some of the new concepts and approaches my professors were teaching me.

Connections 05.21.2017: A Ready Defense

I grew up hearing 1 Peter 3:15b: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” At times it was almost a threat: “You never know when someone may ask you about your belief in Christ, so you’d better be ready with an answer!”

Formations 05.14.2017: Philip’s Samaritan Ministry

This week’s text begins when Philip, scattered from Jerusalem with most of the other followers, goes down into Samaria. Immediately he starts preaching and healing. There’s great rejoicing and unity. Even Simon, who had been practicing magic and confusing the citizens, believed Philip and was baptized.

Connections 05.14.2017: Stones

The symbolism and wordplay in this text fascinate me. In verse 4’s simile, Jesus is “a living stone,” and in verse 5’s metaphor, Christians are “like living stones.” Now, you know and I know that stones can’t live. We also know that we’re in the realm of symbols here, and in a symbolic world, stones can live if that helps the writer make the desired point.

Formations 05.07.2017: Unsung Heroes

The Jenco Awards are cash awards for people in Appalachian Ohio “who have performed visionary leadership in the service of others in the region.” The award was founded in 2001 by Terry Anderson, a journalist and former Athens County, Ohio resident. They honor Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, a Catholic priest.

Connections 05.07.2017: Suffering with Christ

Friends, I’m not sure that suffering is ever God’s will. Does God let humans suffer the consequences of our choices? Yes. Does God let humans suffer the calamities (natural disasters, criminal activities, sickness, poverty) that befall us in a broken world? Yes. Does God actually make it happen? I don’t know.

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.

Connections 04.30.2017: A Tense Situation

This week’s Scripture passage doesn’t call us to travel in time, but it does summon us to look into the past and toward the future as we live in the present. It calls us to look back to when Christ was revealed, to look forward to when Christ will be revealed, and to live fully in the present as Christ is revealed.

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.

Connections 04.23.2017: Four Things to Remember in John

For me, this passage contains some of the most moving and powerful moments in John’s entire Gospel. There are four specific things I love about it.

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.

Connections 04.16.2017: The Gardener

When the ordinary meets the extraordinary, chances are pretty good that the ordinary will try to cut the extraordinary down to size. It’s understandable. After all, we’re limited by our experience, and our experience is mighty limited.

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.

Connections 04.09.2017: The Hymn of Christ

Some commentators say that these verses from Philippians describe Jesus and his mission in the form of a hymn. If so, it is a magnificent and beautiful hymn that encapsulates everything Jesus is and all he came to do. We are supposed to strive for a mind like Christ’s (v. 5).