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.

Connections 03.26.2017: Living in the Light

We usually think of light as a positive thing. When darkness falls at my house, I take comfort in the glow of soothing lamps. Both of my girls have small lights in their rooms that stay on overnight. If I’m driving on a dark rural road, I always feel better when I approach city lights once again.

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.

Connections 03.19.2017: What Is and What Will Be

There was a time when I wanted everything to make sense. It didn’t want to, so I tried to force it. It didn’t go well. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that project. Life’s been better since I did. But folks do try to explain things, don’t they? One of the things we hear well-intentioned Christians say is, “Life’s tough; then you die.”

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.

Connections 03.12.2017: Just Believe?

Paul spent a lot of mental energy writing about faith versus works. Having studied some of the history of his time, I understand why this was so important. The new Christian movement broke into a centuries-old religion that relied on sacrifices, rituals, and strict adherence to the laws of the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament.

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).

Connections 03.05.2017: So Much More

Back when the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was all the rage, Saturday Night Live presented a parody of it (of course they did). Darrell Hammond portrayed host Regis Philbin, and Will Farrell played a contestant named Rich Preylant.

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.”

Connections 02.26.2017: Jesus Is Lord

Sometimes I need to read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Instead of walking by his side down the dusty roads, listening to his stories about how to live in God’s present kingdom, eating the food from one of his miraculous multiplying meals, watching him heal the sick and bless the kids and care for the poor.

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.”

Connections 02.19.2017: Getting Past the Great Filter

It was 1950, and some scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were walking to lunch. Along the way, they talked about some recent reports of UFOs and a New Yorker cartoon that attributed the recent disappearances of New York City trash canisters to alien activity.

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.

Connections 02.12.2017: Above and Beyond

I am both awed and horrified by these passages where Jesus expands the reach of well-known laws almost beyond human capabilities. What awes me? We can easily list basic rules of humanity, and we tend to think that we are covered. We are obviously better than others who break such foundational rules.

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.

Connections 02.05.2017: Excessive Righteousness

In my imagination, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), I see them looking at each other with expressions that say, “He’s got to be kidding!” After all, you couldn’t get any more righteous than a scribe or a Pharisee.

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.

Connections 01.29.2017: The Nature of the Beatitudes

I have also viewed these Beatitudes as something to strive for. Do you want the kingdom of heaven, comfort, the earth, and so on? Then be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, etc. But as I read these again this week, I realized something. Every quality Jesus lists here is either innate or enforced.

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.

Connections 01.22.2017: The Speed of Light

Light travels at 186 thousand miles per second. That means it travels about six trillion miles in a year, so that’s the distance in a light year. The sun is “only” about 0.000016 of a light year (93 million miles) from Earth; its light reaches us in about eight minutes twenty seconds.

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.

Connections 01.15.2017: The Polished Arrow

My older daughter Samantha is twelve. She adores fashion, hairstyles, and accessories. For Christmas, someone gave her a gift card to Claire’s, a small boutique that carries earrings, hair accessories, and other novelties.

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.

Connections 01.08.2017: Going Under

I was watching a made-for-television film about Jesus. In its depiction of Jesus’ baptism, he joined John in the Jordan River. As they stood in the river, which came up to their waists, John poured water over Jesus’ head.

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.

Connections 01.01.2017: New Year’s Dawn

It isn’t every year, of course, that Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays. But I think Sunday suits both holidays. When I was young, our family had a piece of brown stone about the size of both of my hands. It was flat, polished on the front, and rough on the edges. I always thought its shape resembled my home state of Georgia.

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.

Connections 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them. And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped.

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.

Connections 12.18.2016: Father of the Forerunner

Two weeks ago, I encouraged us to put ourselves in Mary’s shoes—to truly feel empathy for her when she heard the news that was both devastating and life changing. Can we do some imagining about Zechariah, too?

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.

Connections 12.04.2016: Imagining the Details

This account about Mary unsettles me because it seems to leave out a few things. I remember, very early in my marriage, worrying about getting pregnant too soon. John and I were still adjusting to living in the same apartment.

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.

Connections 11.20.2016: The Perfect City

When I read about John’s vision of the new and perfect city, or about Ezekiel’s similar vision in chapter 47, I picture the settings from books like C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

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.

Connections 11.13.2016: It’s All About the Presence

On the day before Mother’s Day in 2004, my Good Wife and I purchased a slate sign about the size of an automobile license plate from a vendor at the Charleston (SC) City Market. We had two lines of text inscribed on it.

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.

Connections 11.06.2016: Brand New

Our first daughter, Samantha, turned twelve yesterday. Twelve years ago yesterday, at 8:37am, my husband John and I were overcome with awe at the sight of the eight-pound child who had spent thirty-eight weeks inside my body.

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.

Connections 10.30.2016: Job, Jesus, and Me

At some point in my young life, I began participating in my parents’ nightly prayer time. Using the denominational devotional guide, one of them would read the suggested Scripture passage and the printed meditation, and then say a short prayer.

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.

Connections 10.23.2016: Lord of All

These are tough times to be active on social media. Hurricanes. Floods. Racially motivated riots. Shootings. LGBTQ rights. A more-contentious-than-usual presidential race.

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.

Connections 10.16.2016: Suffering. Praying. And…

A parishioner had liver cancer. One day, as we sat talking in his den, he told me that he had recently attended a service conducted by an evangelist who claimed to be able to heal the sick.

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.

Connections 10.09.2016: One Foundation

The church I attend is brand new. We became official in spring 2015. Our name is new, our sign is new, and our hymnals are new. Our bylaws are new. We’re so new that our mission is still evolving. But we have a history that stretches backward much longer than eighteen months.