Formations 10.15.2017: No Longer

In 2015, John Legend and Common’s song “Glory,” written for the movie Selma, won an Oscar for the best original song. That same year, I worked for Passport camps, an ecumenical youth camp, and every night this was one of many songs that helped us to prepare for worship. As I read this week’s passage and tried to start making sense of Paul’s vision of belonging and freedom in Christ, this song returned to me.

Formations 09.17.2017: Sowing and Reaping

Responding to an agricultural crisis, Paul uses an agricultural image to show how the Corinthians might respond to the famine in Jerusalem. He says those who sow little will reap little while those who sow generously will reap generously (v. 6).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 04.16.2017: 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 04.02.2017: 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 03.19.2017: 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 03.05.2017: 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 02.19.2017: 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 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 01.08.2017: 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 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 12.11.2016: 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 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 11.13.2016: 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 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 10.16.2016: 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 10.02.2016: 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 09.18.2016: 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 09.04.2016: 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 08.21.2016: 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 08.07.2016: 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 07.24.2016: 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 07.10.2016: 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 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 06.12.2016: 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.