Formations 08.19.2018: The Days Drew Near

The stroke is rehearsed and memorized on a four-count cycle. So it is that Norman Maclean notes the metronome’s preeminent place in learning to cast a fly rod. Downbeats and backbeats directed him.

Formations 08.12.2018: Saying No

How hard do you find it to set boundaries—and stick to them? Many find this to be a struggle. Caterina Kostoula, founder and executive coach at The Leaderpath, explains that “we care about what others think, are afraid of consequences, and fear harming our self-image.”

Formations 08.05.2018: Our Daily Bread

Studs Terkel, in the early seventies, interviewed a number of workers ranging from farmworkers to baseball players, proofreaders to gravediggers, actors to hair stylists. From these laborers, Terkel observed a twofold purpose in human labor. “It is,” he says, “about a search… for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”

Formations 07.29.2018: Making Morality Manageable

It often seems impossible to do anything without causing some degree of harm—either to others or to the environment generally. Should you buy a new silk shirt? Many silkworms will die in the process.

Formations 07.22.2018: Inheriting Fruits

When Israel comes into the land, they are to tell the stories of ancestors who went down to Egypt. There, their ancestors became great, and then they were enslaved. And they will remember God, who heard their cries and led them through the wilderness into a land where they would learn freedom.

Formations 07.15.2018: WWJD? HDWK?

The church of my youth subscribed to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement. In discussing the role of Scripture, this brief doctrinal summary states, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

Formations 07.01.2018: Bottom-Line Beliefs

A few weeks ago I had the honor of preaching in a local Presbyterian church. Precisely how a Baptist-preacher-turned-curriculum-editor wound up preaching in a Presbyterian church is a long and irrelevant story. Suffice to say that we all came out of the experience unscathed.

Formations 06.24.2018: Finding Guidance Together

When the scroll shows up in the temple’s renovation, it is taken to the prophet Huldah. And she offers a vision of what it means for Judah and its king, Josiah. She also addresses a question that has risen again and again: how are words and work related to each other, to God, and to humanity?

Formations 06.17.2018: In Defense of Troublemakers

A recent study of dissenting Supreme Court decisions concludes that if you’re going to disagree with people, you might as well do it with style. The study, “How to Lose Cases and Influence People,” was conducted by Rachael K. Hinkle and Michael Nelson.

Formations 06.10.2018: Disruption on the Road

In front of the National Civil Rights Museum, on the corner of Mulberry and Butler in Memphis, Jacqueline Smith has stood for over thirty years. From this corner, the former tenant and employee of the Lorraine Hotel has called people to boycott the museum.

Formations 06.03.2018: Overcoming Defensiveness

We all know what it’s like to see someone behaving defensively. Something has challenged a person’s values, perceptions, or belief system, and he or she responds by giving off a defensive vibe. They aren’t interested in dialogue.

Formations 05.27.2018: Live by the Spirit

Unlike many friends and most of my family, I don’t consider myself a news junkie. Mostly, I limit my news intake to one podcast each morning. I trust it to tell me what I need to know…

Formations 05.20.2018: Signs of Life

Scientists used to hypothesize that many planets existed beyond our solar system. In the past few decades, the existence of these so-called exoplanets has become a proven fact. But do any of these distant worlds harbor life? Answering that question is the goal of NASA’s exoplanet program.

Formations 05.20.2018: The Common Spirit

A few weeks back, driving home from work, the truck in front of me kicked up rainbows from the leftover rainwater. I’d seen rainbows cast by sprinklers over St. Augustine but never by tires against asphalt. Then we crossed the first hill, my angle of view changed, and the rainbows disappeared.

Formations 05.06.2018: Fearless Humility

Author Jim Collins and his research team spent five years exploring “good” companies and what it took for them to become “great.” The results were published in 2001 in Collins’s book Good to Great.

Formations 04.29.2018: The Traveled Gospel

The other night I washed dishes while listening to a Tift Merritt concert. After the silverware but before the plates, I dried my hands to check the YouTube description. It included the standard information—record label, band members, and producer.

Formations 04.22.2018: The Ultimate Teammate

Football great David Humm recently passed away at the age of 65 from multiple sclerosis. His former college coach, John L. Smith of the University of Nebraska, remembers him as both a gentleman and the ultimate teammate. According to Smith, Humm “saw what the game was all about, and the game was all about being a good teammate.”

Formations 04.15.2018: Acts of Encouragement

The most triumphant moment of the musical Dear Evan Hansen might come after Evan starts a club to remember Connor Murphy, a classmate who had recently killed himself. In the Connor Project’s first assembly, Evan imagines a community of encouragement.

Formations 04.08.2018: Building Community by Giving Gifts

The Buy Nothing Project is a Facebook-based organization that promotes local gift economies. In a gift economy, no money is exchanged, but people offer goods and services with the expectation that others in the community will do the same.

Formations 04.01.2018: Signs and Wonders

The sign told the Vestavia Hills Lutheran Church, “you are now entering the mission field.” And so it proclaimed that the nations began in my neighborhood at the top of the mountain where Shades Crest Road crossed US-31. Four blocks from the house I grew up in, that sign bent from use was posted cattycorner to the whitewashed-concrete replica of Sybil Temple.

Formations 03.25.2018: Breaking the Rules

During Britain’s heat wave last summer, teenage boys at Isca Academy in Exeter staged a protest against their school dress code, which forbade the wearing of shorts. This protest took the form of them coming to school in skirts they had borrowed from their sisters or girlfriends.

Formations 03.18.2018: An Inheritance of Eternal Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about inheritance lately, particularly the people who remain to sort through what’s left behind. And it seems that while this work permits us to remember joy and laughter and tenderness, it requires us to acknowledge that some things, including life and its relationships, get broken.

Formations 03.11.2018: Mayor Chooses Students over Derelict House

After nearly eighteen months, an abandoned, fire-damaged house in Salt Lake City is slated to be demolished after Mayor Jackie Biskupski overruled city planners and landmarks commissioners to approve the permit.

Formations 03.04.2018: Jesus Shows Compassion

My granddad died well before I was born. What I have of him has been given secondhand—ties and desk ornaments, pictures and stories. Among the easily believed and even the photographed, some stories are harder to accept. One of these is a healing story.

Formations 02.25.2018: Let Us Go to Him

The writer of Hebrews was tricky. One Greek word he uses over and over translates to “draw near” or “approach.” In the Greek Old Testament, to “approach” God was something priests did. It was the common term for worship, entering the defined sacred space of the temple in order to offer a sacrifice.

Formations 02.18.2018: Run the Race

For the writer of Hebrews, rest best describes the promise given to Abraham and subsequent generations. So the vision for Israelite society in the promised land rested in sabbath. Likewise, Christian communities would be guided by a commitment to rest. But this writer also understood that the promise did not come into fullness immediately.

Formations 02.11.2018: Old School

Today’s passage lies at the intersection of rest and discipleship. Ironically, rest is something that disciples have to strive for. It isn’t automatic, anymore than it was automatic for the wilderness generation that refused to listen to God’s voice.

Formations 02.04.2018: Living in Tensions

It’s not uncommon that I steal books from my grandfather’s coffee table. He goes ahead and tells me to take what I want, so it isn’t really stealing. Over the years, he has made sure to send me home with books that have been meaningful for him.

Formations 01.28.2018: Come and See!

When we think of evangelism, the verbs that usually come to mind are “go and tell.” That is certainly the approach we see in verses such as Mark 4:19 and Matthew 28:19. When I was in college, our Baptist Student Union leaders often encouraged us students to take the Great Commission seriously.

Formations 01.21.2018: Unexpected News

Our story this week begins as one ends. Naaman, mighty warrior that he was, filled his house with wealth and servants taken from raids in Israel. And yet, despite this resolved story of victory, success, and stability, he still suffered from leprosy.

Formations 01.14.2018: Pagan Is as Pagan Does

Members of one damselfish species identify their enemies through facial patterns that can only be seen in ultraviolet light. In 2010, Ulrike Siebeck of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia found that Ambon damselfish could tell their own species from another just by interpreting these markings, which are invisible to the human eye.

Formations 01.07.2018: The Suffering Servant

Lately I’ve been reading about Bartolomé de las Casas. A sixteenth-century Dominican friar, Las Casas is best remembered for his protests against the dominant forms of Spanish colonial and evangelical activity—the wars of the conquest and the encomienda system.

Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5.

Formations 12.24.2017: A Song of Joy and Sorrow

Because I live a few blocks from a hospital, ambulance sirens, and the occasional helicopter, form one pitch in that harmony of creation I hear. For what they signal—coming help and immediate danger—these sounds are above all interruptions demanding drivers to make way.

Formations 12.17.2017: Robert Mugabe’s Legacy

On November 21, Robert Mugabe stepped down as president of Zimbabwe after thirty-seven years of rule. Following his country’s transition from British colonial rule (when it was called Rhodesia), Mugabe oversaw heavy investment in the nation’s social services.

Formations 12.10.2017: Improvising on a Common Theme

The first standard I ever learned was the Sonny Rollins composition “Oleo.” As a drummer, this didn’t require much more than learning to sing the melody. But my friends, who played trombone and guitar, really had to know it. To solo, they had to understand how every note fit, or didn’t fit, into each chord.

Formations 12.03.2017: The Lights of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the lights. We deck our houses with tiny electric lights. We drape lights on Christmas trees. We go to services on Christmas Eve where the light of dozens of handheld candles bathes the sanctuary in a warm, amber glow.

Formations 11.26.2017: Innocence, Guilt, and Technicalities

The first time I heard Les Misérables, I was fifteen or sixteen. My mother had picked me up from school. Somewhere between learning it was her favorite musical and the grocery store, I asked her what it was all about. She began with the bishop.

Formations 11.19.2017: Faith and Violence

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great and a nephew of Herod Antipas. The book of Acts remembers him mainly as a persecutor of the early church. Somewhat like the Apostle Paul, this king’s zeal for the law was apparently what drove him to persecute the church.

Formations 11.12.2017: What We Stand For

Alexander Hamilton, at least as played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, asks Aaron Burr early in their relationship, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” This tension between principle and calculated ambition defines Hamilton and Burr’s relationship through the remainder of Hamilton.

Formations 11.05.2017: Monument to Ivan the Terrible Erected

A bronze statue has been erected in Moscow to one of the most brutal rulers in Russian history. The monument is the first of its kind in the Russian capital and only the second in the entire country. The statue was first placed in the city of Alexandrov, where the locals protested.

Formations 10.29.2017: Call and Response

It’s a simple record with only voices and a few percussion instruments that begins when Jenkins gives the group of children accompanying her these instructions: Many of you, I’m sure, have played the game follow the leader. Well, you can play the same kind of game in song and sound. Here’s how we play it.

Formations 10.22.2017: Morality and Conformity

A new study from the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, has demonstrated what many of us already know intuitively: that our view of what is morally right or wrong is shaped by how widespread a particular behavior is. These findings come from a combination of behavioral experiments, mathematical models, and computer simulations.

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 10.08.2017: Dance with the One that Brought You

After recounting his dealings with Peter and the other Jerusalem leaders in chapter 2, Paul launches into the main topic of his letter: “doing the works of the Law” versus “believing what you heard” (3:2). Which of these, Paul asks, is the basis for the blessings God has poured out on us?

Formations 10.01.2017: Freedom Resisted

As Paul introduces his letter to the Galatians, he speaks of “another gospel” preached in their community. It is, he says, “not really another gospel” but an attempt “to change the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). Paul quickly and assuredly rejects this other gospel so as to preserve the one that “delivered us [set us free,” NRSV] from this present evil age” (v. 4).

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.

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).