Formations 08.25.2019: Strike While the Iron Is Hot

On our recent vacation to Saint Augustine, my family and I enjoyed learning about life in colonial times from a historical interpreter. As part of his tour of Saint Augustine’s Colonial Quarter, he took us to the blacksmith’s shop.

Formations 08.18.2019: A Constant Search for Wisdom

Over the summer, my daughters and I have been sorting through the junk stockpiled in our unfinished basement and searching for the treasures. One of those treasures is a huge plastic bin filled with my high school memorabilia.

Formations 08.11.2019: The Best Laid Plans

There’s an old quip that if you want to make God laugh, all you have to do is show God your planner. When we say something like that, I hope we understand that God isn’t out to get us.

Formations 08.04.2019: What Is the Problem?

Nehemiah continues the themes that thread through Joshua. Where earlier Israelites had rejoiced at the failure of Gilead’s walls, these exiles returning to Jerusalem mourn at the sight of the city’s walls in ruin.

Formations 07.28.2019: I Pledge Allegiance

The American Pledge of Allegiance is a product of the 1890s, written by a young socialist pastor named Francis Bellamy in a time when big business was ushering in an age of materialism.

Formations 07.21.2019: God’s Promises

Like the story of Jericho, Joshua’s speech demands responsibility, creativity, and humility. There are too many layers for anything less. Here, Joshua speaks of God.

Formations 07.14.2019: Working and Praying for Change

Two weeks ago, Hong Kong marked twenty-two years of Chinese rule. The milestone comes after months of protests over a proposed law that, opponents say, could have been used to seize government critics and send them for trial to the mainland.

Formations 07.07.2019: The Battle of Jericho

At this year’s Tony awards, the musical Hadestown won the award for best new musical. It retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as if it took place in some kind of depression-era, post-apocalyptic company town.

Formations 06.30.2019: Doing Hard Things

On the fourth anniversary of the fatal racially-motivated shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a film about the attack hit theaters.

Formations 06.23.2019: The Kingdom Has Come

The novel Slaughterhouse-Five offers two stories about Billy Pilgrim’s life. In the first, Kurt Vonnegut tells of Pilgrim’s, and his own, experience as a soldier in World War II.

Formations 06.16.2019: Choose Your Next Words Carefully

I am an adjunct university professor, which means I assign research papers. I am also an editor, which means I often regret assigning research papers.

Formations 06.09.2019: “I Will Send the Spirit”

In the 1992 song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen offered these now classic words: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” The insight comes lyrically through the acknowledgment of liminal spaces—birdsong in the morning or peacetime between war.

Formations 06.02.2019: God Made Us for a Purpose

When my daughter was three or four, she became fascinated with our church’s music minister and his “batond.” She had a little yellow fairy wand that she loved to wave around while she sang.

Formations 05.26.2019: Timothy and Epaphroditus

In the last two years of his life, my grandfather Bill and I often talked about the last verse in the book of Judges.

Formations 05.19.2019: Teamwork

My campus ministers in college were a husband-and-wife team who shared between them responsibilities for the spiritual care of students on two campuses in neighboring cities.

Formations 05.12.2019: Jason and the Others

In this stage on Paul’s journey toward preaching in Rome, we encounter a verse that questions the arc of Luke’s two-volume history.

Formations 05.05.2019: The Power of Encouragement

Seventeen teachers in Houston County, Georgia picked a student who inspires them and took the time to say “thank you.”

Formations 04.28.2019: Witnesses to the Resurrection

I’ve noticed that Easter brings my attention to the place I call home. Often, it has been the geography of my particular neighborhood.

Formations 04.21.2019: Go and Tell

I believe in evangelism; I’m just not very good at it. I might attribute my aversion to sharing the gospel to my introverted nature or to my general Midwestern hesitance to open up about the things that matter most to me.

Formations 04.14.2019: The King Is Coming

When early December rolled around with the Christmas parade, it happened that our marching band hung around the Church of the Nazarene.

Formations 04.07.2019: The Greatest in the Kingdom

I spent a semester as Dr. David Garland’s teaching assistant when we were both at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Garland was a master of the pithy comment.

Formations 03.24.2019: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I didn’t know there was a TV show called Temptation Island until I started researching for this article. The premise of the show is to put four unmarried couples who are “at a crossroads in their relationship” in an island paradise.

Formations 03.17.2019: Freedom from the Law

Paul held the torah in high regard. In this week’s passage, he affirms, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Formations 03.10.2019: Renaissance

Five years ago, the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. At that time, the city’s debt topped $18 billion.

Formations 03.03.2019: A New Way of Life

My clothes wear out predictably. Holes form over the left knee and under the right elbow. The heels of my shoes wear down at the outer corner.

Formations 02.24.2019: Dancing with the Divine

In Judaism, the Torah is read from start to finish every year. In the fall, Jews mark the completion of this annual cycle through holiday of Simchat Torah, “rejoicing in the Law.”

Formations 02.17.2019: You Shall Be Holy

This week’s text raises our attention to holiness. In the process, I’ve noticed two questions I’ve been struggling with lately—who are we, and what does it mean? As Moses relays these codes for holiness, he begins with identity.

Formations 02.10.2019: First Things First

We usually associate the ten commandments with Mount Sinai. They appear for the first time in Scripture in Exodus 20, following directly after the scene in last week’s lesson where God speaks from Sinai with thunder and lighting, thick clouds, a loud trumpet blast, smoke, and an earthquake.

Formations 02.03.2019: The Giving of the Law

The windows in my apartment face southeast. This doesn’t matter except that we’ve started keeping the blinds open in the kitchen. While I make coffee, I’ve begun noticing the sun’s rising—fiery fields degrading into sky.

Formations 01.27.2019: Naysayers and Detractors

The other Synoptic Gospels at least give Jesus a chance to get going before people start resisting his message. True, Matthew tells of Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus while he was still a toddler, but Jesus never took flak for the things he said and did until he dares to heal a paralyzed man’s sins in chapter 9.

Formations 01.20.2018: Reading Openly

After a month of holiday traveling, it is the banquet table that I notice most readily in the passage. I’ve sat around at least four family tables this month, and I’ve remembered some others I’ve known. One was my grandparent’s dining room table in Mobile.

Formations 01.13.2019: The Point

My wonderful daughter isn’t on the autistic spectrum, but I bet she can see it from wherever she is. Over the past seventeen years, I have learned that there is often a very thin line between the traits of a gifted child and the traits of an autistic one.

Formations 01.06.2019: Jesus Is Baptized

At the time of writing, forecasts indicate that the rain out my parents’ window will continue for another week. I tend to take overcast wintry weather in stride, but this is bad news, at least for my drive home to Macon. Mark, however, proclaims good news and its beginning (v. 1).

Formations 12.30.2018: The Last Word

As the son of a high school basketball coach, I didn’t exactly grow up with the most positive opinion of sports referees. Dad has mellowed in his retirement, though. In recent years, I have even heard him admit—to the shock of my teenage self—that referees get a lot more calls right than they get wrong.

Formations 12.23.2018: Rhythm Saved the World

The fourth Sunday of Advent, less than a few days before Christmas—It’s a time when I often turn from the prophetic hopes of Israel to a single family gathered around a manger. But Paul raises a vision of Christmas that is more cosmic than it is common.

Formations 12.16.2018: “Just Hand Me a Baby”

Most scholars agree that the words of comfort in today’s lesson were first spoken to Jewish people near the end of their decades-long exile in Babylonia. The national shame of the exile will soon be over, the prophet proclaims. Now it is time to “prepare the way of the LORD” (v. 3) so that the captives may return home.

Formations 12.9.2018: From the Wasteland

For this second Sunday of Advent, I’ll admit that part of my preference for this season is religious cover for my Scrooge-like demeanor. It persists most of the year, but November and December throw it into particular relief. Needless to say, this year I’ve surprised myself and have willfully listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

Formations 12.02.2018: Remembering Our Roots

For many Chamorus, the indigenous people of Guam, genealogical research has proven to be a powerful tool for connecting to their roots. As Chloe Babauta writes, historically there hasn’t been a lot of information on genealogy on Guam. People would know they were related, but would not know how.

Formations 11.25.2018: You are Witnesses

So far, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz and their commitments to family have anchored this story. This week we remember that their stories, like all of ours, take place within a community. This last chapter expands the scope of that community.

Formations 11.18.2018: Unconventional Courage

I would never tell my daughter to do what Naomi told Ruth to do. Naomi tells Ruth to bathe, put on perfume, put on her best dress, and sneak to the threshing floor under cover of night so she can lie down beside Boaz where he sleeps. If that seems to you like a sketchy way to get a husband, then congratulations: you’re paying attention!

Formations 11.11.2018: Kindness

This week we’ll ask how we can practice kindness. We will do so when unkindness seems inescapable, even to those who can escape it most of the time. We’ve seen in the past week eleven worshipers murdered in a synagogue. We’ve heard political leaders call migrants fleeing violence invaders and enemies ridden with disease.

Formations 11.04.2018: Determined Faithfulness

When Naomi returns to Judah after a years-long sojourn in Moab, her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to go with her. Though Naomi urges her to remain in Moab and find a new husband, Ruth insists that she will remain by Naomi’s side.

Formations 10.28.2018: Reward

When Jesus tells a story about masters and slaves, we hope that its promises about God’s kingdom will add up within us. But I’ve noticed more conflict than promise in this story. There is the punishment faced by the last slave.

Formations 10.14.2018: Seeing God’s Favor

I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard the stories. On some days in the summer, rising tides and east-facing winds push poorly oxygenated water toward the eastern edge of Mobile Bay. With it come the crab and flounder, and the shallow waters are overrun with all manner of food.

Formations 10.07.2018: What Is Money Worth? Why?

Why is money worth anything? In modern economies where currency is not backed by precious metals, money is worth what some central authority says it does—no more and no less. This system has worked generations.

Formations 09.30.2018: Rust Will Be Evidence

The cut in Red Mountain, finished for the expressway in 1971, might tell Birmingham’s stories between layers where rusted hematite meets our vision. My mom drove me through this cut many times, between downtown and the suburbs I grew up in, to visit my dad at his office or to pick up my sister from dance classes.

Formations 09.23.2018: Conflicts and Disputes

Today’s passage gives us a good example of how James constantly revisits his central themes. He has already urged his readers to be slow to anger (1:19-20) and love their neighbors as themselves (2:8). He has already commended gentleness born of wisdom (3:13).

Formations 09.16.2018: Words of Wisdom

My grandmother Joan taught me, as she did with all of her grandchildren, to pay attention to language. She had been an elementary-school teacher, so she taught us with sharp, repeated, and mostly frustrating questions.