Friday, October 3, 2008

Katie Carter, sports journalist

Here's a new talent in the sports broadcasting business. Click to watch:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the road again

Back in third grade, I received my first Bible as a gift from the church. It was – and is - a strange book, full of stories about long-ago people in faraway places. We heard some of those stories in worship and Sunday School, and their curious details sounded so distant. Then we discovered a few maps in the back of the Bible. They charted places on the other side of the world where God had acted or spoken. It all seemed so far-off and exotic, and heightened the distance between then and now.

A trip to the Holy Land in the year 2000 did blow away some of the ancient dust. My dad and I traveled to Nazareth, Samaria, and Jerusalem. Things haven’t changed that much in that part of the world – new buildings have gone up, the generations have come and gone – but people are still essentially the same. Our hopes and fears are identical to our ancient forebears. On that trip, what impressed me most of all is how local the Bible really is: Jesus walked from town to town on the same road that is now paved. He cast out demons in the synagogue on this spot, and ate tilapia fish from that lake over there. He did eighty percent of his adult work within a four-mile stretch on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, prayed in Gethsemane’s garden, and carried the cross through a narrow city street. We can still visit these places.

Some people take comfort in the vague promise that “God is everywhere.” As for me, I have increasingly found it comforting that the Gospel happens somewhere – in certain locations, among specific people, under particular circumstances. There is no timeless truth for the Christian faith. In Jesus, the Word became flesh – specifically – and we know where it happened. To this day, the grace of God continues to have GPS coordinates. God comes to us, where we are, right here in this lifetime, in the specifics of our need. That is the meaning of the Incarnation.

To put it another way, context matters. It matters to our congregation as we plan our work. Where do our people live? What do they do? What are the challenges and blessings in their lives? How might the good news speak to the concrete realities of our lives? And what do we have to say on behalf of Christ?

As I write this, my suitcase is packed for another holy trip. As part of this year’s study leave, I am retracing one of those maps in the back of my third grade Bible. Biblical storyteller Dennis Dewey is leading a tour that leads us through St. Paul’s itineraries. We will see spots in Greece and Turkey where the Gospel took root, and hear the Bible stories in the places where they happened. My Dad will once again be my roommate, and we’re delighted to share the trip with Donna and Andy Kepler, Pauline Heckman, and my mother-in-law Loraine Laubach. Keep us and all other pilgrims in your prayers, and expect us to return with stories of how the Word of God came alive in our travels.

With every good wish for the Story to come alive in you!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A few thoughts on living "off the page"

It was one of those late night bickering sessions on the television. You know the type: four panelists from diverse points of view are sitting on easy chairs in a semi-circle. A host with an attitude attempts to incite them into a conversation, picking whatever fights might be entertaining. This is an unfortunate form of entertainment, mostly because the panelists are treated as caricatures, and somebody wants to bulldoze over their cherished beliefs.

This particular show was a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity. Within the first few minutes, the host had ridiculed one of the guests, labeled him as an extremist, and smugly made it known that he was smarter than everybody else in that studio. At the lowest point of the exchange, he pointed a finger at the Protestant minister on his show and said, “You sound like one of those people who says, ‘unless it’s in the Bible, I don’t believe it.’” I turned off the television, but my mind kept working on that supposed insult.

I love the Bible and work with it regularly. I believe the scriptures narrate our faith, in the languages and thought forms of the times when these documents were written. They were inscribed with passion. As one early witness declares, “We declare to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” (1 John 1). They were also written with great care and excellence. The letter to the Hebrews is written in the highest form of classical Greek, the stories of the Gospel of John are arranged with great care, and the sagas of 1 and 2 Samuel are narrative masterpieces. But it needs to be said that faith is always lived “off the page.”

Christian faith existed pretty well without a Bible for the first sixty or so years of its emergence. The New Testament Gospels were not written down until the church’s cemetery began to fill up, and there was the risk of losing all the stories about Jesus. Yet as important as those stories were and are, the church knew there is always Something more important than the Book - and that is the One that the Book is talking about. Christians know that Jesus is alive. The stories about Jesus teach us what to look for. They train us in how to see the invisible Christ. They prepare us to live in his presence, both today and forever.

It’s important to read the Bible every day. Otherwise we are tempted to forget who we are. At the same time, if we keep our noses in the Book all the time, we will bump into the furniture. The hard work of living as disciples of Jesus is to interpret what we read in the day-to-day realities of our lives. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) becomes real when family members compete with one another. When we hear the stories of Jesus on trial during Holy Week, they challenge us to rethink what real justice would look like. And when we hear how the Lord’s tomb was found empty, that news can awaken us to live as if death has been defeated, as if brutality itself is on trial, as if Christ is reigning until his last enemy is put under his feet.

Here's the punchline: read the Book, but live off the page.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A week that I never want to miss

For eighteen years in a row, I've spent a week with a group of fifteen other preachers from around the country. We gather in a place where we can study the Bible and do some advance work on a year's worth of sermons.

We call ourselves "The Homiletical Feast," and nobody goes hungry. Here's a picture from this year's gathering, which took place this past week. We share a lot of ideas, tell a lot of stories, and swap insights on the Bible. In the process, we have become good friends.

We schedule our gathering for the third week of January, which qualifies us for great off-season rates in Florida. A lot of friends think we go down there to play all week. Well, not quite.

The fact is, good preaching takes a lot of preparation, and much of it happens when congregations aren't looking. For the fifteen or twenty minutes each week that each of us stands in a pulpit, there's a lot of spade work just out of sight from the congregation.

So this is how we do it: thinking together, praying together, all the time chewing on scripture. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.