What the Heck is Psalm 23?

Psalm 23 – The 4th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 7, 2017

“The Lord is my shepherd . . .” (Psalm 23:1)

For years, I attended a weekly writers’ group. There were usually around ten of us, huddled in a county library’s back room. As with most gatherings of busy people, we eventually went our separate ways. But for a nice chunk of time, it became a meaningful support system for receiving criticism—er, feedback—on my writing.

We weren’t there to admire John Grisham’s latest mega-seller about scheming attorneys or to envy Flannery O’Connor’s southern gothic tales about hurting humans and a hopeful God. The group was about us, about our work. We critiqued each other. However, not criticizing content was one of our few rules. Which is also like learning to love your neighbor as yourself, thank you Jesus. Which is also to say that if I wrote a sentence like—

Marvin ran as fast as the wind and as swift as an eagle to stop the weeping, sobbing, teary-eyed Gertrude before she boarded the plane to leave his heartbroken life forever.

—my fellow writers might comment on the dull clichés or the clutter of words, but not about the value of Marvin and Gertrude’s bittersweet tale of love.

As a writer, I should be challenged to realize that “fast as the wind” is a dreary trope. And while my critics likely wouldn’t question Gertrude’s emotional water works, they probably would wonder if one rather than a bunch of adjectives could improve the paragraph. It’s easy to criticize content: your novel stinks. It’s harder to provide helpful feedback: what if a single word described Gertrude? Honest, empathetic critiquing makes me better. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Tough work.

Much of what I shared with the group involved Christian faith. Once, I brought a scene with my novel’s protagonist reading Psalm 23 at a graveside service. Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

But There’s More

John 24:13-35 – The third Sunday of Easter – for April 30, 2017

“He said to them, ‘What are you talking about as you walk along?’ They stopped, their faces downcast.” (John 24:17)

Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus

It was a mundane phrase that unexpectedly felt the most appealing and revealing to me.

In the midst of the magnificent “road to Emmaus” passage, after Jesus joined the two melancholy disciples, but before either recognized him as the risen Christ, they tell this “stranger” what had just occurred in Jerusalem. Cleopas and his never-named companion chattered about Jesus and his “deeds and words.” They told about the religious and political leaders despicable, fatal reactions toward the Nazarene.

Then a phrase was used (by the Common English Bible, or CEB) during their anguished account of the worst story of their lives. Cleopas or the other, maybe dramatically pausing, maybe collecting his thoughts, or maybe rushing the flowing stream of explanations, said,

But there’s more . . .

In the modern New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the venerable King James Version (KJV), the English translation for the opening of verse 22 is a similar, “Yes and besides all this . . .” The sturdy, popular New International Version (NIV) chooses the simple, “In addition . . .”

I prefer the CEB’s But there’s more . . .

Lazy or cranky, I have little interest in slogging through one of my old seminary tomes for the original Greek. Please, if you do (or if you’ve bookmarked a snazzy website for searching your geeky Greeky queries), I look forward to learning from your eager endeavors.

I’ll stick with the translations.

I’ll stick with what has stuck with me as I read (again) about Emmaus and wonder (again) about my tenuous faith. Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

On the Sunday After Easter

John 20:1-31 – Second Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, April 23, 2017

“Jesus replied, ‘Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.’” (John 20:29)

This is how it can be, preacher . . .

The Sunday after Easter will dawn. It’s quieter in the sanctuary. Most of the smiling strangers that crowded through the doors last week won’t return. You hadn’t seen some since Christmas; some you’d never seen.

Folded, wrinkled orders of worship touting the resurrection are tucked in the back of the pews. Last week, the ushers that usually tidied up after the service had hurried home for ham dinners or family picnics. The sanctuary looks a bit shabby.

Many of the store-bought lilies that had surrounded the altar like a flowery White Cliffs of Dover were gone. Volunteers had scooped up the plants and taken them to the church’s shut-ins. But a few lilies remained, shoved in the corners of the chancel area. Leaves drooped. The once bright ivory petals were streaked with brown. The custodian forgot to chuck them in the garbage bin.

Banners honoring Lent’s journey and the hubbub of Holy Week billowed from the ceilings. If examined closely, odd twists of wires and duct tape kept them attached to the beams. One banner, which had hung during Easter for decades—though none recalled who made it—was missing a consonant in its gold-lettered The Lamb of God. There was an outline of the “b” in Lamb where the alphabet’s second letter had once been attached. Each year, someone vowed to fix it, and each year it was stored before the promise was kept.

The preacher knew the banner should be retired. But it was comforting and familiar, like a beloved great aunt, and—truth be told—its width fit the space perfectly.

And so each year it seemed to say, The Lam of God.

If God wasn’t on the lam, most worshippers had certainly skedaddled after the Alleluia benediction was sung last Sunday. Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather