Stoned in the High Holy Places

Acts 7:55-60 – The Fifth Sunday of Easter – for May 14, 2017

“But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven…” (Acts 7:55)

Rembrandt’s “The Stoning of Saint Stephen”

Two months after my thirtieth birthday, while serving my first real, live church, I was stoned.

No-no, this isn’t a bad tale about bad drugs. Though I acted stupidly, this was accomplished while fully alert.

I did not know then, when gazing upward—not seeing an angelic choir or “heaven on display”—that the moment where rock and flesh collided would become one of the essential stories of my life.

Above me, the “heavens” seemed bluer than blue. But on the hard and cold ground below, I could barely move. What movement did occur produced pain.

Way back then, I had no illusions of being a Biblical Stephen righteously proclaiming “God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side.” I was merely an associate pastor working with youth and occasionally stumbling into a church member’s home or hospital room to share a prayer. I have told and retold this story, because it was essential and it is essential for understanding the erstwhile and everlasting faith I claim on the path toward Jesus’ neighborly, servant-centered, impossible love.

On the second day of a church backpack, taking a jaunt with a few youth not far from where our tents were pitched by a Sierra lake, I decided to have fun. Tramping along a ridge, with last winter’s snow covering the granite shoulder like frosting on a wedding cake, why not use the quickest return route to camp? Why not slide down the icy slope, butt on the cold stuff with hands for rudders?

I’ll go first!

Whoosh!

I slammed into a rock outcropping halfway down the slope. Continue reading →

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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 →

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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 →

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