In this video I chat about some of my all time favorite Preaching Resources. Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Craddock, Will Willimon and some of my mentors get a shout out too!
Here's a sneak peak at the upcoming History Channel docu-series, Jesus: His Life. The series will premier on March 25, 2019 for during the Lenten Season and I am so happy to have contributed to this project along with other pastors and bible scholars.
Calling all Girl Preachers and Justice Leaders!! I hope you'll enjoy this FB Live post where I introduce Preacher Girl School, a forum to encourage, equip and empower women to take their preaching to the next level.
When I began preaching I felt both exhilarated and paralyzed. Though I had some incredibly supportive and encouraging mentors, they were men. While they were affirming and offered me opportunities to preach, they were unable to help me discover my own unique and feminine voice.
This course is designed for women who want to take their preaching to the next level. You can sign up for our next cohort beginning March 20, 2019!
It’s a picturesque winter’s day here in Central Indiana, fluffy white snowflakes fall from the grey, brooding sky and I worked all weekend to deck the proverbial halls so that my home is filled with twinkle lights and candle glow.
This morning as I drove to work Bing Crosby’s Christmas in Kilarney crooned on my xm radio and then Johnny Mathis’ Silver Bells floated through the airwaves and I was transported back to a time of bliss. When I was a child, my mother would play the velvety sounds of Mathis’ Christmas album on our stereo, the buffet sized furniture in our family room. My sister and I would dance around in our nightgowns and decorate the tree while we sipped on egg nogg in tiny cermaic santa mugs my mother had lovingly made. I was blessed and full to tears and so grateful I had my channel set to Holiday tunes rather than the news station where I am typically parked until I remembered the awful state of our world. But even as I smiled at the memories, my phone pinged with Cyber shopping updates and twitter notifications about babies being tear gassed at the border.
I felt instantly guilty, shameful that I sat in my SUV driving through my suburban city in the Rust Belt while children screamed in horror at the result of the actions of my own government. I simultaneously patted myself on the back for taking a break from the 24 hour news cycle of hate and greed and violence to celebrate the goodness of this season and was embarrassed that I’d taken this respite while children cry out in fear.
I know I am not the only Jesus follower conflicted with the heart sickness of our reality and the longing for wonder. I can not be the only activist, mommy, scholar who is wrung out from the fight, knowing full well when this posts other Christ followers will attack my views and there will be an endless back and forth over who this Jesus really is.
But then, this is the way it has always been, this tale is as old as time and longer still, factions fighting each other over who God is and how God has come to us. For my part, I am running hard after the Jesus of the manger, the one conceived of an unmarried woman and born in a stable. I am a follower of the Jesus who was reared as a refugee and challenged the empire; I worship the one who was a friend to sinners and dined with prostitutes.
So today as Johnny Mathis sings and twitter zings, I am confounded and exhausted and in need of the revelation of Christ in this broken and battered world. While the snow falls I allow myself to be warmed by sweet memories but I click out a call from my small space in the story of our own making. Let’s agree we won’t harm children. Just that. Let us demand of our government and those across the world to do no harm to children and to invest in their lives, their dreams, their safety and education. Let's do what we can to help shape the future through love and not war. Let's burn down the cages that imprison our hope for a better world; lets feed and clothe hungry children in our city and around the globe. Could we lock arms around the notion that refugee children should be loved, not gassed. Could we resolve to welcome them, connect them to social services, find them shelter as they seek asylum, you know, just as someone did for our Lord as he fled Herod’s reach (Matthew 2).
I see you Parkland. I deep feel your loss woke with full throated cries for justice. You grieve, you march, you speak truth to power, and cry white hot tears into your pillow at night for the horror of your reality. I know that the fight is your life raft, carrying you out into the ocean of mourning but buoying you with purpose and calling. While you attend funerals, sing the hymns of goodbye and breathe in the sacred writ of hope, your heart beats and from the ashes you rise.
I know there are moments, there are sleepless nights and 4 am struggles right now unseen to the world as we watch you lead, fierce and fiery the upward fight. I know you search in the darkness for answers to the questions of senseless slaughter and innocence lost and the sound of shells ricocheting off the walls. I know you jolt awake to the alarm and you wonder if it was all a dream and your body has to feel anew the reality that is life after massacre.
I wanted to say, we are here, with you and for you. We are cheering you on from our living rooms and praying for you at altars and signing up to march with you in the coming days. We are awed by your strength and convicted by your courage and we are locking arms with you as you show us all a new way forward. We post #neveragain and we watch you from a far, we write checks and we bless your tireless work and we know the power of surviving and the passion of leading through. You are brave and you are a blessing and we will never be the same again.
But when it’s quiet, and when you feel lost, when you remember you are a child and your leaders have failed you, your communities are broken and know full well you are not safe; know we are holding space for you. We know you are warriors and we know you are children and everyone needs a soft place to land where we can be vulnerable, where our fear can be spoken and where we are held. We stretch out our arms and embrace you, hold you close to our chest and rock you back and forth, stroking your hair we whisper, “you are not alone.” Your home is the kingdom of peace where we work for justice and you are welcome here.
We remind you what is true, life is hard but God is with us. We sing the truth over you, “love is stronger than the grave” (Song of Solomon 8.6). We remind you that you remain as carriers of the stories, witnesses to the goodness of those who have been lost and you now live carrying them in your heart even as they spur you on from the great cloud above (Hebrews 12.1). We whisper you are loved and we tell you we are so sorry and we hold on to one another and make it through. You are heroes and you are babies and you are ours.
I wiped off the dust, soaked it clean with tears, washed over it with shaking hands and a pounding heart. The images opened the door, the locked place where the pain lives, where the white hot pulse lurks just below the surface, so much lost.
It is not pity, exactly, there are more who have lost far more, whose grief is red raw, every hour laid bare. Mine has been processed, talked through, I have found a way to stand again, but every now and then the reality of their physical absence chills my bones and I shake and shutter, break open scanrs that have long healed over.
That’s what happened yesterday when I cleaned out her things, boxes of photographs she had lovingly saved, memorials of love she had kept across the ages of me and her and him. The smiles haunt and hurt and hug across the years, voices swirl and memories flood and I am back there again when they are close before the fresh dirt of the open grave.
There is a reason we compartmentalize, because to take this life all at once, the beauty and tragedy, the joy, the heart wrenching pain would be too much. His smile, staring up at me from black and white photo, curly hair and chubby cheeks, polo jacket thrown over one shoulder, me wiping his mouth and kissing his forehead, mama and me at high school graduation, baby sister crawling on the floor, nipping at my heels.
My mother’s walls were plastered with these, no space left for a thing. Everywhere you looked she hung portraits of loved ones, and now I think, it’s as if she knew. It is like she knew there’d be a time when she’d be gone and she wanted us to be able to find our way. We would tease her, encourage her to pare down tell her it was all too much. She’d smile so that her eyes would disappear and say, “This will all be yours someday.”
And so it is, I remain. How is it that I’m the one who survived, I am the one still here to feel the rain on my lashes and smell the snow in the air. I am here living life wide eyed and full heart—what is left of this heart any way. “You’ll find the rest of me in Heaven” Sarah Scharborough sings and I deep know what those words mean; for what of me continues on is whole, but parts of me have flown. So for me, she curated snapshots of our life, pieces of our magical journey of love and laughter in excess.
So today I am grateful, filled with understanding—I now see through--, these artifacts were meant to take me back, bring me home, put crumbs along the path so I could find my way and share with those who await reunion with me. “I was here, and I loved you” she whispers, “I am here now, helping you tell the story—you are the keeper of the secrets divine.”
If we are not careful we can miss it, the songs they sing from the silence, the stories of the ones on the bottom –the ones without power or position or pen. It is easy to get lost, to gloss over the dominant narrative, the one we’ve heard so often which makes heroes out of men and bit characters of everyone else on the sideline.
We charge ahead with well-rehearsed notions of what it all means without taking a second glance and when we do we brush past it--the gospel medicine, the healing water, the truth that sets us free. We become irrelevant religious leaders without anything new to say, at a loss for a fresh word because just as in the first century so many missed the One for whom they waited, searching for all the wrong things.
This can happen to us, is happening to us, our pulpits run cold unable to reach those who suffer, fail to connect with those who need the good news most. This is where we end up when we preach and teach from the life of David and not Bathsheba, when we lean in for wisdom from Paul but not from Prisca, when we read from the patriarchal heights of Abram and not the dusty wilderness of Hagar. But there is beauty in the dirt, there is hope down in the ditch looking up, there is love and goodness and angels who attend you.
For anyone who believes sex trafficking is a new phenomenon, I recommend reading Genesis and the narrative of Hagar, the slave Abram and Sarai brought with them out of Egypt. You remember their time in Egypt don’t you, when Abram lied about Sarai’s identity to protect himself and the Pharaoh believing her to be Abram’s sister took Sarai as his own wife and gifted Abram with livestock and female slaves and riches. Upon contracting a series of plagues, Pharaoh chastised Abram for lying and sent them away as fast as he could. Hagar, one of the female slaves the couple acquired is later ordered to have sex with Abram since Sarai is unable to conceive a child. Of course, wholly legal and accepted in their day, today this fits the definition of sex trafficking—force, fraud or coercion of body and or sex.
It should be said she could've been one of many, but hers is the name recorded in the text, offered up to be remembered across the ages. When Hagar is mistreated by Sarai because she indeed does conceive a child with Abram she flees from her oppressors and runs to the wilderness. In the ancient world, this was tantamount to a suicide attempt as Hagar wanders, an unprotected female out in the wild with no food or shelter, vulnerable to the punishing sun and sand, bandits and animals ever on the prowl.
And this is where God finds her, the sex slave Hagar, in the dirt, trying to commit suicide. The messenger the Lord comforts her and tells her that she will be blessed with a son, Ishmael and then a multitude of descendants. Hagar is told to return and hold on. It is here, by the spring of Shur that the sex slave Hagar becomes the first person in scripture to name God, she cries out “You are El Roi (the God who sees).”
In our own time we celebrate the two, the ancestors we now call them blessed, Abram and his wife who took a woman against her will, used her body for their own gain and mistreated her in the process. We hold up the oppressors and sing of their faith, and maybe it is well we should, it was a different time.
For my part, I have shared the story from the dust, from the perspective of Hagar, with dirt in her fingernails and salt stinging her eyes. I have shared this story with sex workers and soccer moms and watched their eyes flood to overflow with tears as they realize, their own story is included in the sacred writ. “I’ve never heard this story told this way before" she sobs, "do you mean God cares for sex slaves and suicide attempts?” “Yes” I say, holding her hand. This story tells us God is present, with us in the ditch, holding us at the bottom when we think there is nothing left but the grave. “'Nothing is so dead God cannot resurrect it', my new friend the prophet Jen Hatmaker says” I tell her. She smiles, wipes her eyes. And hope, flashes across her face, her cheeks lift and teeth begin to shine.
“And there is more--" I say, "she’s the first." It is lowly Hagar, body bought and sold Hagar, who from the dirt and ash is the first one to name God in the record. This honor, this testimony, this anthem is not trusted to Abram or Jacob or Moses or John. In the end, the first life remembered to cry out in faith, to regale the story of God’s own character is Hagar the sex slave who says what is true, God sees.
Maybe we all need more time in the dirt, reading from the bottom up, maybe the Gospel is for the ones busted up and broken down, wailing in the dust after all.
The city has a distinct aroma, as all ancient places do. The pungent air is laced with dirt and grime, stories and sin, life and death and spice. Amidst the hustle and bustle of a thoroughly post modern city, the thrum of antiquity lurks on every corner like so many Easter eggs waiting to be uncovered.
Our journey began at the Titular Church of Saint Prisca on the Aventine. Though there is some trouble sorting out, to which Prisca/Priscilla this church is named for, it is clear that this is a place of early Christian worship and Mithraic holy site. It should be noted here that the name Prisca is the proper name, Priscilla is the diminutive, much like Kimberly and Kim. See what I did there :)
The church is adorned with magnificent art work some posted above, such as the painting over the altar depicting the baptism of Prisca by Peter. Other reliefs tell the story of martyrdom or the defiance of as she is seen awaiting execution in prison. The baptismal font is said to have been used by Peter himself, though this seems unlikely since the apostle most likely would have practiced immersion like most Church of God folk.
Speculation about which Prisca ranges from the biblical Prisca, mentioned 6 times in the New Testament, including 4 times prior to the naming of her husband Aquila. This is the couple who fled Rome under the exile of Jews issued by Emperor Claudius in 48-49 CE. According to the New Testament, the two flee to Corinth and it is there they encounter Paul and the Gospel of Christ. Thereafter they become co-laborers in the proclamation of the Gospel with Paul and a part of his inner most circle. They travel to Ephesus to help plant the church in the region prior to Paul's arrival and later he sends them ahead of himself to Rome.
Other traditions hold that the St. Prisca the church is named for was the young daughter of the biblical couple who was martyred under Claudius, making her the earliest official martyr of record. Still other traditions claim this Prisca was a woman of means perhaps a relative or named for the the biblical Prisca and her prominence in the early church.
While the Mithraeum underneath is mostly intact and offers still visible inscriptions, it has been hard to find archaeological evidences of an earlier house church. However, owed to tradition, it was on this spot, Callistus inscription near the altar explains the site was dedicated first to Hercules then to Christ as a place where Peter baptized many in Jesus' name. The stories hold more weight since the Aventine was the busy home to Roman tradesmen, merchants, laborers and those visiting the city looking for work, it was the blue collar hill in town. This then seems likely place for Prisca and Aquila to have gathered together with believers, awaiting Paul's visit riding out the terror of Nero and worshiping with Peter before his own death.
We are in the middle of the fiercest hurricane season of memory the United States. Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and surrounding cities just last week and now Irma is reeking havoc in the Caribbean while all of Florida has been advised to evacuate before the near category 5 storm makes landfall. The winds and rains and waves are said to be the size of Texas, and we keep watch as the 24 hour news cycle reports sights of horrific devastation and loss of life.
Our hearts leap as we see children lifted to safety in baskets swinging from helicopters, heroes floating down streams where parks used to be to rescue a single mom and her baby from a rooftop. As it is in every one of these so called natural disasters there is loss of life, loss of property, economic ruin and most often those hardest hit are the elderly, the poor and the infirm.
We pray, we check in on our friends on facebook, we to send money to the trusted organizations on the ground providing aid and-- inside, secretly, down deep we ask, we question, we wonder-- How could a God who loves us cause or allow, (depending upon your theology) such a horrific scenario to befall humanity.
For those who believe God caused this storm and every other thing, it is sometimes easy then to view the catastrophe as punishment. There is, of course, biblical precedent for that interpretation. There is the one prehistoric story where the flood wiped out humanity leaving only one faithful drunk and his family (Gen 8-9). Only now it seems that when folks apply this hermeneutic, they do so to find the punishment is a response to the actions or omissions of people groups they don’t particularly like and the sins that are the not transgressions of their own account. In the Genesis flood story the entire human family was held accountable for the sins of the people.
Others are more comfortable with a notion of a God who stands idly by while the wreckage is allowed, a God who grants the adversary dominion to lay waste and destroy in some battle of supernatural forces. And there’s an a-historical narrative like this one too found in the Old Testament. The problem here is this interpretation is inherently Greek in influence and can leave us feeling like pawns in some cruel cosmic game and we have to wonder, is this the point of the story anyway, or is the story here the means of conveying a deeper truth?
Still others will search for formulae within the Scripture, work to add and subtract the numbers found in apocalyptic literature to determine the end is for sure near. Some even now, convinced that the stars have aligned and the disasters foretell the fulfillment of Revelation 12.5 await the end of the world on the 23rd day of September this year.
And some of us open wide our hands, loose our grip on what we thought we knew and admit our utter helplessness in the hour. We know it isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the end of life as we know it. Everything is different after the storm.
We remember. We realize we’ve been here before. We know well what it is to have no control over the outcome, the diagnosis, the death, the tornadic debris of a broken relationship or dream. We will hunker down, brace ourselves for another assault but know instinctively the storms come and will do what they will. We refuse to believe that those who are struck with tragedy are any less beloved than those who will walk away unscathed.
We look around wild eyed for the helpers and the survivors, those who’ve waded through the waters and did not drown. We let go of the questions of Why and instead allow the honesty of our doubt to bond us to others facing the torrent. We welcome those with nowhere to go, we take in those who have nowhere to turn, we feed the hungry, we hold the broken. We board our windows and shop for rations and kneel down in the safest place we can find—at the feet of the Father of Rain, the one who knows where the lightning bolts are kept. We lie down and sleep, not because we are safe but because we are loved and we are not alone. And though we are frightened and shaken and beyond preservation we have an unassailable peace that the one who told the sea where to begin and end is with us and for us whilst the storm rages on (Job 38).
I am literally so excited to begin this semester and thrilled to be offering a new graduate course, The Early Church and the Empire. Above I have posted the required texts for BIST 5150 and BIBL 2000 and provided corresponding links to Amazon. Eager to meet you all soon and looking forward to a great Fall 2016-2017 at Anderson University.
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