Beliefs, Bible, Spiritual

charlottesville and revelation

My church’s Pub Theology crew wanted to discuss the doctrine of Revelation. As is my custom, I created a worksheet to help start our conversation:

Working Definition: Revelation unveils the Unknown. 

What is it:
An experience, an event, an inspiration that moves one beyond the vision of the ordinary. 
Transcendent 
Transformative 

What is it not
Revelation does not provide us with all that there is to know about God. 
It does not speak against Biblical theology, i.e. it will never tell you to hate your neighbor.
It is not new information.

Sources and Sites of Revelation:
Scripture
Jesus Christ
Preaching
People
Music
Animals
Campfires
Creation
Protests
Soup Kitchens

Thomas Merton Plaque

A plaque of Thomas Merton’s famous Revelation

The Intersection of Revelation and Charlottesville 

“Flannery O’Connor depicts an event of “revelation” in a way that points to the deeper theological meaning of the term. She tells of the story of Mrs. Turpin, a hard-working, upright, church-going farmer’s wife, who is unexpectedly accosted by a mentally disturbed teenage girl in a doctor’s office. After bearing Mrs. Turpin’s superior attitude and demanding remarks about white trash and black people as long as she can, the girl suddenly throws a heavy book at Mrs. Turpin, begins to strangle her, and calls her a “warthog from hell.” When Mrs. Turpin returns to her farm, she cannot get the girl’s words out of her mind. Standing beside her pigpen, she is outraged by being called a warthog. She knows she is a good person, certainly far superior to white trash and black people. She reminds God of that, as well as of all the work she does for the church, “What did you send me a message like that for?” She angrily asks God. But as she stared into the pigpen, she has a glimpse of “the very heart of mystery,” and begins to absorb some “abysmal life-giving knowledge.” She has a vision of a parade of souls marching to heaven, with white trash, black people, lunatics, and other social outcasts up front, and respectable people like herself at the rear of the procession, the shocked expressions on their faces showing that all their virtues are being burned away. Mrs. Turpin returns to her house with shouts of hallelujah from the heaven-bound saints in her ears.”

“Revelation is an event that shakes us to the core.”

“Revelation compels momentous decisions about who God is and how we are to understand the world and ourselves.”

The previous quotes are from the tremendous book Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore (p. 22)


Our conversation was complicated by the group constantly arguing for what I deemed as little “r” revelation. They described events that shaped new ways of visioning the world, but not necessarily with the consequences of material change. For example, someone mentioned walking in the park, feeling awestruck, and not being able to see a leaf again without thinking of God’s handiwork. This is lovely, for sure, but is not capital “R” Revelation. 

When Biblical Revelations occur, which seem to only happen to men, the recipient’s  lives are transformed. After Moses encounters God in a burning bush, he changes his path, goes back to Egypt, and joins in the liberation of the Hebrew People. Paul’s revelation of God knocks his life out of control, no longer does he kill Christians, but now he preaches a Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. According to these Biblical Revelations, they happen when they’re least expected and one is persuaded towards a way of life-giving love. 

And oh how I pray for Revelations for politicians, CEOs, & white supremacists that they may change their ways. Often I think that people could help foster acts of Revelation. Like the teenage girl in the Flannery O’Connor tale and help others to see that their vision of the world is destructive.

I ended the conversation at Pub Theology saying that if a Revelation does not create a material change, not just a spiritual one, then you should’ve been paying closer attention.

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Bible, Politics

psalms for the election

enjoy two of my favorite anti-empire psalms from the hebrew bible!

whoever-they-vote-for

psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
therefore we will not fear, though the Earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the most high.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
the nations are in an uproar, the empires totter;
the Holy One utters, the Earth melts.
God is with us;
the God of our Ancestors is our refuge.

come, behold the works of God;
see what desolations God has brought on the Earth.
God makes wars cease to the end of the Earth;
God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
God burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the Earth.”
God is with us;
the God of our Ancestors is our refuge.


psalm 146

hallelujah!
praise God, o my soul!
i will praise God as long as i live;
i will sing praises to my God all my life long!

do not put your trust in politicians
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
when their breath departs, they return to the Earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
blessed are those whose help is in God,
whose hope is in the most high their God,
who made heaven and Earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry;
who sets prisoners free;

God gives vision to the visionless,
lifts up those who are bowed down,
and loves the righteous.
God watches over the refugee
and upholds the orphan and the widow,
but brings the way of the wicked to ruin.

God will reign forever,
your God, o people, for all generations.
hallelujah!

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Bible, Justice, Sermon

i can’t do this without you: a sermon on james 5:13-20

I preached this sermon on Sunday, September 27th at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC.

Prayer: O God who continually loves us, I am grateful. I am grateful that no matter how we’re feeling, you stay the same. I am grateful at your faithfulness even when we’re not faithful. May your spirit linger in this place and may our hearts hunger after your Word. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Over the years I’ve been part of several denominations, but the one service I attended faithfully until I moved to Philadelphia was a Wednesday Evening Prayer Service. It was a combination of testimonials, hymns, prayers, and something like craigslist. Once I needed a stove, mine was beyond repair, and I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. After I raised my concern, an older couple said they had an extra one in their garage that worked just fine. Other times folks who needed to go to doctor’s appointments would ask those in the service for a ride and rides were offered. That service embodies today’s passage from James.

In the final verses of James’ letter, he spells out what community looks like. He writes, “Are any among you suffering?” “Are any cheerful?” “Are any among you sick?” He implicitly assumes that the answer to these questions is yes. James knows members of communities do not act, feel, or even think in unison.

Because James knows this, after each question he offers a way one can act during the service. For those who are suffering hardships, pray. For those cheerful, sing a song. For those sick, and here James doesn’t give a short response, James writes that they should be anointed with oil and prayed over by the elders of the church. My interaction with these verses was present from birth until my preteens. I attended a church that had an anointing oil odor. And I, at least once a month, was anointed with oil, whether I was sick or not. Now I’m pretty sure this is not what James meant by anointing with oil.

So let’s segue into a quick history lesson into the world of ancient Israel and Judah. Anointing with oil was mainly meant for authority figures. Some prophets were anointed and most kings were. It set them apart. Even the word Messiah and the Greek translation of the word Christ means Anointed One. One of my favorite anointing stories in the Hebrew Bible is when Elisha in 2 Kings 9 gave instructions to a younger prophet to anoint Jehu, who was a macho warrior. Elisha told him to find Jehu in this group of military people, separate him from the group, tell him that he’s going to be king over Israel, anoint him, and then run like hell.

Translating the Hebrew Bible idea of anointing as mainly for kings and prophets, this becomes very peculiar in James’ community. In essence, he’s saying it’s those who are ill in the community that should be treated with the dignity of dignitaries . It’s the ones who are losing their eyesight who should be queens and kings. It’s those who pray for their scabs, their diseases, and their depressions who are royalty among us. Except that’s not how sick people are treated. We hear more stories about people like Martin Shkriel who raised an AIDS and cancer drug from $13 a pill to $750, a 5000% increase.

Yet, in James’ community, healthcare was not based on who could afford it. It was based on who was present. It didn’t matter if you were wealthy, penniless, or somewhere in between. Those who were sick were treated with dignity, respect, and honor.

Through the rest of these verses, we hear a parallel notion about those who wander from the truth. The community is called to bring them back. To bring them back to where they can be themselves: happy, suffering, or sick.

Related, there is this strange little story in Galatians 2 where Paul calls out Peter. The story goes, Paul and Peter are eating together in Antioch with Gentiles believers. When some Messianic Jews from Jerusalem arrive instead of Peter continuing to eat with Gentiles, he eats exclusively with the Messianic Jews. Using the words of James, Peter wandered from the truth of the gospel and Paul called him out and brought him back.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Everyone belongs. Everyone belongs. No matter what. Yet, it’s not that simple.

Belonging to a community requires that we are honest with one another. We are upfront with how we’re feeling. Are any among us joyful? Are any among us indifferent? Are any among us struggling to find your voice?

And in this honesty, we become vulnerable. Sharing with the community our mistakes, our struggles, and our dreams. Are any among us regretting your past? Are any among us afraid of our future? Are any among us not ready to move on?

On the front of the bulletin, there’s a quote by Lilla Watson “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

This, my friends, is community.
This, my siblings, is what James and Jesus are calling us to.
This, my friends, is the gospel.

May we open ourselves in being honest, truthful, and treat one another, especially those society deems the outcast, with love and dignity. Amen.

Later in the service, the congregation participated in prayer stations.

Prayer Stations

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Bible, Faith, Liberation Theology

jean 3:!6 an exitjesus

I had Jean 3:!6* memorized before I entered second grade. 20 years later, I still hold it dear, but in a much different way. Early in my faith, I thought praying Jean 3:!6 was the first and most important step in salvation. I would pray this verse nearly every Sunday. It was paradoxically comforting and stirred up fear within me (like was this right verse? or was I saying it in the correct word order?).

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who has faith in the Child may not perish but may have life eternal.

/Of course, this translation is my more inclusive translation. Until I was a teen, I only read the King James Version./

I’ve been annoyed lately by the blatant eisegesis done to this verse. Last week, a pastor said Jean 3:!6 was the whole Gospel: God loved the world and sent his son to be sacrificed for it. Also, I heard another pastor say that Jean 3:!6 is the most important verse for the cross. Yet, JEAN 3:!6 NEVER MENTIONS THE CROSS AS A WAY TO SALVATION! But because Christians have read it as such for many years, the cross has become the stick in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).

Jean 3:!6, when applying exitjesus**, seems to render the incarnation as the most important scene in the history of salvation. It is not Christ hanging on the cross in agony, saying few words, and bleeding profusely. It is a God who incarnated in the world to teach, heal, exorcise, pray, and set the captives free. Let’s not shove Jesus on the cross, just because his message is too difficult. And churches need to stop placing cross where it is not. It’s a disservice to the Bible and to congregations!

love one another

“Love One Another” by Laura James

*Writing and thinking Jean 3:!6 instead of John 3:16 helped me to set aside some of my own theological baggage and see it anew.

** I’ve heard more than one pastor say exegesis (the process of digging into a text) is exitjesus (destroying anything christological or theological about a text). I’m not trying to do that here though. 🙂 It’s also just ridiculous to think learning more about the Bible strips it of theology.

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anti-war, Bible, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

“no one chooses refugee camps or strip searches”

An accidental forte I’ve developed over the years is not staying in one place for too long. In the last six years I’ve moved over ten times and this doesn’t count the in-between months of staying on friends’ couches. When I visited my parents’ house at the beginning of the summer my dad counted how many times my brother and me have moved. It was a feat. My parents had moved twice since they married in 1983. Although, we went on many road trips across the US to see outstanding landmarks, we were always tourists.

Last year Penguin book released a series titled “Philosophy In Transit.”The concept of the series is to be a good commuter book, as well emphasize movement(s) in philosophy. The first book in the series, Truth, was written by postmodern philosopher and theologian John Caputo. He reveals that the history of the philosophical tradition was very localized yet spoken universally. For example, Immanuel Kant, lived in Königsberg, Prussia his entire life. The problem isn’t that he never moved. The problem is that he taught at least one Geography course a year at the university where he described that those who lived in African countries could not develop intellectually as Europeans because of the warm environment. Disgusting!

I am not trying to suggest that those who live in the same area for their entire lives that somehow are intolerant. With the presence and shared platforms of the internet, social media, and global news, socially and politically aware people show up from everywhere. What I am suggesting though is that one may be limited in experiences with otherness, especially in homogenous areas, which can be a struggle.

No one chooses to be a refugee

The news for these last few weeks has focused on the millions of refugees who have no choice in the matter of leaving their homes. They leave out of desperation, never out of privilege. They are forced out because of violence, war, and drought.

Poet Warsan Shire sums up the conditions of refugees as,

You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father.

This is so heartbreaking. Refugees exist because their homelands are unsafe, inhabitable. They seek safety and refuge. Their journeys are full of tears, stress, and the smallest hint of hope for another world. A world where violence no longer exists; where womyn are treated with dignity and respect; where they can practice their faith freely; where children can grow up without fearing their neighbors and government. I pray for this world as well and try to enact it too.

Migration and refugee status is as old as Abram. Genesis 12:10 explains the beginning of his family’s refugee journey: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as a refugee, for the famine was severe in the land.” God promised Abram another world, a land full of life, but first he had to become a refugee. I pray for the safety of refugees around the world. I pray for the countries accepting refugees that they may be hospitable and have plentiful resources for all who enter. May perspectives be transformed. May love abound. May we care for another without judgment.

Thomas Merton on Love

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