Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Most Natural Burden

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”  Exodus 20:12

I lost my two remaining grandparents last year.  There was nothing particularly dramatic or unexpected about their deaths.  They departed this life after extended struggles with disease and debility, looking ahead in hope.  They died holding the hands of their children.  

My mother and her siblings were alongside them through so much of the dramatic change, and it’s been moving for me to watch this from the sidelines.  For them it was a year of sitting in dozens of doctor’s offices, heating up dinner, writing out notes to guide confused minds, sorting the bills, arranging a last family picnic on a sunny July day.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Where the White Light Flickers

From The Sounds of St. Francis, March 2018.

The twentieth century English poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) is one my very favorite modern writers.  Calling him modern, though, may be a bit of a misnomer, for his verses never ranked very highly among the literary establishment.  He was far too traditional in his political and religious opinions and loathe to take himself too seriously.  He also managed to write verses that ordinary people can understand (and often they even rhyme).  He was very popular in his lifetime, and was even England’s poet laureate for the last twelve years of his life.

Most of Betjeman’s verses are about the English countryside, old buildings, social satire, and the Christian faith.  He was a faithful Anglican, a warden of his parish church.  His faith was awakened, like my own, as a young man in the pews of Pusey House, Oxford.  He had a deep devotion to the church’s liturgy and sacramental life, shaped by his time in that enchanting place.   The transforming power of the Eucharist is an oft-repeated theme in his work.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bearing with Us

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."
Genesis 9:16

My uncle told me recently that he’s in the market for an alternator—or maybe it was a fuel pump or a carburetor.  I’m not so good with that sort of thing.  He’s been scanning eBay and reading collectors’ magazines, because you can’t just call up NAPA to ask them to order you one. 

He’s restoring his grandfather’s 1947 Packard, and the old one has given way.  It’s at least the second time he’s had to overhaul with that old car, and he said he’s wondering if it’s really worth all the fuss.  It’s not quite old enough to be valuable, and it really isn’t all that stunning, the chariot of a second-rate insurance salesman.  It’s never been all that reliable, and I think you can guess what the gas mileage is like. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mirrors of His Glory

“He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other.”  II Kings 2:14

Henry Ford didn’t the invent the car, but once he got started, no one ever made them the same way again.  Fats Domino wasn’t the first to play the jazz piano, but once you had heard him, they said, it was like something entirely new.  People had dunked a basketball before Michael Jordan stepped onto the court, but now you can’t imagine that feat without him. 

Elijah wasn’t the first prophet, either.  People had been moved to speak God’s Word before, they had stood fast for the truth when it wasn’t popular.  But the mysterious man from Tishbe changed the meaning of prophecy forever.

Elijah had called the people to spiritual renewal and denounced corrupt kings face to face.  He worked great miracles of healing and destruction.  He had summoned fire from heaven and withheld the rains for three and a half years.  God fed Elijah in the wilderness with bread delivered by ravens and revealed to him His glory on the side of Mount Sinai. 

Elijah did it all clad in a mantle. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: Museum of the Bible Offers Minority Report

From The Living Church, 21 Jan. 2018
The Bible is big, according to the new Museum of the Bible. It’s also influential, easy to understand, relevant to everyday life, and very American. The museum also suggests that the Bible is not all that complex or challenging.

The museum announces its presence with a text-emblazoned portal, three stories of the first chapter of Genesis, presented as a massively resized version of the plates used by the Gutenberg Bible’s printer. The entrance hall features enormous overhead screens, on which an ever-changing rotation of evocative photographs signals the technological thrust of the museum’s displays. The building’s glass-walled, futuristic cap offers stunning views of the U.S. Capitol, just two blocks away.

Though founder Steve Green deflected attention during a press conference to the institution’s 50,000 founding donors, the Museum of the Bible is his brainchild. Green, president of Hobby Lobby, began collecting biblical artifacts in 2009, aiming to present them to the public in a format that would garner wide attention. A committed evangelical who has taken his turn in the culture wars, Green knows how to make a political statement. His museum aims to educate and to inspire, but those brassy yards of bas-relief text are also a way of claiming a permanent corner of the public square for his people, the people of the Bible.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Galatians 4:4-5

We do not know the name of Saint Paul’s father.  This may strike you as trivial, a trick question for the daily double on Bible Jeopardy, but I think there’s deep theological significance in this important omission.

We know a great deal about Saint Paul, because he intertwines bits of his biography into his teaching.  Scholars can date his missionary journeys down to the month, and he names dozens of his friends and associates scattered around the Mediterranean world.  He tells us that he came from the city of Tarsus, that before he met Jesus he was a member of the Pharisee sect within Judaism.  We know that Saint Paul’s father came from the ancient tribe of Benjamin, and that he was a Roman citizen, a fairly unusual fact for Jew of this time, and a fact on which the drama of his son’s later life turned.

But Saint Paul never names him.  In that respect he is unlike almost every major figure in the Old Testament. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Christmas Cow

“The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”  Isaiah 1:3

My mother’s nativity set is porcelain.  It was a rather optimistic choice for a family of three curious boys, and the figures received their share of battering over the years.  None of them so much as the cow.  The cow in the Michael family nativity set is missing at least one horn.  The glaze is scuffed off in a few places, and the hindquarter has a long brown seam, carefully mended with adhesive after a precipitous fall.

That was my fault.  When I was four or five I went through a cow stage.  Some boys memorize the starting lineup for their favorite baseball team or the Air Force fighter plane fleet.  But growing up in the country, with two farmers for grandfathers, my obsession was cows.  I knew all the breeds, where they had originated, which local farmers raised which kinds.  I could tell you the strong points of Guernsey milk and Angus steaks, and I knew all about those “hairy coos” in the Scottish highlands.   

And Christmas is the perfect holiday for a little boy drawn to cattle.