Friday, August 29, 2008

Marked with a seal for the day of redemption

I would like to offer something of an apology to my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems I am only looking for trouble when I search out evangelical blogs. Too many times I have read accusations that liberal and moderate Christians are apostate for not immediately and unflinchingly condemning homosexuality. Apostasy is a serious charge. I can’t just let stand such words that mutilate the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Winter 2007 was a time of anger on both sides of the divide over gay clergy and same-sex marriage. At St. John’s, we were threatened with the removal of Pastor Bradley Schmeling from ordained ministry, and we did not want to lose him as our pastor. Yet we were strangely hopeful and spoke out courageously. We felt a strong sense of God’s presence in our midst. I was given song specifically a prayer service during the time of Pastor’s disciplinary hearing. Do not let the sun go down on my anger. Even these services “in a time of trial” where condemned in some quarters as the height of our arrogant blasphemy, proof of apostasy.

We understood that such trials are necessary to force the church to tend to the needless wounds certain policies inflict on Christians both in the pew and in the pulpit. We also believed—and still maintain—that the church was approaching a tipping point on these issues. Where there had been a long stream of pastors rejected from ministry for no other reason but that they were gay, St. John’s was hopeful that our pastor’s case would be an historic last trial in this struggle. So it was a strange time of anger and expectancy, pain and hope.

Given all this, Pastor Brad was oddly serene. He was spiritually centered, energized. He had never felt so well prayed for as he did then in the center of the storm. One time, I asked him what passage of scripture gave him encouragement. His answer was the same as always, Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2.

Later that day, I started to meditate on this text. My mind zeroed in on “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” With a slight turn of phrase from “your anger” to “my anger”, a new song started to emerge in my consciousness. I chanted over and over:

Do not let the sun go down on my anger,
Do not let the sun go down.

It was necessary to own that anger and to understand for what purpose that anger was given. It was not something to project onto others, my brother or sister in Christ. Rather it was my anger and my plea not to be brushed aside, ignored, forgotten—not to be told again that the church wasn’t ready for this right now. It was my time not to walk away, not to speak the lie of acquiescence or suppressed rage.

There was more at stake. Christ’s body was broken.

Only when we speak the truth to one another,
Then is the body whole.

This was not simply my anger or even the anger of all those who have been excluded from full participation in the church. This was an anger that grieves for the whole church, for the brokenness of the body of Christ. Dare I say this is Christ’s anger for his church?

How can we be the body of Christ when we bite and devour one another, when we let our politics and piety ruin the day? The sun is going down.

It goes down every day on children who lack for food and clean water, education, medical care, and safety. The sun goes down on young bodies torn apart by the greed and violence of war—whole peoples stripped of dignity and human worth. The sun goes down on those who die without hope, those who never were alive. It goes down on those who could have made a difference but were immobilized and acculturated to indifference and despair.

The sun is going down, and we have no anger, nothing that amounts to much. Christ hangs in the balance.

Here I am, body broken, spirit grieving,
O Father, into your hands…

Where is our prophetic voice? The church has been wedged apart and spun about over matters of personal conscience and social acceptability. We’ve been neutralized. Devils and thieves move about the globe with impunity. Whole nations are enslaved to the economic interests of the powerful. When our brothers and sisters look to our churches in the US, they are aghast that we seem more concerned about gay rights than global cries for justice. If we listen, we may just hear the broken heart of Jesus.

Still Christ has marked each one of us with a seal for the day of redemption. Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit any longer. We need to resolve this matter quickly and not delay justice to the poor. Let us put away all slander and malice, anger and wrangling, bitterness and wrath that we may no longer hold sins of one against other and so divide the body of Christ. Only then will we speak truth to one anther. Only then will the body be whole.

Please leave comments. I would like to hear from everyone, especially our international neighbors.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preaching the Word at St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta

America's favorite Lutheran pastor, Bradley Schmeling, preaches on Luke 4:1-13, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. This is classic Schmeling breathing life into Law and Gospel drawing from both the Old and New Testaments. His conclusion: "'The body broken for you' means that we are now bread broken for the world."

The Church of Atlanta

I recently came across a year-old post that compared my congregation, St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta to the Church in Corinth. I'll let you reach the post for yourself at The Church of Corinth Lives... in St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, but the thrust of Johnny Helm's article was to compare the tolerance of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church (1Cor 5) to St. John's celebration of our gay pastor, Rev. Bradley Schmeling.

At the time, the committee on appeal's had summarily removed Pastor Schmeling from the ELCA roster of ordained minister's while the Churchwide Assembly was moving to exhort bishops not to prosecute pastors such as Schmeling and to commission the committee on human sexuality to draft proposals for changing ELCA to allow gay ministers to live in committed, chaste same-sex unions. In other word, the ELCA seems to be reaching an historic tipping point toward the full inclusion of homosexuals both in the pew and the pulpit.

Like many well-meaning Christians, Mr. Helm's sees this as a dangerous and immoral move within the Church. I do believe he goes too far when he claims that St. John's, indeed the whole ELCA denomination, is now an apostate church because of the way we "treat the Ten Commandments, the Biblical condemnation of particular lifestyles (adultery, sorcery, homosexuality, etc.), and the entire Word of God."

I accept that there are reasonable biblical arguments on both sides of this issue. So I welcome Johnny Helm's candor to voice his comparison of St. John's to the biblical church of Corinth. I want to extend the comparison and see if we can avoid quarrelsome division. Here is my response.


I want to thank you for taking the time to write about my congregation and our pastor. I especially appreciate your effort to think through this biblically. To be sure, we disagree on whether the kind of homosexuality that the Bible speaks against bears any relation to the committed and monogamous relationship that Pastor Brad and Darin actually have.

For example, while scripture condemns certain sexual relations between men and women, it does not follow that God condemns all forms of heterosexuality (1Cor 7:1-2; 8:36). To the contrary, Paul recommends marriage as a hedge against the temptation of sexual immorality. In like manner, the condemnation of certain same-sex relations does not condemn all forms of homosexuality. Chaste same-sex marriage may well be the best hedge against the temptations of same-sex promiscuity. Regardless of orientation, it may be "better to marry than to burn" (1Cor 7:9). You probably don't buy what I'm saying, but let's move on to other ways St. John's is like the Corinthian Church.

Like the church in Corinth, St. John's is a Spirit- and grace-filled church (1Cor 1:4-7). God is present in our worship services, and people are open to the Word and Wisdom of God (1Cor 2:14-16). We are a Bible-believing and Christ-confessing church (1Cor 15:1-4). In fact, our Church Council recently voted that we would become a "Book of Faith" congregation. This is a program within the ELCA to renew engagement and commitment to the Bible.

We are a congregation that that seeks the highest gifts of prophecy and love (1Cor 14:1). As a congregation, our prophetic voice speaks God's grace to those who have felt rejected by the Church and we speak against the misunderstand of though who unintentionally place limits and exclusions on grace, whether that be through racism, sexism or heterosexism. Instead, we shun quarrelsome division (1Cor 1:10-15).

As a congregation we practice hospitality and unconditional love. We are a community centered around the Lord's supper (1Cor 11:17-34). We follow Paul's admonition, "when you come together to eat, wait for one another" (v. 33). We do not serve straights first and gays last. We do not give loaves to the rich and crumbs to the poor. All are welcome. All share in the same food and the same drink.

Are we perfect? No, and the church of Corinth was flawed as well. But we do place ourselves in God's hands that we might be conformed to his will. As good Lutherans, we hold together both Law and Gospel. We trust the Holy Spirit and scripture to lead us into truth and holiness. We know that God treasures us and that we hold God's treasure within our earthen vessels (2Cor 4:7). We are a new creation in Christ, and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2Cor 5:17-19). This is what was great about the church in Corinth, and may it be said of St. John's as well.

The biblical test is to judge the tree by its fruit. As you surely know, the early Jewish Christians had major problems with Gentile Christians who were not getting circumcised as Scripture so clearly commands. What settled the question was not simply a biblical debate, but the Apostles in Jerusalem recognized that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on uncircumcised gentiles (Acts 15:1-29, see also Acts 11:1-18). It was this recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit that gave Paul such courage to speak on behalf of the Gentile churches and not to make salvation by grace dependent on act circumcision and other acts of the flesh. Paul encouraged the Corinthian to remain as uncircumcised as they were when God had called them (1Cor 7:17-20). Indeed this was "the life the Lord had assigned" them. Gay Christians generally believe that their orientation is as God assigned it to them, and God calls them as they are. Bedrock Lutheranism maintains that salvation is only by grace through faith, no preconditions.

At St. John's we sing this little song.
Welcome, my full welcome,
all my children come to me.
I will make a way for you,
I will make you holy.
God alone is holy, and God alone draws us into his holiness. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything." (1Cor 7:19). In this spirit, we wish to say that being straight is nothing, and not being straight is nothing. And we wish to say it with the fellowship we share.

Again I don't expect that you'll buy everything I say here. But I want you to know that we can both take the Bible seriously and disagree. I hope that someday you'll be able to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in congregations like St. John's. In any case, hold us gently in your prayers.

May God's peace be with you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Burdens and Crosses

Here is an outline of a participatory Bible study for youth.

Notes: Scripture passages are quoted at length to give background. You need not quote the whole passage but focus in on the text in bold. Texts in italics are meant to be paraphrased verbally to the group.

Lift high the heavy Cross

Invite one youth to carry big cross to center. Use a large cross made of two logs, about as much as I can carry by myself, 60+ pounds.

Is this too much for you to carry? Do you need any help?

Now have the whole group lift the cross.

Lift it high. Be aware of how this feels.

Now while the cross is lifted is a good time to pray for blessing our Bible study or the Lord’s Prayer. Set the Cross down carefully.

Is this cross heavy our light? What’s the difference?

Is it easy to be a disciple or hard?

A Contradiction? “My burden is light” versus “Carry the cross”

Words of Comfort

Matthew 11:28-30 28 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Words of Challenge

Matthew 10:34-40 34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 40 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Matthew 16:24-25 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

How can we resolve this paradox? Is following Jesus easy or heavy?

Not even Jesus could carry his own cross

A stranger is pressed to carry his cross. Who is this?

Matthew 27:31-32 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

He can’t save himself from the cross.

Matthew 27:39-43 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.'"

If Jesus can’t carry his own cross or free himself from it, how can he save us?

Letting go of our own burden and bearing each other’s burden

Hebrews 12:1-4 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Galatians 6:1-3 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.

What’s the difference between a burden and the cross Jesus calls us to carry? Or is it all the same?

What are our burdens? What weighs us down?


1 Peter 5:7 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Take this time as an opportunity to let go of burdens.

This week, find someone you can confide in. Support one another.

Invite all to pray around the cross. You may lift the cross as a group again, perhaps halfway up so that faces are not blocked by arms and the Cross.

Image by DeejayMarlon, the Philippines

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Confession and Forgiveness at Christ’s Table

Here is another piece of personal, sacramental theology for my Intersections class at Columbia Theological Seminary. It's "confessional" in three ways: it's a personal account, it's about confession of sin, and it relates to the Lutheran confessions.

At St. John’s Lutheran Church we celebrate Christ’s Table every Sunday morning. Renewal of Lutheran worship within the ELCA has lead to weekly communion in many congregations whereas this sacrament had fallen into infrequent use. After the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, Lutherans have recognized Private Confession and Absolution as a third sacramental means of grace. Several weeks ago I had my first experience with this ritual. In this paper I wish to explore how private confession before pastor can open a way to the sacrament of the table. First I will describe what prompted me to this and what I experienced in the ritual itself. Then I will consider on how this connects with the worship practices at St. John’s and draw out some theological implications.

Pastor Bradley Schmeling has been mentoring me in my preparation for ministry for about two years. I hit a crisis about a year ago when I took my psychological exam for entrance to candidacy. During the interview, I was questioned on many moral issues and felt compelled to reveal several painful areas of sin and shame in my life. This was an odd mixture of “psychology” and “confession”. Dr. Snook did not presume to be a pastor, and yet the Synod had in effect authorized him to take my confession and transmit it back to the church in the language of psychopathology. This left me with a great deal of confusion. Had I confessed sin in need of God’s continued grace or did I have psychological problems that needed to be “therapeutically resolved.” Pastor and I have met for a year to sort this out. I’ve also worked with a psychologist for half a year to clarify issues the viewpoint of psychology. My sin I had long confessed not only to myself and God, but to pastor, wife, therapist and several other trusted persons. I believed that God had forgiven me all along and had given me grace not to continue in these sins, but the stain or stigma had somehow remained. At length Pastor asked me if I felt absolved of this sin, whether I had truly heard words of absolution spoken to me. I wasn’t sure what this meant. I had confessed. I had been forgiven. I had changed my ways. I had even gotten some therapy. What more could I do? Pastor proposed that in the following day we would meet in the sanctuary and go through a ritual of confession and absolution. I was willing to give it a try.

We met the next day in the sanctuary. We placed two chairs facing each other by the altar within the rails. I took a worship book out from a pew, and Pastor had his. Before we began, Pastor quipped that, while it’s still in the worship book, nobody ever really uses it. He also said somewhat cryptically that this was not so much about a sin which I had committed, but about something which had happened to me. The order is for Individual Confession and Forgiveness is brief.[1] The pastor begins an invocation with the sign of a the cross and speaks an invitation, “You are free to confess before me, a pastor of the church of Christ, sins of which you are aware and which trouble you.” The penitent then prays a prayer of confession. I confessed my sin in two categories. The first was with regard to the sin that had so shamed me, and the second was the category of spiritual pride which I had come to see as the cause of continued trouble. My prayer concluded as printed in the order, “I ask for strength to turn from sin and to serve you in newness of life.” Pastor comforted me by reading Psalm 103. The order then moved to absolution. Pastor stood to lay both hands on my head to speak words of forgiveness as words which come from God. These are more than words of assurance; they are priestly words. “James, in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name to f the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I sat in dark silence. My silence was not for lack of words. Rather the Spirit allowed me to see quite clearly how the words that might appear in my mind were reflexive or defensive words of self-justification and that in silence I could allow them to pass unsaid. I was in a place of suspense where I was somehow separated from my normal sense of self and severed in particular from my spiritual pride. “As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.”[2] We shared a greeting of peace, and he left me to remain as I wished.

How then does this relate to communion? Significant to the Lutheran tradition, the same space, the sanctuary, is used for both individual confession and communion. Individual confession is both private and public. The words shared are private, not within the hearing of anyone but the penitent and pastor, but they are shared in a public worship space. Such intimate speaking and hearing are not possible in communion liturgy. Our worship services begin with confession and forgiveness at the baptismal font, and this is good preparation for communion later in the service. But there are some inadequacies. It is possible to be simply “one of the crowd”, making a secret confession in the heart—or no confession at all—and hearing a general pardon spoken to all. This can lead to habitual or weak-hearted confession and desensitize the ears to hearing pardon. One can be reminded of being a sinner, feel sorry or inadequate and try to do better next time, but miss the whole point that it is power of the Holy Spirit that actual sanctifies us. In individual confession, the laying on of hands signals this powerfully. Where one is seriously troubled by sin whether for guilt of it or for shame of it, confession and forgiveness in worship may not suffice to open the grace to be received in communion. At St. John’s, each communicant is given the bread and wine individually and told, “This…is for you.” Likewise in private absolution one hears the words, “Your sins are forgiven you.” In either case, it is hearing for oneself that matters.

In the Lutheran tradition, private confession is not compulsory.[3] Rather one is free to seek out the grace to be found in it, the grace set free from sin. Being coerced to confess, in whatever context, leads to shame. Being free to confess with assurance of God’s absolution can lead out of both shame and guilt. We live in a culture where people make all sorts of confessions, but far too often these are confessions without the grace of absolution. Therapists have become our confessors, while our churches make too little use of Christ’s priestly gift. Jesus breathes upon us and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”[4]

A Post-Script

Since writing this paper, I have voiced an ethics complaint against the psychologist who tested me. He was not living up to his professional responsibility to give primacy to my wellbeing as a therapeutic client. He exploited my emotional vulnerability in a way that has left me damaged for over a year and a half. As a friend of mine put it, “the psych eval shouldn't be a ‘test’ to ‘trip you up’ but rather an everyday—and caring—opportunity to look at one's gifts and challenges.” Perhaps it was this abuse that made it so hard to experience a freeing sense of forgiveness apart from using the ritual of confession and absolution. Perhaps this is what made the sin sticky.

Sin is not just a problem of what we do to others, but also of what is done to us. We are all entangled in the same web of sin. Can we extend the idea and practice of absolution to include separation from sin however it entangles us? We need forgiven, but we also need to be set free from the shame of what has been done to, around and among us. God is merciful to both the abuser and the abused.

[1] Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, pp. 243-244.

[2] Psalm 103:12.

[3] P. H. D. Lang, “Private Confession and Absolution in the Lutheran Church: A Doctrinal, Historical, and Critical Study.” Concordia Theological Quarterly, October 1992, 56(4), p. 248.

[4] John 20:22-23.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Moments of Baptism

Here is a bit of personal, sacramental theology. It was a writing assignment for a course called Intersections at Columbia Theological Seminary.

How does my baptism matter? My initial response as one who grew up in the Pentecostal tradition is to ask, which one—baptism in water or baptism in the Spirit? In the context of this class, the question seems to be simply about water baptism, the one baptism which can be observed in a single ritual at a particular point in time. The distinctive belief—and practice—of Pentecostals is that the baptized believer should also seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit as if they were potentially distinct moments in time. This contention has spurred no little doctrinal dispute. The difficulty, it seems, is with how we situate baptism in time: one discrete event, a sequence of events, a continuous process, an eternal moment apart from time, etc. I will not attempt to resolve this here, but I will work from my own experience within which there have been several distinct markers. To speak of water baptism in isolation from spirit baptism would do injustice to the integral work of the Holy Spirit within my life.

Perhaps the most significant fact of my water baptism is that I chose to be baptized. From the age of four to seven, I had responded to several altar calls to confess my sins and accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. This meant I was saved. I can’t recall what sins I needed to confess at that age, but I certainly did not want to go to hell or be left behind in the rapture because of them. Accepting Jesus Christ into my heart was supposed to be sufficient for salvation, but induced fear and guilt would lead this little child to doubt whether I was saved. My response to this insecurity was to respond to altar calls several times.

I grew up with baptismal services where new believers—whether children or adults—would be immersed in water. At the age of seven I asked if I could be baptized. Children did not usually get baptized that young; nine or ten was a more suitable age. But because I was insistent about this my parents and pastor agreed. That summer I was baptized in a creek. This creek flowed around the backside of the church property and then came around the property of some prominent church members a small distance from the church. We had the service and picnic on their property. It had better visibility and was a great place for all of us to swim afterward. Being baptized in a creek connected more strongly in my mind to the gospel story of Jesus’ own baptism in the Jordan than did the use of a baptismal tank or worse yet baptism by “sprinkling” which this tradition did not recognize. This public profession of faith with affirmation of the congregation helped solidify the commitment I had made in previous altar calls. I never again felt the need to respond to an altar call to get saved—I was now a baptized believer. I felt more mature and serious about living my faith and being a useful vessel for God.

Baptism, however, did not assuage my fear of the rapture or guilt over sin. I grew up with the idea that, if I failed to confess a sin, the Lord might return and I’d be left behind to face the tribulation and quite possibly without my family. Learning to seek forgiveness quickly was the point, but it left me with much dread and rapture attacks. For example if my family we to disappear inexplicitly, then I might panic that they had been taken up and I left behind.

I think the greater significance of my water baptism is that set the stage for receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A year I was baptize in the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, as taught in the Assemblies of God. The Sunday evening service would typically end with invitation to come forward prayer. Some would seek healing or some other touch of the Holy Spirit. I was taught to tarry in the Spirit as Jesus had instructed the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” for the gift of the Spirit. I was always one of the last to leave this time of earnest prayer. All around me I would hear people praying in tongues, singing, shouting, weeping or laughing however the Spirit may lead them. Tarrying in the Spirit was a way opening oneself to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Specifically the baptism of Holy Spirit is the decisive opening of the soul such that the charismatic gifts might begin to flow in one’s life. While I chose to be baptized in water, the Holy Spirit decided when to give me this second baptism.

These two baptisms are part of larger work of the Holy Spirit in my life, a process which has no end-point. Now when I contemplate the baptism of Jesus, I see myself. The prophet John raises Jesus from the water; the Spirit descends to anoint him; and finally, a voice from heaven cries out, “This is my son, my beloved.” My whole life I knew that God loved me and that I was child of God, but only much later in life did I truly experience this third, unexpected baptism. I heard this same voice say to me, “You are my child, my beloved; in you I am well pleased.” However saved or gifted I may have been matters less and less. Each baptism bears the seeds of the next, and the latter outshines the former.

I am not sure what to make of these three moments of baptism. I do not know where they lead. Theologically, we may bundle all three into one sacrament of baptism, but it can take much longer to unpack each promise. Even Jesus had to be driven into the wilderness to test what had been given to him. Transfiguration is brighter than baptism, and resurrection is yet more transparent than transfiguration.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Lord, I am your creation, I will trust your creation.
You breathe in all creation, so I will breathe in you.
Your creation is life, and I will live in your creation.