My latest post is up at the United Church of Christ's blog:
One of my daughter’s favorite shows at the moment is “Thomas the Tank Engine.” I haven’t yet figured out what she likes most about it, whether the stories or out of a growing fascination with trains. I suspect that it’s the latter.
A constant theme of this show is “usefulness.” Thomas is always trying to be useful, hoping that he can accomplish his tasks in a timely and efficient manner. He savors the praise of the island mayor when he is told he is a “very useful engine.”
I think this message from a seemingly benign children’s program reflects a common aspiration that many have.
As a pastor, I read a lot of theology. I read it in preparation for my sermon each week. I read it while planning Bible study. I read it while preparing for my next spiritual direction class. I read it to stay caught up on new trends developing in response to society and culture. And occasionally, I read it for fun.
There come points, however, when I get sick of theology, especially in its abstract form. How many different ways can I read basically the same things about God's love, grace, forgiveness, presence, and on and on and on? It all blends together and, quite frankly, gets boring. There's only so much of it that I can take, especially if it doesn't seem very tied down to something tangible; some way it's being lived out in real time. I'll admit that reviewing the last book by Doug Reed was difficult for that reason: I'd hit one of those points where I was tired of bodiless ideas about God.
The irony of such bodiless ideas might be obvious to some: we cl…
It's not a terribly new or original thing to attempt to envision what Jesus' life was like before he began his public ministry. Before describing this 1- to 3-year period where he begins teaching, healing, and scandalizing the establishment leading to his death, the Gospels only provide a few fantastic infancy accounts and one episode as a 12-year-old during a visit to Jerusalem. The rest is left up to imaginative questioning: How did he discover his identity or his sense of call? What was life like for him growing up?
As mentioned, trying to answer questions like these is not a new idea. Dating back to the first few centuries of the church, there are non-canonical accounts of Jesus as a boy such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which feature Jesus discovering and using his powers in selfish and reckless ways like an X-Men Origins story. In more modern times, popular authors such as Anne Rice have made their own attempts at such storytelling, and Mel Gibson added a few imagin…