Epiphany, 3: A New Kind of Fisherman

An Epiphany daybook -- devotional guide -- for these weeks of witness. Join me, won't you? 

A fisherman throws a fish during the traditional carp haul in the village of Smrzov, near the south Bohemian town of Trebon, Czech Republic, 2015. by David W Cerny / Reuters

A fisherman throws a fish during the traditional carp haul in the village of Smrzov, near the south Bohemian town of Trebon, Czech Republic, 2015. by David W Cerny / Reuters


A playlist for the third week of Epiphany - Come, Follow


Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.

From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives.
— Matthew 2:18-23 (MSG)

 

Daily lectionary readings for this week:


Today's prayer: 

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer

This week walk through the neighborhood where you live, work or worship. Pray the collect for this week (above), and ask God to open your eyes to the people and places He's asking you to proclaim the Good News of His salvation. Ask a friend to pray for you to answer readily to what the Spirit reveals to you during your prayer.

Don't miss the special Epiphany blog series where friends of mine from around the world, take us on a virtual walk through their own neighborhoods.


(see all Epiphany posts from 2017 here)

Walking EPIPHANY: encountering Christ in a D.C. suburb

 

Welcome to the third annual WALKING EPIPHANY series of guest posts! I've asked a few friends who live around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods, and share some of the ways they encounter and exhibit the presence of Christ.  Before I introduce our first contributor, here's a brief summary of Epiphany.

What is Epiphany?

 Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world. He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism).  All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.  

Walking EPIPHANY blog series

Each of the friends contributing to the series this year has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts (collected from my subscription to these excellent daily readings) to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods. 

Will you join us?

p.s., Don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed following each prompt.


Glorya Taylor.4.jpg

 

Glorya Jordan, Woodbridge, VA

Glorya and I grew up in the same church in central New York sate.  I'm enough older for Brian and I to have enjoyed a short stint as her youth leader.  We've reconnected recently and shared frustrations with our country's conversation about race and justice. I'm so grateful to her for her grace toward me. As a former youth leader, I hope it's okay to say I am so proud of the woman Glorya has become, and I wish I could have heard her Neighborhood Honor Contract idea when my kids were younger!


 

 

Well, my neighborhood is literally made up of people from places outside of the USA. If we were honest, other than Native Americans, everyone in America is a foreigner. I live in Northern Virginia outside of our Nation's Capitol in Woodbridge, VA, where 60% of our county is made up of minorities. My neighborhood, Winding Creek Estates, is very diverse in religion, culture, and race. This car full of women is a beautiful picture of my friends. What does an Asian, Indian, and African-American woman have in common with each other? Not religion; one is a Christian, another Hindu, and another agnostic. Not politics; one is conservative, another liberal, another Independent, and another indifferent. Not occupation; two teachers, one in medicine, and another in finance/IT. So why do we love to spend time together? Because we value each other, we listen and support one another, we learn and grow from each other, we laugh and cry together. Do we agree on all things? Obviously not. But we value each other as people, as women, as mothers, as wives, as whatever various roles we happen to have. I have learned and grown more with these incredible women than I have in my many years in college. I love my neighborhood and the diversity it cultivates. None of us are foreigners, all of us are neighbors and friends.

 

Prompt: Foreigners as Neighbors

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Pope Francis, from "Pope Francis' Address to Congress" on Sep. 24, 2015

How does your neighborhood embrace foreigners? Are there organizations set up specifically for that purpose? What other signs of “immigrant” culture can you find in your neighborhood?

 

 

Our neighborhood is full of many different people, cultures, backgrounds, and religions. We seek to be "in the world but not of the world" by being the home for the "world" to come to. Our grass is not the greenest or best manicured but our home is a safe place to play and be. The boys play a lot of football and basketball. All the kids enjoy the trampoline and the climb on toy. My husband plays with the kids and shows them kindness while they have fun. They all know that bullying, foul language, and disrespect will NOT be tolerated at our house. I actually have the neighborhood kids sign an "Honor Contract". Honor is defined as, "Treating others as special, doing more than what is expected, and having a good attitude." If anyone fails to show honor the other kids can call them on it. If I come outside and hear something inappropriate they will have 1 warning and the next time they have to go home for the rest of the day. At first thought it may sound extreme and not very Christlike, but they actually all appreciate the standard and know they are valued at our home. They know we are different because we are Christians and we seek to be the kind of Christian who makes the lives of others around us, better.

 

Prompt: Salt & Light

The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world.  It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood.  Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation.

David Matzko McCarthy, The Good Life

In what ways have you been or do you hope to be salt and light in your neighborhood?
 
Glorya Taylor Jordan, RN BSN CCRN, is an adoptive parent from the foster care system and mother of four. She is an open heart nurse by trade but currently holds the title of CEO of Jordan Family Incorporated (stay at home mom). Glorya sometimes homeschools, serves on the board for CareNet Pregnancy Centers, and, along with her husband, DJ Jordan, volunteers in their church and community to promote justice to those in need --whether it be women in crisis, foster care, homelessness, restoring fathers and families, or addressing social concerns in their local community.

image: Trampolines by Brian Kershisnik (source)  

image: Trampolines by Brian Kershisnik (source)

 

Epiphany, 2: Behold, the Lamb of God

An Epiphany daybook -- devotional guide -- for these weeks of witness. Join me, won't you? 

by Raj Solomon

by Raj Solomon


A playlist for the second week of Epiphany - Come to the Water


The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’
— John 1:29-34

Today's prayer:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer

Renew Baptism Vows.png

Today is a good day to renew your baptism vows -- whether in your corporate worship service or in your family and personal prayer time. May I recommend this post from my son's baptism? It includes the Anglican baptism liturgy, but applicable for all followers of Christ.  


(see all Epiphany posts from 2017 here)

A Few More Words On the Hole In Wendell Berry's Gospel

I've received some of the greatest gifts of my writing life since publishing this essay in Plough Quarterly’s winter issue last month. I knew I was taking a risk by critiquing the absoluteness of ideals author Wendell Berry, beloved by me and countless others, promotes in his work. I expected lots of people to disagree. I guessed right. What I wasn’t sure how to calculate is who might actually agree with what I had to say.  I took some comfort in knowing that, at the very least, the journal's editors thought there was some value in what I had to say. With this sort of low expectation, you might be able to imagine my surprise when Rod Dreher wrote an overwhelmingly gracious and eloquent response at The American Conservative.  I read each paragraph carefully, expecting the shoe of disapproval to drop at some point.  It never did.  

I also did not expect the level of grace and thougtfulness from those who wrote objections to my essay. This is not the first time Jeffrey Bilbro has offered me a genial counterargument to my thoughts on Wendell Berry’s fiction.  His response (published at Front Porch Republic) to the Plough article includes a friendly admonition to me for not heeding his earlier advice to become more familiar with the range of characters and conflicts within Berry’s fictional Port William.  He’s not wrong. Although I continued to read a copious amount of Berry’s writing, when Plough contacted me about expanding the essay from its earlier version published at Art House America, I did not take Bilbro’s recommendation to update literary references much beyond Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow.

Instead, I pressed further into my own story and into the teaching of historical Church leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I spent more time looking into Wendell Berry’s real-life experiences growing up in Kentucky, a state fighting to keep its agrarian livelihood.  In the context of our national election, I'd read J.D. Vance and found myself intrigued by the parallels and differences between his experience of Appalachian culture and Berry’s. In hindsight, I realize I could just as easily have referenced Rod Dreher’s beautiful book describing the care his hometown offered his terminally-ill sister, Ruthie. I first read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming in 2013, and noted then that Dreher’s account was a pleasant contrast to my concerns with Berry’s smalltown depictions.

I think one of the better outcomes for this conversation is for us all to accept Bilbro's challenge to not overlook the "seamier side of Port William's history". As he and Jake Meador (the author of this critique) have indicated, I am not a Berry scholar, merely a literary fan (reading, up to this point, about half of his fiction and poetry, and a third of his nonfiction).  In addition to my work as a freelance writer and priest's wife, I've spent a lot of time in ministry caring for those who have been relationally, emotionally and sexually abused. Without placing too heavy a weight on the conversation, I'll admit that a certain amount of the frustration I experience with the rural folk in Port William cannot be separated from my own stories of sexual abuse within a rural community. It'd be fair for anyone critiquing my essay to wonder if I may be projecting my own real-life story onto the Port William membership.  At the same time, I'd argue that this is one of the reasons any of us read.  We are searching for stories to help us know others and ourselves better. And, for this reason if no other, I am forever grateful to Mr. Berry for helping me to think, maybe especially, when I feel frustrated with the characters he crafts.

This is what I found most rewarding about Dreher’s feedback to my essay. While I enjoyed the fact that he used words like “provocative” and “truth-telling”, tears came to my eyes when I read sentences like this:

“Until reading Murphy’s essay, I hadn’t realized how much Wendell Berry reminds me of my dad…”

and in his follow-up post:

"Murphy’s essay resonated with me, in large part because I try to be vigilant against my own tendencies to romanticize the past."

These words are the highest compliments anyone could ever give me. It's this sort of reflection I find conspicuously absent in the rebuttals from Bilbro and others who seem to engage the conversation at the literary level alone. 

As I’ve been given the gift to reconsider my essay, I’ve been able to gain clarity what I’m hoping to say in response to those who wish to follow his ideals. While it’s true that Wendell Berry warns readers against trying to “find a message” in his fiction, it’s also true that many people do, indeed, form life values inspired by his skillfully crafted descriptions of the beauty of agrarian life.  Wendell Berry offers a credible viewpoint that counters the dominant cultural obsession with an economy built on industrialism and mobility-at-all-costs.  Unfortunately, there is little pushback to this cultural stance from within our evangelical subcultures, making Mr. Berry's voice invaluable. I say, wholeheartedly, thank God for Christians who read and emulate Wendell Berry's life and work, and for those within the Christian community who read Berry's work spiritually. I would include myself - to some extent - as one of them.

My response to the Port William membership is not a critique on Berry’s ability to write excellent stories (which he unequivocally does), but to say that there’s a noticeable dissonance between the Port William membership and a community of people wholly-formed theologically. In particular, I’m proposing that Berry often writes characters that resist the sort of full transformation that comes only by way of repentance.  In my essay, I highlight Wendell Berry and J.D. Vance’s grandfathers as examples of this kind of repentance.  I share the story of my grandmother’s difficult life as an example of the sort of redemption we can find, even within a rural heritage that has not yet embraced repentance. (A side note: Resistance to acts of repentance is not a problem unique to rural communities, but since rural communities are considerably declining, the temptation to gloss over dysfunction increases.)

I’m happy to own any sloppiness on my part that makes it difficult for a reader to see these gospel themes of repentance and redemption as primary for me. In this regard, I am especially grateful to pastor and author Charles Moore for his feedback:  

“This is one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time. It’s wonderfully written, gracious, but also hits the bulls-eye when it comes to Berry’s uncritical, romantic idealism. Murphy is spot on in her assessment of Berry. I simply couldn’t agree with her more (even though I like Berry a lot!). She lifts the lid off of Berry’s truncated soteriology....”

Or, to put it as succinctly as one editor: “it’s Berry’s gospel that’s up for debate, not his literary brilliance!”

To those among my Christian friends and colleagues who hold Mr. Berry and his writing up as a model for cultivating good, true and beautiful economies within the world, I’m encouraging us to practice discernment.  Ideals are inspiring, but they are not sustaining.  When we limit Mr. Berry’s words to ideals, we limit the greater, everlasting function of a gospel-shaped economy.  

It’s not that I have no literary agenda for my essay. If I’m being completely transparent, I would love a few Port William’s sequels telling next-generation stories of Hannah Coulter’s children and grandchildren. Within those stories, perhaps Mr. Berry could describe how it might look for them (my generation) to practice resurrection now? In the meantime, I listen to Rod Dreher’s story of life both within and beyond the “borders of West Feliciana Parish”,  read my Grandmother’s diary of growing up abandoned and rescued in upstate New York, and keep track of every story I can find describing generational reconciliation.  

I am so grateful to everyone who's taken the time to read my essay and offer feedback. I'm including in that gratitude the literary scholars, like Jeff Bilbro (and my friend Dr. Janet Goodrich, the person who introduced me to Wendell Berry years ago), who help us to plumb the depths of generations of Port Williams’ characters.  In the meantime, I plan to keep reading Wendell Berry’s splendid words in every genre, and hope to live into the most striking Gospel-call the author gives us -  to practice resurrection here and now.

This week I went back to Wendell Berry school.

This week I went back to Wendell Berry school.

Feast of The Epiphany

I am under the weather, but wanted to give you this little gift - a collage of artwork from around the world imagining the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.  During the season of Epiphany, I'll sharing a post each Sunday to mark the journey of Christ, as He manifests God's presence among men.  I'm also excited to share again a guest post each week from friends around the world, sharing witness of Christ's presence in their own neighborhoods.  

The Word became Flesh and moved into the neighborhood....

 
The Feast of the Epiphany is the final feast day of the Christmas season. It celebrates those events in Christ’s early life that revealed his divine nature to those around him. In a larger sense, this feast reminds us that the Incarnation involves the announcement of salvation to “all nations.” The Good News is not for a privileged group but for everyone everywhere.

”Epiphany” comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia”, which is translated both as “coming” and as “manifestation” or “appearing.” While Christmas celebrates Christ’s coming in the Incarnation event, Epiphany celebrates manifestation - the ways in which the Incarnation is revealed to us.

The feast of the Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church. It was celebrated as early as the third century, even before Christmas was part of the liturgical calendar. For early Christians, Epiphany was primarily a feast celebrating the manifestation of Christ as his baptism, when it was revealed to those present that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. The feast also celebrated other events that revealed Christ’s identity to the world, including the Magi’s adoration of the Christ-child and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana.

In the early church, Epiphany was also a commemoration of Christ’s nativity - God made manifest through his literal appearance in the flesh. This changed in the fourth century, when the church began to observe the feast of the Incarnation on Christmas Day. As December 25 became the sole feast devoted to Christ’s nativity, the focus of Epiphany was narrowed to commemorate other important manifestations of Christ.
— God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer
house blessing.jpg

One of the most meaningful activities we've done on Epiphany is a house blessing.  This can be as simple as marking the doorways with chalk and a prayer of blessing or as specific as praying through each room of the house with specific prayers like those found in the traditional Anglican House blessing. (Click here for a pdf version of an Anglican House Blessing.)