The Shape of Our Lives


I love the KPUMC sanctuary for many reasons, but my favorite feature of our worship space is its cruciform shape, meaning the ground plan is in the shape of a cross.

While it is common for Catholic and Anglican/Episcopalian churches to be built in this shape, it’s rare in the United Methodist denomination, particularly in the south.

The shape of our church is not just an architectural feature; it’s not only a nod to the most recognizable symbol of Christianity.

It also makes a statement about the shape of our lives together — the life of a Christian disciple is supposed to be cruciform.

What does that mean?

This is metaphorical language, of course. But it means that, in some sense, as we follow Jesus, we will also experience suffering and crucifixion. Our lives will mirror Jesus’ life; the contours of our faith journey will resemble the ebb and flow of Christ’s journey.

Jesus himself mentioned this when he said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean that we should all be dragging wooden crosses behind us everywhere we go; he meant instead that the experience of following him involved hard choices and difficult challenges. There is a necessary struggle that we must each embrace if we are going to be God’s people in the world.

I reflected on this truth as I walked the Stations of the Cross in our sanctuary this week. The Stations of the Cross are a cruciform spiritual discipline; not only do we literally walk in the shape of the cross while meditating and praying, but we read through the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion as we go.

We don’t do this only to commemorate or remember what Jesus went through; we do this because we are called to a life which will resemble his.

This doesn’t necessarily mean our individual lives will resemble each other’s, or that we are called to the same kind of choices in life. To paraphrase the opening lines of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “Each cruciform disciple is cruciform in its own way.”

“Taking up the cross” will mean one thing for me, and another thing for you . “Saying no to yourself” will challenge my behavior in a certain way, but perhaps another way for you.

Lent is a season in which we must check ourselves and ask if our lives are actually cruciform, or whether they take a different shape. What about you?

Don't Skip to the End!


Are you one of those people who reads the last couple of pages before starting a book? Or do you fast forward to the last couple of minutes of a movie before watching the whole thing? Do you need to know how something ends in order to decide to commit?

If so, I’ve never understood that impulse. The fun of reading a novel or watching a film is sustaining the mystery of how things will end. The narrative or plot is what matters, the flow of events from one to the next.

In the same way, I don’t understand people who attend only Christmas and Easter services. Essentially, these folks are cutting out the entire life, ministry, teaching, miracles, and crucifixion of Christ in order to focus merely on his birth and resurrection.

I feel the same way about those of you who only attend the Sunday services of Holy Week. If you skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, you’re missing some important pieces of the narrative. To go from the celebratory mood of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem directly to the glory and majesty of Jesus’ resurrection is to skip directly to the ending!

The faith which we share and call “Christian” is really nothing but a story, a narrative of how God has worked in the world to bring salvation to all people. It’s tempting to focus entirely on the end; yes, it’s great news that we are saved by grace, forgiven of our sins, and raised to new life.

But the whole story matters. We need to know how God accomplished this salvation, because it tells us something important about God and God’s nature. Put simply, the fact that God in Jesus embraced the suffering of the cross should assure us that none of us are truly alone in our suffering. Jesus Christ embraced the entirety of what it means to be human in order to unite us to him. We are never separated from God, because God consented to be with us in our humanity.

Nowhere does this become so clear as in the story of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. We will celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem this Sunday by waving palm branches and singing songs of praise. 

In our Maundy Thursday service, we will remember and reenact the Last Supper, in which Jesus left his disciples the example of his servanthood in washing their feet, and instituted a ritual meal in which his ongoing presence is celebrated.

And of course, on Good Friday, we will hear the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion. None of it is pretty, but the details are important. We need to peer closely, to pay attention to what happened.

All of this sets the stage for what happens on Easter morning. The Easter story simply doesn’t have the same weight unless you are clear on what came before. Easter doesn’t matter unless Maundy Thursday and Good Friday happened. 

For that reason, I hope you make plans to attend our extra Holy Week services. Even if you already know how it ends.

Just in Time for Lent


It’s common tradition to burn the previous year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday to use on Ash Wednesday. I would like to suggest instead that we use the ashes of what’s left of the United Methodist Church for our service next Wednesday.

Because frankly, not much is left. The Traditionalist Plan which passed General Conference on Tuesday effectively dismantled the denomination for those who believe that LGBTQ persons are worthy of weddings and ordination.

However, I can’t think of a better church season to enter at this point than Lent. After the shock and disappointment of General Conference, we enter into forty days of fasting and prayer.

Like the ancient children of Israel, we walk into the wilderness, not sure exactly where we’re headed, but following a rogue cloud in the daylight and a fiery pillar at night.

Like Jesus, we enter the desert, where we encounter Satan, who is eager to sell us a false dream.

Like Paul, we are thrown into prison, where we can do nothing but sing and pray, while the earth shakes beneath us.

And so, in the words of our Methodist liturgy, let me beckon you to the church next Wednesday at 6:30 pm for a service of ashes:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,

to observe a holy Lent:

by self-examination and repentance;

by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;

and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

To make a right beginning of repentance,

and as a mark of our mortal nature,

let us now kneel before our Creator and Redeemer.