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.

A Mini-Resurrection


By the time you read this, a refugee family of seven from Afghanistan will be safely settled in their new home in Dallas, Texas.

Over the last week, a Catalyst Group from KPUMC has been hard at work getting a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in north Dallas ready for their arrival. Oscar Brown and Mary Ann Climer went shopping for furniture at some resale shops and found a beautiful dining room set, couches, and other assorted pieces. Mary Ann found housewares at Goodwill, and bought fresh groceries to fill the refrigerator and pantry. Bev Sladek and I made up the beds, put contact paper in the kitchen shelves, and put books and toys out for the children. Sally Climer had a meal prepared for their arrival last night (Wednesday).

I think of the preparation work as especially appropriate for Holy Week. During these days in which we observe the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, our church has been working on behalf of a family which has suffered much in the preceding years. We know very little about this family, except that they are from Afghanistan, have five children — four boys from the age of 13 to 6, and a two—year old daughter. We also know that the father had worked alongside US Special Ops forces, and for that reason, his identity must be kept secret as much as possible. We don’t know yet what they have experienced over the past seventeen years — since the US began military operations in Afghanistan — but we can safely assume that things became untenable for them to stay.

And even though we can also safely assume that they are Muslims, I would like to suggest that their arrival in the US is a kind of Easter moment for them. They are about to experience a sort of mini-resurrection, a chance for them to start again. Here in Dallas they will be able to enroll all their children in school, find meaningful employment, and begin to dream of the future.

That’s what Easter is about, isn’t it? In the resurrection of Jesus, we have the perfect symbol and guarantee of the possibility of new life. What our refugee family from Afghanistan is experiencing right now, is something that you and I can experience as well right now.

New life, setting aside the past, repentance, leaving behind old ways of being and thinking — all of this is possible because Jesus has broken the power of death and sin. We don’t have to remain mired in the muck of the world’s dysfunction. We are renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be “resettled” into a new place, a safe space that we recognize as home.

Come home to Jesus this Easter. Come home to yourself.