Five verses God has tattooed on my heart: #2 Matthew 9:13

I’ve often told the story of how I discovered the verse that became the basis for the title of this website. It was the summer of 2008 and I had been working at a summer camp in east Durham. The lectionary gospel readings I had heard over the previous months included Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, both of which involve Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” I had been tossing this phrase around in my mind, trying to understand what it meant. Then one morning at the camp, I was given the task of waking up a homeless man in our parking lot and sending him on his way. He was very belligerent, and I was worried for my safety, so I turned to walk away. But then the homeless man said, “Where’s your fucking mercy, man?” It was the only time in my life I ever heard God drop the f-bomb, and it definitely got my attention. Continue reading

Exclusively for the excluded

I recently read a post by fellow Methodist blogger Talbot Davis critiquing the pursuit of “inclusivity” in United Methodism, which he interprets to be a strategy for church growth. Davis shares that his church has achieved a large, inclusively diverse population because of the exclusivity of their doctrine. Well I wanted to raise the ante on Davis’s claim. I don’t think churches should have inclusivity as a goal at all; I think faithful kingdom living requires that we exist exclusively for the excluded.

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Why you have to be poor to treat people like Jesus did

The title is everything if you want a well-trafficked blog post. Now my task is to explore whether this provocative statement is actually true. I spent last week reading a couple of Catholic writers offering a provocative definition of “poverty” as a positive state of character. So I thought this could be my contribution to the Despised Ones synchroblog this week on how to show genuine solidarity to marginalized people. I think that you have to become poor to live in true solidarity, which is what God decided to do to humanity by coming to Earth as the poorest man who has ever lived. Continue reading

752 and the messianic longing of Scandal

scandal-123Since my wife is addicted to Scandal, I watched it with her last night while I was reading the last few chapters of my friend Jonathan Martin’s newly released book Prototype, in which he argues that Jesus is the prototype of authentic humanity. The juxtaposition of Jonathan’s beautiful words on the page and the profound human brokenness on the screen was overwhelming. Throughout the Scandal episode, a character named Huck who has been severely traumatized by incredible wickedness is in a trance uttering the number 752 over and over again. Wrapped up in the mystery of that number is the basic pathos of the human condition that I believe the Christian gospel addresses, especially in the way that my brother Jonathan presents it in his book. Continue reading

Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross

The LifeSign alternative worship service at Burke United Methodist Church is doing a sermon series called “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross.” Here is a promotional video which I first tried to make of me drawing on a whiteboard and then had to improvise using Microsoft Paint.

Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross from Morgan Guyton on Vimeo

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Javert vs. Valjean: the two Christianities of Les Miserables

***Spoiler alert: this post presumes that you know the storyline of Les Miz.*** After watching Les Miserables in the theater, I wanted to stand up at the end and shout, “This is what Christianity really is!” kind of like what Peter Enns wrote on his blog. But there are two Christianities represented in Les Miz by the police inspector Javert and the convict Jean Valjean, and though Valjean’s version triumphs in the film, Javert’s Christianity is winning big time in today’s America. Some say Javert represents “justice” and Valjean represents “mercy,” so we need a happy mix of the two, but that’s already choosing Javert’s Christianity, because Valjean exhibits not only mercy, but an alternative justice that is incomprehensible to the penal retributive justice of modernity. The question of whether we see the world through the eyes of Javert or Valjean amounts to our understanding of justice. For Javert, justice is retribution in the interest of maintaining an abstract order; for Valjean, justice is solidarity in the interest of personal love. Continue reading

Why should the wicked fear God’s mercy?

Psalm 52:3 blew my mind yesterday as I was reading it in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament: “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? God’s mercy lasts for all time.” Since this is my own translation, here’s the Hebrew:
מה-תתהלל ברעה הגבור חסד אל כל-היום. Why in the world is God’s mercy (חסד) presented as a reason to rebuke the mighty man’s boasting? I’ve shared before that hesed, the Hebrew word for mercy, has a different semantic range and connotation than our word in English. It means most essentially the unconditional love that you have for the closest members of your family. So why should the mighty man be worried? Because God’s mercy for His people means wrath against their oppressors. Continue reading