Summer reading lists have always been a staple in my annual routine—as steadfast as turkey on Thanksgiving and Frasier Fir hunting in December. As a child, the blissful freedom from schoolwork and the welcomed change of pace from the weekday grind was always accompanied by the careful creation of a list donned with the names and authors of texts I wanted to indulge in. This was the one time of year reading wasn’t mandatory, which somehow made the adventure exponentially more fun.
This year has been no different, with my list including adventures like Punke’s The Revenant, Parker’s Once a Runner, and my former TA in “American Christianity,” Kate Bowler’s, touching memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. Each of these I would recommend.
Last night, however, I turned the final pages of the final book on this year’s list. Still unable to sleep (because this pregnancy thing is becoming quite uncomfortable!), I perused our home library in search of my next adventure in the wee hours of the morning.
I came across a collection of stories written by my “Uncle” Bo Cash. A life-long friend of my father and an avid outdoorsman, I knew Uncle Bo as the man who raised bird-hunting dogs, always carried a fly rod, and had the largest collection of Catawba Indian arrowheads I had ever seen. Like a trout-whisperer, this man could catch an 18-inch trout in 2-inch deep waters. He was in real life much the way television edits the Saturday AM fishing shows; with every cast bringing in a catch. Reading the pages of his tales, his stories called to mind the very reason I have loved and admired this man all my life: he is a vague reflection of who I imagined my father would be if he had not married my mother, settled down and had us girls.
The opening chapter of Colossians boldly asserts the “Christ Hymn”: “He is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”(1:15). The Colossae community’s Christological dispute finds resolution in the assertion of the supremacy of Christ. All creation throughout all of history has continually displayed the glory of God; and yet, to us humans, God remains incomprehensible. The most genuine and authentic image of God is revealed in Jesus, the Christ. The collection of stories we have witnessing to his life, teaching, death, and resurrection reveals to us the character of our Creator God, who welcomes the outcast, forgives the sinner, delights in children, and spends a great deal of his time with his fishing buddies alongside the Sea of Galilee.
The universal Christian Church is the body of Christ; we are a part of the image of God in the world. How people experience our shared life together in worship and faith reflects, in part, the divine revelation of God’s redeeming love for the world. Our very existence as a people committed to preaching and teaching grounded in Scripture, informed by tradition, enlivened by experience and tested by reason, is for the world a glimpse of our Heavenly Father.
We are a redeemed and a redeeming fellowship, living in a covenant of grace, whose task is to give expression to the mysterious reality of God’s presence, peace and power in the world. However, because we are also a human institution, our faithfulness to this task is oven overwhelmed by images of other gods we idolize: the influence of capitalism, politics, and wealth only feed our addiction to power and further blight the image of the Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer-God we are designed to share.
Despite our human condition, God’s loving grace continues to work in and through us: in the church, people still encounter the divine, experience renewal, receive forgiveness and live into redemption. Wherever we continue the ministry of traveling beyond borders, bridging chasms of division, tearing down walls of inhumanity, and cultivating holiness, we tell and retell those sweet stories of the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ.