Loving with Feet and Fungi

6th Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

There was a story in the microbiology journal mSystems a few years back that revealed a surprising way to identify the people we love.  No questionnaires, pictures, or words are necessary.  To tell who you love all the scientists need is a swab of our toes.  Once cultured, those wavy lines in a petri dish reveal a unique community of microbes that make their home on the skin and nails of your feet. These are not the problematic fungi that lead to the embarrassed placement of a tube of Lamasil on the drug store checkout counter. These small creatures are as innocent a part of your body as any of your native cells and some of them even contribute to the healthy functioning of our feet.  And it turns out that those with whom we share life tend to share the same microbial community–you pick up some of theirs and they yours and eventually you have the same microscopic zoo on the soles of your feet.

I was struck by this story as I reflected on our Gospel for this Sunday.  It comes in the Gospel of John, shortly after Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and it continues the new commandment to love that we celebrated on Maundy Thursday. Read more

Certified Prophet

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Mark 1:21-28

Of all the the signs of crisis in our culture one of the most subtle is the proliferation of certificates.  It seems that there is a certificate for everything now, along with some official group to issue it and, most likely, take our money for the service.  For instance, one can become a Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP) or hold a Certificate in Career Readiness.  There are certificates for the mastery of various software programs, planning methodologies, and fitness routines.  There are Certified Dog Psychologists and Certified Beer Judges.  From one top tier university I found 31 certifications in leadership alone, from a Certification in Critical Thinking Leadership to a Certification in Servant Leadership.

Not all certifications are bad, of course, but their proliferation signals a crisis of legitimacy and competency.  What were once basic human skills, shared freely and developed in community, have become certificates that are given only after the consumption of some educational product.  And our judgement of those who are competent no longer requires our discernment of clear outcomes, but rather a glance at the frames on a person’s office wall.

Though there was no proliferation of certifications in 1st Century Palestine, the Gospel of Mark presents us with a Jesus who is stepping into a similar crisis of legitimacy.  Read more