Br. Keith Nelson

James 1:12-18
Mark 8:14-21

In my mid-twenties I worked for a non-profit agency in Boston’s Chinatown. The mission of the organization was to offer educational and social services to new Chinese immigrants and their families. Though generously supported by a base of donors, largely Chinese-American Christians, our budget was always tight. As the director of the organization’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program, I had just finished the long process of completing and submitting a complicated grant application that would give us access to some state funding. We did not receive the grant, and I was crest-fallen as I went into my regularly scheduled performance review with our executive director and founder – a charismatic, successful pillar of the community who had emigrated forty years ago. She worked her way through a long list of things she felt I could be doing differently. With each item, I began to feel a gathering energy of discouragement, like yeast molecules feeding on sugars of self-doubt and inadequacy. When she finally paused, I took a deep breath and asked – Was there anything she felt I was doing well? She let out an astonished laugh. “Everything! Your work is excellent!” I saw her face shift and her eyebrows furrow as she reasoned aloud that this must be a cultural difference. She took for granted that I knew what I was doing well. She had seen plenty of grant opportunities come and go, and had intended her feedback only to leaven my sense of resolve for the future by pinpointing areas for growth. After losing the grant, for which I felt personally responsible, I had needed a different kind of yeast: a balanced assessment that included reminders of my strengths, and her confidence in me, in order to make my dough rise. 

Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?

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curtisJames 1:12-18

Our reading from the Letter of James uses an Olympic word, the Greek word stéphanos, which is a crown of laurel or olive leaves, the most coveted prize for the victor in the ancient Greek games of sport.  James writes, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (1) James is here using the metaphor of the victor’s crown to signal three things about living a fulfilled life: life will require training, it will be exceedingly challenging, and it will be equally rewarding.  St. Paul also repeatedly uses metaphors of sport – of running the race, competing in contest, setting our eyes on the goal, and pursuing victory with great energy and discipline – to signal how we must train for and vigorously practice our calling to be followers of Jesus Christ. (2) It’s like a relay race where Jesus has handed the baton onto us. Read More