Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” [Poetry for Easter]

Each week during Eastertide I am posting a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with Jesus’ resurrection. Here is Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” While Emily Dickinson was anything but an orthodox Christian, many of her poems, such as this one, capture the power of religious themes and the deeper life. Living in the United States in the 18th-century, Dickinson spent the majority of her adult life as a recluse. Her first volume of poetry was published posthumously in 1890, enjoying immediate success and laying the groundwork for Dickinson to become one of the most important American poets.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.


Previous poems in this series:

George Herbert, “Easter Wings”

Denise Levertov, “On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus

Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing

T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,” Stanza IV

The Weekend Wanderer: 27 March 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


Holy Week & Easter“Suffering and Glory: Meditations on Holy Week and Easter” – Here is a great resource for Holy Week and Easter to encourage us in our faith: “How does Jesus’ triumphal entry and his cleansing of the temple speak to critical cultural issues today? What does Christ’s prayer in the garden teach us about suffering and submission? How can Christ’s journey to the cross help us learn to die to ourselves? In Suffering & Glory: Meditations on Easter and Holy Week, a book co-published by Christianity Today and Lexham Press, we feature some of the best Holy Week and Easter articles from the last half-century of Christianity Today magazine. Here is a sampling of some of the articles featured in Suffering & Glory. May these reflections help you draw ever closer to Christ as you journey with him to the cross and rejoice at the empty tomb.”


chad-madden-xWohP8D-i0M-unsplash“A Country With No Name: Living in Liminal Spaces” – Here is Prasanta Verma, a friend and congregant at Eastbrook Church, sharing her experiences: “We were out on the softball field for recess. In the outfield, no one else could hear our conversation, well out of earshot from the teacher on duty. It was another typical hot, sunny, Southern day, and I could feel the red clay burning like hot coals beneath my feet. My classmate turned to me, hatred and bitterness seething in her eyes. ‘Go back to Indiana, or wherever it is you came from!’ she hissed. Sound travels faster in humid air, stinging the ears more quickly than normal. I said nothing in response, but knew what she meant. Her use of the name of a state, Indiana, instead of the name of the country, India, made the meaning undeniably clear. My family was, as far as we were aware, the only Indian family within a 45-mile radius, and my classmate had never met (or presumably seen) anyone else before from the far-off land of ‘Indiana’.”


Atlanta March killings“The Atlanta massacre is yet another reminder we desperately need race-conscious discipleship” – Ray Chang of Wheaton College at RNS: “My phone started lighting up with notifications. By now, when this happens, it’s usually because an incident involving race has occurred. As I picked up my phone, I saw the words, ‘8 shot dead in Atlanta.’ My stomach dropped. All I could say to myself was: ‘Lord, have mercy. Not again. No more.’ At the start of the pandemic, anyone who had even a basic understanding of how race functions in society knew the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump would lead to discrimination, targeting and violence against Asian Americans. This is why we at the Asian American Christian Collaborative wrote the ‘Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19.’ As we watched the number of incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate, we knew that we were about to see another spike of anti-Asian racism. What we hoped was for efforts like ours to get the church to speak up against anti-Asian racism.”


Flannery O'Connor“Flannery O’Connor’s Grotesque Grace” – Karen Swallow Prior at Think Christian on a recently-released documentary on the work and influence of author Flannery O’Connor, which you can view here: “Nearly nine years in the making, Flannery—a prize-winning documentary on the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, debuting in virtual-cinemas July 17—couldn’t come at a better time….O’Connor—who lived from 1925 to 1964, dying of lupus at age 39—experienced ‘the best of times’ and ‘the worst of times’ in modern American history. Accordingly, one of the documentary’s strengths is placing O’Connor’s life and work squarely within the context of the mid-twentieth century crises that informed and defined her writing: the impact of World War II on Americans here at home, the rapidly changing roles for women, the challenge of the Civil Rights movement, and the growth of material prosperity along with an accompanying decline in spiritual richness. Flannery rightly makes O’Connor’s theology of grace and her commitment to the life of the church central, yet portrays these subjects in broad strokes that likely reflect the views of its directors and backers.”


What-John-Stott-Learned-about-Theology-from-Bird-Watching-Recovered-Recovered“What John Stott Learned about Theology from Bird-Watching” – John Stott, the renowned Bible teacher and author, enjoyed birds for their own sake and as teachers of theological truths. In his most unique book, The Birds, Our Teachers: Essays in Orni-theology, Stott takes the reader on an adventure inside his own wonder and theological reflection over the variegated beauty of birds. In his own way, Stott was attempting to live out what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Consider the birds of the air…” (Matthew 6:26). I came across this article by Tim Chester offering his take on this uniqueness in Stott while preparing my own message for this weekend from this same text.


Seemuth-Family-scaled“A Shadow of Your Future Self” – Friend and former colleague David Seemuth writes very personally about resurrection, mental illness, and true hope at NT Wright Online: “For as long as I can remember, my mother struggled with mental illness. Back when I was a young boy, they called the malady ‘manic-depressive disorder’. In the 1960s, the treatment regimen was harsh, given the lack of appropriate medications to deal with the illness. The approach would later be regarded as somewhat cruel and barbaric . Later, the understanding of the illness and treatment protocol changed. My mother was labeled ‘bi-polar’. Fortunately, better treatments were developed that helped her live a fruitful life….As my own theological studies progressed in my adult life, I understood that the hope of a Resurrection Body and a New Heaven and a New Earth, renewed by the Risen Christ, was my true hope. My mother, who trusted in Jesus as her Lord, will be raised up again, but with a renewed mind, no longer tortured by her illness.”


Music: Poor Bishop Hooper, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

An Exhortation and Prayer from Yesterday’s Worship Services (January 10, 2021)

A number of people reached out to me about the exhortation and prayer for our nation that I shared in services yesterday at Eastbrook Church. I have included it below. The exhortation was a slightly abbreviated and revised form of something I posted here on my blog on Friday. The prayer portion was a combination of my own work and suggested prayer points from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation.”


The last week has been one of the most chaotic for our nation in recent memory. The scenes in the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, were a striking contrast with the celebration of Epiphany for which that day is set aside on the church calendar. Epiphany literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The celebration offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group or nation, but people from around the globe. We also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

But Epiphany 2021 was a manifestation of a different sort, leaving all of us with various forms of pain, confusion, stress, and concern about what will come next. Divisiveness, violence, and misuse of power worked to derail governmental processes in a way that was shocking and unacceptable. As Christians, we may wonder, “Where do we go from here?”

First, bring our thoughts and feelings to God. One of the most important and difficult things to do in this present moment is to bring our thoughts and feelings to God. We are more than ready to bring them to social media, to our friends through texts, or family members through phone calls, but are we willing to first and foremost meet with God about our concerns? The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Second, we must intercede for those with authority. After offering our own needs to God, we should next step forward in prayer by interceding for our nation, specifically for those with authority. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that true repentance and humility would arrive, that safety and peace will reign, and that regardless of their political party all political leaders will be guided by God for the common good.

Third, we can cultivate peace and condemn violence. Jesus our Messiah is known as the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Where discord existed between God and humanity, as well as humans one to another, Jesus destroyed division by Himself becoming our peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). Because this is the way of Jesus, we as His followers must also be people of peace. We must let Christ’s peace rule in us because we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). We live in peace through love, turning aside from all that is contrary to peace and love, including hatred, dissension, prejudice, and violence.

Fourth, we can hold to truth and reject falsehood. We must discern falsehood no matter where it arises and name it as such so that we and others are not deceived. This requires us to be filled to overflowing with the truth of Scripture. If we meditate on talk radio, news websites (regardless of the source), or false narratives more than we meditate on God’s Word then we are sure to lose our way. If we want to flourish, then the word of God must be our constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). As followers of Jesus we must live in truth and name falsehood for what it is.

Fifth, we can maintain perspective. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).

Sixth, we can remain hopeful. Even amidst the ruin of the exile to Babylon the writer of Lamentations could write:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is even stronger for us as Christians who believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ our risen Lord.

Last, Christians must seek the glory of Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall and God is sovereign over them all, then we will begin to understand that our overriding goal as the people of God is bringing glory of Christ. We do that in word and deed. We do that by proclaiming and embodying the love of Jesus Christ in the city and in the world. More than our side “winning” or making strides forward on a particular issue in our national politics, we must be motivated by our desire for people to truly see and know Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

In light of that, let’s join together in prayer.

Lord, we lament the state of our nation.

Lord, we lament the divisions between us as people in our nation that we cannot seem to resolve.

Lord, we lament the pain, confusion, hatred, and violence that seems to reign in our personal and national life.

Lord, we lament the lack of leadership in our governmental that has in many ways led to the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves.

Lord, we lament the darkness in our own hearts that contributes to this situation.

Lord, we pray for those who perpetrated the attacks on the Capitol, and the broader attacks on our democracy, to be brought to justice and ultimately to repentance.[1]

Lord, we pray for truth to reign in our national conversations and our communities, as well as in our church.

Lord we pray for President Trump, during the final days of his administration, that he will fulfill his duties responsibly.

Lord, we pray for President-elect Biden, that he will have wisdom as he prepares to assume office on January 20.

Lord, we pray for all our elected officials in the Senate and House of Representatives to be led by Your grace and wisdom, whether they want to be or not.

Lord, we pray for protection of our nation from any adversaries who would seek to harm us during this perilous transitional period.

Lord, we remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), so we pray that You would protect us from all spiritual evil that seeks to bring devastation upon us.

Lord, we pray for healing of relationships between Americans who are deeply divided by partisanship, that they will seek to resolve their differences peacefully and cooperate where possible for the common good.

Lord, we pray for protection of those in other countries suffering persecution, who have seen the United States as a model of democracy, who may now be endangered as dictators are emboldened to commit further abuses.

Lord, we pray for all who follow the Prince of Peace, that we will humble ourselves before God and allow the light of Christ to shine through us into our dark and broken world.

And Lord, we pray for our own church that we might stand in Your truth, be filled with Your grace, live as one through Christ, and might boldly walk forward as witnesses to You and Your Kingdom, individually and corporately.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ, who with You and the Holy Spirit, are one God, both now and forever. Amen.


[1] Some of these prayer points are taken from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation,” https://www.nae.net/prayer-fasting-healing-nation/.

7 Things We Can Do As Christians in Times Like This

The past week has been one of the most chaotic for our nation in recent memory. The scenes in the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, were a striking contrast with the celebration of Epiphany for which that day is set aside on the church calendar. Epiphany literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The celebration offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group, but people from around the globe. We also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

But Epiphany 2021 was a manifestation of a different sort, leaving all of us with various forms of pain, confusion, stress, and concern about what will come next. Divisiveness, violence, and misuse of power worked to derail governmental processes in a way that was shocking and unacceptable. Where do we go from here? Let me suggest seven specific ways as the minimum for how we can respond to these events as Christians.

  1. Bring our thoughts and feelings to God – One of the most difficult things to do in this present moment is to bring our thoughts and feelings to God. We are more than ready to bring them to social media, to our friends through texts, or family members through phone calls, but are we willing to first and foremost meet with God about our concerns? The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). As we release our concerns, pain, and confusion to God in this situation, we are better able to engage with ourselves, others, and the world at large.
  2. Intercede for those with authority – After offering our own needs to God, we should next step forward in prayer by interceding for our nation, specifically for those with authority. As believers, we know that God works through prayer (James 5:16) and that we are called to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation faces many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may seem insurmountable. We know and feel that there is tension and confusion in our government. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that true repentance and humility would arrive, that safety and peace will reign, and that regardless of their political party all political leaders will be guided by God for the common good.
  3. Cultivate peace and condemn violence – Jesus our Messiah is known as the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Where discord existed between God and humanity, as well as humans one to another, Jesus destroyed division by Himself becoming our peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). Because this is the way of Jesus, we as His followers must also be people of peace. We must let Christ’s peace rule in us because we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). We live in peace through love, turning aside from all that is contrary to peace and love, including hatred, dissension, and violence. Our response is not to become more violent in response to violence, but to move forward as agents of reconciliation for the goal of God’s true peace through love in Jesus Christ.
  4. Hold to truth and reject falsehood – We have lived in a post-truth era for quite some time, but the fruits of that reality are taking hold at every level. Christians are people of the truth because our Savior came from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Disciples of Jesus must live in the truth about ourselves and reality, setting aside deception and half-truths as inconsistent with our God. We must discern falsehood no matter where it arises and name it as such so that we and others are not deceived. This requires us to be filled to overflowing with the truth of Scripture. If we meditate on talk radio, news websites (regardless of the source), or false narratives more than we meditate on God’s Word then we are sure to lose our way. If we want to flourish, then the word of God must be our constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). As followers of Jesus we must live in truth and name falsehood for what it is.
  5. Maintain perspective– Without downplaying the good or bad realities around us, we must also maintain perspective on our present moment. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rise and fall over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of more changes still to come in the future after his days were complete. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  6. Remain hopeful – One of the most important Christians virtues is hope. Believers in Jesus Christ are people of hope fundamentally because of the reality of the resurrection. Death, sin, and evil are not the end and will not have the final say in our lives or in history. Jesus is King and His Kingdom is close at hand (Mark 1:14-15). We are filled with the Holy Spirit, who seals us as Christ’s own speaks of our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), and graced with the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). It was because of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness that even amidst the ruin of the exile the writer of Lamentations could write: “this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3:20-26). Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ.
  7. Seek the glory of Christ above all things – We can all sometimes lose our perspective on what matters most. No matter how important specific issues are to us, no issue, political party, or election should become more important to us than the glory of Christ. Without being simplistic about it, Christians must seek the glory of Jesus Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall, then we will begin to understand that our overriding goal as the people of God is bringing glory of Christ. We do that in word and deed. We do that by proclaiming and embodying the love of Jesus Christ in the city and in the world. More than our side “winning” or making strides forward on a particular issue in our national politics, we must be motivated by our desire for people to truly seeing and knowing Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

The Son of Man and the Hope of the Nations

The prophet Daniel speaks of both judgment and hope to a people exiled in foreign kingdoms. His prophetic oracles are situated within the exile in Babylon and the following Persian kingdoms.

In chapter 2, Daniel offers an interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a giant statue made of different materials that is eventually struck by a giant rock that destroys it. Daniel tells of how one earthly kingdom will supplant another, tracing events we know from history after Daniel’s time. However, the culmination of Daniel’s interpretation—the stone that destroys this statue of kingdoms—he says represents God’s kingdom. These are his exact words:

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2:44)

The theme of the vision is the humbling of earthly rulers because God is king and only God’s kingdom will endure through time, as it eventually supplants all other kingdoms.

Later in the book, in chapter 7, Daniel has a vision that has many similarities to this vision from Daniel 2. This time, however, the kings and kingdoms of earth are represented as ghoulish beasts that afflict the earth. Amidst this vision of terrifying vision, Daniel has a theophany—a vision of God—which puts perspective on the passing kingdoms of earth. In Daniel’s vision of God, there is a unique element, which connects with the messianic expectations of Isaiah:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

This Son of Man figure surpasses all the earthly kings and kingdoms, even rising in victory over all the competing kingdoms that bring pain and corruption upon the earth. The Son of Man is the One who brings true hope, healing, and the kingdom of God upon earth. He is our hope, not the passing kings and kingdoms of earth.