What we believe about Mary directly impacts what we believe about Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus is a central—essential—doctrine of Christianity. And it’s impossible for there to be a virgin birth without, well, a virgin.

It seems inevitable now that we are going into a period of schism, uncertainty, and—very likely—more loud and rancorous disagreement. And I believe that much of it could be avoided by simply doing what the Church has done for centuries: thinking theologically and sacramentally about what it means to be human and alive in God’s world.

I know we all believe marriage is important. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be debating the future of the United Methodist Church primarily around this single issue. I believe something this important deserves theological treatment. United Methodists (and in more general terms, Evangelical Protestants) have shied away from making very many theological claims about marriage. In the process, we have ceded the definition of marriage to the civil authorities, leaving a very important question unanswered: What is the difference between civil marriage and a Christian marriage?

Jesus was dead. Anyone who said otherwise was either crazy or lying. Thomas had no desire to waste time entertaining the tales of hysterical women or deluded men. Jesus was dead and all the wishful thinking in the world wasn’t changing that. Ridiculous chatter about visions in gardens and visits from the master only made him miss his friend and teacher all the more.

So he’d skipped last week’s gathering. If Jesus’ other followers wanted to pick at grief’s open wound, that was their business. He’d just as soon try to put the whole thing behind him. Better to meditate on the Rabbi’s teaching than try to conjure the man’s ghost.

I preached once again this past Sunday. The text was Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. That parable got me thinking, “What is prayer?” You can read the verses I allude to here.

What is prayer?

Is it a wish list? A sort of Amazon.com for God? Is it a meditation exercise? Good for lowering stress and rejuvenating the mental state? Is prayer poetry — pretty words and pleasing rhythm?

Does prayer, to put it another way, mean anything?

I recently gave my first sermon in the United Methodist Church. This is the full text of my message.

It was about ten minutes to midnight, and I was more alone than I’d ever been in my life. Oh, to be sure, I was surrounded by people — hundreds of people, in fact. But I was utterly alone, and so scared I was crying like a child.

You see, I was lost. More lost than I’d ever thought possible. I was lost and I had no idea how to change my situation. I was standing in the middle of Milan station, in the heart of downtown Milan, Italy. And I’d missed the last train home.