LISTENING-IMPAIRED CONVERSATIONS

Acts 16:9-15 — The Message
That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans. Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days. On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed! After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Listening

Listening-impaired Conversations
Acts 16:9-15

How hard it is
to be heard,
sometimes.
How hard it is
to hear.
It is like we have
a listening impairment
We all have something to say.
We all want what
we have to say
to be considered.
So most of the
time we just talk —
without listening,
without hearing,
without paying attention,
just talking,
a little louder
and talking,
with a little impatience,
talking,
talking,
talking.
Our ears
think
that they are hearing
to what the other is saying,
but our minds
hardly ever catch
the significance
of what it is
because we are talking
over,
through,
louder and faster.
As if
that will get us heard better.
So most of the time
we seem to fail as communicators,
fail as listeners…
But that is not
what happened with Lydia,
she actually listened to,
and heard,
what Paul had to say.
She didn’t try
and tell him
how he was not
saying exactly
what she believed,
or how
their prayer group
was better,
then talking over the top of him
to prove her point.
She listened.
We spend so much time
not listening,
that we assume
that God probably doesn’t
really listen,
either.
But God is better than us.
God does listen.
To every word we pray
and thought we think.
God really listens.

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WHAT IF GOD IS FEMININE?

Isaiah 66:13 — “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Hosea 11:3-4 — “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 — “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Genesis 1:27 — “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”
Deuteronomy 32:18 — “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

What If

What if God Is Feminine?

I should state first off
that I do not think for one minute
that God has any gender.
The “It” pronoun is most
efficacious when accurately
speaking to, of, and about God.
Still, humans seem to have
the need to genderize the concept of God
and rely heavily on
making claims about God
that give them most comfort,
and the strongest sense of security.
There is nothing especially wrong with that,
except when we begin to believe
that our comfortable misconceptions
are how it actually is
and try to force others
to hold our own
not too well founded notions
of theology.
So let’s consider
the possibility that if God did have a gender
what it might be like if
that gender is feminine.
There are not many feminine images
for God in the Bible,
but there are some,
a few.
The five texts above
are a few of them —
maybe most of them.
It was a full-on patriarchy,
that ancient Hebrew community,
and it has profoundly
shaped our own culture.
Many of the Gods
they abhorred so deeply were female.
Many of the neighboring
religions expected/demanded
human sacrifice and whether
or not they were in fact
goddess traditions,
they were all conflated into
other/outsider/sinful/bad/abominations.
The writers of the Hebrew scriptures
defined themselves
by what they were not,
and they were not
like anything that they defined as
“other.”
But what if their
patriarchal testosterone packed
outlook on life
wasn’t exactly how it is?
What if they had defined
God as being
of a feminine nature,
instead of masculine?
Understanding that these folks
ran with a rough crowd
we still would get more texts
that read like those above,
and the Isaiah 49:23 reading that goes:
And kings shall
be your nursing fathers,
and their queens
your nursing mothers,
instead of the Hosea 13:16 text that reads:
Samaria shall
bear her guilt,
because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
and their pregnant women ripped open.
Or Psalm 137:9: that reads,
Happy shall they be who take
your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
What would Christianity
look like if
instead of the male god of Abraham
we had the female God of Sarah,
nurturing, wisdom-filled,
forgiving, and loving?
I think it is what Jesus
tried to proclaim when he prayed
he could gather
Jerusalem,
read that humanity,
like a mother hen
gathering her chicks
to protect and nurture,
and was rejected.
Let’s be honest
for a second here,
wouldn’t we all rather
be gathered and held and loved and nurtured
by a loving mother God
than judged and condemned?
I believe we are—
loved and not condemned—by the way.
I also believe it goes against every
warring, violent thought we,
as a patriarchal culture,
hold so dear.
We are,
after all, humans
and we have a deeply embedded
violence as part of our
way of doing business.
Still.
Still.
Maybe if we worshiped a
god portrayed as a god
with a nature
of nurture and forgiveness
rather than a god portrayed as a god
of judgement and retribution
we might be a tad different.
Which is why I titled this
What If God is Feminine?
It is a question…

WELL, GET TO WORK

John 20:19-23 — The Message
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

Get to Work

Well, Get to Work

Get to work,
Lord?
Get to work?
But, on what?
There is so much to do.
So many needs.
How can I choose?
These are the thoughts that
go through my mind
when I read an admonition
such as this.
Really?
Really?
And yet,
if we take the directive seriously,
and I do,
we do not need to
take on the whole
aching, bleeding, festering, bruised wound
of the world.
To me
this means to be
open to the needs
around us.
Pay attention
to our own interests.
Find the messes
that we can do something about,
and then clean them up
and see it doesn’t happen next time.
And it is OK
if what we fix on today
is not what
we work on tomorrow.
We are called on
to engage in facilitating
the healing
of the wounds around us,
but not all at once.
I have changed my priorities.
With earth day this last week
I remember that for years
environmental issues were my hot topics.
I wrote my Master’s Thesis
to reflect on how God
and the environment are interconnected,
and while they are still
high on my list of priorities,
I now focus more
on helping those around me with
their process
of inner healing
and spiritual growth.
Still, the earth
is all we really have,
and how we treat it
is telling
of our relationship to God.
God did not so much
create all that is
out of nothing
as
God created all that is
out of God’s own self.
That makes all that is:
us, we, them,
two leggeds, four leggeds,
six leggeds, eight leggeds
soil, grasses, rocks, rain, sky
all part of God’s body.
We simply cannot
make claims
to loving any person or being
and then trash
that entity’s body.
If I say I love Cherie
and then beat her,
I am a violent liar.
Subsequently,
we cannot make claim
that we love God
and then destroy
vast portions
or small portions,
of the earth
without giving lie
to our claim.
We are all culpable
in the earth’s destruction.
Love God —
love God’s people
and creatures and earth.
Figure out how to do
that as best suites you.

WELL, GET TO WORK!

John 20:19-23 — The Message
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

SUN

Well, Get to Work

Get to work, Lord?
Get to work?
But, on what?
There is so much to do.
So many needs.
How can I choose?
These are the thoughts that go
through my mind
when I read an admonition such as this.
Really? Really?
And yet,
if we take the directive seriously,
and I do,
we do not
need to take on the whole
aching, bleeding, festering, bruised
wound of the world.
To me this means
to be open
to the needs around us.
Pay attention
to our own interests.
Find the messes
that we can do something about,
and then
clean them up and see
it doesn’t happen next time.
And it is OK
if what we fix today
is not what we work on tomorrow.
We are called on to
engage in facilitating the healing
of the wounds arounds us,
but not all at once.
I have changed my priorities.
With earth day this last week
I remember
that for years environmental issues
were my hot topics.
I wrote my Master’s Thesis
to reflect on how God
and the environment
are interconnected,
and while they are
still high on my list of priorities,
I now focus more on helping
those around me with
their process of inner healing
and spiritual growth.
Still, the earth is all we really have,
and how we treat it
is telling of our relationship to God.
God did not so much create
all that is out of nothing
as
God created all that is
out of God’s own self.
That makes all that is:
us, we, them,
two leggeds, four leggeds, six leggeds, eight leggeds
soil, grasses, rocks, rain, sky
all part of God’s body.
We simply cannot
make claims to loving any person or being
and then trash that entity’s body.
If I say I love Cherie
and then beat her,
I am a violent liar.
Subsequently,
we cannot make claim that we love God
and then destroy vast portions of the earth
without giving lie to our claim.
We are all culpable, complicit,
in the earth’s destruction.
Love God — love God’s people and creatures and earth.
Figure out how to do that as best suites you.
Frederick Buechner in,
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC,
writes,
“The place God calls you to
is the place
where your deep gladness
and the world’s
deep hunger
meet.”
Think about your
deepest gladness,
your greatest joy,
the true desire of your heart.
Then
find what and who
you can best help with
that joy,
and get to work.
For, our deepest joy is
always discovered
at the heart
of God’s deepest need.

COME TO MY TABLE

Christiane Swartz is an elder at the Geyserville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Geyserville, CA. She is, with the other elders in a monthly rotation to preach. She is also a seminarian at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, on a grant from the Disciples Seminary Foundation.

Luke 22: 14-27
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said,
“Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Annie Strawberry

“Come To My Table”

One of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, said,
“The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self- -to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control,
but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”

How easy this must be
with your friends who follow you,
worship your very breath and
fall all over themselves telling people how awesome you are!
But what about the ones you know will not stand by you?
What about the ones
you know will get you killed??!
Jesus knew he was going down. He had lots of options, presumably.
He could have run away. He could have battled.
He didn’t.
He could have, (and from a human standpoint arguably should have)
at least offloaded Judas, who he knew for days was going to betray him.
But Jesus didn’t live our way.
He did not offload Judas at all!
Instead,
he LOVED him. He INCLUDED him. He FED him.
…Jesus was outrageous like that.
They weren’t even extraordinary, his disciples. They were just NORMAL.
They were ordinary humans, with ordinary, flawed, human impulses.
But Jesus loved them. He had spent his whole life preaching about abundance
and unconditional love.
Especially in a time of such ruthless scarcity,
human impulse is to hoard things like food, money, material goods, power.
The breaking and sharing of bread was
actually countercultural!

So in the face of darkness… Jesus threw a dinner party!

He invited his friends. He insisted on serving them. And he did so much more
than just share a meal.

Jesus’ whole life was symbolized in the act of
giving thanks,
breaking bread,
pouring himself out for others,
sharing.
It is remarkable to me
that given all the choices Jesus had on his last night,
he chose to simply love his disciples and
give them
what they would need to survive what they did not know was coming,
a gift that would be a life raft in the days to come,
and thousands of years later with the same
fervent
relevancy.
The gift of understanding that eternal life and heaven
was not
some distant far off destination,
but that the very act of sharing, loving and forgiving would bring us renewed life
here and now.
The gift of understanding
that this would be what was needed
to fight against darkness.
It was more than an act of love.
It was an act of utter defiance against the dark powers,
against the establishment,
against oppression.
With all the powers he could choose from,
Jesus went to the cross trusting the power of sacrifice and love!

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

And so communion
is the continual living of a story of changing and transforming the world
not with force
but with the breaking of bread.
It is the thing that happens when we invite friends or strangers,
share food, laugh with them, cry with them, hear them.
Something nurturing, something forgiving, something healing.
Maybe not like a bolt of lightning
or even like an “aha” moment,
but like breath,
a sigh,
a soft place to land.
Strength. Hope. Inclusion. A light to drive out darkness.
It happens here in this church.
It happens when we show up to a friend’s house feeling
war-torn and road-weary
and they put a glass in our hand
and something home baked in front of us.
It’s what I pray my family finds at the end of their day
when we drag them to the dinner table and they allow us
to share in their laughter, joys, sorrows.
In these places, we are gifted with Home.
We are gifted with forgiveness.
We are reminded that we are enough, and that in the face of
darkness, aloneness, suffering or fear,
we can
courageously and outrageously
just
choose
love.

THE FRAGRANCE OF LIFE

John 12:1-8 — The Message

Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them. Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

Potentiality #22

Potentiality #22

“The Fragrance of Life”

There’s a Mac Davis song from the 1970s,
“Stop and Smell the Roses,”
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t Stop and Smell the roses along the way.
Mary.
Mary with the expensive perfume.
A perfume used both
to cover the smell of death
and to celebrate life.
Mary
who just loves.
Mary
who unashamedly just gives her best,
and then gets shot down for it.
Mary,
your love is
true and lovely and perfect.
How many times
have our offerings of love
been misunderstood,
and shot down
by someone too needy to
understand love
or an offering of love?
How many times
have we shot down love?
A friend once bought
his lover
a very expensive bottle
of perfume.
His lover became
enraged
and said
she was not worth the price of it
and made him take it back.
He was brokenhearted,
devastated.
He kept asking me
what was so wrong
with his offering of love
that she would reject it.
You know,
in various ways
we do this
all the time to those
who love us,
and because we just
do not understand the nature of love,
we try to shoot down
their offerings of love.
Whether Judas
was actually the bad guy
he was made out to be
is neither here nor there.
The story
has him needy and greedy
and desperate for
what Mary offered Jesus—
I read this not so much as about the money,
but about the love behind the offering.
So he tries to wreck Mary.
He belittles her
act of love and tries
to elbow
his self-righteous posturing
between Mary
and her intention.
Jesus will have none of it.
He says,
“Let her alone!”
So beware of those who
would turn profound
acts of love into
insubstantial acts
of silliness or fool’s errands.
There is a lovely fragrance
to our lives
and our living,
and we should inhale it deeply.
It is to enjoy,
and to those who
will try to steal your dream,
to those who
would belittle your fragrant
offering of love,
to those who
would deny you
the loveliness of your story,
nothing stinks here
but the death
in their judgement.
LEAVE IT! STOP!
There are roses to smell.

A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE

Luke 15:1-3 — The Message
By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’ “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

HOW GOD WORKS

“A Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Luke 15:1-32

The “Love”
about which Jesus
preaches,
demonstrates,
acts out,
lives out,
and
builds the kingdom,
is not your average
run-of-the-mill
kind of love.
It is not based
on human comfort
or expedience,
or some
esoteric notion
built upon a philosophical
(Augustinian, Melanchthonistic, Calvinistic,
dogmatic, systematic, or biblically correct
or any other) construct.
This love is lived in a
real-time
set of actions
that are based on
totally
non-human,
God-constructed values.
Humans,
of their own volition,
would hold back love as a condition
or prize
for abiding by
cultural, legal, or religious conformity.
We can demand that those to whom
we portion out love
do what makes us
comfortable
or keeps us safe,
but God gives love
out freely regardless of our
explanations of belief or non-belief.
God cares not a thing
about who we think
should acquire our love and mercy.
Humans want love to be earned
through right actions, fidelity,
good thoughts,
with all sorts of stipulations.
But love in not a commodity.
God just seems to arbitrarily
hand it out at will — to anyone.
Humans have the notion
that love needs to be earned,
deserved,
a merit-valued service
to be avariciously
allocated as warranted.
God’s idea of
love-giving
is a
lavishly squandering drenching of grace.
Those who see love
as a commodity are
continually confounded
by God’s notion of freely
giving love and showering grace,
even forgiveness,
on those they deem unworthy.
It seems many
would like permission
to judge and hate.
God’s notion of love
is not comfortable to many of us,
and we would like permission
to take revenge on our enemies.
This was particularly in
evidence when
the Death Penalty
was suspended not too long ago.
The shrieks for
vengeance and revenge were loud,
but they were neither
God’s voice
nor were they based
upon the unconditional love
Jesus taught and acted out.
We seem to be able to love
those who love us,
but it is almost,
if not impossible,
for us to love and forgive
an enemy.
It is a crazy little thing called love.
But it is not so crazy
to God.
It is crazy to humans
who have hardened their hearts
and turned a vengeful soul
to a gospel of love.
Love.
Love to all.
Love for everyone.
Love.
Just love.
Love.