RAGTAG & DISORGANIZED

Isaiah 11:1-10 — The Message

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch. The life-giving Spirit of GOD will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-GOD. Fear-of-GOD will be all his joy and delight. He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

Disorganized Religion - flat - web

Ragtag and Disorganized

I am thinking about our journey,
as a church and as a people.
I am thinking how crazy
this journey seems to be at times.
Not just crazy,
but convoluted,
bendy/twisty,
and fairly obscure with
no signage to speak of,
and what there is of that being
fairly unreadable and in a language
with metaphors I’ve never,
ever, quite understood.
Still,
I was told that the way to all I pray for
(a heart in sync with God’s Spirit),
this path I am following,
is in actuality,
straight and narrow and really clear.
What’s up with that?
I have put quite a bit of thought into this,
“What’s up with that?” question
and I have concluded that what’s up
is that all the organization
that religions try to claim
is actually really disorganized
to the point of fragmentation
and those
who are self-tasked
with promoting faiths
and denominations and religious systems
in general are desperately
doing their best at trying to sell us rules
and concepts and gobs
of spiritual make-work,
and failing,
because they are just as full of fear
and as confused as those
they are trying to manipulate
to their way of thinking.
All in all their organizations
are wholly fictional,
and they are exactly
as disorganized as they pretend
not to be.
AND THEN
there is what I will term,
honest and intentional disorganized religion.
This faith-walk makes no pretence
of being organized and actually
follows the winding and convoluted path of Jesus
who ambled and rambled
around breaking
religious rules and dogmas and standards,
healing and setting free those so
bound in religious junk
they had given up on church
and in many cases, life itself.
I am on this path with Jesus.
There are no answers only mystery.
There is no dogma only desire.
There are no formulas for salvation only hope.
There is only a tender, fragile, green shoot
in a long dead stump—Jesus and us.
We have diverse spiritualities and goals,
and different spiritual languages.
We don’t want our leaders to
form us into their faith,
but to help and encourage
the fragile shoots that are us
to more deeply discover our own paths.
This is Disorganized Religion:
we are a ragtag and disorganized people
of faith gathered together
in Mystery and by Mystery
to pray together and be strong
as we share in each other’s
different faith-journeys and discoveries.
This is us.

NOTHING

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 & 23 — New Revised Standard Version

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless…

NOTHING

NOTHING THAT IS NOT
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

There is a difference between
nothing and Nothing.
I mean a lowercase nothing
and a capitalized Nothing.
The kind of nothing that is
empty and desolate
and the kind of Nothing that
is deep and warm and
kind of sparkly.
One nothing is like a desert
prickly and dry and a barren wasteland.
The other lush and full
and verdant and fecund.
I am thinking about prayer.
Prayer as emptying.
Prayer as letting go.
Prayer as absolutely Nothing
Before I continue let’s
consider God for a bit.
How we pray depends entirely
upon our image of God.
So, what is your image of God?
What is mine?
Is one image of God better than another?
Thinking of God as a traffic director,
or a Santa Claus, or a Great Sugar Daddy,
or a dealer in physical commodities
who therefore doles out
alms, charity, handouts, subsidies,
stipends, welfare,
or quick fixes in times of disaster,
or physical healings,
or the goodies we most want,
may not be the most fruitful way to consider God
in terms of our spiritual growth.
Thinking of God as one who companions,
who walks with, who suffers with,
through Whom we gather
wisdom and insights
and in Whom we find solace and comfort
is another.
The Nothing of which I write comes
from this latter consideration of God.
Begging God for stuff and health and life
does not grow us.
This is praying from our brains
and it is a form of surface prayer.
Asking God to show us more of God
is a sure bet to discover the very
necessities we need.
Deep prayer is a means
to start learning about
and understanding and knowing God
at the deepest level of our souls.
We generally tend to think about God
in negative terms—
terrible things happen to me
because God wants me to learn a lesson.
God watches me and knows when I do wrong
and will punish me for it.
God killed God’s son so I can be saved
from a fiery hell that God has created
for us to go if we don’t follow God.
These are all ways that we create a God
that is untrustworthy and treacherous.
The Idea of God as a loving God
and as a God who actually cares for us
more than God cares for
God’s own weak and needy ego
takes a hit with this kind of
negative God-thinking.
In deep prayer we learn of a God
that is tender, nurturing,
generous, and patient.
We learn of a God that loves, just loves.
We also discover that this loving God
will transform us if we will learn to pray
without expectations, or demands.
If we will learn to come to God
with an open soul,
then this open soul
can learn and discover—God.
So how do we do that?
How can we learn to
pray without begging,
pray without expecting,
pray with an open soul?
Over the rest of October
I am going to answer these questions,
but for now I will offer that
the first step
in this kind of praying is
learning to sit in silence—
earn to love solitude.
The second step
is sit with patience before God.
The third step
is to trust God with our open souls.
The fourth step
is to learn to listen with our soul.
The last step
is to let go to our
preconceived notions of God.
The step after the last step
is to begin the steps again
understanding that there
really are no steps.

RACISM 101b, White Fragility

Acts 10:34-36 “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.
Matthew 7:12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Matthew 25:41-46 ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Racism 101b

WHITE FRAGILITY
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Speaking to the white people, here:
When did you first realize you were “white”?
When did you first realize that “whiteness”
had privilege just on the basis of “whiteness”?
It was May 26, 1966, for me.
My daughter, Shannon,
had been born the day before
and I had gone into a liquor store
to buy a box of cigars to pass out.
I turned away from the register and
saw there were six
black men looking at me,
and I had this overwhelming
sense of “whiteness,”
mixed in with a strong
portion of fear,
and I said,
“Hey, it’s a girl!!!”
and passed out some cigars.
They all grinned shook my hand,
took a cigar
and congratulated me.
I was still white when I walked out,
and they were still black,
but in some small way
I had been transformed by the experience.
I am white.
I am male.
I have a higher-than-average degree.
I have privilege
and access
and entitlement
and class status—
not because of me
but simply
because of the color of my skin.
Everyone
who has whiteness of skin
has this privilege—everyone—
and without really doing anything special,
except just being white.
It’s called “White Privilege,”
and it is something that
white people,
consciously or unconsciously,
feel we need to protect.
I have come to believe
that most white people
are addicted
to their own need
to maintain their white privilege
and the entitlements that
come with that privilege,
and we become nervous
and fearful when they are threatened.
We can all be in denial
about that statement
but let’s see if it is true.
This morning I am going to talk
about what is termed, “White Fragility.”
In her book by the same title,
Robin Diangelo states that it is the dynamic
by which white people control
or shut down
any conversation about race
that makes us uncomfortable
or afraid.
In a conversations
about Affirmative Action,
for example,
many times a white person
will shut it down by claiming
that Affirmative Action is just
another way to cheat the system.
Or a white person will attempt
to use the law to try to get
into a school because, of course,
their whiteness
ought to have a chance, too.
In talks about helping the poor
there are some who will attempt
to stop such talk
by proclaiming that people
of one race or another are
lazy, stupid,
and out to get their (the white person’s) share
in one way or another,
steal as much welfare
as they can from the system,
and claim that people of color
are getting more than their
fair share from the system.
Even not using birth control
and breeding more children
for that very purpose.
Many white people,
when seeing the news about
people of color marching,
or protesting, state
that they should just settle down
and let well enough alone.
I have heard white people say
that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is
just more people of color complaining
and think it should be
“all lives” matter, or
“white lives” matter,
or “blue lives” matter,
because people of color
are no better than whites,
never once understanding the real
issues that underly the protests.
Many people of a white complexion
express anger and confusion
when on Cinco de Mayo some Hispanics
fly Mexican flags,
saying that so doing is unamerican
and the flag-flyers ought to
go back to Mexico where they belong.
These are all expressions of White Fragility.
Again, White Fragility is the dynamic
that some white people use to
manipulate and control the conversations
around race in a way that
effectively shuts them down
so whites can feel safer in their whiteness.
White Fragility as a way to control
conversations about racism
is really about the desperation
of white people
who are afraid of losing their place
at a table that they own lock, stock, and barrel,
have complete control of,
even to the crumbs that fall on the floor,
and are still afraid of losing
even the crumbs.
Psychiatrist Gerald May suggests
that we humans are all true addicts
in every sense of the word,
and that an addiction
is not only about substances,
but is about anything that keeps us
from the grace and the pure love
that God has for us.
In this way we white people
can be understood to be addicted
to our whiteness.
It might be hard to admit
but our addiction to whiteness
is devastating
to us as a nation,
to people of color,
to our souls.
We cannot act out our fear
of losing our place at the table
and keep others from having a place there
without doing significant damage
to our own souls.
I believe that the last two texts
in our readings today,
Matthew 7:21
and
Matthew 25:41-46,
speak directly
to the consequences
of our White Fragility.
Not being recognized
by God is significant
to the health of our souls.
The ones who are the least—
the unentitled and unprivileged—
are the very ones
we whites are so afraid of
and fight so hard against
so we can maintain our white privilege.
In the end it is not about protecting
our privilege
or our entitlements,
but about making sure
we share them
with all who ask us to share.
I have had conversations about race,
where many times the retort
is that the notion of racism
is nothing more
than a liberal/progressive’s attempt
at being politically correct.
Just another
“snowflake whining
and trying to control the lives and freedoms
of true Americans.”
My response to that is this:
What you are so derogatorily terming
Political Correctness is, in actuality
offering another human being grace,
feeling empathy for someone else,
and I understand grace
as the ultimate healing
for our White Fragility.

RACISM 101a, how do we begin the undoing?

Micah 6:1-8 – New Revised Standard Version

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Undoing

How Do We Begin Undoing?
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

When I was in the 1st grade
I had two little friends.
I really liked them,
and played with them
every recess and at lunch.
They were black, but I did not know that—
they were just my friends.
My parents found out that
they were black and got very upset.
I was told that I had to tell them
that I couldn’t play with them anymore
because my mother said,
“they were not my kind.”
I didn’t understand, and felt sad,
but I did what I was told.
I remember that when I told them
I could see something change in their eyes,
and in that instant they went
from being my friends
to being my enemies.
I was brought up to be a racist,
but I refused.
It was a struggle.
It has many times been a painful process.
I once accused my parents of being racists,
and they became outraged, denying it,
vociferously proclaiming my wrongness.
I am not sure there are many racists
who will admit to being a racist,
or of acting in a racist fashion.
This is why racism is so hard to undo:
no one wants to own their racism.
It is still hard for me to own up to mine.
Yet, according to the information
I receive in the workshops I’ve attended,
racism is the state of our lives.
We all are racist to a degree.
It is not to be confused
with the kind of racism
that is vicious
and evil
and goes out of its way
to do harm,
but it is nonetheless insidious because
we are not conscious of it,
doing it and obviously being
a part of the problem instead of the solution.
There is no such thing as being “color-blind.”
The danger in denying our own racism
is that we will then act it out unknowingly
and harm others and ourselves through
our unthought-out words.
Racism is defined as
“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism
directed against someone of a
different race
based on the belief that one’s
own race is superior,”
but it is more than that.
I would like to add my own definition.
Racism is when we look—
consciously or unconsciously—
at a person
of a different race than our own
and stereotype that person and discount
their validity as a human
based upon our own fear of that race,
our own fear of things and people
who are different,
or because we listen to and believe
gossip and false stories
about a particular race
told to us by people we think of as friends.
In this way racism becomes
cultural and endemic
to our personal meaning making,
to our culture and our institutions.
If you make assumptions about people
based upon their ethnicity
the assumptions are racist.
Thinking of a person of another color
as having a particular character flaw
because of their race,
is making a racist assumption.
In a very true sense,
if we think of our race
as special in any way,
and doing so gives us a feeling
of comfort or superiority,
we indeed are thinking and acting
in a racist fashion.
So, how do we undo the damage?
First we need to admit to it.
Second, we have to want to change.
Third, we must to be willing
to do the hard work of changing our
attitudes and thought processes.
We start paying attention to our thoughts and
the words that come out of our mouths.
We listen to what we say,
and think about how that might affect others.
We do not use race as a referent
when speaking of a person or group.
Always remember that the job of a Christian
is to do justice.
We are to love kindness
and to be kind.
Walking humbly
is looking at our own racism
and owning up to it.
It is to change how we think and speak
about others.
In a very real way
acts of racism
are acts that steal another’s humanity,
and when we steal another’s humanity
we are also losing
just a little of our own.

GOD WON’T FORGET, BUT HAVE WE?

Amos 8:4-7 – New Revised Standard Version
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying,
“When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Wall

GOD WON’T FORGET, BUT HAVE WE?

We all seem to learn
from what is written in the Bible.
Some of it is good
and healing and full
of love and grace.
Some of it is divisive
and ugly and full of hate.
Many Christians
seem to focus on what
Phillis Trible
refers to as the “Texts of Terror.”
She writes from
a feminist perspective,
I write from the
perspective of one
who reads this book
searching hopefully for grace.
But the book is compiled
in a way that has
grace almost
occluded and hidden
under so many layers
of tribal fear
and suspicion
that it seems easier
to preach politics and hate
from it
than to find passages
of true grace.
The book seems so
burdened with suspicion
of the other
and justification
for judgement and condemnation
that the grace
is usually missed.
Yet, here it is:
BE NICE
TO THOSE WHO
ARE POOR AND NEEDY!
DON’T BE CRUEL
TO THOSE YOU DEEM LESSER!
DO NOT CHEAT
SO YOU CAN MORE
IMPOVERISH
THE ALREADY
IMPOVERISHED!
There are some
who have taken passages
of this book
and twisted the words
so they become evil
and hurtful,
or they just plain
ignore the grace entirely.
How else do you explain
finding justifications
for locking asylum-seekers
out of our borders,
caging children,
using scripture
to justify white supremacy and nationalism,
and then having the audacity
to accuse those of us
who dare
to stand against them
as politicizing scripture,
as making our churches
into political churches.
Still God says
that we are to do
the opposite of fear.
We are to do
the opposite of hate.
We are to do
the opposite of finding
comfort from the unease
of those who beg,
yes beg,
for us to share
just a small portion
of the grace
we have been given.
Righteousness is not
piety
and nice pretty
spirituality.
Righteousness is
doing justice!
Let us not be accused
of forgetting
to pass on to others
the grace
we have been given.

SOLVING THE RIDDLE

Psalm 49:1-4 — New Revised Standard Version

Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
rich and poor together.
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

SOLVING RIDDLES

Solving the Riddle

I like this idea of solving riddles to the
music of the harp.
It’s kind of like the Blues musician’s
claim that “the blues will get us through.”
Music,
like the sound of the harp, piano, guitar, bass,
in a 12-bar loop that should be predictable,
but is not,
and is littered with
surprising accents and riffs
and soul
— lots of soul —
and a warm sense of home.
And the music does not
have to be the blues
to do this,
it just needs to be music:
arias, country, symphonies, folk —
whatever touches the riddles
and quandaries
and entanglements of our
own hearts
with healing and comfort.
Music does this:
takes us to a place of healing,
of remembrance,
of deep knowing.
Sometimes the music we hear is
carried on the night wind
from a far-a-way radio,
sometimes it is the wind itself.
Or, the rustle of a leaf,
or, a lover’s sigh,
or, a baby’s laugh,
or, the beautiful music
of our own hearts
as they beat the rhythm of our lives
or, or, or…
sometimes, for me,
the deepest music I hear
is the silence between
two notes in the middle of a
sweeping guitar arpeggio.
What is the music you hear?
In the Guitars for Vets Program
where I have been a volunteer instructor
for four years,
the motto is:
“If we can get a guitar in the hands of a vet
it will be hard for that vet
to get a gun in their mouth.”
Solving the riddle to the
music of the harp.
What are your riddles?
What riddles do you hear voiced
in your communities
in the news you read and hear
in the voices that speak to you?

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

Acts 2:1-21 — The Message
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “
They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, They’re drunk on cheap wine.” That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

IGNITING THE FLAME

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

I think that we can take this story of Pentecost
both literally and metaphorically.
Well
maybe not too literally…
Literally,
in the sense that God
moved in their midst
and deeply
within their own spirits,
and they were so
radically changed
they became different
thinking-acting-speaking-living
persons.
Metaphorically,
in terms of the
image of fire
as a fundamental and
profound purification
of the
heart, mind, soul, and intention
of each person in that room.
I do not for
one minute believe
that God
overcame them,
or forced
this radical change on them,
in the sense that
a bully might force
someone to do something,
but in the sense of
setting free,
turning lose,
fanning a flame already burning,
yet hidden
deep within each of them.
I wonder what
great fires burn within each of us?
What candles
have we hidden?
What tiny sparks
flicker unseen
in our dreams?
What world-changing
event would we each,
and collectively,
foment
if the Spirit of God
fanned our respective flames?
In that small room,
on that day,
fierce prophets
were forged out of
a timid and fearful people,
and an enduring church
was created.
What dreams, secret passions,
unnammed desires
do we harbor?
What tremendous
events would be unleashed
by God’s flame
burning within us?

REWARDS

Revelation 22:12-13 — The Message
“Yes, I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon! I’m bringing my payroll with me. I’ll pay all people in full for their life’s work. I’m A to Z, the First and the Final, Beginning and Conclusion.

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Revised Standard Version
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Testament for Everyone
‘Look! I am coming soon. I will bring my reward with me, and I will pay everyone back according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

Transformation Detail #16

REWARDS

Rewards…
what does that mean?
Jesus is coming soon
and brings rewards
as some sort of payment
according to
some work we have done?
This reads like life
is like a competition,
a game on the mid-way,
or a job for which we get paid.
Paul thinks of life
as a race to be won.
Peter sees himself
as being on a
spreading-the-Good News
assignment,
for which payment
might be made.
But Paul
has defined Christian theology
by claiming salvation
is not by works
but by faith alone.
But then faith
becomes a work
in and of itself
and we are left
holding a bag-full of question marks.
Maybe what
the author of Revelation
is saying
is that Jesus
is the reward.
In my theological opinion
I am thinking
that the author,
AKA John of Patmos,
is deep in metaphor here,
but still holding
out carrots to
keep the Christian community on track.
Some would rightly hold that
God/Jesus is neither
the big sugar daddy in the sky
nor some sort of
heavenly purveyor of favors.
I think that there is truth in that
while cautioning that God
will not be defined
and we truly cannot say
anything conclusive
about God in terms
of God’s actions or character
except that God
is a God of Love.
So what are we left with
for understanding this claim
by the writer
of Revelation?
Here’s my take on it:
If Jesus was and is and will be,
then Jesus is always the reward itself—
back when, at a later date, and right now.

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.

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.

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.

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.

BE NICE

Luke 6:27-38 — The Message
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

Lessons

Lessons

Be Nice

Be nice, be kind,
don’t hurt others,
you don’t get to have revenge
and you have to, yes,
have to,
forgive.
Many confuse piety
and self-righteousness
with what Jesus asks of us.
To my thinking
that is wrongheaded,
because this text is the
central theme
in Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
Some think they
can pretend Jesus
expects certain
holy poses
from us.
They construct rules about
what is non-Christian
behavior,
telling us how they think
Christians
should look
and act
and exist
and all the ways
they have
defined correct “Christian” comportment.
I think this text is clear —
be kind!
That’s it.
That’s all.
We are challenged to let
the cup of our hearts
be so full of God
that we will overflow
the joy of
forgiveness and kindness,
over all the
meanness and cynicism
of the world.
We are urged
to give back joy for anger,
light for the dark,
forgiveness for harm,
love for hate,
peace for dissension,
hope for despair.
I believe we
are asked
to listen to
and hear in
all of the negativity
with which we are confronted,
not a perceived
attack upon us,
but the cries of the
broken heart of the world,
the wounded cry
in all broken, frightened,
hearts we meet,
for a chance
to offer healing.

THE WAY OF LOVE

Ruth 1:1-19 — The Message
Once upon a time—it was back in the days when judges led Israel— there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi; his sons were named Mahlon and Kilion—all Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They all went to the country of Moab and settled there. Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. They lived there in Moab for the next ten years. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now the woman was left without either her young men or her husband. One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home; she had heard that God had been pleased to visit his people and give them food. And so she started out from the place she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law with her, on the road back to the land of Judah. After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!” She kissed them and they cried openly. They said, “No, we’re going on with you to your people.” But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.” Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye; but Ruth embraced her and held on. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.” But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: “Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!”

Labyrinth #1a

The Way of Love

THE WAY OF LOVE
I like the story of Ruth and Naomi
because it shows me
a model of profound
love and commitment
of one to another.
Many do this:
give up our lives to follow another.
That is love.
I know many couples
who take turns following the other
as they take jobs—
a leapfrog-sharing of
leading and following.
We choose
following,
leading,
staying,
standing,
trading,
supporting,
growing with,
holding to
each other
as we share
our lives and families and communities
in steadfast love and companionship.
Still, for me,
this story is one
that is more subjunctive
than
prescriptive or descriptive.
It is a what-could-be
story,
a how-love-could-be
story.
We will find out in later chapters
that it is also an etiological story,
or a story that explains
how something else
came to be.
It is also a story
about how I make my choices.
Do I make them out of love?
Do I make them out of convenience?
Do I make them out of habit?
Who will I,
who will you,
follow
like Ruth followed Naomi?
For me,
Naomi is a kind of god-like individual,
because the commitment
Ruth had to her
is akin
to the commitment I have,
or try to have,
to God.
It is a story that is echoed thousands
of years later by Peter
when, in John 6:68, he said to Jesus,
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Words of true love
are always words
of eternal life.
I will listen for them.
And so like
Ruth with Naomi
or
Peter with Jesus,
I turn to God
and echo the same thought—
I have heard your words of love,
God,
I will follow,
where else can I go?

WHO ARE WE?

Mark 10:46-52 — New Revised Standard Version
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Transformation Detail #13

Transformation Series: Detail #13

WHO ARE WE?
What are we?
Just a couple of quick thoughts.
Last week I spoke
about speaking out,
naming injustice,
demanding to be heard.
The scripture for this week
demands that we make a choice.
Will we be the ones silencing
those who cry for justice,
or will we be the ones
who listen to the pain
and lead those
needy souls to
Jesus?
Will we tell the sightless
they cannot hope to see,
because, of course,
they are blind.
Will we tell the voiceless
to shut up,
stay silent,
and not make waves?
What will we choose to do?
What kind of a people are we,
anyway?
I have both stood with,
and stood against,
those who cry out for justice.
Commenter,
Kathryn Matthews,
tells us that
the disciples were so caught
up in their potential magnificence
that no one
speaks up for Bartimaus.
I too have missed my cues
as a follower of Jesus.
Caught up in the wonder
that is me,
I have turned an unhearing ear
away from the ones
crying out for justice.
For those times of indifference,
for those times of non-support
I am grievously sorry,
and I am determined
to do better as other chances
arise
to lead the hopeless
to the one who gives ultimate hope.
So who am I?
What am I?
What path do I follow?
I do my best,
now,
to be one who listens
to and for
the calls of the oppressed
and the downtrodden,
and to say
to those who cry out for justice,
“Take heart;
get up,
he is calling you,”
and help lead them
into their vision.
It is important to note
that at this time,
as theologian
Megan McKenna explains,
Jericho was a dangerous,
even violent,
place filled with bandits
but also with insurgents
who were skirmishing
with the Roman Empire.
Who are we,
and where do we hang out,
and are we willing
to stop and listen
even when
it is dangerous for us to do so?

SPEAKING OUT AND NAMING INJUSTICE

Job 23:1-9 New Century Version

Then Job answered:
“My complaint is still bitter today.
I groan because God’s heavy hand is on me.
I wish I knew where to find God
so I could go to where he lives.
I would present my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn how he would answer me
and would think about what he would say.
Would he not argue strongly against me?
No, he would really listen to me.
Then an honest person could present his case to God,
and I would be saved forever by my judge.
“If I go to the east, God is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not see him.
When he is at work in the north, I catch no sight of him;
when he turns to the south, I cannot see him.

Calligraphy #27

Calligraphy #27

Speaking Out and Naming Injustice

The Job text
gives permission to
those who need to speak out
to do so.
It is the nature and purpose of Scripture
to legitimize
those injured
and dealt injustice
to name the injustice and to
call out the perpetrators.
The #METOO Movement has left many
scratching their heads,
and either angry and confused,
or wondering why go into all that now
and not just let all that ugliness alone?
The Black Lives Matter
Movement make some feel they need to shout,
“me too, my white life matters,
my blue life matters,”
never once listening
to why black lives
matter needs to be expressed
in the first place.
Three days ago was
National Coming Out Day,
and reading and listening to the
tragic/courageous/beautiful stories
also informed today’s reflection.
There are so many
who have never questioned seriously
who, what, and why they are,
and have simply and silently endured
the roles into which they have been placed,
and lived out the
expectations of others.
There seems to be safety
in not making waves,
and keeping peace among
family, friends, and those with whom we associate.
This is many times accompanied
by a deep fear that if we
do speak out,
if we do name ourselves,
if we voice the wrongs
we have experienced,
we will no longer be safe,
and will walk in harm’s way
from that moment on.
But there are many who can no longer live
in the dysfunction of silence,
and in their prisons of aloneness.
These courageous individuals
are compelled to
speak, name, identify
the wrongs by which they have been wounded —
and yes,
once they speak out,
they are no longer invisible,
and certainly, no longer safe.
They become judged,
sometimes shunned,
often targets for ridicule and shaming,
and even violence.
I thought of all this as
one friend after another
has come out,
or celebrated coming out
and publicly named
themselves
as victim/survivor/real persons/different/same
and stood firm in their fear,
only to discover that,
yes, many of their fears were
well founded,
but that also they were not alone.
Who are we?
What are we?
Why are we?
I suspect in some way,
if we are honest,
we can all identify
with those who speak out,
that we all have a story
we are afraid to tell,
and a naming that terrifies us to speak.
We all need safe
people and places
where we can speak and name,
where we can be
safe from judgment and not fear retribution,
but claim understanding,
and where people will just
hear us
and see us
and not try and fix us,
or claim that the victimization spoken
is just like what they have
experienced,
so as to co-opt even the speaker’s sorrow.
I would like to
think that in this place, here,
there is sanctuary,
and within each of us,
is a space so sacred
we can name ourselves and be safe.
A place where the Kingdom of Heaven
has come to be.

MAJESTY AND GLORY

Psalm 8 — New Revised Standard Version

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

GLORY

Majesty & Glory

For those of us old
enough to have been alive,
and to have survived,
the McCarthy Era,
or what has also been described
as The Great Fear,
and the years of rebellion
and chaos that followed,
what is now happening in our nation
seems uncomfortably
too familiar,
and I think,
Where is the Majesty and Glory
of our God?
Where can it possibly be?
Where can it be?
Today’s reading seems
trite and pale,
and like a poor substitute
for what I sense
I need this morning as
I pray with clenched teeth.
My heart feels bruised.
My soul feels a sense of betrayal.
And yet we are called on to praise
a God
that I vaguely sense
may have let us all down…
I am just a little grumpy
about that,
you know?
And I wonder,
Glory and Majesty, God?
Isn’t it really just tinsel and glitter—smoke and mirrors?
There are two celebrations
this week that might be
relevant for my struggle:
today is World Communion Sunday,
and Thursday, the 4th was the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
Both are pertinent to our own time.
St Francis stood
against the prevailing social structure
of his own time.
He stripped naked
in a public square
to visibly
reject the structural sin
of both culture and church.
His actions
healed both church and culture
for a time.
World Communion Sunday
is a call to Christian unity.
It, as did Francis,
calls us to come together
in love and unity,
to live out the values of the one
we know as Jesus,
and call our Christ.
Economic warfare,
culture warfare,
class warfare,
live fire-fights,
governmental choices
that steal both life and dignity
from the least
of the world’s least
cannot prevent
this God-of-majesty-and-glory,
who for some strange reason
known only to this God,
will work only through us,
God’s people.
This God will overcome
yet one more time
the assault on God’s bulwarks,
and God’s enemies
will yet one more time be silenced.
I’m tired,
I’ve been here before,
yet one more time,
I choose praise
over despair
and hope over doubt,
and because I do,
I also chose to stand
and to speak and to act,
and to not give up.

PRESENTS TO THE POOR?

Esther 7 — The Message
So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it’s yours.” Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives. “We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.” King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!” “An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther. Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, spoke up: “Look over there! There’s the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai, who saved the king’s life. It’s right next to Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high!” So Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai. And the king’s hot anger cooled. Mordecai wrote all this down and sent copies to all the Jews in all King Xerxes’ provinces, regardless of distance, calling for an annual celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as the occasion when Jews got relief from their enemies, the month in which their sorrow turned to joy, mourning somersaulted into a holiday for parties and fun and laughter, the sending and receiving of presents and of giving gifts to the poor.

Caring for the Weak

Holding Up The Weak

Presents to the Poor?

A major national celebration
because of a
decision that brought salvation
to the people of God.
It was a close call,
a near miss.
What would become the entire
Hebrew nation
was almost made extinct.
So yes,
a huge celebration.
But here is where
I discover the Spirit of God at work.
That same Spirit that
Jesus embodied so well,
and that dwells within us
if we will allow it to.
Right at the end of the call to
a celebration party,
Mordecai added
what I think is the heart
of the Hebrew understanding
of their forever obligation to God.
He created a holiday
for parties and fun and laughter,
and a time to give each other presents,
but also a time
to give gifts to the poor.
Caring for the poor
is a key theme throughout the Hebrew scriptures.
It is a key theme in Jesus’ message.
And it should be
a key theme for all of Christianity.
According to Hebrew scripture,
and Jesus’ teachings,
this taking care for the less fortunate
of our brothers and sisters
is the obligation
of those who have the ability to do so.
Another way to say this is that
speaking for and listening to,
the voiceless,
caring for the least of the least,
the spiritually/mentally/emotionally needy,
the sick,
the widows,
the orphans,
listening to abused women, men, and children,
is the obligation of the entitled.
It seems that when we
begin to think of salvation
as an event experienced
by only the individual we go wrong.
Because all of us
are affected by all national events,
our salvation
is also a community event,
and it should be a community
celebration
for the rich and the poor alike.
So yes, the poor,
the least — all those strangers who are not us
should be invited to the salvation party
and given gifts.
So when I hold the events
occurring in the Senate around
the Supreme Court fiasco this week
against scriptures such as these,
I find no evidence of God’s Spirit,
or God’s justice at work,
and I wonder what it will take
for the poor, the oppressed,
the voiceless, the weak
to be heard
by the entitled in this nation?

FIRST? LAST?

Mark 9:30-37 — The Message
Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” They didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

Pt Lobos 2003 #5

Last and First

First?

A little attitude adjustment here.
Jesus’ followers
thought of him as the
Captain of the football team,
the Big-Man-On-Campus,
The King of Kool,
and they wanted to inflate their
impoverished selves
by ranking themselves
according to the
length of the shadow
cast by Jesus.
Jesus would have none of it.
and we learn an important rule
for the Christian Life:
you want to be first,
then try and be the best last you can be.
WOW! Last? Last? Really?
How many
have played the namedropping game?
You know,
the one where you
aggrandize yourself by mentioning
someone you consider important
so your listeners
will think you’re important, too?
Or, as they seem to be doing here,
elbowing and shoving
for an ever higher position
in the pecking order.
Jesus suggests
that we have it all wrong.
The place of one who follows him
is dead last.
instead of competing
to be a leader of all,
be a servant of all.
Be the lowest of the low.
Find your best
status in Jesus’ circle
in the very worst
standing possible.
It seems Christians
get the highest
ranking
from the lowest
classification.
It’s all backwards,
but that’s Jesus for you,
making our lives into parables
about
the kingdom…

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 — New Revised Standard Version

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Conversion = Turning Over A New Leaf

Conversion = Turning Over A New Leaf

Conversion
What is it that that we
might/ought
change in our lives?
How would we be different
than say we are now?
We all seem to exist
somewhere
between thinking
we are just as spiffy as all get out
and thinking
we are complete losers.
We might not admit to this,
or we might want
to go to war about it,
or make sure to come
up after the service
to point out how you are not
puffed up
or that you think
you are a loser.
Fine.
OK.
So we don’t really steal.
We don’t really lie.
Or do physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to anyone.
Well, maybe…
But if it is true that we are not like this,
why do we take criticism
so personally?
Why do we hurt
so badly when we are maligned?
My point here,
and I do have a point,
is that
we all need to undergo some
form of conversion.
We all need to change
in some way or another.
To rise up just a little higher
on the spiritual evolutionary scale.
Our work is never complete.
I believe that our journey
is never going to be over.
We can always grow
more into
the image of God
that we were created
to become.
Being angry about anything
over a long period of time
is damaging to our own spirits.
Allowing ourselves
to flair out with a napalm bomb of rage
is damaging
to our own soul
and to anyone around us.
Do you trust yourself
more than you trust God?
Do you allow insecurity
and its attendant anxiety to
destroy your own spirit
by not believing you are ever
good enough?
And we might say
we have not committed murder,
but saying things
that demean another’s character,
even if it is true,
is in and of itself a form of
spiritual assassination.
Where is it in your life
that conversion
needs to take place?
What do you need to
do to
become a better
imitator
of the God of all love?

I WILL LIVE WHERE I WILL CHOOSE

2 Samuel 7:1-14 New Revised Standard Version
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In My House

IN MY HOUSE

I Will Live Where I Will Choose

This reading presents an interesting idea.
David wants to build God
a house for God.
God wants nothing
of David’s idea,
not needing a house.
David wants God’s house
to look like it is the
home of the God of
a conquering king.
God is satisfied
living in a tent.
The idea is that God’s desire
for where to worship God,
has nothing
to do with humanity’s need
for design, style, pomp, flair, beauty,
or bragging rights.
Entire cathedrals
have been built on David’s premise.
Super-structures
made of glass and gold,
brick and stone,
taking generations and
entire livelihoods to construct.

WHO ARE YOU?

Image

Ephesians 1:3-14 — New Revised Standard Version
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Who Are You

The Perplexity of Self

Who Are You?
I once was told by a pastor-friend
of the evangelical/fundamentalist persuasion
that he found nothing to helpful
for himself in anything Jesus said,
but that it was Paul who spoke to him the most.
It has taken me two degrees in theology
and much reflection to figure out
why he would say such a thing.
Thirteen books in the New Testament
have traditionally
been considered
to be written by Paul.
New Testament scholar, Marc Borg,
and others,
have deduced that Paul
may have only written seven of them:
Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians,
Philippians, Philemon, and 1 Thessalonians.
Our text today,
Ephesians,
was not written by Paul,
and not written to the Ephesians,
but to a wider,
more mystical congregation,
worshiping a sterile,
cosmic Christ,
not a sweaty,
earthy Jesus.
Many of the issues Paul faced,
such as the fundamental spiritual
differences between
Jews and Gentiles
in the wider church setting,
were resolved and now in the past
for this writer,
who may not be Paul,
yet who was clearly writing out of the
Pauline tradition and community.
The questions that arise for me
from this text are,
who are we,
who are you,
and who are you not?
By this reading,
members of the “church”
are adopted by God as God’s children,
redeemed, forgiven,
rich in God’s grace,
God’s own.
But this “church,” us,
is, also for this writer,
a spiritual,
mystical, clannish, churchy,
tribal contraption.
Is this who we are, really?
Are you,
we,
really what is claimed
for us in this passage?
Understand,
this writer’s agenda
is more about defining
what it means to be church
and what it means
to be a follower of Jesus the Christ,
than one who walks with
Jesus the man from Nazareth,
and emulates his very
concrete examples
and teachings.
In contrast to my friend,
I have generally been more
of a Jesus-person
than a Christ-person.
Less a follower of the cosmic Christ
than one who walks
with the grittiness of a real human Jesus.
Given the choice,
and I am daily,
I would choose to be
known as one who facilitates healing,
feeds the hungry,
clothes the naked,
and fights for the justice of God,
like Jesus,
than one who is known
by some mystical church membership.
But I only answer for myself.
What about you?
How do you define yourself?
Who do you choose to follow?
And, what does that mean for you?
You see,
I think that the cosmically oriented congregations
tend to stop with worship
not having a lot of connection
to the exigency of
any outside their frame of reference,
while the more identified to the
sweaty, earthy Jesus
have a deeply rooted sense
of the existential needs
of all creation.

IF AS IF

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Mark 4:26-34, New Revised Standard Version He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does … Continue reading

CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES

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Mark 3:20-35 — Common English Bible Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They … Continue reading