PAUL AND HIS TIMES

When Your World Flips and Splits

When Your World Flips and Splits

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (the first of Paul’s writings)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Before there was any written Gospel there was Paul.
When the canon of Christian scripture
was put into a fixed order
it was done by supposed
documentary importance
rather than chronological order,
giving the impression of a fixed set of ideas.
But they are actually a changing story
that can show the progression
of how early Christians
grew in their understanding
of Jesus.
10 years younger than Jesus,
Paul was a Roman Citizen,
and a Pharisee.
Luke claims Paul
studied under the great Rabbi,
Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
Paul was knowledgeable in Roman
as well as Jewish law,
was well versed in
the Greek style of rhetoric,
and while he never actually met Jesus,
he had studied enough about
the Movement Jesus began
to know it was clearly opposed
to the strict Pharisaic
understandings designed to keep
Jewish societal edges intact
and cultural uniqueness inviolate,
and needed to be stopped.
He was an aggressive anti-Christian.
About five years after
Jesus’ crucifixion,
Paul had a conversion experience while
on a journey to Damascus
where he planned to persecute Christians,
and was won over to the Christian Way.
Paul went on from there as a true believer,
founding small communities
that followed the Way of Christ,
and the new movement
to which he had been converted.
What he proclaimed was
all from word of mouth learning.
There was nothing written down yet.
The Gospels would come 30 – 50
years later.
The immediacy of the Resurrection story
of which Paul writes in this text
was a story that had been believed
by those left
when Jesus was killed:
that there would be a second
coming in their own lifetimes.
By the time Paul was writing,
that story had already morphed
and the second coming
was being pushed
back to sometime off
in a distant future.
His new-found ministry
was to non-Christians rather than Jews.
Many of the Christian-Jews
disliked his inclusion of non-Jews
into their movement
and worked to stop him.
There is a plasticity
in the Christian Scriptures.
An ebb and flow and growth
of story and telling and information
that is organic and in constant change.
The writings of each generation,
are for that particular generation
and its own peculiar needs.
Paul’s writing is to the communities he founded.
They are situational,
or topical.
His theology has been termed,
occasional theology,
or theology that is aimed
at a particular occasion
and never intended
to be a universal statement,
though, sadly,
it is used many times in that manner.
We can find hope in Paul’s writings—
think if it as prescription
as opposed to proscription,
and as such,
and to the chagrin of
biblical literalists,
should never be considered binding.
The writings of Paul
are good instruction
to the First Century
churches he founded,
but seriously problematic
as doctrine-fodder
in our own time.
We, now, should be,
like Paul,
writing situational theology
for our own particular time
and our own peculiar needs.

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MY TAKE ON THE END GAME…

Ephesians 2,8-9 & Mark.33-36
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Ephesians 2:8-9 — King James
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Mark 14:33-36 — Amplified Bible
And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be struck with terror and amazement and deeply troubled and depressed. And he said to them, My soul is exceedingly sad, overwhelmed with grief, so that it almost kills me! Remain here and keep awake and be watching. And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and kept praying that if it were possible the fatal hour might pass from him. And he was saying, Abba, which means father, everything is possible for you. Take away this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.

Close to the End

Close to the End

Many are worried about what happens after they die.
Nobody wants to go to hell.
I think that the fear of hell
is what drives the truck,
not for all,
but for most
conservative Christians.
People who think of themselves as theologians,
biblical scholars,
Great Christian Leaders
have promulgated the notion of the
trickstery, sneaky ways
God works which are so
un/in/dis-human
that we indeed all are sinners
on the brink of the eternal fires,
with little recourse,
or hope.
Claiming that “being saved”
is based upon some act—
coming forward,
or holding an unseen entity
in a metaphorical heart.
Scripture tells us things,
actually many things,
that can be taken by the
ignorant,
or cynical,
or wounded,
in ways that are truly detrimental
for the human soul.
We are given formulas,
creeds,
altar calls,
professions of faith to make
that are supposed to move
us from damnation to salvation,
but I think it is all smoke and mirrors at best,
and spiritual make-work at the least.
Not actually helping us,
yet harming us
if we are governed by the fear
of a hardly avoidable hell,
and a disastrous end-game.
First, let me say that I do not
believe
in a fiery and eternal hell.
So, for me,
the above is truly make-work
for the most part
and what is avoided is actually shadows.
I actually believe the writer in Ephesians
who says that salvation cannot be by our own works.
“Not of ourselves,”
and
“it is the gift of God…”
Seems to state it as clearly
as it needs to be stated.
I think that at this juncture,
the faith the writer
or Ephesians
wants us to be saved by
is not what we think it is—
IT CANNOT BE OUR FAITH,
BECAUSE IF IT WAS,
OUR ACT OF COMING UP
WITH THAT FAITH WOULD
THEN BECOME A “WORK,”
AND WOULD NOT,
COULD NOT,
SAVE US!
I believe that the faith that saves us,
if saving is needed,
is the faith Jesus had in
the one he knew as Abba, or Father.
It is that faith-in-the-garden-faith
when he chooses faith
in God over his own fear.
It is Jesus who holds the New Covenant,
and it is Jesus who holds the faith that saves.
That moment in the Garden,
when we find Jesus reaching deep for his
faith-in-the-garden-faith,
that moment,
is the exact moment
we mean when we say we are
“saved by faith.”
It is this faith
to which we can cling
should we feel the need for salvation—
from anything…

Training Your Ear To Love

On Listening Alternatively

On Listening Alternatively

James 1:17-27
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

I will try to be the love
that others need
and the hope
that others seek.
I will attempt to be the ear
that listens for the need.
Knowing it will neither be spoken,
nor be seen.
This need will not be noticed,
except
by one who is prepared to hear.
I would be the ear
to that which is unspoken,
yet
which is shouted so loudly
by actions,
loud proclamations—
my ears burning from shame,
ego stumbling,
my pride tripping
on the inappropriateness
of the plea.
Still
I would like to try and hear.
I keep waiting
for God to speak.
I keep waiting
to be noticed by God.
I keep waiting.
I keep waiting
to be needed.
Seeking,
listening loudly,
strongly,
for the divine word
that I may never hear,
because it appears
to come from those needier than I,
and in inconvenient
and troublesome ways.
For it seems
the very people whose needs
cry loudest for help,
use the exact words
that push my buttons,
shut my ears,
and harden my heart.
Help me to listen
beyond my own needs,
God,
help me to listen.
I would be love…

ADVERSITY RUNNING OUT OF BREATH

Mark 4:35-41
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Mark 4:35-41 — The Message
Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?” Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

09-0011-Rain

09-0011-Rain

So much adversity has happened this past couple of years,
I am almost out of breath.
Our nation seems to be in a time of constant grieving.
If it isn’t revisiting Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,
or the mass shooting inside a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado,
or watching police behaving feloniously on cell phone video clips,
it is seeing thousands of vets in hospitals,
suffering PTSD, begging on street corners,
or being blown apart in wars we aren’t sure we belong in
Hate and blame abound.
The NRA claims the murders in Charleston
were brought on by the minister himself.
Schools, Christian churches,
Protestant and Catholic
abound in sexual exploitation and abuse,
and our children are stolen off our streets,
out of our arms never to be seen again.
Racism, homophobia,
gender inequality,
nationalism
just will not go away.
Instead of tears our nation rages
and rips itself apart with an unspoken fear.
And many times we just feel helpless…
Newscasters are looking for easy sellable headlines.
Preachers are looking for easy, preachable, phrases.
Politicians are looking for easy reelectable planks for their platforms.
But the truth of it is that it is not easy.
The hate has to stop—now!
The finger pointing and blame has to stop—now!
Seeing these issues as someone else’s problem has to stop—now!
The time for reconciliation is now.
The time for forgiveness is now.
The time to shoulder our culpability and complicity in the problem is now.
The leaders of our nation,
right and left,
have been acting like a pack
of fools, jesters, clowns,
and petty, self-aggrandizing pre-teens
on a stage that demands more than adolescent elbowing.
Our job
as thinking, praying, people of faith
is to stand against this tide
of cynical solipsism,
and fear-filled reactionism.
The change begins in us.
The hope starts here.
There is no buck to pass,
only grace to nurture,
and it begins with forgiveness.
The model for this was made for Christians
by Jesus
when he forgave his tormentors,
and it was acted out again
by the families of the murdered in
Charleston, South Carolina
as they one by one spoke to Dylann Roof,
named their pain and loss,
and then forgave him.
Our task as individuals as I see it,
is to believe adversity can run out of breath,
stand against injustice,
naming it to its face,
asking forgiveness for our own part in it,
accepting that forgiveness,
and then passing that forgiveness on
to those who commit egregious crimes
against us and humanity.
Can we name those whom we are called to forgive?
The time has come for love…

HONEST PRAYER

Passion and Prayer

Passion and Prayer

Psalm 130
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

So much of Sunday church worship
is nice and safe and sweet and gentle,
and I think,
\while this is a good thing,
most of the time,
we get taught lessons that
do not apply to our daily living,
and imply
that this is how we ought to pray,
all the time.
Applying a spiffy,
polished-up and tamed-down
church model
to our everyday living is not ideal.
For most,
our lives are not nice and safe and
sweet and gentle.
Wild, crazy,
mean, scary,
treacherous, hurtful, horrible
things happen to us
and those we love
off and on throughout our lives,
and it piles up
until we think we will explode
from the stress.
Betrayal and agony
and death and misery,
monotony
and mind-crushing boredom,
lives that fall short of
dreams and potential,
and flat-line for
year
upon year
upon year
upon year.
For many of us
these are the daily weights
with which we struggle,
drag up the proverbial hill,
day after day,
decade after decade,
and somewhere,
in a partitioned-off corner
deep within our soul
there is an outrage,
born of inequity and despair,
that waits to escape.
And it will
when there is enough provocation.
These are the times when the
sweet
prayers and praise
of our worship lead us to think what we really
truly
have to express
is not only inappropriate,
but blasphemous.
Not so!!!
God wants us,
all of us,
not only our praise
but the full expression of our true emotions.
Praying should always be the most honest expression
of where we are
mentally/spiritually/emotionally
at that precise moment we are living.
Screaming, swearing,
crying, jibbering,
denying God,
making rude-gestures-at-the-sky at God,
cursing God:
all these are very timely,
appropriate,
honest
praying forms,
and they are,
in some ways truer
and more honest forms of prayer
than the prayers we generally think
we ought to pray.

IT’S ABOUT LOVE

It's About Love

It’s About Love

John 10:11-18

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Sheep, shepherds, owners, hired hands,
wolves, authority, life, flock, fold, pen,
murder death, sacrifice —
the many diverse images in this text
that are supposed to tell us about love.
The whole accumulation of metaphors
is meant to explain part of what
God through Jesus has for us.
Should…
Yet, I find something missing.
I think the problem here,
as well as the problem with most of God-writing,
is its lack of actual, honest emotion
and its fixation with concepts.
John is supposed to be the most emotional
of all the Gospel texts,
and yet, even at its most sacrificial,
it still comes off as a little bloodless—
a watered-down ember
of what there is to actually tell.
But, you know, it is always like this
when we try to explain love in words.
The word love is a metaphor for an action,
a state of existence,
a way of being;
the word is a verb not a noun,
it is a symbolic expression for
a feeling, an emotion, a desire;
a zero score in tennis,
an over fondness for fondness,
a bad trick of the heart:
all of these things,
but it is also an implicit comparison
for the being we think of
when we think of God.
So we get a whole set of writings that express love
in ancient, near-eastern expressions of violence,
acted out on altars and through sacrifice,
death, and resurrection—
this is not even how we think
in our own First World time and place.
In searching for some new,
or at least workable, God-writing
for how we can understand
God’s love through the life and death of Jesus,
I am again struck by Jesus’ actions.
He walked, worked,
ate with those who were lesser
in the eyes of the establishment—
this made him suspect.
He did his godly work
on days when he shouldn’t do anything—
this made him an outlaw.
He challenged the traditions,
ruling classes,
and religious beliefs—
this got him killed.
But, and here it is,
he did all this
because he was motivated by the love
he felt for the downtrodden
and the compassion he had
for those who are suffering.
What Jesus did in and with his life
was/is an example of forgiveness and mercy.
God-writing and its attendant metaphors
in our own time
must be mandated to eschew notions
of temple sacrifice and murder
and to focus on the gifts of grace
and tenderness of heart,
the emotions,
we find in the consequences of Jesus’ living —
it’s about love…

SEEING THROUGH THE VEIL

Seeing Through the Veil

Seeing Through the Veil

Mark 9:2-9
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Sometimes the sky opens
and we can see
what is behind the air we breathe.
The oxygen and other gasses
part and, WOW, there it is,
the glory of heaven.
Made apparent and clear. And,
just for a second or two, there is
a pause between the
heart-beats of eternity
and presented
to us,
for us,
for reasons we cannot fully
appreciate,
or understand,
the wonder
we sometimes wonder about.
And just for that space between
cosmic heart beats
we know that it is real,
and we know that we are
real as well.
And we are so overwhelmed we
do not know what to do,
so we say something irrelevant and
then walk on as if it never happened—
but we know that it did…