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.

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?

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.

EASTER MORNING

John 20:1-18 — The Message
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” “They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him, Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.” Jesus said, “Mary.”Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!” Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Easter Morning - 2019

Easter Morning

After death.
After several nights of pain
and inexplicable grief.
After watching a friend,
family member, mentor, leader
die,
the disciples’ expectations
were confounded.
The unspeakable,
was said —
He is risen!
The unthinkable
was thought —
The tomb is empty!
The ultimate loss
was itself defeated —
Jesus was returned.
But don’t you think,
and I do, that the
bitterness
of their grief lingered
on their palates
for the rest of their lives?
Take a second.
Think of your own losses,
the grief
you endure,
the sorrow
that sings you to sleep,
that one piece of joy
out of all the joy you feel,
that you continue to lament in your heart of hearts.
We hardly ever speak about our grief,
or allow it to show,
but it is, nonetheless,
real and present
to every one of us.
I do know that you
know this deep kind of grief.
I know you know
that I also
know this deep kind of grief.
I believe that grief
is at the heart of the idea of Resurrection
as more of a looking-back event
than the reportage of a current one.
I have come to believe
that the glory of the Easter Morning Event
was first
discovered by Jesus’
loved ones many years later
at Table
while breaking bread
and pouring cup,
and sharing
with each other,
and that they experienced the miracle of Easter
in their memories
and stories and healings and sharings
as they gathered together
in his memory.
The song says that we serve a risen Savior,
and we do.
We are told that Jesus lives,
and he does.
We gather together here to sing,
to break bread,
to pour cup,
to remember
that because Jesus rose,
and will continue to rise
for us,
and within us all,
we can make sense of our grief.
For in our memory there is life,
in our memory there is healing,
and our memory
is like a road-sign on
our road through life.
Because he lives
in our remembering
we will all live,
we will all rise again,
we will all meet again
those we love
as we share our stories and lives.
Family gatherings,
school reunions,
random moments of storytelling,
breaking bread and
sharing cup at Communion,
in memory there is life.
And, in memory
grief will not win the day!

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.

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.

JUBILEE: DISTRIBUTING THE LOVE

Luke 4:14-21 — Common English Bible

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

transformation detail #22

Jubilee: Distributing the Love

The Jewish people had waited
for the coming of the year of Jubilee —
that special year promised by God.
It was a year
for which they would save up,
putting aside
enough supplies the prior year
so they could live
a full year without working.
Like the weekly Sabbath,
it was full of regulations
and rules, so the people of God
could concentrate on God
instead of hand-to-mouth survival.
Captives were also freed.
Debts were to be forgiven
and written off by the lender,
properties that had been
passed down by birthright
and lost to indebtedness
were to be returned
to the original families.
It was a year of economic leveling.
It was a year of reestablishing equity
and redistributing of wealth among the people.
It was a year of which to dream,
but to avoid in real life
because it meant not only getting stuff back,
but giving stuff up.
Some claim it was celebrated
until the 6th Century BCE
and that the year of Jubilee
had not actually occurred since.
Jesus’ claim here
is that it is in him that the Jubilee is reinstated.
This is why I have come to see
that Christianity itself
should be,
if it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus
a system of leveling
of the economics of all societies.
I see Christianity as
distinct for Marxism and Socialism only
in that they are systems bereft of God,
or Jesus.
Functionally
and structurally there is not
a lot of difference in the systems.
Because Jesus IS the year of Jubilee
Christianity should be as well.
By extension,
as followers of Jesus,
WE are anointed
to be that year as well.
And as Jesus attempted,
we are to attempt
to free the captives and
forgive our debtors.
This is neither an abstract
concept nor is it a fiction,
it is our commission.
But you see,
it is easier to have our debts forgiven,
than to forgive a debt owed to us.
Redistribution of love,
of wealth,
of health,
of freedom,
of access and entitlement
becomes a messy endeavor
for many Christians
and is a concept
some think might
best left in the pages
of the Bible.
Nonetheless,
while we can’t do it all,
maybe even nothing at all,
we are called to try
to bring about
some part of this year
through the living of our lives.
To discover what part
of it we can do.
It is not just what
we are called to proclaim,
this is what we are asked
to attempt to
live out.

WATER TO WINE

John 2:1-11 — The Message

There was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.” Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” Six earthen water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim. “Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did. When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!” This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

leaf & grape

John 2:1-11
Water to Wine

Water to wine.
From water to fine,
fine, wine.
This happens here in the
Alexander and Dry Creek valleys.
We get,
are getting,
rain—water,
and it is transformed
into fine wine.
Neither magic nor miracle,
but just how nature works.
The party-goers knew wine.
They could tell good
from incredible wine.
They knew what he did,
they didn’t know how he did it,
It was one of those WOW moments.
What are the WOW moments we have?
You know,
those moments
when something
we thought was not going to be fixable
got fixed,
and we are not sure how
it happened,
but there you are,
fixed.
Sometimes it is a secret
and broken
thing
deep within us,
that is hidden and obscure.
Something we never
allow to see the light of day,
lurking
in the shadows of
our subconscious.
A brokenness
and attendant shame
with which we
just seem to coexist.
And then,
healed,
gone
in a mysterious
way that can only be
attributed to God.
We are those earthen vessels
holding wash-water.
We hold that stale
water waiting
to be transformed.
Will we choose
to be transformed
into that incredible wine.
It means changed.
It means being different.
Have we been,
will we be,
do we dare be
transformed?

Advent & Christmas Reflections

Advent Candles #1

ADVENT 1 — DO NOT BE AFRAID

It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means to try to not be afraid
when the fear is sufficating you?
I wonder? Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase, “Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world depended on the answer.
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us and
angels keep telling us
to not be scared.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are the only ones who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always life-altering, scary, hard,
and, as finite beings, really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking, we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending angels
to tell us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still, we keep saying, “Yes.”
But without us saying, “Yes,” there would be
no BIG stories, no myths, no great sagas,
no heros, no successes-writ-large, and
by extension, no hope, no salvation,
no joy, and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories, the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories are about who we are, not so much about God.
I like that, but it does put some weight on my answer
when I am the one called.
A “Yes” or a “No” does indeed mean
the future of the whole world.

# # #

ADVENT 2 — PRAYING WITH MARY

Praying with Mary is a strange concept for many
Free Church Protestants. We say things like,
it sounds really Catholic,
we pray on our own, we don’t pray like that,
and I wonder, Why not?
The answer probably lies
somewhere between
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,”
and
“Asking a dead person to pray with me
seems really yucky, so why should I?”
Well, we, as Christians,
do believe that we are not alone in the cosmos,
and that there is life after death,
and many of us have had experiences
of Presence in one way or another
that many times we pretend we haven’t had,
but nonetheless know full well ocurred.
My point here is that
there is something that makes us bigger
when we pray with others.
So praying with Mary as she
prays a prayer that engages the Power of God
within the human condition,
the God which has raised up
and delivered and made whole
the least of the least,
is a powerful and life-changing way to pray.
So I ask can we pray with Mary,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”?
Can our souls do that? Can our spirits rejoice?
And then can we recognize
God’s power to change the conditions within the world?
This was Mary’s prayer of acceptance
to a world that would be forever changed by her Yes.
I think that it took an innordinate amount of courage for
her to pray that prayer. Can we find that courage
as well and pray with her, and how will our world be changed if we do?

# # #

ADVENT 3 — IMMIGRANTS AND SOJOURNERS

Long drives.
Destinations we know of,
but have never seen,
and to which we journey
with trepidation.
Feeling like strangers in places
where we should be welcomed
and embraced.
Stories of hope
morphing into dread.
Always leaving the known
for the unknown.
Pilgrims, caravans of the helpless,
praying for a welcoming that does
not happen but is turned
into hate and affliction.
Pregnant and turned away in a border town.
Pregnant and turned away in a Capital city.
Living lives at the whims of uncaring politicians
and hearts hardened to their plight.
Defying death by living in spite of threats,
aggression, Roman soldiers, border guards,
inhuman laws, shut doors, and hatred.
Settling into the filth and wreckage of living conditions
designed to stultify, beat down, smother the dream out of even
the greatest dreamer the world has ever known.
But stultifiers and dream-crushers lose in the end,
because the dream will not be silenced.
Whether asylem-seekers from Central and South America,
Africa, or the Middle-east,
be they Greek, Roman, Jew, Christian, or Galilean,
their salvation is at hand,
and they will be delivered—set free.
God has made promisses God’s people are commissioned to keep.
Set the captives free, lead the those in need to their salvation,
open the doors of a stable so the weary
sojourner can find rest, and
make a way for Jesus to find a safe haven.

# # #

ADVENT 4 — MESSENGERS

Who is that who comes to me?
What is this fearsome creature
who pauses before me?
What is it that this otherly being
is trying to tell me?
It/He/She, the apparation is gone now.
But I wonder what is it I have missed? What?
God sent angels, messengers,
joined by huge angelic choirs
to announce the coming of Jesus.
I have been on a tear this past week —
getting things ready for Christmas,
buying stuff, fixing stuff, getting stuff — stuff, stuff, stuff…
It comes to me that while I might think
I am ready for Christmas,
am I really? Is my heart ready? Is my soul ready?
Are my relationships road-worthy
for a four-week trip by donkey to Bethlehem?
And then, after all is said and done on Christmas morning,
have all my Advent preparations been worthless or worthy?
Have I seen and paid attention to the angels
standing by my busy path, and who call out to me:
“Here, right here is Jesus! This one, that one, those over there,
they will lead you to Bethlehem, if you will but let them.
They have an open room for you
if you will only have an open room your heart…”
And I pray this morning that I will meet and greet
the angels who come to show
me the way to Bethlehem
with grace and love.

# # #

CHRISTMAS EVE — LOVE

The child is birthed
and is held
and lives
and dies
and is raised
and is carried
and is re-birthed
as long as our hearts
are willing
to carry out
the cycle of
Hope
and Peace
and Joy
and Love
and Passion
and Glory.
And you know this already:
it is all God asks,
or expects,
you to do.
It is a nativity
of love
a claim upon
our hearts
and an eternal
statement that
love will always win.

“CHRISTMAS PRAISES”

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.

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?

IF AS IF

Gallery

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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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This gallery contains 1 photo.

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

WHEN THE CALL IS FOR HEALING

©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
based on Mark 1:29-39

When the call
is for healing
the call
is not just to be healed,
but to heal others as well.
When the call
is for healing
the call
is not just to stop our own pain,
but to help ease the pain of another.
When the call
is for healing
the call
is not only to work at the healing of others,
but to take the time to let healing happen
for us as well.

When the call is for healing…

Called to heal;
called to be healed.
Called to be present to the process.
Called to be the process.
Called to hold the process.
Called give away the process.

When the call is for healing…

Still,
so many do not heed the call.
We want to help
others to become healed,
yet we
seem to stay unhealed.
We resent
being thought of as in need of healing.
We become angry
at the notion that we might be broken.
We resent being named.
We refuse to do
the work of our own restoration.
Why is it that
it is alright for Jesus to touch,
heal, renew, recreate,
step into another’s
history, space, life,
but it is meddling
when it comes to us?

When the call is for healing…

A RETELLING

A Place for Retelling

Deuteronomy 5:1 & 18:15-:16

Called to speak.
Called to listen.
Called and answered.
Called and chosen.
Threatened —
by God —
do it right or else!
This book
has an interesting history.
Deuteronomy is purportedly
a “lost” book
found
after the Exile of the
Hebrew people
to Babylon.
It had been hidden,
and turned up mysteriously,
then
“found”
by the new order of ruling priests.
It is full of laws,
holiness codes,
and or-elses from God.
The strong suspicion
by some biblical scholars
is that the
“finders”
actually
wrote it themselves
as a means of establishing their
own power and rightful leadership
in a community torn
apart by being exiled from,
then returned to,
their homes.
Homes that after 60 years
just did not exist anymore.
There is something powerful
here about this
re-construction of hope.
Something worth paying attention to
in the re-telling of old stories.
Remembering that these are the words of priests,
not so much Moses, or God,
we can then see
a desperate attempt by to build hope
and re-construct a sense of place,
of home.
The Hebrew people thought that they
needed these stories to build their
national and personal
self-worth.
This is revisionist history,
and in and if itself
is less than the best way to facilitate healing.
History happened.
Life happened.
Still there is something compelling
in re-telling a story with a different outcome.
Not to actually history,
but to change
how we can change our own outcome
with a different telling.
There is healing in imaging
ourselves surviving trauma
and emerging strong,
not wounded.
I am not promoting denial,
rather exploring a
re-storying where our victimhood
changes into strength and energy
and inner power
and strength.
What stories do we need for this?
How do we need to revision our old stories?
What do we need to hear
that bolster us
in times of distress,
when we feel dispossessed
out of luck,
unloved,
and short on hope?
Who will we listen to
in an age of “false news”?
Who has been called, chosen,
to tell us these stories
we need so desperately to hear?
Do we need stories of conquest?
Are we seeking stories of greatness?
Or,
is it a story of hope,
of love,
of salvation and
fulfilled promise
that we so desperately need to hear?
How would we re-write
our old stories
so they reflect
our own heart’s desire?

CAN ANYTHING GOOD?

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, “Come, follow me.” (Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, the same as Andrew and Peter.) Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding, can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.” When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.” Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.

Can Anything Good

Can Anything Good Come?

Can Anything Good?
John 1:43-51

Judgment and stereotyping,
regionalism, nationalism,
arrogance
and good,
old fashioned xenophobia,
right at the beginning of
Jesus’ ministry—
directed right at Jesus.
Credulous, bigoted, knuckleheads.
And those are the ones
who became his disciples!
WOW!
“You’ve got to be kidding,
can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Or Africa,
or Haiti,
or Mexico,
or San Salvador,
or, or, or?
Well the disciples found out,
didn’t they?
But what about us?
Are there those areas,
places, towns—
nations,
where we arbitrarily
discount
those who are living there?
I have heard many,
some of us even,
refer with ugly claims
to those who come from
the Res, Lake County, Nice,
anywhere other than Geyserville.
Meth heads,
crack heads,
trailer trash,
weirdoes.
That’s where the heroin addicts hang out.
Yet,
we are referring to human beings,
the ones
Jesus loves as much
as he does us,
those who carry the Christ
as do we,
deep in their beings.
The main difference
between us and
Jesus
is that he could look
into the hearts of all
and see nothing
but goodness and grace.
But do we not owe it
to ourselves and to others
to see that same
grace in all?
And if we did,
what might we discover?
Maybe that the Messiah
was walking alongside
of us
all along.
Now that would be
something to miss,
wouldn’t it?

RUNNING

To continue my poem-journey this week of a poem a day. I am pulling from past and new work that infer an inner spiritual movement — awareness of body, awareness of nature/God-in-nature. The awareness of that unknown entity we understand as that-which-cannot-be-named-known-or-described… nonetheless, discovered in unconditional love of small creatures.

Where

RUNNING
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Disco threads ragged patterns
through ploughed meadow grasses.
Starry night
dances the darkness
in red fir and Jeffery pine
patterned on silver.
Where is time?
That magic loom
weaving universe
upon universe.
Ambivalent existence
in trinity.
Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday.
Eternal forever
when I lay by the Jeffery pines
and a yellow dog
kept watch
with restless loyalty
near my head.
A little dog
meant always
for the wild ways
of the forest.
Like me, a runner,
always running.
Little runner
of the wild lands
where do you now run?
Long killed by a city
with no understanding
of how little runners of
wild wood lands
sometimes lose their way
where the grasses
are clipped so short.
But I still have you,
my friend,
fellow runner.
Sometimes
the trail gets too long
and the man
becomes too small,
then I hear
you panting at my heals
and next
ferreting unseen
in the thick trailside brush.
Running,
always running.
I still have that night,
silver moon on fir
and you
ever-watchful,
ever-running
lest I be surprised by that
unknown
living in deep moonshadow.
Still,
I sleep more wary
though
I know you must
now run eternal
on ever-soft fir-carpet.
It is in the dark
I wonder where the asphalt
ended for you
and where
it will end for me.
Ever running.