Tuesday, February 28, 2006

28 February 2006

Walter Brueggemann continues to write of the covenanting with neighbors.

It is a truism that charity begins at home. It is, however, an equal truism that familiarity breeds contempt, that those closest to us can be intensely problematic for us. And if that were not tough enough, Jesus has widened the horizon of neighborliness to include stranger, alien, foreigner, and even enemy. Neighborliness is difficult in any case, but then we must introduce into the calculus the reality of power relations between the stronger and the weaker.

There are quite a variety of folk that fall into the category of neighbor. It means we are invited to engage people that would not usually play a part in the lives we would choose for ourselves. Let me give you an example. Yesterday I was at a Walgreens buying a tube of toothpaste. The line was long and there was an announcement that the cashier at the photo lab could take check people out. I turned and started walking there. Two women were ahead of me. By the time I was at the counter the first woman had left and the second woman asked for a pack of a certain brand and size of cigarettes (only sold at the front of the store at that check out counter). The young man said I don't sell them here and I just told the last customer that. Well, with young child at her side, this woman started cursing the young man so much he walk to the front of the store, came back with a pack of cigarettes (the right kind but the wrong size - the only ones they had) to which she cursed at him again threw her gum on the counter with a $20 bill while her young boy looked on quite amazed. The guy behind the counter was flustered but he was patiently kind to her and then greeted me. Neighborliness can be real tough...real tough. And yet, it is also so important to each of us because it helps to shape our individual character and then that of the whole community.

Connection: We are not meant to be mats for people to walk on. But we are called to love our neighbor. Sometime today, we may all have the opportunity to deal with what that means for us as we encounter the neighbors around us.

In every age, O God, you create communities. No one is ever left alone. It is in the midst of others that our individual lives take shape for in the community, we experience the power of your Spirit taking us beyond ourselves. Thanks to you our God and our Lord of Life. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2006

27 February 2006

Today we move into another way of looking at "othering" from Walter Brueggemann in "The Covenanted Self."

The second zone in which we are compelled to think about covenanting, that is, the practice of othering, is that of the neighbor. Of course the neighbor as other is even more problematic than God as other, because the neighbor is so near, so visible, and so daily.

Very often the difficulty of othering with the neighbor can be seen in how we go about something as basic as our acts of charity. It appears as though it is easier to pull people together to go about acts of charity and support to people and places far away from us than it is to work in a much more direct way with people close by - our neighbors. Maybe that is because the "other" close by is always present and therefore this other can so easily become like our own personality or physical flaws that can drive us nuts when they are seen in others or seen in our own mirror. And yet, entering into a loving relationship with our neighbor is so vital to our life under the banner of the cross. It is primary. It is not something that is to come after we have accomplished much in our lives and have the freedom to pick neighbors and the time we would be willing to give to them. This "othering" is a part of the genesis of the community of the followers of Jesus and the people of Israel.

Connection: One small step toward the practice of othering with our neighbor is one great leap into the life within the Reign of God. Go ahead and take the step!

Guide us, Loving Lord, that when we look out at those around us we begin to catch a glimmer of your Reign and realize what a gift it is to be pulled out of ourselves by the neighbors we have who are both near and far. Then, move us to enter into relationship with our neighbors. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2006

24 February 2006

The week ends with this comment about covenanting from "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann.

Thus I suggest that covenanting (and spirituality), consists in learning the skills and sensitivities that include both the courage to assert self and the grace to abandon self to another. Such covenanting recognizes that both parties have claims to make, and that one must learn the right time in which to pursue and honor each claim, and then have the confident, unencumbered freedom to move in both directions.

I find that this suggestion brings the concept of "spirituality" into a very active and everyday experience. It is not some individual journey one takes that is merely inward. Our spirituality is a dialogical adventure. It is relational. It takes at least two sides to create this "covenant" or "spiritual" life and both sides - or all sides - must be willing to take an active part in a discipline that becomes the way life is lived. In such a relationship, it is key to enter into the two actions that Brueggemann has mentioned previously: asserting self and abandoning self. We must remember that we must never be in a relationship in which only one of these two actions is taken by either side of the covenant relationship. Rather, it is essential to welfare of each party that the two actions become a pattern that involves timing and listening and patience and love and justice. Within any dialogical relationship there is the presence of at least two who must express their power of being. A true spirituality or covenant relationship seeks to create life that honors the worth of the other and demand that the other be fully present as that other. In this way, each party is being pulled into the depths of the relationship and into a greater sense of self.

Connection: We are, in our relationships today, people who practice a spirituality that places demands on us. Do not be afraid to take part in a demanding and giving covenant relationship with those around you. We will all find new life there.

Lord God, when you led Israel out into the wilderness and liberated them from captivity in Egypt, you taught them and you thus, teach us the way to build a community that is not afraid to share its life and enter into a spiritual union with those who are other than us. Continue to bring us into new life even today. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

23 February 2006

More of a tie to the psalms as part of the way we engage this "wholly other" - from Walter Brueggemann.

...I read the Psalter as a dialectic of self-assertion in complaint and self-abandonment in praise, just as the child must first claim self and only then notice mother. I have no doubt that theologically and emotionally, self-assertion precedes self-abandonment, for there is no self to abandon or to pledge loyalty unless that self has been claimed and valorized.

Unfortunately, self-assertion can become so much a part of our lives that self-abandonment, especially for the sake of others...any other, is simply forgotten. This is why the tension is a must if we are to be healthy, faithful people. Years ago I read an article by a woman who was concerned that we too often focus on the sin of being "puffed up" and so self-centered that we cannot live peaceable within community. We can be so full of ourselves that we cannot stand to see or hear about the needs of others. Well, she came at this from another point of view. She said that this is not the essence of sin for many women. Rather, there is no sense of self...therefore, there is no self-assertion. In both of these cases, we turn what God has created - our humanity - into something else. We have rejected our God created humanity by either trying to make ourselves more than what we are or not allowing us to be lifted up into the position God has given us. The psalms may be a place to begin to hear some of that tension that would be good for all of us not matter what side of sin we claim as our mode of operation.

Connection: Could this discipline of self-assertion and self-abandonment become a part of each of our days? I think it would do us all well to consider such an adventure. In fact, it would do us well to help one another follow such a direction for life.

We ask you to lift us up, O God, that we many find our place within your glorious Reign. For it is then that we can freely praise you, enjoy the gift of life you have given us, and then have the confidence to give ourselves away to others. By the power of your Holy Spirit, lift us up into this vision of life. Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

22 February 2006

Here is a wonderful description of praise from Walter Brueggemann in "The Covenanted Self."

In their reflection upon creation, liberation, homecoming, and resurrection, the people of God cannot restrain themselves. Praise must be uttered, even though it is an act at least pre-rational if not irrational. Praise invites a poetic act of imagination about God and God's world. Covenanting means self-abandonment, giving self up for the other, and requires the healthy capacity to move beyond self-concern to the unutterable graciousness and awesomeness of God.

"Praise invites a poetic act of imagination about God and God's world." I like everything about this comment. We really must be willing to step out of the boxes of our control and power and illusions of a self-made world to participate in such a simple action as praise of God. In some ways, we let go...and let ourselves enter into a relationship that will continuously shape us. To praise the "unutterable graciousness of God" is to step into its promises that cannot yet be seen completely or experienced to its fullest and yet we define our lives by it all. We praise God for that which is not seen. For me that means that in praising God, I am acknowledging the other...the way other...the wholly other...who is simultaneously at my side guiding me in the ways God's graciousness that becomes my life. In praise, the vision is ever before us...the Reign of God is forever being cast anew within any time and any place. To simply sing, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty..." is to breathe in the wonder of God's Reign and breathe with this wholly other who will abide with us even when we cannot accept God's presence.

Connection: Praise can be as simple as taking a breath. And yet, it can be the way that we receive the power to breathe new life that may be beyond our expectations. Breathe!

O God, your graciousness is our stronghold and as we count on your gracious Reign to take hold of our lives, we can do nothing other than praise you and give thanks. For in your gift of life to us, we are handed so much life to live within this day. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2006

21 February 2006

Brueggemann moves us into practice of "praise and complaint" as a way to this other as he continues in "The Covenanted Self."

...the Psalter is the laboratory in which Israel works out its dangerous, inscrutable life with this most significant other, the Thou upon whom our life depends. This God, as Israel witnesses, is indeed "wholly other"... The otherness of God for Israel is like the otherness of mother, who valorizes in self-giving, self-forgetting ways, and who in holiness has God's own life to live, completely without regard for Israel. This God must be praised... This God will be praised, exalted, magnified, blessed, and Israel's true vocation is indeed to get its mind off itself and "glorify God and enjoy God forever."

This "wholly other" has a way of helping Israel (and all of us) "get it mind off itself." For when we are focused on our own lives as the center of all things, there is very little chance that we will know much about our neighbor and when that is the case, we will care very little about our neighbor. Unless, of course, the neighbor and everything else within creation can somehow serve us...but when neighbor and creation are seen and used in this manner...we still have our minds stuck on ourselves. The psalms of praise remind us of the one God whose love for us is without end and therefore the strength for our day. This strength and this courage and this foundation or rock is for a life that takes on the shape of the "wholly other." This life is not one turned-in-on-itself. Instead, the psalms remind us of the other way of the one who is "wholly other." We give praise to our God for a self-giving that becomes the substance of our lives that provides us with a true sense of rest for now we be assured of one who will sustain and nurture possibilities even when there appears to be none.

Connection: It cannot hurt to praise God within this day. In fact, it may bring to this day a bit of a new direction and focus in a world that tries to teach us to be self-consumed.

Praise to you, Compassionate and Powerful God. As we remember you great deeds among your people we find that your presence is forever "for us" and forever the rock upon which we can stand no matter what powers try to oppress us. Praise to you, O God of Life. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

20 February 2006

In "The Covenanted Self" Walter Brueggemann considers three zones of covenanting by way of exposing a relation to the other who gives us life.

First and most importantly, of course, our task (like that of ancient Israel) is to come to terms with the covenantal faithfulness of Yahweh who engages in mutuality with God's people. It is clear, if we consider Israel's normative text seriously that the God of this people is not the God of scholastic theology, that is, not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. Equally clear, this God is not the warm fuzzy of therapeutic consumerism. Rather this God is an endlessly live, demanding, surprising, problematic other in Israel's life. And Israel's life consists in coming to terms with this other who refuses to be slotted, in the strange transaction of mutuality and incommensurability.

It would be interesting to writes some hymns about this God who is not "omnipotent" and not "fuzzy." As I write this I realize that some of the hymns are exactly what Brueggemann picks up in the paragraphs following this quote. They are called the psalms. This is the God who engages us within the everyday dynamics of life and therefore this is the God with whom we get angry and then again simply praise as a the other who brings us life in it fullest. I find this God as the other that brings some kind of transformation into each day. We must be willing to get down and wrestle with the the one that pulls us beyond ourselves or we will likely stay in the place we are rather than move into the life that comes as part of the promises of our God. In reading about the many characters within the Scriptures, this "live, demanding, surprising, problematic other in Israel's life" is the genesis of the marvelous stories that grasp us and help us to imagine how present and real God can be even when we find that our lives do not appear to be open to such a real life other that will not let us alone.

Connection: Imagine yourself in the routine of he day and there...with you...is this other who will take you into a new dimension of life. Then in this act of imagination, begin to let yourself be swept up into the image of God that is always bidding us to come and find life and meaning and hope.

Come, O God of All the Days of Our Lives, and as you walk with us and surprise us with the way you are present with us do not let our fears push you away. Send your Spirit to give us ears to hear you word of grace and eyes to see the life that is always coming to meet us through your presence. Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2006

17 February 2006

Brueggemann does some wonderful reflection on the relationship between an infant and mother as one of the first encounters we have with the "other" and what it may mean to us as we mature in life and in faith. It is too long to share it all here but I would like to share one of his insights.

I believe there is here a crucial learning in relation to covenant. I propose that unless one has learned to other well with mother in graceful and courageous ways, grace to surrender and courage to assert, one will not other well with God. Moreover, I propose that much of the struggle just now in the church (as well as the larger society) is the result of folk who have not learned to other well, and who therefore other in excessive conformity or in excessive self-preoccupation - either way, operating as false selves. This causes the church to use excessive amounts of energy on false issues.

Whoa! This could be one of the most insightful comments I've heard about the face of the church in our country. The battles that have been dividing church groups and even dividing the country fit well within this vision of a people unable to other. When we have not learned to live within the tension of submission to the other and autonomy from the other, we either fear the other and therefore fall into an excessive conformity or -- we are so preoccupied with self that we find ourselves as part of a "graceless religion" ...my way or the highway! Fear and anxiety and a need to control will never be the way to wholesome othering. The only thing that can rise up from those elements within a religious community is, as Brueggeman notes, a false self and a religion trying to build itself up with false issues. When we are unwilling to give ourselves away to others and when we think we must so control our lives that others must really not be others, it looks a bit like fundamentalism. It looks like a controlled universe with controlled ideas. It looks like a private organization in which everyone in the group must carry around a set of values that cannot differ one from the other. I would say that this form of religion is not based on the God who we encounter in either the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures.

Connection: Once again, it is necessary for us to be a part of a community in which we can join with others to risk being individuals and risk being a part of the life that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. In both instances, our interaction with others helps us to see the will of the God who calls us blessed.

There are so many ways we yearn to be close to you, O God. And yet, there are too many times when we want to be the one who has your power to rule over life. Pull us close to you that we may engage your living presence and come to see wideness of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

16 February 2006

Today we go a bit deeper into the notion of "othering" with Walter Brueggemann.

I suggest that "spirituality" is the enterprise of coming to terms with this other in a way that is neither excessively submissive nor excessively resistant. Such coming to terms is obviously no small matter. For this other is an endless threat to our safety and our integrity. This Thou always undermines whom we have chosen to be. The presence of the other always reminds us that we are addressed, unsettled, unfinished, underway, not fully whom we intend or pretend to be. For that reason, so much of life consists in fending off this life-threatening, life-giving otherness, for the other evokes in us terrible fears - phobias, we call them.

When you think about it, the one power available to us from this "other"...this "Thou" is the capacity to love. The power of those who differ coming together to bridge the gap between them in a dialogical manner that is just and merciful and respectful is frightening. It means we must not attempt to control the world around us...for it is not ours to control. We run away from this power of love (the power that reunites the separated) for it demands that our lives enter into a process of transformation that will no allow us to stay just as we are. When the other is God or another person or even the other that is in me, it is the voice that continues to invite us to dream and imagine and then...leap. I like it that Brueggemann reminds us that this other...and I would also say the power of love...is unsettling...it exposes us...it reminds us of the journey that we have yet to enter...it has the audacity to suggest that we are not who we "intend or pretend to be." That is a disarming voice to hear. Therefore, we often make noises within our lives to keep the voice of the other silent...unless, of course, that voice is nothing more than an echo of our own voice. That is a self-absorbed love that is really no love at all...and even fears the true power of love.

Connection: Today is another day within the marvelous unfolding of our relationships as they pull us beyond our turned-in-on-selves and into the gracious realm of the people who live in, with, and under the otherness of our world.

Speak to us, O God, that we will see our limits and our brokenness and yet be made bold to stretch beyond them into relationships that begin to make us all whole and well and a part of your power to reunite all things into a fine fabric of your love. Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

15 February 2006

More on "othering" from "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann.

The definitional insight of this mode of thinking (othering), which we may term "the dialogical principle" or "the principle of alternity," is that this restless, unsettleable relationship is the irreducible core of what it means to be human... The ongoing process of life is to come to terms with this other who will practice mutuality with us, but who at the same time stands in an incommensurability that is the driving force of a biblical notion of life.

We would not choose to engage the "other" if we did not have to do that. And yet, we do! That is what makes us exactly what we are - human...nothing less...nothing more. We are not stagnant beings who must not develop or advance or be transformed. We are social being and within that context, we are stretched beyond what we would like to be and limited when we attempt to fly off into a place that is destructive to us and others. The dialogical nature of our humanity puts us into constant conflict and, by that, we are move to consider alternate ways of moving from here to there. In the middle of that adventure - the encounter with the other - who knows what will emerge. And yet, within the bounds of life we hear in the vast imagination of scripture, we find that we will emerge into a life that is within the realm of this "other" who will woo us like a lover into a relationship we have yet to experience...a relationship that is beyond our planning and beyond our control because the relationship demands that we give and take and then come down in a new place that has changed all sides of the relationship.

Connection: Using "other" may sound cold. But then again, I think we are given the opportunity to see out as far as we are able and then...we are invited to go a bit farther out beyond what we can see. Yes, this is quite an uncomfortable journey...at least during the first steps. And yet, what was uncomfortable and frightening often becomes part of the foundation upon which we are standing as we reach out to the "other" in every day. Be ready to enter into a relationship that may simply...change the world around you today!

O God of All the Ages, again and again you invite us to follow you...to step out beyond ourselves in order to taste your promised life. And yet, we can be such cowards. Be for us our encouragement to taste and see the life you invite us to share with you and our neighbors. Amen.

14 February 2006

Today begins some time of reflection on segments from the book "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann. We begin with what he calls "othering"

I take the liberty of using the word "othering" as a verb, for I mean to suggest that "other" is not simply a counter-object, but it is the risky, demanding, dynamic process of relating to one who is not us, one to whom we are accountable, who commands us, and from whom we receive our very life... The "other" is endlessly inscrutable mystery and endlessly problematic to us, for we can neither escape from that other, nor are we able to seduce, capture, or possess that other who always stands free from and over against us.

I see this as quite a community building word. When we become a part of a community like the church, we are invited to reach out and engage others. This happens in many ways within a congregation. In fact, it must happen for a congregation to be vital and alive as a local expression of the body of Christ. As we reach out to engage or let ourselves be engaged by people around us, we are also pulled into a sort of dialogue with that which is beyond us. Usually we label this our "God" but that can sound so fixed and separate that there may not be a sense of an exchange or engagement. This term "othering" offers us a dynamic way to look at the experiences of our lives in which we touch and our touched by the realm of our God, other people, and even the "other" within our own selves. It is so important to remember that the other is not something we come to control. Rather, it is like a journey with a stranger who become a friend. Within the "give and take" of the journey and the adventures therein, new life takes shape...and if we stay within this dialogical relationship, new life will always be ready to be open to us.

Connection: It is so easy to turn and walk away from anyone who reminds us of the "other" that is not us. And yet, it will be within the exchange that can take place with those around us - some more distant than others - that we quite literally are pulled into new life on many levels. Remember that this doesn't mean we "buy" what this other is offering. It simply means that we engage the other and look to see what surprising life will begin to open up for us.

Lord God, your grace abound whenever we are invited to experience the depths and the width of your Reign. Even when we cannot see outside of the worlds in which we live and try to stay, your Spirit tickles us with the lives of others so that we may look up and see what is around us and with us. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Friday, February 10, 2006

10 February, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:2-6

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

Here it is important to translate. Circumcision was a must of the law of the Jews...for men. That is how you were "marked" and if you were to become a Jew - circumcision was a must. Paul uses this illustration that is often very foreign to us as a conversation piece because he is making a more important point than something about circumcision. In his long discussion about law and then the freedom we have in Christ, his argument hits home here. If you want to be justified by the law ( circumcision or any other little bit of the law that would make you think that you are somehow more beloved or more favored by God) then you are literally turning your back on the Christ event in which all people are graciously embraced - forever - for no other reason than that is what God wants to do. Paul goes so far to say "whether we do something or do not do something doesn't matter one little bit at all!! What matters is that we trust (have faith) in the promise of life in Jesus...and let that love be among us. Though we do not make people go through the rite of circumcision, we certainly hold other things up as how we must live or what we must do to "be a full and complete part of the Body of Christ." Fortunately for us, we live in hope...and not in what is seen. We live welcoming and including all because it if part of the hope-filled vision of God's promise for the world - the great banquet feast. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can trust in that vision and we can hold no rituals or pieces of the law as a necessary part of "being one with Christ." We already are!!

Connection: Watch our language and the language of others who claim to be followers of Jesus. It is so easy to fall into the "circumcision traps" of today. Some may call it morality...either you do this or you're not one of us. Some may call it church activity...either you're active or you're not one of us. Some may call it Christian living....either you live like us or you're not one of us. Reality is...Christ has already determined that we are God's beloved - forever - no conditions. So don't buy what "good Christians" are saying must happen in our lives to be followers of Jesus. The power of the Spirit is all that is needed and God will provide even that...so that we can trust God's promise!

Lord of life and host of the Great Banquet at the end of time, we give you thanks for you already make us your own and you have already set a place for us and even our enemies. Grant us the grace to walk in your vision for life that is best known by your love that becomes our life. Amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

9 February, 1006

Text:Galatians 4:28-5:1

Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman." So then, friend, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The freedom we have in Christ is not some freedom to do as we please and to be completely independent from others. It is not the freedom to go out and "find yourself" and go wherever that takes us. It is the freedom to be "in Christ." To be claimed by our God as sons and daughters of God - and count on that status. We do not need to be enslaved or follow or abide in the ways of our world in which we must earn a status. We begin this day as God's beloved - trust therefore that there is no status of greater worth and then...be free to be this child. We do not act because we are like slaves living within a very limited space and experience for we think that is what will keep us safe and in good condition. We act in response to a complete and eternal love for us...a love that would adopt us....and call us beloved. Even though there is a growing movement toward faith communities that are attempting to make life secure by following a bunch of rules and directions so as to bring some control into our world, the first word among us is freedom - in Christ. From freedom, in freedom, we experience the fullness of God's reign and we are invited to be a part of that fullness.

Connection: We are in a day when people are looking for ways to control life around us. If you are like me, I am very tempted to try to control life by putting down limits and guidelines before I even think about loving others. It's almost as though I want everyone to fit within my world of acceptability then I will love. Well...that is the way of the law. If....then... When love rules us...when forgiveness is our way...when we claim Jesus to be the Lord of life - love is the order of the day...all other rules fit into its design. Not it is not an easier way...it is a very different way.

Loving God, you set us free to roam and walk and play and live within your gracious reign. It is so easy for us to turn away and walk in the ways of the life around us and forget that by your loving embrace we are held up and supported in this day. Let your love for us be our strength to live freely in your domain. AMEN

8 February, 2006

I skipped over a section of Paul's talk of himself and his initial visit to the Galatians
Text: Galatians 4:

Tell me, you who desire to be subjet to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman , was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written. "Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numberous than the children of the one who is married. Now you, my friends, are children of the promise like Isaac.

I stopped short of completing this allegory and I will pick it up on Monday. One reason is that I think it is quite difficult to relate to the term slavery. And yet, we can become, more quickly than we would like to admit, slaves to the way things are around us. Slaves to the whole domain of "If...Then..." - as though our actions could make a difference in regard to our acceptance before God or make us a more worthy person(period). Yesterday I was talking to someone about the impact of the powers within our lives. Our upbringing, our economic status, our intellect, our place in society - all have some pull on us. In fact, we can even become enslaved to them because they seem to "give us life." In my conversation, I wondered why it is that we find it almost impossible to let the promise of our God to be the power that leads us and rules over us. Easier said than done. And yet, how does the promise and God's blessing shape us in our world. There was a good "Ziggy" cartoon this a.m. Ziggy is ready to go into a soup kitchen that has a sign that reads "volunteers wanted." Ziggy is saying to us, "It's important to count your blessings, but it's more important to make them count. We are children of the promise....make it count.

Connection: What can this promise do for us today and what difference can it make in the world around us? The Holy Spirit promises to lead us into this promised life...for we would often follow other powers. Our prayer may be to call on this SPirit to guide our living within the promise.

O God of promise and hope, be our guide and be our teacher. Grant us a full measure of your Spirit that we may be free to live within the power of your gracious reign. Amen

Monday, February 6, 2006

7 February, 2006

Selected devotion archives will be posted this week. The current series will resume next week.

Text: Galatians 4:8-11
Formerly, when you did not know God, you wre enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggerly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.
What orders your day? What is it that has the say as to what is the power and directing force in your life? The Galatians had already been baptized into Christ Jesus. They were, "known by God" - remember that is as heir & beloved - and yet now they are turning back to the ways that they had practiced previously. Following calendars with set dates for festivals and rituals that could determine just how you were received and how you looked at yourself and what you were able to do is all a part of the old way. Paul may be talking about Jewish calendar events - like the major festival days - or he may be talking about the special "days" among the pagans. In both cases, to return to those events and practices as though they can bring life is---slavery. Why return to that! Our life does not come from anything outside of God's word of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy...and hope as it comes know most concretely in Jesus. The stars, the moon, and any other parts of creation that teach us about the orderliness of creation are good things but they are not worthy of our worship. Nor are they to be the word given to us about the day. Play with the zodiac, but trust in God alone.
Connection: Simply, what orders your day? What games do you play that often are given the power over life and death - acceptance and nonacceptance - being loved and thinking you have to do something to get love...and yet it never works!
Blessed God of Freedom and New Life, set us free. In each of our moments, set us free to see in you the life that comes when our lives die and we rise in you alone. Set us free to find in your promise for life, that is given to us by your grace, the peace that only you can provide. Amen

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

2 February 2006

We start again with more from Thomas Merton.

The Bible claims to contain a message which will not merely instruct you, not merely inform you about the distant past, not merely teach you certain ethical principles, or map out a satisfying hypothesis to explain your place in the universe and give your life meaning - much more than that, the Bible claims to be: The Word of God.
But what is this "word or God"? Is it simply a word of supreme and incontestable authority? Does it impose on (man) an outrageous doctrine which has no real meaning for his life, but which has to be accepted under the penalty of going to hell? Once again, this utter distortion of the Bible is the result of fragmentation, division, and partiality.

Many books can do what Merton notes in his first comments about the message of the Bible. It is that claim...it is the Word of God...that gives it a bit more pepper and spice. For under that comment, people like to take it wherever they would like some word like that to go...for them. Rather than have it be the Word that speaks of Gods never ending and always present love for us and how that Word is the power to shape and move us into relationship that reflect that love, the Bible is used more frequently as a bully book to let people think that they have some hidden knowledge or power that enables them to play god with the lives of others. When the Bible is used as a book that merely helps a person avoid going to hell, then I would suggest that the teacher of such a penalty is like listening to hell alive and well in the fury of the teacher and then the life journey one enters because of such teaching becomes hell. Of all the images that come to us from the Bible, it always amazes me that we can do such an amazing job at turning a word of grace - the Word of God - into a word of terror and fear that we then try to sell as love.

Connection: The yoke is light. The stories that bring us the Word of God - the life available to us by our God who just cannot stop loving us - have a way of being a power for just such a life among us. If you do not have a sense of that gracious loving power, listen again...it is there...don't let anyone distort it into something else.

Lord, you are our sanctuary, you hold us and nurture us and keep us wrapped up in your love that defines who we are and is the power to transform us into the beloved people you say we are in your eyes. We give you thanks and await the ongoing fullness of your presence. Amen.