Friday, December 30, 2016

Joy to the World! Really? Now? Yes, enjoy one another

It is still the Christmas season. Therefore allow me the room to stay here a bit and bring back into view the words of a very common Christmas hymn.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart, prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing (3x).

Here within the everyday-of-our-lives is born unto us - the fullness of our humanity. It comes to all. It comes to the earth - the whole thing. It comes that we might enjoy the gift which we created to be - God's Beloved.   To enjoy this gift (God's Beloved) is to live into our humanity and embrace our humanity for it is the reality in which we are able to reflect the image of God's love and grace.  To be a part of this joy-filled reality as God's Beloved is to also enjoy this image in others - even the ones we call buttholes. That is not always so easy. And yet, joy comes to the world - the whole world.

It may be that as we are caught up to appreciate that which always-has-been-and-will-be, we will find the presence of other stories vying for our life and attention. The Lord-that-comes is the vision of the creative power of our humanity that becomes manifest within all the crap that seems to win the day. Joy comes as God's gift to humanity - being made in the image of God - so that the whole earth will be transformed here and now. The image in this hymn comes as a child - a real child - God's image unfolding within ordinary days that are usually filled with visions quite contrary to the Image of God becoming alive among us. 

Joy does not come to the world in order to show us a way we can get out of the world or be delivered from the world or escape this life for another place and time. Joy is life in which we are introduced to the wonder and blessedness of being human - simply human. For within that reality will come the makings for peace and healing and forgiveness - or more simply put - the restoration of the image of God as portrayed in the story of creation. It is available to the world - every heart - every life - without limit or conditions. It comes within the wind - the mere turning of the earth - the breath we share. To sing of such joy is to sing of a gift that is out of our control. For if it was a gift over which we had control, it would not be for the whole world. Rather it would be just for the world as we want it - just to save our butts from those buttheads over there. 

Enjoy our humanity as it is created to be - in the image of God. At the very center of our lives - within our hearts, so to speak - is room to imagine life that is not owned by any power of the world - even the power of our own desires. The joy about which we sing may bring into our lives situations and experiences that do not resemble the self-serving happiness and contentment the world often associates with joy. This joy-to-the-world that comes among us may bring about actions not appreciated by governing powers (family - business - politics - religion). To see God's image in the lives of the rejected ones - those displaced and push out - those ridiculed - those shamed and belittled, is to become in the eyes of these governing powers  ones who must be likewise rejected - displaced -pushed out -ridiculed - shamed - belittled. For when we enjoy our humanity, we find joy in all of humanity. When we - as God's Beloved - see others as God's Beloved without condition (that is as we are able to enjoy them) our warring madness - our violence against others - our fear of others - our desire to control our world will cease. The incarnation - the story of the birth of Jesus - announces with a brilliant light - a way to enjoy the world without limit. It unfolds in nothing more than the ordinary day-to-day vision of God's image available as those around us - all of them. All of the sudden, the world doesn't simply change - we change also. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

We just love our holidays and expect everyone to do the same

When I think of Jesus, I think of an unimaginable inclusivity. Like one who would love the enemy - welcome the nobodies into a feast for only the somebodies in town - forgive those labeled sinner and helping to move those who label others as sinner into a place in which they might see themselves in those they choose to condemn. That - is all an upside-down world in which there is no manufactured differences that create hostility or isolation or indifference. When Jesus was on scene, there would be inclusivity even if no one approved of it - even if it meant folks were ready to kill him for his odd way of being within the society of the day.

Jesus was not afraid to let go of the biases and well developed ways of casting some people out of the party. In fact, he simply let go of all that bullshit. He lived as though it held no power over him or  those with whom he spent his time. Never was he afraid to let go of all that stuff and then make room for those who did not make the grade of the culture or the religion at hand. As one might expect - Jesus pissed people off - big time. For the well-being of any and all and as a vital incarnation of Jesus' God and the life within the Reign of that God, Jesus' hospitality had no limits. Jesus embarked on and persistently followed through with a death-defying inclusivity that marked his daily life and left marks on his body after the powers-that-be rejected his unbounded hospitality

I think I just describe something quite antithetical to many who claim to be the follower of Jesus today. The expansiveness of Jesus' loving hospitality, even to cover the enemy is,  too burdensome - too risky - too uncomfortable - too out of our control. Too often, the followers of Jesus want to be comforted rather than offer comfort - want to be included rather than include - want to be in control rather than give up control. So, are the followers of Jesus serving others in the way of Jesus or are we too easily simply wanting a self-serving doll baby that will comfort us?

I like the simple turn of the popular phrase from the 1970's. It was WWJD (what would Jesus do). It was a good way to make people talk - debate - turn the story into one that might fit us best. The turn is a simple one: WDJD (what did Jesus do). At every turn in the road, Jesus resisted the violence of exclusion - Jesus ignored the way the privileged defined life. Instead, Jesus made available a loving kindness and mercy and forgiveness that made all the holy-rollers crap in their pants (possibly a reminder that, yes, we all are unclean at times so just stop throwing your crap at others). It is the same today. Those who like to be seen as holy-rollers (and they think that is a good thing) soil themselves in their own inhospitality when Jesus shows up among us today. For the self-righteous holy ones - those who claim to be the chosen - those who claim to have earned their place and therefore feel that they are called to put others in their places - those whose bumper sticker theology is more than willing to bump those of their choosing out of the family, miss the Jesus who is in the midst of the people religious folks feel free to cast out.

So, today I wish you Happy Holidays so that life is not merely about me and my own and how we want the world to be. The wish-you-well world of Merry Christmas is one that wishes well to their own kind and then expects everyone else to take part in their notion of well-wishing. This world  is really the culture that loves to wish well to some - not all. It is the religion that calls blessed only those who adhere to exclusive religious practices so that they can point out who is in and who is to be left out. Happy Holidays reminds me of a Jesus who actually did something that followed the way of God's Reign rather than use the seasonally-trimmed words of a culture that claims to define the character of that Reign. What did Jesus do?  Go back to the story - Jesus made the left-out, the welcome guests - the blessed assured - the favored ones - the stranger and alien no more. So, we may do well to lean into the lives of our neighbors and embrace them at every turn - rather than bitch about them not respecting us and our ways. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Year of Being Away

I just wept my way through that bright and clear voice of the young soloist who begins the Lessons and Carols from King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England. It always grabs me. I always wait within a wonderful aura of anticipation to hear the first note and then, to smile at how those young boys are able to bring into the day a brightness that I count on every year. It could be that the anticipation amplifies those first notes. I could be that I have arrived at a place I have never been - one year of being away from church - one year without all the seasonal work that makes each of the seasons of the liturgical year a reminder of whose I am.

This week as I was talking to one of my Uber customers she asked how long I have been driving. I told her on and off for about a year - ever since I retired. She asked what kind of work I did. I told her I was a Lutheran pastor for thirty-seven years. She immediately said, I didn't know pastors ever retired. I said - yes we do. She followed with - not in my church.

For one year, my status has been changed. At first, when I went to meetings or rallies or inter-religious action groups, and even social events, it seemed like I still fit in - like I was still a part of it all. As time has moved along, I now see myself standing more and more on the outside of that group of religious leaders. I have no home - no place I serve as a leader - no place in which I am, by my role and title, a necessary aspect of the full frontal of a congregation. Lately, when I introduce myself at those meetings, I leave off the reference to Redeemer and my position. I am retired - I am now involved because I am involved - I am now an activist simply because that is what I do. I am retired from a position and now available to be a part of the witness of the followers of Jesus in a whole new way. It is quite different and at times I find it difficult.

But when that young boy started to sing, I was reminded again of the timeless chain of people who have been touched by a story of unbending and unending love that not only touches us - it shapes us so that our touch will be filled with the same good news that is relentlessly offered up for the well-being of all God's beloved - which by the way is all of humanity with no exception.

I have found that in a year of being away is bringing me closer to the story that is meant to be my story. It has led me away from any notion of a 'holy land' or a 'holy city' or a 'chosen people' who claim something but unfortunately their holiness is rarely offered up for the well-being of the other - the outsider - them and those. I have found that the moment at hand like - the hand extended - the hand often too shy to reach out - the hand that holds no power or influence - is vital to understanding and taking part in the healing of a self-centered world.

During this year of being away, time has been filled with the flurry of political advertisements that have become a trademark of our society. Without going there, I have come to see that the church is just as vested in its just such advertisement. Branding, for example, is the way to build ones influence, gain a bigger piece of the marketplace, sell oneself or one's church as the best, and thus, the place and people a person should consider adding to their life. Branding is an art form - and it appears to work. I love words but find that words too often instigate nothing more than emotion - sentimentality - none of that is necessarily negative. My tears over the hymn sung by that young choirboy rattled a whole bag of emotions I could not even begin to attach to exact memories - positive or negative. But being away is teaching me to press those words and extract from them a visible, present, meaning that leaves me as a witness to the peaceable Reign of God - just by being me - the beloved - in this place and time in which I find myself.

The only branding involved with the Messiah of God was - a touch of reassurance when a life was unstable - a word of acceptance when a life was facing only rejection - a step over a boundary line when a life was being pushed out and away - a reminder of one's place within God's eternal embrace when  a life is being put out to dry - a stand for new life when a life was labeled unforgivable - a journey into death's dark brutality when a life was being marked as useless and disposable.  We actually live this life - it is the life we each have in hand -  one that needs to hear that the life that comes in the  shape of the Messiah of God - is our life. I know it sounds like nothing more than they will know us by our love. That is correct. Yet, that love is what gives voice and substance to the hymn of praise and celebration and hope that is born again among us - like a thrilling voice raised up in a worldwide liturgy - like a gesture to others that assures them that they need not fear the powers of the day - for the Messiah of God is with us - as us - through all and in all things.

This year of being away will continue to be unwrapped like a babe in a manger - full of that which is yet to unfold to reveal the face of God - the character of the truly human one - the beloved-ness of the ones usually cast as our enemies. Just now I thought that maybe - just maybe - being away is helping me to be a bit closer to you - all of you.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gun-packing, conceal-carrying followers of Jesus - no chapter and verse on that

It appears as though Evangelical education at its best pops up within Liberty University's shooting range. Just as Jerry Falwell never led a moral majority - as it was neither - so now his son, Jr., is helping the students at Liberty follow Jesus with a sidearm ready to protect their lives. Once again, this form of Evangelicalism doesn't know the meaning of Jesus Saves. Jesus doesn't save my skin. Jesus doesn't save me from the demons I condemn for my advantage. Jesus doesn't buy into the whole notion of God and Country because this is usually a god and not God. Jesus doesn't brew anxiety about all those people out there. Rather, Jesus of Nazareth saves us from our warring selves - our desires to do anything to have life as we want it - our self-indulgent and consuming lifestyles that always, always, conflict with the life of the Reign of God.

But, Jr. is raising up an army - quaint. The idolatry of weaponry has always been a sidearm of frightened Christians. Rather than follow the Jesus -who spoke of the healing and radical love of the Reign of God in both the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain and then put to life his own words - it appears Jr. wants to follow the way of self-defense and self-preservation. Pick up those guns and be a packing follower of Jesus. I don't think it is Jr.'s idea to assist the students out in the woods and fields during hunting season. I think it has more to do with the notion that a pistol or a rifle can make you a hero for Jesus - or simply keep your ass alive. Wow, never heard that notion in the teaching of Jesus. But then, there's much within the Jr's Evangelical business that seem to bother with the sacrificial love of Jesus that is meant to become our love and our way.

I wonder if the gun-toting students and faculty are preparing for Armageddon - another blunder in biblical interpretation. But that end-time violence really triggers good-old, Christian violence against anyone and everyone who is not in on that interpretation. Bad theology is always at the root of violence in the name of a god or a prophet. Many folks point at the people of Islam as being raised up as agents of violence in today's world. I would simply say that Christian, Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths who instigate violence or think they must arm themselves against others are all involved in teaching the faith without the heart of their faithful leaders in their own minds and hearts. In other words, we are being left to drown in a mire of poor theology and a self-serving reading of Scriptures that leaves the world on the edge of bitterness and hatred. Unfortunately, when folks are in that position, violence seems to be the only antidote - yet it never is. When we read holy books for our own good and for our own advantage and for our own protection, we become nothing more than another agent of a world turned-in-on-itself and ready to kill. Doesn't sound like Jesus to me.

Onward Christian Soldiers is a terrible metaphor for the followers of Jesus that is taken quite literally by many 'good news' people. But we are not a people to be marching off to war. We are invited to stand in the midst of the shit that may be around us and prayerfully consider how the love of Jesus makes for peace. We are a people who step into the shit - not plow through it - side step it - or start flinging it at others. We step into it to make sure no one is there alone - forgotten - left to die a smelly death without a loving hand to comfort them and - if need be - to die alongside them as the beloved within God's Reign. Falwell Jr. can sow all the seeds of violence he wants, but when he does that he does it without being a Good News (Evangelical) school. I would encourage the followers of Jesus to put down the false gods that continue to lead us toward violence and then - risk living the love of Jesus - without limit. That is Evangelical - in a biblical sense.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is Ohio trying to do - again?

Each of the following paragraphs became a letter-to-the-editor to various newspapers in Ohio. None of them may be published - so all'ya'all get to hear the rant.

Ohio legislators and the Governor seem to be devoted to protecting that-which-is- not-yet. Yet, too often, there is little concern for that-which-is-right-in-front-of-us. Go ahead and ask your State Representative or Senator how many bills - trying to limit women’s access to health care - have been run through the legislature over the past handful of years Then ask them about the timing and the manner in which those bills are often set forth. Just as in the past week, from the statehouse to the governor’s office, there is a fixation on denying women access to reproductive heath care. I find it to be an unhealthy fixation. 

I will accept the concern for the sanctity of life when that concern embraces the health and well-being of women and the children who are right-in-front-of-us. That will entail listening to the truth about reproductive services and abortion and the litany of stories of women who face decisions with thoughtfulness, courage, and dialogue. If we listen to the majority of stories about those who are right-in-front-of-us, we will hear about the love, support, comfort, and unbiased care that is offered to women seeking care and - at times - moving into the decision to end a pregnancy. These decisions are not taken lightly by women seeking care and by the medical staff. Rather than be drawn into the graphic artwork of abortion protesters and some of the one-in-a-million stories used as orchestrated propaganda shows against women’s choice, it would be good to hear about some of the wonder- filled, compassionate care offered to women and the maturing fetus. 

In my imagination, I wonder about all the good our state legislature and governor could do if they ventured into the well-being of the environment - housing - healthcare for all - creating jobs - equitable voting districts, with the the intensity they pursue limiting reproductive choice. Yet, we have such a love affair with that-which-is-not-yet there is too little concern for the well-being the beloved who are right-in-front-of us. I trust the women I know to choose life - quality of life within the complexities of the reality in which we live. Please don’t attempt to negate and dismiss women’s prayerfulness and thoughtfulness as they face life that is right-in-front-of-them by placing legal restrictions on their ability to make conscientious decision. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

NO to god-on-our-side. Always God is Love.

In  a seminar I have been attending, we tossed around the title god on our side. In my notes I capitalized the word God - that was a mistake as I look back at my notes. This note was about the god that humanity creates - it has nothing to do with my understanding of God. The distinction in my notes was a simple one. The God of those who are called the followers of Jesus is the God is love God - the God who is not under the control of the whims and want of humanity. This God cannot be changed to fit our needs and wants. This God cannot be shaped into a power that will destroy our enemies or those with whom we do not agree. In some ways, the lens through which we need to read Scriptures is through the lens that leads our vision to this God is love. Don't get me wrong, there are piles of shit in Scripture that appear to portray a god who is violent - out to get us - full of violent anger - almost excited about vengeance and retribution - and the maker of war and death.

One question might be: who created that image of this god on our side - and why has it had such a grasp on humanity? Duh. If ancient folks are anything like us, then like them, we want our stories to: control the world around us as we want it controlled - make sure stories keep an order we think will keep us safe - justify our violence against the other - manufacture enemies upon whom we can lay the blame of all that goes wrong - create a culture imprinted with a divine seal of approval and blessing. As I've said many times before this is the sports god. The one who is acknowledged at touchdowns - when a run is scored - pass completed - game won. "Hurray we won! Thanks be to god." It is also the god we acknowledge as the one who gives us what we want and allows life to go on as we claim it should. This god on our side is our creation - it is not the God of Creation who operates out of enduring and eternal love.

God is love heals the broken-hearted by bringing all side to a place of reconciliation and peace. Your heart may be broken yet the power of this God inspires me to lean in and so care for your healing that my heart may become broken also. Together though, love sews up the wound. The miracle is called a relationship of love. This God moves us toward our enemies in order that we will treat them and see them as sister and brothers with whom we may have conflicts and disagreements - but we will never leave them or work to get rid of them. For me, this God is love is displayed in the life of Jesus. The guy just never gave in to the powers that be - powers that generated our fear, anxiety, and the power of death. In the stories of his life (not just the part of his death on the cross) he took that long journey - that slow process - that within reach presence, to make sure one word was known about him. Love. There is no magic there. There is simply a life that endlessly seeks wholeness and healing and the reconciliation of all things. This God is the God of outsiders and insiders who make sure that no one is left outside even if it means those once inside step outside to bring about this God's peaceable Reign.

So as we read Scriptures or as we hear people talk about how they read Scriptures - listen. Take note if it is the god on our side or God is love that is being lifted up so that we can follow. I would also say take the time to read our culture our nation. What god is out there? Most often, I think we will hear the words and stories and message of the god on our side. It will appear like a good god - a god with whom we can agree - a god that creates success - a god that is fearful of outsiders and those not on our team. Maybe even read and listen to our families. Too often, that unit most close and dear to us quite easily becomes the breeding ground of god on our side. This is a tough one - but do not turn away and ignore this creation of ours.

God is love never turns our world or our lives into that which we want. This God is always inviting us to give ourselves away so we can be the active agents of a gracious love. Remember also that the god on our side has mastered the way to turn the images and words of this God is love into a self-serving god. So be watchful - listen well - look at what is being done, and then, ask how love for all may be enacted.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Masterful Metaphor - Enduring Loving Presence

 I like a passage in Scripture that is often used by those who preach and teach on behalf of the Anti-Abortion groups in our state - and others. Most likely, I do not read it as some of them do.

Jeremiah 1:4-5
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' 

First of all, I would like to submit that they abuse this passage not use it. It is metaphor - wonderful words for the encouragement for this prophet who is already in the midst of his life and yet is facing the amazing decisions that will come upon him. When we must face taking up our part in the life of God's Reign in the everyday world - it can be frightening - confusing - distressing. As we know, the great prophets, like Jeremiah, were wading into a call for justice and mercy and love in the middle of a people who had been living quite contrary to such a life. That meant the Prophet needed to be a person of substance - a person who had a ground upon which he could speak and act and even die. That ground was Jeremiah's God. This is the God who creates with words - who orders the chaos - who forgives that which people often call unforgivable. Those comforting words - that amazing image - were to create in one who may be afraid of what was to come - a bit of courage.

It is a though he hears the truthfulness of God's promises that have been the power for new and expanding life since the beginning. That powerful Before erases all that Jeremiah could say and think about what he could or could not do. It is as though God is saying, 'Honey - my beloved, I am already on your side. I the Creative One - I the One who Rescues and Delivers - I the One who keeps promises, have been and will be with you as your rock and your stronghold. You cannot think your way into this journey or plan it out. I am for you -eternally. It is meant to diminish any thought Jeremiah might have as to why another should be chosen or why he did not have the skills or ability to follow along the way of God's promised Reign.  In other words, before you even were - before God  was even a creative agent - so definitely before you are who you think you are, Jeremiah - I am yours and you are mine. This is metaphor - emphasis - blessed assurance, for the life at hand. To make this passage into some argument about abortion is to prove one's lack of biblical imagery and power. It is easy to abuse Scripture in order to make the image of God into our image - but to keep God as God we must appreciate the wonder and encouragement of images that bring forth a truthfulness that is not dependent on our ability to make sense of the world.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that this word of encouragement to Jeremiah could also be a word of hope and encouragement to the women who face the everyday life decisions to which they must attend - even abortion. Too often, preachers love to tell everyone - that which needs to be and that which should not be. Religious folks often love to think they are the ones who possess the ability to know that which is good and that which is evil. Unfortunately, in the righteous heat of their minds-made-up and their certitude-of-how-the-world-is-to-be, they actually lose a grip on the beauty and freedom of God's creativity. I often will tell young people that if they hear the Scriptures being used to diminish someone - brutalize someone - persecute someone  - blame someone - call for hate against someone (this list can go on and on), they need to turn and walk away. Actually, I have suggested they shout 'baloney.' Ancient writings, tribal assurances and controls, and sacred tools to keep things as is, must never remove the wonder and beauty of the poetry of Scripture that is meant to take us above and beyond our rigid interpretations and notions about God's will.

Our God is one who says: You, my child - you, my beloved - you, with whom I have always been and always will be - you, are mine in and through all of your life. This is - as is so clear in Scripture - through any and all things we will encounter. It is a love and an embrace that lasts even as you are persecuted for what you have done or left undone. It is a love with arms ever ready to embrace and hold and comfort in all times that may be distressing. This God is not the one so many folks like to paint as one who condemns - one who blesses if we are good and curses if we are not (that is the cultural Santa Claus by the way).

Finally, I must say that I an always amused by the men who use Scripture to place themselves above women - who know what a woman needs to do and should do - whose love of an ancient patriarchy continues to belittle the wonder and power of God's creative genius displayed in the women around us. Oh how valiant they love to appear - how righteous - how powerful - how loud. Maybe it would be good for their daily devotion to contain the constant reminder of the God whose love orders the day and calls forth a blessing - for all. They would do well to remember fine words by a Canadian theologian, Douglas John Hall: God Reigns - all contrary evidence notwithstanding. It may then be that the warring madness embraced by many legislators might become a compassionate brilliance.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 6)

Favored One - All Along the Way

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with your.’ But she was much perplexed by this words and pondered what sort of greetings this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God….’   (Luke 1:26-31)

The world has a way of changing all around us. Between now and then, we can count on that. We may have our plans and expectations and - even demands. Yet, right in the midst of the creation of our world-as-we-expect-it-and-want-it, things change. This is not simply a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is not even those changes we can expect as we age - for we often have a glimpse of what they will bring. Just the other day I looked down at my arm and saw the skin of my mother as I remembered her aging. The smoothness vanishing and the web of wrinkles so tiny it looked a bit like scales. I expected that - aging happens - live with it.

To be alive is to live within the domain of change. We can attempt to push change off by saying ‘this too will pass’ - but we soon find ourselves facing still another change in our lives. Many people flee from change. We can flee by actually running away - taking off for another life that will not have to face the change at hand. Yet, even in running off - things change no matter how hard we attempt to flee from change. For even in this running away - there is change. We also can flee by holding on - staying put - claiming a ground as though it is ours. Though this appears to be quite the opposite of fleeing, I would suggest it is how many of us flee the movement of world as it is handed to us

As I read the story of the angel coming to Mary to announce the birth of her first child I also understand that this power of God to deliver Good News remains in the story right through to the end. Even as Jesus spits-up, won’t sleep through the night, demands constant attention, and only knows how to take - in some way, shape, or form - the angel must have been standing alongside Mary with a banner: Be not afraid. Then,as is the case for most mothers (and parents), there comes the terrible-twos that merge ever-so-smoothly into the thwarting-threes or the fractured fours or the fickle-fives. This angel, or this vision as I see it, is there at every age - even when puberty begins to tip over the world. There is no intervention - there is merely a presence - a promise - a word of forgiveness and encouragement even as the changes become almost too much to bear. Even at the cross, there was Mary - facing yet another change she could have never imagined.

We have a close-to-three-year-old granddaughter. Yes, she is special and we think she is the best and the cutest - but that girl can change on a dime. After a day that went quite well, I made ready her nightly bathwater. The liquid soap near the tub gave me an idea. I would put some in the water so that it was already soapy - not full of suds - just soapy. As Lou came into the bathroom to get into the tub she pointed at the water, started crying, and made sure I knew that this was not right - at all. ‘That’s not the way mommy does it.’ The world had changed for her. To maintain order and make a way forward into the evening routine, I drained the tub and refilled it. She was pleased.

We learned over and over again during our stay that Emmylou was a change-agent. Yes the world was changing for her everyday, but she was also changing the world around her. Children will be children and we will try to understand them as best as we are able. We will even turn to the wisdom of others to help us through their changes as they become changes in our own lives. Yet, change will never stop and sometimes it can appear to be so overwhelming and out-of-control that parents, grandparents, and friends can be frustrated, full of fear, and unsure of what will come. That is how I look at the story of the Annunciation. We all need to hear that voice that acknowledges the complete change taking place in this time and place and yet it is coupled with that assuring vision ‘Do not be afraid.’ 

I must admit that I do not hear that assuring angelic voice when I am in the middle of those moments that are not running as I want them to run. I become confused. I react rather than respond. I am too willing to play power-games. Bedtime with Lou can become a war-zone rather than a time of mutual comfort and joy. I can be confounded - short tempered - at my wit’s end. Most difficult for me is how easily I let the changing character of the moment rule me. I found that I must work at maintaining a sense of humor - continuing a dialogue - understanding the distress at hand and not fearing the antics present. 

So today I tip my hat to Jamela and Jamie for they demonstrate the influence of a vision that must be touching them and saying ‘Do not be afraid.’ With an admirable consistency they form a team that keeps entering the moment with a vision of how things can be. They embody how change that seems to be the end of the world (or at least the bath) can become a time to hug, listen, comfort, or teach and shape. They also seem to understand that this little one - this wonder living with them and demanding their every moment - is changing and that one who is to come may be a gift that keeps changing the whole world. 

I must agree it is good that grandparents can leave and take a break. For soon there might be no grandparents alive to spend time and spoil grandchildren. But day in and day out - most of us remember those days - the world and our families are blessed with parents whose love for their children helps them hear the voice of a vision that is with us all to see us through whatever changes next. 

In my faithful imagination, Jesus must have drove Mary and Joseph nuts at time. Even as he grew there were times of distress and fear in which he tried their patience and simply made them wonder if they were doing the job that had been handed to them. Yes, I’m sure that if Joseph was a carpenter - they had a woodshed. Maybe it became a place of punishment at times. Maybe it became a place of teaching and understanding and dialogue. I don’t know. Yet, in those years of change, a character was produced. It was not brought about by a miracle or magic. It was brought about by parents who embodied a love that would become the shape of their son - no matter where that love sent him. It was brought about by friends and family who did not let the fear of the moment or the day overwhelm the vision of loves creativity in the middle of the strange and changing world that is taking place between now and then.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 5)

Double Dipping Death - Not Around Here

(Herod - that fox)

An ordinary visit - expected - on the calendar - a part of the job - and yet, the beginning of a great adventure. There was the usual greeting at the door - big smile - and the ritualistic turning down of the television. The discussion would take off from there. Most often it was full of political updates. Always animated - always robust. Yes, there was the discussion about physical ailments and the list of doctors she had to see and of course the adventures with her car. It was a big car - a yacht - an ocean liner. By that description, you may already envision an older model - it was. Yet she would steer that thing back out of the garage - turn it a bit to make it between the fence posts and then turn it again to straighten out to move down the driveway to the street. It was not always a successful journey. That is another story for another time. 
On this day she interrupted our conversation with a troubling story. Two men from a major cemetery in Columbus had come to the door the previous week with concerns about her purchase of a funeral and burial package - including the gravesite at this cemetery. She mentioned it because she thought she may have made a mistake - or worse - been taken. Evelyn already had a fully paid-up funeral package but these two salesmen - yes, if you can believe it cemeteries have salespeople - attempted to convince her that her previously paid up plan might not fill the bill for opening and closing the gravesite and other costs at today’s prices. They emphasized how long ago she bought the package

So, she took the bait - paid quite a sum to update her package - and now - after reviewing her original agreement realized she had been misled. Yes, she was misled and it was no small sum. This was a classic story of a company taking advantage of a senior. I was disgusted. It was then that we spent time conspiring.  This was fun. With a few phone calls to the cemetery and a discussion with the manager  we underscored the fact that there was a miscommunication and Evelyn should be able to back out of the recent deal and her funds returned to her. He did not see things that way - he refused to hear that the salesmen did what they did. The cemetery was not going to refund any money.

Ha. Again I say - Ha. We decided that we needed to meet with the cemetery manager to discuss this further - in person. It was then that the fun - in pursuit of justice - took off. I would go with her - we laughed as I suggested we rent a limo - have two of her young female visitors/neighbors dress up in suggestive outfits and be our driver and escorts. Evelyn and I would be driven to the cemetery - doors would be open for us so we could exit from the back seat - our escorts would take us to the front door. After great belly-laughs, we settled on simply a dynamic duo. We were psyched,  This woman who knew what was just and right and good was ready for plan A. 

Arriving at the cemetery we were invited into  the board room. The manager laid out his paper work and started to spell out his understanding of the events that had taken place. Evelyn was precise with her account - I simply pressed the questions of ethics. When the manager would not give in, we all agreed to do a conference call with the owner of the funeral home - with whom Evelyn had worked for the original burial package. This was golden. The cemetery manager had no problem belittling us at every opportunity. 

The funeral director knew Evelyn. He was gracious. I asked him about the original contract made with Evelyn and explained the sales pitch about her needing a more updated package to secure all the bills that will arise. I then quoted the amount of money Evelyn paid the cemetery. The director paused as he checked the original documents and then said that her account was so full - due to the years since it was purchased - that her heirs will probably receive funds back rather than have to pay anything extra. Ha! Evelyn looked at me - a proud nod - a  smile - a  curled lip showing her confidence. Even the gift to the pastor - that the salesmen had said would never meet today’s standards - would be more than any pastor would expect. The manager was dumbfounded. 

Weeks later - Evelyn received a letter and a check. Ha! We both gained an deeper respect for ethical funeral directors and a complete disrespect for cemeteries that have gone corporate and sell plots like timeshare salespeople. I have never forgot that energy and hopefulness and sheer willingness to see that justice prevailed. This elderly woman was not going to be stopped and in the meantime there would be a bit of fun and laughter and joy.  In addition, there was now an understanding that there are foxes who dress up in the clothing of sheep in order to take whatever they want. There are those who will use anything in order to make a profit no matter how it is done. This woman stood up and inspired me. Herod that fox!!

The saints of God are a vulnerable people. We admit to mistakes. We draw into questions our actions. We ask for help. We rise up and face the profit-seekers who have no respect for our beloved seniors - or for that matter - anyone from whom money can be taken. A simple afternoon visit - an ordinary passing of time - a connection to something bigger than the powers that try to run the world, and there joy is unveiled - justice comes alive - and we all learned that between now and then the powers of the world need not win the day. We must stand up and resist the power of deception, greed, and lies. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Saintly simplicity - Enduring dependability

For years it would be an indentation in the flowerbed and a pile of rocks near the dug-up plot of ground that now looked like fine, sifted soil. No one would ever notice anything being done along that side of the building - why was someone working there? The rock-filled bed was good-for-nothing. But then, a week later or a month later, there would be another indentation somewhere just yards away from the one I previously noticed. And more fine, sifted soil.  Hmmm. 

For years I would smell paint remover. I'd walk the halls and could not pinpoint any disturbance to the building. But then, there would be other days of that same smell. It took awhile but I started to notice that the many remnants of tape that were left on chalk boards and windows and door jams were slowly disappearing. Oh they would all return during a school year or VBS - but for short periods of time - the ugly remnants were gone. Hmmm.

For years I would walk into a classroom and there would be masking tape around all the windows and door jams and moldings. Later it would become miles and miles of blue painters tape keeping safe everything that should not be painted the same old beige that seemed to reign throughout the building. One week it would be room #2 - weeks later, like a spreading rash, it would be room #3 - then room #4. Was it going to consume the whole place? Yes, eventually it would. Marked-up walls showing the high activity of the people in the building would vanish - for a while. Hmmm.

For years bushes no one seemed to think about - were trimmed and low hanging or fallen limbs taken away. A playground overgrown with weeds - was now green and seemed to be won over by - you guessed it - grass. Amazing. Even, at times, the old Memorial Garden overgrown by bushes and weeds would make an miraculous come back and appear as though someone cared. Hmmm.

Between now and then, the world moves along. Now it could move along in the direction of chaos and disrepair. It also could move along as though no one gave a damn about how the things in our lives are maintained and preserved. It could move along as though all folks care about is their own stuff and how they can have more stuff. Yes, it could move along like that - but there was this work - this devotion - this persistence - this love - this perfectionism - that lingered around the building making it seem new again. Hmmm.

I suppose that is how it could have been with Jesus. He could have simply walked through the day or the town or the countryside and kept walking - going where he wanted to go and doing what he wanted to do. But instead, someone was in need - the village or the banquet would be a better place if the leper was cleansed or the woman was made whole. After time, people came to expect that Jesus would do stuff. And yet, it all really simply started with Jesus digging in - doing something. Yes - doing something. No sermon. No preachy stuff. No revival meeting. Jesus acted as though he was one of God's stewards for life and he entered the day willing to take care of that which was not his - but that which was God's - all things. Hmmm.

Right here in the middle of the days of our lives - we are invited to be stewards of God's stuff - all of it. Within the daily routine of our lives we have the opportunity to take care of that which is not ours - but the which makes the world a better place to be. Stewards of God's Reign don't do those things just for a salary - they simply go about the ordinary stuff of the day with a vision of how it can be better. No matter where we work or live, there are things that need to be done - lives that need to be touched - laughter that needs to be heard - dirt that needs to be moved - anthems that need to be sung - hospitality that needs to be shared - time spent for the welfare of others - family and friends to be loved with a dependable presence.

There is so much I could write here to try to life up for you the fullness of a tapestry of a real, everyday saint. Most of which would demand that I could be witty and bright beyond my abilities. It would also mean I would have to be as in command of details and facts and bits of minutia - so as to come close to painting a picture of the wonder-filled mind of a saint whose presence was marked by soups in Lent, laundry day restrictions to his activities, and financial statements put together in his basement office. I wish I had the mind of the writer of the comic strip Frank and Ernest - for maybe then - I would be able to turn a phrase or a word that would make everyone think of Dave Reinoehl. Hmmm.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 4)

And Then - there’s kale
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearances like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples. He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you. So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. (Matthew 28:1-8)

The movement into fall is a slow process when the weather has been mild and the frost that has arrived is not that severe. Thank goodness for carrots and beets - those root vegetables that do not let a cold snap stop them from growing and turning more and more luscious. Slowly the tomatoes came to an end. It seemed as though it was a plant by plant death until not one was left standing. And yet, while everything was dying off there were still weeds - don’t they ever stop busting into the scene!

There is a robust row of peppers along the south side of the garage - five or six plants - five or six varieties. All of the plants are still quite green but the peppers are fading - limited rewards. But then there is the cayenne pepper plant - enough peppers to spice up soup or chili well into next summer. Visitors to the house are offered cayenne peppers - please. But even with the peppers holding their own as they are lined up close to the side of the garage and in full sunlight, the yard still looks like death creeping in and calling for all the attention.

That is what death does - it demands action now. It does not go away - it keeps lurking. It makes itself known - the smell - the browning of the leaves - the bending of the most noble and vibrant looking Hostas as their leaves thin and simply call it quits. Death sits down in the middle of the last days of warm weather and gentle, fall breezes in the ubiquitous presence of brown bags brimful of leaves waiting to go to their last resting place - hopefully the city really does compost all these leaves. As a last farewell to the summers growth that has given its all and the remains of those that made it through the kitchen - the compost bins are unloaded and mixed into the barren beds that need to be prepared for new life next Spring. The darkness of the compost added to the beds that have offered up so much life-giving food to the plants seems to make a statement as to how important it is to recycle wastes for life that is still to come. And then - there’s kale.

I have given kale to visitors. I have taken bags to the church - well after the veggie give-away there. I have delivered bags to friends and relatives who relish the huge bags that seem to have no weight to them. Kale - long after death has its way with the whole yard - even the crabgrass - thrives. I find it odd that even our hungry urban deer - that wander through our streets before sunrise cutting short the lives of other plants - do not take down the kale. In the middle of all this autumnal death, the kale stands tall like mini-palm trees - verdant and robust and laughing at the colder and darker days of fall. I offered kale to two men working on our driveway. They said they wondered what those plants were and how they were still so full of life. 

There is no shortage of death pushing its way into our lives. And then - there is kale. No matter how dead the day feels - no matter how much death is able to cut us down - no matter how often it seems as though we are pushed beyond the realm of hopefulness - there is new life that continues in the face of death. I love seeing those stand-alone kale plants. They are naked to the wind and frost yet they will not let those forces control the day. In the face of death - ha - brilliant life. When death appears with its pall of brownies and brightly colored leaves that amaze us only to turn brown - there is the possibility of defiance. Not warfare - not battles unto death - but defiance. If death persists - so will life persist. Some day the kale will be gone - but for now it keeps surprising everyone. 

We are blessed to be a people who thrive even when death attempts to rule us. When that kale has given up all it has and is a stump with wilted leaves sticking out of the ground like a middle finger in the face of death - I am reminded that between now and then each of us has life to offer - despite all evidence to the contrary. Therefore, in this day - in the midst of the ordinary time of life that too often seems to take life from us - we are invited to make a statement for life again and again and again. We are invited to be a witness that death finds troublesome and uncontrollable. 

I’m not quite sure when the kale will come to an end. I do know that between now and then - there will be kale for any and all who want it. The garden that looks like death rules is really the food for life that continues to grow. I like that. I need that. I want to have a life that faces death yet keeps bringing life to the world. The garden that surrounded the tomb was full of death - at least it was if that is what you expected to see. But then there is always the surprising ways death is made the fool and life persists for another day. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Between Now and Then (part 3)

Backward Down She Goes

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grand in which we stand; and we boasts in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, be use also body in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that ha been given to us.  
(Romans 5:1-5)

Today I set out to make homemade Kluski noodles. I could do a quick run to the store and buy a bag - it would make the day so easy. Sunday is a day I love to fix a meal for friends. It is always an experiment - a new dish - a twist or expansion of an old dish. Today it was going to be a old ethnic dish - cabbage, noodles, and Slovenian sausage. It is so simple. But then I was sent a YouTube video on how to make your own Kluski noodles. I was thinking of making small potato dumplings or drop dumplings.  The dish would have been a take off on the original one but at least I know how to do dumplings - not Kluski noodles. 

The recipe for the noodles is so simple: flour, eggs, salt, a few tablespoons of water. The woman in the video used her KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook. I didn’t want to take the time for all that. Plus, I have been having neck - back - and shoulder pain lately and a good workout while kneading the dough would do me some good. Dumb thought. The dough was not as pliable as dumpling dough. It was dry. It would not stick together well. It demanded full body weight and intense squeezing. I started regretting the idea of homemade Kluski noodles but there was no way I was going to throw the dough out and pick up packaged noodles. With flour on my hands and things not going as wanted them to go - I thought of Pauline. She was a master of making noodles - all kinds - all shapes - all sizes.

My first call as a pastor was to Truth Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan. I was to be the community pastor and my position was funded by the national church for three years. This meant I worked with the congregation and the neighborhood to find ways to bring a bit of hope and new life to a city already in decline. Pauline was a longtime member of the congregation and though she was one of older the senior members of the congregation - she was as active as anyone. When you entered the front doors of the church building - you met stairs. If you wanted to go to worship, you had at least fifteen steps to make it to the level of the sanctuary. If you were coming to an event in the basement you had to go up four stairs and then down fifteen or more to the basement. 

Pauline climbed those stairs regularly and slowly. If you caught her during her ascent, there would be a warm greeting and a smile. Her legs were so bowed from arthritis it was hard for me to see how she managed those stairs - let alone walk - but she did - swaying from side to side. Then the day came when I saw her going down the stairs from the sanctuary and then down the stairs to the basement. She held onto the handrail and went down backwards.  She wasn’t the only one. Several others did it. I was told it was the safest way for older folks with walking issues to go down stairs. If you stumbled - you simple stumbled upward without a major tumble. If you went down face first and stumbled - that could be the end of it all. Pauline and the others never wanted any help - they had it. 

On my first visit to Pauline house, she had baked goods and coffee ready. The conversation was light-hearted and she told me stories of her life. On the kitchen counter she had a cloth spread out and homemade noodles covered the cloth. These were long noodles cut like they had gone through a pasta machine - but these were hand-rolled and hand-cut. My grandmother made dumplings and noodles and my babysitter would also make homemade noodles so I was familiar with the workspace and the smell. 

After coffee and treats and good conversation she wanted to show me something she thought I would like. We wandered into a back room and she directed my attention to a chest of drawers. Then, she pulled open the top drawer. There were boxes - shoe boxes and gift boxes - covered with either saran wrap or parchment paper and then a cloth. She then uncovered the boxes. Each box was a different type of pasta/noodle. Each shape had a name. I remember some of them being cut in diamond shapes - small ones - very small ones. Some were being saved for special occasions - others were simply dry and ready to use as needed.

Pauline then asked if I wanted to see her backyard and garden. To be quite truthful, this  postage-stamp-size backyard was simply a garden - the whole thing. After she went backward down the few porch steps to the garden she said that this is what kept her going. With what could easily be considered crippling arthritis and more, she said she came out every morning to work in the garden so that she would be able to make it into and through the rest of the day. Yes, with cane in hand she would get down on her knees or have a small, low stool or would work with the longer garden tools in order to keep the garden tended. 

There I was this morning - complaining about how difficult it was to knead and turn that dough. There I was this morning - wondering about what I could do to stop some of the pains in my back and neck and shoulders. There I was thinking of Pauline - backward down she went into everyday of her life. Backward down she went living within the reality of her aching body. Backward down she went so that she could live. Backward down she went with a full smile, a hearty voice, enduring . Maybe it is because I cannot see myself having such gusto - such courage - such determination in the face of - well - the pains and disappointments of everyday life. 

Backward down she went into all that was ordinary about the day - all that was holy about the day - all that was to be a step-by-step journey of hope. Between now and then we are invited to make the day full with lives that see more than that which might be able to hold us back. There is instead, a fullness of life that may be as simple as getting out to be with friends making quilts in a church basement or lunch after a Lenten worship. There are so many opportunities for life to be full and meaningful right within the fabric of the day we use to stitch together a pattern for our everyday life. 

Every morning I attempt to wake up early and walk and exercise and move. Somedays I don’t make it out of bed as I would like. I need to remember all the adjustments Pauline must have made in her life in order to face pain again - endure whatever the pain would throw at her - build her loving and bright character, and then, in hope, meet the day no matter what might come between now and then.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So Then - in the meantime - We Hope

We cannot be sure how life will unfold - how we will trust again - how nightmares will stop and dreams will soar - how we will be a part of the wonder of this day as it moves toward peace and wholeness and justice for all people.

So then - in the meantime - we hope.
We must never stopped hoping. Hope is the wind that carries us into the life of God's Reign that is so close we too often look past it expecting hope to blossom elsewhere. Ha - hoping beyond hope when hope is already giving birth to new life even as we sit wondering when and how it will arrive.

Societies despair - they raise up demons to destroy - they wait for the right time to attack - they restock weapons for the wars to come - they put down plans to rise above others and at the cost of others. Societies do not hope - they seek to control like addicts who must have more and more of that to which their are addicted. Societies wish for that which they can score - no matter what the price may be to others.

So then - in the meantime - we hope.
It is how we live. It is the very breath of us. It is how we will shake off the dust of the day - wipe from our feet whatever we just stepped in - face the bully who has threaten to keep threatening us - bear open our hearts even though they have been broken and exposed - forgive so that violence does not rule us - love without regard for how we will emerge from our loving.

So then, when we are dazed and confused - left high and dry - pushed too far and pressed beyond our breaking point - we hope. There is no waiting involved. Hope comes to life - it is life - it is already at hand. It reaches in from the realm of God's endless creativity and stirs up lives we have let become disconnected from others and self-concerned without end. Hope tickles us - makes us squirm a bit - gets us up from our chairs - turns our eyes to look into the eyes of others - transforms ropes that bind us into ropes that help to tie us all together as one.

We hope not for another day. We hope for a today that is shaped by the promise of a tomorrow that leaves the doors wide open to party. So then - in the meantime - we act - we sacrifice - we protest - we affirm - we stand up with and for and alongside others - we question - we listen - we bend down to serve - we heal - we leave no one behind - we learn to say No and Yes - we open doors - we make ourselves available to hold the vulnerable no matter what the cost. Yes, we hope.

Hope - I find it to be the only power that moves me off my self-centered, self-consuming, self-concerned butt and makes me fly into the makings of a whole new day.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Go ahead - get up on stage and dance

I was only one of a couple of white folks at an event last evening. I make a note of that because I felt as though I stuck out in the audience. I suppose it was also because of my gray hair and beard and ponytail and the fact that I have trouble telling the age of young people. It is nice when you swing low - in regard to guessing an age - with an older person. But I asked the two women next to me if they went to Eastmoor High School. No - one taught at OSU and both worked at a local production company. Duh. In what has become a common way of running a high school theater, Seth Harms - the director - brings up onto stage the drama of the day that makes the audience look at events of the day at hand. Once again, he placed the whole audience up on stage. Up there, we are close to the actions - the movement - the emotions - the cultural upheaval. In some ways, there was no way to sit back and be detached from the six short plays that dealt with racism, privilege, perception, violence, sexism - quite a mix for just over an hour of acting.

As I sat there in this audience up on the stage I wondered about how important it is for all of us to move onto the stage. We may not be the primary characters - but our lives our there in front of us. We are a part of the life being portrayed by the few who have all the lines and movements. Though the whole evening used the Trayvon Martin killing as a springboard to expose issues facing our society in this time in our country, so much more was laid open for us to witness. Over and over again, innocence was arrested - put to death - because of perceptions. At the same time, families of color work to prepare sons and daughters for the injustice of a culture full of fear - a culture that will ask questions after fear and anxiety has produced itchy trigger-fingers that always seem to be justified within the domain of a so-called - law and order society.

In my fanciful imagination I wonder how our communities in a metropolitan area would change if every high school student had to spend at least a year in a school outside of their neighborhood and  inside one of those neighborhoods. No matter what direction the students would go there would be life experiences that very few of us are able to incorporate into our lives. Imagine how a whole group of African-American students from my neighborhood would be received in a primarily European school system in a suburb. Imagine how a European group of students from a well-positioned suburban school would be received in a city school that usually services a poorer population. Imagine if some - just some - of these students stayed put in their new school - saw it out through graduation. Imagine how parents would deal with the changes. Imagine a prominent sports figure who leaves one school and stars on the team of another school. Imagine how both sides of this mixed up school system would be changed by the academic differences that all need attention for each student to thrive.

I know - I try to imagine too much. Though what about this. I know that when we want to face diversity, people in the church too often send or travel to a place far away. Why is it that over there - in that distant setting - beyond the diversity and segregation within walking distance or a short commute of our homes or congregations, there is a world we are willing to enter- a world from which we claim we will encounter a life-changing moment in time. And yet, we are too afraid to walk within - stand alongside - exchange conversations with - a whole world that is all around us everyday. No wonder things at home never change. No wonder racism and rage are flourishing so close to home. No wonder the structures of our metropolitan areas - we call home - have nurtured segregation and racism rather than using our imagination to dismantle their control over us.

The hospitable community of the followers of Jesus must be a people who will take a seat up on the stage of life within our own society and face the reality of violence, hatred, fear, bias, and privilege that keeps the Reign of God at arms length away from us. Up on stage last evening within the movement of the actors and dancers and the movement and sounds from the audience there was a breeze that I could feel. I know, it is just my imagination. Yet, it was like a breath of new life - a spirit of hopefulness - a wind of change that we too often do not let ourselves experience right in the middle of our ordinary lives.  Maybe it is too easy to live life as we have it and want it - no matter what it may cost those around us. For when we turn others into mere others - to hell with them - to hell with their neighborhoods - to hell with their lives. That - is simply demonic and we let ourselves be a part of that rule whenever we resist getting up on stage and dancing with the likes of God's children - all of them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Between Now and Then (Tale 2 of 2)

Even When the Road is Spinning

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip when down to Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. (Acts 8:4-5)
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, (this is the wilderness road). So he got up and went. (Acts 8:26-27a)

The days at hand were days of severe persecution against the church in Jerusalem and the folks who followed Jesus were scattered far and wide. It is no fun to find oneself scattered about the place when we would rather have things falling into place as we know them and like them. Anxiety can scatter our minds and disturb our hearts. Fear can make us turn right around and go in another direction. Feeling lost makes us spin and spin and spin. 

There are many ways to resist the anxieties of the day - ignore our fears - always act as though we know the way. I find that many people are quite proficient at living a life like this. They appear to be in control and able to self-secure their lives. They often occupy positions of influence and speak with sure-footed, authority. The world around us admires such people. They seem to know how things are to run. They come across as having the skill set to make the world around them work for them. They speak and act in such a way that other folks are willing to follow them - for at least they appear as though they are not lost or wandering or standing still. 

Having the knowledge as to how to live in our world and make things come out just as we want - is quite amazing. To be able to take life by the ‘whatever’ and make sure things will go as we like - attracts other people. To be able to never show that one is full of fear, anxiously wondering about the day, or simply lost, looks like strength and such strength is seductive. It is - in some way - messianic in appearance. I did not capitalize messianic here because it is a false image of the vision of the Messiah or the Christ. In every aspect of our lives, there are messianic people who are able to appear as though they know all that is to be known or they can do whatever is necessary to shape life according to their own vision - a vision they then slap with the sticker Holy or The Best or Better Than Ever Before.

When I drive my car to the coffee shop where I regularly read and write, I often take the freeway. Well, some years ago the state and city reconfigured how the traffic was to move into and through downtown. One of those changes involved setting up a new exit that placed traffic going downtown up and over the existing intersection of two freeways and then down onto a downtown street. The GPS in my car never got the memo - even after all these years. 

The first time I started to exit, the map twirled - I was flying above the map as it once depicted this part of the city: No exit - No road - No hope - No direction. If I was new to the city and didn’t know the roads in and around downtown there would be a good chance that I would have been freaking out. This GPS was worthless for the moment. During this time, the calming voice of the directional assistant repeated over and over again: recalculating. There I was - flying in space somewhere - and the voice was say: recalculating. I knew that I was on a road. I could see that I was moving closer into downtown and yet my placement in the world was confusing the voice that was suppose to know where I was and how I was to make it to my destination - recalculating - recalculating!

It is at this point in the freeway system and one other new, large, freeway interchange that I have come to see that the map - the way things are to be - how they are to appear - the route we are to trust - the voice of assurance and confidence I expect - may be quite useless. I now press on in confidence that this spinning will come to an end and between now and then I will land and the journey will continue even if I am thrown off course a bit. There is no need to pull over in the midst of the spinning. There is no need to grasp for control. There is no need to turn around. There is no need to hire a consultant.

I enjoy the stories of Philip in the Book of Acts in those days when the followers of Jesus were being persecuted. For just as the map in my car was spinning and the next steps in life were in question - there was no well thought out plan - no map as to how one could survive and make through the time of persecution. People fled - people ran - people stumbled - people wet their pants - people lost all hope. There is no story of a great leader rising up and settling the followers of Jesus with a plan to secure the future - stabilize the foundations of their lives - present a plan that would empower them to win the day. Instead, there was a breeze that brought forth a knowledge that moved people beyond the expectations of the broken world around them. Ordinary stories of folks moving out into life.

Philip finds himself in Samaria. No, it was not magic. When the world is spinning and fear abounds and anxiety festers in our minds, there is a knowledge that does not make sense to the knowledge of the world. Samaria? What did Philip think when he was moved into the middle of those folk? Geez. First Jesus is lynched and now he’s in the middle of folks who really want nothing to do with a person coming from Jerusalem. Yet, he tells a story - he shares a vision - he brings to mind how the powers of the world and all their great ways of knowing how things should be run are nothing more than a lie - a self-serving force that cannot survive unless they control the lives of others. Whew. A victim speaks to the victimized about how there is one who did not let the spin of the world rule the day. And - they understood and embraced the story.

Yet, that was not enough. Right when there could have been a place to settle down and make a new life, Philip is blown off course. He is moved into the path of one more of the despised of a world. Everything was spinning - the road was not straight - the encounter was all wrong - the GPS was malfunctioning, but Philip alongside a Eunuch unfolds the knowledge of the Reign of God. It is a ridiculous story and it will take thousands of years for people to accept it as a gift that brings the availability of God’s love into and through all the spinning and confusing times of our well-order and well-run world. 

For too long the church has been stuck to a map and it was the way things had to be. And yet, I find that the church is a breath of fresh air that is able to live within the spinning of a new world in which the goal is not to control the world  - but to be free to live out a new direction for life even when no one else seems to be going there.