Sunday, April 30, 2017

Heaven and Hell - at the fence

Is the age to come really to come sometime - out there?
Is it beyond now and set off in another place and time?
Is it a carrot or a candy bar or a reunion to which we have been invited - someday?
Is it a time and place in which there is to be utter bliss or else a place we hope we will miss?
Is it a heavenly reunion or a hell of a reunion?
And if it is - if it is any of these notions - what about today?

Is today simply a time in which we accumulate the points to make it to the place and time that is out beyond this place and time?
Is it a time to manage our lives so that when our lives come to an end - our management skills will be assessed and we will then see where our lives have taken us?
Is it a time with a focus beyond this time and therefore we need only get through all this time so as to open ourselves up to another time - the quality of which will depend on how we spend the present time?
And if today is a time to be played well - like a hand of cards - aren't we in the process of dying rather than living - always filled with doubt - always trying to win the game?

I don't have a problem with heaven and hell. I have a problem with how we play with it all. I have a problem with where - in time or out of time - we place them. I have a problem with folks trying to tell other folks where they need to go or where they will be going.

I remember hearing about a very well-known preacher who was anxiously asking people to pray for his parents because they were not Christian and he wanted them to be saved. Often, that means saved for the age to come - the far away place - the place in the sky place - the many mansions place. I wondered if his parents were nasty people - thus his concern. I really expect that his parents are wonderful people - beloved and loving. Yet, when we begin to make our faithful journey into a journey to another place and time it becomes the perfect set up for a message filled with coercion and doubt and game-playing. 'Don't you want to be with (name goes here)? Don't your want to be with Jesus and God and all the Angels? Then there is that question about the future - that story of the future that comes after death - that one that has nothing to do with Good News for it is dripping with self-centered living that is never the concern of God's Peaceable and Blessed Reign.

There is no getting there from here. There is no making our way into the bliss of another time or making our way out of a hell of a predicament that will last forever. There is though, a present in which the compassion of the promises of God's Reign flows into the present and becomes us. I like to say that the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God or the Peaceable Reign or Eternal Life  becomes us because that is all we are invited to be - the beloved creatures of God. There is no getting there - no test to pass - no right way in order to make it. There is - the simple understanding - the simple recognition - the simple bit of rest - that comes as we trust that all that is to come is already present and we become what is promised - the promise becomes us. With that, all things change. Not just in my life - but in the lives of those with whom I have contact. If I am trying to get into something - if I'm trying to get you in also, the task of getting-in becomes the controlling factor of my life. It becomes - shall we say - my god. I did not capitalize that last word because when we become controlling people - monitoring people - evaluating people - rigid people - anxious people - condemning people - finger-pointing people, we are led by our own desires that fall  far short of the wonder and joy of God's desire for new life for us now - and always.

This week I was once again an observer of the battle of heaven and hell at the fence - the battle of the so-called good and the so-called evil at the fence - the battle of 'you bad' and 'we good' - the battle, no, the need - to assume one way to view life for everyone. What a sad existence - what a hellish existence - what a false love, a self-centered love, a self-consumed love. Heaven and hell is a construct that forgoes compassion. It forbids compassion and laughs at vulnerability. Heaven and hell is a contract that puts up the fences that deny people the opportunity to experience the life of God's Peaceable Reign as it is found in - yes - those people - and then in all of us as we risk to welcome the other without insisting on being judge - jury - god. I grow weary - yet not worn down - by those who condemn the clients who come to Planned Parenthood. For the game of condemning is endless and all consuming and leads none of us to peace and healing and joy. In the meantime, I may just remain a distraction - a part of the silence and noise that interrupts the pattern of heaven and hell at the fence.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fake Good News - at the Fence

I serve as an escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The job is simple. It is to be a hospitable presence to the women and couples who come to the clinic for a variety of reasons. My wife tells me I need to tell people I am a greeter rather than an escort - ah, language and images! Both words work as a way to talk about how I see myself out on the parking lot as folks arrive. I do not know the purpose of a visit made by any of the people. I suppose this is much like the waiting room at my doctor's office - no one knows why I am showing up. Unless, of course, I look like death warmed over and seem like someone everyone should avoid less they too catch the plague. Even then, I am simply another patient in need of a doctor's or a nurse's attention. Just as important as not knowing what brings the people to the clinic is that I do not know them - their life situation - their history - their prospects for a life beyond that day at hand.

At our Planned Parenthood building there is a fence around the parking lot. On the outside of the fence there are often protestors armed with signs, pictures, and voices. Fences are not unusual. There are fences - everywhere. There are reasons for fences - many reasons. Fences divide up space. Fences set boundaries. Fences keep people and things inside the boundaries and fences keep other people and things outside. In many ways, it is the perfect image for a story about us and them. It is (this us and them story) as old as the history of the cultures of the world - as old as the history of religious folks within the life of those cultures. Think about it - there is usually no better maker of us and them than religious folk who work to create a world in which they can dictate - like a god - who is good and who is evil - who is in and who is to be out - who is acceptable and who is unacceptable - who knows God's mind and who doesn't. The assumption that one person or a people are able to make such a judgment makes that person or group of people (I would suggest) less than the humanity we are meant to be. We lose our creativity whenever we think we have the right to judge others - whenever our desire for life as we want it gives us permission to negate the lives of others. We refuse to see ourselves and others as the image of God - a we - not an us/them.

In our culture we are being hit with what has been called fake news. It is the antithesis of news. It is made up - it is like gossip - it is filled with stories that give us just what we want to hear - even when it is less than the truth or a half-truth - which is not truth at all. Fake news is not the property of one group of people - it is a self-serving word used by everyone in order to shape a world that looks just like we want it to look. After listening and watching and seeing the display of folks out at the fence - folks who cover themselves with the name of Jesus and select biblical  passages and Christian symbols and words associated with the Scriptures - I am very willing to say that the Good News at the fence is fake Good News. It is not a word or a presence of grace and love that is as available and vulnerable as the Jesus of Scripture. It is a warrior word - a vicious word - a condemning word - a self-righteous word - a finger-pointing word. It is a word afraid of a world that is the ground of God's ongoing creativity that moves us beyond our own fixed desires.

I find the words of the folks at the fence to be fake Good News because it attempts to drive people into a state of shame. Shame has a way of becoming a deep wound - one that can be inflicted quite easily - one that has a way of destroying the life of God's beloved - one that does not heal through more shaming. The Good News of the Christ of God never shames. The business of fake Good News is carried out by the powers of death - the powers that want to be gods of the world - the powers of religious control that have lost the vision of the peaceable Reign of God. Fake Good News rejects everyone who does not go along with the life that it has deemed as necessary - even if all others must be crucified by the lies of religious shame. Unfortunately, in many ways, I hear fake Good News within the breath of many self-proclaimed 'good' Christians - and it always smells like death and hell to me. No Good News at all.

Remember the woman caught in adultery. The good religious folks wanted to stone her. I would say they want to shame her to death - along with her family - by stoning her - by getting rid of her - by treating her as a threat that needed to be removed from their self-declared good lives. But what does Jesus do in that scene. He does not get in and ride in the boat of the shame-throwers. He does not drive the woman into the ground with sticks and stones and words of death. You see, God does not shame us - God holds onto us through any and all things - even when the depths of religiously concocted shame seem to be winning the day. Forgiveness brings a new day - beyond the powers of death that feed off of the lies - the fake Good News - of religious folks who believe only in the power they can manufacture - the endless lies. Forgiveness heals all things - all people. Then - within the realm of forgiveness - life beyond our own expectations blossoms - like a garden in Eden or one just outside the empty tomb.

Shame is fake Good News - it thrives on demonizing people who are the beloved of God.  It insults the God of creation who calls all of creation good. Fake Good News tries to paint God as a liar - a cheat - a fool. For when those seeds-of-shame can be sown, they leave no room for God's unbounded love that is to be the seed of life's creativity - joy - peace - forgiveness - compassion - and endless hopefulness. I find that religious people who thrive on fertilizing the seeds-of-shame are damned to live within their own crap. That is unfortunate for them and for others they are able to pull into their realm of self-induced - self-created - self-inspired crap. Fake Good News does not bring in the Reign of God - it is afraid of such a Reign of love and grace because it would lose its power that it has worked so hard to build up - in other words - a hell-on-earth.

Fake Good News at the fence cannot and should not be met with violence of any kind. It must not be shamed - for then, that game will then never end. It must be met with the self-sacrifice of the lamb - the protectiveness of the mother hen - the one who bends to serve any and all without partiality. Maybe, we can become a movement for new life whenever we are tempted to live by fake Good News - for it is so tempting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dare to break wind in the face of the cultural norm.

We are a reforming people when we dare to break wind in the face of the cultural norm. Luther did it 500 years ago when he turned his backside to Rome and let it rip. But that was then and this is now. So how do reforming people take on - that which is valued in our culture - that which keeps things just as they are - that which is anxious and then afraid to the point of persecuting some for what is considered the welfare of all others? We break wind. We speak up. We question. We stand in the way. We let ourselves defy all that is considered sacred until the wizards of the culture have the veil pulled back so that more and more people can see how we have fallen for piles upon piles of - well - crap.

Am I talking about religious crap - yes. Am I talking about cultural crap - yes. Am I taking about political crap - yes. Reforming people are not anarchist or revolutionaries - they simply break wind and make people turn around and wonder - what just happened - why does all this life around us beginning to smell? We are all a part of the family system of our culture. There is no way to rise above it or be detached from it. We are a part of what smells. As reforming people we own it and begin to ask things like: What does it mean to be right in the middle of all that is demonic (all that stinketh) and yet stop to acknowledge how vile it all smells? Systems always smell and if we do not speak up or break wind in the face of the norms around us we will and we have ventured more deeply into the violence and brokenness that piles up more and more until it is revolting - quite literally revolting. Reforming people do not fall for the more putrid smell of the violence of revolt - we expose - we unveil - we fall for it no more.

Reforming people are always living within the line of the prophetic - the ones who see that which stinks - the ones who name that which smells - the ones who are willing to be shunned for breaking wind and exposing the condition of our culture/religion/politics. I am too often afraid to be such a reforming person. And then, I hear others disturb the air around me. When I hear and see such life, I begin to wonder if I can face the stench of that in which I have let myself live - and begin to expose it all. That action is often called confession. Reforming people are empowered to admit to the violence - the fraud - the economic and political gaming that we have let define us as though nothing smells.

For a coward, that is difficult. For a coward though - it is necessary. I often use the words of Spirit - Holy Spirit - to remind me that as we are inspired to face the truth about us - a new day is available to us. It may still be full of the stench of the culture in which we live - but reforming people keep making note of it all - we keep owning our part of all that smells - we make ourselves vulnerable like nailing items for discussion about the things that smell - on the door of a church in Wittenberg - but we do it today - we do it everyday. Prophetic words and actions come out of the bowels of reforming people whose acts of truth-telling may create a stink in the culture at hand - but it also brings in a breath of fresh air.

Have A Blessed Day - Really?

'Have a blessed day.' It sounds like a nice thing to say. In fact, one person came up to me after a class I was teaching and said that one of the things he started to say in the past years is, 'Have a blessed day.' He said he noticed how it seemed to alter the way the people looked at him. In addition he said that he found that it had caused a change in how he viewed his interactions with others. We had just ended a discussion about how the followers of Jesus are to be followers - we are to be a part of an imitation of life that creates new life right in the midst of the steps of our day. The life is to be nonviolent - creative - self-giving - no longer merely life filled with stories of that kind of life - but a life that becomes us. The way of the cross thus becomes the way we walk - the way we live with the story of Jesus showing us how he walked out ahead of us along the way we follow. It is with that image that I started wondering about the greeting or the sending words have a blessed day.

I am pulled to be very Lutheran here because I want to start saying to folks, 'Wait. What does that mean.' Is it like a polite 'God bless you' that fills a room when there is an audible sneeze offered up by a  complete stranger? Another version of 'Have a blessed day' is 'Be blessed.' Again, what does that mean - what is intended. Is is a version of 'good luck' - 'hope all goes well' - 'break a leg'? All of those send us off with a polite verbal acknowledgment of our presence and our leaving. But, as we all know, luck has nothing to do with much of our lives - things do not go well, in fact things fall apart quite regularly - and people really do break their legs and are thrown into chaos.

If 'have a blessed day' is like having a charmed day - as in, hope your day goes well and the world is fine - then I want folks to stop saying that. The day at hand is not blessed with all good things around me. It is blessed - period. I want to ask, what do you mean by blessed? Yes, when you tell me 'Have a blessed day' or say 'be blessed' is there a content to that sending? In some ways it goes back to what I might call: End-zone - Good catch - Nice Run - Great hit - Jesus is with me all the way spirituality that is devoid of an understanding of the life of Jesus - the cross - and I would even say the resurrection. A blessed day is the way one takes the day - how we see it - how we move within it. Are we the blessed of God who take on the imitative way of Jesus - and the consequences of that way? When that is our life - our blessed day - it may be a day full of roadblocks, tragedy, and pain. Blessed is not a good luck charm or a wish for success. It is an invitation to become like - the one who bends down to serve - the one who steps onto the side of the left out so that at least someone is with them - it is the one who receives the stranger with unbounded hospitality no matter what others say or think.

I was really impressed that the person I noted above said that his day was changed - his way to look at the world and the day changed - his actions may have even changed. To be blessed is to be drawn into a life changing reality in which our humanity - the fullness of its blessedness - becomes present as we go along the way today. So, when I say to you 'have a blessed day' it may come to mean a day in which you are totally rejected for displaying a love for others that cannot be contained - it may come to mean a day in which you let go of that which you thought you could to live without - and yet you experience a resurrection - it may come to mean a day in which you experience life through the lens of others and that new vision rattles you to the bone and your once dry bones take on a new shape you never anticipated.

Could it be that many of our religious sounding phrases we throw out into the day cheapen the vision and life we all hope will actually transform all things?  Another person also offered this active notion of 'have a blessed day' - be a blessing today. That my friends sound utterly transforming to me. For most of my days can be filled with nothing but bitching and biting and baiting and bragging - with little room for being a part of the blessed Reign of God into which I am invited to live. Hmmm.