Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

Easter 7 – Year A

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

The psalm makes it difficult to connect the body of the psalm with its conclusion: Blessed be God!

Up to the conclusion everything is digital. It’s either on or off, it’s this or that, it’s 1 or 0. In this zero sum world, one benefit is balanced by one imprecation. The concluding line about blessing comes from the winning folks on one side of the equation.

Our Wiccan friends often conclude their psalms with a simple, “Blessed Be.”

If we are to talk about grace abounding, we need to find new ways to express ourselves that are not limited to a blessing of G*D without there also being a blessing of Self and Neighbor. As you proceed in this day, notice where your blessings come, how they are directed, and how they might be enlarged.

At General Conference today we ground out the last of the items with financial implications. Oh so many tangled webs we wove as money is so fundamentally tied up with worth and power in a capitalist system. The jockeying for position was its usual marvel to behold. From a distance, it’s almost funny. While in the middle of it, it is addictive to the extreme and emotions run high, voices crack, threats are made, the body is broken.

I’m not sure if there were any blessings today, other than the formal kinds. The word that came through most clearly to this listener was a young person calling others of their generation to begin working on a system that is more responsive in time than the accumulation of protections we have piled one on top of the next. Legislation for particular purposes eventually becomes a barrier to the very purposes it set out to address.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Acts 1:6-14

Easter 7 – Year A

Acts 1:6-14

Not knowing the time is endemic to life and yet we spend so much time trying to figure it out, to get a leg up, a foot in the door ahead of everyone else. So it is we find ourselves doing a lot of standing around trying to peer into the future when the future is being birthed by our actions in the present – and the future doesn’t look so good when it is based on anticipation instead of intentionality.

Somehow we have become distracted and do our future-casting rather than attend to the matters at hand. Part of this may be fear, but a good bit of it may simply be the laziness engendered by privilege.

At General Conference today there was a bit of a sea change. The religious-right was not able to hold their usual stranglehold on elections. While some of this is in the nature of a rhythm of change, it must be noted the years of faithful witness many progressives have made to reveal how a drive for power by the religious-right had supplanted their stated desire for renewal.

Several other votes signaled a new dynamic that may lead to better working together- as the diversity that was the disciples lived together in a single room. Of course we will have to see what tomorrow brings (nothing is beyond the attempt of folks who have felt power and now see it slipping from their grasp even as they pull all the old tricks out of every bag they know). But, for now, it is time to get on with life and stop standing around.

PS – on another time-related note, we cannot continue meeting from 8 am to after 11 pm with only meal breaks and expect that good decisions will be made. The opposite of standing and looking is having a nose to the grindstone. Neither serve well the health of a single body or a body of the whole.

John 17:1-11

Easter 7 – Year A

John 17:1-11

Here we find such a spinning of relationships that the face of G*D, Jesus, and ourselves become indistinguishable. Glory streams from afar and from within. Hours are glorified, as are people. Before creation and this present are as glorified as a future.

It is this blurring of cause and effect, foreground and background, which brings us to a sense of oneness that is protection at its deepest – an identity so deeply grounded and so elevated that there becomes an eternal aspect to each moment.

Assurance ceases to be a word – it is experienced. Assurance - we are not alone. Assurance - we are one, uno, ein, or any other similar understanding.

Everything is given and everything is received. The yins and yangs of life are actively balanced.

= = = = = = =

On this day the voting at General Conference begins in earnest. There has been some excellent work done in the legislative committees. For example, proposing to remove the dreaded words "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" from our Book of Discipline. We have come to similar positions in the past only to have them over-ruled in the plenary.

In conversation we can see how interconnected everything is and then we get to debate where code words and political blocks come into play. In losing this spinning interrelationship when "all means all", we divide ourselves into those privileged with grace and those undeserving of it.

As dense as this passage is, it is representative of the poetry of life.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Friendly Advocate

Easter 6 – Year A

A Friendly Advocate abides with you - whether you like it or not, whether you recognize it or not.

So it is my hope has been raised again. The presentations of new directions and worship experiences here at General Conference have been the best I’ve seen in many years of attending. In the past the grand rhetoric has not translated into gracious votes. The Young Peoples’ and Laity addresses were clearly different than we’ve heard before. Hopefully a cultural shift will further crack our seeming intractable fundamentalism of needing some social group to demonize. Just as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in just a moment, so might our mis-legislation on sexual/gender orientation. However, the beneath-the-surface tactics of the religious right have yet to surface regarding this and other issues waiting in the wings – adding transgender to homosexuality being incompatible with “Christian” teaching and immigration.

May a G*D still unknown to us, reveal yet one more resurrection. To reorient ourselves to life, rather than discrimination and death, would be worth making a joyful noise about.

So, what will today bring? Will it bring decisions to do no harm, to do good, to stay in love with G*D? Will we continue to divide G*D’s love up so we get more than our share (as though love came in shares)? Whichever way it appears, may we continue trusting that it will be more than worth it to pay attention to gentleness, reverence, and resurrection.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

1 Peter 3:13-22

Easter 6 – Year A

1 Peter 3:13-22

Sometimes we leave ourselves orphaned by not doing what we know we should or doing what is unhelpful. This is in many ways a worse kind of orphaning than that of being left by what we understood as family.

A key here is the universal issue of suffering. We will do almost anything to avoid it, including orphaning our better self. Both Jesus and Buddha ask us to both embrace and detach from suffering as it is in that impossible place of detached embrace that we find a new way through.

As we begin a new round of United Methodists in General Conference there appears to be some additional suffering ahead. The next days will clarify some of it. We’ll see if the ark continues to hold together or whether the offal of our accumulated traditions will finally sink us. More details in days to come.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Psalm 66

Easter 6 – Year A

Psalm 66

We are joyful based on our interpretation of being blessed.

What we see as good stuff – it has arrived. What we see as bad stuff – it has been avoided, rejected, redeemed.

In response to our perspective on events we set up rules and rituals to further our cause of garnering more good and side-stepping the bad.

We even go so far as to set up a god that will steadfastly love us so we can expect to be cared for and protected.

Imagine for a moment that there are folks who make joyful noises who do not automatically claim the reason for their joy is a god. Can this be? Seems so. How does this help us reshape our relationship with whatever god we have grown into?

Monday, April 21, 2008

John 14:15-21

Easter 6 – Year A

John 14:15-21

What are commandments after the commander has left? They are the commander's orphans.

Has the commander built the necessary trust with you for you to follow where the commander leads? If so, you are to care for the commander's orphans (commands).

Now imagine that the commandments are not simply words, but creation. Imagine further that they are condensed into yourself. You become the commander's orphan. A promise is that you will not remain orphaned, but fulfilled, matured, loved.

Eventually the commander is no longer on active duty. The commander's orphans, commands and followers, echo on.

Here is the revelation – the commander is resurrected in the orphan just like G*D is born in a manger. How lowly and how exalted is an orphan.

Here is the application – be bold to trust your orphans to bring to fruition your best intention.

Friday, April 18, 2008

new creations / come along

Easter 5 – Year A

new creations
come along regularly

once we thought
in the beginning
was everything made

with this settled
identify your place
settle in
sit and settle

even so along the way
hearts are troubled
uncertainly bubbles
toils and troubles

disappointed expectations
entitlement gone awry
focus is lost
belief is shaken

until a new word
and a new creation
is promised
and prepared

with this reorientation
we can get back to work
forgetting beliefs left behind
we do get back to work

living works that work
the work of belief
beyond belief
compassion anyway

Thursday, April 17, 2008

1 Peter 2:2-10

Easter 5 – Year A

1 Peter 2:2-10

One way of living is to be between a rock and a hard place. This is not a recommended place to find oneself. However, it is often a perception of where one is, but not a reality.

The flip side of this is to be a living stone wherever you are. With this oxymoron we can begin again.

Imagine supporting new life – a living stone can gather moss.

Imagine computer generated images and what Pixar could do with a living stone.

Imagine how this might be paralleled by a different phrase - a steadfast or compassionate lover.

Imagine a living stone, dismissing the idolatry of destiny, saying, "So sorry, here let me help you up so you can try life again," when someone stumbled across it.

Imagine the witness, "Once I was just a stone, now I'm a living stone, a merciful stone."

Imagine picking yourself up and skipping yourself across a pond setting off ripples of joy in the lives of others.

This image is originally said of Jesus, but as disciples setting out to follow a way leading to a transformation of the world, it is an image we might use for ourselves.

Let's form a band – Rolling Living Stones.

Let's recognize ourselves as members of Living Stone Congregation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Acts 7:55-60

Easter 5 – Year A

Acts 7:55-60

It isn't long after Jesus has promised good things, compassionate things, that his followers seem to have difficulty in remembering their own transformation and have as their operating principle, browbeating others into goodness.

Jesus and Stephen both die looking for better to come. However, their parting words, though similar, are miles apart.

I trust that Stephen's looking beyond those present to see glory was fulfilled. I can't help but wonder whether Jesus was able to see that glory while looking at those present in his final moments. Does this account for a difference in their forgiveness language? Stephen needing to already limit its use to a deliberate sin category and Jesus to recognize a universal such as ignorance?

I wonder what would happen if we didn't leave, "Lord, forgive . . ." until it is a final word. If we were to move it up in the conversation, would it change the dynamic? It is almost as though it is an afterthought that pales in comparison with what has gone before – like hating the sin, but loving the sinner.

At any rate, Saul is not convinced by Stephen's recounting of Saul's heritage or Stephen's spin on it. Sometime later a direct question from the sky becomes a bestowal of blessing, "How does what you are doing accord with an understanding of steadfast love (G*D), a.k.a., compassion?" Some can hear a straightforward statement of blessedness and others wait for a question before engaging it.

Stephen isn't ready to move to the deeper question of accountability, just blame, and I wonder where the church is today, or myself, or you? Is today's church more Stephen than Jesus?

Monday, April 14, 2008

John 14:1-14

Easter 5 – Year A

John 14:1-14

Last night I taped and watched the Compassion Forum sponsored by Faith in Public Life. My hope is that they will have the video available on their website. CNN may also have it available online or rerun it. At this point there are 93 exerpts of the event on You Tube (search for "compassion forum").

This Forum was a helpful step beyond our usual duality oriented, zero-sum-game decision-making. I hope there will be more of this. Even if not all that many people watch, they, at least, will be encourage to make a greater difference in changing the tone of our community conversations.

With that context, presume for the moment that we know where Jesus is going – faithfully living out his sense of being a Beloved of G*D and receiving whatever consequences come from such radical behavior. Now, what is the way to get to that end of faithful living for ourselves?

Compassion might be a key word to describe the "how" of Jesus. If so, that is his modeling of our way to arrive at appropriate expressions of our sense of being Beloveds of G*D.

Compassion becomes way, Compassion becomes truth. Compassion becomes life.

Compassion is preparing a place for those who follow in which they might participate in way/truth/life issues.

Compassion will also inform what it is we ask for in Jesus' name. It will cut out some of our askings, It will challenge us to engage our Belovedness with the world around us without dictating to it.

If you have an opportunity to see the debate and ignore the various spins and reportorial assessments, you may find specific applications of compassion that will call you forth to risk your Belovedness.

Friday, April 11, 2008

With or Without God

Easter 4 – Year A

With or Without God by Gretta Vosper looks like an interesting book. It raises another perspective in light of this week's scriptures - with or without a shepherd, with or without a sacrifice.

However would we cope without a god, shepherd, sacrificee?

Are these belief categories or lived ones?

1 Peter 2:19-25

Easter 4 – Year A

1 Peter 2:19-25

It is small comfort, but sometimes the only comfort there is, when we suffer for doing what is right – spreading table for enemies and being generous with family (note parallelism so enemies and family can be interchanged).

As the United Methodist Church approaches yet another General Conference, GLBTQ persons who have devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, still find themselves suffering within the family (which has turned enemy). There is no credible suggestion that this will change in 2008.

This is sad for our GLBTQ family members and it is sad because their continuing to be hospitable toward those who hurt them does not lead others to offer their goodwill toward the church who is hurting them. The result is that, day-by-day, we find more and more people not being added to the number of those finding new hope and health through the witness of Jesus (take a look at the drop in percentage of "christians" measured against the population).

It is time to no longer take Peter's advice about putting up with injustice, particularly for some false unity. He notes what Jesus didn't do but falls short on what Jesus did do – revealed in his body the injustice of the dominating system of state and religious institutions, was proactive in bonding community to itself as a non-blood-based family, and trusted his vision of being beloved when others did their best to humiliate him.

We are not called to be a single sheep led to the slaughter, but a union of blessed people doing what needs to be done even in the face of injustice.

Psalm 23

Easter 4 – Year A

Psalm 23

Partner to G*D, I separate want from need.
I take comfort in the midst of needs met and am deeply satisfied; restored even.
Together we make adjustments to our journey to Joy.
There have been doubts along the way, but also a willingness to proceed;
   for we are steadfastly together – strengthened.
Together we are hospitable to others, even enemies,
   and find assurance and peace.
Surely goodness and mercy are attainable today and tomorrow,
   as we walk together in this paradise creating new life from current life.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Acts 2:42-47

Easter 4 – Year A

Acts 2:42-47

High commitment groups are differentiated from those about them, have an identifiable task and process to meet such, and spend much time together. This description cuts across all theological and political and economic bases for a group.

They both need to be together in all things and to be able to show their values to others (at least as much as they can without captured in an adversarial setting). Without strong cohesion there is not an identity. Without public witness there is no growth.

This tension is always present and different groups, at different times in their life-cycle, choose where they are on the continuum of isolation to immersion. It has been feeling that it is time to focus on the internal commitment rather than the public. There are so many distractions and dilutions around and about, a new version of a monastery would be helpful. If you have a picture, let us all know.

There will come another time when we will be able to handle both ends of devotion and wonder-working, but our hubris in public, our collaboration with dominating power, needs a rest.

Monday, April 07, 2008

John 10:1-10

Easter 4 – Year A

John 10:1-10

A simple story about a shepherd walking up to a gate and it being opened by a gatekeeper is not as straight-forward as it might seem. Folks either find it too simple, there must be a trick to it somewhere, or so deep that there are too many layers to be clear about. At any rate, we will do well to be suspicious of this story, even as were the first hearers.

When questioned we begin to see that our first inclination to associate Jesus with a shepherd is too facile. Jesus identifies with a gate. Those who go through are alternately and mutually shepherds and sheep, nurtured and nurturing of one another and others.

This Gate of G*D is very close to the Logos/Word John begins with. Through this gate is everything created. We move back and forth between the womb and the world, the sheepfold and the pasture. Any who recognize the gate are welcome and have an easy way (remember your Pilgrim's Progress), those who do not come directly to the gate are thieving climbers. This is more about ourselves than the exclusivity of a Gate, which, like in Hell, is probably always open.

It is not that the gate is limiting, as this passage is sometimes interpreted, but expanding. To enter or leave through the gate is a transformative process moving a thief to a shepherd.

Think of other gateways: Peter Pan's second star to the right and straight on 'til morning, Narnia's wardrobe, the monolith in 2001, etc. What might be symbolized as a gateway in your life's experience? No, the answer isn't always Jesus. If you like, what has been your gateway to G*D? If you still want to say, "Jesus," what led you to Jesus?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Holy Encouragement

Easter 3 – Year A

In his "Reader's Companion" at the end of The Gospel of Gabriel: A Life of Jesus the Christ", Edward Hays has this note on the importance of the rest of Easter Day, not just the morning –

"The radical church, the church of social, liturgical and religious reform, has been called the fastest dying church in the world, says Ched Myers. It is rare to see the enthusiasm and hope of the early years of the second half of the twentieth century, which abounded with zestful renewal in the life of the church and a desire for ecumenical unity. Weariness and sadness burden many servants, as well as members of the church. This weariness is not just due to overwork, but is more a measure of what afflicted the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the loss of hope. Myers says, 'The radical discipleship movement today is beleaguered and weary. So many of our communities…(that have tried) to integrate the pastoral and prophetic, resistance and contemplation…are disintegrating…. The gravity exerted by imperial culture's seductions, deadly mediocrities, and deadly codes of conformity pull our aspirations plummeting down. The ability of metropolis to either crush or co-opt movements of dissent seems inexhaustible.' See Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 455. The twin Emmaus sacraments of the breaking of the bread and holy encouragement need to be celebrated together frequently by disciples so that Jesus' work of making all things new can continue." (p. 379)

Has much changed in the twelve years since this book was published? My sense is that there isn't quite the angst that there was in the "radical church", but I'm not convinced that there is much in the way of evidence that it is much revived (though there are some bits and pieces in research such as The Practicing Congregation that suggest renewal). It may simply be that folks have finally given up a win/lose perception and moved to one of "radical discipleship", faithfulness in the moment, whether one wins or loses.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

1 Peter 1:17-23

Easter 3 – Year A

1 Peter 1:17-23

Destined from long ago and yet not revealed. So runs a description of Jesus and each one of us.

In this in-between time we find the basics of hope and trust are constituent elements that combine and recombine in a multitude of ways with the common experiences we have – common as in O-so-usual and common to our various interconnections.

So we find ourselves born and reborn along any number of routes from here to there. Every journey is an Emmaus journey, just waiting for trust dashed to return in hope and vice versa.

The day's journey, ever so short in distance is so long in ending. May peace attend us along the way until we awake again, turn again, and go on humming and singing.

It is so easy for this deeper journey to be short-circuited by such suspicious things as precious blood and contrived perfection in some artificial obedience. May we move into and past the limitations of deeds marking our worth.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Psalm 116

Easter 3 – Year A

Psalm 116

"What can I give back to God for the blessings poured out on me?"

Good question.

Suggestions begin with a toast to G*D and moving on to being honest enough to do what we say we will do.

In this we have echoes of loving G*D (acts of piety) and loving neighbor (acts of mercy).

Now comes the difficult part of making these generalities manifest in our time, in our life. What one thing will you intentionally do this week to express thanks toward G*D? What one thing will you concretely do this week to express thanks from G*D toward another?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Acts 2:14-41

Easter 3 – Year A

Acts 2:14-41

Verse 24:

[NRSV] But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power."

[NIV] But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

[KJV] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

[CEV] But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.

[MESSAGE] But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.

[TEV] But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner.

And so the confusion between G*D and Jesus continues – to whom does each pronoun refer? While it may seem here that G*D is the actor who raised Jesus, it is the raised one who becomes the focus throughout the rest of the passage.

This ambivalence about actor/actee also allows a question about why baptism is the appropriate response to G*D's power to raise?

We can look back to see that baptism was a volitional choice that began Jesus' ministry, just as Moses response to a burning bush was volitional. How many other ministry starts are there and why do we get trapped into particular symbolizing of those starts?

I still remember the story of a pastoral acquaintance who heard his call, "I want you to serve me" and only had the experience to interpret that call in terms of ordained ministry. Many years later they thought that perhaps their interpretation was too narrow, that service is a pretty broad category, and it may be time to find another service opportunity.

Peter exhorted folks to save themselves from their "corrupt generation" when it was exactly that generation that Jesus engaged. Baptism, here begun as psychic or spiritually coerced symbolism, will later kill many so many others would simply become baptized, as differentiated from raised.

Yes, shared symbols are important, but they are also limiting. Ahh, to have the wisdom to know the difference.

God grant me the power to accept the baptisms I cannot avoid; to challenge any forced baptism coming my way; and to have the wisdom to know the difference.