Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Psalm 147

Christmas 2 - Year C

Psalm 147

Next year, the Sunday after Christmas, we will hear again Rachel wailing in Ramah. At what point in Rachel's experience would she have found this psalm to resonate?

Would she need to hear it before she wailed that it might be background to all else?

Is she able to sing it along with laments during a slaughter of innocents? (Remember your response to this includes the "collateral damage" done to children on this very day, even though we may not hear about it, by poverty in any city in the proverbial richest country of the world and by that same country's army and bombs in far off countries. Can you sing this psalm today?)

Will she only be able to join this psalm at some future time similar to Job two-fold restoration?

For the moment I am tired of bragging up G*D. How might we better work together for a common good and commonwealth? These boom and bust cycles are wearing us out.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Christmas 2 - Year C

Jeremiah 31:7-14

We do like underdogs to pull out a win at the end. Jeremiah's tale is similar to other parts of a larger story. There is a lot of praise when the tables are turned and refugees return home.

As we continue on we might expect that praise will go to our heads and we will think that God is on our side, no matter what. Our praise and pride will falter and fall. Off we go to experience another lesson, whether learning eventuates or not. Hopefully, as part of a larger group story, we'll figuratively return.

There is nothing in the praise that helps us with the practical business of living day-to-day. In many ways it distracts us.

Let's presume a new start is being made. Block out the congratulations for a moment. What is a practical step that might help. This coming Sunday I'm preaching off-lectionary at a UU Fellowship about "One and All: A Consensus Approach". Might intentionality in this arena help get us out of the boom and bust cycles we have had through religious history? I wouldn't and couldn't claim it to be a guarantee as consensus processes can be blocked, but it is a helpful tool that needs more attention.

What would a consensus process look like between G*D and you and yours and others? How would it differ from the praise emphasis of this pericope? It's not too late in the week to get some input to me. Thanks.

Monday, December 28, 2009

John 1:1-18

Christmas 2 - Year C

John 1:1-18

Are you enlightened yet? Surely you must be for "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (verse 9) and the implication of the scripture is that such a true light not only was coming, but has come into the world. So surely you must be enlightened.

Have you stumbled over your own feet again? What happened to that enlightenment?

The world around you gone awry? What happened to that enlightenment?

Again and again our G*D-begottenness has bumped into our blood-begottenness, flesh-begottenness, sex-begottenness (as The Message puts it) and been forgotten in the melee of begottennesses.

Welcome back to a new beginning spot with darkness hovering. As you go about your cultural business of planning a resolution or two, it will be helpful to choose one that realistically takes in all these different aspects of begottenness. If you are simply choosing a resolution on a meta-Word level, disappointment will come quickly enough. The more aspects of yourself you take into account the longer that disappointment will be put off (but not entirely, remember John's question after awhile - are you really who we once thought you were?).

Are you enlightened enough, yet, to question your enlightenment? If not all this high christology will catch you again having thought all was cared for rather than all still growing, falling and rising, evening and morning.

Friday, December 25, 2009

an absent gift

Christmas 1 - Year C

every year we look to be
returned to Jerusalem
every year we go
to Jerusalem

expecting something new
expecting no change
expecting to be surprised
by no surprise

returning home
no change
but then

in such absence
we return to Jerusalem
with intent
and in tension

no longer caught
on dilemma's horns
we listen
we question

and we find
larger questions
deeper listening
new searching

binding us together
in wisdom

Christmas Day

Christmas Day - Year C

John 1:1-8
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-12

Going through a long line of prophets, G*D addressed our ancestors in different ways in different times. Recently G*D spoke directly to us through You. [Hebrews 1:1-2]

You have sung a new song of wonder: wonder that righteousness and fairness are still possible. [Psalm 98:1, 9]

This beautiful song of yours scampers across mountain ranges, echoing from friend to friend. Nothing can hold it back. Peace/Salvation/Wholeness are the comfort, the strength, you offer. [Isaiah 52:7-10]

So it has been from the beginning. Word and G*D and G*D and Word dance new beginnings through a present You. This Word and G*D and You brighten every darkness for in You is Life and this Life is Light. Witness. [John 1:1-7]

- - -

Bonus Material: A Christmas Wish

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve - Year C

Luke 2:1-20
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14

It doesn't matter if there was actually a census or not. An intent to register in order to dominate is sufficient. This was the state of the world - regimented. Was?

Into this legalization comes a child (coming through its mother's line - read Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis by Savina Teubal and extrapolate from there) a-lying in a manger. This swaddled child of a matriarch is a sign of a new way of doing business. From this generalized description of a child and a manger there is heard a far off hymn of new creation come close enough to make out the words, "Glory . . . Peace." [Luke]

Of course our tendency is to take this antiestablishmentarianism of a manger child capable of throwing a wrench into the gears of registrations and to turn it into the opposite of what we have experienced. Hooray, I get to be in charge. And, of course, that will bring with it grand titles and an assumption of knowing what is just and righteous. How many times has that turned sour on us. [Isaiah]

If we don't take that direct approach to overthrowing the regimenters, we sit back and sing a song of an active God - great and greatly to be praised. It won't be long before the pie in the sky sets everything right and treats everyone fairly. Keep singing those carols. [Psalm]

And didn't you just know the catch to all this is blood atonement. G*D's readiness to give and forgive demands sacrifice. A simple baby in a manger must become God and Savior and dead before being effective. [Titus]

Perhaps we simply need to go back to a baby, any baby. It is urge to birth that brings the light back, a return of complex justice, a continually new song, and giving and forgiving. Look behind an aborted, a stillborn, a genetically compromised, a socially untenable, a healthy birth - any - each is a sign to us in the darkness - fecundity pushes onward. Now we can even claim our birth and the weird way our journey has been woven as a sign in the darkness. May we release the Glory within to become the Peace around and about.

The angels have returned from whence they came, leaving you and me, baby signs. Ready, set, go! [Wesley]

Colossians 3:12-21

Christmas 1 - Year C

Colossians 3:12-21

First be swaddled with compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and patient discipline.

First swaddle others with compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and patient discipline.

Yes, that is two "first's". Most of us will find one first will takes priority over the other. Some can't give until they receive. Others can't receive until they give. We can get to both from either direction. Enjoy your process.

With verse 12 under our belts, we can leave the following redundancies to themselves and not get caught up in the subsequent "oughts".

It's good to know that this way of living can come out of a doo-doo manger mess or an event in your life today. Whether echoing from long ago and far away or brightly singing forth in this new moment, swaddle and be swaddled.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Tipping Point

In the midst of the busy of a season that can drive anyone coo-coo, comes this poem near the end of the author's life and yet still looking to participate in a next birthing. May you take a breath and remember to be present where you are.

- - -

The Tipping Point

Pray I say
Inside your heart work hard
Send light send love where it is needed

You be the loving presence
On the job at home
Right here right now

We are so small against this quaking earth
Prayer does not guarantee our safety or theirs
Prayer guarantees only that we are connected

Not alone but related most truly to over there
Where they prepare for God knows what and right here
Where the unthinkable just might happen to

Us or someone dear I need your prayer
To hold me as I choose to hold you and yours and
Them over there and the planet entire in my heart

I think somewhere in the mind of God there may be
A line marking enough prayers enough right doing and
Who knows but that we might be almost there so pray

I need your prayers and mine to help me see
What of love needs doing here and now
And I have great hope that if we truly pray and do

The weight of all our loving might finally bring our world
To that sought for tipping point which lets us roll at last
Toward peace on earth.

(This poem was written by Rosemary Ix Morgan of Amherst, Massachusetts, a friend of a colleague. She is dying and has entered hospice.)

Psalm 148

Christmas 1 - Year C

Psalm 148

What is your horn? Your power?

Is it external to you, raised, for you?

Is it internal to you, growing in wisdom and stature, in stature and favor with G*D?

Celebrate all of creation operating from its source of power (rejoicing, praising) and remember to do the same - basing your praising and rejoicing on your power, your growth your gifts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Christmas 1 - Year C

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Yes, it is good to know that Samuel and Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with G*D while also increasing their stature and years. Life-long learning is a good thing. This is good iconography - attributing all good things to our heroes (like Tiger Woods before his tumbles in the hay and from advertiser gold). What we are often missing is the balancing material elided from this passage. It is helpful to hear what not to do as well as the generalized things to do. It helps sharpen our moral judgment.

Remember again the sons of Eli as a contrast to Samuel. Whether or not you buy G*D's desire to kill the sons of Eli, thus blocking their hearing, their understanding of the difficulty of sticking to a better way, their living for themselves alone was about to come tumbling down.

Simply hearing how wonderful the wonderful are doesn't give much guidance about following. And simply hearing how there are consequences for actions doesn't keep us from pushing boundaries.

Together we can keep encouraging and correcting one another to find those practical steps to move from where we are to a better spot. Blessings to us all as we continue to work with one another that our births might not just promise good to come, but actually be continually trained in that direction.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Luke 2:41-52

Christmas 1 - Year C

Luke 2:41-52

Note the change between verse 46 and 47.

In verse 46 Jesus is listening and asking questions. In verse 47 he evidences some understanding and is answering questions.

There is a sense in which every question contains and idea, an answer, and so there isn't much difference here. We could be looking at an example of parallelism.

We may also be looking at teaching to the test - all that matters is getting a certain percentage of currently correct answers. One way around this is to focus on responses, not answers. Responses help set a context and keep an openness to new information.

However, this is more likely to be the beginning of Jesus' loyal opposition to the state of affairs within the religious community of his time and space. As such, the questions of verse 46 have a definite priority over the answers of verse 47.

Those questions of Jesus are not restricted to a religious sphere. They expand to his parents and by extension will go to the political rulers as well. They even extend to your life and mine. "Why would you search for me?", asks Jesus. "Where have you looked and to what avail?"

More and more folks are searching for G*D stuff anywhere but in church. This is probably attributable to the church's reliance upon verse 47 and the giving of answers that no longer meet up with the questions being put to it by its loyal opposition or outsiders. May we get back to Jesus and ask questions of today's religious bodies. If they can't take it, they will fade while the questioners will increase in wisdom and in years.

- - -

Speaking of loyal opposition, a book by that title is still a valuable read.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Luke 1:39-55

Advent 4 - Year C

Luke 1:39-55

[I have recently been trying to organize seven years plus of comments. Yes, it is like trying to herd cats. In the absence of another inspiration, here is a reprised and editied note from 2003.]

- - -

What boldness! My soul, yes, my soul, magnifies the Lord.

Oh, I know this is supposed to be about G*D, but can you begin to imagine the difference it would make if your very life was seen by you as clarifying the presence of G*D. This is the life of Jesus, he showed us a close-up view of G*D. It wasn't about Jesus, but his showing G*D, magnifying G*D, revealing G*D already present, even if beyond the current eyes of our work-a-day world.

This is Mary work, this is Jesus work, this is your work and my work.

When we magnify G*D for those in power, they finally catch on that they are not as big as they thought they were. When we magnify G*D for those out of power, they finally catch on that they are of much more worth than they thought they were.

Consider for a few seconds, what does it mean to magnify G*D? Have you seen that as your job description. How would it be for the church to simply imitate Jesus' self-avowed task to help us see G*D much closer than we had thought possible, to magnify G*D?

Let us join Elizabeth, Mary, John, and Jesus in magnifying G*D so all can see, so all can repent of their supposed grandness or their ill-conceived notion of worthlessness, so all might experience the largesse of mercy, finally, mercy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hebrews 10:5-10

Advent 4 - Year C

Hebrews 10:5-10

Yeah, yeah - sacrifices aren't what are desired so a bigger sacrifice is what is needed and gets instituted. Talk about escalation! Sort of like no more flood, but fire next time.

So how do we get past our experiences that keep redefining the present in terms of the past?

About all there is left is a bit of dream, a smidgen of vision, a dollop of hope. For a traditional Sunday of Joy there hasn't been much to shout about other than a commitment to continue blessing, no matter what. So, let's get on with it. Whether our dreams are smashed, our vision disappointed, our hope depleted - send out a blessing rather than a intermediary sacrifice. It may return seven-fold or it may simply be a good to do that was actually done.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Advent 4 - Year C

Psalm 80

"To everything turn, turn, turn - there is a season."

"Turn, turn - till by turning we come round right."

By one tune we wait our turn. By another we do the difficult work of simplifying.

Here we appeal to G*D to turn and turn again until our lives are righted. This is a waiting on our part and a working on G*D's part. Behold, another fine example of having our cake and eating it, too.

Imagine how this psalm would be different were the action to be the other way around, G*D waits while we turn round.

Imagine how this psalm would be different if we participated with G*D in the waiting and the turning, appropriately timed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Micah 5:1-5

Advent 4 - Year C

Micah 5:1-5

Oh, yeah? Well my little brother can take out your whole clan! So There!

That is one way to read the power of "the least". It is not the most helpful approach, but it does seem to be a go-to position in most cultures.

This is not the ascension of the youngest, Jacob, Joseph, David which comes as a surprise, every time. This is an intentional insult.

The power of the least comes out of its triggering of our memory, a surprise. We have become so accustomed to prestige being associated with the richest and biggest that have made ourselves immune to this sort of surprise. We keep forgetting to look in all the dusty corners for our next hope and only keep our eye on the entertaining flash in the center. May we not try to console ourselves by trying to predict a particular small becoming the biggest. We usually miss the real question and surprising resolution.

Of course this is a convenient passage to use to proof-text David's kingly return and Jesus' divine birth (ahh, the divine right of kings), but without that wrenching of the text for a power purpose, there is not much new here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Luke 1:39-45, (46-56)

Advent 4 - Year C

Luke 1:39-45, (46-56)

How do you know a Spirit Holy lives within? - - - when, no matter who shows up, for whatever reason, you respond to them, "Blessed are you among humans, and blessed is the fruit of your life. How has this happened to me, that such a blessed one crosses my journey? As soon as I heard the whisper of your presence, my hope and joy rose."

This response can awaken even more blessing in a visitor as you continue, "Blessed are you who believe you are fulfilling the best put before you."

Having set the stage with this neighborly confirmation and blessing we wait. Will this blessing clarify a direction soon or late? Will we see such a blessing built upon before our eyes or become another invisible building block to be harvested by another?

Rejoice when those who receive a blessing are able to respond in awareness, "My soul is magnified, my spirit rejoices in being lifted up. All who meet me will meet a blessing of mercy in action."

It may be important to spend more time on working out the fears and ramifications that come with this sort of blessing. If so, three months or three years, will be well invested.

Friday, December 11, 2009

sandal theology

Advent 3 - Year C

foundations are shaking
altars cause limping
rough beasts slouch forward

escape routes yearned for
legal outs searched out
who do we bribe

traditions are appealed to
personal deus ex machina prayed for
politicians invested with fascist efficiency

Wilderness John channels prophets
to speak simplicity
in the face of chaos

share with those worse off
work only to principality's rule
no power entitled injury

such commonwealth basics
raise expectations
unrealistically high

come back to earth
with sandal theology
untie them and dance

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Philippians 4:4-7

Advent 3 - Year C

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoicing and Gentleness often feel miles apart. There is a sense that rejoicing and celebrating relate to a specific victory of some sort and is on the edge of turning into a soccer mob. Gentleness, brings a sense of community organizing, being on the side of the injured, working with them and not against them, and has a willingness to fail and not be in immediate charge of the situation.

They need one another and when they draw nigh together it is a sign of the Presence of G*D.

Have you recognized the digital nature of our interpretations? If we aren't rejoicing, we must be mourning. If we aren't gentle, we must know it all.

Now, if we could just delete verse 6 because gentle rejoicing recognizes the flow of life, there are things of concern, and not even thanksgiving can redeem some prayers. Then we might better focus on the Peace-of-G*D Jesus experienced and lived out of. The result will be a bringing together of our hearts (rejoicing) and our minds (gentleness).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Isaiah 12:2-6

Advent 3 - Year C

Isaiah 12:2-6

Without verse 1 we lose an important perspective of timing.

I appreciate The Jewish Study Bible noting these verses (1-6) are, "A song of thanksgiving to be recited in the ideal age." While we can certainly play with these words in our current less than ideal time and can even attempt to live as though they are already true, there are some things that can't be known until their time - long-term relationships and children are two easy examples and you may have others according to your experience in other fields.

Here is the translation from The Jewish Study Bible:

In that day, you shall say:
"I give thanks to You, O Lord!
Although You were wroth with me,
Your wrath has turned back and You comfort me,
Behold the God who gives me triumph!
I am confident, unafraid;
For Yah the Lord is my strength and might [or song],
And He has been my deliverance."

Joyfully shall you draw water
From the fountains of triumph,
And you shall say on that day:
"Praise the Lord, proclaim His name.
Make His deeds known among the peoples;
Declare that His name is exalted.
Hymn the Lord,
For He has done gloriously;
Let this be made known
In all the world!
Oh, shout for joy,
You who dwell in Zion!
For great in your midst
Is the Holy One of Israel."

- - -

May you not be wrothed upon and may you hymn G*D and Neighbor and One Another and Enemy.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Advent 3 - Year C

Zephaniah 3:14-20

The word of a prophet moves from damning to joy. One tendency is to separate these into two different states - G*D's disappointment and punishment; G*D's satisfaction and renewal. Another way to approach this is to note that both are present in every present. This competition seems to be within G*D as well as between G*D and creation/creatures.

For this moment, though, presume that you have an equal choice between organizing your time, energy, and resources toward not being condemned or being cared for.

To begin, can you imagine them being equally balanced so it is your choice as to which you will live out of? Which do you think/feel will bring the biggest bang for your investment of time, energy, and resources? Then, go that way.

I expect that most of us don't experience these as equal choices. Our predilection is to try to figure out methods to escape a wrath to come or to blithely follow our bliss. Whether these biases come from nature or nurture, there seems to be a leaning one way or the other. It is too easy to name this pessimism or optimism as the distinction probably runs back into the temptations of the gods or G*D to wrestle with disappointment and satisfaction, punishment and renewal.

Since this is football season, I can remember back to when many players were both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I, myself, played end both ways. These days it is exceptional to find someone able to play both offense and defense. So, if G*D's disappointment and punishment are what energize you to live better, stay on the defensive side of the ball, protecting your goal. If G*D's satisfaction and renewal are what energize you, stay on the offensive team, pushing toward your goal. (Yes, "goal" here is the same line.)

At this point in Zephaniah's report, we are encouraged to consider going on the offensive and see what that means for our time, energy, and resources, even in the midst of all the potential disappointments floating around and ready to engage us. See, G*D is for you; who and what are you for?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Luke 3:7-18

Advent 3 - Year C

Luke 3:7-18

The deal here is not to flee from that which you are trying to avoid - wrath to come based on who I have become - future consequences for past actions. No, turn into that fearful place and be kind to yourself and your web-footed friends.

This kindness will show up in the equality of sustainability (the rich with twice what they need will not continue so because it would require those who have less than half they need to have even less). Kindness will appear with a willingness to not claim the usual perks of your familial/social/economic position (entitlement, for any old reason at all, comes in many guises). This kindness is also an antidote for power (a satisfied mind will be recognized for the blessing it is).

Beyond all that, turning from wrath will also show up with a gift of service. John needed to address his own station as well as that of a crowd, a tax collector, or a soldier. His encounter with G*D that led him to wilderness crying was not to privilege him. He is only to soften hard-hearted soil with a gift of water so a sealed seed of wholeness can finally sprout. His privilege is to do the difficult work of clarifying unrecognized need and beginning its journey to joy.

You don't have to be a Messiah or a Messiah-in-Waiting before you can join with Wilderness John in simply clarifying a deep need in the situation of life and pointing beyond a sprout to a fruit. In this small way your appreciation of the Presence of G*D will set in motion good news.

Friday, December 04, 2009

heard or not

Advent 2 - Year C

how bad can it get!
set up your own equivalents
Caesar Tiberius
Pontius Pilate
Herod Philip Lysanias
Annas Caiaphas

how good can it get!
Wilderness John
and you
one voice
added to one voice
crying out danger

so come messengers
of forgiveness
blessed and blessing
praying love overflow
compassion be revealed
consequences be acknowledged

whether heard or not
messengers come
loving much
loving well
learning more love
simply alive

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Philippians 1:3-11

Advent 2 - Year C

Philippians 1:3-11

If we shift "the day of Christ" to today, verses 9-10 take on a different cast.

"And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and understanding to help you determine what is needed." [WRV]

That may be all that is necessary to say. All the rest of the pure and blameless talk about harvesting righteousness can be derived from this, but it is all too easy to fall into the trap of setting up shoulds and oughts about being measured against some ideal purity instead of letting it come of its own accord as we deal with the situations before us.

May you know you are being prayed for to link your love and your decision-making.
May you so pray for others.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Luke 1:68-79

Advent 2 - Year C

Luke 1:68-79

When filled with a Holy Spirit we find ourselves blessing one and all. We bless G*D (you have done that recently, haven't you?) and find what we thought was one specific blessing has become universal as well.

Being in G*D's image we find we are blessed and blessing, as well. Look again at verses 78 and 79 and see if this revision works as a self-awareness: "By my tender mercy, dawn enters darkness and guides us to peace."

Eventually we find that we can't bless G*D without blessing our neighbors as our selves or our enemies. May your tender mercy bless many this day and all days.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Malachi 3:1-4

Advent 2 - Year C

Malachi 3:1-4

"Malachi" means messenger. Might you adopt that as your middle name?

There are various traditions equating the messenger with Ezra (a Levitical renewal) and with Elijah (a prophetic covenant tradition). On the whole, we view the impetus for a messenger is more prophetic than priestly even though more words are given to the priestly option.

To follow in the train of such a messenger as Malachi is to accept the power that has been given to remember a covenant of relationship that has been broken but can be restored. This power is to focus on that which heals and restores. The brokenness has had us reeling and when such a message is acknowledged the dizzy whirl finally falls down. Now we can rebalance and aid one another to stand again.

May you be a Malachi of covenant renewal and leave the refining of others to the energy behind such a messenger.