Thursday, September 27, 2012

James 5:13-20

Pentecost +18 - Year B

James 5:13-20

This passage makes it easy to confuse what it attempts to clarify.

What is not clear is the distinction between “suffering” and “sick”. Our tendency is to equate these.

Suffering is affliction from the outside and this falls in the great prophetic tradition of dealing with evil as a systemic reality, with a falling away from best community practices. Prayer, here is not a quietism. Note the example given of Elijah and the elements. Why was drought seen as a result of prayer? or rain? It was to address systemic injustice arising as a result of breaking communal care (think Ahab and Jezebel). Prayer is an open-eyed engagement with the principalities and powers. We do prayer an injustice in making it a solitary appeal for a deus ex machina to be engaged. Prayer is bold and confrontative. Prayer is not head-bowed petition as much as an in-your-face claim or affirmation.

While being sick can be too easily equated with a lack of faith, it is in contrast to suffering by its internal orientation—something we do to ourselves (even if expressed as hurting another) and its source is from the inside out. Here we look to models of community that elders and shamans from every culture engage to reset a person’s relationships that bring meaning and strength. Here, too, prayer is active, is anointing, dancing, purging, etc.

A grand model responding to both is restorative justice. That which harms others, be it systemic or personal, can be redeemed, restored. It is this restoration that measures prayer.

If we had these two better paralleled we might better see their connections and distinctions.

A difficulty or possibility in making this connection lies with how we engage blessings. How does song parallel prayer?

Were I advising James on his letter, I would ask for another word or two about prayer and singing. This expansion might unpack deeds entrusted to reset broken relationships/covenants. This extension might clarify faithful work that engages not only past contracts but new potentials arising out of subsequent experiences.

As we continue to learn more about insides and outsides, prayers and psalms, hopes and dreams — lift up your voice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Psalm 124

Pentecost +18 - Year B

Psalm 124

It is so easy to feel the world is against us. Evidence piles on evidence that this is a dangerous place. No wonder we focus on original sin and displace a dangerous outside situation to be our self-image of sinner worm.

Then, when we sneak by some particular difficulty, we return to the outside and claim some external force intervened (having claimed our evil nature, we can’t blatantly turn around and claim we conquered). Hooray for G*D who left us alone long enough to feel endangered and then came back to be acclaimed.

For the moment consider your weakness and G*D’s strength.

Having duly considered, what happens if weakness and strength were more closely aligned with all parts of the system within which we find ourselves? You have weaknesses, you have strength. G*D has weaknesses (why else would periodic repentance be self-reported?) as well as strengths.

Now, re-write this Psalm in light of a deeper partnership.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

Pentecost +18 - Year B

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

The story of Herod, Salome, and John the Baptist, with Herodias orchestrating from the side, has nothing on the story of Ahasuerus, Esther, and Haman, with Mordecai pulling strings off-stage. Were Haman’s kin to tell this story it may well have Haman honored as a martyr.

In some of the missing verses (7:7-8), we have a direct encounter between Esther and Haman. What were Esther’s options at this point? Why take the one she did?

These questions remind us of the options we have, but often don’t consider. We also bring back to mind that decisions have several components to them, only some of which are we aware. Hopefully these will aid us in finding a way to feast simply to feast and to be merciful simply to be merciful, not to either show off our wealth or commemorate and sweeten the bitterness of revenge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mark 9:38-50

Pentecost +18 - Year B

Mark 9:38-50

“Someone missed a comma in our authorized orthodoxy! Off with their head!”

So immature disciples react before the individual components of a larger teaching have connected with one another into a nuanced whole larger than the sum of its parts.

At stake is not who is exactly for us or against us, but the connection of folks to deeper powers than they can claim for themselves. Regardless of motivation, whether it comes from one religious tradition or another or none, a blessing is a blessing and receives yet more blessing.

To put a stumbling block in front others based on one’s limited experience is to reduce the value of gifts, including one’s own. When one gift is discounted it turns out that all are reduced. Gifts, like common-wealth, depend on a matrix of gifts that enhance the environment in which they operate.

Consider a list of gifts from Romans 12: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, and Mercy.

Try prophecying in a culture that does not value teaching carefully considered relationships between categories of life and you’ll see your gift is bound to be relegated to the weird or witchcraft. Exhortation without modeled service based on it turns anything said into pious mouthings and outmoded creedal responses to glimpses of a new heaven and earth. Giving and Mercy unconnected to Leadership reduces giving and mercy to personalized charity bandaids rather than going to the heart of systems to stop hurt being done in the first place and turns our concept of leadership into variations of patriarchy where a few know what’s best for all.

In some sense we don’t get this gift of multiplication without going through difficulties that offer the possibility of seeing beyond the limits of simply addding one cultural platitude to another and glimpsing a better-seasoned life by applying an appropriate tool or gift (mine or someone else's) in a given situation.

Nurture an internal refining fire based on a basic question, “Why not?” and you’ll find a new appreciation for renewal through encounters with “others”. Your gifts will enhance others and their gifts will enhance yours. Now we have a basis for choosing peace together. Peace based on a widening and deepening of gifts is not sweet and ideal, but savory and practical.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a

Pentecost +17 - Year B

James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a

Interesting how inversions cast an important light on on-going realities.

It is one thing to suggest that envy and selfish ambition come from within and purity and gentility are from some far off place.

It is quite another to posit that creation is good and that when we lose track of the elements of everyday life by fantasizing power, plotting wealth, and competing unfairly we are dealing with external idolatries.

If we were to stand this apology for external goodness on its head we may be able to end on a different note — Draw near to your created intention and gift and you draw near to G*D as well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Psalm 1

Pentecost +17 - Year B

Psalm 1

It is not necessary to posit wicked people or sinners as a source of human difficulty. All that is needed is to consider our everyday responses toward getting more. In particular we are intrigued with getting enough power to be able to get our way. Whether two or teen or troubled (and who isn’t), we fantasize about getting what we want when we want it.

Shorthand: we want to be the greatest, we want to prosper just by sitting by a river of wealth.

What does this everday desire have to do with equality, with honoring the disadvantaged?

Well, not too much.

Regarding a righteous/prosperous connection, there is never enough proof that we are either. When righteousness is equated with prosperity, our energy goes to gaining more, not giving more. This is as good a measurement of the meaning of life as we are going to get, so heed it well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Proverbs 31:10-31

Pentecost +17 - Year B

Proverbs 31:10-31

A good and capable wife/woman is hard to find. This starting point makes it difficult to have any but a periodic female exemplar. It excuses much even as it is usually perceived as an accolade.

This proverb is testament to women having to work more than twice as hard to simply hold on to half the respect simply due any person.

Focus here on verses 23 and 31. Husbands/men can be counted among the public deciders simply because they are male. Wives/women show their competency and yet there is only a recommendation that they find personal praise sufficient, rather than public decision-making. Here it is recommended that she have a living wage for communal/household work (any work) and be electable/respected in the marketplace of ideas. Recommendations here are pats on the back rather than actual partnership in community affairs.

All the praises here heaped upon women turn out to be flattery, not serious participation in the decisions of life. And patriarchy, expressed today as capitalism, continues, co-opting women and children and poor men. G*D have mercy and help us see ourselves as we are seen so some modicum of hope might be held out for moving on from this stuck place.

Mark 9:30-37

Pentecost +17 - Year B

Mark 9:30-37

And again we find ourselves in a normal state of affairs - going on from “there”. It is helpful to leave “there” for leaving “here” is always difficult. Our attachements here grow quickly and deep.

Even further, we find that we are not only leaving “there” but doing so on the sly.

Jesus needn’t have worried about being quite up-front about his view of the disaster headed his way - death and destruction which will turn from conflict to celebration. This is never something folks take to easily. Denial runs strong in our DNA - Don’t kNow Anything.

Not only is this such a foreign approach, to head directly for the crux of the matter, where the most heat is, it is beyond foreign — invisible and unable to be asked about.

Instead of wrestling with this meta-view, folks distracted themselves the way we often do, conversing about power, drawing straws for a favored position. Americans do the same every two, four, or six years with the distraction of voting rather than looking at what is coming down the pike. We may have missed the violence at the beginning of an Industrial Age, but we seem to be moving toward it at a rapid pace, here at the end of the Age. The environment has been raped and the poor also. Children have not been been welcomed to their future, only to a past empty of all but financial profit. The gulf between G*D and Mammon has grown exponentially.

May this time of transition be a “there” soon left as we decide to not argue among ourselves, but rise, throw off chains of death and enslavement and move forward to occupy community resources for the larger community.

Friday, September 14, 2012

a humble butt

Pentecost +16 - Year B

we are in life together
agreeing or not
we are interacting
caring or not
we are connected

who then am I
a projection
of the whole
defined by parentage
or tribe or peers

who then am I
with both a persona
and a person
bound together

you get first crack
at defining me
but be tentative
and gentle
it is too easy to be narrow

I get another crack
at positioning myself
with assertion
and affirmation
it is too easy to be narrowed

after cracking together
it is usually time
to back away
to re-engage
or better consider

our goat-selves would
butt and butt again
when humility would ask
room to recognize gifts
and applaud their use

for encouraging support
for course correction
both gift my gift

for challenge
you're welcome
for extension
you're welcome
my gift at work

now who am I
who are you
more than imagined
less than needed

Thursday, September 13, 2012

James 3:1-12

Pentecost +16 - Year B

James 3:1-12

Why should a select few be known as teachers? This begins to rank and thus to breakdown the value of gifts given by one spirit or to enforce an economic ranking of them. Surely value is not based on being judged with a greater strictness. If we begin to vary the strictness or flexibility of gifts usage, what little community we have falls further apart.

A better clue is given with the example of a forked tongue that can shift in a moment from praise to blame. Teachers have a weird ability to parcel out encouragement and beckoning forward in a variety of styles to meet the resistances of those willing to learn with them. Teachers also have an ability to refrain from speaking more than they know.

So many of us want to be perceived as wise and so we make up things when asked about what we don't know. Speculation and over-parsing nuance make up so much of our time together. Even when asked about what we do know we get so wrapped up in our explanations that we lose track of who asked a question and whether our response has gone so far past their ability to follow that we would go on forever, piling detail upon detail.

One model seldom tried is for teachers to teach how to teach that everyone might teach about their own gift. In this sense, we need more and more teachers, not preparers for tests or spreaders of information without context.

Here is a strict judgment perhaps equivalent to being a strict conservative: We are in the cultural quandaries we are in because we have devalued teachers by idealizing them. Each of us is accountable for the current state of affairs. We have not been willing to be taught or to teach basic community processes and our place in them. To this end, pray for those who can be clear about questions and responses (not answers) and next questions - teachers.

Psalm 19

Pentecost +16 - Year B

Psalm 19

There is experience aplenty. There is not language sufficient to express it. Every expression is an attempt to say more than can be said and a container that captures and constrains some aspect of an experience, portraying it as a complete whole.

The same is true about any attempt to comment on a religious collection. Whether Qur'an, Tanakh, Gospels, Epistles, Book of Mormon, Sutta Pitaka, Upanishads, and on and on - explanations are a second and further distance from the stimulus for the text.

Since we are meaning-seeking creatures we are able to use second, third, or fourth explanations as a trigger for our attempt to hold the day and night in place rather than to be held by them or with them in even larger "hands".

In this Psalm, someone experienced their celebration of a key relationship as a new day in their life. They used their undefinable joy in the event to describe a glimpse of the workings of the universe. Well done? Yes. Sufficient? No. Now we are stuck with undefinable joy as a cover for every jot and tittle of Law.

Sun and moon might bring us laws of motion, but laws of relationship - not so much. And so we continue the struggle to understand experience, to know who we are, to shape a future. This difficulty of expression is no excuse, though, to avoid an on-going wrestling with identity - ours, others, and all.

Homework: write a poem (any form) about the significance of your favorite fingernail or Mars landing or your friend. Share it with no further explanation. Rejoice that you don't even know the half of what you write and that much less of other explanations. Rejoice you can still proceed with these large empty ranges.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Proverbs 1:20-33

Pentecost +16 - Year B

Proverbs 1:20-33

Howsomever we identify, we eat the fruit of our way.

This approach to the desired and undesired parts of our life and the life of others and all together does not justify the way in which we interact. There will be folks who get away with mean and nasty acts all their life and others cut short well before their prime. This is not about karma or reincarnation. It has to do with self-justification and an excuse to continue a journey we might otherwise shift.

Evelyn Underhill puts it this way:
The true rule of poverty consists in giving up those things which enchain the spirit, divide its interests, and deflect it on its road to God--whether these things be riches, habits, religious observances, friends, interests, distastes, or desires--not in mere outward destitution for its own sake. It is attitude, not act, that matters; self-denudation would be unnecessary were it not for our inveterate tendency to attribute false value to things the moment they become our own.
Eating the fruit of our way is the reinforcement of a habit or a way of approaching life. Some of this seems to be hardwired, but even that can be amenable to choices made regarding what we will attend to. To begin eating the fruit of another way, of another's life or identity, draws us closer to their experience of life. Here lies the possibility of community that calls us to accountability for the whole of life, not just our own.

In the care of the larger the smaller is also cared for - infra-structure for all is a blessing. Concentration of wealth in a few is a fever indicator of the ill-health of a community. O, we could go on about the importance of one life, but note how the larger context is changed. It is not simply that a next best thing is done, but that it is done in a context.

Whose identity needs to enter your life today, to be tasted and enjoyed in its own right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mark 8:27-38

Pentecost +16 - Year B

Mark 8:27-38

Can you believe it, Jesus was mugged. Since Judas was keeping the money all they got was Jesus' identity information. Without that what is a person to do in a culture so attuned to place of position.

No wonder Jesus asked, "Where does the culture place me?" and "What do you know of me?"

Peter, of course, pipes up with Messiah talk which an excellent excuse for another mugging, this time by the religious authorities and the state (a noxious mix). And, of course, Jesus says, "Whoa, there big feller!"

This then becomes time to move a bit deeper in, from culture to family/friends to self. Who do I say that I am.

I'm one who gets mugged. Individuals come and go at will through my expression of experience with all of creation. Some come to deny, some to adore. Some stay for awhile and some last more than a life-time. Everyone claims a bit of my identity until there is nothing left.

Peter, still thinking Messiah instead of Jesus having undergone a great suffering - a loss of identity - tells Jesus to get over himself and get back on the track of miracles and crowds and power.

"No", says Jesus, who is beginning to remember his baptism and all that it means to be beloved of creation even while used by everyone else's fantasies.

As you wrestle with your identity - any loss that comes your way - there is a question of where your balancing point is. Is it in victim or beloved? This is not to say a Venn diagram can't be used for overlaps with these perspectives, but which has the more persistent boundary? Pentecost pushes back into life with a new identity beyond lost. Blessings on the next part of your journey.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Pentecost +15 - Year B

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

We are each accountable for the well-being of the whole system we are a part of. Were this not the case things would, a) fall apart and b) never change. And, no, those are not opposites.

Acts of favoritism, whatever its basis (usually power or control or desire for same) does not care for the whole.

Acts of favoritism will eventually come back to haunt and, karma-like, give opportunity for us to have to deal with the disfavored side of ourselves.

A key antidote for favoritism is reflection on the old, old question - Am I my neighbor's keeper? As long as that question is taken seriously, we are in big trouble. Keeping this question alive keeps favoritism alive.

It is important to ask it as an evaluative tool, but not as a part of every-day decision-making.

Since mercy triumphs over justice/fairness/favorites we need to take seriously issues of liberty and what it is that would keep us from freely choosing to love our neighbor. The free choice looked for is a claim to be accountable for the well-being of the whole arena in which we are located.

It will be interesting to see what opportunities this day will be recognized wherein subtle favoritism will be revealed to us and we will choose against it. Blessings on being free enough to honestly face your temptation to favoritism.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Psalm 125

Pentecost +15 - Year B

What would keep a hand from a scepter of wickedness. This “Precious” is a great temptation and needs a strong intention to avoid it. We might look to mountains to hedge us in, leaving only the good as an option. We might employ capital punishment, eternal separation, as a technique to discourage wrong-doing.

We know from experience that external controls are only as good as their last success. Eventually they will be tested and tested again. The two-year-old and adolescent in us will push every boundary and push again.

Eventually it comes to what we trust. We trust that being upright and forthright pays a better dividend than the breaking of trust with G*D, Neighb*r, or S*lf.

Image trust as solid as a mountain. A landslide may happen and rearrange a contour, but the basic mass is still present. Imagine living a solidly helpful life. A backslide may happen, but a basic integrity is still present.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Pentecost +15 - Year B

Fortunately Proverbs come in parallel statements. This gives a second opportunity to view what is at issue. Using two sources of data can lift a 2-D movie to 3-D and do the equivalent with our imagination.

A good name — partner in creation — is not only a valuable commodity to be traded on, it is a realistic way to look at all our various relationship.

When we are clear about our connection with creation we begin to lose the cultural and tribal distinctions of “rich” and “poor” at home or “us” and “them” anywhere. This perception opens us to connections with justice and generosity in new and helpful ways.

Likewise, beginning with issues of injustice ultimately backfiring and what works, what blesses, is  generosity, we return to where we began — creation itself being on a track of just generosity, generativity of partnership measuring healthy relationships.
our good name
partner of creation
steps apart from injustice
draws near through generosity
refuses to rob or afflict
stands with creators everywhere

Monday, September 03, 2012

Mark 7:24-37

Pentecost +15 - Year B

We do need respite. It is not always available. A part of the trick is to regularly live easy. Every interruption can become a welcomed surprise.

The world is disturbed. Even while on sabbatical, the world is disturbed. It is no surprise that when there is a disturbance in the force-field in which we live, we will be touched by it and invited to touch back with a healing word.

Apparently Jesus thought he was on a well-deserved rest, just as Mitt Romney thinks Americans uniquely  deserve the best, and was thus caught off-guard when a disturbance greeted him. He responds out of being disturbed with a haughty and nasty word as though having a non-conversation with Clint Eastwood who seems to be able to see and talk with emperor’s clothes. No excuses are available to Jesus as there is no plausible way to turn his response into a faith test of another; it is simply uncivil.

Fortunately both the unnamed woman and Jesus are able to come back to center with a word of reality and recognition of such. In this report of yore it would seem that this private conversation was repeated by Jesus, “Let me tell you what I just learned about myself and my vocation . . . .”

Back at work (or beginning to live a bit more unattached to one’s own suffering) another healing opportunity arises. Here a private conversation that Jesus asked to be off-the-record was leaked by others.

There is something about restorations that wants to be shouted out. Whether from the restorer or the restored, these are stories too good to be held in. May you tell your stories of being restored or restoring out loud.