Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Psalm 146

Pentecost +23 - Year B

Which of these qualities ascribed to G*D is most important to you today? 
For how long has that been the case? 
Do you feel a new arena beginning to open?

G*D is:
faithful forever
does justice for the oppressed
feeds the hungry
frees prisoners
opens blind eyes
lifts the fallen
honors the good
protects strangers
sides with orphans and widows
brings down powers

Which do you ascribe to or aspire to? 
For how long?
What arena of life needs to be added here?

Ruth 1:1-18

Pentecost +23 - Year B

1st rule: Don’t disappoint by Dying.

   2nd rule: Go back Home.

      3rd rule: Secure Borders.

         4th rule: Break Boundaries.

            5th rule: It’s OK to go Back.

               6th rule: It’s OK to go Ahead.

                  7th rule: Determine your limit of Determination.

Now which of these is most important? When? With Whom?

Mark 12:28-34

Pentecost +23 - Year B

It is always tempting to cut to the chase. What is the most important commandment? What is the main thing that is supposed to be the main thing? What’s the basic principle here?

Unfortunately there is nothing that is singular. Note this from an article about Gravitational Singularity: “The two most important types of spacetime singularities are curvature singularities and conical singularities. Singularities can also be divided according to whether they are covered by an event horizon or not....”

There may be no other commandments greater than “loving” G*D and Neighb*r, but there will be those that will be similar to them in particularity instead of generality. After all loving Neighb*r looks quite different through the lens of Obama or Romney or you or me. And so it is with some generalized love of G*D.

The most that perhaps can be said here is that physical symbols and decision-making processes cannot take the place of relationships. When we base our interactions on some form of power, we have missed something “more important”.

May you continue to question your religious tradition about what in the world general commandments mean in a particular situation you are facing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

make an entrance

Pentecost +22 - Year B

remember your entrance
life has been going on
plots have been laid down
new lines are available

not all is clear
blind spots raise tension
denial blocks opportunities
hope rides on anyway

help is always in order
even as it is out of order
clenched teeth are one option
calling out another

the needy call out the healthy
will they be left to beg
will mercy be chosen
will partnership die aborning

the world stands still
as pre-existing conditions
meet new occasions
and spin off new duties

what is your claim
your analysis of need
what is your gift
your mercy quotient

to see past a script
to see again for a first time
to edit the present
to revision the future

hark - a new line
shifts settled plots
from tragedy to comedy
remember to enter

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hebrews 7:23-28

Pentecost +22 - Year B

We do look for immortality. We look back and see how many have gone before. This is discouraging for our sense of importance and star-power. If we are a part of this parade, “Another one done gone” will be said of us, too. If we look ahead we see how soon we will shift position within a cloud of witnesses - from active to supportive - we could become even more discouraged.

So it is we are drawn to concretize ideals and models of permanence. We are also creatures of habit and so our ideals are shaped by our past as well as a vision of a preferred bright future glimpsed through unpolarized and darkened glass.

It was once easy to envision Jesus as a High Priest writ large. But a question needs raising: “Any progress been made in 2,000 plus years?” Does a model of external authority, expanded to also be an excellent and expansive authority, still work in a quantum oriented world. When sun and moon and stars were seen to orbit around us, this model may have had some redeeming quality. But now seeing ourselves in an outer spiral arm of one of billions of galaxies and gazing into what were previously unseeable fields, the whole book of Hebrews needs a make-over. Go ahead, add your version.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Affirmations are a good way to approach life. It is far better to say what you trust to be the case than to mutter about what you don’t believe. For one thing it’s simpler, fewer moving parts. To say everything that isn’t takes far more energy than to claim the little that can be be put forward.

An exception to the general rule of affirmation is affirmation based on moveable ground. This results in a sense that if you just say it forcefully enough, it is bound to be true even if it contradicts what was said just a moment ago. So it is that we are saved from every trouble. And now every trouble plus this one. Oh, and this one. No matter what the trouble, don’t complain, be radiant. G*D gets us out of every mess someone else gets us into.

This is a Psalm that could have been written by Mitt Romney. No one who runs to him to invest will lose out. Everyone who follows will prosper. What do you need to hear, that is stated. What does G*D need to hear, it is already said.

The Psalms are political/theological writing. They put forward a point of view of a plan, control, and claimed success. Unfortunately these posit more than can be known. Don’t lie through your teeth (verse 13) is a much harder standard than no profanity (same verse). Clean language does not indicate a clean heart.

Go ahead and claim G*D is in the midst of every trouble, just don’t err on the side of saying G*D is some transcendent get-out-of-jail-free card you carry up your sleeve to pull out in extremis. Make your affirmation, live it, and take the consequences that come with a still growing creation.

- - - - - - -

Note: Relatedly, this excerpt from Jim Taylor --– “If there’s a belief system operating here, it’s that I -- whoever I am -- exist separately from the world around me. The laws that apply to everyone else -- human laws or natural laws -- don’t apply to me. I transcend them.
       “It’s such a universal belief that I wonder if it influences our religious faith. Almost every religion imagines its god or gods as transcendent. They live on Mount Olympus or in heaven. They don’t grow old or catch colds. They live beyond our petty limitations.
       “After all, why would I want a God who is less than I am? If I can think of myself as above the realities of my world, wouldn’t any god be more so?”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Pentecost +22 - Year B

No matter what the apparent disadvantage, to thine own self be true lest you simply follow the money. This is no easy matter when an adversary cannot be thwarted. Whether we are talking blindness, happenstance, or a kingly god to deal with, the reality of honorable loss is an Eastern trait to be affirmed and nurtured.

The storyline is that one will literally get twice what was taken away. Blessed are the blind for they are such good musicians and blessed is parenthood a second time around.

It’s a nice story all too easily bought into. Somehow we keep ending up with a prosperity gospel which does not speak of reality rightly. Instead of this being a wonderful set-up for a punchline that G*D is Awesome!, we might more simply pay attention to what is available for us to do in any given moment. Claiming harm when harm is done is a righteous act. Knowing when we are in beyond our knowing is a grounding in the face of a tree of temptation. Track the process of yesterday’s blind man and Job, not some magical resolution.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mark 10:46-52

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Imagine what it would be like to be walking down the street and for someone to overhear your being identified with a specific congregation. Now imagine their response, the equivalent of a knee-jerk exclamation, "Hey You! Member of XX congregation, have mercy on me!"

Why do we make it so hard on folks to know what they might expect from us?

Well, for one thing, who wants to get called out with an expectation of making a difference right here, right now? The risk of failure to live up to another's expectation is high.

If we were to find ourselves in this setting it would be easy to pray in Jesus' name, thinking that would take care of it and we could go on our way. The model here, however, is more relational than technical. Would we have the wisdom to first ask, "Hey, yourself, whatcha want?"

Having found this out, now we can engage more constructively with an immediate band-aid or building a communal response to a systemic dysfunction.

First things first, what is your congregation known for? Without this who would know to engage you with expectation?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Psalm 22:1-15

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Who can be saved? Surely not me from this Laurel and Hardy mess.

I have giggled, and now I weep.

I’ve come through so much. We have come through so much. Is it only to find ourselves on the scrap-heap of history and hope?

There is never enough wealth. Never enough power. Never enough prestige. Put simply, there is never enough.

A wrong question keeps being asked: “As I push you out of the way, I wonder how G*D will help you?”

Better questions are: “Why do I find so much pleasure in pushing you down?” or “Am I my neighbor’s?” or “What is my relationship to you?”

Having lost a neighborhood where we can walk and talk in the cool of the evening, how do we reestablish neighborliness, a neighborhood, and neighbors?

Some old understandings of behaving well — no stealing, no lying, etc. — serve well, but with a periodic psychopath/sociopath rising up with with followers excusing their bad behavior in light of their supposed cause, more than behavior control is needed. Unfortunately the something more that is needed is difficult to attain and maintain — perspective beyond one’s own experience and speculations.

Without a glimpse of a larger community with significant interactions, we keep falling back into easy answers — wealth trickles down rather than building up, so I’ll keep mine for me. Wealth proves G*D provides for those who persevere in hard work, so keep yanking on your bootstraps. Wealth is evidence of wisdom, so listen to your betters. Et cetera, et cetera, and etc.

Job 23:1-17

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Job 23:1-17

Today my complaint is bitter!
What must I do to assure something better?

Groaning is not enough.

But contend where?
With whom?

Arguing and debating is slippery territory.
Even integrity is not enough here.

Sparks don’t illumine far in a deep darkness.
But we glimpse enough for now.

From dark chaos we have come; to thick darkness we return.
From ashes you have come; to ashes you shall return.

Treasure what little is known.
Here we stand and from here we leap.

Mark 10:17-31

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Mark 10:17-31

Interested in eternity? Pay attention to now.

If you are interested in more about finding the whole in a part, I recommend this short blog by Jim Taylor.

Interested in lasting wealth? Be generous with currency in need of constant replacement ($1 bill estimated life span is 4.8 years; $100 bill is in use for 17.9 years - according to the US Federal Reserve)

Pursuing happiness will have something to do with coming to terms with parts and wholes and what Eugene Peterson calls the “Great Reversal”.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Hebrews 1:1-5, 2:5-12

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Hebrews 1:1-5, 2:5-12

The authoress of Hebrews claims a Son is more persuasive than a Prophet. In the end, it turns out not to be the case. Jesus as prophet is still a better image than “son of G*D”. It turns out that G*D does not have an exact clone, reflection, image — even that of Jesus.

There is also an attempt to make Jesus a better messenger than angels. It turns out that people don’t listen, no matter what the supposed pedigree of the messenger.

Finally we don’t see the past, present, or future worlds under the control of our better angels. The same goes for Jesus. It has taken more than two centuries, but it is clear that building a theocracy in the midst of a fallible world fails as ever greater claims need to be made connecting rulers with their identified overlord. And, soon or late, the faults of temporal leaders are projected on what is more and more seen as an idol. When this happens both fall and fade.

No amount of scriptural jujitsu of some subjected suffering becoming an atoning action will lift such a limited theory into the realm of eternal truth. Religious spin is no more persuasive than political spin. Eventually you can’t even fool some of the people.

Let’s go back to the deleted first verse of chapter two with a key clarification: Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have “experienced”, so that we do not drift away from a “deeper wholeness”.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Psalm 26

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Psalm 26

Need vindication for some awkward situation? Attend to your integrity.

This Psalm is one list of values and behaviors. It is neither an all encompassing list nor one that pertains to everyone. Our call, here, is to see a movement and then to evaluate whether it would be helpful for current needs.

A key repeated word is “integrity”. This ancient Hebrew word comes from a root that points at a completedness, a having been single-mindedly used up in an endeavor. It has been additionally translated to indicate: completedness, fullness, innocence, simplicity.

This makes it easy to sound like a broken record: “I, I, I.”

It is less easy to claim integrity simply by living as though it were true. This political season shows how easy it is for “integrity” to flow into self-aggrandizement, speaking of oneself in the third person, and going negative on others.

One needed measurement of integrity not often used is that of blessing. One of integrity’s first acts is blessing G*D and Neighb*r in a given situation. This is an indication of being full of blessing from having been blessed. It is a sign of assurance.

This becomes clearer when we paraphrase the last two verses:
I remember being graciously healed and claim this as my way ahead.
In the midst of many options, I choose a foundation of blessing from which to encounter life.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

This passage concludes with “Job did not sin with his lips”. How many ways have you avoided sinning? and how many ways have you sinned? Let us count the ways.

There is an old saying that “sticks and stones may break bones, but names will never hurt”. Here it is loathsome sores may afflict, but lips will never sin.

To go beyond the physical, what about questions? Can we say that “questions may discourage, but responses can remain gentle”?

More to the point, what is a difficulty that you are facing this day? Have you considered a different response than your usual knee-jerk one? This passage can come alive if we take a look at a disconnect available between stimuli and response. This is deliberately phrased in the plural for what it is we face, as almost anyone can deal with one cause and one effect. It is when the stimuli of life gang up on us and reinforce one another. Can’t you just hear the Tester or Confuser orchestrate this:
Stimulus 1, enter stage right.
Stimulus 2, enter stage left.
Stimulus 3, enter by wire from above.
Stimulus 4, enter on elevator from below.
Stimulus 5, enter from upstage.
Stimulus 6, enter through the 4th wall.
Stimulus 7, enter from within a sense of privilege.
Actor, Ad-lib.
And our perfect storm of excuses for having returned a tit for a tat swirls on and on. It is good to pull out for generations.

When a next question comes, what will be your level of defensiveness? And another, how might you detach the stimuli from your response?

Mark 10:2-16

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Mark 10:2-16

It is important to identify your source of authority. Pharisees asked a question and Jesus began with their standard source — “according to Moses...”.

Given that we all operate out of a variety of authorities, depending on circumstance and need, it is always interesting to note which authority is standing behind your latest question.

Back to the story. Hearing a standard Pharisaical response, Jesus basically says, “I’ll see your Moses and raise you a Creation.”

Do jot out your best guess about another 3 interchanges between the Pharisees and Jesus. It is all too easy to stop with Jesus trumping the Pharisees and that’s the end of that so we’ll now turn to the disciples sometime later. Pause. How would the Pharisees have responded to Jesus attempt to predate their contract to replace it?

Now, for part two of the extended story. Can you see the brokenness of divorce resulting in two children crying after a disagreement? Yes it is hard words about divorce and adultery are recorded, but that is the emotional setting, not a doctrine. So what to do? Condemn them both to no community-recognized relationship commitment? Pick them up, like little children, wipe away their tears, and reclaim them as beloved of G*D? Something in between?

From a test comes an affirmation. See it under light and apply liberally. Repeat.