Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Numbers 6:22-27

Year A - “Holy Name” of Jesus - Naming Day
January 1, 2014

We often talk about the importance of the name of Jesus. In and of itself, it is inconsequencial. Let’s shift, for a moment, away from naming Jesus to what Jesus might name as his life-work. Might it be to reveal a blessing as a Way with G*D?

Christmas angels and Baptismal doves and Locked Room fires still echo down the years, “Thus you shall bless.” Does that sound like Jesus? Listen to him saying to you and to all, 

Bless you.
I affirm you.
A light of grace surround you.
A smile of peace be yours.

This, then, becomes a common journey of those on a Way with G*D. Don’t just bless Jesus’ name (as Jesus reminds us, just saying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus still takes $4+ to get a cup of Starbucks and is no heavenly ticket). Rather, be blessed and bless.  

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Year A - New Years
January 1, 2014

Would that we had a better sense of past and future. This is not to be able to outdo G*D, but to better find our place of “enough” which is an important source of happiness.

Our sense of the future is always rosier than our actions of the day warrant. We are very capable of taking a piece of today and extrapolating it into a utopia. We can conveniently ignore all the intended and unintended consequences of breaking relationships with one another over the slightest of slights that we let build up over time. A more realistic view of what a possible next step is in light of a much larger step that will then become possible is sadly lacking. We don’t educate for tomorrow by learning how to learn and teaching to the test will never prepare us for a new opportunity.

Our sense of the past is always truncated and revised according to what will serve us in the present. History books for elementary and secondary students are notoriously written from a perspective that justifies the power arrangements of the present. We could help ourselves immensely by sharpening decision-making based on what actually brought us to this current moment. Our tendency to turn inconvenient prophets into acceptable saints is long and storied. In so doing we remove their power and put it in the hands of the reigning paradigm.

There is a time and a season for every matter. That is now. This is not an easy place to live in. Note the dualities mentioned here that are available at every moment. This is the business G*D has placed before us—choice. Will you eat of one tree or another or none? Will you still walk and talk together in the cool of the evening, even of hard things and confessions, or not? Will you be your sister and brother’s keeper, or not? Will you be realistic about your past and practical about your future, or not? Will you expand those categories to our past and our future, or not?

If you saw your context being that of abundance to eat and drink and the ever availability of pleasure, would your choice to keep or throw away be different? Would you stay and work where you are or would you pick up and shift to other work?

These are not so much resolutions as foundations for being blessed and blessing. May this time next year find you more clearly blessed and more evidently blessing.

Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12

Year A - Christmas 2 - Blessed Body [2]
January 5, 2014

Do those exiled still have honor? It is so easy to discount them. Often we act as though they are dishonorable, lazy, guilty, and sinful even as we mouth that they are of sacred worth.

From Jeremiah, hear that the exiles shall return under the banner of “Together”. This is not just about “them” returning, but that we are also exiled in place without their presence. It is “together” that we find a return, a redemption, and a promise to be together. If this is to come to pass we cannot languish by refusing to honor one another.

From Sirach, hear that G*D takes root in “an honored people”. Wherever you are, ask who is not being honored. There is your work for the moment. It may be to disclose your own worth and to claim it. It may be to advocate for another whose worth has been devalued and to affirm it.

These passages bring light in their enfleshing qualities of “together” and “honor”. When we are not about the business of togethering and honoring, we are slowly and surely dimming hope and abandoning a common-wealth.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Luke 2:15-21

Year A - “Holy Name” of Jesus - Naming Day
January 1, 2014

Let’s go see about what can be trusted in life. Hearing angels is one thing; finding a promise is quite another.

What needs checking on to see whether it holds up or not? We all carry old promises along. Sometimes we think a promise is the reality, when it has actually become a shield against what can be experienced. Sometimes we need to say, “I think we heard it wrong. Life isn’t over there in Bethlehem, but right here in the field. The angels hearkened unto us about us, about what is born in us this day.”

After eight days we can say, “Yes, the baby is still alive and ready for a name”. Until this marker of viability is present, there is no reality to a baby. For some preemies this takes a year or more. In today’s medical world eight days can be reduced, but not always. Life takes testing to see if this is something that is going to last. The same is true of relationships. Some form quickly; some take longer.

Let’s not be too quick to claim the fulfillment of a promise. Let’s not be too slow to claim there is more community available than we now have. With these two processes we can both treasure and ponder. Both are important; treasuring what has come forth and pondering what else is on the way.

Matthew 25:31-46

Year A - New Year’s Day
January 1, 2014

Here is another Day of Resolution. How nitty-gritty are you willing to get.

I resolve to work on both the personal and structural realities of hunger.
I resolve to work on both the firsthand and business realities of clean water.
I resolve to work on both the interpersonal and institutional realities of welcome.
I resolve to work on both the charitable and corporate realities of shelter.
I resolve to work on both the singular and societal realities of prison.

That will be sufficient for one year; for one lifetime. Working on any one of these will get you trouble with family, friends, and community. I pray you are up to facing the consequences of not attending to these resolutions, for they will come around and not just in some final judgment sort of way.

Based on the resolutions and enactments of this day, there will be positive or negative consequences for the next seven generations. Will we care for them as much as we do for our own immediate comfort? Aye, there's a rub.

- - - - - - -

If you need another prod to significantly resolve, read this conclusion to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech on the Four Freedoms with the refrain, "Everywhere". [Epiphany (January 6) 1941]

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. 
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: 
  • Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
  • Jobs for those who can work.
  • Security for those who need it.
  • The ending of special privilege for the few.
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all.
  • The enjoyment -- The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living. 
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations. 
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples: 
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance 
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. 
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it. 
I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation. 
If the Congress maintains these principles the voters, putting patriotism ahead pocketbooks, will give you their applause. 
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. 
The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. 
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. 
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world. 
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world. 
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb. 
To that new order we oppose the greater conception -- the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear. 
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society. 
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

Year A - Christmas 2 - Blessed Body [2]
January 5, 2014

When a Word becomes Flesh we need to pay attention to fleshy things like human experience.

Our temptation is to rank Word before Flesh, but without a full partnership it makes no sense to speak of either. Here is whatever “glory” is: “Among”. No “among”; no “glory”.

Interested in grace and truth? They are found in lived experience. It is this fullness of grace and truth, word and flesh, that continues to call us beyond our current limitations. All of this is made known in our experience.

Note: this is not to elevate experience above word and flesh, but to indicate that they cannot have meaning separated from experience. We dilute our meaning when we fail to let this trinity play together—experience, flesh, and word.

- - - - - - -

Here is an article you may appreciate to remember, "And the Word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Titus 2:11-14

Year A - Christmas Eve - Blessed Body
December 24, 2013

There is the usual religious jargon here. We have heard all this in the context of a preconceived plan for redemption through sacrifice.

Here is one simplification:

  • grace draws us closer to wholeness and health
  • this is done through training (gestation)
  • we practice not doing harm even though harm to others can benefits us
  • we practice doing good through centered behavior
  • in this we anticipate transformations and stages to come
  • and deepen our zealousness for good deeds in the present

Look to the tradition of Jesus for models to practice. Look beyond the tradition of Jesus for models to practice. One source for this expansion is this note from The New Community Bible:

Such an openness leads to the enrichment and not to the impoverishment of the biblical message and of our faith. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon these ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings, which though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men....prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found in these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Vat.II, Nostra Aetate, 2).

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

Year A - Christmas Day - Blessed Body
December 25, 2013

Interpretation is key to the quotes. These references are from the past to who knows whom and some all too clearly to a specific person of yore. To apply them here is a prime example of proving what you want by selective quoting.

The presumption is a patriarchal “Son” and so we force the world to conform to our preconceptions.

Beware when Jesus becomes more important than anything else. When this happens you go through life with the eternal Sunday School response to every question: Jesus! It then becomes all too easy to lose a Neighb*r in order to maintain a Christ.

Compare Isaiah on servanthood with Hebrews on majesty to get a feel for an important biblical tension. For a moment erase these quotations from the story and see what incidents from your life you would put in their place to honor all who live as though they were partnered with G*D.

Hebrews 2:10-18

Year A - Christmas 1 - Blessed Body [1]
December 29, 2013

We ought be careful about equating suffering with death. Suffering came to Mary with the announcement; it is not easy to say, “Let it be.” Suffering came to Joseph, “What am I do do with Mary?” Suffering was present with decisions to be made by Shepherds and Magi. Suffering was with Rachel.2 and the populace in general. Suffering continues; it is not just about death.

Suffering is never just a test to pass. It is true to the bone or it is not suffering. It does not have an automatic ability to grant compassion. For all too many, even small suffering brings great bitterness.

Folks in that day, like today, are held in the slavery of fear, but not to death—to survival. For now it is enough to remember birth-pangs and all that needs pondering and treasuring about this one small event of birth in the midst of a sea of trouble. The future proceeds from every beginning and new beginning. It proceeds from your birth as well as Jesus’. Honor birth. Tomorrow is sufficient for its time. Right now, birth is sufficient for this time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Psalm 148

Year A - Christmas 1 - Blessed Body [1]
December 29, 2013

The very stars announce a very present time of Thanksgiving. All who hearken unto these messengers become messengers of joy.

In a time of turmoil and travail the background and hope is that of joy, of blessing. Rachels everywhere, mourners in their specific reality of loss, need to weep so well that tears tear at a given facade of intended and unintended suffering.

This psalm is not to cut grief short, but to remind us of a key ingredient of creation, a fecundity of thanks that eventually re-places lives into good soil of connected community after they have been plowed up and left to molder on the surface of events.

With birth begun and short lives cut short, we are in another Saturday before Easter Sunday time of emptiness. On the horizon of every time of dismay, Joy still beams down a far-broadening way. We can not only tell our story as it has come to us, but to begin telling it as it might yet be. 

Courage folks, the Church year is just beginning. It will call for your body to be engaged until it is worn away or taken away. 

Psalm 98

Year A - Christmas Day - Blessed Body
December 25, 2013

Perhaps not, “O sing to the Lord a new song”, as much as, “G*D sings a new song”.

G*D sings a new song, injecting a newness into expected fate.
G*D is intentional in this, working with what is.
Though begun quietly enough, this song is increasingly sung.
Life, no matter how held in abeyance, goes on again.
Steadfast love and steady trust have set a forward-leaning heartbeat.
Joy breaks free from distance and bursts onward.
With musical instrument and nature’s infinite variety,
Equity’s theme becomes transcendent.

Note: G*D is not G*D without our partnership and so we, too, sing a new song.

Psalm 96

Year A - Christmas Eve - Blessed Body
December 24, 2013

A world firmly established is a world mature enough to adapt, adopt, and change. Such a world will not get caught in a heresy of never moving onward.

In moving on we find a new set of lenses through which to view our situation. We can see more deeply and view others through the twin lens of honor and majesty—qualities in everyone, no matter how covered in dysfunction or adulation.

In moving on we find our own strength and beauty to be affirmed and available in every moment of transition or trial.

Honor and majesty; strength and beauty; exult and rejoice. Sing for joy and in joy and with joy. When we return or remain in these, we gladden the heart of trees and take another step toward, “all manner of things shall be well.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Isaiah 63:7-9

Year A - Christmas 1 - Blessed Body [1]
December 29, 2013

An interesting juxtaposition of a slaughter of innocents and gracious deeds of G*D. For extra credit compare and contrast the pericopes of the day without conflating or reconciling them.

For the moment, focus on verse 9.

   ... in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
   but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
   he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

The Inclusive Bible:
In all their distress, O God, you were distressed,
and the angel of your Presence saved them;
you redeemed them out of deep love
and profound mercy;
you lifted them up and carried them
from time immemorial. 

So, for you, are love and mercy mediated or not? This is as good a measure of our different approaches to life as any scale. One is not inherently better than the other, but they do not live easily with each other. They can inform each other, but are often trying to convince the other experience of the rightness of their way.

As we proceed from Christmas there are a multitude of understandings of such an event or story. It will be interesting to track how this difference shows up in other venues of life. Try substituting “Bible” for angel and see what happens. How about if you substitute “nation” or “money” or another of your favorite virtues?

Isaiah 52:7-10

Year A - Christmas Day - Blessed Body
December 25, 2013

How beautiful are mountain feet running to announce peace. 
How beautiful are manger feet walking to live peace

We sing for joy amid past ruins as we live our hope for restoration.
We sing for joy amid present ruination as we live our hope before resurrection.

Whether from the past to the present or from the present to the future, we see and invest in health and wholeness for ourselves and all.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Year A - Christmas Eve - Blessed Body
December 24, 2013

It is often easier to see strengths in others that are not recognized within one’s self. It is important to keep a connection between the individual and the community. Likewise to connect ourself with another.

In this case try putting this list of leadership qualities into your own life. Here is the list from The Inclusive Bible:
Wise Guide
Strength of G*D
Eternal Protector
Champion of Peace

Admittedly these are ideals and we need to recognize how the wisest among us fall from pedestals, those we rely upon for strength falter, our desired protectors fail, and champions forget the on-goingness of their call. Yet we cannot discount the wisdom, strength, protection, and peace  and our part in their health.

Your manger’s worth of these qualities, added to those of others, promise transformation of night to day and dismay to song.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Matthew 2:13-23

Year A - Christmas 1 - Blessed Body [1]
December 29, 2013

Profit and Power tempt us to extinguish those we deem to be expendable or questioning of such motivations. We have a difficult time separating these tools from their ends.

As Herod slaughters boy babies, Pharaoh is recapitulated. We are more sophisticated these days. Note the percentage of Black and Latino males who are entombed in prison for non-violent crimes and ask if the slaughter continues under our watch. Complicity, thou art us.

Obviously slaughter is not the only measure here. Consider the plight of refugees everywhere. This is precursor to the need for a new Exodus.

This is depictable in Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere. Try this picture in the context of India (you can also read more about the New Christian Community Bible that I am trying out this year).

John 1:1-14

Year A - Christmas Day - Blessed Body
December 25, 2013

How do you translate verse 5?

What doesn’t darkness do in relationship to light? 
   doesn’t overcome it?
   doesn’t extinguish it?
   doesn’t understand it?
   doesn’t comprehend it?
   doesn’t put it out?
   doesn’t perceive it?

Now, what does darkness do in relationship to light?
   revel in it?
   revile it?
   reveal it?

Does it feel like you are as far removed from importance as a manger? Perhaps you forgot to see the light that is continuing where you are. To be a holder of food, a place of feasting, is to be light. Look again. 

Luke 2:1-20

Year A - Christmas Eve - Blessed Body
December 24, 2013

A context for the articles of our faith is the political situation of the day. Of course there is consistency of cycles of politics over time, but G*D is always connected with history. An ahistorical, eternal-in-the-heavens G*D is political rhetoric for power. Those who control the future control the present (as well as those who control the past, control the present).

For both the futurists and traditionalists among us, pay attention to power issues of the day. If it is as pervasive as the Roman rule of Palestine/Israel, it will be important to find an out-of-the-way place to begin your prophecy or it will come to naught. It wouldn't hurt to also pay attention to the limits of your vision or your remembrance and to be a bit humble about it.

Later on your humility may be remembered as a virtue even though it is simply a practical matter for now. 

For those who need one more prod to invest in our book of comments on Year A, here is another sample. 

- - -

You! Remind G*D! 
You! Give G*D no rest! 
You! Prepare for a place of peace to be established!
You! Build up! Build up!
You! Build righteousness!
You! Build justice!
You! You know ... go ahead!

So shepherds in the fields abiding, far from respectability, honor, wealth, or power have this mercy offered—a light, a song, a sign, a witness. Wise shepherds that they be, they look and listen and come and go.
This is a model of being a Christ-bearer—a Christopher Christmas, if you will. It is so valuable that Jesus models himself after shepherds. 

what we treasure most
we shine with pondering
turning it this way
and that

through this pondering
a treasure outgrows our grasp
loosing it here
and there

humble words stir up
remembrances of holy experience come
root words ground
expectations of holy boldness to come

fearless news
joyful people

let’s go, shepherds, peace is promised
let’s ponder, with Mary, peace
let’s return, shepherds, with a song of peace on earth
let’s treasure, with Mary, a favoring of peace for all

Friday, December 20, 2013

birth's day

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013

birth's day

the birth
took place
this way 
. . . .

the birth
took place
in a usual

the birth
took place
in its own

a birth
takes place
we release
a next generation

a birth

for now
your birth
is today
so what
will come

choose a sign
shine forth
enflesh a promise
for one
and all

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Romans 1:1-7

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013
Romans 1:1-7

If you are reading either the KJV or the NRSV and not breathing hard at the end of a 7 verse sentence, you weren’t paying attention as you went along. It will take an accomplished Shakespearean actor to come close to giving this justice. It will be all too easy to proof text from this complex assertion.

In coming to this section it is good to hear the confession of N. T. Wright in The New Interpreter’s Bible: “Perhaps not surprisingly, it remains the case that anyone who claims to understand Romans fully is, almost by definition, mistaken. It is common to list saints and Christian leaders whose lives have been changed by reading this letter; the catalog could be balanced by a similar number who have radically misunderstood it. Troublingly, the lists would overlap.”

The New Community Bible delineates some of the different paths found here: “Numerous theological notions have been derived solely or in part from Romans. Augustine acquired his idea of original sin from Romans 5; Luther gained his understanding of justification by faith alone from Romans 3-4; Calvin obtained his doctrine of predestination from Romans 9-11. John Wesley got his distinctive teaching on sanctification from Romans 6 and 8, and Karl Barth learned of the importance of the righteousness of God from Rom 1 and 2.”

The Common English Bible, among many others, breaks this into sentences (CEB version). They also note in their Study Bible, “Paul introduces himself, the good news (or “gospel”) he proclaims, Jesus as the content of the good news, and his reader’s participation in it.”

In all the G*D and Jesus talk it will be very easy to overlook an important participation phrase—Through Jesus we have received grace and apostleship/appointment to graceful living.

Which of these translations are you Adventing toward?

... to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles

... to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience

Are you oriented toward order or grace? Yes, too broadly put and open to “radical misunderstanding”, but asked anyway.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013

Translation is always an intriguing proposition. What is often translated as “Restore us” has a basic root connection with “Come back to us”.

Now, remembering an exilic context, these two options take on different emphases depending on whether one is still in or past an exile.

While in an exile, the basic need is to have an experience that one is not bereft, even if distanced. “Come back” would seen more appropriate here. Any “Restore” talk continues an unrealistic expectation that we won’t fall into the same false thinking we had before exile or some sense of entitlement/privilege that still is looking for an eternal “win”.

After exile we are more likely to go with “Restore” as that is our realized present—we have been restored. To use the “Come back” phrase brings flashbacks to being out of control—which we will avoid at all costs.

Today, for just a moment, read this Psalm again with the “Come back” translation and listen for what the poor of today are praying because political/economic/religious powers have enslaved them. Remember that every exile that hasn't ended in genocide eventually comes to an end with the end of the enslavers. Since economic, politics, and religion, each-and-all, need their minions, the poor we will have with us as long as they serially reign and serially fall.

Is this Psalm from your heart or toward your complicit behavior with economics, politics, and religion?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Isaiah 7:10-16

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013

Intentionally avoiding any sign that would shift your life or the life of the world works for a relatively short time. We live in a world of signs.  We live in a world of information. Ultimately avoidance ceases to work. It is the paradoxical signs that lead to better learning and living. When dreams and facts dance we find dynamics to counter resignation.

For your continuing education, bookmark this comment for when you will choose to make time to follow a 90 minute conversation between physicists regarding the universe as a hologram.

How do you map your universe? Like Ahaz? Like Joseph?

Perhaps another way of coming at this is to ask how are you mapped by the universe? Can you sense that the fears Ahaz and Joseph and You have are already begin removed. Sign by sign, like it or not, the stumbling blocks are being removed. Now how will we operate when freedom’s bounds are expanded?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Matthew 1:18-25

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013

Everything seems to have a backstory. It is a helpful exercise to imagine backstories to our most ancient of tapes that they might be seen under a better light. To be able to see the resolve needed to make the best of a situation softens our heart and moderates our blame-laying tendency.

Consider your own birth and growing-up years. Out of so many possible remembrances, we carry so few with us. The ones we carry are like unto transformative dreams or deep fears with their backstories obscured.

Imagine what difference it would make if the stated backstory in this text was differently reported—using the Song of Songs instead of Isaiah. Even if we could remember the genealogy listed previously in this chapter, we might not get caught with the virgin trope—Jesus comes through sexually active women. Simply reflecting on human sexuality—there is no reasonable data that says genital sexual activity is out of bounds during pregnancy.

To have this whole business of Joseph’s acceptance of Mary be based on Matthew’s intention to prove Jesus as David’s heir warps and skews our ability to deal with the surprises of life.

Blessings on your Advent dreaming.

Book Promotion

Year A - Advent 4 - Needed Change 4
December 22, 2013

Book Plug:

The following comment on this text is found in my book based on previous Year A reflections. You can purchase your own copy of Wrestling Year A: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience or give it as a gift at Amazon.

There is appropriate guilt and there is inappropriate guilt. Likewise, there is appropriate and inappropriate responsibility. 
The trick is to tell the appropriate apart from the inappropriate. 
How might we look at Joseph’s actions regarding Mary’s pregnancy? Here his acceptance of reality is attributed to his righteousness, not his wisdom. Left to his own devices and the devices of his time and place, Joseph had every thing he needed to claim this task of covering for Mary as inappropriate responsibility. 
Somewhere along the way Joseph had learned to first acknowledge and then to listen to his dreams. His dream claimed steadfast love as appropriate, not inappropriate. 
In this time of waiting between a first and next comings, dream-time remains an important category for us to pay attention to. 
So, what dreams this day need to be shifted from inappropriate to appropriate in your life and in the life of the world? 
Based on this scripture they will have something to do with the presence of G*D taking precedence over the current traditions of our culture (religious culture or otherwise). Where does church doctrine that constrains our relationships with one another need to be turned on its head? Where is there a response leading to peace between peoples that needs to come out from under an umbrella of being called treason and stand to turn us all in better directions? Where in our families and communities do we find the fulcrum from which to leverage a preferred future into view and into today? 
Whatever your dream or dreams lead you to—imitate Joseph. It is time to wake from sleep!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Luke 1:46b-55

Year A - Advent 3 - Needed Change 3
December 15, 2013

This text is an alternative for the Psalm reading.

It would even be interesting to read them together and reflect on beatific experiences. Are they more active or more passive?

The Psalmist has happiness, blessedness, being hopeful. Hopeful for all to be in good order. The divisions we set between ourselves—oppressor/oppressed, gourmand, guard/prisoner, handicapped/advantaged, master/indentured, alien/citizen, related-in/exiled, and more —are only resolvable from the outside, by a G*D.

Luke has magnificence, blessedness, already come to pass. Mary knows that life has changed, even while still in the same circumstance. An assurance of mercy, regardless of circumstance, has arrived. Mary, and we, find those previously haughty toward us to be anxious, agitated, and scattered. Our hunger shifts from individual experience to a food revolution to open closed storehouses. Common-wealth becomes the measure of individual wealth and determines who will steward it.

We can act in hope and in magnificence to shift separation toward community. We can let these same qualities dull us into resigned waiting. A vision of what may yet be can be helpful to my well-being. An experience of that vision claimed and lived may also be helpful to our well-being. A basic question for both is, “What are you going to do with your hope, with a taste of hope realized?”

PS - remember that some understand a pink candle to express a hope for and thanksgiving for having experienced blessedness through a girl-baby. How does Advent impact our cultural norms and expectations? If Advent does not bring some challenge to the status quo, it is merely an idol for Black Friday commercialism.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

James 5:7-10

Year A - Advent 3 - Needed Change 3
December 15, 2013

Patience as passive waiting is not healthy patience. Adding tapping fingers while waiting, doesn’t help the wait. These church culture niceties and passive/aggressive behaviors keep us from a creative waiting.

Creative waiting has something to do with prophetic action. This is more than an example. Prophets define active waiting.

There is a recognition that suffering is present. Beyond recognition is the sense that this doesn’t have to be put up with. Once that is clarified, a variety of actions are available to begin moving toward a better outcome. In the process of acting there is likely to be more suffering. Both the prophet and those they are advocates for will be blamed for breaking order. With blame will come some form of preemptive punishment.

Before and during creative waiting, resolution waiting, restitution waiting, there is suffering. Patience without these waiting styles is resignation, not patience.

Advent is a time to practice identifying arenas of suffering and to begin an active waiting process until they have been cared for and exiled people return home. Obviously this approach to Advent is more than lighting candles and waiting for G*D to intervene on our behalf. Advent is an active time or it is an empty ritual.

Psalm 146:5-10

Year A - Advent 3 - Needed Change 3
December 15, 2013

Imagine standing behind G*D and watching how justice is done for the oppressed and how the hungry are fed.

How long before G*D beckons you closer and invites you to try your hand? After all there are all too many strangers, orphans, and widows.

Apprenticeship has a long and valued history. We are mentored and we mentor. In this way care goes on forever.

Instead of John asking Jesus if he is “the one”, G*D is asking you—“Are you a next one?”

Your response will probably be greatly influenced by what you are waiting for. Are you waiting for your opportunity to open other eyes wider than you own? Well, it arrived while you blinked. Reach out your hand as you will learn by doing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Isaiah 35:1-10

Year A - Advent 3 - Needed Change 3
December 15, 2013

If you were to read chapter 34 in conjunction with 35 we are apparently dealing with a zero-sum G*D. It is either desolation or flourishing. There is no middle ground.

As with every apocalypse, lines are distinctly drawn. You are either for or against G*D and, likewise, G*D is either for or against you.

For difficult times there is a feeling of righteousness that is generated by this sort of picture. Unfortunately it is not a sustainable emotion or event. The energy it takes to be continually aware of how close you are to moving from rain to drought wears a body out. We can attend to holiness for only so long.

It won’t be long before we are setting up rules and institutions and rituals and intermediaries to give us a break where we can sleep and dream, not just be on 24/7.

This raises an Advent question of whether we are the ones we’ve been waiting for? (Thank You, Sweet Honey in the Rock for a good song even when done by others.) Can those who are solely dependent upon G*D be worth waiting for. Isn’t there a need for a covenant to have more mutuality than this?

A road only for the holy, is spiritual trickle-down theory as faulty as its economic counterpart. May you be blessed with a blessed rest during Advent. May your wait be restful as well as expectant. If you strain to see too far down the road it won’t be long before you fall prey to a mirage.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Matthew 11:2-11

Year A - Advent 3 - Needed Change 3
December 15, 2013

Apparently John the Baptist has difficulty recognizing in Jesus’ ministry of compassion (Matt 8-9) the deliverer and judge he had anticipated. [Common English Bible note]

A ministry of compassion always runs counter to privilege. The less aware we are of our privilege the less compassionate we are able to be. Our blindness supports a status quo—our keeping more than we need and our every attempt to gain more, regardless of its source.

Each of us have some arenas of life in which we question those who challenge us to become aware of those we have consciously or unconsciously taken advantage of to keep us in the style we have attained or are striving for. The extent to which we can’t make the connection between ourselves and compassion is the extent to which we are in one proverbial prison or another.

Whether wearing prophet’s coarse camel hair or a corporation’s silk suit, it is not easy to escape our preconceived notions of how health comes to all. Both can like to tell others how and when to repent. To the extent we can dive into the complications of life is the extent to which we can offer compassion beyond our comfort.

To preach the Good News to the poor does not therefore mean (as it is sometimes understood to mean) to catechize the poor, but to be catechized by them.... Jesus sent his disciples, as poor among the poor, to enable them to discover the presence and the working of God the Father. The concrete life of the rural and the urban poor is the context in which fundamental experiences occur which will renew the world and the spiritual life of all. [New Community Bible note]

Those who have experienced an Urban Immersion, a mission trip, a Catholic Worker house, a homeless shelter, etc. know how much there is to be learned from the poor. They are not a bottomless pit into which we toss pity and charity. The poor can teach the dignity of all under most difficult conditions. If we understand renewal and transformation came to us in the space of a manger, through the experience of being a refugee, and under threat of torture, we can catch a glimpse of how the lives of the poor are likewise a locus of renewal (whether you want to cast that in terms of world or spirit or both or neither or some other framework).

Remember back to the beginning of whatever religious tradition you follow. Wasn’t there a direct connection with the poor, the suffering, those from whom compassion was usually withheld? If you have forgotten this, you are not in the tradition you thought you were in. When this is forgotten, institutionalism sets in and with it actual power and power aspired to that requires whole classes of deaf, dumb, and blind kids with no access to pinballs, much less food.

Friday, December 06, 2013

first experience heaven, then repent

Year A - Advent 2 - Needed Change 2
December 8, 2013

first experience heaven, then repent

first things first
a presence has come near
presenting a choice
continue or change

until this presence
is clear there is no choice
we cut our losses
we maximize our profit

when this presence
is not theory
fit only for a by-and-by
we ask - why not now

why not
lose more
gain less
share life

when this presence
shows difference
is possible
we claim - we can

until this presence
focuses our attention
on better
we won’t

first things first
vision of sugar plums for all
leads a change charge
repent then becomes real

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Romans 15:4-13

Year A - Advent 2 - Needed Change 2
December 8, 2013

Hope can be connected to living in harmony with one another. Therefore welcome one another.

The more we encounter one another the more we know we need hope to continue encountering one another. We are so easily disappointed in others and ourself. This keeps us on our toes to do no harm.

The more we hope the more we know we cannot give up on one another. We so often come through even when such has little basis from past encounters. This challenges us to go further, to do good.

May the G*D of hope be regularly encountered. May your Neighb*r connect you with hope. May you abound in hope itself for the benefit of G*D and Neighb*r.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Year A - Advent 2 - Needed Change 2
December 8, 2013

If it is G*D alone that does wondrous things (v. 18) what is a king in this system?

It would seem that a king is to be one who acts out of righteousness and justice, cares for the environment from which comes prosperity, and has particular responsibility for the poor and needy along with defending people from violence. A king is a local expression of G*D.

Well, this is not a role unique to a king, it is simply a reminder that there is no rising to the top that will excuse not being a local expression of G*D. There is no divine right of kings without a basic connection with the rest of creation.

A king without these qualities is an idolatrous dictator. Their function has been usurped by the powers to be about power. 

In keeping with the protestant understanding that we are all priests, we are also to claim that we are all local expressions of G*D.

Pause for a moment and check out that which is within a proverbial arm’s reach. Is it going well? And the room or dale where you are located? How is life there? As you continue extending your locality, what needs attending to regarding the environment and the poor?

Some of us have gifts to act within the range of a hug. Some of us have gifts to embrace from further away. Whatever your locale, you are blessed to be a local expression of G*D. Go ahead, you are authorized to stand up for the oppressed and to stand up to those in a kingly role who are oppressing rather than freeing.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Isaiah 11:1-10

Year A - Advent 2 - Needed Change 2
December 8, 2013

“From Abraham to David, God’s promise was focused on the Land. After David, they thought that a better king could not be found: they only hoped that their present and future kings would imitate David, whose dynasty by God’s promise would be continuous (2 Sam 7:14). Isaiah is the first to announce the Messiah, a future king who would surpass even David.” [The New Community Bible note.]

“He will judge the needy with righteousness : The needy and poor (those who suffer) are the same two groups described in Isaiah 10:2 as being exploited by those responsible for the law. rod of his mouth: Unlike the foreceful rod of the Assyrians in Isaiah 10:5, 15, 24, the rod of the Judean ruler is verbal, that is, just legislation on behalf of the needy and against those who are violent.” [The Common English Bible note.]

Evidence shows that leaders inevitably disappoint. One person cannot stand against the principalities and powers and any governing process. Appeals to our fears are always creeping in carrying the day for they trigger our earliest brain function of fight now or fight later (flight). To remain in power appears to require pandering to a fear that diminishes and divides us, one from another (the opposite of angelic announcement and experience of assurance).

The two clues given in these notes place greater emphasis upon caring for the Land (as basic grounding for any freedom—no health in the environment, no health in any other part of our life) and Just Legislation (communal wisdom that we are in life together and injustice in any one part of our commonwealth makes everyone and all together poorer).

Read this passage again:
From the stump of a degraded environment, a shoot will come forth; root and branch will grow and bear fruit. A blessed land brings a blessing of wisdom, counsel, and knowledge; of understanding, power, and reverence. These qualities will see mercy steadfastly available and not be fooled by appearances of piety covering meanness. These will decide for the benefit of the whole community (particularly for the part of the community so easily labeled and dismissed as “poor”). “Fertilizing” the poor will return creation to its basic interconnections of relationship. [Note: this does not mean that there will be no death—a calf will eat grass and be eaten; a lion will eat calves and their bones be picked by a crow as they return to grass.]

Here the magic answer is not Jesus, but Land and Just Legislation. This may sound much more mundane, but it does open a place for us to be in solidarity with one another and creation. Can you now unread this perspective? Hopefully it will continue to niggle at you until its importance comes clear.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12

Year A - Advent 2 - Needed Change 2
December 8, 2013

In those days, in this day, any day—tomorrow is just a day away. Changing today is our last best opportunity to welcome the fullness of tomorrow or to further limit it.

So, what needs to change today? It won’t be a going back to some idealized past. It will have to do with making a shift in the momentum of the past. It will have to do with making life easier for those with whom we are joined hip and spirit. It will have to do with doing more than waiting. It will have to do with more than not making things worse.

Remember that the wilderness outside the boundary of promise is the locus of John’s work. It is also to be the locus of our work. Standing inside a promised land makes it too easy to hold on to the limited power and privilege we have managed to rise to. Inside the promise raises our fear level that we may lose the little we have. Outside the boundary makes it easier to hear, “Be not afraid—proceed to bear “good fruit” just because you can.

Here ends today’s comment.

= = = = = = =

To encourage you to consider purchasing our new book, Wrestling Year A: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience here is the comment for this pericope from this new resource:

= = = = = = =

Here are two responses to the nearness of heaven come to earth:

  • Repent
  • Receive the “fire” of Holy Spirit

Question: Is this a necessary sequence? Repentance is required for Holy Spirit fire? Is it an implied prerequisite to, “Follow me”.
Regardless of how that is responded to, there is a basic duality here of gathered wheat or burned and scattered chaff that seems negated by Pentecost and a Holy Spirit that simply tells of Wonder, cutting through all language divisions.

Question: On what basis would a Holy Spirit not be conferred? Preordination? Resistance?
Whatever form of Holy Spirit is received, there is encouragement here to live well, fruitfully.

Question: All this may be helpful at the beginning of a movement. What happens after years, decades, millennia of there being no discernible connection between repentance and good fruits, between Holy Spirit fire and abominations? How do these play as part of a play filled with heart-warming trees, creches, and noels?
This passage may have other helpful attributes, but it mostly helps us reflect on a past presence of G*D, not one still before us. At this point it would be more helpful to reflect on the genealogy that begins Matthew and to draw it from the point of Jesus through Pentecost to the present time and ask questions of what folks faced in their day and how they persevered. In anticipating a new heaven and a new earth we could use those reminders and a discerning of our current situation that we might persevere until a surprising new presence becomes known to us.

Question: Given what you know about the lived situations and culture around you, how evangelistic is this passage? Is it only for an insider?
A note from the Wesley Study Bible: “Wesley connects this ‘fire’ with ‘love’.… (Notes 3:11)”. Is this some sort of “tough love”? Does this modify the passage enough to suggest that John has a limited view of Holy Spirit and fire/love that will also show up when he sends his disciples to see what Jesus is up to? If there is room for modification because this is more about a projection of John than an experience with Jesus, what does that mean about how you would preach this in the context of this year?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent brings a choice

Year A - Advent 1 - Needed Change [1]
December 1, 2013

don’t know
don’t care
it is enough
awake or asleep
away is away

so glad to be
here or anywhere
as long as we are moving
toward healthier peace
Alaska or Onalaska
here is here

one carries the other
as potential

shalt not
all those acts
but mostly
a neighbor loved
is a law surpassed

this is the advent
we’ve been waiting for
it is here
now will we
choose to live