Thursday, August 28, 2014

Romans 12:9-21

Year A - Pentecost +12 or Community Practice 12
August 31, 2014

A series of wisdom proverbs is difficult to categorize. And yet the various layers can be seen as a series of lenses choices when at the optometrist. Each choice add its own power and correction.

Here’s “genuine love”, how clearly can you see now? 
Oh, not too clear because a big hurt makes you leery of love. How about now when I add “hate evil, embrace good”? 
Yes to be able to see what happened to you as evil and that you are still good does improve the vision. But things are still a bit fuzzy. How about we try focusing the first lens of genuine love with this one of “mutual affection”. How’s that? Better. Good. We seem to be on a helpful track.

Now it’s your turn. How do you connect this list to finally see well enough to come to the action piece—overcome evil with good?

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c

Year A - Pentecost +12 or Community Practice 12
August 31, 2014

“Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.” Remember Ham, cast away by Noah? Here we have a castaway in a castaway land. What might it be like to be twice exiled?

Like Michael Brown in Ferguson? Like any Palestinian? Like a Trans anywhere? 

The difference here is that none of the above or the folks you thought of to add to the list had experience of being fruitful and strong. It wasn’t a case of surface thanks to Joseph before enslaving his descendants. These folks have only known hate and craft used against them.

There is still a promise for everyone that allies will be sent who will assist our coming through the current hell on earth that another prayer might be lived—G*D’s presence come on earth.

In the meantime praise a vision of new relationships not dependent upon mining the poor to resource the rich. 

Exodus 3:1-15

Year A - Pentecost +12 or Community Practice 12
August 31, 2014

Moses was good at noticing what was going on around him. He saw abuse and tried to put an end to it (he just chose the wrong vehicle—vigilantism won’t do what community reorganizing can do). He saw a bush.

If we connect the bush with Pentecost through flames of fire that did not consume those evidencing them, we can ask about the going into the streets to speak different languages, engage different experiences. The same is going on here with Moses being pushed out of his locked expectation about his own call and gift. A wonder is to be told. (In fact a wonder is still expected to be told by you and me and all of us together.)

Things are always more complicated than they seem. Does Moses’ response of “Here I am” trigger YHWH’s playful name of presence?

One of the more creative lookings at this passage is by Rabbis Arthur Ocean Waskow and Phyllis Ocean Berman. May it free you to look again. When Moses Burned Inside the Burning Bush

It is always good to listen in to poets talking about their choices. Here is what Everett Fox has to say about his translation of verse 14 in The Five Books of Moses 

God said to Moshe:
EHYEH ASHER EHYEH/I will be-there howsoever I will be-there.
And he said: Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel:
EHYEH/I-WILL-BE-THERE sends me to you. 
“God’s answer is one of the most enigmatic and widely debated statements in the Hebrew Bible.... What does ehyeh asher ehyeh mean? One’s suspicions are aroused from the outset, for the answer is alliterative and hence already not easy to pin down; the poetics of the phrase indicate both importance and vagueness or mystery. There is some scholarly consensus that the name may mean “He who causes (things) to be” or perhaps “He who is.” Buber and Rosenzweig, taking entirely different tack (of which one occasionally finds echoes in the scholarly literature), interpret the verb hayoh as signifying presence, “being-there,” and hence see God’s words as a real answer to the Israelites’ imagined question—an assurance of his presence. The B-R interpretation has been retained here, out of a desire to follow them on at least this significant point of theology, and out of my feeling that it also fits the smaller context. For of the several times that Moshe tries to wriggle out of his mission, God answers him all but once with the same verb, in the same meaning: “I will be-there with you” (note the parallel between Moshe and the people again).

As you proceed to wrestle with the scriptures, don’t forget to look at things in the small picture of your experience and that of your Neighb*r as well as some imagined big picture of G*D and eternity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Matthew 16:21-28

Year A - Pentecost +12 or Community Practice 12
August 31, 2014

Remember to check out what went on before this text. That was the stimulus for this text and what is going on from there.

“God forbid it, Lord!” is one of those interesting lines for what it says and doesn’t say about the nature of G*D. It is as if Jesus got close enough to the disciples on a stormy sea and they were to exclaim, “Jesus Christ! Don’t scare us like that.” (If you remember, Jesus went on to say, “OK. I’ll scare you differently next time.”)

Well, here is a next time. Peter was scared enough, frightened enough, fearful enough, anxious enough, protective enough to want to hold Jesus close and rock him forever and ever (and, of course, be rocked by Jesus). [Note: there was no preconceived intention to play on the Peter/Rock connection, it was simply noticed as it came around.]

At the first scare Peter was invited on to the water, here Peter is dismissed. Make of it what you will.

This denial passage is not all it has been cracked up to be. It is not a penitential directive to get us to be reduced, but a reminder that our negative fear and our positive protectiveness, both, can keep us from paying attention to our work. A clearer way to say it would be, “Don’t deny the world your gift. Put everything else down and follow where it leads.”

I expect this jotting has taken at least one too many leaps. It would be appropriate to hope for better on the next posting.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Romans 12:9-21

Pentecost +11 or Community Practice 11
August 24, 2014

Romans 12:9-21


love be genuine
hold fast to what is good
love be mutual
show honor
zeal be ardent
be patient
extend hospitality
associate with the lowly
live peaceably
do this

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20

Pentecost +11 or Community Practice 11
August 24, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20

Interpretation of the data can be spun in any number of directions. And yet one way of looking at it begins to make more sense than other views. This is an everlasting issue seen these days in how data regarding weather changes is understood. Are you an affirmer of human effect on the environment or a denier?

How is it that the disciples sorted through eternal questions to settle on Jesus as a messiah? They would have known the measuring rod of ridding Israel of the Romans and establishing political/economic/military dominance as keys to such an affirmation and yet there is so little that could be used to document this as Jesus' self understanding.

We could go back to the set-up question about the "Son of Man". This title was quickly and easily connected with new and old heroes. When asked about their current hero, how could the disciples not give a title and "Messiah" would express their cultural desire.

How might we respond in this day to a question of how we identify our desire with Jesus? There will be a strong contingent wanting to do the Christian dominionist thing of conqueror. There will be some who want to keep Jesus very spiritual. Others will stake out a variety of other understandings.

For now we are back in a pre-Pentecost struggle of power against power, placing our bets, and investing our energies to be on the winning side. Rather than take this affirmation as a resting place or rocky foundation, we might better look at it as one stage of development that must be worked through in order to move on.

Eventually, stage by stage, we come to larger visions. If we hearken back to Pentecost at this point we might respond that Jesus is an opener of closed doors and a re-binder of people who have been divided by experiences expressed in different languages. These mercies will lead us toward a continued engagement with the world rather than an overcoming of it.

For the moment erase all this certainty of triumph and rocks and keys. Be a bit more lowly in your desire and simply say that Jesus is one teaching me to more clearly see G*D within my life and within the lives of others, including those so easily and temporarily called an enemy. For the moment consider the function of an alchemist who has found the transformational element of mercy, not condemnation. This cannot be captured in a title, but a movement.

Psalm 124

Pentecost +11 or Community Practice 11
August 24, 2014

Psalm 124

Here is a link to a paraphrase of Psalm 124 in light of the dread of the day. The comment is recommended to you as well, but the the particular focus here is found by scrolling down to the paraphrase by Jim Taylor.

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Pentecost +11 or Community Practice 11
August 24, 2014

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Consider Ferguson, MO in the news today. You can substitute any conflictual situation if you are still uncomfortable facing the realities of endemic racism. Eventually, though, all these breaking relationship based on one criterion or another will be seen as the same issue.

Here The New Revised Standard Version names our malady, "Dread".

Our friends at Merriam-Webster helpfully define Dread as:

1 a :  to fear greatly
   b archaic :  to regard with awe

If we move from the archaic to the present we see a shift away from trust in steadfast love. The King James translation affirms that we are to fear G*D, to regard G*D with awe. Now, without the awe of having mercy visited upon us regardless of our deserving, we turn an abundance of mercy into a lack of it and fear one another, fear greatly.

This is helpful in that it gives us a clearer place to stand to begin the Pentecostal work of sharing wonders openly on the street rather than sharing fear in a locked room. What is the cultural dread that keeps both brutal and silent killing (both physical and spiritual violence) rolling on without ever being surfaced and dealt with? Where we had abundance we now have scarcity. What revisioning needs to go on in your community?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Pentecost +10 or Community Practice 10
August 17, 2014

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gifts, even those of G*D, are not irrevocable. Some do have one calling, one gift to actualize, during their time on earth. Some move from calling to calling,  gift to gift. There is no accounting for calls and gifts. Any model that posits one understanding will eventually run aground on its own rules. Gifts and calls are beyond our control.

Claiming irrevocability is as short-sighted as claiming incompatibility. It just doesn't hold up in the light of mercy regarding disobedience. It is mercy that is the larger category, not disobedience.

When we get this relationship wrong all manner of wrongs are perpetrated on people—some to themselves and some to others.

Return to the part left out of this pericope to see examples of how what was discarded has been grafted in, how mercy is always being extended past our limits. We are thankful for mercy received. Let us be as thankful for being able to extend mercy by premeditatedly giving it away.

Psalm 133

Year A - Pentecost +10 or Community Practice 10
August 17, 2014

It is good when we have a spot of unity in the midst of our many differences. A question is whether that unity is large enough to hold us together. Our track record is that our differences are stronger than our unity. As a result separation is always adversarial.

Sometimes we claim that we are after an amicable separation so the differences might each be able to thrive in a way not currently possible as they tussle with each other for power and control of some magic 51% to impose their difference on another. This is particularly hypocritical when one of the differences is that of being able to hurt through discrimination another person or group of persons.

Unity is a good goal but mostly we have ways of trying to adjust to our differences by claiming we have a lock on the unity mechanism. If only those others would see things our way we would be unified.

The United Methodist Church is currently facing an “amicable separation” fiasco where every plan put forward by the religious right to separate has one fatal flaw. Whenever the concept of harm to another enters the conversation all their fine rhetoric and imagined processes fall apart. The separation then is seen for the issue of power and privilege that it is. This is evidence that the church is not unified regarding the presence of G*D in Jesus’ teachings. Without the keys of “this is how others will know you are my disciples: how you love one another” and “have you not learned G*D wants mercy for neighbors, not sacrifice”. As long as every other spot of agreement falls when these are not present, unity is not really on the agenda. 

It is not hard to identify that the hard spot of unity is love and mercy in a world where people are hard to love and our desire to be justified is more satisfying than the work of mercy.

In parallel to Sweet Honey in the Rock's song about Greed, I’ve been wondering how I can talk about mercy, sing about mercy, live within mercy. Do you have any report from your own experience about living mercifully in a context where there are people who will never love you and who desire your destruction?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Year A - Pentecost +10 or Community Practice 10
August 17, 2014

As clear as we can be about the processes of life—

  • What is processed internally and let go can be a benefit to the environment. Yay, fertilizer.
  • What is not processed internally but released to be processed outside can be a detriment to relationships. Boo, privilege that thinks we can get away with some “truth wrapped in love”.

— it doesn’t always become the basis of our actions.

Here Jesus is clear that heart junk let loose on others is far worse than setting down the junk of tradition held so dear by some.

In the blink of an eye the junk of Jesus’ acculturated heart is let loose on a Canaanite woman. When called on it, Jesus affirms his prejudice. Direct action by the Canaanite woman finally broke through by reminding Jesus of the great hypocrisy — by definition my view is correct and yours is not.

At stake in a post Pentecostal time is whether or not our newer traditions are just as time-bound as those we have wiggled out of. Our question is whether we will take the time needed to reflect, recognize we have been caught being as bound as those we escaped from and we need to substitute basic mercy for our first-response in order that our secondary and tertiary response might have room to come forth and recognize “great faith” where once we could only point a finger and say, “Wrong!”

If this passage doesn’t ask a community to assist one another to better see their common hypocrisy, it has not taken advantage of its opportunity. May you pay attention to your interactions with others and do better.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Romans 10:5-15

Year A - Pentecost +9 or Community Practice 9
August 10, 2014

Searching for meaning? Well, it’s not going to be found over there. Meaning is always tied up with current experience that we either choose to move further into or further away from by deliberately designing new experiences.

Salvation or wholeness is not to be found in any particular affirmation with either heart or lips. It is a moving target that continues to extend our engagement one moment longer to look at the present through the lens of whatever is next and then to adjust again.

So what good news are you sensing coming your way? Can you hear the hoofbeats of a very intentional rider coming with a new pair of glasses that you might catch a better glimpse of your life? If you can, are you taking a step in that direction or poising to run like the dickens lest you have the information you need to change where you are in the world? This approach-avoidance choice is a part of the glass half-full/half-empty hard wiring we have. Fortunately the wiring can be re-wired.

You might want to take a good look at your feet and thank them for bringing you this far along. Regardless of whether they still have health and strength to get you one more step, they have brought you this far. From here other modes of transportation are available to spread the good news you have within.

This good news is not about everyone becoming a lock-step creedalist, but about setting one another one notch freer. With or without hammer-toes or diabetes sores, thank those beautiful feet for doing their best to carry a beautiful soul.

Psalm 105:1-6,16-22, 45b

Year A - Pentecost +9 or Community Practice 9
August 10, 2014

Looking back we are able to discern a variety of paths that were open to us. In particular we can track how what looked like a disaster had a wee crack through which escape was possible.

Having that same clarity in the present is much more difficult. The options can’t really be weighed against one another. Every chart we make to list pluses and minuses is colored by our desires and is thus very untrustworthy. It is not much better when it comes to the future. We can catch a glimpse of how we might be different, but applying it in the present with any certainty is highly problematic.

All in all, we can revision history but not clearly vision the present. This is to say that application of history can’t be counted on. Whether we know our past or not, the weight of life is to repeat what we have done.

Our work is the difficult work of learning enough to teach, teaching it, and learning from our teaching how to better teach.

Blessings to you in sorting through your possibilities, picking a path, and proceeding long enough to make one more course adjustment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Genesis 37:1-28

Year A - Pentecost +9 or Community Practice 9
August 10, 2014

For mere pieces of silver do we betray. We do it consciously and unconsciously. 

Consciously we pass legislation that advantage a few against the many. Consciously we sell armaments to both sides of a conflict, telling them “you and them fight” and then picking up the spoils after the gingham cat and the calico dog have torn one another to pieces.

Unconsciously we don’t attend to the polluting of ground and groundwater until it is too late and we have to declare another environmental disaster site. As long as it is profitable for someone we are willing to put everyone at risk. Unconsciously we dismiss people from our view. Native peoples are removed to reservations until we find mineral resources on the very land despised as worthless and only good for a more-or-less concentration camp. When we find worth where didn’t expect to find it, we then remove the invisible ones one step further.

Look at Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Lake Erie, Fracking earthquakes and chemical injections, exploding oil trains, spilled pipelines, institutionalized poverty, decaying infrastructure, “black sheep” in families, people declared “incompatible” with one limited category or another, and the list goes on and on.

Where have we not thrown a sister or a brother or a friend away to bolster our own position or self-image?

Where is the prayer needed to put life into a clearer perspective that allows mercy to temper our rush to judgment and forgiveness to beckon forth and resolve our fear, our prejudice, our preference for short-term gain and long-term decay?

Matthew 14:22-33

Year A - Pentecost +9 or Community Practice 9
August 10, 2014

Earlier the Disciples had wanted to dismiss the crowd before feeding them. Here Jesus finally dismisses the crowd after they were fed.

This same dynamic is too often present today. Faithful disciples who have settled into their pattern of privilege, no matter how marginalized they may feel, set up conscious and unconscious pre-dismissal criteria. It is as if they really do expect folks to self-deport from their experience.

Just as they had earlier projected their limitations upon the crowd, they project on to the storm all their fear and tremblings, multiplying them to mis-see what was before their very eyes. Again, so many disciples are not able to agree on the effect of storms upon others, only themselves. It is so easy to fall into a persecuted mentality.

It appears the only way through our projections is to actually go through them to be able to look back and see them for what they were, barriers to growth. And so the limits placed upon community and communal miracles need to be experienced before they can enter into a new understanding. The limits placed by our emotions need to be acknowledged before we can step forward to ask questions and test them as accurate.

Two keys:

  • Can we acknowledge the needs of and harm done to others or will we continue to deny the same and use our privilege to dismiss them from our awareness?
  • Can we move beyond our limits to hear a new word of, “Come”?

Of course we will then have do deal with our tendency to then enshrine our expanded understanding and shrink the rest of the world to fit it. Yes, larger, but still too small.

Blessings to you as you practice first saying, “Welcome” and biting your dismissive tongue. Blessings to you as you practice responding to and invitation to grow, no matter how slightly.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Romans 9:1-5

Pentecost +8 or Community Practice 8
August 3, 2014

A dilemma of a "weeping executioner": my internals and externals still aren't matching up. Neither my solitary weeping nor my public execution of duties resolves my plight.

Oh how I wish I could assist those being harmed without losing my job. I'm more compassionate in my job than others even if my job is to not be compassionate. And if I lose my job there are those who are dependent upon me and I will be letting them down, which isn't fair.

Oh how I wish I could resolve the harm being done by me without the reality that if I withhold my hand someone else will take my place and I will be the one to whom harm is done.

Oh how I wish I could get beyond wishing and have an analysis of the situation that wasn't so small. As it is I can't really see beyond myself and, if I could, that would be even more scary than staying in this place of cognitive and emotional dissonance.

It seems all that is left are pieces of left-overs. I am one of those pieces left lying around after a great thing has passed by. Yes, I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart! It is either tomorrow or suicide.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15

Pentecost +8 or Community Practice 8
August 3, 2014

Disciples: "Send them away."

Individuals within the crowd being sent away: "Hear a just cause."

Here is a tension from time immemorial. Those who have theirs will find a way, one way or another, to keep and expand what they have. If they need to build walls to protect their investment, they will. If they need to hire guards to protect the walls, they will. If they need to design surveillance to watch the guards, they will. Simply, they will do what they need to do.

Here early disciples and later church live and move and have their being-control of resources and people are but one resource.

On the other side stand those who have been harmed in one way or another. Everything they have tried has been thwarted by themselves or others, usually others (whether the other of culture and society or the other of one or more individuals). There is nothing left but an appeal for justice and when mercy has not been active and justice is a last appeal there is usually not a good outcome.

When things finally come to this place of last resort we do put all our chickens in one basket: "As for me . . . I will have to trust some unseen future because there is nothing that has been left untried here."

The question that has been bequeathed to you and me is which side of this dynamic we find ourselves.

Usually it has been a mixed bag for us. On one divide we are on one side and on another we are on the other. The old "seamless garment" ideal doesn't easily get put on. Our little privileges keep poking through.

Nonetheless, what's a disciple to do these days but to recognize their own limits, put down their institutional protections, and join a prayer to be freed from deceit, their own as well as that of their church, nation, family, or other privilege generating body.