Monday, August 31, 2015

Mark 7:24-37

Year B - Pentecost +15 or Energy to Witness 15
September 6, 2015

So what did the Syrophoenician woman say in her response to Jesus’ challenge? What is the message in talking about “dogs eating the children’s crumbs” that Jesus found compelling? Was it the standing up for one’s passion, as he does? Is mirroring sufficient? Did he appreciate the recognition that some are more chosen than others and that crumbs are sufficient for the non-chosen—a healing then reminds them how they get a bone now and then, but mostly cuffs for curs? Is this as a gift of thanks for providing a learning opportunity for Jesus that his work is more universal than it is often described by the Jesus advocates who wrote what we now claim to be scripture?

Is this practical outgrowth of “telling of wonders/power” from back at Pentecost? Language play and returning language are easy connections to make with folks exploding forth from a room that was exploding with fire energy.

If nothing from the outside has the power to contaminate (last week’s lection, Mark 7:18) everything and everyone is eligible for healing, being returned to a larger community. In this light we are seeing folks outside a usual definition of “chosen”, chosen to be included.

These are less miracle stories, than missionary stories. In saying “Go” and “Ephphatha” we find it is an opening toward outsiders but also a word to insiders that their task to date has been too small if used for the defense of privilege boundaries.

Where might you practice the gift of openness today and this week (attend to the news all week long for local examples)? To whom will you announce, “Go!” and “Ephphatha!”? Put another way, from whom will you withhold entry to your privilege?

= = = = = = =

Thursday, August 27, 2015

James 1:17-27

Year B - Pentecost +14 or Energy to Witness 14
August 30, 2015

Again we run into the infamous dualism that never resolves into a manageable paradox/polarity or movable continuum. Forever-and-a-day, it seems, we are caught with “evil intentions” arising from inside our human heart and every “generous act” emanating from a static point above. 

Our will is but to fight or to embrace these contestants. We sift and winnow these competing values knowing a bit of both are always present for we cannot live without our heart or only as a puppet.

Stand and choose your percentage of evil or generosity (have you paired these before?) in your next volitional relationship. This is your liberty.

In this model everything is “stained by the world”. Yes, even care for orphans and widows. Stained or not, such care can yet go on for even a mere tithe (10%) of whole care—a portion is better than none? [Note: our “evil heart” would see value here for it would allow another handout tomorrow by which to feel better about ourself.] Stained or not, such care can be completed. [Note: our “evil heart” could see value here as any warmth of heart could begin to bend the remaining coldness elseways.]

Bottom line: What is the best opportunity available to me to care from 1-to-all orphans and widows in either their metaphoric or all too real every-day life. [Note: this generosity is not as much material as a reordering of community life.]

- - - - - - -

Blessings on your work.

Thought this article might trigger a remembrance (moving from background to foreground) of the formative realities the beginning of the industrial revolution had on the Wesleyan movement. Are we currently overbalanced toward piety in a latest revolution looking for mercy?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

Year B - Pentecost +14 or Energy to Witness 14
August 30, 2015

Indeed, our heart overflows with a theme of goodly intention. We desire to connect both truth and beauty with G*D and our current leader for that will keep them both busy and not disrupting our lives. Go King/Pharaoh/Führer/President! Go G*D!

Even as we don’t trust power for we have much evidence that it goes its on way regardless of who is in the cat-bird seat, we still desire power to be well used for our purposes.

That this revision of the Psalm rings false is fairly clear in its attempt to bolster the passivity of women by grouping them as political pawns to be decorated in booty—to have their very booty to be booty2.

If this pericope had gone on one more stanza we would have heard, “forget your people”. Is not the power to make a captive an excellent example of Jesus’ affirmation regarding “evil intentions” arising within our boundaries—always finding that individual or group we will misrepresent as less than “us” and do all manner of institutional evil against them (thus excusing our own silence and participation in the privilege of unacknowledged power).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Song of Songs 2:8-13

Year B - Pentecost +14 or Energy to Witness 14
August 30, 2015
Must I wait, must I follow?
Won't you say "Come with me?"

O we want to be invited
   to what we know all too well

A glance, a word, a gesture
   we might respond to

And in that response
   know we are The Initiator

It is our pile of dust
   that attracted a creator

From our wallflower position
   we see strings pulled

Our empty silence the strongest pull
   our excuse for failure stronger still

We wait, we reposition, we make available
    yet no champion bursts our bounds

Come, my love, sit awhile
   reveal my beauty

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mark 7:1-8, 14-18, 21-23

Year B - Pentecost +14 or Energy to Witness 14
August 30, 2015

October 15, 2015 — Global Handwashing Day

A study by Michigan State University found 70.6% washed their hands with soap in the morning as contrasted with 66.4% in the afternoon and 67.0% in the evening. Gender difference in proper handwashing was noted (77.9% of women, to 50.3% of men).

Those who have hard and fast rules for the way people ought to behave are going to be disappointed when they run into real people. Imagine Jesus doing a study of what the perfectly upright person should be and limiting his followers to those so no disparagement would fall upon him through them. Go ahead, imagine. Would you have made the cut. According to the current Ashley Madison hack, how many Pharisees then would be fellow-travelers with Josh Duggars and others today?

All in all the issue of hypocrisy was and is alive and well. Just don’t call me on mine and I’ll let you have yours.

And then the kicker. Rules about appearance can never measure the content of a character, and we’re all characters.

Having eaten of some proverbial apple, we know the difference between that which builds up and that which tears down. We know them so well we can play games with them and shade actions through comparison with the worst or having such wonderful intentions.

Attend to your Neighb*r simply on the basis of your relationship with “good” and “evil” and “common good” without a rationale and see what happens. 

[A side note regarding the elided verse 19: If this was the teaching, was Peter missing class that day? How else explain how long it took him to attend to this as found in Acts 10?]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-20

Year B - Pentecost +13 or Energy to Witness 13
August 26, 2015

This passages gives some hints at a common phenomenon in religious work—accuse and whine.

Up to this point Ephesians might be said to rely on a realized eschatology that “victory” is already won, wholeness and health is assured.

Now we get what some have called a general’s call to battle based on other similar historic calls. We are to strike out, crusade style, to make prisoners of conscience. Armor is a place of safety from which we raid weaker unarmed people, seen as less than civilized or human for they are not us. We go forth to accuse them of being incompatible with G*D. Just the putting on of these garments of war is expected to have power to destroy something called evil (weeds in a field, Jesus would have us leave alone until some harvest time?). “Victory” must be ever won—we have entered a never-ending war.

First we move from a trust that G*D prevails to that not being so sure and we we need to put a final nail in some proverbial Schrödinger's coffin that may or may not have “Evil” dead within it.

Then we find our general is already in chains, a pre-martyr, a willing martyr. And we have shifted into a state of being warred against. It is easy to shift an affirmation into a whine when the affirmation we want to see win the day is in the least way questioned. Supposedly armored Christians in our day are quick to shift from bold declaration able to take death in stride to complaining that there is a war against Christians in the most Christian-affirming country.

To need prayers continuing immediately after a call to arms keeps the whole realized eschatology of the first five-plus chapter anxious. Is it true? Can we proceed without constraining armor never ready for a next development in offensive weaponry? Is faith reliant upon debate rhetoric that can dismantle others and incontrovertibly make my point? Does love need to prevail to be love?

How does this passage sound if put in the voice of resigning disciples, rocky Peter, or realistic Jesus?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Psalm 84

Year B - Pentecost +13 or Energy to Witness 13
August 26, 2015

Trusting in G*D is much more than one claim or another that our interpretation of G*D is the best for another person or element of creation. Partnership with G*D entails being partnered with all G*D is partnered with and that includes partnerships with others that are based on different criteria than the those that connect us with G*D.

Yes, while everything is going swimmingly, we easily come forth with praise and affirmations that even a sparrow or foreigner/immigrant finds a home here.

And then comes trouble when the very folks we have welcomed as citizens begin to “presume”. It doesn’t take long for us to become sensitized to any slight of our always being due a slight preference in the dividing up of a common good.

This is the song of disciples of Jesus before they learn what it costs to live upright in a developed system that is aslant to many. This is Peter’s affirmation after some took affront at Jesus’ teaching and left the ranks of disciples. This is our own prosperity gospeleer affirmation trying to talk G*D into privileging us.

Do celebrate the Psalm when it is true in its widest setting. Question this Psalm when its context is reduced and it really is not true about a lowly sparrow finding a home but, at best, a handout.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Year B - Pentecost +13 or Energy to Witness 13
August 26, 2015

1) In the first extension comes verse 6. Note here that the wings of the cherubim are above the ark, not on it—as in Indiana Jones. In Near Eastern art the wings of the cherubim represent a throne which places the ark as a footstool.

If this section is going to be used it would be helpful to note the “poles” for carrying the ark in verse 7. These poles are ready to move with a deity named “Freedom”. This quote from The New Interpreter’s Bible is helpful here: “.... In these ways, the ark is demythologize, and the mention of the poles for carrying it (vv.7-8) is part of a theological effort to move away from any misunderstanding of God as a king permanently enthroned in the Temple.”

2) If the focus is on the narrower reading, the word “Likewise” that begins verse 41 is warrant to bring in the elided verses (vv.31-40) where we hear expectations of individuals and Israel, as a whole, going astray and what it takes to return to a partnership with G*D and one another. 

The end of this section is a key element both then and now—“Foreigners”. These are the ones who are very helpful in revealing who we are as a community. If a foreigner is welcome to G*D by entering into partnership with G*D it raises questions about the ways we have built our own privilege into the system and it is that privilege that eventually becomes brittle in defending every corner of its territory that leads to the understanding in (vv. 31-40) that we will go astray. Foreigners measure the spiritual maturity of a person and community. Foreigners carry potential evangelism of Israel and the world. Foreigners are a warning-canary in a too-settled community forgetful of a journeying partner. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

John 6:56-69

Year B - Pentecost +13 or Energy to Witness 13
August 26, 2015

Again we stop short of Jesus in order to protect Jesus.

We have just come through a dispute within Jesus’ religious community, the Jews. They are arguing over a metaphor used by Jesus, “I give my flesh to be eaten by you.” This affirmation of so living together we might feast on an abundance of enough is not easy to talk about. In our day, if you say this straight out you are immediately labeled a socialist. Say it aslant and you are dismissed for any number of reasons essentially saying you are unreasonable, naive. 

The mystery of living abundantly is not reducible to ritual or sacrifice. Let the arguments commence.

Because we are each immersed in an institutionalized culture or religion, we can follow someone like Jesus, even as a disciple of a new way or promise. Being a disciple, though, is more than giving assent. This can be seen as Jesus’ disciples walk away when talk of deep community and a full-investment in being Partners becomes clear.

This is not a passage about food or right memes/framing. It is a story about the difficulty of living abundantly in the midst of betrayal.

Yes, people leave when challenged to live giving their flesh to be eaten by those who betray them, don’t understand them.

Yes, people stay without understanding. They continue to find meaning even if it is misoriented.

Some leave saying, “This is no way to Heaven.” Though not recorded, in their upset they may not have heard Jesus say, “You’re right, it is only a way to Paradise on earth.”

Some stay without hearing this either. They are still betting they will get a pass into Heaven—”Where can we go, you have words of eternity (Holy, Heaven).”

Here ends the reading—on a high note of heavenly access.

What we miss when stopping here is Jesus saying, “Oh yeah? You are eating my flesh here. My best allies are also my best betrayers. I’ve opted to Partner with you. Even though many walk away, my danger comes from those who stay to suckle at my breast without the transformation to have their flesh eaten in turn, without Partnering with their betrayers.

Jesus was not just speaking about Judas Iscariot but about Peter and the rest, about me, about you.

Extend the reading; extend your life.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ephesians 5:15-20

Year B - Pentecost +12 or Energy to Witness 12
August 16, 2015

It is so easy to say, “Do what the will of the Lord is.” This open-ended statement leaves people wide-open to manipulation as principalities and powers all too easily define this “will” simplistically and to their own benefit.

This particular use of that construct follows immediately on the heels of an instruction to “make the most of the time available”. The reason for this is certainly not because, “the days are evil”. That dumbs things down. Evil in this case is pretty mundane—that which wants to hold on to yesterday as though it is also tomorrow and today. That’s not so much evil as short-sighted. Short-sightedness may, of course, have some devilish consequences but it is not intrinsically evil. We do need to bring the best of yesterday along, just not all of it.

Making the most of our time, regardless of how things are going, is a close approximation to some “will” of an urge to life. Time simply can’t be saved (have you read Momo by Michael Ende, yet?). Sleep may well be making the most of the time you have. Eating, attending to one another, sex, and travel may well be making the most of the time you have. Attending one more meeting, participating in a resistance movement, telling jokes may all be making the most of the time you have.

Time goes by so slowly (or quickly). Time simply goes by. So, for a moment of time, attend to your time. How are you doing? Well?

Well, if so, Hooray and Thank You.

Well, if not, it is not too late and thank you for beginning again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Psalm 111

Year B - Pentecost +12 or Energy to Witness 12
August 16, 2015

Presume a partnership between G*D and you. Now it becomes relatively easy to recast this psalm in terms of your own work in the world, your own presence.

G*D gives thanks when I engage a larger congregation than just the “upright”.

What I do is done in the context of giving honor and majesty to the poor who have misplaced their basic blessedness.

Mindful of my covenant with G*D, I provide food for the hungry.

Trusting a covenant with G*D deepens my own trust in being faithful simply to be faithful.

It is awesome to be a vehicle of renewal.

In partnership we join hands to learn more. It is practicing partnership that is the beginning of further wisdom, and still further wisdom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Year B - Pentecost +12 or Energy to Witness 12
August 16, 2015

The contrast between the selected verses and those left out is hard to miss. To only go with the official lectionary selection is to do the same sort of spin that political operatives in every age have done—cherry-pick cherry tree tales and log-cabin heritages.

As it stands, all is right with Solomon. He is already wise enough to ask for further understanding all the while understanding this is the quickest route to unimaginable (except for Solomon’s desires) riches.

If G*D is so easily fooled by Solomon’s eulogy of David and his own claim of humble-sonship and servant-leadership, what are you going to try to sneak past an obviously distracted G*D?

With Solomon’s hand so easily involved in death and banishment we have to wonder about Solomon as a sociopath rather than model of wisdom. Our very choosing to avoid the questionable parts of leaders eventually brings us to the point of not trusting leaders and so supporting the least wise but easiest to project on to of our own desires which are no more honorable than Solomon’s.

Monday, August 10, 2015

John 6:51-58

Year B - Pentecost +12 or Energy to Witness 12
August 16, 2015

This is still a season after Pentecost. That which comes amongst us is wind and fire. Imagine a ritual of wind and fire rather than bread and wine, body and blood.

How would you be different if these were the regular and formative symbols of our living?

How would we be different if these were the regular and formative symbols of our living together?

How would the world be different if these were the regular and formative symbols through which we encountered it?

Another series of questions can be raised around simply living for as long as we have and living in some forever land. How would you phrase those questions and measure their impact on the way we live and move and have our being with one another? Might it be that forever loses some of its coercive power when its connection to body is lessened and connection with energy is enhanced?

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

Year B - Pentecost +11 or Energy to Witness 11
August 9, 2015

In a context of putting away falsehood because we are members of one another and the confusion of falsehood diminishes community and common good—it is important to note that anger is not a falsehood. Anger here is a clarifier of relationship and an on-going opportunity to identify where forbearance and forgiveness are needed. Anger recognizes difference and an expectation of privilege that needs to be checked in order to affirm or correct our larger values.

There is a falsehood alert to be aware of in the context of structural lies. We often tell ourselves that one measurable result is more important than another. In economics it is the amount of collectibles we can pile around ourselves as defense against ever having to settle for the edginess of enough. In this it turns out that labor and honest work with hands doesn’t count. Jobs are relocated or discontinued through a next round of technology. Wages are held low so profits can grow for money managers.

In the midst of a community this is one of the ways we tell whether an economic, educational, political, industrial, . . . system is healthy in the long-term—is manual labor honored. If not there are lies aplenty going around about how it is we live together and where the ultimate value of work resides. If laborers do not have enough to share with the needy, there is something drastically wrong with the models we are trusting in and they will, soon enough, let us down with a crash.

Both our words and our community building can grieve a spirit of life. Both can rejoice that same spirit. The measurable difference is “kindness”. If you are going to posit G*D’s steadfast love as constituent of said G*D, what shift needs to happen with your modeling, partnering, imitating that same mercy in your life?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Psalm 130

Year B - Pentecost +11 or Energy to Witness 11
August 9, 2015

out of my depth
I cry 
wait and wait
hope and watch 
a morning
beyond mourning

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Year B - Pentecost +11 or Energy to Witness 11
August 9, 2015

Orders are orders up to the point where they are not.

As per usual we are faced with a basic choice—deal gently or deal pragmatically.

David asks for gentleness; Joab counters with 3 spears.

Regardless of whether this is royal propaganda absolving David of Absalom’s death or not, we are all caught fast between heaven and hell, gentleness and pragmatism, past and future. It is not just hair that catches us in the middle of a moment of deciding where meaning lies. It is the state of a human being with knowledge of good and evil, a choice of mercy or practical power politics. (Being caught fast between is one of Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful insights.)

This particular put together would ring a bit truer if the middle section were verse 14 instead of 15. Do feel free to modify this accordingly. The ten added a finality to Absalom’s death, but the instigator of such was Joab with his spears. Let’s at least honor the actor here and not cover it up. The one asked to be gentle is the same one who decided not to be gentle.

With this story in mind, how is your week looking? Did you start out with great resolve to express mercy (and that preemptively) only to find that by Tuesday, you have already stuck your spears into someone? Can your week still be redeemed after such betrayal of yourself and your intentions? Well, fortunately, there is more forgiveness available than we are generally willing to receive. Give it another try, there are still days to go before the week is up and we can still learn kindness.

Monday, August 03, 2015

John 6:35, 41-51

Year B - Pentecost +11 or Energy to Witness 11
August 9, 2015

John 6:35, 41-51

What we know is all there is to know! So runs the word of institutional power, regardless of the culture. To allow more to be known is to put one’s privilege at risk.

Misquoting or mischaracterizing are two techniques as old as the first human/snake encounter. Speaking with a forked tongue is a way of keeping new information at bay. We give it faint enough praise that it is never investigated or we bring out all the guns of house arrest and legal murder.

In between ignoring and suppression is belittling and Argumentum ad hominem.

About the only position left is, “This is not about you.” Whether folks like it or not, new information is new information. It will rise and fall of its own accord, not because it is liked or not liked by some sub-set of preference.

It becomes unfortunate when a response tries to best the resistance to it by making claims that ultimately can’t be backed up. To posit a faith statement is not to have proved or disproved anything.

What seems truest in Jesus’ response is his last line, “What I have to offer is my life. Come, Look, Respond.”

Every form of church essentially claims that it holds the key to sustaining life eternally or meaningfully. There is nothing but lives currently lived to see how they are living to back up their claim. Some will find in one of them a way, truth, and increased value in living. Others will not, but find their energy enhanced in another. This saying is not just a dividing line between religions, but within each. Have you seen Buddhist fighting Buddhist for control of a temple? Sunni fighting Shia for political and military control? Progressive and Evangelical Christians vying to be in charge of a denomination? Wiccan’s arguing over which coven is the truest?

Ultimately each dispute comes down to giving our life for life. In looking back we can see where our bets were well placed and where we erred. Looking forward is much more difficult. It is with humility that we open our eyes and hearts as wide as possible and invest in that which will bring the greatest return for any born three to seven generations down the line. May they look back and be thankful we assisted them so well.