Beyond Vengeance

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Psalm 94:1-2 1 O Lord, you God of vengeance,you God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve! (NRSV)

[Scripture quotation from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Reflections

What an unsavory and offensive wish —
that God would wipe out all those
whom I consider wicked and unrighteous
that God would be a ‘heavenly hit man’
to resolve my ‘black and white’ view of the world.

A vengeful God
no longer ‘fits’
assuming a dualistic world
where I can clearly 
between the unjust and the just
the wicked and the good
the foolish and the wise
the faithful and the unreligious
assuming that I am to be included with
the just
the good
the wise
the faithful

A vengeful God
is the result of arrogance and pride
vengeful gods and Psalms about them
need to be turned upside-down
need to be turned inside-out
or they need to be ignored

Lord, save me from myself
from my vengeance
from my hatred
from my fear
set me free to engage others without fear
to love without regret
to interact without hatred
to live without why

Moving Beyond Barabbas

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Mark 15:15     15 Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Musings

The story is so familiar.
so romanticized,
so admixed with
the accounts by Matthew, Luke, and John
and the preaching of 20 centuries
that it is difficult
to separate fact from fiction
to appreciate the mythology
of the ubiquitous venture…

A man standing by and with the poor
over against the ruling powers
of government
and the religious establishment
unwilling to mount a defense
where no defense will matter.

So he stands silent
and is found guilty.

He is found guilty
of speaking truth to power,
of sedition,
of ‘pissing off’ the establishment.

No wonder he had to die
on behalf of us all
for we, too, stand outside
the halls of power.

It seems strange
for a Teaching Elder
who has served as Executive Presbyter
to be on the outside…
disempowered,
emasculated,
debilitated,
incapacitated.

I was trained to lead a dying church,
educated in the ways that ‘used to be,’
taught to preach with eloquence
but not with truth.

Like a lamb
I followed
with little direction
in the path of least resistance.

I am Barabbas
imprisoned with the rebels
voice-less and
mind-less…
even worse —
a voice that babbled

a mind that speculated
old worn-out and withered truths.

Little did I know that seminary
was the processing center
for the prison called
“the religious establishment”
that I was formed to be a long robe
spouting “eternal truths”
that led people into captivity
and not freedom, not abundant life!

So, what has happened
to make a difference now
to loose the fetters
and open my mouth?

Why am I now willing
to be radical
in my thinking,
if not in my actions?

Maybe being on a cross
in the presence of Yeshua
is the one freeing action
that leads to abundant living…
abundance that cannot
be lived alone (released)
but must be shared
with others on crosses

I have found a new language
that has given me my voice
a new framework for old ideas
that has given me my thoughts.

I have deepened my friendship
with a soul brother

who has walked with me
through deepest darkness.

I have found light in the darkness
life in the midst of smoldering death;
I have found a Way
and one who brings the messianic
into the midst of daily life
abundant life into the midst of the ordinary
one who stood with the marginalized
one who stood with me and for me.

The Way I found
(or did it find me?)
has not changed the world
but it has changed me
transformed me
deconstructed and rebuilt me
with voice and intellect
with sentence and reason.

Is that enough?

Am I willing and able
to convey a coherent word
to speak truth to power,
to lay it on the line
for those shackled
by the institutions of power
and repression?

Am I willing to speak a truth…
am I willing to speak…
am I willing…
Am I?

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?
thank you, God, for forsaking me
for leaving me with responsibility for myself
and respond-ability with others.

Now, as an adult,
it is time really to hear it
to feel the insistence calling
to accept the invitation
to be moved by the lure
to follow the calling

to step away from the cross
and live into the resurrection
that stirs within

Through the Eye of a Needle

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Mark 10:23-31 23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25  It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” 26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.” 28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30  will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31  But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Mark 10:23-31 in Other Words

Yeshua spoke to his disciples, “Wealth is not a passport or a visa providing entrance into the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice.” This confused the disciples, so Yeshua tried another approach. “It is easier for a camel to swim across the Mediterranean than for a rich person to become a citizen of the Commonwealth.” “Woe is us,” cried the disciples. “No one can measure up to those standards.” Yeshua knew that he had to help them understand. “You are correct that it seems impossible from a human perspective. However, listen to that unheard inner voice which insists in the name of God. Perhaps.” Peter interrupted him, “What about us? We have been following your Way.” “If you left everything behind because you are following me and the Way in response to what you hear God calling you to do, then you already have abundant life and you have moved into that dimension of reality which we call the eternal. You are living in the presence of God where everything seems topsy-turvy — those in prominence are being humbled and the humble are taking precedence; power and wealth are no longer ends in themselves, but means to give everyone what they need; violence is no longer tolerated, having been replaced by reconciliation and justice.

Deconstructing the Empty Tomb

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After reading yesterday’s post, a friend emailed me. She understands about the inner experience of the risen Jesus, but said that she was “still not sure how to justify the empty tomb.” While I replied directly to her, I thought that a few comments on the topic might be a good follow-up to yesterday’s post.

John Caputo suggests that it is more productive to pay attention to the event – that is, what happens in the name of God – rather that the being of God. Theological inquiry tends to conclude that metaphysical and ontological questions about God tend to speculate about that which is beyond human comprehension. The so-called “proofs” for God’s existence don’t really prove anything. Instead, you end up where you began. If you begin with the assumption that God exists, your reasoning “proves” that God exists. On the other hand, if you begin with the assertion that God does not exist, you gather evidence which “proves” your case. As soon as you make a declarative statement about what God is, you have to qualify that statement by saying, “But not quite so!”

It is far more productive to talk about that which happens in the name of God. This phenomenological approach, Caputo suggests, focuses on the event of God. In a like manner, rather than focusing on the tomb’s “being” (its historicity), I might ask about the tomb as an event in the life of a faithful person. When resurrection was bubbling up in the life of the life of those who had followed Jesus, what role might the empty tomb have played? More to the point, what role might the empty tomb play in the life of faith today.

I am aware that all the earliest Easter stories seem to have their origin in the latter part of the 1st century. They, like the Christmas stable, are metaphors that need to be interpreted, not facts to be “believed.” I see the empty tomb as a poetic image of the empty place / the hollow gap that we face as we move from second-hand faith (believing what we have been told) to first-hand faith (trusting what we are experiencing).

Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes, “The time period between Good Friday and Easter is a poignant time for me.  As a Muslim, it has meaning beyond its meaning as Christian creed. … I ponder on the poignant time between Good Friday and Easter, which is where I see most of us human beings.  
As Jesus is believed to have been in the tomb for three days, most of us humans spend our lives in the metaphorical tomb of existence.  We stand between a womb and a tomb.    
Most of us are in this in-between stage, the cosmic “three days” that all of us find ourselves in:  not dead, and not yet resurrected.” [See the full article here. I recommend it. It is good Easter reading.]

The empty tomb is, for us, an in-between time, a gap, a transitional space. Perhaps the Celtic concept of “thin places” comes close to the metaphoric meaning of the empty tomb – caught between birth and death, and yet on the cusp of resurrection.

This is why my preferred Easter story is the original ending of Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:1-8). The focus is on the empty tomb and its effect on the women, who flee in terror. ..  End of story. Aposiopesis — asking each of us to finish the story in our own way… to finish the story with us as participants along with the women. It is our empty tomb… my empty tomb.

Resurrection – a Different Kind of Hope!

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The following reflection comes after reading Bernard Brandon Scott’s The Trouble with Resurrection. Scott reminds us that “The trouble with resurrection is that we have literalized, narrowed, and constricted it, turned it into a credal belief, and in the process forfeited its great claim and hope.” The following picks up a number of ideas, images, and phrases from Scott’s work.

Resurrection is
   a resounding symphony
   a spectacular work of art
   a beautiful poetic image
      arising out of
         the bosom of Israel
      preserving the grace of justice
         in the name of God

Resurrection has been
      scandalized by centuries
         of dogmatic veneer
         of mis-interpretation
         of foolish theology

Too many Christians
   who think they believe
      in the resurrection
   actually believe
      in the immortality of the soul
   a Greek idea
      making resurrection unimportant
      impugning the body as evil
      commending the soul as good

Immortality
   focuses on the world to come
   devaluing nature as a useful resource
      to be consumed without regard
      to be devoured with no thought for tomorrow
      to be exploited for human satisfaction
   turning Christianity into
      a hunting safari saving souls
         to be taxidermied into heaven

Resurrection is
   a gift that bubbles up and overflows
      in a transformed people
   the endowment of hope
      that constitutes a New Humanity
   the reality of memory and experience
      that insists upon me daily

As kingdom people
   we are offended by the crucifixion
   we want life to be unsullied by death
   but we can not abandon
   what we know about Yeshua
      that he lived fully into God
      that he made God known to us
      that the kingdoms of this world
         are not God’s kingdom

As kingdom people we
   continue to experience a presence
   a potentiality bubbling up into our midst
   the force of love
      that did not die on the cross
like our first-century forebears
we live in hope and confidence
   Rome has not defeated God
   God’s Kingdom thrives
      just as Yeshua has taught us
         whenever we take care of
            the poor and disadvantaged
         when we feed the hungry
            and give drink to the thirsty

Resurrection persists
   because of an empty tomb
      not because of a resuscitated body
   because we experience an insistence
      in the name of God
   more powerful than the insistence
      in the name of Caesar

Resurrection is
   a story that enfolds me
      not an event that happens to someone else
   a movement embracing our passion for life
      not a dogma that creates truth
   a passionate experience
      not a creed

We long for a Parousia
   a consummation that will
      signal the ultimate victory
      of good over evil
and yet we silently cry out
   my God, my God
   why have you forsaken us?

A contemporary prophet reminds us
   “The arm of the moral universe is long
   but it bends toward justice”
resurrection is that bend
   which happens in the name of God
   a possibility that Yeshua opened up for all
   a potentiality that simmers within us

Resurrection bends us into the story
   drives us back to faithfulness and trust
   that God’s justice is
      always happening
      always insisting
      always appearing on the horizons
         of our lives
   inviting us
   urging us
   calling us
      into abundant life in the face of death
      into the well-being of all in society
      into the healing of a fractured world

Resurrection is
   the well-spring of hope
      that molds life
      that transforms me
   an insistence
      that will not let me go
      that brings me back to myself
         where I find God within
         waiting to burst forth
         wanting to arise

If We Could Lift the Veil

 

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“If we could lift the veil, and if we were attentive and watchful God would continually reveal Godself to us, and we should see God’s divine action in everything that happened to us, and rejoice in it.” Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

 

1 Corinthians 13:12    Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known
.[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

 

If we could lift the veil
and see the Presence

   beyond my presence
   within my presence
   animating my presence…

If we could lift the veil
and not be surprised
   when insistence in the name of God
   comes knocking at the door of our awareness
      wanting admittance…

If we could lift the veil
that clouds the mind and the heart
   preventing us from seeing
      the disadvantaged and marginalized
      around us and within…

If we could lift the veil
and see the sunrise that greets the new day
  the dawn of a new presence
      within and around
   the dawn of a new way of
      being present in the world…

If we could lift the veil
   if we would let go of the distractions
   if we would see deeply within
   if we would let go of the desire to control
   if we would embrace the tension between
      the conditional and the unconditional
      the sacred and the secular
      the limited and the unlimited
      the whole and the partial

If I would lift the veil
   if I would be attentive and watchful
   if I would be alert to the invitations
   if I would pay attention to the insistence
   if I would pick up on the nudges
      that come in the name of God…

If only…

A Lament on Good Friday

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John 17:18-19      18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

My Prayer (a lament)

O, Yeshua,
   your words fill me with awe, excitement;
   the impending cross, anguish 
      and also with deep disappointment with myself

I have spent a good portion of my life
   attending to your call, your insistence.

My problem has been that I have treated you
   less like an insistence that echoes
      and continues to reverberate
         within my inward being
   and more like an invitation,
      received in the mail
         
to which I haven’t yet RSVPed.

The projectile of your insistence
   nails me to the cross of reality
the moans and cries of the marginalized
   keep me awake at night
the screams of the tortured
   continue to echo through the recesses of my being

I want
   to be an insurrectionist
      for the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice
   to be a follower of Yeshua
      in the active voice
to be a tree
   that bears in season
   the fresh fruit of compassion, peace, and justice
to be an agent
   in whose footsteps
   the presence of God is experienced.

I want…
   I wish…
      I hope…
but Yeshua’s question to me
   is simply “Do you do?”

Sometimes the knife-edge
   between memory and promise
   between spooking and insisting
   between past and future
   between life and death…
sometimes that knife-edge
   cuts deeply into the soul;
   and cut,
      I bleed!

Singleness of Heart

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Luke 10;27 27 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Reflections

The insistence that comes in the name of God invites us to all that is good and just, nudges us, beckons us, calls to us until we find the passion to walk the Way with integrity. That Way attends to the wisdom of Yeshua as a guide and levels the playing field so that we participate in a vital faith that seeks out the least, the lost, the last, and the left out. That insistence marshalls the forces of our strengths and calls us to use gifts that we never knew we had or that we have been afraid to exercise. Above all, our responses to that insistent calling will arise out of purity of heart which is, as Kierkegaard said, conforming our will to the truth that resonates with audacious act of kenosis (self-giving) by God and Yeshua – so that we might give away our very selves for the sake of the world. Let it be so!

May all the grace that comes in the name of God (perhaps) insist good from us in such a manner that all our desires are shaped by love. May the calling that we hear turn the motivations of our hearts up-side-down so that we may walk in the Way of Yeshua, which is that new creation that turns our priorities in-side-out so that we level the playing field as we invite and are inviting by the least, the last, the lost, and the left out into a divine (and very human) partnership. All this we dare to insist as we walk in the Way of Yeshua, whom we experience as the Anointed of God. Perhaps.

We have been knit together in the womb of insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. There we have found mercy, being born anew as brothers and sisters of Yeshua. May the tapestry of our lives be reflective of the audacity of God’s kenosis — a pattern that empties everything into a humanity textured by a concern for others, colored by response to an unheard calling in the name of God. Perhaps.

Solitude

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What is the difference between aloneness and loneliness? What role does solitude play?

Psalm 68:5-6 5 Father of orphans and defender of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the lonely in their homes; he sets prisoners free with happiness, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Recently, while on a three day retreat, I awoke full of lethargy on the morning of the middle day. That’s unusual for me; I am a morning person. It was a lackluster day – low energy, not much focus, no creativity. Since the next day returned to “normal” I didn’t pay much attention to the lethargy I had experienced. I wrote it off as the result of a poor night’s sleep. I should have paid closer attention. It was an early warning signal that something was stirring within me.

After returning home, I began to realize the reason(s) for that stirring. On the one hand, my life has developed a rather clear pattern — without a lot of variety. I am doing the same things over and over — reading, writing, phone calls with my soul brother, my quarterly 3-day and monthly 24-hour retreats, church on Sunday, bridge on Wednesday, and interaction with my daughter and grandkids… a lot of time in my apartment. All good stuff, but not much variety. My life has always had a lot of variety to it. Not a lot of opportunity to fall into pattern ruts. Now I am in a pattern rut.

More important than this pattern rut, or maybe the reason that I am in a rut, has been a deeper awareness and recognition. Ever since my wife’s brain trauma 35+ years ago and the resulting frontal lob dysfunction, I have had to deal with my aloneness — that is with the reality that I had lost my best friend, my life’s companion. As we often do in relationships, I had expected my wife to fill my gaps and bring me to some sense of completion. I know that this is a fantasy, but a fantasy that many/most of us take into marriage and other significant relationships. Being enamored of another often hides, rather than reveals, the fantasy. Henri Nouwen has suggested that significant relationships can often open “enormous space” within us but many times that space cannot “be filled by the one who opened it.”

When the fantasy is destroyed it is easy to get sucked into a black hole of existential despair or to distract oneself by chasing after other fantasies. However when anyone pays attention to the loss of the fantasy, they can get in touch with the philosophical / spiritual state of aloneness. I was able, through a gradual process aided by a lot of people, to acknowledge my aloneness and transform it into solitude. Solitude is a cluster of spiritual practices which can enrich and transform. In solitude I was helped to move toward a greater sense of integrity and wholeness. A hear and a half ago my wife died. I grieved, but was not devastated because I had been dealing with my aloneness and solitude for quite some time.

Now to the something “stirring” within…  I finally realized and have been able to articulate that I am now experiencing loneliness. Loneliness and aloneness are quite different, though related, phenomena. Aloneness is a foundational reality of life, a spiritual dimension that undergirds who we are and what we do. Philosopher A. N. Whitehead said that “religion is what we do with our aloneness.” Loneliness, on the other hand, is an emotional reality, a feeling that comes when circumstances are not as desired. I am aware that loneliness is something that we often try hard to “fix,” often to our detriment — rushing to a new relationship to replace a relationship that has ended. I am not sure how to proceed, but I do know that my loneliness is not something I need to “fix.” Instead, I need to experience its full force, learn from it, and move with it and through it. No goals… no timeline… just solitude, reflection, journaling, talking, and being.

Then, hoping against hope, I will be more settled in my home and free with happiness.

God’s Counting on Me…

When encounter with God is described as inwardly experiencing an insistence, a call to peace and justice, then it becomes my responsibility respond as God’s agent in the world. The only existence God has is mediated through human agency. We become the presence of God in the world. Pete Seeger put it this way, “God’s counting on me; God’s counting on you.”