Awaiting Insistence

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Psalm 130:1-2 1 I cry out to you from the depths, Lord— my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

My whole being is alive,
waiting for an unheard inner insistence,
a call in the name ofGod.
Perhaps.

That insistence is not about
how good or how bad I am,
how good or how bad you are.
It is about what you and I can become. 
It lies in wait for every one of us.

But I have to be ready to discern it,
watchful in anticipation.
Otherwise, I may not hear…
as if my receiver is turned off.

What I don’t always grasp
is that I may think I am ready…
I may want to be available…
I may mis-read my availability.

Still, I wait with eager anticipation.
I want to be a fruitful breeding ground,
incubating insistence and call
until I am ready to bring forth new life
that is a response that follows
in the Way of Yeshua,
commensurate with
the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice.

Therein is my hope,
my compassion,
and my redemption.

A Sacred Meal

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John 6:10-11 10 Jesus said, Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

A Sacred Meal (John 6:1-15)

A large crowd chased after Yeshua to the other side of the lake. Yeshua, however, in need of some rest and solitude, retreated up the mountain with his disciples. Finally the crowd caught up. Some were probably hoping to see a Wonder Worker and Healer in operation.

Because of the importance of bread in the biblical narratives, it is quite possible that Yeshua discerned that many were genuinely interested in his teachings (the bread of life). Yeshua asked Philip, “How are we going to feed these people.” Philip, assuming that he had just been given the responsibility for providing a meal for the crown, became frustrated about the logistics. Andrew informed Yeshua that there was a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish – more than enough for himself.

Yeshua asked the people to sit down and, taking the fish and loaves from the boy, offered the appropriate blessing for the meal, as if he were the head of the family. The act of blessing changed the whole situation. When the head of the family invokes the blessing over the meal, eating is no longer a matter of filling one’s belly. Now the food became a sacramental meal, uniting the crowd (not only with Yeshua, but also with one another).

The amount of food and the size of the crowd no longer mattered. What mattered was the openness of the people to be filled with the bread of life. And filled they were! It was as if basket upon basket of food was left over. When in the presence of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, it matters not what size cup you have been given, because every cup is filled to over-flowing. The people, in jubilation, began to shout, “This is truly the prophet who is now in our midst.”

Yeshua realized that their momentary grasping of his true mission had passed. Afraid that they were going to try to make him into a political Messiah, Yeshua retreated into the mountain to be by himself.

 

On Prayer

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James 5:16 16     For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

On Prayer

The church has long preached that prayer will conquer suffering and illness. “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” In truth, there have been two significant outcomes for this attachment to prayer — when someone you pray for finds healing, you can end up feeling righteous, powerful, and effective (post hoc ergo propter hoc); if healing does not happen (and, especially when some “christian” intones the canticle that lack of healing was ‘God’s will’) it becomes easy to blame God and church and prayer. Prayer is not a panacea, a cure-all, or a quick-fix elixir.

James 5:16 does provide some insight into the more complex workings of prayer as part of the God-process. It is important to be aware of (and acknowledge) your needful condition (‘confession of sins’) as an overt act.Then you can move toward some symbol of restoration outside yourself (praying for the other).Finally, prayer’s efficacy is demonstrated in the acknowledgement and affirmation of restoration (‘sins will be forgiven’).

Prayer is a way to stir up our inner being toward transformation. Praying together can agitate the collective consciousness. Prayer is about relationship and mutual exchange that engages wholeness, not the negotiating of a contract for goods and services. Truth is in the relational affinity.

Messianic Maturity

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Ephesians 4:11-13 11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Wandering through Ephesians 4

Paul was a prisoner, we’re not; so don’t live like one. We have been called to live in the deepest kind of freedom — a freedom characterized by an unpretentious and gentle spirit which patiently hangs in there with love. Insistence in the name of God (perhaps) invites each one of us into wholesome relationships and increasing peaceful collaboration.

For the whole creation is grounded in unity and wholeness. We are called to be all-inclusive, even as God is all-inclusive. And how we demonstrate that all-inclusiveness is dependent upon our gifts. Not everyone is called upon to be the Messiah — some have been gifted to be an apostle, or prophet, or evangelist, or pastor, or teacher, or… Each of us can figure it out if we just realize that all those gifts are given, not to inflate egos, but to equip us all for messianic ministry – that is, for building toward the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice.

The end goal is the all-inclusiveness, the wholeness that leads to trust, wisdom, and maturity. Don’t waffle with doctrine or deceit in the name of religion. Grow up! There is a messianic maturity awaiting each of us that builds bodily strength through love and compassion.

So, we are not to live as if we know nothing about a Godly way of life. Instead we are to keep our hearts and minds clear, resolved to do what is right. Remembering what we have learned from Yeshua, we are to grow into the wholeness of being, renewed by the Spirit of Mystery, shaped by justice and holiness.

Be open and straight-forward with neighbors, because unity is to be preferred over discord and separation. Don’t allow anger to lead into hatred or resentment, which will bring each all of us down. We produce, out of God-given abundance, in order that we might share our abundant resources with those in need.

Speak without bitterness, antagonism, animus, or malice; instead let words build community. Kindness, compassion, and forbearance are building blocks for the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. In that way our lives, our speech, and our actions will personify Yeshua’s gospel of forgiveness.

Which Wolf Will We Feed?

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My last post (The Two Pharaohs) briefly examined the insidious influence of the modern consumer culture – that is, it not only exists ‘out there,’ it has become part of who we are and way we think and act. The authors of An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (2016) suggest that we, like the Prodigal Son, must bring our inner selves home from the marketplace and (re-)establish a covenant of neighborliness.

Cormac Russell, while commenting on An Other Kingdom, suggests that the authors have done well in commenting on the Prodigal Son’s leaving home to participate in the marketplace, “but somehow the potential for a modern day homecoming … seems less clear. … [I was] wondering where the Prodigal Son was going to appear.” (page 89)

I share Russell’s wondering. Many of our churches and pastors have attempted to deal, at some level. with consumerism but without much lasting effect. We are the Prodigal Son. I am the Prodigal. When and how will we/I return home. When CEOs continue to increase their net worth while their workers find their buying power reduced… when the middle class is shrinking not because of upward mobility but because of the reverse… when our elected representatives want to remove any and all restrictions on business ventures while putting more and more of the financial burden on middle class and poorer citizens… when corporations are treated with kid gloves because that are declared to be “persons”… under those circumstances is it possible for neighborliness to bring about a transformation.

Henri Nouwen (Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son; 2009), in discussing the role of the elder son in the parable, gives a different perspective to the decrease of neighborliness. The elder son is filled with the “cold anger” of resentment. The 2016 U.S. presidential election has dramatically opened a window into the underbelly of resentment in American society.

The elder child – citizens who consider themselves to have “stayed home” obediently while a party is being thrown for those who have wandered off into irresolute living – undocumented aliens, people of color, LGBTQs, women, Muslims, foreigners – is resentful toward anything that is non-traditional or looks like “government.”. The presumptive GOP nominee has pandered to that resentment. The presumptive Democratic Party nominee has build her campaign as a traditional politician would – a more polished “vision” for the future of government – while ignoring (or chiding) the resentment of the GOP supporters. She did this while solidifying the traditional supporters of her party in opposition to a challenge from a more progressive appeal, especially to younger citizens who, in their own way, are also not happy with traditional politics or traditional governmental approaches.

Nouwen (page 78ff) suggests that “Moving away from resentment requires moving toward … thankfulness.” That transformative action does not seem possible in the current climate of discord within American society. Nouwen, however, goes on to make some rather prudent (amazing, even) observations that speak to our current situation:

“It is important to objectively acknowledge the other’s unique story and especially the suffering of the one who offends us.” (page 87)

While this presidential election is of vital importance to the future of our country; the more important issue may be how to re-build, re-store the fabric of American society . The handwriting is on the wall – the United States is quickly becoming a nation no longer dependent on the rule of white, middle European citizens. People of color, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTQs, and others have been gaining footholds into the American dream. It is for them that the fatted calf has been slain and the party is being thrown. The traditionalists, the elder child, those filled with resentment over the profound changes that are taking place in American society are not going away, even if their preferred candidate does not get elected. How can we acknowledge their unique story and profound suffering, given the degree to which we are offended by their thoughts and actions?

Nouwen’s answer:

“The return is not just about you and me, but has to do with another person’s resentment. … It is primarily when we are giving thanks for our lives that we have the potential to receive another’s anger and judgment while remaining upright and letting it move through us. … Otherwise their resentment becomes our resentment.” (pages 86 & 87)

Hard words, but this is likely the only option open to us that would prevent further breakdown in American society and preserve the American dream. We are at a crossroads. Traditional politics, traditional religion, traditional solutions, traditional ways of relating are not going to move us forward. As a superintendent once identified the task before her school system, “We need to move forward to the basics.”

There is a battle of two wolves inside us. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope humility, kindness, empathy and truth. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.  (Native American Proverb, Cherokee

How do we preserve so many of the values that underlie the American dream, while moving into the uncharted waters of overwhelming transformational change? How do we feed the good wolf — in us and in those who offend us (and are offended by us)?

Any ideas?

Rage Re-done

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What am I to do?
How am I to feel?

A rapist sentenced lite
So as not to disrupt
His life overly much
While a young woman’s
Life will be forever changed,
Changed… changed.

A man with an assault rifle
Storms a nightclub and kills,
Kills… kills at will.
And lives are forever changed
and lives are lost,
Lost… lost!

Pray for the victims,
Their families and friends,
We are told…
I’m too angry to pray!

What am I to do?
How am I to feel?

I live in a society
That instructs me daily
to translate my fears
Into gun sales;
To choose violence
Against the weak
And support the privilege
of the powerful.

Is that the only story
That can be told,
The only narrative
That can bring healing
healing… healing?

What am I to do?
How am I to feel?

Perhaps it is time
To do something new
Time to counter violence
With an alternate narrative…
A narrative filled with
Deep-felt mourning.
Patient silent reflection,
And sacred space –
To give the Mystery
Time and space to work
Into and through all of us.

In my reflections, I affirm
With Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Remembrances that hope
and love last longer

And love is love is love is love
is love is love… is love is love

Cannot be killed or swept aside.”

Adding, with Beat poet
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder.”

The Time is Right

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Romans 13:11-14     11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Wake up! It’s time! Salvation is so near you can almost taste it. We used to wait for some far off distant time and place — we called it heaven. Not now! As we listen more closely to Yeshua and the good news of the Way he lived and taught, it is if we have gone from the darkest night to the brightest day. Don’t get too excited, however, there is still a lot of work to be done — and it is all soul work, work of the inner spirit. Putting on Yeshua means accepting and pursuing the messianism (the God-process) that is within us — accessible to all of us. We do not prosper by projecting either evil or salvation onto others. The seeds of salvation have been planted within us, our job is to tend the garden of our inner selves in order to bring the seeds to fruition. And Yeshua showed us the Way.

Loyal Love

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Psalm 89:1-2         I will sing of the Lord’s loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next. 2 That’s why I say, “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever! You establish your faithfulness in heaven.”
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

It has been easy for me to deconstruct the concept of God as handed down in traditional (and popular) Christianity. The theistic concept of a Supreme Being — omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent — is no longer credible. Complexity theorist, Stuart Kauffman, suggests re-inventing the sacred dimension of life, re-formulating our concept(s) of God. When I have attempted to do that, I have pretty much come up with the understanding that “God” is a projection of our desire for a world that reflects ideal values and relationships. And yet, I can’t deny that there has been — and continues to be — a dynamic presence evident in my life experiences that has led / guided me toward a more mature, wholistic way of my being present in the world. My recent experience with about 20 people who were members of a congregation I previously served affirmed my ministry as their pastor. Their loving response to me (20 years after I left that community) confirms the view that something more than just me — more than just my faith, wits, and understanding — was at work on us all. The psalmist is correct that it is not our concept of God that matters; instead, it is the trustworthiness of abiding love (which seems to be beyond the reach of each of us individually) that keeps us connected to God and to one another. That is my rock and my salvation.

The Two Pharaohs

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Exodus 16:2-3     The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have popularized the concept of empire — Pharaoh in the Hebrew scriptures; Rome in the world of Yeshua and the early Church. Empire is the collective political, social, economic, and religious culture that controls our current individualistic consumer culture. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with the prophetic critique of empire and the call to live into Israel’s unique narrative of covenant. The church was formed out of Israel’s covenantal narrative as articulated and expanded by Yeshua — a narrative that promotes neighborliness, equitable distribution of resources, and inclusion of all people.

So, if the church is formed on the basis of an alternative narrative, why are so many of its members (and the church itself as an institution) so embedded in and dependent upon the dominant cultural narrative of consumerism?

Wise words from Ward Mailliard (taken from An Other Kingdom; Block, Brueggemann, and McKnight, 2016; page 89):

We always have a chance to end empire.
          What holds us back?

The inducements of Pharaoh without,
          and, alas, the pharaoh within,
                    constantly canonizing comfort, scarcity, the known way

On this tri-partate altar we sacrifice
          health, joy, family, sacredness, mystery
                                       and even this precious moment.

Busy is our virus of choice,
          an excuse…     safe.
The hungry ghost consumes,
          never satisfied and fearful, 
                                       pharaoh is reborn.

Theology and Pyrotheology

Mark 12:38-40 [Jesus] continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns [long robes], preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. (MSG)

Theology is the task of articulating rationality regarding matters of faith; faith in search of understanding. It is the birthing of ideas after the pregnant wrestling with those questions raised by living faithfully in, but not of, the world (John 17:14-15). Unfortunately, when the church tries to emulate empire, theology (doctrine, dogma) becomes a tool for controlling the masses — believe the wrong way and you will be corrected or shunned or declared a heretic or excommunicated or burned at the stake.

At its best, theology is entering into the mystery of faith; at its worst, the exercise of power and privilege.

Wendell Berry on theology:

Having written some pages in favor of Jesus,I received a solemn communication crediting me with being in possession of a “theology” by which I acquire the strange dignity of being wrong forever or forever right. … If I am a theologian I am one to the extent that I have learned to duck when the small, haughty doctrines fly over head, dropping their loads of whitewash at random on the faces of those looking toward Heaven. … The depth and volume of the waters of baptism, the true taxonomy of sins, the field marks of those most surely saved, God’s own only true interpretation of the Scripture: these would be causes of eternal amusement could we forget how we have hated one another, how vilified and hurt and killed one another, bloodying the world by means of such questions, wrongly asked, never to be rightly answered, but asked and wrongly answered, hour after hour, day after day, year after year — such is my belief — in Hell. (Wendell Berry, Leavings, 2010, page 114f.)

Perhaps theology could use an infusion of humility (and even whimsy) as we attempt to understand that our world is the product of 3.7 billion years of on-going creative activity since the Big Bang, that the building blocks of our physical being were forged in the atomic ovens of exploding stars, that quantum physics has re-defined the previous Newtonian (mechanistic) worldview, that mystery continues to disrupt our rationality, that we humans continue to prove ourselves irresponsible stewards of the earth, that violence too often takes precedence over love.

Theology was once considered the queen of the sciences. For theology to take its proper place in today’s church and society, Peter Rollins suggests a move to pyrotheology.

By theoretically setting fire to the layers of belief we put over reality to protect ourselves from reality, pyrotheology seeks to ignite a sense of greater depth in life beyond the need for wholeness and certainty. Pyrotheology explores how the events testified to in the founding documents of Christianity invite us to fully embrace the reality of our brokenness and unknowing