Civil Public Discourse

Image by Gerd Altman, CC0 (Public Domain)
Image by Gerd Altman, CC0 (Public Domain)

Deuteronomy 14:28-29     28 Every third year you must bring the tenth part of your produce from that year and leave it at your city gates. 29 Then the Levites, who have no designated inheritance like you do, along with the immigrants, orphans, and widows who live in your cities, will come and feast until they are full. Do this so that the Lord your God might bless you in everything you do. (CEB)

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

I just finished reading An Other Kingdom (Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight; Wiley, 2016). The authors suggest neighborliness as an alternative (or antidote) to the consumer culture that supports empire.

Neighborliness is the opportunity to be aware every day that we are performing an alternate liturgy. … A liturgy of aliveness. A liturgy in favor of the common good.” (page 77)

While reading, I found myself asking “What can I do?” The authors suggest three disciplines of neighborliness: time, food, and silence.

Time: The authors suggest “re-thinking time.” Since retirement and my wife’s death, time has become an open opportunity for me. I spend a lot of time reading, discussing, sharing, raising thoughtful questions, teaching. Time has become an ally, rather than a controller.

Food: Recently my doctor told me that I was pre-diabetic and that I needed to eat a low carb diet, no desserts, exercise, and lose weight. The authors have challenged me to eat foods that are grown locally (“foods that rot”) rather than prepared foods that have a long shelf life or fast foods. I am beginning actively to make changes.

Silence: The authors write, “Listening [the ‘fellow-traveler’ of silence] puts you in a receptive mode.” This is not a difficult discipline for me personally – monthly retreats with a group of friends; quarterly visit to a monastery of Benedictine sisters. I am concerned, however, about the lack of listening in the current political climate in our country. Therefore, today I added my name to join Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon, and Sr. Simone Campbell in calling candidates for office to claim the higher ground in public debate – standing against the divide-and-conquer strategies of extremists, disavowing every attempt to promote hatred and/or the marginalization of any member of the human family, and restoring civil discourse in public debate:

We declare that the deepest public concerns of our nation and faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.

Together, we lift up and defend the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values, which are: the economic liberation of all people; ensuring every child receives access to quality education; healthcare access for all; criminal justice reform; and ensuring historically marginalized communities have equal protection under the law.

Interested in more about the call for a Moral Agenda? Check their website.

Wedding Day

For my Son
On his Wedding Day

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Psalm 126:5  Those who sow with tears 
will reap with songs of joy. (CEB)

Tears flowing freely
Heart touched by love
Bittersweet memories
Family and Friends
Present for you.

Tears flowing freely
A tender hearted man
Standing with his beloved
Pledging their commitment
Through tears of joy.

Tears flowing freely
Your tears of tenderness
I am proud, my son,
Of the caring man
you have become.

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

Labyrinth

LabyrinthOn Walking the Labyrinth
at Mercy Center
(Burlingame, CA)

Isaiah 35:8    A highway will be there. It will be called The Holy Way.  The unclean won’t travel on it, but it will be for those walking on that way. Even fools won’t get lost on it. (CEB)

Today I visited an old friend
A litany of footprints
As pilgrims journeyed
Along the winding path
Leading inward and then outward
A parable for the Way
Trod by followers of Yeshua.

My footprints added to those
Of other pilgrims
Praying their Way silently
Into the center
Back out again
Renewed by the journey
Inward, outward.

It was as if the footprints
Materialized out off the dust
Bringing the presence
Of those pilgrims
Who walked and prayed before me
Who walk and pray with me.

A chickadee added her footprints
Reminding me that the journey
Is not ours alone.
She flies away quickly
But her footsteps remain
As will mine when I drive away.

IMG_1370I come to the center
A standing slab of slate
I grasp hold of its edges
And my fingertips tingle
With the vibration of fingerprints
Left by other pilgrims
I lay my palm upon the slate
And feel it’s heartbeat
Pulsating with a thousand heartbeats
Of those who walked before me

I retrace my steps
Listening for the voices
Of the owners of the footprints
I hear their silence
Joyful, Sad, Hoping
Stepping outside the labyrinth
I turn and bow in reverence
So long, O Friend

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

Three Types of Prayer

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.53.17 PM
“Creative Commons Prayer Awakens” by Kevin Shorter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Luke 11:1     Lord, teach us to pray.” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Samuel Wells (A Nazareth Manifesto, 2015) describes “Three Ways to Pray” (pages 292ff) – the prayer of resurrection, the prayer of incarnation, and the prayer of transfiguration. I like his imaginative use of three words most often used to talk about Yeshua. It is as if Yeshua teaches as much or more about prayer through his life than merely through his words.

While I like Wells’ terms for the three ways of prayer, I kept wanting them to be filled with deeper meaning (or at least an alternate meaning). So I decided to craft my own descriptions of these three ways.

The prayer of Resurrection – everyday living in response to God’s call (into)

Resurrection describes the new life that comes after the Cross – that is, after all the props which supported my control of meaning and purpose for living are taken away, thus freeing me to live “without why.” This is the time of great expectancy and creativity arising out of a new being shaped by compassion, peace, and justice. This is not a time of pollyanna-ish wishful thinking, but a time when everyday living is filled with expectancy and joy. It is a time of living on the edge, in the tension between the conditional and the unconditional, between memory and a promise. The celebratory prayer of Resurrection is more about attending to an unheard inner voice… intuitively listening for that insistence, invitation, call that comes in the name of God… committing daily life in response to the call that is heard. At its root, this is the prayer of openness to that which comes. It is not a negotiation or a wish list. Instead we pray ourselves into the depths of our day-by-day lives.

The prayer of Incarnation – solidarity with family, neighbors, and strangers (with)

Incarnation describes the relational embodiment which anchors us in the Source of life and confirms others in relationship with others. This is the prayer of solidarity. For me, prayer is not primarily about words. However, when I visited a friend who has just begun treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, I shared spoken prayers for him – not because I expect my words to convince God to intervene and do a miracle, but because his life is connected to my life. When he is sick, a part of me is sick too. My prayer is sharing my energy, my care and concern, my support with him. Our praying together is simply about our being with each other. Friendship, like marriage, is a commitment to be be with each other “in sickness and in health.” Or, an another friend said to me as I was facing the death of my wife, “I’ve got your back.” That is Incarnational prayer.

The prayer of Transfiguration – unfinished business (self, others, world) (if / since)

Transfiguration describes that which comes after we think we have given our all. It is the movement from the mountain top back down into the valley. Transfiguration builds on Incarnation and Resurrection realizing that there is still unfinished business to which we must attend. It is great for Yeshua to dine and have after dinner conversation with Moses and Elijah, but Yeshua still had work todo down in the valley… and so do we! Heightened experience can add to our perspective and experience, but it is escapism if we don’t return to whatever unfinished business is at hand. The prayer of Transfiguration is a more complex type of prayer. It is assessing the work ahead in terms of our principles and priorities, reviewing those principles and priorities within the community of faith lest we simply reflect our own need to be in control. This is the prayer of contrasting options and alternatives – if this happens, then I will…; since this is a commitment, I will…

There are, of curse, many other ways to pray – for example, the prayer of Crucifixion. This is anguished prayer, lament, sorrow – for oneself, for others, for the world. This is the guttural prayer that arises out of our suffering, our heartbreak… when we or others or the creation seems out of control… when meaning fades… when other people, institutions, and systemic structures oppress and marginalize… when physical, social, relational, religious resources are in short supply or seem incapable of sustaining us. What other ways do you pray?

Welcoming Strangers

hospitality
Christ and Saint Menas. A 6th-century Coptic icon from Egypt (Musée du Louvre) Public Domain

Genesis 18:1-2  1 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 21 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. (CEB)

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

Musings

Many years ago, a spiritual director told a group of us that theological reflection may be considered the highest form of prayer. I’ve hung on to that description all these years. In so doing, I was missing something… something I hadn’t seen any of the times I have read the story of the three men (angels) who appeared at Abraham and Sarah’s tent to announce the earth shaking news of Sarah’s impending pregnancy.

I was well aware of Abraham’s rush to provide hospitality to the three men. It was Rabbi Evan Moffic’s book (What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness if Jesus, Abingdon, 2015) that opened my eyes to the obvious thing that I missed. Abraham was in the midst of a conversation with God when he first saw the men. The account in Genesis tells us that Abraham immediately ran from the entrance to the tent to greet the men and bow down before them. Sarah was asked to prepare a meal. All this was Jewish hospitality personified. I would have expected nothing less.

But now the shocker! Abraham broke off conversation with God to rush to the three men. In the midst of an appearance by God, Abraham doesn’t hesitate. God will have to wait; hospitality to strangers is far more important. Moffic cites the Babylonian Talmud: “Greater is hospitality than receiving the divine presence.”

I don’t think this suggests that we stop paying attention to “divine presence” – ignoring prayer, meditation, worship, and/or theological reflection. But, when presented with the opportunity to welcome strangers or be with neighbors or care for family, don’t use God as an excuse for non-engagement. Too often we fall into the trap of using the categories of sacred and secular as a way of dividing responsibilities – sacred is good; secular is bad.

To claim that Yeshua is the incarnation of God is to suggest that there is a divine impulse, an insistence, a calling to be with. That ‘being with’ is the quest to discover something of the Mystery that occupies the space between us. The entire universe, the cosmos, is an interplay of relational forces, energies, dynamics that both hold things together and catalyzes continuing creation. Caring for family and friends represents the holding forces; welcoming strangers requires creative energies to be employed.

When I am with the ones I love
I want to hold on to them
never letting go
clasping them to my breast
to demonstrate my love
and my fear of being estranged,
isolated, lonely.

When I am in the presence of Mystery.
the divine Otherness, God
I want to be held on to
never let go
knowing that I am loved
and yet afraid of
“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
So I cling.

When a stranger enters
confusing my principles
and my priorities
I have to make a choice…
Do I stay with the familiar?
Do I rely on family and friends
and God
to maintain the stable order of my life?

Or,
Do I take the risk to reach out.
To run forth with excited anticipation
for here may be “angels unaware”
here may be the setting for
a new creation
a genuine encounter with Mystery
in the space brought into my life
by the stranger, the immigrant…
perhaps a different lifestyle
a different understanding
a different religion
a different political perspective…

Could it be
that the stranger…
the Syrian immigrant…
the Native American…
the Sudanese refugee…
the homeless woman…
that each one of them may have
more to offer me
than I to them?

Could it be
that Yeshua bids us
to be with the poor
as much (maybe more)
for our own salvation
than for theirs?

Could it be
that I may have more opportunity
to be in the divine presence
when I am with those
who at first seem strange to me
than when I am in my prayer closet?

Might it be
that the divine presence left
even before Abraham
to be with the arrivals?

Reflecting God

Jeremiah 7:3     This is what the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, says: Improve your conduct and your actions, and I will dwell with you in this place.

Reflections on Jeremiah 7

Here is Jeremiah’s understanding of what was insisting in the name of God. Perhaps.

Whenever we claim to be God’s people, we have to assess our way of being in the world. It is crucial that we reflect the God we proclaim. It is not enough to repeat endlessly that God’s present in our midst. God is present where and when we treat one another with justice and mercy.

If we maltreat aliens, orphans, and widows — God will be present with those maltreated, not us.… If we overwhelm the innocent — God will be present with the innocent, not us.… If we chase after delusions — God’s presence will be obscured by those delusions.

If we show some backbone in the face of injustice; press on with love, compassion, peacefulness, equity, fairness, and unrighteousness then we will find that God is already there in, with, and through us. That is the way it has always been with our forebears.

Reflections from Head and Heart

Memory
Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain (Words added)

Ephesians 2:14-19    14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. 17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Reflections From the Head Center

We seem to revel in our differences — different tribes, different nationalities, different sub-cultures, different races, speakers of different languages, differing sexual orientations, social classes and strata that run counter to each other, varied political persuasions, and of course various religious backgrounds and belief systems. But to what avail? Does intensifying our differences bring us closer to the Way lived and taught by Yeshua? I don’t think so. Actually, you know that it doesn’t!

What is it that brings us closer to Yeshua and the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice? What is it that the spirit of Yeshua insists deep within you? How did / does Yeshua envision that our lives are to be lived in order that we may celebrate abundant life? Peace and justice are the clues. The peace that Yeshua insists is not the mere absence of violence. (However, that is a good start.) For Yeshua, peace means replacing violence with compassion while justice means assessing people on the basis of the values of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, rather than empire’s system of retribution and payback.

In Yeshua we have access to the spirit of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. That spirit cultivates an inner insistence, a curious call, unheard by the world around you — a call to pour out our lives for the least, the last, the lost, and the left out. When we follow the Way of Yeshua, we become insurrectionists for the Commonwealth and the divisions that seem to be the normalcy of civilization simply melt away and a new normalcy replaces it — a normalcy characterized by wholeness and wholesomeness, unity and solidarity, compassion and caring, peace and justice… and we become the very presence of God in the world. Perhaps.

Reflections From the Heart Center

“At one time”
all the time there is a
separation
a struggle, a war,
a dividing line defining
who is in and who is out.

A great Wall of China –
a Berlin Wall
a border, a property line
a line in the sand
defining those acceptable
and the outcasts.

Yeshua entered
this violent confused tribal world
welcoming all
and walls disappeared
and people were confused
they found others
included as family and friends.

The identity of all
seemed to be chal
lenged.
Yeshua did not
accept walls and boundaries.
He found value
in those he encountered loving,
accepting and
healing.

His life brought hope
and removed the distance
caused by walls
of suspicion
and distrust.

He did not recognize
the need for separation
and invited all to partake
of his love and acceptance.

The dualism
of the good and the bad
the in
s and the outs
was ended in his life
and the Way of his followers.

His Shalom reached
to all peoples.
He claims a world
as his family.
No part of his followers
would Forget that.

He was the cornerstone
of a new world view
which recognized
the gift of all.

His insistence was a nudge
to become one family
by his love.
The audacity of his acceptance
challenged all
who follow
him
They are joined
not by tribe or geography
but by love
becoming one through
his insistent love.

A Morning Prayer

"Creative Commons Praying hands" by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Praying hands” by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[A morning prayer after reflecting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s morning prayer, “I Cannot Stand Alone”]

O God, who calls from the depths,
    early in the morning,
    I call out to you.

I deeply desire that my day
    is focused on listening
        
for your insistent call
    and the living your Presence
        
in response to that call.

I need help;
    come to my assistance!
I want to find light
    where there is darkness!

Left to my own devices
    
I feel alone
    I lack the courage of my convictions
    I don’t stay focused
    at times I am even bitter

Come to my assistance!

Your way is to invite
                        
call
                        insist
                        nudge
                        cajole.
What I don’t understand
    is why you then leave it all
        up to me, to us.

While I/we continue to fall short
    
your insistence continues
        to INSIST!

Come to my/our assistance!

I need to continuously be reminded
    that I have everything I need
        in order to respond faithfully
        to your persistent, insistent call.

Whatever this day brings, Lord,

    may I prove ready for the tasks
and even more
    may all praise be
    in the name of God.
Perhaps.