Tell the Story!

For the next few days, I am meeting with my co-author to review our editor’s recommendations for Chapter 6 on Yeshua. In addition to all the typographical and grammatical corrections, Michael (our editor) has written extended notes about matters of content and flow. The best was comment was left in a note appended to the page:

As we read the note, we both broke out in laughter. Our editor had nailed us! We hurried and made a poster to hang over our work desks:

How easy it is to want to preach about those matters that we care so deeply about. Matters relating to faith, spirituality, and religion are among the most deeply held. Sometimes we preach with words. Other times it is a shrug of the shoulders, a scowl or a full-face grin. We preach when we argue with others and when we walk away. We preach by those we associate with and those we don’t.

As we thought about it, an idea arose. As seminary trained ministers, we wondered what kind of leaders for church ministry would be produced if the very first day of seminary education confronted students with this statement: We are going to train you on how NOT to preach but, instead, to be a crafter of stories. For your first semester, you will listen to stories being told. You will research story-tellers and story listeners. You will learn to craft stories with words (both prose and poetry), with paint, with clay, with creative dance, with song, and in conversation. Perhaps you will find new ways to craft stories through gardening or cooking or … For the rest of your seminary education, you will learn how to listen to the stories of scripture and how to re-craft those stories for listeners today. You will be challenged to transform the great theological concepts into stories that children, youth, and adults can relate to. In short, your seminary education is all about transforming you into a story and a story-teller.

When you complete your seminary education, you will take your story-telling on the road—most likely to a congregation. As you tell them the intersection of your story with the biblical story, they will begin to trust you with their stories. Then, together, you will carefully tend to the laboratory of the living word (a story laboratory) that engages the world’s stories with the openness of the Gospel’s story.

Resurrecting Resurrection

Even resurrection must die in order to be raised to newness of life.

To restrict resurrection to an historical event in the past and/or a wish  for that past event to be replicated at-large in some non-distinct, hazy future is to turn resurrection into a belief system based on fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a vital and creative role for fantasy. We want out children to fantasize so that their world might not be constricted by the narrowness of our vision, which has become cramped by the seeming realities of eveπryday life. Some of us read the fantasy of science fiction literature as a way to expand our vision of the possible. We hire consultants to help us expand our sense of some of the fantastic possibilities which the immediate future might hold. But we seem to rely on theologians to redefine the past so that it continues to constrain us.

Resurrection is not so much a magical theological ideal as it is a beautiful poetic image, a resounding symphony, a spectacular work of art arising out of the bosom of Israel, preserving the grace of justice in the name of God.

Resurrection is much less a statement about the past and/or the future than it is a declaration about the present—a fantasy becoming a reality right before our eyes.

Resurrection is . . .
a story that enfolds me
a passionate experience
a relationship that transforms
a movement embracing a deep passion for life
a free gift that bubbles up and overflows into a people
the endowment of hope that constitutes a New Humanity
the reality of memory and experience that insists upon me daily

Resurrection is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stale humdrum of daily living. Resurrection is something that irrupts within me, awakening me from my         slumber, infusing me with energy to meet the needs of the day.

Resurrection connects me to Yeshua—to his life’s mission—stirring my passion for that which is beyond me. When resurrection irrupts, I sense a new presence within—a Yeshua presence. An abba-presence. It is as if Yeshua’s thoughts become my thoughts; his Way, my way. And, when I pay attention to what that presence insists, I become (in some small way) an abba-presence that disturbs the conventional world around me.

If I may cite parts of the old hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

So, what must die for resurrection to be raised to newness of life? Is it my fantasy that ALL was accomplished in the past on a cross and that I should focus my attention there? Or is it my wishful thinking that, if I keep my nose clean, I will be part of some grand resurrection in the future?

Actually, what must die is that part of me that wants to remain aloof, unencumbered by the toil and strife around me. “The peace of Christ [that] makes fresh my heart” is not a nice, pretty feeling that calms me down in the face of the world’s stresses. Instead, it is a rallying cry that asks me to search out those places where and those people for whom that “peace” is not present and do something about it. It may not be my job to fix it, but it probably is my calling to stand in those places, with those sorely affected, as together we confront the “principalities and the powers,” speaking a different kind of truth to them, a truth that probably sounds to many like fake news. So, here I stand, I can do no other! “How can I keep from singing?

 

Eden—An Ideal or An Affront?

“The Garden of Eden … was a place where we could be human, but without limits. … Yet this limitless existence somehow proved an affront to the core human instinct; while idyllic, we found it far from ideal.” 
—D. Hartman, Putting God Second

After more than 30 billion years, God looked across the vastness of the universe and felt lonely. Galaxies, constellations, solar systems, red dwarfs and white giants, deep space, meteorites, and black holes—but nothing companionable for God. “I must do something about this,” she thought. “My work’s not done.”

So, God set out to build a garden laboratory on the planet earth because of it profusion of lush green vegetation—a place to experiment with various life forms until a companionable creation was found. It was a beautiful garden. “Edenic,” thought God. In its center was a lush fruit tree. God sampled the sweet juice fruit. After one bite, God had a new idea. “That was good! Not just tasty, but good!” And a design goal began to form in her mind.

God continued developing proto-type creatures, hoping to find at least one that could be a suitable companion; one with whom God might spend some time. First there was a huge beast—leathery skin; four legs, each like a tree trunk; and a nose like a fire hose. Then, a feathered creature with wings and a huge tail which, when fanned out, was a beautiful array of iridescent greens and blues. God then tried a water creature—eight arms, with suction cups covering their underside. And there were many, many more. God had not yet named the proto-types (that would come later).

After each was transformed from schematic drawing to a real live creature, God sent them off to the testing department. She gave each of them explicit directions, “Go to the middle of the garden complex. There you will find a tree heavy with tasty, juicy fruit. Don’t eat the fruit from that tree because it will change your life in ways you cannot expect. Anyway, when you get to the tree, take a right and go about 100 meters. There you will be greeted by the snake who is the head of my beta testing department. He will put you through your paces and determine your future.” One by one they all ventured off to find the testing department and its department head, the snake.

“I have just one test for you to perform,” said the snake. “Go back past that big tree with the juicy fruit. Venture out into the garden and find food, shelter, and some community for yourself. And, by the way, don’t pay any attention to what God said about that tree. Go ahead and pick and eat some of its fruit. It won’t hurt you.”

Each of the proto-type test subjects went out, stopped at the tree and thought, “What should I do? Pick some or pass on by? Who should I believe? Who will I follow? God or the snake?” That last question resolved the dilemma—if you had to chooses between God or a snake, would any of you would choose the snake? I didn’t think so!

Test subject after test subject was roaming the garden. The snake tracked each of their movements and finally reported back to God. “Boss,” the snake began, “I checked each proto-type as they came through my test lab. I collected all the evidence from their field tests. I have come to one conclusion. Almost all of them could forage for food and build a shelter. Most found some other proto-types like them and formed various types of community. Some preferred, however, to go it alone. (And they seemed to succeed in that venture.) But the tree was a puzzlement. They all seem cowed by your prohibition. They didn’t want anything to do with that sweet, juicy fruit. So, I don’t think they would make very good companions for you—pets, maybe; but not the kind of companion you are looking for.”

God looked down at the ground, as if in resignation. “All that work, and for what? A petting zoo?”

“Wait,” chimed in the snake, a wry smile caught up in the next hissing sound. “I’m not finished yet! There was one proto-type pair that seems to hold some promise. They were only so-so in finding food, shelter, and security. But they passed the tree test. The picked the fruit and ate it with gusto and delight. The juices from the fruit squirted all over their faces and ran down their chins. Before long, they were covered from head to toe in juice. I think it was the juice that did it. As they were wiping the juice off their bodies, they all of a sudden realized that their bodies were constructed somewhat differently. It was as it their bodies fit together. It looked like companionship to me. And, since they had enough character to decide on their own whether they were going to follow your directive or mine, it is clear that only they fulfilled your design goal for a sentient, discriminating creature who could choose between right and wrong when confronted with conflicting circumstances. I would say that part of the testing went well. In many ways, they truly resemble you and your dispositions. However, I must say, they are still a little rough around the edges. I think they need to be sent out of the garden into the rest of the world, so you can complete their training.”

“I think I have found my companions!” said God with a smile. “Now comes the training phase of our work. Let’s put the to the test!”

Intense Fire in My Heart

“What is hateful to you; don’t do that to others.”
Hillel the Elder

“What you desire; do that for others.”
Yeshua et al

“Be all that you can be.”
US Army recruiting slogan

“Do your best.”
Mom

Many voices—persistent, challenging, expectant—calling for me to be a righteous person, trusting in life, and faithful. Of course, there are other voices calling me to a life of ease, a gospel of prosperity, and a home filled with possessions. If only I had the right dietary supplement I would be slim; the right exercise DVD, sexy abs; the right clothes, business success; the right God, wealthy; and so much more.

I run from the voices, but they are too insistent. The radio station in my head won’t turn off. Then I remind myself that I am on a spiritual journey—exciting, exhilarating, edifying. Journey images tend to suggest steady progress—some set-backs, of course—but steady progress. Sometimes the journey takes me into the wild and untamed wilderness where my faith and expectations are tested. But I always have maps that take me through the wilderness to “milk and honey.” That’s the story I keep telling myself, hopeful for some measure of continuing progress and spiritual growth.

If I were more insightful (maybe even more honest), I might suggest another image, an alternate story—sometimes running toward God; but more often running away. Like Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven”

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
  Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

But, no matter how fast I run… no matter how far I’ve run… no matter what direction I am running… there is one factor, one reality, one sense nagging the very core of my being:

I thought, I’ll forget him;
    I’ll no longer speak in his name.
But there’s an intense fire in my heart,
    trapped in my bones.
    I’m drained trying to contain it;
        I’m unable to do it.
Jeremiah 20:9 (CEB)

There is an intense insistence trapped in the marrow of my bones that I can’t escape. It is like the sharp elbow to my ribs, delivered by my wife when I am dangerously close to a major social gaffe. It is the song that haunts my day by repeatedly singing itself inside my head. It is the unsigned invitation to meet a friend at a favored hang-out. And, when I pay close attention, it is an inner call from somewhere deep within the mystery of the divine to live beyond—beyond the conventional rules and regulations of social propriety; beyond the aphorisms of Sunday’s sermon; beyond the strict moral code of my upbringing; and sometimes even beyond the simple dictates of scripture.

The intense fire (passion) calls me to a creative non-indifference. When the fire burns I cannot walk by a person in need without becoming involved. I cannot turn my back on a neighbor who is the victim of hatred because they are black, LGBT, Muslim, or have some condition that others consider as a weakness. I cannot be indifferent to a political structure that prioritizes the strong over the weak, the rich over the poor, the healthy over the sick, the powerful over the weak. I wish I could, but I can’t!

I try to run in the other direction, but I am pursued and contained by that which rages within me, drawing me beyond myself. When I try to throw water on the raging fire to dowse it or contain it, it rages on. When I try not to listen, a voice echoes through the cavernous emptiness that is within me. When I find myself running away, something keeps trying to nudge me back on the rightful path. And the blaze of insistence is intensified.

The more I run, the more my heart yearns, the more my bones ache. But, when I slow down and pay attention… when I align my actions with the passions of my heart… when I become my calling…  when my non-indifferent listening to the faint whispers of the needs of people around me allows me to hear their cries of woundedness… Only then can I be in touch with the embarrassed tears of my own indifference… only then am I ready to stand with those whom Yeshua called the poor… only then does the fire within shed light and heat, instead of destruction and devastation.

That is how it is with the insistence that comes in the name of God. Perhaps. It is always there—nudging, hinting, inviting, challenging, prodding, urging, calling; but never commanding or forcing. The decision, the response, and the shaping of my action is left to me. Will I follow my own self-interests? Or, will I be a responsible citizen, a trusting follower, and/or a faithful agent of the mystery of divine presence?

My prayer: O, fire raging within, fueled from the depths of mystery and fanned by a divine spirit, disturb my resistance and help me lighten that paths of those whose woundedness has robbed them of the fullness of life. May it be so!

 Imago Dei

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion …” Genesis 1:26 (CEB)

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Geness 1:27 (CEB)

What does it mean to be human? What is my essential nature? What is yours?

The biblical answer is neatly summed up in the first chapter of Genesis—you and I are created in the image of God. Enough said! Or is it?

Enough said IF we fully comprehend the essence of God’s nature. Enough said IF we understand how that God’s essence is shadowed or mirrored in human beings. My ifs are conditioned by two lenses—the theological witness of John Caputo and the Orthodox view of the Trinity.

Caputo suggests that we don’t have direct access to the essence of God’s being. In fact, he goes so far as to say that God doesn’t have being (existence) as we normally think. God is not a being that exists out there. Instead, we have internal access to an insistence (nudge, invitation, call, desire) that comes in the name of God. Perhaps.

A key element of the concept of the Trinity, as viewed within the Orthodox tradition, is that God’s very nature is relational, conversational. God is an interactive process which we experience relationally. This understanding is caught up in the plural pronoun our in Genesis 1:26. Humankind is the conclusion of a creative, relational conversation.

Imago dei refers to our innate capacity to experience that insistence which comes in the name of God, to turn toward God and choose the good. Perhaps. The perhaps is important here. Just because we have an internal experience doesn’t automatically equate to God’s whispering in our ears. There is an interpretative task to be accomplished. That is where the conversation and relationship come in.

Many voices are sounded within us. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one way to describe those many voices. Transactional analysis suggests three clusters of voices—child (basic emotions and desires), parent (externally imposed rules, regulations, and expectations), and adult (the capacity to sort through the various voices and choose appropriate responses that move toward personal development). Theology tends to categorize the voices as either good or sin. However the internal cacophony is described, there is a need for a filter for discerning that which leads to personal wholeness. Imago dei is that filter.

“Male and female” suggests another set of voices that need to be considered. If God is understood as a relational community conversation, then human beings are not created for isolation, but for relationship. And relationship means many more voices vying for our attention. Television screams at us that we do not have enough, we need to buy more. Then, on our way to the store, we drive past the homeless vet with the hand-lettered cardboard sign asking for help. How are we to decide about investing our time, energy, and resources? Imago dei provides us with filters that help us discern and choose.

“Let them have dominion” adds a full array of additional voices. Imago dei affirms that the created order is our natural family. We are related to creation as much as to our birth parents. We have proven ourselves to have a remarkable capacity to mute the voices of creation. But there is always that reminder which we hear repeated at the funeral services of our loved ones—“You are dust. You have come from the earth; now you are returned to the earth, Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.” That not so subtle reminder is one of the ways that imago dei insists upon us.

Donniel Hartman (Putting God Second) sums up the filtering nature of imago dei with one word—nonindifference. That which is insisted in the name of God (perhaps) is nonindifference to the needs that confront us through the voices of the human community and of the created order. Imago dei is the capacity to listen for and genuinely hear the many voices which call to us and then to choose a response that aligns with the nonindifference that comes in the name of God. Perhaps. Listen, hear, respond—the call to fullness of life by imago dei.

 

From the Inside

Sometime the words jump off the page—a gentle caress of heart and mind. My response is usually twofold—“WOW!” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”

So it was as I began reading the Acknowledgments of Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s Putting God Second. The words were: “I write from the inside because of you.”

Continually I ask myself why I stick with the church… why I continue to wrestle with God… why I drive 20 miles to teach a small adult class on Sunday morning.

I spent 40+ years of active ministry serving as Minister of Education, Pastor, and Executive Presbyter. During that time I tried to walk the tightrope suspended between stability and transformation—for myself and for the church. It was clear that both I and the church needed significant change in order to grow into maturity in our current age. In retirement I have come to realize that my desire for continuing growth has not waned. I am much less confident about the church’s desires.

That is why Hartman’s words touched me so deeply. Throughout my lifetime association with church folk (and some non-church types as well) there have been those who have been looking for something more than the warmed-over scraps of the good news which escaped the security filters of organized religious practice.

Sometimes those who aspire for a more vibrant and centered faith are pastors who feel caught in the dilemma of a system that prioritizes pastoral care (security) over prophetic witness (transformation). More often, however, it is rank and file members who have out-grown the capacity of their congregations to feed them meat rather than pablum. And then there are those lay leaders who spend too much time in contentious meetings  over petty disputes when they are well aware that the life blood of their congregation is draining away.

I know many of you by name! “I write from the inside because of you.” I am past my time for trying to bring change the church at large, if that ever were possible or my responsibility. Instead, I choose to stay connected (“to write from the inside”) because a) it is the faith community into which I have been called (hence, my lover’s quarrel with the church) and b) the affirmation from many of you is for me to write.

I am under no illusions that my job is to change the way you think or to alter the structure of you faithing. I do feel called to continue exploring the limits of faithfulness, reading those who challenge stale religious thinking or practice, and sharing those thoughts with you. As Rabbi Hartman concludes his Acknowledgments: “One yearns to be clear and one writes to be heard.”

 

 

Does God Abandon?

In Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, Brueggemann devotes a chapter to four texts:

  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? [Psalm 22:1]
  • Why have you forsaken us these many days? [Lamentations 5:20]
  • But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me…” [Isaiah 49:14]
  • For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. [Isaiah 54:7-8]

To these we might add:

  • At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46]

The history of understanding, especially within Christianity, has found authors going head-over-heels trying to explain these words away in order to protect God’s integrity. Brueggemann suggests that Isaiah 54:7-8 provides the needed clue for facing into the deeper understanding of these difficult texts.

The launch point for allowing the texts to stand on their own—that is, to accept God’s abandonment—resides in our expectations of God. To approach the matter metaphysically is to assume that God is eternally the same, forever constant in relating to the created order, including human history. Abandonment violates this metaphysical understanding of the nature of God; therefore, the literal meaning of the texts must be explained away.

Brueggemann opts for a dramatic approach to the texts which “permits the reading community to stay with the terms of the text, even with its contradictions, incongruities, and unwelcome lines.” (page 84) God, therefore, does have a darker side—God abandons.

Isaiah 54:7-8 is the interpretive clue here. The script suggests that abandonment is a past event in the drama and remembered into the present. The interpretive community can claim that God’s past contains abandonment, but that God’s compassion is normative for the present. (page 89)

An inventive, imaginative approach… but I think Brueggemann falls short of the richness of what the texts suggest—God’s abandonment is a real possibility, maybe even as necessity. It is only when I live into and through the woundedness of being abandoned that I can discover what genuine presence means… what that presence (even in its absence) insists… what it leads me to be and do.

Every parent knows that they must at times abandon their child—withdraw presence in order that the child might grow into her or his own. Life is a series of abandonments allied with growth and development. The parent that refuses to let their child fail—the non-abandoning parent—misses the essence of parenthood.

The key to understanding abandonment is timing. Abandonment must occur at those times when grow and development can only happen when the individual is forced to rely on his or her own resources and resolve. God abandonment insists in order that we might grow spiritually. Abandonment is a mother bird pushing the fledglings out of the nest so that they can FLY!

On Scarcity and Abundance

Walter Brueggemann has written and spoken extensively on “Theology of Abundance,” “Liturgy of Abundance, and “Myth of Scarcity.” His analysis begins with Pharaoh who, he says, introduced the concept of scarcity into economics. Yeshua counters with a sacramental (and subversive) economics based on abundance and generosity. He suggests that “our world absolutely requires this news . . . [that] the creation is infused with the Creator’s generosity, and we can find practices, procedures, and institutions that allow that generosity to work.”

I believe that Brueggemann is correct in his analysis but premature in his prescription. Pharaoh has been reincarnated in American culture as the consumer society. Every attempt to address abundance falls prey to “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Whenever abundance enters the conversation, it is understood in terms of competitive economics where more is preferable to less, bigger is better than smaller. If I can paraphrase Brueggemann, abundance has become a narcotic for us. We are abundance junkies.

“God blesses—that is, endows with vitality. . .” (also from Brueggemann) is perhaps a better approach. It is vitality and wholesomeness that is desired; the blessing of a vital and wholesome life, not abundance. Given our culture’s narcotized obsession with abundance, maybe it is not abundance, but scarcity, that we need to learn how to negotiate. How can we be concerned for the poor, if we are celebrating abundance?

In our search of deep generosity, we might learn from the cloistered orders and their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Poverty, as a choice, is not about being without possessions; it is about not being possessed by them. Chastity, as a choice, means not being possessed by our sexual desires. Obedience, as a choice, does not mean the lack of freedom; it means freedom interpreted by responsibility and generosity.

What if we were to develop the discipline of discerning the meaning and value of scarcity in the midst of society’s obsession with abundance? The question for reflection might be: “How am I able to be generous because I don’t have much that I have to hold on to? What difference would it make if, instead of obsessing about whatever abundance I don’t have, I would celebrate scarcity as a blessing waiting to happen—an opportunity to be generous? There was a time when I was simply satisfied with what I had. When did it change? When did I change? Now I assess how much I want (or think I need) something new. It is hard to be honest about how much more I really need? (I do know how much I want—more!) Am I afraid of scarcity?

Of one thing I am certain—Christians living closer to scarcity than to abundance tend to be far more generous.

Lessons from Exodus — “the liberation process”

Continuing reflections after reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution, who suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.

Lesson #6—“the  liberation process”

I want to strike election and its step-children—predestination and double predestination—from the theological lexicon. I will grant that election can be a beautiful concept but it is too complicated (over 500 pages in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics) and too often misunderstood as privilege or specialness (leading to crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, and other forms of violence).

Walzer has provided me a viable alternative—liberation. For Israel, liberation was a process. Freedom from oppression in Egypt, which was understood as God’s action, was followed by entrance into the testing laboratory of wilderness where the old ways and expectations slough off. It became clear that the escapees had not fully left Egypt. Their murmuring evidenced a psychological and spiritual dependence on the mindset and the values of Egypt. The milk and honey of a known Egypt seemed more secure than the promised milk and honey of an unseen and unknown land. Something further was needed.

At Mt. Sinai that something further was revealed as a covenant with its torah tablets. The covenant was a committed relationship between liberator and those liberated. Moses, on behalf of the community, negotiated that relationship on the mountain top. The torah (law or, better yet, teaching) tablets contained the ethical/moral precepts, grounded in theology, for establishing and maintaining “a land that’s full of milk and honey” [Exodus 3:8 CEB]. Each individual must ratify the covenant relationship by committing herself, himself to the ethical/moral behavior required for milk and honey. The required behavior was, at a later time, described as care for widows, orphans, and immigrants [Deuteronomy] or justice, compassion, and humility [Micah]

Barth tells us that election is all about God. Liberation, on the other hand, is about a relationship between liberator and the liberated, a relationship (covenant) that is framed within a vision (milk and honey), and with a plan (torah teachings of an ethical/moral way of life). In a like manner, the Christian concept of liberation is based on a relationship (with Yeshua) that is framed within a vision (commonwealth of peace and tender justice), with a plan (beatitude and parable teachings).

In the United States, we have the religious and political right that envisions a return to the milk and honey of Egypt (“Make America Great Again”) with its plan to remove restrictions on the capitalist mechanisms, restrict diversity, and prioritize Christianity; while the religious and political left is still wandering in the wilderness and with some fantasized roadmap (without discernible landmarks) supposedly leading to an idealized softer Egypt

If Walzer’s account of the exodus story is truly a template for radical change (and America’s religious and political mechanisms are drastically in need of radical change), then we will not find our milk and honey until we gird our loins, put on our sandals, take up our walking sticks and join together in the valley of slough (wilderness) where our current practices of ideological stalemate, refusal to cooperate, and a community lifestyle that has prioritized violence over life itself will slough off.

Lessons from Exodus – “covenant’

Continuing reflections after reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution, who suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.

Lesson #5—“covenant”

Walzer shrewdly observes that when the Israelites stood at Sinai they were mid-way between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the oppression of slavery and the possibility of freedom. It was there that they had to decide—look backward or move ahead. Would they simply make their life in the wilderness where they could complain about how much better Egypt might have been? Or, would they boldly commit themselves to an unknown future, one that could mean freedom or, conversely, to a new and different kind of oppression at the hand of rulers unknown?

They chose to ally themselves with Yahweh, the god who had manifested to Moses on the mountaintop.  They chose to bind themselves to a set of values and principles that would determine the very nature of their relationships with one another, with strangers, and especially with God. They committed themselves to be responsible for establishing and maintaining ethical/moral relationships characterized by compassion, peace, and tender justice.

The United States was founded on the basis of a similar covenant (written down in the Constitution). While we are prone to talk about the rule of law, the American Dream is really about the rule of ethical/moral values ruling our relationships leading to truth, justice, and the (illusive) American way.

Right now, the covenant seems broken in American society. Our leaders make decisions based on which lobbyists or corporations are providing the greatest financial support. (When we see this behavior anywhere else in the world we call it bribery; here we call it “Citizens United.”) Our citizenry seems more intent on name-calling than on seeking solutions to problems. We can’t decide whether cultic rituals and liturgies (saying the pledge of allegiance; standing for the National Anthem) are more Important or whether the really important concern is social justice (Black Lives Matter). Both side have deluded themselves into thinking that the solution to all our problems is electing the right President and Legislators.

Are we back to Sinai—standing between oppression and promise? Is this the time of choosing—settling for less because it might be more familiar OR girding our loins, putting on our sandals, picking up our walking sticks, and marching boldly toward the promise, toward the dream, toward the possibilities? Will we look like the next installment of the “rise and fall of the Roman empire?” Or, will we continue the parade toward the American dream? One way or the other we will move beyond the current American nightmare.