Monday, December 31, 2007

Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany – Year A

Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew, speaking to a Jewish community, should know how poorly astrologers are viewed in the Hebrew scriptures. There is a sense that they are worshipping the created stars rather than the creator of the stars. At best they bring a second-rate theology just a little better than necromancers.

Astronomy does give some cover for the Magi in Herod's court, but it also draws attention to Jesus and is precursor to the slaughter we heard of last week, that is the sequel to this story (what tangled webs are woven when story lines are broken).

Sticking to a theme of lowliness, instead of fulfillment, This may be Matthew's incarnating G*D into the realities of human life. Through pagans who remain pagans, Jesus is revealed to the larger world. Similarly, in Luke, it is through the lowly shepherds, not the angels, that word is passed about Emmanuel.

By the time we come to the end of Matthew's tale we find another pagan, a centurion affirming what the Magi searched for and only tasted the beginning of - Emmanuel. In the end we also find Jesus' disciples sent on a search for the Magi at the ends of the earth, that they might be baptized. [Note: if you are interested in an entertaining excursion of Jesus seeking the Magi, you may appreciate The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.]

Try looking at this passage through the eyes of surprised Jews who hear it is those second-class Magi who first acknowledge and visit Jesus (don't get confused by conflating Luke into Matthew), who honor him with precious gifts. At the least, Jews won't get distracted by 2,000 plus years of numbering and naming the Magi or the exoticness of the gifts. They will know there is trouble coming when they hear the Magi are connected with G*D.

The felt but not articulated anxiety engendered by the incorporation of strange women into Jesus' genealogy becomes clearer with the arrival of the Magi. G*D is up to something very strange. Now that we are adequately unsettled by holy foreign women and holy pagan astrologers and murder most foul we are ready to hear about John, a baptizer, and then to proceed with an adult Jesus from whom we can accept the presence of G*D.

To look at this one story is to look at the whole story. Honor it well and don't get hung up on the consumer aspect of global trade items.

- - - - - - -

From Provoking the Gospel of Matthew: A Storyteller's Commentary by Richard W. Swanson:

"If the Magi had returned to Herod, perhaps he would have killed only Jesus and his family instead of needing to kill all of the toddlers in and around Bethlehem. Play this scene so that the audience sees and feels the cost of considering such a terrible calculation. Would it have been better if Jesus had been turned over? Can a faithful community save itself by betraying itself? Is there any way to defend against Herod without becoming as bad as Herod? Tell the story so that the community's risks and losses come clear. This is not just a story about one baby, but about all the babies."

Friday, December 28, 2007

fear of death binds

Christmas 1 – Year A

fear of death binds
survival brings servitude
only forgiveness argues with death
shaking foundations

fear of death brings
exile in Egypt
fear of famine
fear of Herod

fear of death brings
exile in Jerusalem
fear of contenders
fear of loss

fear of death brings
exile in Nazareth
fear of foreignness
fear of descendants

facing of death blesses
freedom to leave and come
mercy to take by the hand
faithfulness beyond success

= = = =

notes:
stanza 1 from Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich (Chapter 21)
Stanzas 2-4 from Matthew 2:13-23
Stanza 5 from Hebrews 2:16-17 (Christian Community Bible)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hebrews 2:10-18

Christmas 1 – Year A

Hebrews 2:10-18

What does it mean to be made perfect through "suffering"?

Try this – The word translated as "suffering" here is "pathema". It is a presumed derivative of "pathos" which can be heard as:

1. whatever befalls one, whether it be sad or joyous
     a. spec. a calamity, mishap, evil, affliction
2. a feeling which the mind suffers
     a. an affliction of the mind, emotion, passion
     b. passionate deed
     c. used by the Greeks in either a good or bad sense
     d. in the NT in a bad sense, depraved passion, vile passions

Pathos, in turn, may be from the root "pascho":

1. to be affected or have been affected, to feel, have a sensible experience, to undergo
     a. in a good sense, to be well off, in good case
     b. in a bad sense, to suffer sadly, be in a bad plight
          i. of a sick person

To push back through we can hear this suffering as a negative (bad, depraved, sick), positive (to be well off), or descriptively (whatever, to simply feel or experience).

Here we might say that Jesus was made whole through his experiences, his feeling the realities around him and beyond him.

This sense of wholeness, healed-ness, salvation is experience-based, not doctrine-based. Jesus, and those who draw near to G*D through his experience, appreciate his appreciation of his experience of what befalls everyone in the process of living. Therefore mercy is a key response to life. It is experienced life that draws us together (atonement, if you will).

"Suffering" has gotten a bad rap when it has only been seen in a negative light. I'm not sure the word can be redeemed from centuries of one-sided use. This might mean that we need to refrain from its use, or find a longer descriptor to say what we really mean because it can only be heard negatively, regardless of how we intended it.

To demonstrate this, see how hard it is to read this passage in terms of mutual identity through experience rather than one-way loss/sacrifice taking over another's experience.

Or, can you read this in terms of "passionate deeds" rather than through purgation? "Jesus (and those who follow his way) are made whole through passionate deeds." Does this say what needs to be said to move us off center of idolizing some second person of a three-person crowd?

Another approach to this is to look at the Indo-European root of the word "suffer" – "bher" which means to carry or to bear children. Here, too we might try putting it this way, "Jesus was made whole through birthing in others the ability to bear G*D". Might this be difficult/suffering? Yes. Might this be simply-the-way-life-is/suffering? Yes. Might this be participating-in-mercy/suffering? Yes.

Blessings upon you in this Christmas time to begin bearing on your own tongue better descriptors of salvation – difficult, simply-the-way-life-is, merciful – rather than falling back on the inadequacy of using "suffering" language.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Psalm 148

Christmas 1 – Year A

Psalm 148

In the back of comic books, in days of yore, they used to sell X-Ray Glasses that would let you look through that which you consider to be in your way of seeing what you wanted to see. Mostly that barrier was clothing.

Hormonally that has a built in appeal for adolescent boys to see through dresses (the dress of that day) and glimpse naked girls.

Relationally it has an appeal that we can get to the reality of the person under all the masks they have put on.

Here, Praise is the equivalent of X-Ray Glasses. Praise allows us to see behind any phenomenon to some early creator. In so seeing we are made part of the powerful (yet another appeal) who are raised up and become close or equivalent to God.

While practicing praise can increase the odds that it will be a first response to any number of circumstances, there remains a question about its sustainability over the long haul. It doesn't take long to figure out the gimmick of X-Ray Glasses and to set them aside. It does take longer to figure out the gimmick of Praise. Both are good for the bottom-line of their originators and leave their practitioners with a faint distaste – is this all there is?

To praise God in the face of Herod and contemporary Slaughterers of Innocents is questionable. When Acts of Piety, such as required praise, trump Acts of Mercy there is going to be hell to pay.

Perhaps the next time around we will rejoice in being able to rejoice in all things, but the context of intentional inflicting of pain doesn't let us travel that path this time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Isaiah 63:7-9

Christmas 1 – Year A

Isaiah 63:7-9

A reflection on what it means to be an image of G*D is always in order.

G*D's gracious deed keeps boiling down to one – loving kindness. Each time we think we have found another facet to G*D it is the same old one – loving kindness. Each time we get discouraged with humanity (all the various inhumanities do, at least, further define what humanity is not) we find that our base line continues to be our imaging loving kindness.

Surely Israel is G*D's people and they will not deal falsely! What hopefulness G*D has in the face of nearly constant betrayal. It would be so easy to give in to the base line of betrayal (Garden, Abel, and onward) as our identity. Surely we are G*D's people and we will not deal falsely! What apparent folly this is in light of what we do to one another. Can we suspend our disbelief enough to know that all this is a play and wherever we strut, we will eventually put such fa├žade behind us and reveal the denouement toward which we have always been moving - loving kindness

Finally it is not a particular message or messenger, no matter how you would want to massage it, redemption is always around loving kindness. This is what has lifted and carried us all these days. This is what lifts and carries us today. This is what will continue to lift and carry.

So, again having thrown back the curtain, will we live more closely and daily with loving kindness? While birth happens, will Birth Happen to us that we will more closely walk our image until there is Emmanuel (G*D/US), the logical and experiential extension of Emmanuel (G*D/JESUS).

This revelation of Emmanuel comes not from paring away until some kernel is revealed. Rather, it is an extension of our base line into every mundane part of our life, every gracious deed.

= = = =

After writing the above and before posting it, I ran across this snippet from Sheer Joy by Matthew Fox:

FOX: Where do you ground your deep conviction that joy and delight are so central to the spiritual experience? I find your teaching to contradict centuries of teaching that told us to begin spiritual practices with purgation.

AQUINAS: God delights. God is always rejoicing and doing so with a single and simple delight. In fact, it is appropriate to say that love and joy are the only human emotions that we can attribute literally to God. Love and joy exist properly in God. They constitute the basis of all attraction – love is the origin and joy is the end result. God is happiness by the divine essence, for God is happy not by acquisition or participation of something else, but by God's essence. On the other hand, human beings are happy, as Boethius says, by participation.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Matthew 2:13-23

Christmas 1 – Year A

Matthew 2:13-23

It is not just Matthew's community that wants to have current events connected with their past. This is a very human condition. While asking what Matthew's story of Jesus would be like without the constant refrain about fulfillment of past pronouncements, it is important to ask about what similar constraints we are using in our own day. How constrained we are by political and religious and economic touchstones. Should G*D simply desire to do a new thing, it appears G*D past is stronger than G*D's present. As folks in G*D's image this seems true for us as well.

Meanwhile, back at the gospel, what would make the political death of Jesus as an infant any more or less meaningful than his death on a political cross? Isn't political death a killing that is going on everyday and aren't saintly, innocent, prophetic lives regularly extinguished? Voices of Ramah can be heard on the nightly news. They have become the background against which see, hear, and touch the barriers to their mobilizing power. We are exiled from ourselves and one another under the banner of, "this is just the way it is, who can do anything?"

Apparently Magi don't make a transformative community. They are precursors of Peter as they go back another way and do an act of denial. Apparently a solidarity of bereaved mothers don't make a transformative community. They raise their voices in grief, but glimpse no new life, only an old life repeated. Apparently Mary and Joseph and Angels don't make a transformative community. They are able to play defense and keep one of out a thousand safe, just as some were able to protect some while various genocides proceeded.

May your dreams be strong enough to be followed all the way to founding a transformative community where you are or finding one already going in which you might participate. Another way to put this is to find your home where G*D's desires for you and for all, through you, might be fulfilled.

This is a challenge most difficult, regardless of whether you are one who runs away, one who sits and mourns, or one who comes back from exile in a passive manner to survive underground. Whatever your current state-of-affairs, may you see your life filled and your life fulfilled. In so being, you will hear angels and speak angelically. Finally, having traveled away with the Magi, to Egypt, to Ramah, to Nazareth, you will see your burning bush, hear belovedness in baptismal waters, and rise to life in this life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

here's how it happened

Advent 4 – Year A

here's how it happened

messiah's birth happened
in this way
Mary with child
Joseph with dream
that's it
how understated
then
fireworks in the sky sex

oh yes
after an undescribed birth
some magi magically appear
pulling gifts from their sleeves
cards, flower upon flower, and doves
their comings and goings detailed
far beyond messiah's birth
and angelic emmanuels

an unknown girl of Isaiah
becomes all too well known Mary
another usual birth
turns into another
we attribute meaning beyond meaning
to imbue usual time
with magic significance
unsatisfied with enough

how did it happen
again
that all our usual rules
of exception and separation
found themselves beside the point
seems when G*D is with us
we don't need extraordinary
simply bearing and naming today

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Romans 1:1-7

Advent 4 – Year A

Romans 1:1-7

It is very easy to turn "according to the flesh" and "according to the spirit of holiness" into a dualism, pitted against each other, separated. This makes it easy to claim that I am flesh and Jesus is holy. It becomes equally easy, after identifying with Jesus, to claim that I am holy and you are but flesh. It's not long before this way leads to doctrinal, theoretical, philosophical litmus tests. Those who pass are holy, those who don't, aren't.

It is helpful to remember just a verse later that we have "received grace and apostleship" – both. We are holy, graced, and enact our apostleship in our flesh. I wish the word "and" was capitalized, italicized, and bolded to help us better relate our being true flesh and true holiness, just as we claim Jesus to mysteriously be fully human and fully divine.

During this advent time we still have a little time to carry our receiving of grace and apostleship into disciplines of faith. It is not so much, here, that these disciplines are memorized, no matter how heartfelt, beliefs, but the actual enactment of life-giving actions for ourselves, others, and G*D. Don't just stand there believing, do something.

As we approach these final days of advent we might pause to consider what we have learned these past weeks, what we have practiced, where our growth edges are, and what we need to continue working on.

The celebrations of Christmas will come and go, perhaps lasting as long as 12 days; the practices of Advent will continue beyond what we can yet see. Thankfully we begin our year with advent and not Christmas. By this time next year we can expect to see some changes in our living because of something we instituted in these few four weeks. Blessings upon your deciding to be different, your practice to be the needed change in your setting, and your evaluation of your advent work as you progress through the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Advent 4 – Year A

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

O G*D who leads, we plead, save us, restore us.

There are presumptions galore here about the nature of G*D and an expected state of affairs for ourselves.

Does a "G*D who leads" lead into exile, into dark nights of souls and of simply dark nights? If so what blocks our recognition of such leadership in the midst of our waiting and yearning for elseways?

Does a "G*D who leads" need to be pleaded with to go into reverse gear and restore? If so, is this a God we would care to follow?

Where else might "a G*D who leads" lead? If it is not backward or it is not forward, so we can repeat this dance for the umpteenth time, might it be to an advent empty emptiness of our present that we might accept its emptiness and appreciate its fullness?

Is the restoration needed here a restoration to an intimate and erotic relationship with G*D (read, with one another and creation) where we are, in exile and continuing to walk through a void, and not a return to a previous set point? If so, what we need to work on is not setting ourselves right at the expense of someone else who has done injury to us, but with our self that contains G*D and with G*D inside whose face we may yet be.

In the Kabala the word "before" G*D's face comes from roots indicating "inside". If we follow this, the plea to let G*D's face shine is to find ourselves at one, inside G*D's face. While we are yet separated by whatever it is that we use to cause and continue such, G*D's face shines not.

What we began pleading for we find we have the resources to accomplish. Soon, with Joseph, may we awake from our sleep, shine forth from G*D's face, and live a compassion that receives that which is not ours, as though it were.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Isaiah 7:10-17

Advent 4 – Year A

Isaiah 7:10-17

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.

Asked or not asked, G*D is present.

Popularized by Carl Jung, earlier by Erasmus, still earlier by the Spartans, and who knows how much earlier by others until we get back to creation. Whether asked for or not, creation happens.

Recognized or not, called or not, G*D calls forth.

What is a sign of G*D's presence – life itself. Look, life goes on, births occur, creation is beckoned forth and declared good. Before a next child is born, by anyone, anywhere; before a sign is acknowledged, by anyone, anywhere – G*D is at work.

Before advent is over, or even begun, waiting and fulfillment have met, bowed to one another, and moved on.

Go ahead, just try to ask more quickly than G*D is present.

What sign in your everyday life will stand for your having been endowed, already, with what you need? When you are in touch with your sign, your daemon, your genius, your totem, it is amazing how quickly time flies. This is our element of fun, our spoonful of sugar, our lark, our life, our spree.

What sign is given you? What sign are you to others?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Matthew 1:18-25

Advent 4 – Year A

Matthew 1:18-25

There is appropriate and inappropriate guilt.
There is appropriate and inappropriate responsibility.
The trick is to tell them apart.

In ordinary circumstances we might think of Joseph taking inappropriate responsibility for Mary's pregnancy. Here such an action is attributed to his righteousness, not his wisdom. Left to his own devices and the devices of his time and place, Joseph had every thing in place to claim this task of covering for Mary as inappropriate responsibility.

Somewhere along the way he had learned to first acknowledge and then to listen to his dreams. His dream claimed this action as appropriate, not inappropriate.

In this time of waiting between first and next comings, dreamtime remains an important category for us to pay attention to.

So, what dreams this day need to be shifted from inappropriate to appropriate in your life and in the life of the world?

Based on this scripture they will have something to do with the presence of G*D taking precedence over the current traditions of our culture (religious culture or otherwise). Where does church doctrine that constrains our relationships with one another need to be turned on its head? Where is there a response leading to peace between peoples that needs to come out from under the umbrella of being called treason and stand to turn us all in a better directions? Where in our families and communities do we find the fulcrum from which to leverage a preferred future into view and into today?

Whatever your dream or dreams lead you to, in an Imitation of Joseph – it is time to wake from sleep!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Peek-a-boo, I see you

Advent 3 – Year A

Peek-a-boo, I see you

As a representative partner of G*D, is anyone coming out to see you?
If they did what would they see?

= = = = = = =

John erupts from the wilderness
and folks flock forward
warned to flee
through baptism
further into wilderness

Jesus sighs into Bethlehem
magi and shepherd welcomed
warned to flee
through a Reed Sea
deeper into exile

John comes through silence
to stand stolidly
amid water
that gives life
on the way to a Dead Sea

Jesus appears suddenly
having stood nowhere
among people
revealed as beloved
and tempted

amid all these variations
their descendants
in our skin
risk imprisonment
going on to wholeness

strength from each to each
breaks forth in deserts
growing flowers
life-long farmers
of joy and gladness

and on this farm
prophets grow, ready
to face fear
here a ready, there a ready
to be hopeful news

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

James 5:7-10

Advent 3 – Year A

James 5:7-10

Is it time yet? Are we there yet? So ask kids in the car and John in prison.

How unsatisfactory the response, "Be patient beloved."

I have met farmers waiting patiently for crops to come in, but not any that do so without anxiety. Any day can bring disaster.

So it is we also wait with advent anxiety. We tell one another to be strong, not to grumble and doubt lest such bring exactly what we feared. It is all too easy to see a Judge and to begin preJudging ourselves as incomplete and liable for the full sentencing power of a mandatory sentence.

And then the kicker about following the model of the prophets who were not the least bit patient. They had a call to follow where it led. They did not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. Their task was so important that action had to follow immediately upon the heels of their call. Sometimes that action was to run away and sometimes to dive into it deeply, with nary a second thought.

So, be patient as a prophet! Be as patient as was Jesus in healing and teaching. Beloved, be this patient. Right now!

Psalm 146:5-10

Advent 3 – Year A

Psalm 146:5-10

So often we only respond to outcomes. In the eternal political campaign we are in the middle of that parallels the unending war we have preemptively entered, we keep looking for measurable outcomes. Votes are taken, surges are entered into, and we look around for results and are unable to settle on any agreement as to whether we need to keep going or its time to turn around.

A tension in this psalm is that between praise, just because praise is the right thing to do at all times and in all places, and figuring out outcomes from our present mortal princes. This pull between the two cannot be overcome if we stay on the same plane.

Finally the psalmist settles for a longer-view. Even if justice for the oppressed takes longer than my desire, praise is a better way to wait than anxious casting about for evidence that things are getting worse or marginally better.

There is no conclusive evidence that praising is better than demanding outcome-based analyses and results of particular situations. Praise is certainly not to be used to avoid doing the difficult job of discerning or evaluating. Such, though, needs to be done in the context of a larger vision.

John wonders about trusting Jesus and his methodology that takes John's message but implements it in a different manner. The psalmist wonders about trusting princes and G*D, one so immediate and one so some-day.

Whether going on evidence of folks healed or a remembrance of steadfast love, we wrestle with plans and decision-makers in our own ways. Hopefully we will do so with both hard evidence of making-a-difference and an approach to life that anticipates continued care. An example of this is how the downfall of the wicked is intimately tied to the care of the orphan and widow.

Want to be part of a praise team that is more than ecstatic music? Uphold someone today and watch their oppressors or ignorers fall another day. There is a direct relationship between the two and, when you can see it, you'll opt to do your upholding with praise at being partners with G*D in eventual justice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Isaiah 35:1-10

Advent 3 – Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10

Oh so often do we connect violence with salvation. Here, again, it seemed important to do so. "Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

Given your current sensibilities, would you desire your salvation to come at the expense of recompense? What pound of flesh might satisfy a pound taken from you? Would you need two pounds or more to make up for the one you lost? Is vengeance upon another part of a compensation package for injuries done you?

Since this is an advent season of anticipation and new beginnings, it would be interesting to note how many times in these remaining two weeks we find ourselves listening to violence in the media, on the lips of political candidates, among our friend's reports of life, and in our own family experience. Simply being aware of this number will begin the sensitization process needed to begin anticipating an everlasting joy that is not dependent upon divine violence justifying human violence.

If you are already aware of the way in which violence has been built into our joy, you may desire to begin removing it and finding that joy is able to be sustained on its own. There is no magic in this process. It is the same as changing any habit – persistence, persistence, persistence until it becomes second nature.

The best persistence carries with it a substitution. Every time we are able to be aware of and back away from a violent response, we would be aided by inviting someone else to marvel at the miracle of our not responding in kind and being proactive in assisting them to glimpse a new avenue of their own salvation. This will mean staying in contact with ravenous beasts who are not aware of the choices in front of them and empathetically revealing them with an invitation to join you in choosing to see glory beyond survival.

An advent challenge is to remember that persistence fatigue is all too easy to arrive at. Keep your practicing communal that you might receive the support you need to keep expanding arenas for your persistent choice against violence in its various expressions, small and large.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Matthew 11:2-11

Advent 3 – Year A

Matthew 11:2-11

The blind see and some are offended.
The lame walk and some are offended.
Lepers are cleansed and some are offended
The deaf hear and some are offended.
The dead are raised and some are offended.
The poor receive good news and some are offended.

Blessed are those who are not offended.

Another way to come at the sense of offense is to see what it requires from us. When a change of status occurs we find ourselves offended ("losing trust" from the Greek; "to strike, kill" from the Indo-European). If our status is lowered we are offended by those whom we blame. If our status is raised we are amazingly offended by those from whom we came.

At one and the same time we are attracted by the danger and offended by the presence of such as a rabble-rouser as Baptizer John. It is exciting to be in around him as he calls for such radical things as chopping at the roots of despair and rooting out root causes of poverty and unkindness. Exciting, that is, until we make the connection of what is required from us. The same is true of our response to Jesus and other prophets.

A part of our question this week is that of what we are taking offense at these days. To not take offense at something is to be asleep at the wheel. But by what are we offended? That is a significant advent question.

When things improve for the blind, lame, lepers, deaf, dead, and poor it means that I cannot live as easily as I did. If such as these do not have too little, then it may mean that I, in having much, will not have too much (I'll have less much). If such as these find themselves even worse off, then my head rests less easy for there is a revolution brewing.

Which of these states will cause me the most offense. Truth be told it is the improvement of the lot of the poor that causes the greater offense. If a revolution comes I have an excuse for my benefits – see what trouble-makers they are and not worth any further investment in their lives. It is far worse when the gap between us closes and I am called to recognize new community partners. Then all my past behavior is called into question.

Be alert to what offends you this week. Then, decide what you will do about your offense. If you are the offended party, there is advent work of new birth to do. If you note someone else being offended against, there is advent work of new justice to do. Internal or external, on our own or on another's behalf, a sense of offense sharpens our discernment of what arena of life we are called to.

May we soon live in a world that is not offensive. May we soon live without taking offense and defending those who have been offended.

Bottomline – Advent raises the questions of where our trust is based and whether or not we will strike some part of the body off of or kill offenders. What power does our sense of offense carry with it? – forgiveness and the reestablishment of trust? or separation and the further establishment of violence?

Friday, December 07, 2007

spiritual topology

Advent 2 – Year A

spiritual topology
reshapes what is possible
redefining and redivining
the nature of space
from fine to global
salvation is divorced
from our exact shape
stem cells and humans
are topologically equivalent
one able to be transformed
into the other

advent change
comes inside out
using fire and water
axes and roots
now and coming
from hidden wildernesses
come cousins and comrades
with the strangest of garb
hiding the outside inside
reshaping the landscape
of breath and soul

come rail at hypocrites
and find yourself
railing at yourself
chief pretender
immune from
your own poison
so freely shed abroad
chopping so freely
all radical roots
but your own
always going before

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romans 15:4-13

Advent 2 – Year A

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our hope. I hope they knew that and kept some for themselves. It is possible to be hopeful for others without appropriating any for oneself.

Whatever we do in these days is done for the hope of those to come. I hope we are keeping some for ourselves. While many things benefit from being wholly given, hope is one exception as it is both larger and smaller than time.

Regardless of the hope end of things, what we are called to do is to live in harmony with one another.

Oh my, couldn't our work on behalf of the future have been something a bit less intimidating.

As we look back over the former days – harmony seems to be a real crapshoot. How might one be hopeful when we look at our track record so far? At best we can say that so far we have not annihilated ourselves yet.

Was this because of the thirty six righteous [lamed vov]? Though, since probably everyone has had a significant person that has kept their world going, the number is probably symbolic and for the sake of millions, the world goes on. This reverses the old story about Abraham bargaining G*D down to how few righteous were actually needed to save Sodom. Here we might wonder how many more righteous folks we need to bring hope to reality – 360? 3,600? 36,000? 36,000,000?

To avoid the necessary ambiguity of numerology that claims to be so solidly built, it may be best to follow Paul's dictum to simply welcome another as you have been welcomed to a journey larger than yourself. Simply welcome.

One resource you may want to look at is Paul Loeb's book The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Advent 2 – Year A

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Give it to the king, O G*D, give it to the king!

The king needs to have justice applied to the king and a filling of righteousness.

The king needs to have such justice and righteousness flow through them that they may be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers watering earth.

Who is this king? Let's listen in to a section from Matthew Fox's Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life. In writing of "Meister Eckhart and Karl Marx: The Mystic as Political Theologian", Fox comments:

"In a society that was as aware of privilege as was Eckhart's, the thesis that all are aristocrats is a far from subtle rebuke of the caste system then prevailing. But it is more than a rebuke--it is an imaginative alternative that Eckhart is suggesting. According to historian Jacques Heers, what characterized the popular uprisings of Eckhart's period and place was that even when the "people" overthrew one aristocracy, another immediately took its place. We see then how truly radical and imaginative was Eckhart's alternative: not to confront aristocracy but to recreate it entirely by baptizing all into it. Eckhart does not put down nobles and aristocrats, and he refuses to substitute a new dualism of the lowly over the privileged. Instead, with a dialectical imagination that only a mystic could muster, he makes the peasants into nobles. Instead, therefore, of putting down anyone, he elevates all. . . .

"Thus Eckhart reiterates his marvelous admiration for the nobility of the human person. Eckhart does not stop short of claiming that human beings give a home to the divine within them. For in us 'God has sowed His image and His likeness, and … He sows the good seed, the root of all wisdom, all knowledge, all virtue, and all goodness, the seed of Divine nature. The seed of Divine nature is the Son of God, the Word of God.' Eckhart's theology of personhood does not concentrate on sin and redemption but on divinization. In this regard he drinks fully of Eastern Christian spiritual theologies.

"'The seed of God is in us. If it was cultivated by a good, wise and industrious laborer, it would thrive all the more and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and the fruit would be like the Divine nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree, a hazel seed into a hazel tree, a seed of God into God.'"

So what would it mean to have this Advent be an advent of your rising beyond the caste system of your culture, your society? Bloom where you are!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Isaiah 11:1-10

Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10

What authority will this Shoot of Jesse have when no longer limited by sight and sound? This one with spirit resting upon them will be able to see to the heart of the matter and justice will have some additional meaning than immediate and natural.

For ages the dream of a "peaceable kingdom" has captured our imagination. We yearn for and talk about an idyllic place where hurt is no more. We have all been hurt more than we can sometimes stand and this picture brings our hurt round right. It means those mean old toothy carnivores will find their come-uppance by going hungry tonight and tomorrow night and every night after that. Those meat-eaters, of course, are those who have hurt us. We will be able to keep them by our side and under an unnatural control of their being.

This is a vision of underdogs – an appeal to wisdom stronger than power, gnosis stronger than exile.

In theory this could be the outcome of repentance. A leopard could changes its spots. A sinner could pull themself up by their own bootstraps. I could be in a season other than curmudgeonee.

How long could a G*D within a wolf continue in this picture? Would they periodically stray to a picture down the gallery to feast on some pigs, since sheep are protected in this one?

An Advent question rises to the fore whenever we reach for one of these places of resolution as though it be would the last word. I can't imagine anything more boring and a place less worthy of spending time there than somewhere with no consequences when children do their child thing and stick a fork in a socket or a hand in a snake den. If you stop to consider this passage, is it a comfort or a challenge? A comfort in that all this will happen someday with the energy of someone else, some deus ex machina? A challenge to analyze the present, decide on a course of action to move in the direction of the vision, and to actually do something that will move in the direction of such a vision?

Generally this is seen as a comforting passage, rather than a challenging one.

While the political situation of a given time may be a time to keep quiet in the midst of all the different forces arrayed against one, a dream of Jesse's Shoot allows a certain amount of persistence, but it ultimately fails to drive our behavior to transform evil to good.

If you had to raise a banner these days for yourself and others, what would you raise high? Might it be close to: "I'm not completely dead, only mostly dead." (The wonderful Princes Bride book and movie strike again.) And perhaps we might even raise a second banner, "A green shoot can break cement." (Yea, Malvina Reynolds.) Perhaps a third would come along, "Don't get hung up on the metaphors!" And, since a trinity is usually looking for a stabilizing fourth, "Live the drop of G*D knowledge you have now, don't wait for a sea of it" might flutter forth.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2 – Year A

Matthew 3:1-12

This being the second week of Advent, is there a sense of progress being made? Are we any closer to being ready this week than we were last?

Well, we have moved from one being taken and one being left, so "be ready", to a sense that even if we wanted to be ready we would only make it to the category of viper (no not the lovely automobile). So, in some sense, our progress is that of taking a step backward – out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.

There is no longer a 50/50 shot at ending up at a good place (those who are left behind to enjoy a good creation, G*D's presence come on earth). Anyone who approaches is now 100% in trouble.

No matter if we double the number of brightly glowing candles this week, we are in a darker place – fleeing from a wrath to come.

While not wanting to denigrate the usefulness of wrath as a motivator, the image that is more energizing for many is that of hooking their star to a larger purpose – preparing a better future than we now have present.

A rallying cry for Methodists at their beginning was, "Flee from the wrath to come." This still makes good economic sense in today's world, but, theologically, its fear-based presentation needs to find its relevance in light of a promise of "Today you can be in Paradise".

Either way, we have to deal with repentance, a change of focus. If we are going to participate in a formation of a better future by what we do today, we will be called upon to change our ways, as continuing them will only bring us back to where we are, not move us on.

A question is how powerful an appeal to a better future is when compared to the fear of a worse future? During Advent time we wrestle with which of these is going to hold our heart. Can we be terrorized into better behavior and if so how long might such will behavior continue after the terror is removed? Can we be loved into better behavior and if so how lasting might such behavior be when it reenters its previous environment?

As practical people we usually propose that we need a little of both, terror and love. We just need to know when to apply which.

Unfortunately our tendency is to begin applying a little more of what worked most quickly last time without a reappraisal of a new situation and eventually find ourselves addicted to one mode or the other with no way to return to a considered diagnosis as to which to apply now.

Given this, it may be healthier to run with one. Even though wrathful language does periodically show up in Scripture, it shows up in trying to motivate us to a changed present that a better future might be available. I basically disagree with the idea that you can threaten someone into salvation. Therefore I recommend an Advent of practicing models of promised better living as though our whole culture had finally arrived at such as its norm.