Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter 2A - I doubt it

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20: 26-29)

I'm not preaching tomorrow morning; so, I'm sitting here watching the Red Sox play the Mariners wondering what The Rev. James Jones will offer to us. I think it's interesting to note that many Christians have some degree of doubt in Jesus' love for us. Conversely, many Christians believe that Jesus only loves us depending upon whether or not we "believe" the right thing about Jesus' salvation. Rob Asghar has written an interesting op-ed over at Huffington Post about this topic. He writes:

Jesus called his followers to be in the business of discipling an entire world in his teachings, not to be in the business of converting people in all nations to the Pharisee-like form of civil religion that American evangelical thugs accommodate.

I had a conversation with someone a couple of days ago who is having a hard time in their marital relationship. She and her spouse are arguing over whether or not God has a plan (of salvation) for the Jews. She says yes. He says no. My thinking is "Why would God create a centuries old covenant with Abraham and then change his mind when Jesus came into the world? I'm confident that Orthodox Christians have any number of responses to my rhetorical question. There's probably very little middle ground in our choices to reach consensus on the matter.

However, Jesus' encounter with Thomas provides an interesting response that I'm contemplating tonight. Jesus tells Thomas to "feel" the truth of Jesus' resurrection. We can't tacitly touch the risen Christ in the same way that Thomas did but we can assuredly believe that Jesus the Christ wants us, all of us to have confidence in God's covenant with us, regardless of whether we are a Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Agnostic. The theological issue is not the degree of our orthodoxy. The issue of faith is whether or not we are confident that God desires human beings to live free of fear. The religious issue is not what elements of God's plan properly fit into our doctrinal categories. The issue is whether or not we will respond with trust when God is immanent and beckoning us to soften our hearts and minds so that we can reach out more compassionately to God and our neighbors .

Karoline Lewis has this to say about Thomas' encounter with Jesus and its impact for us. She writes:

This is a full sensory Gospel. Sometimes it's tasting (John 6), sometimes it's smelling (John 11), sometimes it's hearing (John 10), sometimes it's touching (John 13:23), and sometimes it is seeing. This is what it means to be human and to experience relationships as human beings. A full, intimate, meaningful relationship will encompass the entirety of who we are and what it means to be human. God wants nothing less than this kind of relationship with us.

I would assert that Jesus the Christ desires for all human beings to live life and live more abundantly regardless of what we cognitively think is true about his bodily resurrection or God's plan for salvation. Life beckons us to set aside our fears and embrace grace. We all have doubts. Jesus the Christ's message is that such doubts and isolation disable us from coming into a deeper realization of The Divine's presence in Buddhist temples, Jewish Synagogues, and Christian Mega-Churches alike. Sometimes God comes around in a You Tube video with a young man who isn't sure whether or not his song will work. I think he does quite well with Nickel Creek's thoughts about doubt. Take a look and a listen:

Blessings Along The Way

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting up and Getting on w/ a new life

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3: 1-10)

I attended Vanderbilt Divinity School from Sept. of 1999 - May of 2000. It wasn't the easiest year of my life. I had problems with roommates. I barely worked because I was focusing on my theological education and a romantic relationship. I was in the beginning stages of figuring out my call. Thankfully, there were three influential and religious women that were especially helpful to me while I was there.

The first woman was A.J. Levine. She gave me the courage to believe in myself as an openly gay man. Her wisdom, sense of humor, and advocacy for people inspired me since the first time that I talked with her on the telephone more than a decade ago. She taught me about the sensibilities of holiness and respect through the story of her son's bar mitzvah and a deeper understanding of Luke's Gospel.

The second woman was Lisa Hunt+. She was then the rector of St. Ann's in East Nashville. The parish was worshiping in the parish hall of a nearby Roman Catholic church when I was there. Their parochial and personal lives had physically been blown apart by a tornado in 1998. Lisa+ was the loving and caring bond that held that community together. She was a fabulous preacher, pastor, and leader for those people. And yet, she always took time out of her crazy schedule to counsel and pray with me while I was struggling and wrestling with my life.

Lastly, there was Becca Stevens+. Becca was (is) the chaplain @
St. Augustine's on the campus of Vanderbilt. I knew that she was a sort of free spirit when I first met her. I wonder if she still preaches and presides at the Eucharist in her bare feet. I don't think that I sensed just how much the Holy Spirit was moving her in her life. Becca+ was about two years into her Magdalene program when I was at Vandy. She had (has) a practical passion for people. She knew that I wanted to go on the chaplaincy's mission trip to Ecuador but didn't have the money for the airplane fare or expenses while I was there. So, she made it happen! I'm not sure where the $$$ came from. I now know just how entrepreneurial Becca+ is when she sets her mind to something. I also recall how great a sense of humor she had (has). A group of us went out for ice cream one time. I was trying to be conscientious about counting calories; so, I was puzzled about whether or not to order frozen yogurt or the butter pecan and chocolate chip ice cream that I truly wanted. Becca+ said: "If you're going to have ice cream; have the d%^n ice cream." I did.

Each of these women have gone on to greater and perhaps more meaningful things for the benefit of God's realm and God's people. Each of them are like Peter and John on the temple steps. They observe the people around them and take action to make those people's lives better, healthier, holier. They taught me to look beyond myself through Jesus' and the disciples' eyes. They taught me to share a good laugh with others, especially when times are hard. They taught me that The Bible isn't an easy set of books to understand or a morally rigid set of commandments to impart upon people. They taught me to Love God, my neighbors, and myself just a little bit better than before I went to VDS.

Becca's work is especially noteworthy this week as NPR documents the stories, struggles, and celebrations of the women who live in the Magdalene Community and work at Thistle Farms I really encourage everyone to view this video if you desire to truly observe a contemporary miraculous story.

This blog entry is just one small way of saying thank you to these three women who shared Jesus Christ's resurrection to me when I was away from home and wandering around with a lack of hope during my pilgrimage. They helped me find The Way. I pray that I am helping others in this Gospel work.

Blessings Along The Way,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Resurrection Happened - Now What?

There's an interesting section in John's account of Easter Sunday that I would like to share with you. Two of the disciples rush to the tomb after Mary Magdalene tells them that the stone protecting Jesus' body from the outside world had been rolled away. His body is missing! (John 20:2). Peter and the Beloved Disciple arrive to indeed find that Jesus' body was gone and that his burial garments were neatly resting in place. (verses 6&7). What happens next defies logic. Did they bother to chat about the matter with Mary Magdalene? No. Did they rush back to the other disciples and discuss the issue with them. No. The gospel says: "Then the Disciples returned home."

These guys followed Jesus all around Galilee. They even went as far as to question him when he decided that he was going to visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knowing full well that he was putting himself and them in great danger. (John 11:1-16). But now, now when Jesus' prophecy of resurrection is clearly being revealed to them. Now when God incarnate is making their joy complete - what happens? They go home! How weird. You have to love the fact that Jesus returns to visit them (John 20:19-20) in the Upper Room some time later. Most of us would have chosen some other, less grace-full response.

This past Sunday, I invited a lovely and attentive group of children at our 9:00 am service to go back to their family and friends and proclaim "Alleluia - Christo Aniste (Thank God - Christ is Risen). Wouldn't it be great if one of them remembered those words in some way. Wouldn't it be great if we did? How shall we in word and deed proclaim that Jesus' victory over death radically transforms our lives. He is not dead. He is alive and breathing in us.

One thing we can all do with one another is enjoy worshiping with one another. We are welcoming some babies to be baptized this coming Sunday. We are encouraging their parents and sponsors to share in Jesus' death and Christ's resurrection through the sacrament of baptism with these infants. We are inviting them to become response-able members of Christ's family of the Church. Between now and Sunday, don't hide in your homes - tell someone (with a kind act, in a moment of prayer, or a sharing of Spirit) that Christ is Alive and that his re-birth is a very, very good thing for you and for them.

Blessings Along The Way

Friday, April 22, 2011

Themes for this Holy Week - Good Friday

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in HebrewGabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

‘They divided my clothes among themselves,

and for my clothing they cast lots.’

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
(John 19:1-37)

Death - Fourteen hours and three liturgies ago, Good Friday began for me. Now it is close to dusk, my sunrise to sunset fast has ended. I am ready for some rest. My Good Friday was meaningful certainly much easier than many others' day.Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in the Holy City.

The Eastern and Western calendars coincide this year. It must have been quite a sight to see them wrestle over time at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I hope to be there for Good Friday someday.

Today's day was enough for me. Children received olive wood crosses as they traveled our afternoon Stations of the Cross. Laypersons did a fantastic job telling the stories of the Faces of the Cross at our noonday service. Now Jesus is in the tomb, the disciples have fled the city and darkness spreads across the heavens. The Holy Week Story lies at rest but is not over. Nonetheless, death is what we know at this moment - an empire and conspirators have succeeded in raising the Son of Man onto a cross and he has died, for now. How many tears have been shed for other young women and men who died similar deaths today. Their stories are mercifully not finalized on this day either.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and

grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Till tomorrow ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Themes in Holy Week - Maundy Thursday

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
(John 13:1-15)

Our Christian Communion with one another truly began when a Jewish rabbi and prophet was about to die and he knew it. His disciples sensed it too. So, just as many people before, and many people thereafter, he gathered his best friends, (family members) together for a meal. It probably was a Seder Meal. 'No reason to be too hasty this time though.

It's so emotional reading about the Jesus' Last Supper from this side of history. Did the disciples argue about who would be the greatest in the new Kingdom of God? Did Jesus get on his hands and knees and wash his disciples feet. Or... did they tell one another stories about the times they spent with one another in Galilee. Did they nervously laugh about the people they had encountered on their way to this Passover celebration. People act so insecurely when death lingers close by ... was it simply silent, somber.

Whatever we remember now, when we gather with one another to "do this in remembrance of me" ritual; we should remember that this communion is very human, very earthy, very much a family affair with everlasting yet ever-simple overtones. Early Christian communion and community gatherings weren't much more than an evening meal with friends, the reading of scripture. However, their "agape" was a meaningful beginning of a ritual that brought the Reign of God into the here and now just like Jesus sat down with his disciples then and there.

It's no wonder that the first Christians strengthened their communities in Roman catacombs. They believed in bodily resurrections and they needed a place to hide, practice their rituals, and to remember - remember that Jesus Christ came and dwelt among them and those persons that had preceded them in Jerusalem. That's truly profound.

I can't get over how wonderful it is to offer communion bread and wine to people at the altar. It's one of the most powerful and most humbling things about being a priest. There just isn't a whole lot of class or circumstance going on at the altar most of the time. It's just about trying to get closer together to one another and to Jesus the Christ. It's not paradise but it often seems to point towards that sacred space for me. I yearn for places away from the altar rail where similar sorts of communion and community occur. They can be hard to find. Much like the first Maundy Thursday and the early celebrations of the Eucharist that followed, power structures, politics, fear, and death get in the way.

I'll be washing some people's feet in a few hours. I'll be offering them communion. Then, I'll go home and prepare to come back for our Good Friday and Holy Saturday worship services. For now though, while the sun is still up and the mystery of Triduum hasn't quite got here, I think I will sit in silence and wait for the Lord, his communion, and community to arrive.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Themes for this Holy Week - Wednesday in Holy Week

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
(John 13: 21-35)

Belief - It's serendipitous when a conversation coincides with one of my Holy Week themes. One of my Lenten disciplines has been to walk each morning on the boardwalk with a friend of mine. We've discussed all sorts of topics during our sojourns by the Jersey Shore. This morning, out of nowhere, she mentioned some thoughts about her prayer life and her beliefs in Jesus. Our conversation rambled around to the point where I mentioned the Jesuit discipline of practicing the Daily Examen . This prayer practice provides a Christian a somewhat concrete means of inviting the Lord into her or his prayer life. The Irish Jesuits often start the examen this way:

Dear Jesus, as I call on you today I realise that I often come asking for favours. Today I'd like just to be in your presence. Let my heart respond to Your Love.

The point of such prayer, I think, is to bring Jesus' presence out of some ethereal zone and bring his presence into our here and now. We recall God's incarnate presence by reflecting upon Christ's presence over the past 24 hours.

I went on to add that I often best encounter Jesus through daily reading of his Living Word through scripture. I desire to experience him face-to-face as other people and his disciples do (did). That method doesn't work for me to well; however, I personally believe in Jesus because of what he said and did through the experiences of his disciples, followers, and Early Church believers. I don't so much think that the New Testament Gospels are historically true as much as I believe in them. I consent to the values and principles of Jesus' Word and Life. They are true to me whether or not they are true (if you get my drift).

Betrayal - Betrayal occurs due to a lack of belief, doesn't it? We betray someone because of of our own fears or because they don't meet our expectations. We rescind our trust and conviction in them.
Judas' betrayal of Jesus is indicative of our own inability to believe that God is in fact present and aware of our needs. We push the panic button! We become impatience or we refuse to consent to God's will for our lives. We' re unwilling to undergo some sort of suffering. We construe that we are incapable of sacrificing our own desires for the benefit of someone else. We are greedy for power, fame, fortune, or some of the other passions that are so part and parcel of most worldly societies. Thus we betray what should be best for ourselves, those we love, and humankind's greater benefit. I wonder at this mid-point moment of Holy Week - wouldn't I be better served and more believe in Jesus the Christ if my daily examen reassured me of God's love, continuing sacrificial grace, and the fact that I don't have to try so hard to believe as to befriend God more continuously.

Another friend of mine shared this quote from Sam Portaro . Sam writes:
"Discernment is never about knowing, never about being right. It is always about trusting; always being faithful."

The distance between belief and betrayal is so thin but so significant. May this day be a day when you set aside your fears and believe that Jesus the Christ is truly living in your life through prayer, reflection, and hopefully personal interaction with The Divine.

Blessings Along The Way -

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Themes in Holy Week - Tuesday in Holy Week

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19)

Conflict - I don't consider myself a Marxist but I do find "Social Conflict Theory" intriguing. Louis Kreisberg writes

Conflicts are said to occur when members of two or more groups have decided that they have incompatible objectives, irrespective of how these are being pursued. The conflict becomes manifest when: (1) members of each side have a sense of a collective 'us' in relationship to a collective 'them'; (2) members of at least one group feel aggrieved; (3) attributing responsibility for their grievance to the other group, one or both parties formulate goals to change the behaviour of the other so as to alleviate their grievance; and (4) members of the aggrieved party believe they can bring about the desired change in the antagonist.(L. Kreisberg, The Social Science Encyclopedia, Conflict Resolution, para. #3 2004).
It's very clear that Jesus was aggrieved and particularly interested in changing the behavior of his antagonists, the Temple authorities and the money-changers. He was most likely very displeased that these religious and civic leaders imposed a tax upon pilgrims celebrating Passover. Marcus Borg (1994) writes that Jesus was unquestionably upset with the fact that The Temple had become the warehouse for an unjust religious purity system that worked in concert with oppressive economic and political systems. Whatever Jesus' motivation, on that day, he was not meek or mild. He sought conflict with little regard for his own well-being. His prophetic wrath in this passage from Mark assuredly suggests that the Temple authorities and businessmen were distraught and sought ways to kill Jesus for his actions in the Temple during Passover.

Some people of faith aren't turning over the tables in the US House of Representatives these days but more than 30,000 people are fasting in protest of perceived immoral budget cuts in the nation's budget. One wonders whether or not The Church institutionally and implicitly promotes such questionable politics with its lack of prophetic outrage. Do current economic and political trends create circumstances such that middle and lower income families are aggrieved by corporations and their political allies.
Jesus threw over tables. Should we? Social Conflict is apparently always a possibility in an capitalistic society. To what extent do we as Christians and the (non)denominational churches we attend support and/or push back against the injustices we observe.

Consolation - Jesus clearly needed a break after his confrontation with the money-changers. My companion said earlier today that he hoped Jesus and his disciples spent Holy Tuesday making matzo balls and gefilte fish for their Seder Meal on Thursday. The "throw-down" in the Temple didn't take all day in his version. That's a humorous notion. I kinda think that Jesus needed a place to let things calm down. I mean, if you've been involved in a heated argument, don't you withdraw and compose yourself? I do, along with saying a prayer or two. I need God's consolation. I need a friendly hug and some reassurance, especially if the ordeal isn't over. Picture Jesus spending the evening in Bethany with his disciples.
A quiet meal, a person standing by the door just in case the Temple soldiers were nearby. Isn't life like that, for Jesus and for us?

Dear God, Help us to be unafraid of responding to the injustice around us. Teach us to live firmly and wisely without embittering others without letting them harm our neighbors either. Grant us your peace, a peace that the profane world doesn't understand but that we so desperately need. Keep us safe, but not so safe that we do not follow you into the Temple or back to the securities of prayer. Abide with us as we strive to abide with you. Keep us moving toward Good Friday, a place so horrifying yet so redemptive that it doesn't make worldly sense but expresses your love. Give us the courage we need to fast, protest, protect, and forgive the evil that we participate in and that we have the power to bring to conclusion.

Blessings Along The Way -

Monday, April 18, 2011

Themes for this Holy Week - Monday in Holy Week

While was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ (Mark 14: 3-9)

Courage - It takes courage to score a winning goal in a pressure packed NHL hockey game. Brandon Dubinsky took on four Washington Capital players and the goalie to score with 1:39' left in the third period. It was impressive watching him change his direction and flip the puck into the net for his New York Rangers.

I don't often use sports analogies 'cause they don't work for some readers. Sports is more about commercial entertainment than it is about Christian theology. But, hey, I'm following the Stanley Cup Playoffs because I can't ice skate at all and I think that playoff hockey is very exciting, even if you can't see the hockey puck. I kinda know what it's like to compete in individual and team sports. Your fans and teammates are looking for you to come through, to do something extraordinary when the game or match is on the line.

I'll tell you something else that takes courage... telling your friends to back off when they wrongly chastise you or someone that is helping you. Jesus' followers complain about the cost of the perfume that the woman uses to anoint his feet. They don't like the fact that she's there tending to his needs. They are complaining, perhaps with empty stomachs and angry hearts, that's the woman is wasting a valuable commodity. They don't understand what's going on here. Perhaps they understand all too well.

Jesus quickly and confidently rebukes them. He speaks with enough authority to let them know that they are out of line. His message values her compassion, her understanding of the road that lies ahead for him in the last days to come. The women senses something too. She's like the man living with demons outside of the tombs. She share's something in common with the Roman Centurion who will observe Jesus' death on Good Friday. She, like the other two Gentiles, realizes that it's an honor to be present with the Son of God. She's demonstrating courage too. She's slipping past every social barrier and every principled defense to attend to the needs of the one who redeems her, and us. Elizabeth Nordquist writes:

She has done what she could. As a woman she had no seat of power conferred on her from which to make decisions, or even enter the important conversations about the Jesus Way, about the current state of politics or the economy. Therefore, she begins where she is: What do I have? What can I do? What risks am I willing to take?

Companionship - We all need someone to break bread with more often than not. Teamwork is the backbone of a good hockey team and friendly discipleship. We need someone to carry us when the storms become too great. 13
Jesus Christ realizes that companionship comes at a great expense. Companionship means letting someone else break you heart. Friendliness requires of us to turn the other cheek. It means letting someone wash your feet when they are dirty, your feet as well as the other person. One of Holy Week's messages is that God will continue to abide with us even when we chose to flee from God, especially in the most despairing moments, for God and us alike. Becoming a person's "companion" means that you will travel this pilgrimage of life with them through all of its delightful, scary, boring, intimate, and unexpected moments. This is the sort of way we should live with everyone and everything on the planet. We do not; thus, we travel onward through Holy Week so that we can one more live like The One who courageously entered into Jerusalem onto the cross.
We re-learn through him who loves us as companions throughout eternity.

Dear God, We need your courage to passionately push back against our friends and enemies who distract us from following you. We need friends who will travel with us and hold us when we can't seem to walk any further. We need Jesus' Word and Sacraments to see us through these tough days to come. Holy Spirit, renew us with the strength, solidarity, and stubbornness we seek so that we will become more like Christ with each breath we take.

Blessings Along The Way -

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Themes for this Holy Week - Palm Sunday

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21: 6-11)

Triumph - The soon to be entitled "King of the Jews" who hails from the hinterlands of Galilee has entered into Jerusalem . The Gospel writer suggests that a large gathering of people went out to welcome him even as they were preparing to celebrate the Passover. There's no doubt that there were many Jews who were tired of living under the Roman Empire's heavy-handed imperial rule. Now, Jesus of Nazareth arrives, with a mighty army of perhaps a few peasant followers, to challenge the Romans and Pontius Pilate.

Trepidation - "Who is this man?" An underlying question might be "Ie he the Messiah?" He's healed many people. He's returned sight to the blind. He's proclaimed a new reign of God and he (or others?) proclaim(s) him(self) to be the Messiah. How will he overcome the soldiers? He comes into the city on a donkey and its foal, not with soldiers. He is from David's lineage and he comes to reclaim Jerusalem, not by force though but by redemption. (Breuer) - The days to come of that Holy Week (and this one) will reveal the differences between Pilate's Power, The High Council's Priorities, and Jesus of Nazareth's Proclamation of God's New Reign.

In our own time, soldiers of a ruthless ruler murder protesters in Abobo, Ivory Coast .
The people sadly and angrily cried out against the assassination of seven peaceful women in March. Women and their children flee to Liberia, of all places, to escape rampant murder and rape. Where is Jesus' reign of peace and justice to be found? In Libya "the misery of Misrata continues with no relief in sight." Will we ever witness Christ's compassionate reign as long as despots continue to murder their own citizens?

It can be very difficult to believe in the core message of the Christian gospel, peace. However, our faith rests and reverberates in the tension between these two themes: triumph and trepidation. We profess our confidence in Jesus Christ who continues to redeem our lives on this Palm Sunday even as he prepares a future for us that often lies beyond our comprehension. It is nonetheless unfathomable to believe that Christ's reign can come if we instead fail to find ways to dethrone powers and principalities continuing to enslave and murder innocent people.

Dear Lord - Create hearts of faith in us even as the events of your day and our own continue to discount the truth of your Gospel. Enable us to push back as you did against unjust powers and people who kill the innocent and inflict pain upon the poor. Strengthen us to offer Christ-like love to our neighbors in the next apartment as well as those in places we cannot physically cannot travel to but care for nonetheless. Hasten the coming of your reign where we may live with one another, freely and joyously, in an even-abiding sense of your transcendent love. Amen.

Blessings Along The Way as Another Holy Week unfolds,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Doing what we are supposed to do

This morning's devotional reading is one of St. Paul's teachings that I really loathe.

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I really don't like this lesson because it often seems so true. I desire to do one thing but my (sub)conscious mind doesn't fully consent to the possibility of choosing good over evil. For example, I want to lose weight and ride my bicycle more often. That's terrific right! However, the lazy, unmotivated part of my brain isn't really interested in such worthy goals. What's that all about??? Paul's teaching suggests my weakness is tied to some sort of bodily ingrained sin. I don't doubt for a second that I make unhealthy desires everyday based upon my own selfish desires and ill-formed habits. I'm nonetheless uncomfortable with the whole original sin theory concept.

Well, yesterday afternoon I come across a really fascinating radio program called Radiolab. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are hosting a program entitled Help!. They shared wonderful stories about people who made Ulysses contracts in an effort to choose good over evil. One of the main points they and their guests made is that people like me (like you?) have to make the consequences of conflictual decisions more immediate while limiting our natural abilities to compromise. We have to internally "back ourselves up to a cliff." Moreover - our "now" emotions are much stronger than our "later" emotions. Thus, we have to bring these choices into the "now" if we truly desire to provocatively transform ourselves. One other thing, bargaining with ourselves is often an invitation for inviting God's creative energy into the process too.

Those truths reside at the core of the Feeding of the Five Thousand story. Jesus has a choice of whether or not to send the hungry people home or feed them. Now granted, Jesus probably had a much greater dose of self-confidence and faith in God than I do. However, he doesn't hesitate to make a remarkably compassionate decision to feed thousands of people with just a couple of fish and a little bit of bread. He gets it done in all four canonical gospels. He comprehends that the power of his choice will benefit his followers, his neighbors, himself, and God. He has faith that the miracle will indeed happen. Lives will be changed. Good overcomes evil.

I can buy-in to the notion of following Jesus Christ's example and inviting his story, his Wisdom, and his Divine self into my decision making processes. Ultimately though, I need to do so, now while probably making some sort of weird bargain with my conscious mind as well as my eternal soul. I don't know what that's all about but I'm willing to open myself up to such offerings while Lent is still taking place and my desire for transformation doesn't get overcome by my doubts.

Blessings Along The Way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jobs, what's the truth?

The US Department of Labor's Employment Situation Report for last month is big news today. The "good news" is that "Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 216,000 in March." The not-so-good news is that hourly wages are essentially flat over the last year. Furthermore, 2.4 million "marginally attached" persons exist. These are workers who are not presently working who desire jobs and have looked for work. However, they seemingly gave up looking last month.

Susan Adams describes the labor situation this way. She writes: Wall Street may like the Labor Department’s announcement today that the unemployment rate dipped slightly, to 8.8%, and the economy added 216,000 new jobs in March. But for the legions of still-unemployed and underemployed workers, the news is less promising." Kelly Evans writes: "The trouble is, the more sluggish the pace of hiring, the more likely it is that the temporary surge in unemployment becomes something more structural. Indeed, Barclays Capital reckons an unemployment rate of about 7%, not 5%, is close to full employment in the U.S. today." (K. Evans, Ahead of the Tape, April 1, 2011, para. 9)

Robert Reich says that the US government, business periodicals, and national newspapers aren't telling the entire truth. He forecasts a "double-dip" due to poor consumer confidence, slow job growth, and a flat housing market.
(Cartoon Credit - Steven Roddy)

I have two quick theological thoughts. First, the Church has historically been a safe and hopeful sanctuary for economically poor and hungry people. Jesus first sermon in Luke is to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for oppressed persons. His neighbors became angry when he declared that they were too presumptuous about their own well-being. Jesus' parable of "The Great Banquet" suggests that Jesus' disciples are to go into the streets and welcome the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame into the bounty of God's reign.

Most Christian communities "get it." There are churches everywhere that participate in feeding programs and food banks. That's not the "bottom line" though, is it? Church communities need to be entrepreneurial. The Church is not only a place of worship, it is a place of healthy and healing social networking. Congregational members need to not only share their food; they need to help their neighbors find living wage jobs.

Communities of faith and their members should not be silent when legislators, such as those in Florida and Michigan reduce already diminished unemployment benefits. Christians need to be more than just sympathetic when unemployed people like Richard Dudenhoeffer (photo) says: "When the benefits run out,” I’ll just give up.” Practical and productive benchmarks include LDSJobs on the denominational level and Grace Church's "Crossroads Career Network Ministry" on the local level. Check out Darren Cushman Wood's blog to see how we can get directly involved with the Interfaith Worker Justice.

Lastly, as Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush sing "Don't Give Up" Help others not to give up either.

Blessings Along The Way