Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Word Of The Lord Came To Me...I Think

The Word of the Lord came to me.....
At least I think it was the Word of the Lord
God knows I don't think I could come up with this shit on my own.
Maybe I need to stop reading all those dark prophets
with their predictions of destruction
And their promises of Grace added on
like the tacked on tail from the children's game of "Pin The Tail On The Donkey."
I certainly feel like the donkey.
Braying my warning in the midst of Christmas lights
it feels like I'm peeing on Santa's boots.

The Word of the Lord came to me
and said (if it really was the Word of the Lord)
Cry Woe! Hoy!
to these people
who see no further than next week at the most
and the 24 hour news cycle at the least
Who forget what they've heard
and change the station to avoid what they don't want to see
Who believe if it doesn't happen immediately
it will not happen.

Remind this people that it was over a 100 years
the warning of Micah
"Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the temple mount will be given over to the
beasts of the forest."
100 years until Lamentations cried out,
"Mt. Zion lies desolate; jackals prowl over it."

Do not forget your history.

O God, I cry in anguish, we have a history
like a drunken frat boy
at a Christian college.
We have claimed to believe one thing
Drunk on power
we have committed horrors
that shame us and
profane Your Holy Name.
In my lifetime O Lord,
and I have not reached three score and ten
We have waterboarded our enemies
and lynched our citizens
Just as long as they were darker than us.
Let privileged white rapists walk free
lest their "mistake" "ruin their lives"
While denying their victims
a legal right to end the pregnancy
resulting from that rape.
We've locked children in cages
Poisoned entire cities
Shot children dead on picnic tables
And watched torch bearing hate
March through the street
Watched evil drive cars into crowds
Then claim they were in fear for their life.
Our wounds are deep O God
And they fester and stink.
Yet we cover them with a band-aid
and drive to the mall to shop
While the pipes in music
plays O Little Town of Bethlehem.
The Walking Dead got nothing on us.

I cannot escape my fear that the truth is this:
This nation will go into exile.
I do not know what shape it will take.
The day may come 
When they park their Christmas SUVs on the road
for lack of fuel
and fight to use them as housing.
Like the child in the Donkey game, I am blindfolded
I cannot see what the Donkey looks like
Yet I reach out to try to pin some word of Grace
To the horror I know is coming.

The Word of the Lord came to me
it is not a Word I want.
I grasp at Grace like a drowning man
My only Hope this Advent
is in the Truth of Incarnation
That somewhere
perhaps birthed in an abandoned vehicle
and laid to rest 
on blankets folded in a Best Buy box
God will be present with us
When our exile comes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Joy On The Threshing Floor

I have been reading From Hurt To Healing by Andrew Sung Park, a Korean theologian.  He uses a word that has become very important to me.  That word is han.  Here is his definition:

Han is the collapsed anguish of the heart due to psychosomatic, social, economic, political, and cultural repression and oppression.  When internal and external forces cause our suffering to reach a critical point, it collapses to a singularity of agony.  The collapsed sadness, bitterness, rage and hopelessness become the vortex of our agony, overwhelming our conscious and unconscious modes of thinking.  In other words, han is a physical, mental, and spiritual response to a terrible wrong done to a person.  It elicits a warped depth of pain, a visceral physical response, an intense rending of the soul, and a sense of helplessness.

I do not know what the limit of the human heart is in it's capacity to survive anguish.  My best guess is that it varies from person to person based upon an individual's history and their support systems.  I have seen, in my lifetime, people who withstood what I would consider great anguish and others who seemed crushed by what I would have thought were small things.  But the good news there is that I'm not the one who judges...I have neither the right, nor the capacity to judge another's pain.

So what has this got to do with a threshing floor?  And much less, what has this got to do with joy?

In the Gospel of Luke 3:7-20 we get a sample of the preaching of John the Baptist. Folks are really impressed and ask him if he is the Messiah.  John the Baptist responds, "I baptize you with water; but one who more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The way this image works is that a threshing floor is a flat surface where grain (often in scripture the grain is wheat) is either walked on by animals or people, or beaten with a flail.  Then, it is scooped up in a shovel-like tool called a winnowing fork and tossed in the air.  The wind takes the dusty, now crushed, light shell and blows it away.  The kernels of wheat fall back to the threshing floor where they are swept up and gathered for storage.

It paints a picture of John basically saying to the crowd, "You think I might be the Messiah because I preach a tough sermon?  You ain't heard nothing yet!  I'm not near tough as the guy who's coming.  When he gets here, you're in for it for sure."

Now for a very long time I have heard (in fact nearly all my life) that this clearing was the separating of the godly from the ungodly; a reference back to Psalm 1 which proclaims, after describing the godly as "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," that the ungodly "are like the chaff which the wind blows away."  This is certainly one way to look at this passage.  You can put it with the parable of the "wheat and the tares" from Matthew 13:24-30 and you have a picture of the lives of persons being sorted out by this threshing/winnowing process.

Wonderfully, however, parables are like jewels that can be turned this way and that in the light to produce a variety of different, though not contradictory, meanings.  The rabbis have always known this about scripture as the history of midrash demonstrates.

So I offer this Advent, 3rd Sunday, focused on Joy, interpretation of John's speech. Many of the lives in our world are filled with anguish; and anguish that it takes a word like han to describe.  Migrants in South America and Myanmar, abused children and the poor and marginalized all over the world....these are but a few examples.  And each of us knows people whose lives have been so battered that the image of being stomped on by oxen is a mild one.

What if the image of Jesus with his winnowing fork is one of the Messiah separating out the agonizing han from the attempts made (however small and pitiful they might be) to be loving and caring?  What if the fire that we will be baptized with is a refining fire that forever will remove the suffering and pain?

Can you imagine a life lived in the agony of abuse from birth, twisted by violence, broken by resentment and shaped by all the dark things it takes to survive in a wasteland most of us can't even imagine.  No imagine that in that life, some small kernel of hope or love...perhaps a pet...or sunsets...something that kept the humanity of that life from winking out like a candle.  That crushed life, along with thousands of others, Jesus scoops up in His winnowing fork and tosses into the winds of the Holy Spirit.  All of that shell is blown away and that tiny bit of made-in-the-image-of-Godness falls back to the threshing floor.  There, Jesus lovingly scoops it up and says, "You are mine.  Welcome home.  You belong to Me."

I do not believe that this is an Either/Or situation, but a Both/And.  Our lives must most surely bear fruit that is worthy of repentance.  But it is claiming that there is a Grace that sees beyond what the world might see...that "knows that we are dust."  That understands our han at a level that only God on a cross could understand.

Nor do I think that this is a "there, there" approach to sin.  What it does is acknowledge that the sins of others might cause such woundedness in an individual that only God might be able to see the Image of God's Self still alive in them....and that Christ Jesus the Messiah comes to heal those wounds as well as to forgive sins.  This might truly be tidings of Comfort and Joy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Of Hearing Aids and A Battle With Ivy on a Dogwood

I recently found out that I have some hearing loss.

No, that's actually not true I've known for a while that my hearing was less than it used to be. Mostly because of my wife's frustration with my constant "huh?" when she was talkin to me from any distance.

After her gentle, and then not so gentle, suggestion that I do so,  I went to have my hearing checked. There they told me that I would benefit greatly from having hearing aids. Now this does not sit well with me for some reason. Whether it's a machismo thing or whether it is my frustration with growing older-I don't like it.

But as someone who spends a great deal of my time listening to other people, and where hearing them accurately is very important, if they tell me I need hearing aids, I'll get hearing aids (only, of course, after I get a second opinion cause I'm stubborn that way).

But I am also cursed, or blessed, depending on the day, with a tendency toward theological reflection. And so I began to reflect on Jesus's healing of people who were deaf. Particularly those instances in the book of Mark. Mark makes it clear that deafness doubles as a metaphor for the inability of the disciples to truly hear what Jesus is trying to say to them. And in one case we are given a scene where Jesus, struggling with the powers of Darkness sticks his fingers in a man's ears, groans loudly and cries, "Open!" in a loud voice.  Mark gives us this picture of the sweating, groaning Jesus wrestling with that which denies life in all its this case, deafness; in our case our inability to hear what the Kingdom of God is truly about.

The point in the story where Jesus stuck his fingers in the man's ears came home to me when being measured for the hearing aid.  I discovered that the device extends down into the canal of the human ear.  By doing so, it allows the sound to get right down near the heart of the human capacity for hearing.  I'm going to maintain the healing Jesus is doing to our deafness as Christians looks an awful lot like this. To heal our deafness we're going to have to allow Jesus to get right down in there with us. It's not going to be just a matter of somehow attaching a tiny loud speaker so that we can get the noise at a higher volume. We need our hearing corrected.

So hang in their with me for a bit.

There is, in my front yard, a lovely dogwood tree. But over the years my front yard has become infested with ivy. Ivy is a horrible plant in my mind; rating right up there with Bittersweet and Kudzu in the list of demonic plants.

In any event, the ivy had begun to creep up the sides of this tree. And I had ignored it. Finally, after a very rainy spring and summer what used to be a little bit of irritating Ivy climbing up my dogwood turned into my dogwood tree into something that looked more like a sustaining and framework for a plant that was mostly Ivy and had a little resemblance to The Dogwood that was in my front yard 20 years ago when I moved into the house.

Once again, my wife, gently and then not so gently, nudged me to take a Saturday and deal with this situation. She had researched it. She had found a number of ways to deal with the situation and we settled on one that seems to make the most sense..

It involved digging around the roots of the dogwood tree and cutting off the ivy at the roots. Only then does it make sense to begin pulling the ivy off the tree from the roots up. Simply pulling the vines off the tree wouldn't do it.. It might make it look better for a little while but the dogwood would still be infested with the ivy as long as the roots were there.

The truth is that many of us as Christians have gone deaf to the Gospel. We hear a portion of it, but we do not hear the whole thing. Sometimes our deafness is selective, and self-selected at that. But sometimes it is simply the result of having grown up in a culture that taught us a gospel that was not Gospel.  What we were taught looks more like the kind of kingdom that Pilate and Jesus discuss in John 18 where Jesus tells Pilate that His Kingdom doesn't come from this world; meaning that it isn't built on the things that this world's kingdoms are built on.  Those kingdoms are built on privilege and violence.  Jesus claimed that His Kingdom was built on vulnerability and servanthood (see Luke 22:24-27).

Healing our deafness is going to be a hot sweaty struggle with the demonic. It will be marked by moans and groans and tremendous effort both on our part and that of the God who loves us.

And at least in my case. I have found this to be true as my hearing begins to clear just a little bit. That the Gospel of the Jesus who came and taught and died and rose again and who began implementing the kingdom of God is way different that the "ivy" that our culture has allowed to grow on it. That this gospel has all too often been used as a supporting structure for the ivy of nationalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and American exceptionalism. To the point that one can barely see the Gospel tree beneath the ivy.

The Gospel tree is a Cross.  It is vulnerable, suffering love.  It is servanthood carried to the ultimate obedience described in Philippians 2:5-8, even the shameful death on a cross. 

I hope that I've been able to save the dogwood in my yard.  I hope that my hearing will be improved by getting help for it now.  Most of all, I hope that my faith, and the faith of all of us, can be rescued from the clutches of the demonic ivy that has been allowed to grow over it.  Privilege and violence are not the marks of the Kingdom, they are it's enemies.  May God cure our deafness; open our ears; and strip away all that is not the Gospel of the Kingdom before it kills us.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Marilyn Woke Up In The Kingdom

When Marilyn woke up in the Kingdom
The man holding her hand
Looked familiar...but not...
Then she smiled
and He smiled back
Still holding His hand she walked
into a room full
of packages
Packages strewn and stacked and filling the space
Some wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with string
Bright as Christmas with huge bows
shiny and reflecting the light.
She looked at the Man she remembered,
"What are these?"
"Every memory you thought you'd lost
"I caught in My hand
"wrapped it carefully and
"placed it here to wait for your arrival
"The joy preserved
"The pain healed
"The loss restored."
So Marilyn sat
like a child at Christmas
one by one
unwrapping the pieces of her life.
Some packages she tore open with a rush
Others, slowly, with an aching tenderness and trembling hands.
Laughing as they poured out into her lap
Unwrapping, unwrapping
with tears streaming down her face
While the Man looked on and smiled.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

For Marilyn

She came to her pastor
almost trembling with fear
hesitant, timid
The dementia she suffered was robbing her
of everything she love
Memories, awareness of people,
even knowing where she was.
She knew it was getting worse, would get worse
and she asked for some word
All he could think of to say
as he held her hands while they prayed,
the parchment thin skin
over the bones of her hands
to him as frail
as the mind that was drifting slowly away like smoke,
"Nothing," he said, "can separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Every Sunday
Every Wednesday prayer meeting
he would lean in to her hug
and whisper,
Nothing can separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord"
It was their secret code word
against the evil enemy that continued its attack.

Her daughter
after her death
called the pastor to say
"She made it part of her prayers each night
all through the growing illness."

What she didn't know
was how much the pastor
needed reminding that morning
surrounded by his own griefs
of the words he had given her
"Remember, nothing can separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marilyn had returned the favor
from the place where all memories are restored
All joys as fresh as the morning
and where all are held
in the mind of God.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

There Are Many Ways To Be Chopped Into Pieces

In the OT book of Judges, Chapter 19, is one of the truly horrible stories of scripture.  True, there are many stories that one could call horrible...but this one particularly rates at the top of the list.

It is the story of a Levite, a man of some prestige, who has taken to himself a concubine.  Now a concubine is a woman who lives with a man, but her status is lower than that of a wife; a mistress is close, but doesn't catch all the flavor of it.  Suffice it to say that the difference between her status and his as very large.

Interestingly though, she seems to have some spine to her despite that difference.  They argue, she gets angry, and she leaves to return to her father's house.  It's also interesting that some translations take the Hebrew literally as say she "played the whore."  The idea that leaving the Levite amounted to being sexually unfaithful is further complicated by the fact that there is no marriage covenant between them.  So because of this, and the further elements in the story, I chose to go with the interpretation that she got anger with him and went home to her father's house (also, if she had a lover, why not go to him?)

In any event, after about 4 months, the Levite decides to go woo her back.  But when he gets to the father's house, he spends all the time with his concubine's daddy.  You can imagine them sitting in the den, drinking beer and eating nachos while they watch the Saturday-Monday night football games.  There is no record of EITHER of them speaking to the concubine about her feelings, or about why she left, or if she wants to go back.

They do eventually leave, however.  The concubine traveling with the Levite.  Through a long narrative they arrive at the home of an old man and the story plays out much like the one of Lot in Sodom.  A mob surrounds the house and wants to rape the Levite.  The old man offers his virgin daughter and the concubine instead, but the crowd turns that down.

Here the story becomes truly horrible.  Up to this point it is the story of a woman who goes home to daddy...but daddy actually prefers her spouse (sort of spouse) and the woman is pretty much an object that goes where she is told.  Sad, bad...but unfortunately, not unique.  But now the Levite shows his true colors.  He grabs his concubine and pushes her out the door to the mob, locking the door behind her.  He sacrifices this woman, the one he wanted to "woo her to come home," to save his own skin.

The mob rapes her all night long.  Does the Levite hear her cries through that terrible night?  Does he listen?  Does he care?

When the morning comes, the mob leaves her to crawl to the doorway of the old man's house.  When the Levite opens the door in the morning, he finds her there grasping the threshold.  He was going to leave as though nothing had happened.  He wasn't going to go looking for her.  She no longer mattered to him.

In one of the coldest scenes in all of scripture, he looks down a this woman he had thrown out to the mob and says, "get up, we're going."  And when he gets no answer, he throws her on his donkey like a sack of wheat.  We do not know if she was dead when she lay on the threshold; but we assume (dear God, we hope) she was dead by the time they get home.  Because the Levite then carves her body into twelve pieces and sends the pieces throughout the territory of Israel with the message, "look what these people did (to me) what are you going to help me do about it?"

Why, you ask, would I want to even tell such a story?  Well, I could say that it's Scripture; so there must be something we're supposed to learn from it.  But that wouldn't be sufficient.  During this month, October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month, there are some things worth noting.  In an analysis of the 2015 data collected by the FBI it was found that 928 female homicide victims were "wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers."  That works out to almost 3 (2.54) women killed each day by an intimate partner.  Killed.  This doesn't began to touch the cracked ribs, the black eyes, the bruises intentionally put where they do not show.

The story of this concubine (I refuse to call her the Levite's Concubine; that would intimate that I agree that he had some valid ownership over her) shows many of the markers of a pattern of domestic abuse.
1)  They argue and she leaves
2)  He waits and when she doesn't come back, he decides he will go "woo her and speak to her heart"
3)  When he gets there, he finds welcome in the social structure of her family.  The community ethos
      supports him more than her and there is little or nothing said to her.  It's like the flowers he
      brought were forgotten at the door.
4)  When they do leave, it is as though nothing has happened.
5)   When the house is surrounded, the Levite is quick to sacrifice her for his own sake.  Her safety,
       her needs, mean nothing to him.  She is a thing to him, an It.
6)  Once again, when he finds her on the threshold, there is no compassion, no empathy.  "get up,
      we're going."  This is the kind of crazy making behavior that occurs all the time in homes with
      physical and sexual violence where everything the next morning is "pretend normal."
7)  When she dies, the Levite uses her body to proclaim how HE has been wronged.

It's all about the Levite.  All about HIS being left; HIS need to woo her back; HIS safety from the mob; HIS being insulted by the rape and murder of the concubine...a rape and murder he facilitated.

We aren't likely to see body parts being shipped around the country.  But we can find parallels for all the rest of these markers in the domestic violence that happens in this country every day.  While women are the major victims; men, children, and the elderly are physically and emotionally abused as well.  Unless we acknowledge that the stories are out there, that they are not unusual, we will never heal this country's addiction to violence or the infection of our hearts that makes some people expendable and others entitled.

Domestic violence is a Halloween tale for it's victims....every day.  And the intergenerational impact of observing that violence is expressed in depression, PTSD, sexual assault, and further domestic violence in the next generation.

One hopes that on judgement day God will say to the Levite, "how did you let this happen?"  Most certainly, God will look at us and then at the ravages of this violent society and ask us the same question.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hear The Word Of The Lord

America stands
under the judgement of God
We have robbed the widow
We have defrauded the orphan
We have denied justice to the vulnerable
We have slain the innocent
Our hands drip with the blood
of our brothers and sisters.
We have excused the violence
of other nations
for the sake of their oil
We have made friends of tyrants
and coveted their power
Israel wanted a king like other nations
We have envied their despots
Thus says the Lord
If those who claim that they are My people
will turn from their wicked ways
I will hear and heal their land
If not
The day is coming
When they will cry out for the end
but the end will not come
They will have made their choice
and I will not rescue them
from the consequences of their sin
But know that if they turn
It will be a long and painful turning away
from all they have wrongly worshipped
Yet should they choose to do so
to walk in the way of justice
I will take their hand
And walk with them
and teach them the delights of My Love