Sunday, December 30, 2018

Oracle At The Border

You think because there is no knife
With jewel encrusted handle,
Because there is no stone altar
With strange runes carved in the sides,
That this is not human sacrifice
To the gods of racism and nationalism?
You think because
The water pipes of Flint
Are not an iron image of Molech
With fires stoked within

That the poisoning of that water
Dos not "pass our children thru the fire"?
O blind, deaf nation
Learn to do good
Provide clean water in your cities
And medical care
for the small pilgrims escaping violence
Care for the hungry among you
shut not your hearts or your borders
to those in need of refuge.
Lest the day come
When the voice crying out in Ramah,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Is your own

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Poems Meditating On Job

This will be the third week in my sermon series on God And Human Suffering.  The first sermon was on the issues related to victims of sexual abuse; last Sunday began a discussion of Job as an example of innocent suffering.  This week the examination of Job continues with a sermon entitled The Man Who Sued God.  
Studying the issue of human suffering and faith is a struggle for me.  It demands looking at some very dark places in human experience and very dark places in the human heart.  Out of that work this week has come a set of poems.  They are stand-alones, but they are interconnected as well.  I offer them to you below.  And, by the way, I do not believe you can get to the second poem without walking through the first.

If He Knows

If He knows every sparrow that falls
How come so many
Writhe in agony
Before death comes to claim them?
Why does the child
Who once ran to hug me
When I picked up his half siblings
Stick a needle in her arm
And drift slowly away in the soft dusk
of the evening?

A doctor spends a lifetime
fighting disease
The diplomat seeking just piece
The minister combats hunger
and bigotry
Only to have their grandchildren
ravaged by illness
in a nation ripped apart
by racial hatred.
The little ones
Who carried their hope and heart
Lie side by side in the bloody dust.

It is true that
So many of us, including me
Avoid the reality of how much of the evil
in the world
Can be laid at our doorstep;
Even much disease
is the result of choices we've made.
We leave lead
In Flint's drinking water
and then bemoan
the individual child with cancer
"Where is God?" we cry,
"when an innocent child suffers"
We avoid the questions
Of corporate guilt and natural consequences
our sins of greed and short sightedness.
When a five year old
is raped
By an uncle
In a house full of relatives,
Don't blame God
Blame the grown ups who refused to see
what was right in front of them
and were deaf to the cries in the night

All of this is true
And more
But when we peel away
all the layers
For which we are responsible,
When we take responsibility
for having blown the world apart,
The randomness of who is hit
by the flying pieces
Still robs my sleep with it's terror.
There is still
The question of innocent suffering
and an answer too big
maybe too terrible
to comprehend

Job Won His Case

Job won his lawsuit
Though it did not seem so
At the time
Though God responded
With unanswerable questions
And nothing
Not even a new family
Can make up for the ones lost
Job won
God walked out of the courtroom
And into flesh
Shared the dust and blood
of Palestine
Climbed on a cross
Tasted every bitter God damned tear
Job wept
Screamed beneath the lash
and spit blood throu tortured lips
Hanging there
While the crowd walked by
shaking their heads like Job's friends.
Then kicked open death's
To end the final bondage.
God's final answer to Job's lawsuit
Begins, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


I want to sidestep the political discussion in this particular entry.  I understand that it's there and that it is important; but it's not what I want to talk about right now.

What I want to talk about is the reality that roughly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be victims of some form of sexual assault by the time they are 18.  The actual numbers may be even higher as we remember that these offenses are highly unreported.  The allegations coming out this week against Brett Kavanaugh; the sentencing of Bill Cosby; and the myriad of other sexual scandals involving high powered folks have brought this issue, once again, into the spotlight.

The truth is, however, that most victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault are not offended against by someone famous.  The are assaulted by a parent or another family member; a teacher or coach; a pastor, youth leader, or scout leader; a friend; sometimes by a stranger.  Most assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.  This is one of the reasons, along with the social stigma involved, that reporting of these assaults is so low.

The other truth is that every time one of these stories comes out; every time a scandal makes the news; the number of calls to suicide crisis lines and organizations like RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline goes up.  They go up because victims are reminded (the psychological term is "triggered") of their victimization.  And when they are reminded, the feelings of shame and fear often return.  Nightmares and flashbacks that may have been under control previously, reemerge.

I think one of the biblical images that resonates with their experience is the woman described in Luke 13:10-17.  She is "bent over" and "unable to raise herself" as though she has been walking for a very long time carrying a heavy load.  The cause of this infirmity is unknown and is referred to as "a spirit of weakness that had crippled her."  This designation appears to indicate that no one could find a medical reason for her condition.  Her emotional/psychological condition was being expressed in her physical body by her inability to stand straight.  She was so bowed that she could not lift her head to look someone in the eye.

The next passage I would like for you to look at comes from 2 Samuel 13.  It is the account of the "Rape of Tamar" by her half-brother Amnon.  It is a dark account of an incestuous rape that was planned and carried out with the help of a cousin (Jonadab) who is described as "crafty."  This is a word used for the snake in the garden of Eden.  Jonadab is a snake.  And it is an assault that may have had the subtle approval of the father of both Tamar and Amnon...King David.  Amnon grabs Tamar and she tries to talk him out of raping her.  She appeals to religion, to her reputation, to his reputation, and finally suggests that she could marry him if he just asks their Dad.  None of this works, and "being stronger than she, he forced her."
David fails to punish Amnon for this rape after he finds out about it; even though he is described as "very angry" because "he loved him, for he was his firstborn."
David was not the first parent to mistake "love" for "license" with his children.  It is also true that Amnon learned a clear lesson from watching his father with Bathsheba and the slave girls around the palace: "if you see something you want sexually, take it.  You're special.  You're entitled."

Three other bullet type points I want to make.  First, Amnon's response after the rape is to loath Tamar.  The Hebrew is more honest that most translations.  The Hebrew for what Amnon said to his servant is, "put this thing out of my presence."  Second, Absalom, Tamar's brother, tells her to be quiet about the rape.  He attempted to silence her as surely as if he'd put his own hand over her mouth. And third, Tamar disappears.  She goes to her brother Absalom's house (why go back to David, he's the one who sent her to Amnon in the first place) and is never heard from in scripture again.

There are three things in this story that are common to the experience of many victims:
  1. Their attacker doesn't listen-Twice we're told that Amnon doesn't listen: once when she plead with him not to rape her; and again when she plead with him not to put her out.
  2. They're told to be quiet-When Absalom sees Tamar wailing in grief with ashes on her head, he tells her, "don't take it to heart and don't say anything.
  3. The powerful excuse their attacker so that the offender is not punished or held accountable. David does nothing to Amnon.
These two passages combine to describe the experience of so many of the sexual assault victims who posted #WhyIDidntReport on their social media in the past few days.

But that is not the end of the story.

Jesus saw the woman enter the synagogue and He called her to Him.  He makes the point that she is "bond" by Satan; what has happened to her is something evil done to her.  She doesn't need forgiveness, she needs be untied.  And He does.  This is what our friends who are victims of sexual assault need: to be liberated; untied from the shame and memories that they carry like a weight, like a burden they can't lay down.  Jesus set her free.  And Jesus desires to set them free as well.  We can help.  We can help by acknowledging that something happened.  By not telling them to be quiet.  We can help by supporting holding people accountable for their behavior.  And we can help by finding ways to assist people in doing the work they need to do to be set free from the traumatic memories and trauma related behaviors that often come with these experiences.  They are "sons and daughters of Abraham," which is to say, they are God's children.  As such they are entitled to the care we believe God wants for us all.

When her brother Absalom died
all that time after her rape
She packed her bags and left his house
began to walk
As she walked the memories
tied themselves to her, she could not shake free
and with each memory came shame
and the sound of her own voice crying to Amnon
"where should I carry my shame?"
And the sound of his voice snarling to his servant,
"Put this thing out of my sight."
With each step
her back bent under the load
until she could not even lift her head.
She walked for 500 years
until she appeared in the synagogue
silently, trying to draw no attention to herself
Yet Jesus called her to Him
Cut her loose from the bonds of shame
let the memories drop from her shoulders
and with His own hands
lifted her to stand straight again.
There was a crowd that had walked with her
shadowing her steps in the darkness
bent beneath their own load
of the violence done to them
They enter our sanctuaries every Sunday
slide quietly into the pew
Waiting for Jesus to use
our ears to say I hear you
our voice to say I stand beside you
and our hands to lift them free of their burden.
Even if it kicks up a stir
There is no other day but this day
no other time but this time
let us make a way for those who have said
to stand like the old bent woman
and praise God saying
"Have I got a story for you."

Monday, September 24, 2018

What Jesus Did

Touched a leper,
Healed a blind man.
Restored a man who'd lost his mind.
Forgave, and stood up for, a woman caught in sexual sin.
Fed multitudes
Spoke to a woman who was "unclean" for 12 years, called her "Daughter," claiming her as family.
Heals another woman, a cripple, on the Sabbath, and calls her "a Daughter of Abraham"

He also
Heals the slave of a centurion,
Discusses God's love with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedin who helps bury Him.
Raises the daughter of a religious leader.
Confronts people of wealth who cannot care for the marginalized,
but welcomes the political outcast, the rich Zacchaeus, as a Son of Abraham.

He parties with the poor
And banquets with the rich

Jesus's fight wasn't with people,
He loved them.
His fight was with the things that
Marginalized them, denied them life
in all it's fullness
So much so that he took on even sin and death.

He opposed the misuse
and worship
of wealth
But even then, His love is for individuals
So he lunches with Zacchaeus
And invites a rich man to sell all he has,
Give it to the poor, and follow Him

There doesn't appear to be a line He isn't willing to step over
To get to those He came to seek and save

And He lived in such intimate relationship with God
That He called God "Abba," "Daddy."
He did not push God out at arm's length
With theological jargon, or flowery speech
He let God draw Him into the heart of God's Own Self
Even if it killed Him

O God, help me be more like Jesus

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Stewardship And Justice For The JOY Of It

I've been preaching a series on "stewardship."  It's not topic that pastors really put it mildly; and those of us in congregations where we know that our folks are struggling financially tend to find it really difficult.

But I've been helped a great deal by Walter Brueggemann's book Money and Possessions.  Some of the ideas below are rooted in that reading.

I picked my scriptures for this week to reflect two different responses (in my mind) to giving and economic justice.

Nehemiah 5:1-13 is the story of how, while trying to rebuild the wall to Jerusalem, Nehemiah encounters "a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish kin."  This is because between paying the taxes to Persia and trying to survive famine, they have mortgaged land and livestock and wound up selling their children into slavery.  Nehemiah says, "I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints."  One has to wonder.  This was the first he knew of this?  Really?  But the truth is, he needed the people all working together if he was going to accomplish his goal.  So suddenly "discovering" this great injustice and becoming angry worked for him.  He brings the nobles and officials together and forces them to take an oath that they will abide by the Jubilee which he is declaring and "Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine and oil that you have been exacting from them."  The nobles couldn't have been very happy with this; but they complied.  Nehemiah carried the weight of the Persian government behind him.

Is forced justice "good justice?"  I don't know.  I know that given a choice between forced justice and no justice, most of us will take the justice.  The same goes for justice that is motivated by political concerns rather than compassion.

So if you compare this situation to the "rich fool" who died before he could build his bigger barns; and the "rich young ruler" who could not let go of his wealth to follow Jesus; I guess you have to say that a Jubilee declared for political reasons and upheld by a forced oath is still the better of the three.

Luke 19:11-27.  Here I think that we see something incredible and much better as to be considered the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus climbed a tree.  Now I know that most of us know this, and we know that he climbed the tree because, as we sung as children, "Zacchaeus was a little wee little man and a wee little man was he...."  But think about it.  He climbed a tree. Kenneth Bailey, in his work on the parable of the Prodigal Sons, reminded us that the father running down the road was so amazing because no Middle Eastern potentate ran anywhere; that would involve lifting your robes and showing your legs.  And one would not be moving in the stately manner required of adult men of a certain age.  So here's Zacchaeus.  He's willing to climb a tree, with all the undignified, unseemly exposure involved, just for the chance to see Jesus.  Zacchaeus was hungry for something...he probably didn't even know what...but he knew that the chance that Jesus was what he was hungry for was worth all this.

Jesus stops under his tree. Invites himself to lunch.  Goes home with Zacchaeus.  Funny how that works.  We reach out with this vague hunger (the one Fred Craddock described as like standing in front of an open refrigerator knowing that we're hungry but not knowing what for)...and Jesus invites Himself home with us.

We don't know what that conversation was at lunch.  We do know that when it was over, Zacchaeus looks at Jesus and says, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back for times as much."  WOW.  The normal "payback" for defrauding someone was x2.  The only example of a x4 I can find is about cattle...and one can imagine that this was because cattle/livestock were so close to the livelihood of the nomadic people.  But here is Zacchaeus going, "if I have defrauded anyone of anything..."  He makes this move on his own.  And he makes it, I believe, in JOY.

This is finding the Kingdom.  The "pearl of great price" that makes you sell everything you have for the joy of that find.  He's found Jesus.  He doesn't have to be forced into a Jubilee...he declares it himself.

Here's another thought.  We'd rather have forced justice than no justice at all.  But what about the kind of economic justice that Zacchaeus is going to exercise moving forward?  Jesus doesn't say, "follow me."  He doesn't say, "give up being a tax collector."  It seems to me that having Zacchaeus for a regional chief tax collector would be a really good thing after he met Jesus.  The taxes are going to be collected.  Rome isn't going away.  I'd much rather have Zacchaeus than the rich fool of Jesus' earlier parable...wouldn't you?

I believe that the Song of Solomon is in scripture because experiencing, truly experiencing, God's love is a lot like falling in love.  It's hot, takes our breath away.  It reaches in and grabs us by the heart and the guts and leaves us gasping.  I actually think that when we get to the "marriage of heaven and earth" that the hottest sex we ever had here is gonna be nothing compared to what happens to our total being in the presence of the Living God.  Don't believe me?  Think I'm blaspheming? Go read Song of Songs...then tell me I'm wrong.  I think a bit of this reached out and grabbed Zacchaeus by the lapels when he sat down for lunch with Jesus.  I don't think he though twice about it....he gave up everything.  Like the guy who comes home from a first date and burns his little black book and never looks back.

Stewardship, giving, justice, love for one their best, these are spontaneous acts of JOY, not commandments we're scared to break.  And it's scary.  Like scripture tells us, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the Hands of the Living God."  It is an awe filled thing; it will undo us completely; it will make us over again.  And we, like Zacchaeus, will never be the same.F

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Courage in Stewardship, Fidelity, and Quality of Life

My last post had to do with courage.  This one has to do with both courage and anger....hang with me.

I was running errands today and flipping through the radio channels.  I landed on a preacher who was expressing his anger...lots of it...over a number of issues: he was angry that people wanted to save animals, but didn't get upset over abortion; he was particularly angry that a building addition (a "Christian Life Center" if I remember correctly) to his church had to wait for research on the impact of the building on fish in a nearby stream; and then he wanted to talk about "protecting the family" and went after those "sinners" who engage in a "same sex lifestyle."

Now, to be honest, all three of these are trigger topics for me.  And preachers like this kick off my anger as well.  They rain down judgement on people who are not part of their congregation (or if they are, will be deeply wounded and never speak out in this setting) from a simplistic platform.  Their speech costs them nothing, and only serves to ramp up the emotions and support of those who drop money in their offering plate.  It takes no courage to speak this way.  It takes no love.  It takes no searching to understand scripture.  They are the Donald Trumps of the preaching world. (Did I say they kick off my anger?)

But then I have to ask myself about my own courage.  This is where it gets difficult.  Why? Because the complexities of all three of these areas make talking about them difficult.  But I do believe that preaching the Gospel calls for us to try.

I'll start with the easiest one first: the fish in the stream.  Biblical faith calls us to stewardship and care of a world that was created to brim with abundance.  But for that abundance to be maintained, we have to be careful of our impact on that creation.  Sometimes that calls us to check out whether things that bring in income, or even built up numbers in congregations, will impact creation negatively.  This is why so many Christians oppose certain pipelines and off shore drilling.  But are we, am I, as careful when we look at the impact of our own behaviors on the created world?  Do we pay attention to where our money goes and how food is managed?  There is a wonderful program called the Food Recovery Network which was originally started in 2011 by four University of Maryland students who were concerned about the amount of food that was being thrown out in their college dining hall.  It is now a national movement.  It happened because these people paid attention to the stewardship issue around food in the cafeteria.  Now I know nothing about the faith stance of any of these four students; but I know a multitude of churches and hungry folks in Maryland where I pastor who are benefiting from what they began.  What if we had this kind of "stewardship eye" for everything around us?  Looking for the impact and trying to maximize positive potential in caring for all creation....whether it is the food insecure or the fish in the stream.

Moving to what is, for me at least, a more difficult topic (but not the most difficult of the three), the whole "family values," "traditional family" discussion.  Biblically, of course, there is no "traditional family."  Family in scripture could include slaves, concubines, and multiple wives.  The "same sex lifestyle" that scripture rails against (and rightly so) was that of homosexual prostitution in the temples of various gods and the homosexual rape of slaves by their masters.  Jesus Himself says nothing about homosexuality; and the world of Paul knew little or nothing about gay and lesbian relationships like those in our culture.  The attack was on the abuse of the powerless by the powerful.  And I am in agreement that forced sex by anyone on someone with less power, less voice, less ability to give informed consent, is a sin.
I am also aware of wonderful same sex couples who have provided stable, secure homes for both foster children and children in need of adoptive homes.  That seems to me to be a real "family value."
But I also believe that the Church needs to take a stand about fidelity in relationships.  Gay or straight, an attitude that relationships are attached with Velcro is contrary to biblical principles.  I believe in marriage....I believe in gay marriage and straight marriage.  I believe that fidelity in marriage is what we are called to.  I say this out of my own failures in this arena, so I have no room to judge, only to talk about where we might want to focus.  And one of the places for us to focus would be to create ways for all Christians gay or straight to be supported in their fidelity.  What if we focused on supporting faithful relationships rather than passing judgement on who people love?

Finally, we come to the biggie...and it is a hot topic right now because Roe v. Wade is clearly part of the focus of the Trump plan for the Supreme Court.  But I would like to move from the simple to the complex.  And the whole question is complex.
First, there is the question of control over ones own body.  I favor that.  I'm not na├»ve enough to believe that abortion is always the best choice....but I don't think it's my choice as a male to be making legislatively for women.  If a woman comes to me to talk about a difficult pregnancy situation (and it actually does happen, even with us old guys), I will help her explore all the options.  But I believe that the choice needs to be hers.  Sometimes, I believe that abortion is a reasonable option: rape, incest, the life of the mother, or profoundly severe defect in the fetus.  I believe that these are times that a woman could make that choice, painful as it might be, in good faith.  But let me say again, that the choice needs to be hers.
I am, personally, opposed to abortion as a form of birth control...but I don't think I can even say that without saying that this means that I am in favor of birth control being available to every one who desires it.  "Right To Life" is laughable if you don't include the availability of the means to avoid pregnancy.  It is further laughable (and this is where my own anger is stirred up) when you deny pregnant mothers and newborns adequate medical care.  When you deny adequate food and housing to children after they're born.  When you poison the drinking water of communities of color.  When education is denied to the poorest and the school to prison pipeline flows out of black communities.  When we continue to execute human beings in our prison systems.  When hospital and hospice care for the poor is dismal.  When care for the profoundly disabled amounts to warehousing in places designed to make money for wealthy corporations (we could revisit our prisons here as well).
Truly being supportive of life is to be supportive of quality of life for all human beings. 
And finally, a wee bit of a can stop 98% of unwanted pregnancies; and we don't even have to give up having sex; just wear a damned condom!  

My point in all of the above discussions is to point out that real courage means taking the time to deal with the complexities of the challenges in question.  The rabbis used to argue for hours....days....centuries in some cases...about the meaning of the Talmud.  Why? Because if it is truly the Word of God, we need to get it right.  And it's not always cut and dried.  In fact, an even cursory reading of scripture will demonstrate that it rarely is simple.

We study, we pray, we attempt to teach.  In stewardship of creation, in fidelity in relationship, and in caring for the quality of life for all we seek to follow the one who said, "I have come that they might have life in all it's fullness."

Monday, September 10, 2018

Reaching For Courage

It is
To write a memo
that takes no account
Of impact and anguish.
To hide behind "All I said/did/ enforced" is betrayal
When it erases
terrified children reaching for parents.

It is
To write a poem
when my words
hold at arm's length
the anguish of the moment
While pretending that it has been spoken.
Though some emotions
May never totally find voice,
I must try;
And not claim that I have shared all;
when in fact, I have hidden
behind the veil of my skill in evoking the emotions of others.

It is
To weep for the hunger of others
while hold
the food that could feed them
clenched in my hand.

There are so many ways
to let courage fail;
To scream "mine, mine"
Like the seagulls in
Finding Nemo.
To "tear down my barns
And build bigger barns"
For fear of a scarcity that isn't there.

Oh God,
I confess that
The greatest scarcity
Is in my courage
Give me more of that

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Stewardship; It May Not Be What You Think

Do you remember the commercial that said, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile?"  I'm starting to feel that way about the word "Stewardship."  This isn't my childhood pastor's stewardship.

Why is that?

Because so much of that stewardship was aimed at "storing up treasures in heaven" and that meaning, somehow, that God was keeping us a bank account in the sweet "bye and bye" so that after we die God would hand us a checkbook saying, "Here's your balance.  Go have fun.  You gave this money to the church, and I put it aside for you to have when you got here."

I'm coming to believe that Stewardship can be divided into three basic, interconnected behaviors:

  1. Gratitude for the abundance we have been given
  2. Care for the sources of that abundance
  3. Sharing of that abundance for the care of the marginalized
All three of these are responses to the question, "What do we do with all we have been given?"

In this approach we acknowledge that, "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."  That God has made us partners in caring for this creation so that it continues to produce the beauty and abundance that it was created to produce.  That we are to use, each of us from what we have been given, that beyond our need for the good of our neighbor.

From the demands of Deuteronomy that the abundance of the harvest are to be shared with the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant; to the judgement of God in Malachi on those "who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me"; to Jesus' parable of the "rich fool" whose life was demanded of him in the midst of his wealth.  Our worship, our expressions of gratitude, are deemed garbage if they are not joined by care for creation and mercy toward the marginalized.

This isn't "pie in the sky," but a very "here and now" view of what and why stewardship; our handling of wealth (whether in money, land, or other expressions); is such an integral part of living out our faith.  It's why Jesus says more about money than prayer.  Because what we do with what we have...matters.

Why?  Because it's all (as the Rich Fool is told) on loan.  It's not ours.  We get it and then, willy nilly, even the life we were given is demanded of us.  And everything we have here will go to someone else.....Everything but except that which is an expression of our gratitude and love for the God who "brought us out when we were slaves in Egypt."

Stewardship, then, is a commitment to a whole different economy.  One in which the standard isn't mammon, but mercy.  Not land, but love. These things are available to us all.  And nothing can destroy them.  That's why we can "lay them up in heaven where moths cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Legion" Is Not Your Name

The scripture passage I'm preaching on this week is Luke's account of Jesus healing the Gerasene  Demoniac.  You can find it in Luke 8:26-39.  Almost 2 years ago, on September 1 and 3 of 2016, I posted some of my reactions to Mark's version of the same story and on September 4, 2016 I preached on this story with the sermon title that There's No Place Jesus Won't Go.  It was one of my early sermons as the Interim Pastor at First Baptist Hyattsville.

Among other things, I said:

"This story, to me, runs just behind the parable of the Prodigal Sons in expressing the nature of the Gospel.  In fact, one could say that this story is the story of what happens when the Father of the story journeys to the far country, strides into the pig sty where his son is feeding the swine, and brings him home."


"One of the great failures of the Church has been the thought that it has to "protect Jesus" somehow.  Another is that going to the "wrong" places with "ruin our witness" (this was a warning I heard a lot in my high school and college days).  Our witness was, apparently, to be limited to those places where good people suffered from mild problems....or, were halfway to conversion already and just needed a little nudge to help them over the line.

"Jesus doesn't work that way.  Jesus will go anywhere.  On His on initiative, on His own hook.  Jesus isn't afraid of any place, any situation, where people suffer. And here's the catch....Jesus calls us to follow Him there. 

"I have to take a deep breath here.  Because this is scary stuff.  That Jesus calls us out from behind the safety of protected "clean" places to trust Him and enter the "unclean" places of our world is terrifying. This is where I'll leave it today.  There is enough for us (and I count myself here) to chew on this story for a very long time." 
Two years of "chewing on this story" in one form or another is a pretty long time.  And as I look at Luke's version of it, there are a couple of things that I'd want to add to the comments above.

The first has to do with names.  When Jesus asks this man what his name is, he replies with the name of the demons.  How many of us are like that?  We identify ourselves with the names that others have called us.  We identify ourselves with our disability, our failures, our sins, the labels of our culture.  We do this until in the minds of those around us, and in our own minds, we become only that name.

Howard Thurman writes about the brush arbor slave preachers who would proclaim to their enslaved congregations, "You're not n****rs, you are children of God."  He maintains that the Black church was born in that proclamation.  The proclamation that we are not what others call us, not the role they try to shove us into, we are Children of God and our name is Beloved.   The demons cannot bear that truth and must flee.

Fred Craddock tells of meeting Ben Hooper who had been Tennessee's Governor twice.  But as a boy, Hooper had a very difficult time.  He was born out of wedlock and suffered greatly at the hands of schoolmates and community folks who tried to figure out who his father was.  One Sunday, when Ben was somewhere between 9-12, the pastor stopped him before he could sneak out quickly like he usually did:

Before I could make my way through the group, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a heavy hand.  It was that minister.  I trembled in fear.  He turned his face around so he could see mine and seemed to be staring for a little while.  I knew what he was doing.  He was going to make a guess as to who my father was.  A moment later he said, "Well, boy, you're a child of..." and he paused there.  And I knew it was coming.  I knew I would have my feelings hurt.  I knew I would not go back again.  he said, "Boy, your a child of God.  I see a striking resemblance, boy."  Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, "Now, you go claim your inheritance."  I left the building a different person.  In fact, that was really the beginning of my life.
(from Craddock Stories, edited by Mike Graves and Richard Ward)

This is such incredibly Good News....this is Gospel...God doesn't just wait like the father of the prodigal son; Jesus comes to where we are in our broken, wounded, demonic ridden state and says to us, "You are not whatever bigoted, marginalizing name they are calling you. Legion is NOT your name.  Your name is Beloved. You are a child of God.  I can see the resemblance.  Now go claim your inheritance."

This news is not just about us and Jesus and personal salvation.  It is a proclamation about who each of us is in the world today....a world where Donald Trump delights in calling his enemies "dogs," "rapists," "low intelligence," and their countries of origin "shitholes."  No one reading this needs to be told that it is a short step from such language to declaring that such people are not really human and that they can justifiably be gassed, deported, starved, denied health care, or their children put in cages.

As we see in the story Luke tells, the presence of a Jesus who says, "Legion is not your name," puts the prevailing social and economic structure at risk.  No wonder they asked Him to leave.  What would happen if EVERYBODY decided that they were a child of God?  What if they decided that EVERYBODY should be treated that way?  Who knows how many pigs that would cost?

So Jesus leaves.  But before He leaves, He does something really sneaky.  He tells this man who now knows that he is Beloved, "go home and tell them what great things God has done for you."  Jesus plants a time bomb by the name of the Man Formerly Known As Legion.  A seed of God's love that will sprout like kudzu.

The Good News that we are Beloved starts with us, individually and personally, but it does not stop there.  It grows in the cracks of the walls we've built between us.  It shatters the framework of a culture built on making God's Beloved Ones "other" and "expendable."  It overcomes the world.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

How Close Do You Have To Get

How close do you have to get
to someone's feet
for your tears to
wash the dust and grime away?
To dry them with your hair?
Even if
your hair
came to your waist,
To use it as a towel
means getting
Beyond even
the tears and kisses
we're told she lavished on Him,
There is this moment
When what started out
as "I will take my purfumed oil
and anoint His head,
when I get the chance.
He will understand how much
it meant
To hear Him speak
of God's love for even me."
This moment
when all that changed
And soft tears of gratitude
became an angry flowing rage.
"How could he!?!
Simon didn't even offer
Him water for His feet!"
And before she knew it
She's no longer crouched
along the wall with the others,
She's on her knees
washing His feet with her tears.
The purfumed oil
almost an afterthought now.
Feet must be dried first.
But with what?
Hardly a beat, before
she unwrapped her hair
In defiant, spontaneous love.
Shaking it out to hang loose
in that unconscious manner
that signals layers and layers of intimacy.
"If you won't show Him
the love He deserves,
by God, I will."
How close do you have to get
to dry someone's feet
with your hair?

When was the last time
I threw
caution and social expectation
decorum and decency even
to the wind
Threw myself in gratitude
at His feet,
And got that close to Jesus?

And what if I were to take
That dangerous step
of following the thought
That snuck up on me
in early morning
in the place between dream
and waking
Popping my eyes open:
If I am to meet Jesus in the world
in those who are least
Those who are denied
not just for their feet
but even to drink
Not given a kiss of greeting
but meet arrest and family separation
at the door;
Not just these,
But the millions who are treated
as though they have
no place at the table;
Can't I keep my distance Lord?
How close do you have to get
to someone's feet
to dry them with your hair.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

We Are All Habiru

We are all Habiru
The ones left behind after Babylon and Assyria whoever else
Romp and stomp their way through Israel
We are that remnant left behind
we're not the Daniels or the Princes or the High Priests
Carried off into exile;
We are the 'am-ha'ares, people of the land,
and it wasn't meant as a compliment
The Bible records no prophets for them
The only voice they seem to have is the book of Lamentations.

But there are prophets
for Habiru for 'am-ha'ares
They are the brush arbor preachers of the slave community;
Proclaiming even as the plantation culture
Or the world built on warfare
The world that claims that those who do not have money
Are simply commodities
To be bought and sold
and sold to at higher prices
Loaned to and extracted high interest from,
In the midst of this death-dealing
Land of Pharaoh Nebuchadnezzar
Plantation boss
Jim Crow and Jim Crow Jr
As centuries of oppression of stretching out
Generation after generation
Even as these proclaim that they are in control
It is the brush arbor prophets who cry out
You are somebody
You are a child of God

They did not cry from the sidelines
Or from positions of power
They knew exactly what their congregations
Returned to after the last amen
for they returned there as well
They stood in the torrent
Of swirling racism
And economic cruelty
And proclaimed
You are somebody
You are a child of God

And when Unite the Right
Comes to the home of its Godfather
To celebrate how "some of them are really nice people,"
And the tax breaks flow to the wealthy,
While the children are caged at the border,
And oil spills poison the land,
As a false god rises demanding
That the people bow down to his orange gold statue;
These prophets and their spiritual descendants 
continue to cry out 
to 'am-ha'ares and Habiru
You are somebody
You are a child of God

May we like the prophets in the brush arbor
Proclaim amidst the lamentation
To those entrusted to our care
You are somebody
You are a child of God

Justice will roll down like water
Like a tsunami
sweeping every false idol before it.
The day is coming
When every child will be reunited
With its parents
When the land that now cries out in pain will burst forth with flower and song
When the clay feet of the idols will crumble
and the orange gold of their heads comes crashing down
to lay forever in the dust

For we know the secret they cannot imagine
we who are the Habiru, the 'am-ha'ares
We cry out and God will come
Though the world does not know us
We are somebody
We are a child of God

Sunday, July 22, 2018

First Language

The only language spoken
in the next world
will be Love
Best to become fluent now.
Speak it every day
Speak angry Love in the face of injustice
reconciling Love in time of healing
Speak grieving Love in sorrow
dancing Love in time of joy
Til the laughter filled tears
of Love
proclaim the Charis that cannot tell
Who is giver and who received
And Love becomes at last
our first Language

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Hosea 2018

My rage boils over
at my lover, my spouse
He will not stop drinking
and he comes home smelling
Of cheep booze
and other women.
His car is pocked
with deep dents,
I like awake praying that
he makes it home
without killing anyone.
But there is blood on his bumper,
he thinks no one can take his keys.
When we were young I fell
in love with his dreams
of equality and justice, and how
he would share them with everyone.
But soon that whore Racism
and her slut sister Greed
Were shooting him up in the alley.
They took turns
picking his pocket
while the other fondled him
and promised him blow jobs.
I cannot go on, but I cannot let go
My lover, my spouse,
my Captain America
is killing himself and refuses
to see that he
is killing me too.
Do not tell me to be civil
that I sound like a shrew
screaming at him when he
crawls home from Charlottesville
or some border dive
in the oily wee hours of the morning.
My rolling pin is in my left hand
the frying pan in my right
My lover, my spouse is
killing us both
But I won't go without a fight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It's Different When It's Your Neighbor

Jesus called the man
with the withered hand
to stand beside Him
in the front of the synagogue.
That always bothered me.
Wasn't it enough
that accident
or accident of birth
had left this man so crippled?
Why did Jesus have to show him off
like a sideshow freak?
Why shame him further?
But no,
I've come to believe
that what Jesus did
Was stand a neighbor they all knew
in front of them
And ask
Is this what Torah means?
You've heard what the Pharisees said
But really?
This is your neighbor, your friend
he worships here every Sabbath.
Will you deny him healing
Based on their tense interpretation
of what was meant to give life?
Or will you risk their wrath
and say
That there is another way,
The one that loves the neighbor?

Funny how
We keep having to ask
the same questions.
It does seem to make a difference
when it's someone we know.
Maybe our circle of friends
needs to get bigger.

I Have Choked On The Words Of The Gospel

I have choked on the words of the Gospel
When I realized what it meant
to speak Jesus
Into the 21st century chaos
To really and truly proclaim
Freedom to the captive
Recovery of sight to the blind, and
The coming of the Jubilee Year
on Wall Street as well as Skid Row.

I have gagged on the words of the prophets
To be seized with the awareness
That if I were to speak them
I might also have to pronounce
the judgement of exile and defeat
On my own nation.
We all know how well that goes over
At the 4th of July barbecue

So I have choked
and gagged
And stammered out,
"The Word of the Lord,
Thanks be to God"..... really?!?

No wonder Moses
Claimed to have a speech impediment.
Maybe that's why he needed Aaron
Who wasn't raised
In the privilege of Pharoah's court
And could speak the rage
Of the ones at the margins

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Beast That Stalks America (two poems)

Three months
ago I stood with those
who swore "No More"
And raised our voice
as one to say
But it was not.
In fact
the Beast creeps closer
this time
a parishioner says to me
"We knew one among the dead."
A friend
fondly and sadly
remembers another.
The killings took place
not far from my house
Across the street
from where we shop
and eat.
The Beast fed there yesterday.
How long
before it makes it's way
To me

Trump did not create the Beast
it has been prowling America
for centuries.
This mix breed mutt of hatred
Showing the markings
on it's fur
of racism and fear of strangers.
An animal know
for savagery and violence
that attacks
with little provocation.
Trackable by the steaming
feces left behind:
Slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow,
Internment Camps.
No, Trump did not create the Beast
But when it came
to the back door of his campaign
He fed it scraps
scratched it behind the ears
Then invited it in
to eat off his table
and sleep at the foot of his bed.
He goes for a walk and whistles
so the Beast will tag along.
Trump does not put it on a leash
"It's not mine," he says, "it's
just a stray. Besides, some of
these Beasts are very nice animals."
And when the Beast
leaves a pile
of gun violence, racially charged
police brutality
And children snatched
from families fleeing horror,
In the middle of our nation's lawn
He does not scoop
the shit left by the pet he does not claim.
And when the neighbors complain
he says
that they are being uncivil,
that Beasts have rights too.
Trump did not create the Beast
it's true.
And we must find ways
to make the breed extinct.
In the meantime he'd better leash up
his Beast
and read a bit of history
about those who thought
that keeping such as house pets
was safe for the ones
Who thought they were in control.