Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Fable for Your Consideration

A fable is a short story or piece of writing meant to convey a moral lesson.


The Tiger


Once there was a tiger. This tiger had always lived in the forest. The tiger roamed, preyed on smaller animals, and generally did tiger things. While no animals attempted to befriend the tiger, most also were not unduly scared of him.

One day, the tiger declared war on the field mice. Roaring through the forest, the tiger declared that field mice should return to the fields. They did not belong in a space populated with trees, said the tiger, they must go back where they came from.

It did not seem to matter that there were field mice born in tree trunks and in old nurse logs. The tiger had spoken. Other predators in the forest agreed that the field mice should go. They bring disease, some animals noted, truthfully, forgetting how many other animals transmitted illness from one to another. They eat food that should be ours, said the smaller critters. The foxes didn't want to contradict the tiger, but they did need the mice for their diets. They began to eye the birds' nests. Some animals, like the deer, didn't necessarily want to get rid of the mice, but they didn't want to be in the fight, so they said nothing.

The tiger patrolled the edges of the forest and the mice who could fled. Those who couldn't get out for one reason or another burrowed in more deeply, now more terrified and vulnerable than ever.

After the mice were banned, the tiger demanded that rabbits and weasels must go. They are too small, roared the tiger, and small means inconseqential! The tiger presided over the forced evacuation of the rabbits and the weasels. Some of the other predators became concerned because now there was very little food for them in the forest itself. The tiger's roar, however, was terrifying and no one dared to point out the flaws in the plan or maybe that mistakes had been made.

One morning, all the deer fled. They ran through several fields to a different wood, removing themselves from the tiger's reign.

All that remained in the tiger's forest were the tiger and other predators. Things became tense in the forest. Many animals, especially the scavengers, had to travel far each day to collect food and then bring it home to their dens and their children. The wolves and the bears were particularly exhausted as the constant hunt prevented them from storing their winter fat.

The tiger killed all the foxes. I wanted a fox fur coat, he said, as he patrolled, draped in the bloody hides. He glared at everyone he passed and the animals ducked their heads and busied themselves with various tasks.

No one dared to cross the tiger.

There were quiet rumors of meetings of dissenters, potential plots to overthrow the tiger or end his reign, some grumblings if one was sure he wasn't there.

But no one stood up to the tiger.

It was hoped that perhaps, with so few animals left, animals that shared much taxonomy with the tiger, perhaps they would be safe.

The badger, with a bellyful of roots, waddled back to his burrow late one evening. Roots and the occasional grub were not as satisfying as a dinner of mice or perhaps a rabbit, but it would do.

Suddenly, the badger found himself flipped over, staring at the sky. The tiger loomed above him, one paw raised high.

"Why?" said the badger, knowing this was the end.

"Because I can," laughed the tiger, slashing the badger's throat. "I didn't spare anyone else. Why would you think I cared about you."

Moral: When the tiger shows you his stripes, believe that he is a tiger. 


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Protected Borders, Ungleaned Corners

When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather every remaining bit of your harvest. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God. - Leviticus 23:22


1. A country has the right to protect its borders. For the purposes of this conversation, this country will refer to the United States of America, a landmass inhabited by native peoples and then colonized by explorers, freedom seekers, economic migrants, and convicts. 

2. Economic migration is provided for through legal systems and applications. Seeking asylum due to persecution or danger is one way around the legal application process, but there remains the need for a paper trail to prove said risk. Police officials and government assistance offices may be in the pocket of or also threatened by the same endangering entities and therefore paperwork may be difficult or impossible to maintain. A system of merciful discernment is needed and must be applied as equally as possible in such cases. 

3. When migrating, there are laws and guidelines requiring refugees to seek asylum in the first "safe third country" that is reached. A safe third country is determined by the ability of the asylum seeker to be able to declare for asylum without fear of being returned to their country of origin and to be able to live reasonably, working with and toward greater self-determination, in that country. Mexico's asylum system remains under development and is not presently able to guarantee genuine asylum to the majority who seek it there. 

4. People who send their children through to the United States are hoping that their children will be able to connect with family members currently residing in here. Similar to the Kindertransport, chidren are being kissed goodbye and sent off with hope for a better life. Often parents know that they may not see their children again. 

"Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death." - Deuteronomy 24:16

Depriving children of genuinely safe and sanitary condition is punishing them for their parents' (perceived or real) crimes. This is specifically against the biblical injunction regarding generational punishments. When it comes to children, one hopes that one's nation will demonstrate its highest ideals and show that we (the nation) have learned from historical mistakes. 

The Kindertransport worked in part because private British citizens put up money for the children and their transportation. If I knew that money I gave would go directly to provisions for a specific child, I'd have auto-debit set up in a heartbeat. As it is, I give through my denominational resource for caring for migrant and refugee children: Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services and AMMPARO.

5. It is possible to have a nuanced conversation about the crisis at the American southern border, the internment camp situation for housing children, and enforcing laws while showing mercy all at the same time. This is not the same as saying, "There is wrong doing on both sides." We can definitively acknowledge a present wrong and historical wrongs, while also working to figure out sustainable and life-giving solutions. It is when we take the time and energy to fight about who is more right that the truth is ignored and the actual call to make things better goes unheard. There may not be a quick fix, but there are long-term ways to solve these problems, to work for justice and peace, and to care for our neighbors. 

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues, but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthles. Religion that is pure and undefiled is before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. - James 1:26-27

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Imagine Something Better

Imagination matters. And we are failing our children when it comes to the fullest use of imagination.

Experiences of play wherein different locales, ways of being, changing movement, and evolving responses are critical to our children's emotional and psychological development. Opportunities for imagination come naturally to most children and if we, as adults, ask questions, encourage, and give healthy shape to such play, we are then shoring up a strong mental and ethical foundation for our children.

Because moral imagination is a real concept and, I would argue, a real thing. Moral imagination, even in play, involves the capactity to wrestle with ethical concepts and frameworks and apply them in new and different settings. In order to be grow into an adult ethic that seeks justice and wholeness, children have to be taught the truth of certain historic events. Girded with historical realities, in all their complexities, children can imagine their reactions, test those responses with adults or in their minds, and then sort out how to choose between options. This skill becomes the moral imagination adults require to be responsive and compassionate citizens of communities.

In recent weeks, I learned of two particular failures to tell the truth that will, if unchecked, compromise the development of moral imagination in the children who interact with these situations.

This screenshot is from Twitter and was a school assignment for upper elementary/middle school students in North Carolina. There was a long conversation between some parents regarding the assignment, mostly centering on parents who believed there was no problem with the assignment and parents who found it appalling.

Initially the assignments seem benign, offering children a variety of opportunities and ways to respond to lessons about the Holocaust. Presumably there is a list of recommended books or resources that accompanies the assignment to help. Additionally, this assignment is asking for some level of imagination. So, what's the problem?

The problem is that such an assignment cannot be fully rooted in having been told the truth about the Holocaust. This is not an assignment that would come after reading The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel's Night. A letter from a concentration camp? It's not summer camp. There are no letters. There is survival, and barely that.

Assignments that actually wrestle with honest accounts of the Holocaust would ask children for their own reactions to what they read and heard. They would write letters about their own response to pictures, accounts, film clips, or novels. Students would be presented with the truth and then accompanied in how to emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically process the horror.

Assignments like "write a letter to your parents" or "write a skit" are the imaginative equivalent of skipping rocks across a pond. It takes some skill, but it tells you nothing about the depth of the pond. Additionally, a child who completes this type of assignment to success in the grading parameters for this class will believe themselves to have understood the depth of the assignment. When later confronted with additional information about concentration camps or the Holocaust- such as children were only kept alive for medical experimentation or days were spent in back-breaking labor or in fear for your life or the potential that you survived via the Kindertransport, but you never saw your parents again- when confronted with these realities, a young adult will retreat mentally to the reward of what was previously imagined (that sixth grade skit they wrote) and treat that as the truth.

It is very hard to write over mental scripts, which is why we have to be honest from the beginning.

Which brings me to the second failure: the Roar Vacation Bible School (VBS) from Group Publishing. You can read an excellent reflection on this VBS and its problematic issues here. Long story less long, this is an "Africa"-themed curriculum in which children pretend to be Israelite slaves, Africa is refered to as a "country", and students are asked to add "clicks" to their words to mimic an particular language and dialect.

What's the problem here? (Besides having an all-white creative team at Group Publishing.)

First, Africa is a very large continent with 54 separate countries, most containing a variety of people with differing ethnic identities. Nigeria and South Sudan are two different places with a variety of ways of being. We don't say that Belgium and Italy are the same, so why is conflating African nations acceptable.

Second, slavery is both a historical and contemporary issue. Even if you want to make the (not good) argument that it was/is an economic system (as opposed to a system of oppression), it remains true that enslaving people, particularly implying that people can be owned, is neither just nor good nor a viable economic system. Enslaving people is wrong. Furthermore, enslavement based on race or ethnicity creates generational trauma. We have no idea how long it takes that generational trauma to heal because we haven't stopped doubling down on some of the lies about enslavement in history and in modern times.

Third, the internet is real. If you want to show what a "click" language is like, get thee to YouTube and find a video with a native Xhosa speaker. It takes about thirty seconds unless your internet is slow. Then it takes 45 seconds.



Yes, the enslavement of the Israelites is a biblical reality and Pharoah's treatment of them was particularly harsh. Children can, however, be told the truth and asked to consider what people may have felt or thought without actually being told to reinact enslavement. Similar to some of the Holocaust assignments, pretending to be a slave while being faux-yelled at in a (safe) VBS setting makes a mental imprint on kids that they understand what this experience is like. They don't. Without being told the truth and then guided into processing the horror, they are imprinting a lesson that may never be written over. "I understand what X is like because I had this experience/lesson when I was a kid."

I know what it is like to water a huge garden from a five gallon bucket, refilled repeatedly, in the North Carolina heat. I know what it's like to be yelled at while doing it. I do not know what slavery is like. I can only imagine slavery because I have read accounts and historical information. I have enough understanding to comprehend a horror that I have not experienced and to be able to extrapolate, morally, that I should keep alert to prevent, to the best of my ability, such circumstances in the future. Prevention is not because I'm a savior of people, but because I am moral participant in the universe and enslaving people is not in the arc of justice.

It would be easy to say that this is just one assignment or one VBS experience, but a failure to be honest hobbles the moral imagination for years to come. If I think my imagination suffices for the truth of an experience, rather than someone else's own account of it, then I will never actually extend my ethics beyond myself.

I've been pregnant twice, so I can "imagine" what women who seeks abortion services are feeling/thinking.

I've been broke, so I can "imagine" what people who are without funds experience.

I've been sick, even to the point of being unable to work, so I can "imagine" the implications of various long-term illnesses.

I've been spanked, so I can "imagine" the consequences of long-term physical and mental abuse.

My country has been attacked, so I can "imagine" the impact of growing up and living in a war zone.


I can imagine all day long, but there are truthful accounts of real people who do tell their own stories. Reading or watching their own words, their owning of their experience, strengthens my moral imagination so that I live in an ethical framework that includes other people's truth, not just my imagining of it. And I am trying to raise my children to do this same thing.

Each assignment, each VBS or Sunday School lesson, each car conversation, or library visit matters because they are all blocks in the foundation of who our children are and who they will be. If we want them to be fully functioning, morally imaginative adults- then we have to equip them with the truth, good and bad and ambivalent, of human history. When we tell the truth, and the whole truth, there is no place for lies or fake news to take root.

And then, I imagine, the world becomes a better place.



Monday, June 3, 2019

What Does Conversion Look Like?

In Damascus there was a certain disciple named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, “Ananias!”He answered, “Yes, Lord.”The Lord instructed him, “Go to Judas’ house on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias enter and put his hands on him to restore his sight.”Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem.  He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.  I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. After eating, he regained his strength.He stayed with the disciples in Damascus for several days. - Acts 9:10-19 (Common English Bible) 

If your experience of Christianity is anything like mine, then you have likely been taught to think about Saul/Paul as the follower of Jesus with the ultimate conversion story. Even if you've been led to understand that he remained Jewish (in ethnic practices), his faith in Christ and Christ's salvific purposes gave his life a very specific direction following Saul's experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). 
I've always accepted this. Over the years, I've thought about this story to discuss the significance of other vocations, since Paul wasn't making his own clothes or planting and tending crops. While he matters for the spread of the gospel, the work of other believers' daily lives also made that evangelism possible. 
Lately, however, I have been rethinking that story. Is Saul's change of heart really the greatest change in Acts 9? Is the Road to Damascus experience really the conversions experience to which all new Christians (or all Christians period) are meant to aspire? 
As I look at the chapter afresh, I am struck by what is required of Ananias. He believes in Jesus, but now Jesus asks him to welcome a man into his home. This man was known to Ananais to be a threat to his family, his friends, and himself. This man has harmed or witnessed the killing of people whom Ananais knew, maybe loved. Prior to Jesus' request, at best Ananais would have crossed to the other side of the market if he saw Saul, if not actually hide away until Saul left town. 
Now, Jesus is expecting something of Ananais for Saul. Ananias does not want to do it. He would like to say no. He tries to explain to Jesus what's happening. Jesus doesn't change his tune. 
So Ananias must experience his own conversion, his own continued growth in faith, a further step in sanctification, a greater yielding to the Holy Spirit. He must prepare to welcome Saul into his home and he's going to have to tell other people that he's doing it. 
It's not like he's going to be able to keep Saul a secret. It seems likely that Ananias has some kind of household. How will they respond to his revelation: "Jesus told me we need to bring that guy we were all just panicking about into the house." 
If conversion represents a change of heart, a change of behavior, a change of attitude, an application of ethics in the midst of stress and strain, then Ananias is the conversion story we should have been paying attention to all along. 
Most Christians, especially life-long Christians, have very little to do with Saul of Tarsus, but we have a lot in common with Ananias. Instead of assuming or expecting a road to Damascus experience, we are called to be on the look out for a stranger in Damascus experience. And we are meant to be the ones to welcome that stranger for Christ's own sake. 
We are meant to open our homes to someone whose life experience is not like ours. 
We are meant to show hospitality to someone whose history is frightening to us. 
We are meant to welcome the one who differs from us greatly and yet whom Christ loves and for whom Christ died. 
I am not saying that we are meant to knowingly endanger ourselves or our families, but we are meant to take some risks for the sake of the gospel. We are meant to be open to people are different. We are meant to have conversion experiences in our life, again and again. These experiences are the ones in which Jesus speaks to us, moves us, compels us to do the thing that surprises us and yet is absolutely necessary for the sake of the world. 
It's what Ananias did. It's his conversion story from which we are meant to learn how to be followers of the Way of Christ. 
To adapt the verse of There is a Balm in Gilead, "If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul... Like Ananias, you can show grace to all." 





Sunday, May 12, 2019

Eshet Chayil


It's been a hard week. In each still moment, my mind went back to Rachel Held Evans. I experienced the wishful thinking and grief again and again, as I would thinking, "Surely it's not true." How can she not laugh again? Hold her children again? Console her spouse, Dan?

Julia, you may tell me, she will do these things again in heaven. As true as that may be, it is not enough to stop the tide of unremitting sorrow that is swamping them and so many others now. Heaven is not meant to be a salve to stop earthly pain. It is the answer to the pain caused by the forces that oppose God, but it does not mean that pain is not real when it is experienced in this life.

I've literally thought about her body growing cold, her ashes or her dust, her 3-year-old wondering again where Mommy is, her husband replaying last words over and over. I think about the small anniversaries passing by at a horrible clip- last week she, a month ago she, two months ago she...

A friend pointed out that this is terrifying in many ways. It is, I agreed, because this is the kind of fluke risk we have not accepted. We have considered (or not considered) the risks of car travel, heart disease, breast cancer. We know that there are wars and even shootings in public places. We've weighed the effort to keep ourselves in good health and to balance our rest and our work.

We don't weigh the risk of a fluke medical situation when we go to the hospital to have something treated.

Even when we know the US has very poor maternal care, especially for black and brown women, we still assume most things will be fine.

An unusual reaction to medication, causing our brain to seize, is not in our catalog of worries.

Or it wasn't.

The way we make it as parents to simultaneously try to control everything and to accept that we control almost nothing. Rachel's death showed us that we aren't in control of things we hadn't even fever dreamed.

What can we do?

We can remind each other of the low chances of this kind of death and that it likely wasn't preventable.

We can work to prevent the deaths that can be eclipsed, especially with regard to maternity and maternal health.

We can promote the truth about vaccines and preventative medicine.

And we can assure one another that if the worst happens, we will always speak of them, we will mother their children, and we will not let their good legacy die.

I think that's what I need to hear today and what I will be telling the other women of valor whom I know.

And it's what I will say to Rachel when I see her. Or what I am telling her now, which she may already know.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Tabitha of Our Time

When I was a kid, the term "dorkus" was not one of endearment. I distinctly remember my parents saying that my siblings and I shouldn't call one another that because Dorcas was woman in the Bible who did good things and was remembered well. I honestly cannot recall if I've ever actually met a Dorcas in name, but I have met many who emulated Dorcas/Tabitha (Acts 9) in spirit.

Dorcas was the woman's name in Greek and it was Tabitha in Aramaic. For the rest of this post I will refer to her as Tabitha. The only reason I bring up the Dorcas part of the story is because if Rachel Held Evans didn't actually write something about giggling as a child during that reading, I know that she would have done it. 

Rachel died early this morning, following complications from treatment of flu plus a UTI. She was four days older than me and left behind two very young children, a spouse (Dan), her family, close friends, extended support network, and a world that needed her writing. 

To me, RHE was the Tabitha of our time, strong in discipline and courageous in faith. I deeply resonated with her own pain at feeling rejected and eventually shut out of the evangelical faith of her childhood. Moreover, her willingness to continue to write, to speak, and to challenge powers and principalities of this world regarding so many issues was a genuine example of what it means to let one's light shine to give glory to God in heaven. 

As she has been sick and now on the day of her death, we who mourn are like Tabitha's friend in Acts- raising up the bits of her writing to show others. "See her work." "Look at how good this is." "She did such powerful things." To any who will come close, we pour out our grief- at her youth, at the randomness and horror of her sudden death, and our heartbreak for her family. 

I ache. 

“The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it—with valor. So do your thing. If it’s refurbishing old furniture—do it with valor. If it’s keeping up with your two-year-old—do it with valor. If it’s fighting against human trafficking . . . leading a company . . . or getting other people to do your work for you—do it with valor. Take risks. Work hard. Make mistakes. Get up the next morning. And surround yourself with people who will cheer you on.” - The Year of Biblical Womanhood

I am stricken. 

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”  - Searching for Sunday

When I first heard, I actually looked down to see if I was wearing a shirt that I could physically tear because garment rending seemed the only way to respond. 

“I am a Christian,” I concluded, “because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” - Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. 

The death of a 37-year-old woman is not well with my soul. The death of a woman who spoke truth to the forces that oppose God and God's will is not well with my soul. The grief of tiny children, a husband, parents who did not plan to bury their child is not well with my soul. And it never will be.

Apparently, with this Tabitha, there was no Peter to see our grief and raise her from her bed for this life. I will not pretend to be okay with that.

I will not turn to platitudes, easy answers, or quick comfort. This absolutely sucks beyond belief. It is horrible. And, to be honest, I do not think I can be convinced that this was or is God's plan. And I don't think Rachel would have thought so either.

So, what did Tabitha's friends do in Acts? They wept. They told stories of her. They consoled one another. They shared their pain. They treasured her work and showed it to others. They told her story. They continued in that, for their friend, right up to the resurrection.

Sounds like the thing to do to me. #becauseofRHE

Monday, April 22, 2019

God's Long Now

Easter Sunday
Luke 24:13-35
If God had a clock, what would it look like? What would God’s desk calendar look like? I’m not just  thinking about marking the passing of time; I’m thinking more about the scope of time. Most of us are familiar with a 24-hour clock. We’ve seen or we’ve been people with five-year-journals or planners. 2ndPeter says that for God, one thousand years is like a day and a day is like one thousand years. 

God’s concept of time is what I would call the “Long Now”. When humans talk about the Long Now, they are discussing time in ten thousand year increments. They work to think on a grand scale about time, about people, about medicine, about the care of the earth. The Long Now is a shift toward thinking that’s not just about investing or retirement, but for a reality that we cannot even imagine, for a time and a people or a planet, long after we are forgotten on this plane of existence.

I find the Long Now fascinating, but I’m even more intrigued by the idea of a Divine Long Now. It pulls at my spirit to think that God’s sense of time is so high, so deep, and so broad, that God’s sense of now puts us in the same time frame as Abraham and Sarah, as King David, as Jesus, at the women at the tomb, as Cleopas and his friend. God’s now already encompasses our own descendants, ten, twenty, and thirty generations out from us. God’s Long Now is a horizon we can barely grasp, and yet its scenery is so replete with holy grace and healing that we cannot ignore it.

Why am I thinking about God’s Long Now and God’s sense of time?

I think the Emmaus story contains what is possibly the most painful statement for humans to utter. We had hoped. Cleopas and his friend are probably drained. They witnessed the crucifixion. They stayed in Jerusalem until the sabbath was complete and then headed back to Emmaus. They heard the witness of the women, but were unsure how to understand it. 

So they say those words, “We had hoped.” I think “we had hoped” is exactly the opposite of the Long Now. We had hoped says we wanted to see this, we wanted to witness God’s glory in our lifetime, we had expectations that were not met, we do not know how to understand what has happened. We had hoped that the good old days would last forever. We had hoped that we would hold onto power. We had hoped that it would be our turn to be on top and maybe get to do a little oppressing of our own. 

We had hoped

Where people say, “We had hoped”, God says, “The story isn’t finished. In fact, we’ve only just begun. I’ve been keeping promises for generations. I’ve upheld every covenant I’ve made. I’ve worked to heal creation again and again and again. I’m pouring out love and mercy and grace, even to the extent of walking among you. And you think we’re finished?”

In my holy imagination, God sighs, with compassion, as Jesus walks down that road, explaining the scriptures, revealing God’s nature, character, and faithfulness… again. As this goes on, the Spirit is on the move- shoring up the witness of the women, bringing new life to bear in plants and animals, inspiring faith in people who were witnesses to the crucifixion at the margins of the story. Even as Jesus focuses on a pair of followers, God’s view of the Long Now is on the move.

God’s planner is eternal. And I don’t mean like our perpetual calendars, where you just shift the numbers to show a new date. I mean, God’s scope and plan for the on-going outpouring of love, the effort to bring us all into right relationship, the making of all things new (which is different than all new things)… God is always doing that work. As long as God is doing that, the only time that exists for the Divine is now.

When we think of first-century Palestine, when we think of the lie of Pax Romana, when we consider the other places or times that the incarnation could have taken place, that Jesus could have been born… we are only considering that from our own perspective in time. In God’s Long Now, Jesus life, death, and resurrection were but a minute ago and none too soon because people just seem(ed) unable to grasp the nuances of Divine control and power, revealing holy love. 

What happens to our understanding of time if we realize that we have been baptized into God’s Long Now? Our grief and pain over death remain very real. Our frustrations with the world remain true. We remain in compassionate disagreement with one another over many things.

And yet, we know that our trust in God, our generosity, our patience, our kindness, and our joy matter deeply because they bear witness to the reality that God is not made in our image, but that we are made in God’s. Our Easter joy is rooted in and grows out of the truth that God forgives and brings resurrection and restoration out of the worst that humans can do. When our hope in this truth bears fruit, the harvest is for justice and peace, for compassion and healing, for the little, the lost, and the least, for the prodigal son, his frustrated brother, his grieving father, and his unmentioned mother.

All creation lives for and leans toward this blessed alleluia-filled, glorious Easter blessing: that resurrection is always now. That God’s power was neither stronger then or is coming stronger in the future, but is now as it always has been. God’s Long Now means that Jesus breathed again just a second ago. He only just broke the bread at the table with Cleopas and his friend. It has only been a minute since Jesus inspired Augustine and Aquinas, since he strengthened Martin and Katie Luther, since he moved people to build Notre Dame cathedral the first time, since he stirred firmly those who worked to spread the good news in word and deed around the world, since he gave the inspiration to people to build this very church. Each of these people, these faithful, these witnesses could have looked at what they faced and said, “We had hoped.” Instead, they stepped out bravely in faith. And in God’s divine time, all of it happened right now.

And a right now resurrection includes, surrounds, and compels us to be people we never dreamed we could be, to do good that never previously occurred to us, to be present to one another, showing up, in ways new and old, but with timing that is always now.

We are God’s people by God’s call, God’s faithfulness, and God’s use of us in the world. We are resurrection people- serving a God who renews, restores, and reforms life and lives through grace upon grace. We are Easter people.

And because of God’s divine plan of time, Easter is always now. Jesus breathes again, in us, now. The earth is relieved, now. Our alleluias ring out now. We respond to grace now.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. He is with us, between us, in the breaking of the bread, out in the world forever, but also and always right now.

Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Credo

I've recently been working with confirmands on the Apostle's Creed. The culmination of our learning
was to write a statement of faith of our own. I was asked, of course, about how long it needed to be. I replied that it didn't matter how long it was, so much as that it covered the person's understanding of God. I said it could be a haiku, for that matter, as long as it did the job.

Thus, I challenged myself to write my own faith statement in 17 syllables.

Here it is:

Source of all being
Bringing forth life in season
Theopneustos: all grace. 

Theopneustos= God-breathed.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Inspired by the Breath of God

Dear Pastor-

At our next Bible study, could you say a little something about your understanding of "God-breathed" and the relationship of that phrase to scripture?

- Inquiring Minds Want to Know


Dear IMWTK-

Firstly, it's unlikely that I'll ever say a "little" something regarding anything related to the Bible, but I will try to contain myself.

When I look to the word theopneustos, I find the word and the concept awe-inspiring. Theo for God and pneustos for breathed means a vision of how God moves and exists that includes bringing creation into existence. Theopneustos makes me think of the Spirit, as the Breath of God, moving over the void at the beginning of all things. Out of disorder and emptiness, creation was birthed and shaped. God's whole self poured out in breath (Spirit) and then in Word ("Let there be..."). Thus, the reality of theopneustos has existed since before any human was present to interpret it.

That being said, what does it mean for Breath and Word to come to a prophet (or an apostle)? In Geraldine Brooks's The Secret Chord, the prophet Nathan experiences near blackout states when he is called upon to speak to David. His body and his speech are overtaken and his voice becomes not his own. In this depiction, his prophecies are clearly God-breathed. Given some of the things that Nathan is called upon to address with David, surely the strength and the words needed to come from outside himself. Did they always? I don't know.

In writing for preaching, I sometimes have a strong bodily awareness of what I meant to say. I describe it as a piercing of my heart. I have a sense of what is meant to be said and, in the best times, the words come in close connection to the piercing. Sometimes the idea comes, but I have to wait for the words. When I have to deliver a sermon that has come in this way, I tremble before delivery because I know the concept is not mine. I don't want to mess up or try to take credit for what God is trying to do or what I have perceived that God is trying to do.

In these two examples, Nathan and me (never heretofore mentioned in the same sentence), God is delivering a word. There is a revelation of what the Spirit wants to be communicated and it is in keeping with who Jesus is and God's on-going self-revelation. Nothing a prophet or preacher is called to say, if it is truly of God, will contradict the nature of God- even the most intense and life-changing revelation.

That being said, neither Nathan nor I can testify to something we are unable to perceive. So, it is true that God inspires and gives revelation, but said revelation and inspiration, in my opinion, is likely only half-steps ahead of where we are as people. Thus, it seems unlikely that Nathan would have received inspiration for where the capital of England should be or that I will receive inspiration for how to terraform Saturn. Those are not revelations that are meaningful or relevant to the situations to which we have been called.

When scribes were writing Judges or Paul was writing to the Philippians or Revelation was being written for the encouragement of the early church, it does seem likely that theopneustos was at work. God breathed words and guidance for the authors to offer to their audiences. While it is with God's nature to know how long Paul's letters would last, it was not within Paul's capabilities to write for the ages. So God gave him words that were true for the time being and would be useful, alongside the Holy Spirit, for generations to come.

Of course, when we think of scripture, we think of the editors, the redactors, the translators, the scribes, and the church fathers and mothers who prayed about what to keep in the canon and what to reject. While the Spirit certainly guided all this work, human fallibility is unavoidable. In the best of circumstances, small unintended mistakes were made. In the worst of circumstances, intentional errors were made or kept for the purposes of preserving this or that human understanding or institution.

Therefore, in its initial imprint, the scripture was breathed by God for teaching, admonition, correction, and training in righteousness all toward the end of instructing us toward understanding salvation and living lives which demonstrate that we belong to God (2 Timothy 3:16).

Since that initial writing or prophesying, however, many people have entered the process. Most people have had good intentions toward sharing the word of God, but others have been less pure in heart. It is true that God is still speaking. The Word has not retired nor has the Spirit stopped moving. We are led constantly into relationship with the written word for the purposes of teaching, admonition, etc. to the same ends as those who receive guidance from the author of 2 Timothy. We use the Bible as a tool to understand God, to know God's history, and to be pointed to where and how God is still at work in the world and leading the faithful to participation in that work.

In my opinion, when and where it is argued that the written word is infallible, such arguments attempt to steal the air out of theopneustos. The written word can be inspired, useful, important, and necessary, but it is not and never will be God. Furthermore, God is bigger than our translation mistakes, printing errors, and personal whims tied to time and place. God's desires for creation are truth and the truth will out. And it will set us free. Theopneustos cannot be contained.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Job 13, RJV (Reblog)

Originally written for revgalblogpals.org and posted on 3/22/19. 


Job 13, Revised Julia Version 

Look, I have heard everything you are telling me, “friends”,
And your words aren’t new to me.

I have the same information that you do;
And, frankly, you’re not offering different or better interpretation.

I want to speak directly to the Almighty and take up this injustice in that conversation. 

Y’all… you are looking at my situation and
Basically talking out of your rear ends. You’ve got nothing.

If you were just quiet, just grieved with me, that would actually a true help,
Not whatever it is you’re doing now.

Listen real carefully to me now:
Is it better to be quiet or
To speak about God and turn out to have lied?

Unless you are defending the Divine by speaking about Holy Prerogative
And Holy Mystery and our own smallness and trust in Holy Grace, it is better to hush up.

Do you think God is going to own everything you’ve decided is true about the Holy,
When you try to make the Divine in your own image?

God is going to correct you, quite sharply,
If you continue to speak for the Divine without waiting for the Spirit and just relying on your own understanding.

Aren’t you a little scared of that? Doesn’t God’s awe-fullness cause you to quake?

Your quick words of “comfort” are trash.
Your false piety is fit for the compost pile.

If anyone is to confront God and speak directly,
Let it be the one who has actually suffered.

In this case, that’s me. I’ll speak directly to God,
What more can go wrong than already has?
I want answers and I will demand them, but not from you.

And, look, if God decides to kill me for my impertinence, so be it.
I still have greater faith in God’s way than in the quick falseness of people.

God knows my heart, seeing beyond my grief,
To the trust I have that the Eternal One works justice.

So, listen to me, “friends”,
I know what I am doing, even in the midst of my life chaos.

I’ve thought about what I will say to God,
And that’s between God and me.

There is no one who is truly going to intercede for me from you lot,
That’s what I’ve learned from your platitudes and cross-stitched maxims.


Holy One, I am coming to you directly and I am asking for two things,
And I’m going to do my best to stand strong in the face of your answers.

Pull back, God, from whatever it is that you are causing to happen to me,
It is too much for me to bear and I am growing fearful of you in a way that does not and will not produce love.

Then, O God, then I humbly ask you to reveal yourself to me,
And, admittedly terrified, I will open my eyes to see what you show.

Or, conversely, hear me out and then provide clear answers to me in a way I can comprehend.
It’s your choice, O God. It always is.

I don’t think I’ve been perfect, but I have been doing my best.
Since perfection hasn’t been possible, can you just show me where I’ve screwed up?
I hope it’s not a long list, but it may well be.
What I cannot handle is your silence.
I thought we were in a relationship and now it feels as though I have been Divinely ghosted.
And I do not mean Holy Ghost. I mean, where have you gone?!?
I’m already struggling, God, and you can see how my “friends” are “helping”.
Are you going to pile on by denying me tangible signs of your presence?

Because that feels harsh. If I’ve earned this kind of punishment, so be it,
But please tell me. Right now, I’m racking my brain and coming up empty.

I feel hobbled in my vocations, in my prayers, in my efforts to just live.
I worry about additional spiritual ambushes.
It’s hard to walk faithfully in this situation.
I know that “may the Lord bless and keep” means that
It is entirely possible that the Lord may not.

But right now, I feel like I am wilting produce in your holy fridge,
And that’s a waste for both of us.

Here my prayer, O God,
And in your mercy, answer me.

Amen.