Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Morning Prayer

A morning prayer ...

'Tis a big world you've managed, O God ... though I suppose, when measured by the eons, the planets and the stars, then maybe not so big after all.

But it's big to me.
Really big ... people and cultures and mountains and valleys and noises and nonsense, the African Veldt and the Black Sea, the remnants of war half buried in the fields of France, blue skies and magnificent men in their flying machines ... the Great Lakes and Mt. Rushmore ... and vast oceans and coral mountains.

And our stuff ... tons of it ... miles of it ... mingled in and mangled in ... wedged here and there, pushing and shoving, shouting and screaming ... a bloody mess at times ... 

And our hopes, too, O LORD ... the heft of a good book and a cup of coffee ... the pleasure of a snuggled sheet curled around my neck, as I lay me down to sleep and pray ... something on TV to pass the time, or engage me ... yes, I know ... the middle class things that we dangle around ourselves to hush the fears of the soul, and so many envy us for the dangling in front of them, while they trudge dusty miles for a bucket of water and bag of rice.

What a world we've created in the midst of the world you've created.

I know, dear God, that you were pleased with what you did ... are you pleased with what we've done?

Some of it?
Sure ... I'm sure.
All of it?
No way.

So, help us, O LORD, to be the creators you intended, the caretakers of earth and wind ... to till the earth and grow tall corn and bright flowing wheat to feed both beast and man ... and man, and man, and man again ... and woman, and woman, and woman, again ... and child and child and child again ... in the millions of lists of endless begats ... how much we consume, O LORD; we take, and then take again and take some more, or so it seems to me.

Forgive us?
I suppose you have to ... the alternative is darker than the present arrangement ... even for you, I'm sure.
So, in this world, so tiny to the universe, so big for me, I say Thanks ... and pray for all the good you can give to me and to mine, that we can be mindful of what counts, and then give ourselves to it, with all our might and main ... 

And to you I belong.

I've said that a millions times over the years, dear God ... well, maybe not a million times, but often, in the worst of it, and in the best of it ... because I don't cherish the idea of belonging only to myself, or to anything else, for that matter.

Though I'm more than pleased to belong to some folks who love me dearly ... and I them ... we belong to one another, for sure, and if that's all there were, I'd be satisfied, sort of ... because it's not very long ... I think love is eternal, love needs a little more time to flourish, to grow and move and have some being, more than the span of my time, maybe even all time ... 

I don't know ... is that selfish?
I suppose some of it is.

Yet, I hope we all belong to you, and that in the end, whatever that means, we'll be there, with you, as Jesus said, and he with us ... on a summer Sunday afternoon picnic, in the sun and warm tree shadows, with children playing and the sound of horseshoes and women and men laughing ... a bowl of potato salad and a glass of cold beer.

'Tis a big world, O God ... and small, too ... small enough for me, and big enough for you. Amen!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Morning Meditation - Jeremiah 5, the Poor and the Rich

The Lord has a complaint against the people: They have refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock.
They have refused to turn back.

In defense, Jeremiah says:
These are only the poor, they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.

Let me go to the rich, says Jeremiah.
And speak truth to them.
Surely they know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.

But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.

Jeremiah seeks to defend the hard-hearted and the obtuse by
suggesting to God that they are disadvantaged, they're the poor; they simply haven't the wherewithal to make sound judgments.

Well, for what it's worth, hats off to Jeremiah for trying to find some defense of the people in their social and economic status. In other words, they're disadvantaged.

So, don't blame them, O LORD. Give them a break.

I'll go to the rich instead, says Jeremiah, who have all the advantages of life: status and schooling, learning and leisure, the wherewithal to know what the truth would be and your ways, O God. Surely, they'll know. The burden belongs to them, to those with much advantage in the race of life. Those to whom much is given, much is expected.

But, alas alack. It is not the case, as Jeremiah finds.

The rich, who ought to know to better, don't. They have broken the laws of life and love; they, too, have hardened their hearts against the will of God.

Those who should know better, don't.

And along with the poor, whom the rich have manipulated, the whole of the nation turns from God and, in willfulness and desire, seeks its own way.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Center-Point

The Center-Point of a life well lived, a life willing to be engaged, to offer itself up, to expend its best as best it can, for the exulted vision of God's World, the Kingdom of God, if you will, where swords are beaten into plowshares and everyone has their own fig tree ... where all are welcome, all find healing, all find their rightful place upon God's earth.

Powerful images that lure me on, that keep me going, that prevent the sorrows of the day from draining my soul of purpose and peace. And lest anyone get the wrong idea, personal sacrifice and engagement will, indeed, drain away purpose and peace, leaving the soul bereft and the body tired. As it should be.

But it's a state of being that cannot long be sustained - out little cup of courage is just that, a little cup, and though some have a cup a bit larger than others, or at least drink of its courage a bit more slowly, sometimes the cup is drained quickly, and we drink in huge gulps, and sometimes the cup is shattered.

As it should be, for anyone who hears the call of God to give, and to keep on giving.

But also the call of God, to come apart for prayer and healing, to seek moments of peace and quiet, away from the maddening crowd, to take a breath, catch a few winks, sing some songs, laugh with fellow-travelers, tell some rowdy jokes, recalibrate one's inner compass and wash the loin cloth for another day of girding.

This morning, from the Lectionary, Psalm 27.4 - "One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple."

To ask and seek.
To live and to behold.
To inquire.

In the swirl of madness that has come to my land, in the midst of the unholy trinity of Lies, Greed and Cruelty, I find in Scripture surcease, a place to find my bearings and regain my balance.

Never an escape from reality, but a pause, the pause that refreshes, renews and restores.

Jesus going off to pray.
Elijah in the cave.
Moses on the Mountain.

May all of us have such a center-point, a place of retreat and refreshment ... to see beauty ... and to ask the deepest questions of life, to inquire as to purpose, and along the way, discover that we're never quite alone, but always belong, not only to God, but to one another, as well.

The house of the LORD is never a vacant place, but teems with people and spirits of good will and love and courage.

The center-point.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Psalm 43


So was the writer who crafted Psalm 43.

She turned to God for light and truth, and hope, in the midst of her depression ...

But she's an honest writers, and begins downcast, and ends much the same, with a reminder to herself, like string tied on a finger, "Hope in God."

Call it sadness, call it gloom, call it doom ... there are times when life and history and circumstance move in these circles, and all is lost. It just doesn't SEEM lost; it IS lost.

And the appropriate response?

Sorrow. Despair. Depression. Grief.

Nothing wrong with any of this. These are not clinical issues that need medication or therapy - no, they are a legitimate response to the realities of life.

I'm grateful for these "darker" kinds of Psalms, their heart-wrenching honesty, their willingness to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, to linger in the hard places, not with gladness, or some kind of feigned happiness, but with a determination to be where life has to be sometimes, with the assurance, perhaps weak and frail as such assurance might be at times, that the LORD is there, too ... walking, crawling, or just standing at our side ... going nowhere, or somewhere, very slowly.

These days, I'm sad ... not for anything personal, or beyond the usual concerns and frets of life and family.

No, I'm sad for my nation, for millions who are being shafted by the brutal powers of greed and a lot of shitty thinking on the part of a lot of christians who are more interested in lauding Pilate than in honoring Christ.

Is that a fair thing to say?

Who knows, but it's how I see it.

And it wouldn't be the first time christians have choose Pilate over Christ. Not the first time, and not likely the last time, either.

So, I'm sad.



And I turn to God ... not expecting miracles, or some kind of dramatic deliverance, but maybe, like the Psalmist, hoping for some light and truth to lead the way.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Living Where I Do

Living where I do.
I hear languages.
I see faces.
Cultures and worlds.

A mix of this and that.
Colors and colorful.
Not like me.

Just like me.
Wanting love.

Loving their children.
Wondering how to pay the bills.
Just like me.

Not like me.
Foods flavored and scented.
Tastes new for me.
Tastes good, most of it.

Trying to saying a name.
My mouth doesn't work too well.
They laugh at me.
Appreciate my effort.

Good people.
Lots of them.
Millions of them.
Billions, even.

And fear says, "Watch out."
That one over there.
Not to be trusted.
Which may be true.

But to turn the world upside down.
Because of some.
And deny everyone else.
Is the height of great evil.

The height of a wall.
The height of xenophobia.
The height of ignorance.
The height of lies.

I refuse to do that.
I'll take my chances.
To see people.
Just like me.

And not like me.
Because we're all different.
As it should be.
As it must be.

And we're all the same.
When the lights go out.
When the day is done.
When we lay down to sleep.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the LORD my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake.
I pray the LORD my soul to take.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Failed Christianity.

Christianity is very large tent of ideas, but it's not unlimited.

There are boundaries, foundations, core ideas, values, that define the faith and keep it centered in Christ, his life and his teachings, and the central ideas of going to Jerusalem, and there confronting both religious and secular powers, dying there at their hands, and then the resurrection, the ascension and the promise of a return when time has run its course, as determined by God, the LORD of history.

With that, I have spent a good deal of my life trying to be a Christian, and I think it means basing my life on the essentials, noted in the preceding paragraph.

Having gone to a Calvinist based Christian High School, then to Calvin College, and then to Western Theological Seminary, all in Western Michigan, before much of the Reformed Church in that area was deformed by evangelicalism, Moody Bible Institute, Jerry Falwell and "inspirational TV" and its shallow praise music, which slowly but inexorably turned covenant-oriented churches into conversion-oriented churches, and shifted the focus from God to self, from humility to pride, now with a curious fixation on wealth and power and the condemnation of the poor for their moral failures and defective judgment. A Christianity that loves its walls and fears the bridges.

With that, I simply say: this is a failed Christianity.

Now, immediately, some will jump in and say, "You're judging."

My response: "Damn right I am."

And I stand with the likes of Jeremiah, Jesus himself, the Apostle Paul, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Bonhoeffer and Barth, Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just a few luminaries who have consistently inspired me to think biblically, critically, carefully and to make judgments.

And I'm not without some credentials ... yes, yes, yes, I know that's the first refuge of the arrogant (look at all the medals on my chest) and all of that, but Jesus made it clear that he had his credentials, Paul had his, and so did Luther and Calvin (both well-credentialed).

Anyway, the point is this: large segments of American Christianity is a failed Christianity, with
1) it's baptism of wealth and power,
2) it's readiness to identify with Trump's condemnation of others,
3) his bluster and buffoonery,
4) his windbaggery and wantonness,
5) his wall-fixation and wild lies.

It's the "other gospel" that Paul addresses ... it's the anabaptist movement of self which Calvin condemns, it's the lack of justice so clearly identified by King ... they all looked at various versions of the faith, and while making room for variants, they also said "No!" to other versions.

Part of this was prompted by someone talking about the "legal" and "the illegal" immigrant, to which I replied: these kinds of distinctions have no legitimacy in Christianity, smacking more of the Jew/Samaritan distinction which Jesus patently ignored. Jesus was clearly someone who paid no attention to boundaries and social rules about children and women, gentiles and Samaritans.

To deal with people by legal or illegal distinctions, and yet claim to be Christian, reveals what I determine to be, "a failed Christianity."

So, for me, I'd rather stand with Jeremiah rather than with the false prophets of king and cult who preached peace when there was none. I'd rather stand with Paul and not those who preached the gospel and grew rich because of it. I'll stand with Calvin and his covenant theology rather than the Anabaptists and their focus on conversion and its clever back-patting. I'll walk with King along the road of Justice worked out on the Edmund Pettus Bridge rather than those who wanted the church to only preach "spiritual values" even as the church ignored the sins of racism, promoted school segregation, with private schools, and maintained voter suppression, "through law."

That's how I see it.

And I have a lot of weight behind that judgment, and for that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Do Not Understand

We all decry the plight of the Refugee ...
Some welcome her with hope and relief.
Others fear him and turn them away.
And some who turn them away,
Do it in Jesus' name.
That I do not understand.

I understand fear.
But those who profess Jesus' name.
Surely know that love casts out fear.
I John 4.18 among others.
Not that fear ever vanishes.
But that love is greater.
And love determines the ethic.
The ethic of welcome and relief.