Category: Spirituality

The Weirdest of Animals

Human beings are by far the weirdest of all God’s creatures. I say this with all due respect to the wild and extravagant diversity of the animal kingdom, much of which, regrettably, I remain woefully ignorant. The species of our world are truly bewildering both in number and variety, and their capacity to astonish and confound seems virtually limitless. But we are by far the strangest of the bunch.
Today’s evidence for human weirdness comes via an article in the National Post called “Is microdosing LSD a solution to the ‘crisis of meaning’ in modern life?” One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a headline. The image of people plodding off into carefully calibrated LSD trips to take the edge off their lack of meaning seems somehow comical to me, one level. But of course, it’s also alarmingly sad. This is what we’ve come to as a species? No more heroic existential quests or deep convictions arrived at via ecstasy and suffering, no more mining the deep shafts of historical wisdom, no more denial of self as a route to divine encounter for us. We’ll microdose our way to “mental health,” thanks very much. According to one of the Canadian researchers quoted in the article, microdosing “has become like a new religion—one based not on a god but on a desire for self-enhancement.” Well, yes, I suppose they’ve at least got the terminology mostly right. A religious quest, this certainly is.
This is not the first I’ve heard of this potential “solution” to the crisis of meaning in modern life. Johann Hari brings it up as a possibility in his otherwise excellent and timely diagnostic of our cultural moment, Lost Connections. At the time I sort of laughed it off as a kind of fringe notion, not to be taken seriously by, well, serious people. Evidently, I overestimated our species (something I am rarely accused of). Research dollars are being invested, GoFundMe pages are being dutifully set up (a $100 donation gets you a snappy “Psychedelic Scientist” T-shirt!). Scientists are hard at work. We will soon be furnished with the evidence required to answer the question of whether or not microdosing on LSD is the, ahem, solution to our crisis of meaning.
But as weird as all this is (or seems to me, at any rate), it’s not really the weirdness I’m thinking of today. Weirder than microdosing our way to meaning is the reality that lies behind this religious quest. What’s weirdest about human beings is that we need meaning at all, that the absence of meaning is deemed a “crisis” requiring a “solution” in the first place. What’s weird is that we can’t seem to do without meaning. What’s weird is that we don’t seem to notice how weird this is.
If, as the popular story goes, the march of history is that of a gradual and inevitable unshackling of humanity from the illusions that have long plagued and divided us, a slow but necessary realization that we’re not really so special, that we’re really no more than matter in motion on a chunk of rock hurtling purposelessly toward cosmic extinction, that the gods, myths, and morals that we’ve invented to motivate, pacify and placate ourselves with over the years are just so many fairy tales, then why not just shrug our shoulders and get on with the futility? Why not, like all the other animals, just kind of eat, sleep and breed our way into meaningless oblivion?
But we can’t do this. And we don’t. We’re too weird for that, evidently.
And so we continue to pant after meaning in our various ways, whether it’s religion or politics or clinging faithfully to narratives of progressivism or conservatism or hedonism or “spirituality” or enlightenment or secularism or environmentalism or nihilism or any of the other narratives about who’s good and who’s bad and why the world is the way it is and what to do about it that we adopt to give our lives purpose. Or terrifyingly, some of the more extreme and violent ideologies that inevitably rush in to fill a vacuum of meaning.
(Not all “meanings” are created equal, of course, much as we might like to pretend this is the case, much as we might long to flatter ourselves with our tolerance for diversity. Some meanings correspond with the good, the true, and the beautiful better than others. Truths this obvious should not need to be stated, but they probably do. The suicide bomber and the Sri Lankan Christian celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday were both acting consistently within the narratives of meaning they have embraced. Same goes for the worshippers in the Christchurch mosques and their murderer. The truth of the matter still, inconveniently, matters.)
We are human beings and we will have our meaning. It seems, however, that we are rapidly running out of intellectual and spiritual resources to ask good questions about meaning in general (Why do we need it? What might this suggest about our species?) or to evaluate the merits of the various narratives of meaning out there (“whatever floats your boat” seems good enough, most of the time… until Christchurch, Sri Lanka, etc… or until your narrative of meaning is threatened in less devastating ways by bad and stupid people who don’t share it). The question of what, if anything, might be true when it comes the meaning we seek seems well and truly beyond us. We’ll have a little LSD to take the edge off reality instead.
We’re not nearly curious enough about ourselves or about the meaning we can’t live without.

Syndicated from Rumblings

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Holy Week – Easter Sunday: Gospel and Psalm Passages – Now the story is ours to continue

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:1 – 3)
Funeral practices vary from culture to culture, generation to generation, era to era – well, you get the picture. Ordinarily the body would have been prepared before burial, but time grew short before the Sabbath and expediency ruled. Now they had time, and wanted to prepare Jesus’ body properly. But as Jesus tried to tell them, he was bringing changes.
“While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (Verses 4 – 9)
Other than some brief appearances and final words, really, Jesus’ time on the earth was over. All that reminded was to prepare and commission the disciples and Jesus’ followers.
“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” (Verses 10 – 12)
Not that it was a simple task to prepare them and raise them up as apostles and missionaries for the Word of God. The work ahead was more of that of the Spirit than the flesh and blood man that Jesus had been.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18 )
The books of the bible that follow the gospels tell of what happened after Jesus returned to the Divine. The letters that the apostles wrote and the accounts of faith and works that they record have been a guide to believers for, well, countless generations. The lessons were learn from those letters we apply to our lives in the best way we can. Not necessarily the most effective and correct ways, but the best we can. I become more and more aware of that as the years go by.
Preacher: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
Seeker: “Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:1 – 2)
From the first books of the bible where the story of creation is given, through the calling of the first people of the Divine and their “wandering” story, to the formation of the Hebrews/Israelites/Judahites/Jews, and then to the prophets of the Lord God – there are lessons to be learned from the accounts and chronicles there. We take from them what our own intellect tells us and what the Divine inspires us to.
Preacher: “The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
Seeker: “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly; the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
Preacher: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.”
Seeker: “The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.” (Verses 14 – 18)
The New Testament turns a corner and what was guessed it is more clearly explained to the reader. But still it with the hands, pen, and understanding of humanity that it is told. The Spirit inspires, but we discern. Do we discern correctly? Oh beloved reader, I have asked that a thousand times. Have we and do we discern correctly?
Preacher: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
Seeker: “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.”
Preacher: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
Seeker & Preacher: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Verses 19 – 24)
When I was a youngster things were clear and absolute. As I grew to adulthood I became less sure, but more determined to discern and discover. I am still discerning and discovering. Easter Sunday, however, is one of the times when things are the most clear. Jesus has risen! And reigns for ever more! What we do with that news . . . . is up to us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Holy Week – Tuesday: The (brief) Epistle Passage and the Gospel Passage– Continuing to look at the story in a different way

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
As I read the Epistle passage for the second day of Holy Week, I thought again of my former college bible professor’s statement about salvation not being a direct result of believing in the Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I am still pondering that one in my mind. I am only noting the one verse from the Epistle passage for that reason. And I am not particularly drawn to the Old Testament passage either, much as I enjoyed the book of Isaiah. That leaves me with the Gospel passage. And Psalm passage.
“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:20 – 26)
We know that Jesus is determined to head for Jerusalem. And we know that Jesus is aware that the Jewish officials (at least a large enough balance of them that Jesus was find great resistance) are determined to end his ministry and do not care how it is accomplished. In other words, Jesus knows his life is in danger.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (Verses 27)
But what hour is it that Jesus needs to be saved from? The result of his disputes with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes? Or the need for him to die in order to complete is ministry? I had quandaries like this in my earlier years – the whole issue of atonement, redemption, and salvation – and how it is to be accomplished. Blosser says that the gospels do not make the type of causal connection between Jesus’ death and salvation that some of the epistles may allude to.
“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” (Verses 28 – 34)
I want to assure you, beloved reader, that my pondering is only a theological exercise – a new way of reading and interpreting scripture. This is not a matter of me questioning my faith. And I am pretty sure that Blosser’s comments are from a theological perspective and not a rejection of Christ’s ministry and example. Theological inquiry can exist along side authentic faith.
“The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” (Verses 35 – 36)
It would be easier if the Gospel passage was not from John. The Gospel of John presents Jesus as a spiritual mystic feature – Spirit given fleshly form. And this fleshly form must fall away for the true intent and purpose of Jesus’ life to be fulfilled. So I have to wonder how this into the Blosser’s discussion? I knew when I read the article that Blosser wrote that I might discover for myself some rubbing and sticking points with Paul’s letters. Especially within the story of Holy Week and Easter. I could have just set the article and my thinking aside. But something compelled me to pursue it.
There are nuances and delicate theologies that are distinct from the mainstream idea of resurrection equating salvation – I would like to take the time to look at them. Committing to the Christian life despite threats to one’s personal safety. It could be said that Jesus modeled this. That someone was willing to die rather than renounce their faith is an attribute of Christianity that is well known. But that attribute can be seen in other faith traditions. Christ’s glory was established before he died and rose again. He rose not because it was the only delivery route to salvation but because the Spirit was eternal. Walking in the light is another way of talking about living an authentic Christian life. And being children of the light is another way of saying children of God. Finally, being honored by God is just (or maybe even more so) as valuable as salvation. In fact, leading a life that gains one honor according to God’s judgment is a large component of Jesus’ teachings.
Oh beloved reader! I feel like I am trying to navigate some slippy slopes. But one of the things I have learned over the years is that the story of Jesus Christ and the Divine is large enough and diverse enough that everyone can find a home and a niche. Another thing I have learned is that it is not just one believer or one faith tradition that has the monopoly on truth and God-centered living; it is all of humanity coming together as a corporate body that reflects the fullest truth of the Divine. And that through conversation and caring dialogue that we can best understand it. Let us keep that in mind as we continue through Holy Week. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Holy Week – Monday: The Old Testament, Epistle, & Psalm Passage – Looking at the story in a different way

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, preparing him as he said for the day of his burial. The Gospel story says it is six days before Passover – I am not sure that is directly parrallel to the first day of Holy Week. However, I have not included the Gospel passage here, so I wanted to orient you to that.
As you may well know, it is my contention that the Old Testament passages had existence and meaning before they were attributed to Jesus and the story of his presence on earth. But as you also know, during the high seasons of the church I see the wisdom of using these passages to inform our understanding,
“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Verses 5 – 7)
When a person is called by the Divine and answers that call with affirmation, diligence, commitment and authenticity it calls them to a greater plane and a higher status. The prophets of the Old Testament were such people. But by the time the Israelites/Jews had come under the authority of the Romans such prophets were hard to find and did not come along very often. So when Jesus came along, he was a reminder of the prophets from the past. It is no wonder he reminded his disciples of them. He was like a prophet, and welcomed as one – but he was more than that. And that “more-ness” imbued the passages that described the prophets of old with an even higher status and moved the writings of those prophets to prophecy for the one who did come – or would come, when you retroactively apply the passages.
“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 8 – 9)
If biblical commentators seem to retroactively apply passages to Jesus, it started a long time ago, by a man named Paul.
“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” ( Hebrews 9:11 – 14)
I read an interesting comment from a former biblical professor from my college years; he said, “If Jesus is saying killing an animal is not God’s way of achieving reconciliation, how can we justify the belief that God violated God’s own declarations by offering a human sacrifice in order to forgive us?” The Old Testament prophets wrote strongly that sacrifice was not to be the “agent of reconciliation” but “a celebration once the restoration had been experienced.” He also notes that by the time of Paul (the first century) sacrifice was the official method to restore one’s relationship to the Divine. (“Let’s let Jesus speak for himself”. The Mennonite April 2019, Vol 22, No. 4 pg. 32)
“For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (Verses 15)
For me, reading this on the cusp of writing about Holy Week calls into question a lot of the assumptions concerning salvation as a result of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Blosser (that is my former biblical professor) says that the important action for salvation is believe and obedience to Christ and his teachings. It was because of his teachings, beloved reader, that I came to see Paul in a different light than when I was a young child. Granted, as I matured I realized that Paul was a product of his time, and for his time he was revolutionary bringing a completely new type of message of belief in the Divine. I suspect it was also the influence of Blosser’s teachings (as I think on this) that lead me to have strong feelings about respecting the context in which the Old Testament prophets and writers wrote. Read the Psalms passage, keeping in mind the exhortation to hold to the teachings of the Divine.
“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Psalm 36:5-11)
Adherence to the statutes of the Lord God is what is required. Celebrating the love that the Lord God has bestowed on us, and modeling that love by caring about and for others. As we move through Holy Week I want to be aware of these ideas and perspectives that speak to a different of considering the story of Easter. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Old Testament & Psalm Passage – Good Things Now & In the Future

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)
The ironic thing is, beloved reader, I am at times the teacher and the weary – I sustain myself. I will not lay out for you all the details. At night I write on these passages using my background, experience, and training. And in the morning when a new day faces me that appears to have the same challenges as the day before, I am fortified and prepared by the experience of the night before.
“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verses 5 – 6)
There is no striking, pulling, insulting or spitting – praise be to the Lord God the Divine! But some days are long and laborious. And I struggle. Each day I enter into the fray again. Mostly willingly!
“The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 7 – 9a)
Each and every day that I have felt buffeted by fate and misfortune is a day I have survived. Not by my own strength and might. The Lord God has pulled me through and the Divine has kept me upright. I give praise that I have made it through each day, and I pray that I might make it through the day to come.
“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-2)
And let Carole say it also!
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Verses 19 – 21)
It is not just the salvation, beloved reader, that comes as we exit this world and enter the world to come. Neither is it just the forgiveness of sin that is salvation. Salvation also comes as relief and rest when one is weary. Salvation is a temporary respite from the trials and challenges in this life. Salvation is being picked up and dusted off by the Divine. Fortified and nurtured for the things to come by the Lord God who knew what it was like to battle in this world.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verses 22 – 25)
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey it was a “soft entry”. Being saved does not mean escaping reality. Success does not mean victory as this world understands it. Salvation and success really translate to endurance and stamina. Not letting this world convert and corrupt us, leading us from authentic Christian life.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 26 – 29)
Consider, beloved reader, that this psalm passage was written far before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. (No, I am not going to take issue with its re-appropriation.) The writer of this psalm passage already saw the Divine as Presence that was worthy of praise and adulation. Already known as a loving Presence – even before Jesus Christ came as an example/exemplar of the Divine’s love. Already known as a Divine who will not end. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that It is already a Presence in your life! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Looking forward to the “new shiny” life

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)
The week in which I wrote on the fifth Sunday of Lent was a tough week; tough at work and busy at home with new challenges and issues arising each day. I am not afraid to admit most nights I went to bed exhausted and tearful. But I got through it. The roughest day was Friday, which is supposed to be a “thank goodness it is Friday” day. Not so much for me. But I take hope that next week will be better. And that the struggles of this week are resolved. I had to make some decisions that I am hoping I will not regret.
“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Verse 2)
What helped me greatly in getting through the week was writing on the scripture passages. It usually does. Not only do I submerge myself in scripture, but it reminds me that I am not going through this alone. That what ever else may happen, my soul and spirit are safe in the Lord’s keeping.
“The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” (Verses 3 – 4)
I was very glad to get to Friday night, and to have the weekend to decompress and relax. To restore myself and spend down time with family. To remind myself why I “battle” the outside world day. And to spend time in prayer and reflection.
“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 5 – 6)
I know that I am fortunate that the problems I have, although great to me, are actually small and manageable in comparison to others. I do not claim that I am ill used and oppressed. I have food and shelter – the basics of life. And I have friends and family that surround me and support me. But most importantly, I have hope for the world to come. It seems that “world to come” seems so far off. Back in the days when “End Times” were topics talked about and written about in popular and social media – it was easy to believe they were just around the corner. But with bad times evolving into worst times in our global community it seems like global relief is so far away. The “new shiny” life twinkles like a distant star, and the cloud of our “now” obscures its light so that we forget it is there waiting for us in the hand of the Divine. It is where my ultimate hope lies, and I pray it is the same for you beloved reader. Until that day, hold on to hope in the Divine and the strength of others. Selah!
 

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Looking at your present faith life – does it shine?

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.” (John 12:1 – 2)
We know that Martha was an accomplished hostess. Like many women of her time, she could bustle around a kitchen cooking, roasting, sauteing while making sure that every guest was comfortable and well looked after. Lazarus would have looked out for everyone’s needs, especially Jesus’ since it was due only to him that Lazarus was alive! Martha too would have put out her best spread for Jesus who raised up her brother, and most probably her future, from the dead. Then there was Mary. Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and let his words and teachings soak into her being.
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (Verse 3)
I don’t know precisely about the customs of that time, but I suspect that most women who had reached womanhood kept their hair covered and contained. That she spun out her hair and performed such a menial tasks (washing of someone’s feet) with her “prized glory” (as a woman’s hair was often called) and expensive fragrance must have been a shock, and more, to some gathered there.
“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) “ (Verses 4 – 6)
What do you give to the Divine, beloved reader? Do you pour your all into service to the Lord God? Do you “overspend” in time and energy when you fulfill your calling? Do sent aside your dignity and commit your resources in service to others?
I want you to be aware, beloved reader, that nard is a thick and fragrant oil. Jesus’ feet would have smelled “heavenly” and would have been made soft and supple because of the oil. It would have also oiled Mary’s hair, and would have made it shine. Oily but shiny.
“Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Verses 7 – 8)
Jesus’ comment was to remind Lazarus that not everything needs to be parsed out carefully and not all resources should be measured out so that there is plenty left. But I want you, beloved reader, to understand the analogy/metaphor I am seeking to make. Mary could have played it safe and been simply a cook and hostess for her brother’s dinner guests. She could have sat in a corner and listened to Jesus more. But she decided to commit her self and what resources as a single woman that she had. No thought for herself or what others would say, she acted. And she shone!
May you, beloved reader, commit yourself, your resources and your gifts to honor our Lord God! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Looking backward and forward for your faith life – does it shine?

“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” ( Philippians 3:4b – 9)
Back in my youth, when gathering with others, people would ask who your parents and grandparents are/were. It was called “The Mennonite Game” and the purpose was to find out if you are related through cousins or marriage etc. Or whether the other person was related to someone you knew. It usually did not take going back too many generations to find a commonality. But to those new to the Mennonite/Anabaptist faith it was rather off-putting – as if your faith was not genuine unless you could trace it back to a common and/or well-known ancestor or spiritual fore-bearer.
Paul is saying quite clearly that such faith background and lineage counts as nothing. It is not who you are related to, who you know, or even what faith tradition you spring from. It is what you believe and how you live out that belief.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Verses 10 – 12)
If you think about it, the early Christians – who exemplified tremendous faith – did not have lineage or faith traditions to recommend them. They simply lived out their faith.
“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 13 – 14)
From an early age I recognized that it did not matter who my family was – that is, whether they were from a “strong” branch of Anabaptist faith or grafted on by conversion. I knew my faith and the strength of it was totally up to me. Indeed, discovering that my fore-bearers and spiritual fore-bearer were worthy of note came as a surprise to me. And upon learning that I considered that it only confirmed why it sought a relationship to the Divine – because those around me modeled it.
Now maybe that does gain me some “brownie” points by having such good examples of Christian living in the manner that Paul lists his “attributes” – but I do not claim those just as Paul does not. Generation after generation of people have been raised in “good” Christian homes (or other faith traditions) and that has never meant that faith beliefs (true authentic faith beliefs) were bestowed upon them like the family silverware. To play out that analogy, many, many people have the allowed the “faith life family silverware” to become tarnished and break. If you have ever seen old tarnished sterling silverware that has been neglected you will know what I mean.
Maybe the season of Lent could be seen as taking out that “tarnished” faith and cleaning it and polishing it so that it gleams and glows as it did when it was new. I like that analogy very much! So I will close with that! Shalom and selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Looking forward to the “new” thing

“Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.“ (Isaiah 43:16 – 18)
In a recent shipment from a large brand-name department store I received a gift card for a food delivery service. It is one of those services that delivers the recipe and all the ingredients needed to make a meal. I have avoided them because it is much more economical to shop for the ingredients myself and our family’s tastes are diverse enough that one meal/menu would not satisfy all. But I thought there was no harm in checking out the site and finding out just how much the gift card would take off the total price – it was not enough. But because I was required to give some contact information in order to get to the point where I could see the price, I am now getting emails “encouraging” me to continue my order. At this point the gift card is not NEAR enough for the hassle I am going to have. This is NOT a good “new” thing!
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Verse 19)
We so often think the “new” thing is going to be better. That is not always the case. Sometimes the “new” is just the “old” wrapped up in disguise. You may wonder beloved reader, as I sometimes do, how one can know when the new thing is a good thing. In our modern world sometimes you cannot. I honestly thought (okay, maybe hoped) this gift card would be a way to make my life easier. No luck there!
I am forced to conclude, once again, that the most trustworthy source for “new” is the Divine. It is ironic however that the “new” thing is first talked about in the Old Testament. And only takes on the identity of “new” when it is seen in the light of Jesus Christ. One can debate (but I will not) that the writer of Isaiah might not have intended the “new” to be Jesus Christ but a new understanding of the Divine in Old Testament times.
“The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Verses 20 – 21)
Consider the names. Old and New Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament because it is based on understandings and stories that we told and recalled before Jesus the Christ was sent. The “New” Testament is the four gospels and the letters that came out of people coming to a “new” understanding of the Divine as presented by Jesus Christ. We use and refer back to the Old Testament but we use the understandings of the New Testament to re-interpret what the Old Testament was saying. And it is that crux point that sometimes agitates my sensibilities. How can we remain faithful to the Old Testament if we infuse it with understandings brought to bear by the New Testament without know if the writers of the Old Testament were cognizant of what the New Testament was going to say?! (Okay, stepping down from the soap box.)
What I prefer is to have the Spirit discern and reveal “new” understandings and yet remain true to the intentions of the Old Testament writers. Maybe that is not possible. If as Isaiah says, we allow the “old” to remain in the past, then it is only the “new” as found in the New Testament that should be a determinant for our lives . (Feeling myself climb aboard the soap box again!)
The Holy Spirit that comes from the Divine is active in the world. And that Holy Spirit continually reveals new things. Do you perceive it beloved reader? What was the norm one hundred years ago is no longer so. What was the norm ten years ago is also past history. Each day we are presented with a new day, and a new opportunity to live accountable lives. Each day is our fresh chance to do better than before. And each season of the church year is a chance to learn new spiritual disciplines. Take advantage of the season of Lent – an old concept that can be made new . . . . if you allow the Spirit to guide you! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Psalm Passage – The psalmist is added to the story of the Prodigal Son

“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32: 1 – 2)
This psalm is not going the direction that you think it might be going – unless you are familiar with Psalm 32.
“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah” (Verses 3 – 4)
In a way I am glad it turned that corner. I am not in a place where a “praise, praise, praise” would be well received right now. But this I can dig into!
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.” (Verses 5 – 6)
These verses remind me of what I said yesterday – that for me coming to the Divine as the prodigal son returned to his father confessing his failings and sin is like a sigh of relief that I am “home.” Well, considering that this psalm was picked out to accompany the story of the prodigal son, it is no wonder if fits in well!
“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah” (Verse 7)
I do not think the prodigal son realized & understood what he father had done for him, sheltering him from the harsh realities of life and watching over him, guarding him, and guiding him. It is only when the prodigal son comes face to face with the larger world that he realizes that he was in a better place at home, and that he should return there.
“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” (Verses 8 – 9)
It is natural to wonder, beloved reader, who the “I” is here. It would be easy to assume it is the Divine speaking through the psalmist. But here I agree with the commentators that it is the psalmist asserting his experience and ability to teach, having been taught by the Divine. And keeping within the theme of the prodigal son, it could be said by extension that it could be the father in the story who is again given the opportunity to instruct his younger son, and to continue to teach his older son.
“Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart. “ (Verses 11- 12)
Was the younger son “wicked”? Was the older son “wicked”? Was the father a poor example of parentage by not reining in his younger son? Or for not showing his older son sooner how much he meant to him, his father? Beloved reader, I do not think any of them are. The father rejoiced that his lost son was found. The prodigal son rejoiced that he was welcomed back into his home. And I would hope, beloved reader, that the older son/brother did rejoice that his younger brother was safely home, and that his father did love him.
I said yesterday that the Pharisees and scribes had no corresponding role in this story. I am still not convinced that they do – but maybe they should. To return to their loving Father the Divine after “squandering” their learning and intellect on wayward and close-minded thinking. To continue to hold out hope that those who seem lost will find their way back home. And to realize that those who have been lost need to be welcomed by the “older” believers/siblings. But being who they are, I doubt they learned the lessons. But you, beloved reader and righteous ones, you can learn and mend your ways, and rejoice and shout for joy! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Playing your part in the Prodigal Son parable

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ (Luke 15:1 – 3)
Actually Jesus told two other parables, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, before this one. In a way those two parables the stage for this longer parable.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Verses 11b – 13)
I remember as a young child (at least I think this actually happened) seeing this parable acted out during a worship service. It was part of those times, the 1960’s and 70’s, when churches really made an effort to reach out to the very young and engage adults in worship services and evening services that appealed to all age groups and understandings. This type of presentation made the bible come alive and really set the stage for my later interest in ministry and making scripture accessible and understandable.
“When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.” (Verses 14 – 15)
As I read further in this story I do remember seeing this parable performed – maybe not as a child but certainly at an age in my life that it had impact.
“He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ (Verses 16 – 19)
It is at this point in the story that the value of seeing the parable performed becomes apparent – especially if the roles are well cast. If you can, beloved reader, image it in your mind an older man slightly bent from age seeing his young son come towards him – not arrogant as he was when he left, but thinner, and perhaps limping himself, with head bowed & tears in his eyes.
“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “ (Verses 20 – 21)
The young man is not deterred or mollified by his father’s affection. He wants to make clear to his father that he was in the wrong and does not expect the special attention and affection that he once had. This is important in this story. The young man knows his sin and confesses it freely to his father.
Henry Nouwen, a great writer and an even greater man, wrote about this parable and a picture that he saw that depicts this moment, Nouwen said he could see himself in all the roles that this parable has – the father who has lost someone dear to him, the young son who has made so many mistakes, and the older son who comes later in the story.
“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Verses 22 – 24)
Do you see, beloved reader, the importance of the proceeding parables? The emphasis on celebrating the finding of what was thought to be lost? But this parable takes another turn.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ “ (Verses 25 – 27)
I will confess, beloved reader, that sometimes I come before the Lord with the confess of my sinning because I want to feel the welcome that this prodigal son had. I do not sin because I wish to experience the forgiveness and welcome; I confess with out fear, however, because I know I will be welcomed back by the Lord God the Divine.
“Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ “ (Verses 27 – 30)
In the presentation of the parable that I watched as a mini play this part of the story was acted also. And again, if the roles were cast well you could well understand the anger of the older son. And his feeling that he never had is father’s affection as his younger brother did. As I think about it this section, it reminds me of that the other side of the story of Joseph might have been like, and where the anger that Joseph’s eleven older brothers might have had. One more thing – I always felt like my role would have been more of that of the older son/brother. Having never strayed as far as the younger did, I was more likely to have been the one who stayed around and acted the part of the loyal son.
“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'” (Verses 31 – 32)
Which part do you identify with the most beloved reader? The younger prodigal son who ventured out having cashed in on his father’s good will? The older son who was faithful but never felt appreciated or rewarded? Or the father who worried and wept over his sons, never sure if they understood his love and care for them?
It is interesting to note that none of these roles seemed to fit the Pharisees and scribes. Not the young son, for they would never have confessed doing any wrong. Not the older son because he never availed himself special treatment. And certainly not the loving father who welcomed the sinning son back as a favored son. No, the Pharisees and scribes were only bystanders and probably learned nothing from the story. But we, beloved reader, we can see ourselves in any of these roles; and each role has a lesson for us. May you, in the time that remains in the season of Lent, think upon this story and the lessons it has. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Ambassadors for a new life

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (II Corinthians 5:16 – 17)
One of the things that I was concerned about during my radiation treatment was that after it ended and I had recovered – something would have changed. Be it my taste buds, my skin’s appearance . . . . my life expectancy – something would have changed. And I kind of liked my life, skin and taste buds the way they were! My skin is healed, but it is subtly different. My taste buds are back, but slightly changed. And my life expectancy? Would know about that until early April. But during the treatment and the weeks afterwards, I did learn something new. I learned that I had resiliency that I did not know I had. And that the experience added new possibilities for helping others go through this potentially life altering change. It is not a new me, or even a better me. But a changed me.
The writer of II Corinthians, Paul, can get a little dramatic. And as he sees it the change from being a non-believer to a believer can be like turning 180 degrees – it was for him so why should it not be for others. Paul goes on to explain his reasoning.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Verses 18 – 21)
For Paul becoming a believer in Jesus Christ and a new view of the Lord God – he saw this change as radical because previously he thought believers in Jesus Christ were heretics and should be killed. From killing those who believed in Jesus to encouraging and exhorting people to believe in Jesus – I can see where that would make one feel like they were a new creation. And convince one to be an ambassador for this new way of thinking and a new life. That is, after all, the final outcome of Lent – Easter and new life.
May you, beloved reader, embrace new experiences and not be afraid of changes – as long as the Divine is leading you and under girding your life. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Grace and protection during Lent

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (Psalm 27:1 – 3)
Many years ago I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. Getting through some days was hard enough. But relaxing and trying to get to sleep at night was nigh on impossible sometimes. And I needed to sleep and be rested to get through the days. That is when I remember an old technique called “swaddling”. It is mostly done with infants; you tuck a blanket around their body securely. It mimics being held closely safe and secure. What I did was take a second top sheet and fold it into thirds and then tucked it under the other to sheet. And night I open it up and slid my body into the folded over section. Then I repeat to myself “Nothing can get in here except for my Lord God, and what I bring. I can choice what I bring into this protected place. And I can choice what stays out.” Then I focus on the warmth and comfort of being safe and rest in the Lord. It has worked for over 20 years. Most nights I sleep very well.
“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. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.” (Verses 4 – 6)
I also have a Sherpa/pseudo lamb’s wool blanket that I tuck around me and sometimes over my head. Besides having some night time anxiety I also have problems keeping warm when I am trying to fall asleep. One side of the blanket is the Sherpa material, and the other side is a silky velour type of material. Softness, warmth, and secure embraces help me to relax and sleep. But all of these would mean nothing if I were not able to rest in the Lord.
“Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Verses 7 – 8)
I do not know if the psalmist did the same thing; wrap himself tightly in a soft cloak and cover his head for warmth. But it seems clear that the psalmist did cry out to the Lord and sought solace and comfort in the Lord’s presence.
During those early difficult years I did sometimes feel that the Lord had “abandoned” me. Or at least that was my perception when the tough times came. What I eventually realized was the Lord was actually inviting me to closer communion with the Divine against those things that I felt were assailing me.
“Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Verses 9 – 12)
I have written at times that Lent is a time of testing. Our Lord God Jesus Christ was tested – tested by the devil with temptations that the evil one imagined that Jesus would give into. Tested by the Pharisees who thought to trip him up with questions and ominous warnings. And tested by the disciples who did not always see what Jesus was trying to show them. And though we may feel tested, we can always find the answer with Jesus Christ and our Lord God.
“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Verses 13 – 14)
Whether this season of Lent be a time of testing for you beloved reader, or a time of learning – may you seek out the Divine and receive grace and protection. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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