Category: Systematics

“Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean?

We enter the domain of God’s reign when we enthrone Christ as Lord of our life. This seems simple enough. But actually, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what this means. The Bible says that if we “declare with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,” we “will be saved” ...
The post “Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

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Unstuck

There are questions that I encounter as a pastor that haunt me. I’m not necessarily thinking about the “usual suspects” here. Questions about the existence of God or why we suffer or the challenge of pluralism or the historicity of this or that biblical story or the conundrums of interpreting this or that passage or doctrine. These all represent familiar enough terrain and present their own challenges to faith. But the questions I’m thinking about today are much more personal in nature.
I’m thinking of questions like, “I’m afraid to die—does this mean my faith is weak?” or “What do I do with my crushing loneliness?” or “Why are people so mean to me? Is something wrong with me?” These are the kinds of questions to which the first (and sometimes last) response is often just a sad shared silence. This is life and faith beyond abstraction, beyond “belief system,” beyond words like “ritual” and “shared practices” and “wisdom.” These questions emerge out of a wound not an idle curiosity or even an existential hunger. I am, it probably goes without saying, more comfortable with abstraction. I suspect many of us are.
The latest haunting question came recently at the jail. A young indigenous woman leaned forward with tears in her eyes and interrupted more prosaic streams of conversation with this: “Can I ask a question? I don’t know how to say it, but… I really wanna know. How do I get unstuck? I’m so tired of making the same mistakes, going back to the same people and problems. I don’t want to, but… So, I don’t know… I guess I just wanna know how to get unstuck.” Her words dripped with urgency, longing, dread, and pain.
The “experts” in the room—the chaplain, the volunteer, the pastor—stumbled and bumbled toward a response. We acknowledged how hard it is. We talked of incremental change and the importance of community. We talked about how God is “present in the journey” (and possibly shuddered while saying it). But sometimes even true things can sound hollow in certain contexts. It’s one thing to feel like you’re in a rut at work; it’s quite another to feel stuck in patterns of addiction and abuse and relational chaos and poverty and incarceration. Some patterns seem more daunting than others. We are not all equally stuck.
And yet, I suspect that even as I grieved for the specific ways in which this young woman was stuck, I was also recognizing myself and many of my peers in her words. I suspect we all get to a certain point in life where the word “stuck” can easily creep into our vocabulary.  Passion for the job seems more elusive, the sizzle of a marriage wanes, faith seems remote and inacessible. In whatever domain of life, we settle into familiar and predictable rhythms. We realize that there are things about our lives, our communities, our world that are rather hard to change.
I was talking with my wife about this recently. Statistically, I suppose we’re at about the halfway mark of life. Of course, we could have far less than this but, you know, statistically… What do we want to accomplish? What should we be devoting these next decades (God willing) to? Is “accomplishment” even the right word to be using in pondering the road ahead? We spend so much time educating, accumulating, working, and thinking ourselves into some conception of the “good life” (house, kids, money in the bank, securing the right social standing, etc.). It’s easy, as David Brooks says in his latest book The Two Mountains, to “become strangers to [our] own desires.” Getting stuck is the easiest thing in the world to do.
I thought of all these things as I drove home from the jail on Monday. I thought about how it’s not just individuals that get stuck, but relationships, businesses, churches, institutions, even cultures. And I prayed. For all who feel stuck and for all the ways in which we need to get unstuck to live the lives we were created for. For all who are spinning their wheels and yearning to find that place in the world where they can contribute in meaningful and life-giving ways, where they can love and be loved well.
But mostly, I prayed for this dear young woman who so desperately wants to walk down better paths. The words felt useless as they fell off my lips. My prayer for her felt more like an inarticulate ache for the fullness of life that she so obviously longed for, and against which so many factors in her life conspired. It’s not vocational satisfaction or personal fulfillment on the line for her. It’s almost literally life and death.
Prayer can feels like a feeble offering indeed in the face of human pain, but as hard as it can be to pray, I often find it harder not to. I simply held her tear-stained face in my mind and pleaded on her behalf to the One who said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst…” I said, “Well, God, you say “blessed are…” so can I please call in a blessing for one of your dear children? And not a pious abstraction, if you please. Not a hypothetical future happiness but something for a pretty screwed up present. And if you need someone to tag along as you bless, I’d be happy to help.”
——
Image source. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

Second Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – The story is also in our hands

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:4-8)
I remember or am reminded that the world we live in now is not the world we are destined for. While it seems as if we spend forever in this world – that is because we are here for our entire life time. If that sounds rather paradoxical, you can understand why it is not something that humanity carries around in its upper most consciousness.
What exacerbates our “forgetting” of this fact is that we are actually so far from the Jesus/God event that we are used to living at a distance from the Divine. The apostles and first century believers had it in the conscious mind that Jesus was “just here” and would be back “some time soon.” Now that the “Alpha” part had come and gone, the “Omega” should be showing up soon – shouldn’t it?
And if I am reminded that the world we live is only a precursor to the world to come – the other side is believing that the end of all things will be after my life is ended. While I may (and do) hold out hope for a better way in the future beyond this reality, the current world is the only one I can be sure I will be aware of. So if my life is to be lived well, I have to live it well now! And that leads to the question, what do I want my life to be like now? And what missteps am I willing to do in order to have an “enjoyable” life now, but by doing take a chance on messing up my “life” in the world that is to come (maybe). There is the even greater paradox. So it is actually a relief to me to remember that this world is “not my home – not where I belong”.
Because when I remember that the stress and disappoints in this life will not translate to the life to come, I find I can manage this world. Things may not be perfect on this side, but things will be perfect in the future. But what will that future look like? I do not know.
The next “natural” statement to make is that I am assured of the life to come because of Christ’s death – which is a strong theme in this passage. BUT is it Christ’s blood that “freed us from our sins”? Or is it our belief in Jesus the Christ and the Lord God who sent to the earth the Divine’s Own Son? Yes, still thinking about that theological statement. I am ready to lay it aside; we chose what we will believe in, informed by the Spirit who guides us. We hope that our beliefs are authentic and true to what Jesus taught. We study and discern, examining statements, theologies, and philosophies. And we pray! We pray mightily! I pray, beloved reader, that your story and journey in Christian faith provides what you need for this world. And prepares you for entry into the eternal world that has been promised to us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Second Sunday of Easter: Acts Passage substituted for the Old Testament – The story is in the hands of Jesus’ followers

“When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” (Acts 5:27 – 28)

In the days and weeks following Christ’s resurrection and accession the disciples had followed in his footsteps defying religious and civil authorities. And their rationale for disobedience pretty much echoed what Jesus the Christ had told them while he was on earth.
“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Verse 29)
It is interesting to think about what the disciples, now the apostles, had absorbed watching Jesus interact with religious and civil authorities. Consider that the gospel tell us, in a side effects type of way, that they knew exactly what Jesus said and did when he was confronted with the high priests, Pilate and Herod.
“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Verses 30 – 32)
Reflecting back on the issue of whether Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary and directly lead to salvation, I have to wonder what the writer of the book of Acts meant. In looking at the commentaries offered up for these passages I see that the salvation that is referred to a changing of one’s life and not a pardon for sins – as we often may think of salvation. I am going to probably be checking and double checking for at least the next week or two to see how salvation is defined and what the requirements are. What I know for sure, after having spent time pondering it, the idea of changing one’s life as part of salvation/redemption is something I am long familiar with. What I need to do is make sure I am keeping the theology of it straight and true. And keeping theology straight and true has long been a requirement of Christianity. I could digress . . . . but I won’t.
As we move from Easter forward may you think deeply and clearly beloved reader. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Why the Cross Changes Everything

Every Good Friday I usually go outside to pray when the time is approaching 3 PM. That’s when he died. He who transformed my life.
There was a time when I didn’t care at all about Jesus. He was cool, sure, but he didn’t have as many superpowers as Superman and he was far less badass than Samus Aran. The church, in my opinion, was a boring museum. The Bible was hard to read and lacked pictures.
But when I was confronted with my own mortality and understood the message of Easter – that he died for us to live forever – then I could not get enough of him. I opened the gospels and read. I can honestly say that I have never encountered so much wisdom and love from any other person, before or after.
Some want to reduce Jesus to a non-divine moral teacher. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, it is impossible. A reasonable moral teacher does not claim to be the Son of God, the light of the world, and the door to eternal life – unless it is true.
But I understand why people recognize Jesus as wise and moral. He is! That’s what makes the painful killing of him so incomprehensible and wrong.
God died on that cross. God himself died for our sake so that we would have the eternal life we ​​in no way deserve. This eternal life, in eternal happiness, is greater than anything we can imagine. No other gift is so great and as wonderful as the gift of living in paradise.
All the peace and justice we long for will be realized to its fullest in heaven. That’s no reason to stop promoting such Kingdom-values here. On the contrary, when we truly have the eternal perspective we will become even more zealous to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. As John says:
“Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure.” (1 Jn 3:1-2)
What I realized 13 years ago is that when we celebrate on Sunday that Jesus arose from death, it is not just that we are happy for His sake. His resurrection shows where we are going if we follow him. His path is the path of life. A life that never ends. It is because of his painful death on the cross that we can go that way.
Today at 3 PM, think of Jesus and pray to him. He loves you so much that he was subjected to one of the world’s most evil execution methods. He gave everything for you. You are too precious and loved to be lost in the bottomless darkness of death. God, your Creator and Friend, calls you to eternal happiness.

Syndicated from Charismactivism

Can I say anything new about the resurrection of Jesus?

I have been re-reading NT Wright’s chapter on the “The Surprise of Resurrection” in Jesus: the final days, where he corrects some doubtful christian ideas about the resurrection, and offers reasons why we should regard the gospel accounts as basically historical. Understanding resurrection Pagans in Roman Empire in the first century might believe in an … Continue reading Can I say anything new about the resurrection of Jesus?
Syndicated from the Way?

Genesis

I left the jail this morning feeling a heaviness that I have not felt in some time. I don’t go there each Monday with some big agenda—I’m not there to reform or convert or instruct, but to listen, to pray, to encourage. But most days, I get a glimpse of goodness through a conversation, a smile, a new insight into the human heart and the human predicament. Today was not one of those days.
Travis* was the only one who came to the meeting today. There were rumours of others who might join, but he came alone, looking slightly apprehensive, a sly grin poking around the edges of his mouth. He was tall, lean, young, and strong. Twenty years old, jet black hair perfectly manicured in the fashion of the day, tattoos and scars peeking below the rolled-up sleeves of his coveralls. He offered his story in bits and pieces over the next hour or so. He grown up on a reserve north of Edmonton, one of sixteen kids in a patchwork family thrown together by the various configurations his parents had found themselves in over the years. Dad abused mom, mom abused him as an outlet for her pain, he abused right back, swearing, stealing, leaving, coming back. Kicked out of the house at fourteen and then bounced around the city with siblings.
“I got behaviour issues,” he says. “I yell when I get excited, only when I get excited. I say what I don’t want to say, and I can’t say what I want to say.” He leans back on his chair, eyes restlessly darting around the room. He hasn’t seen his mom for two years, has no idea about his dad, doesn’t really care. He’s got two kids of his own, he says. I look at him and smile. He reminds me of my son—big, kind, unpredictable hard to read sometimes. He told me he played football and basketball and volleyball when he was younger. “I liked sports, he said, “I was good at them.” His voice trailed off. My heart ached for this big kid, impossibly already a father.
“What are your kids’ names?” I ask. “My daughter’s name is Genesis,” he replies. “My son… um, I don’t know. His mom won’t talk to me… I think he’s mine, I don’t know.” He looks down as an awkward silence descends. “Genesis,” I say, “that’s a cool name. Do you know what it means?” He smiles, “Yeah, it means like new beginning or something, right?” I smile. “Yeah, that’s right, Travis…”
He goes on to tell us that he has Tourette’s. He’s never been formally diagnosed, he’s never even told anyone, but he’s pretty sure that’s why he finds everything so hard, why he’s always getting into trouble, why he can’t fit in and just behave himself. I think of a boy growing up on a reserve, impossible family situation, with a condition that nobody knows about, constantly getting into trouble, nobody knowing how to help, how to make anything better, how to try something different.
I think about what might happen when he gets out in a few months. I think about the religious words I traffic in—words like “hope” and “love” and “change” and “freedom” and “redemption.” I look over at Travis, head down, eyes on the floor, all alone in a circle of churchy do-gooders trying to “make a difference.” The words don’t seem to fit. I think of the cycles of violence and addiction and dysfunction that he has been raised in, of the structures and systems that relentlessly discriminate against his people, of the innumerable things that are working against him. It’s too much, I think. Who can climb out from under all that?
During yesterday’s sermon I reflected on what Jesus might have been experiencing as he sat outside the gates of Jerusalem, taking his first steps toward his inevitable death. I focused on the human emotions and experiences that might have been roiling around in his head. I reflected on these things through the lens of Psalm 31 and landed on the hopeful truth that God knows what it’s like to be human.
I preached these words:

Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be deeply and persistently misunderstood.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be betrayed by people that you love, people you had poured the best part of yourself into, people you expected better from, people from whom you had hoped for more.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be afraid, to have that sinking feeling of dread in your stomach, to have your mouth go dry and your strength fail.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to feel helpless and angry at the inevitability of how things tend to go.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to feel like the bad guys always win.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to feel used—to be loved and adored only when you’re giving people what they want, when you’re putting on a show.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be abandoned and to feel utterly alone.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be mocked, ridiculed, dismissed.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be seen as a failure.
Because of Jesus, God knows what it’s like to suffer and to die.
These are some of the hardest things we experience as human beings. And because of Jesus, God not only knows what they feel like, but enters right into them with us.
God knows what it’s like to be human from the inside.
Because of Jesus.

I said these words yesterday morning to a room full of mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly Christians. And they felt hopeful and good and true. They still do. Mostly.
But would these words be of any use to Travis? I desperately want to believe that they would, and I hope to get the chance to tell him. But they felt hollow as I walked out of the jail this morning. I felt like weeping for all the Travis’ of the world who seem to barely have a chance.
I thought about Travis’s daughter, the one he hoped to meet one day.
Genesis.
That’s the only religious word that seemed to fit today.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Holy Week – Saturday: Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel Passages – The story stops for a short time

Some years I have not written on Holy Saturday. I had, in some writings, declared it a day of waiting. The lectionary uses verses for this day that underline suffering and our need for intervention because of our sins. Mindful of what my former college bible professor wrote, I am not connecting the blessing of salvation to his death (viewed as sacrifice) on the cross. But it is a theme that comes up quite often. It seems to me the connection between our having salvation and the need for some sort of exchange/price to be paid for that salvation is strong. There seems to be the need for someone or something to suffer and be offered up it seems.
“I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.” (Lamentations 3:1-9)
The question came to my mind, do we suffer because of our sins? According to some types of thinking we do. Some readings/interpretations of the New Testament tells us that we do. But is it suffering in this life? Or in the life to come? The writer of Lamentations finds that being separated from the Divine, or at least separated from grace and not being in relationships with the Divine is suffering.
“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Verses 19 – 24)

While the gospels may not draw a connecting line between the what might have been the sacrifice of Christ and salvation, many of the letters in the New Testament lead one’s thinking that way. I do wonder, now, what makes us think there needs to be sacrifice/suffering to atone for sins.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:1 – 5)
As I sit with these verses from I Peter I have to shake my head at the assumptions there are of non-believers, or more accurately the assumptions there are of people who do not believe as we do. If you read Blosser’s article in total you will know that is a strong theme in what he wrote.
“For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (Verses 6 – 8)
Much has change since the time when the New Testament was written. We cling to it as the best authority of how to live a good authentic Christian life. What I fear is that we cling to the wrong parts. Jesus emphasized love, compassion, and caring. We seem to cling to the discipline, the giving up of old ways, and being prepared to be judged harshly. The days of Holy Week have seen me re-think and re-consider belief and living a good and authentic Christian life. I am not sure if my beliefs and faith traditions have changed or will change – but I am thinking. In the meantime, Saturday of Holy Week.
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:57 – 61)
Good Friday evening gave way to Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. As I said yesterday, the followers of Jesus saw little good in the day. I don’t think we always appreciate or understand that sadness. You know, often when I am reading a book I will skip to the end, just to get a taste of the outcome of the story. So I can gauge when the story takes its turn toward the ending. It is, actually, not a very good thing to do. And I have ruined for myself several times the story line and the anticipation that builds up because I know how it ends. Now, apply that to Good Friday/Easter and I think you will see what I mean. We are, beloved reader, still on “dismal” Saturday. But, there is a little foreshadowing that we can appreciate.
“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.” (Verses 62 – 66)
Now, we wait! Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

How Reliable were the Early Church’s Oral Traditions?

How reliable were the early church’s oral traditions? In terms of assessing the reliability of the Gospels, this is an extremely important question. First century Jewish culture was what scholars today would call an “orally dominated culture.” While a certain percentage of people could read and write (see below), information ...
The post How Reliable were the Early Church’s Oral Traditions? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

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

Bigger Barns

Another Monday morning, another trip to the jail. Again, only two guys show up. There was a third who just about made it, but he transgressed on the walk to the chapel (he said hi to someone in an adjacent classroom, which is not permitted, and which led to a voice over the loudspeaker just as he was entering the chapel: “Back to the unit…”). So, only a few plastic chairs occupied in the circle this morning.
Today’s passage seemed an odd fit, given the particular souls in attendance. It was the parable of the rich fool from Luke 12:16-21. A man doesn’t have enough barns to store his agricultural bounty, so he decides that a building project is in order. Once he has somewhere for all of his surplus grain, he can kick back and settle into the good life he has created for himself. The punch line comes when God says, “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” As far as warnings against greed go, it’s an effective story.
But the story seems somehow stranger when it’s read by a young Blackfoot man in blue coveralls and orange plastic shoes. Jeremy* had a toothy smile that enveloped his whole face and seemed really excited to be at the group today. “I just spent six days in the hole,” he said, “so I’m happy to have someone to talk to… Six days all by yourself… You know the walls don’t really talk back. So I’m just glad to be here, man! I done a lot of thinking down there, man… I’m ready to turn things around.”
During introductions we had heard the broad outlines of Jeremy’s story. He had spent the last 3-5 years addicted on the streets. He couldn’t remember exactly how long—there was a stretch of time that was just a fog of drugs and pain. He figured it started when his dad and two of his younger brothers died, but he couldn’t remember exactly when that happened either. He fathered two kids while a teenager, but his mom (who had him at fifteen, too, thus becoming a grandma at thirty) takes care of them now and he hasn’t seen them much lately. “I grew up with a drunk for a dad,” he said, “and I hated to see my dad that way… I don’t want my kids to see my when I’m high.” He talked of having nowhere to sleep and owning nothing but the clothes on his back. He talked of stealing and lying to feed his addictions. He talked about burning so many bridges. “I hurt a lotta people, man.”
It was hard to imagine that the problem of what to do with his material excess was a pressing problem for Jeremy. I doubt he had spent much time thinking about building bigger barns. His life sounded like a desperate lurching from needle to needle, trying to mask the pain of a life of trauma. But he dutifully tried to answer the questions from the outdated devotional material. No, we shouldn’t be self-important. Yes, pride is a big obstacle to making things right with God and neighbour. No, we shouldn’t hoard our possessions… Yes, we need to learn how to trust… Sometimes I find myself wishing we could just put the curriculum away and sit with each other’s’ stories more.
Part way through our time together this morning, Jeremy had a story of his own to tell. “You know, I remember this one story that Jesus told… There was this rich guy who invited Jesus over to supper. And so he’s getting everything ready, right, because Jesus is an important guy to have over for supper… And then this young woman shows up at the rich guy’s house and she asks for something to eat. And the rich guy says, ‘Not now, I’m having Jesus over for supper soon.’ And then an old man shows up and he’s thirsty. The rich guy says the same thing, ‘No, Jesus is showing up for supper.’ So he waits and waits… But Jesus never shows up. The next day he meets Jesus on the street and says, ‘Why didn’t you come over to my house for supper last night?’ And Jesus says, ‘I did. I came twice, once as a young woman and once as an old man, but you didn’t let me in.’”
Jeremy smiled when he finished his story. “I always smile,” he says. “People say that my smile is contagious.” “It is,” I say. “It really is…”
I found myself thinking about Jeremy’s story more than Jesus’ story from Luke 12 as I drove home from the jail today. I wonder how often Jesus shows up at the door and we don’t let him in because we’re waiting for more esteemed looking guests. We might be off building bigger barns, or we might just be lazily recycling religious platitudes. There are all kinds of ways to store up imagined security for ourselves while avoiding the invitation to seek first the kingdom of God.
I don’t know how or where Jeremy heard the story he shared, but I have little doubt that it was Jesus who told it to him.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Egypt for Your Ransom

Only two guys showed up for the support group at the jail today. There had been some kind of a disturbance in the unit, apparently, and so it was twenty-five minutes past start time when the pair of them trudged in. One was an older guy who seemed reserved and didn’t say much. The other was a young Cree man who talked a mile a minute and seemed delighted to be anywhere other than his cell. Brandon* introduced himself to me three times, a vigorous handshake accompanying each introduction, before we settled in to the circle.
Today’s lesson was on what God thinks of us. We began by reading through a collection of bible verses and sharing around the circle what these verses said about our value and worth as God’s children. Brandon was eager for the opportunity to read out loud and to demonstrate that he knew his way around a bible (he waved away my attempts to help him find one passage—“Nah, man, I know what I’m doing. I was raised Catholic!”). After each passage, we were invited to say what, if anything, stood out to us in what we’d heard, and what it said to us about our value.
One of the first passages was Isaiah 43:1-5. It’s written not to individuals looking for a bit of spiritual inspiration but to the nation of Israel. It was a word delivered to a specific people called to a specific task in a specific time and place. We were no doubt committing all manner of exegetical sins in lining this passage up with a bunch of other context-free verses to build a case for the individual specialness of each human being. I could easily imagine my former hermeneutics professors shaking their heads at how we were using the bible. But no matter. We read our verses and then we opened it up for discussion. What stood out?
Brandon needed little encouragement to get us started. “I like that part, um, where is it… yeah, here, this part! I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. I like that. That’s true, that.” He looked around our little circle triumphantly. I smiled at the irony. That was precisely the part of the passage that I was cringing inwardly at. God evidently prefers Israelites to Egyptians and folks from Cush and Seba?! Or so Isaiah seems pleased to think, at any rate. Could there be a less welcome message in our hyper-sensitive times? The idea that some lives matter more than others? The idea that Israelite lives are more important to God than those of their neighbours? I wondered how a Palestinian Christian might read a passage such as this.
But then I looked back at Brandon and thought about the story he had shared a few minutes earlier. Born on “a rez in Saskatchewan,” a mother who beat the hell out of him before she died when he was seven, a dad who was never involved, drifted to Lethbridge as a teenager, lived on various couches for a few years, on the street for another, had a girlfriend but she died a year ago… Brandon didn’t say what he had done to land him in jail, but he didn’t really need to. That his life had been a hard one was not hard to tell. The scars on his face, the gap-toothed grin, the frantic behaviour… it all told a familiar and tragic story.
And in light of such a story, how welcome might the message be that someone loves you so much that they would even give Egypt for your ransom? How desperate might you be to hear words like, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…?” Historical and literary context be damned! Who can muster a care about Cush and Seba when you’ve been on the wrong end of the score as long as Brandon has? Fussing about how poorly a bible passage lines up with more educated concerns is a luxury Brandon doesn’t really have. He’s been told his whole life, explicitly and implicitly, precisely where he fits in the grand scheme of things, which is to say, the bottom. And he’s lived into what he’s been told.
As our time drew to a close, Brandon asked each of us around the circle if we’d be back next week. It seemed really important to him that we committed to this. I said I would and asked him if he’d be back. He grinned widely and said, “Yeah, man” before bouncing out of the room, his mouth still running a mile a minute. I offered a silent prayer for myself and for him. For myself, I asked for forgiveness for reducing the bible to the smallness of my own history and preferred abstractions. And for Brandon, I prayed that he would make it until next week—that he would find refuge under the shadow of the wings of a God who would give even Egypt for his ransom.
——
* Not his real name. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

On Payback

On Friday night, I attended a vigil outside our local Islamic Centre that was held in response to the March 15 massacre of Muslim worshipers at Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an eclectic mixture of Muslims and Christians and conservatives and liberals and believers and unbelievers that gathered in a parking lot on a warmish early spring evening, and it was good to come together, to… well, to do what, exactly?
Vigils, historically, have been about devotional watching or observance throughout the night. They are often shared spaces for mourning and can include prayers, liturgies, Scriptures, etc. It almost goes without saying that such things are more complicated in pluralistic contexts like twenty-first century Canada. In the absence of theological or ideological unanimity, our vigils become spaces for speeches, signs, expressions of sympathy and solidarity, condemnations (white supremacy, Islamophobia, “hate,” etc.), and politicking. I appreciated many of the words offered on Friday night; others left me feeling hollow. The words probably aren’t really the thing at these events, anyway; smiles and hugs and handshakes and presence—these things say, “We are your neighbours and we are with you” than mere words.
But, back to the words. Surprisingly, among those I found myself pondering long after I left were those offered by a young Muslim woman. Her remarks had traversed the familiar terrain mentioned above, but then her words grew angrier. Contra the increasingly popular approach of refusing to name those who commit such acts of terror and thus depriving them of the notoriety they so crave, she repeatedely and unapologetically named the person who live-streamed his massacre of Muslims at prayer: Brendon Tarrant. She called him a monster. She prayed that Allah would pay him back for the evil he had done. Hers were the sort of words that tolerant, compassionate, Jesus-y folks who measure and guard their words carefully (like me) and who have Jesus-y words like “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” lodged inside of us at the neural level would be very hesitant to utter out loud.
And yet. I wonder how many of us who were there on Friday night would have been nursing precisely such thoughts in our hearts and minds in the aftermath of Christchurch (or any act of terror and violence that destabilizes and horrifies us). I hope that sonofabitch gets what he deserves! I hope he feels even a small measure of the pain that he has caused! If there is a God above or a devil below, I hope his evil is repaid in full! I hope he suffers for his ignorance, his malice, his sadistic impulses, his ugly racial tribalism, his naked craving of attention and fame. We don’t say such things aloud. We rehearse platitudes like “Love is stronger than hate.” We condemn “obias” and “isms” and “hate” and congratulate ourselves that such dark impulses don’t reside in our hearts. But we certainly hate the haters, along with the systems and ideologies that feed and are inflamed by them. I do, at any rate.
A few weeks ago, I was in a pastors’ gathering where we were trying to simply dwell with Scripture. Even the hard parts Not explain or interpret, not get busy applying. Just sit with a text and let it tell your story. At one point, our facilitator asked for an example of a passage that someone really struggled with to use as an example. “Psalm 137” came tumbling out of someone’s mouth almost immediately. Specifically, the last two verses:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

It is, to be sure, a cringe-worthy passage, particularly the last verse. The thought of someone taking pleasure in the murder of babies is horrible beyond description. Many of us would gladly expunge these verses from our Scriptures. They sound nothing like Jesus—indeed, they serve as about as helpful an object lesson of what Jesus condemned as anything you might hope to find. But we were asked to just sit with Psalm 137 for a few minutes. Not rush to explain it away. Not try to outdo one another in expressing our revulsion for it. Not frantically distance ourselves from its ugliness. Just sit with it.
And so I did. And for the first time, I was able to hear the awful ending of this psalm in the context of its beginning:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

For the first time, I thought of a weeping mother or father in exile who had, perhaps, lost her own child to the armies of Babylon. For the first time, I thought of what it might have been like to be ridiculed and tormented by captors who had taken everything from you. I tasted the hunger for vengeance in the psalmist’s voice. There is nothing more natural in the world than to long for those who inflict pain to experience it, whether in ancient Babylon or modern-day New Zealand or Mali or Nigeria or Gaza or ­________. The wounds are deep, and the rage and pain cannot but bubble to the surface. The young woman at the vigil on Friday night said what many of us are too polite to say out loud. Psalm 137 says what many of us are too pious to acknowledge. We long for vengeance. This is who we are.
At our best, we unpack these ugly impulses before God and leave them there. We say that vengeance belongs to God and not to us because we know we can’t be trusted with it. Human history is, in many ways, a story of vengeance writ large. We know, even as we acknowledge the darkness within, that a longing for vengeance cannot, must not be the last word. We know that the cycle of revenge has no end—that you simply cannot repay evil with enough evil to make it stop. We know that the righteousness of the violence always depends on which side of the it you’re on.
We know that “love your enemies” is a deeper, truer more hopeful word than “happy shall they be who pay you back.” Or at least we might be persuaded that it ought to be.

Syndicated from Rumblings

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