16 May 2015

piece of peace



“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  This beatitude of Jesus, which pronounces blessing on those who make peace, can be easily confused with peacekeeping.  At the risk of sounding trite, if there is no peace, how can it be kept?  What is this thing, peacemaking, which results in being called children of God?  What does it look like?

We are counseled by the psalmist to “seek peace, and pursue it” (34:14).  What does seeking peace look like?

One time, I was at a meeting of local ministers, and the discussion turned to making and seeking peace.  I believe it started after someone said that seeking peace in the Middle East was hopeless.  Scriptural warrant for that comment was provided.  Added to that was a complaint about those who “seek peace at any cost.”  I asked, “What’s wrong with that?”  The response characterized those who seek peace at any cost as making peace with those who oppress others—those who are unjust.  I pointed out that where there is no justice, there can be no peace.  We’re fooling ourselves with an illusion of peace.

Of course, peacemaking is not limited to the political arena, with nations dealing with each other.  And those who oppress and are unjust to others need not be dictators; we encounter that in our daily lives.  (Too often we’re the ones who oppress others!)  No, peacemaking is first of all a personal matter.  It comes from within.  If we ourselves don’t have peace, we will be limited to making peace as a skeleton, so to speak.  It won’t have any flesh; it won’t have any real substance.

This is where peacemaking as a spiritual reality comes in.  An interesting thing about it is how it is interrelated to Jesus’ other beatitudes.  The meek and the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:  these and the others exemplify what peacemaking is all about.

We don’t magically become peacemakers.  It takes practice; it takes work.  It means facing the violence within ourselves.  It is necessary to recognize the junk within—that which delights in misfortune, that which is fearful, that which doesn’t care for the other.  That’s some messy business!

I ask myself, “How committed am I to peacemaking?  How committed am I to wading through that messiness within?  How willing am I to sift through the detritus and cacophony of violence in order to discover the purity and harmony that is always the gift of God?” 

There’s a piece of peace to peacefully piece.

23 April 2015

power to speak the truth



Last month, the campaign for the presidential election began in earnest.  We only have one year and seven months to go!  A meme that has emerged is that candidates have to “play to their base.”  I don’t mind saying that I really hate that phrase.  Playing to one’s base seems to mean presenting oneself in a less than honest way.  It seems to mean, perhaps even more so than after the conventions, pandering to the lowest common denominator in one’s political party.  It means finessing (or stretching) the truth.  And the pundits seem to be okay with, and even expect, that kind of behavior.

Last night, part of the Episcopal psalm reading was 119:43.  It begins, “Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth.”  The Revised English Bible renders it in a way that seems even starker:  “Do not rob me of my power to speak the truth.”

When we become used to stretching the truth—ignoring the truth—we can reach a point in which it seems comfortable, even natural.  At a deeper level, however, the lies that do the most damage are the ones we tell ourselves.  That can be expressed in many ways.

Are there life-denying habits we continue, even to the point of becoming addictions?  Is there a little voice inside that begs and pleads with us to listen?  Are there abilities that we falsely rule out?  Are there ways in which we refuse to leave our comfort zone?

Today’s epistle reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (and the Episcopal) is 1 John 5:13-20.  Interestingly enough, verse 21 is only considered to be an alternative ending.  I believe that verse is one of the New Testament’s best warnings.  It challenges us to be aware of those little lies we tell ourselves.  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 

Idols are the false, the counterfeit, the pretend.  They are what rob us of the power to speak the truth.

22 April 2015

a future…and a future



During this year, Banu and I have quite deliberately entered into a state of transition.  (That’s aside from the transition which is part of life itself.)  We are ordained ministers, who for the first time in our ministry are not pastoring a parish.  (Perhaps we can better appreciate John Wesley’s quote, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”)  To be sure, we now have a different take on the future.  There’s a sense of adventure—with a dash of unsureness!

In any event, all of us are presented with versions of the future—some cynical and hopeless, others confident and hope-filled.  There are two images found in the scriptures which have quite different visions of the future.

In Isaiah 39, King Hezekiah of Judah welcomes envoys from Babylon.  Wanting to show that he’s no minor leaguer, he gives them a grand tour; he shows the wealth that he commands.  The prophet Isaiah hears about the visit, and when he finds out that they’re from Babylon, he is alarmed.  He warns the king that these boys will not be content to leave Judah alone.  In the not too distant future, the Babylonians will be back, and it won’t be a friendly visit!  To underline his point, the prophet says, “Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away” (v. 7).

One would think the king might take that a bit seriously.  However, here’s how the chapter ends:  “Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’  For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days’” (v. 8).

I once used this story in a high school baccalaureate service.  The message was basically how not to approach the future.  Don’t imitate Hezekiah.  The king is okay with what Isaiah tells him.  As long as things don’t fall apart while I’m still breathing, that’s fine!  Let future generations clean up after me.

There is always the temptation to lose faith in the future, whether we think of it as our own contribution and responsibility, our trust in promises of God, or perhaps our collaboration with the unfolding evolution of the cosmos.

If Hezekiah’s version of the future is unfaithful, we can see a very different version in the book of Jeremiah.  The day that Isaiah feared has arrived.  The tiny land of Judah has been swept up in the expanding Babylonian Empire.  The prophet Jeremiah has warned his people that fighting the Babylonians is useless.  However, they can still mend their corrupt ways, but that’s not something many people want to hear.  With war, the destruction of the temple, and people being sent into exile, the future seems bleak indeed.

His highly unpopular message has seen Jeremiah forced to endure mocking, ill-treatment, arrest, and even torture.  More than once, he succumbs to despair.  Nonetheless, he manages to retain a thread of hope.

Nowhere is that better exemplified than when he sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon.  Though they might understandably become locked in bitterness, the prophet has a word from God to inspire confidence in the future.  In chapter 29, the people there are encouraged to embrace what could be called “the new normal.”  The word is to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7).  In a verse whose context is sometimes forgotten, we hear, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (v. 11).

So while Hezekiah’s vision of the future may euphemistically be called “blind,” Jeremiah’s vision is flooded with the burning fire that he says is “shut up within [his] bones” (20:9).

How is our vision of the future?  Are we heading toward a dead end?  Are we running on a treadmill?  Do we wonder what we will leave to generations to come?  Do we even think about it?

Do we greet the new day with joy?  (Please note that I’m not referring to joy as simply an emotional state, but as a spiritual and deeply aware state.) 

Do we long for the future, understanding that the future begins right now?

07 April 2015

I'm still you



I heard an ugly rumor that the dry-witted detective show Backstrom will likely not survive to see a second season.  I recently started catching up with the episodes, and I love Rainn Wilson’s quirky straight-faced irritable sort of comedy.  (With a resumé that includes Dwight Schrute from The Office, what more can be said?)

His methodology of investigation that begins with “I’m you…” is reminiscent of Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham on the television version of Hannibal, in which he enters the mind of a killer.  But it’s not quite so dark! 

So here we go—Backstrom to me.  “I’m you…  For some reason, you would lament watching my foolish but dead-on analysis of a situation.  What does that say about you?  Are you living vicariously through me?  Does my self-assured confidence, if misplaced and soaked with a lifestyle that endangers my health, appeal to you?  You have gifts and abilities, but often have trouble translating them to the real world.  Take a lesson from me, plunge ahead, even if it gets you in trouble.”

05 April 2015

The Lord is risen light forever



God is the Name and the Nameless.
God is the utterly recognizable and the completely baffling! 
God is love flowing through me and love unknown.

God revealed the covenant name to Moses, but Solomon also said that God dwells in thick darkness.

Jesus as Son of Man is the essential, true human.
Jesus as Son of God is the crucified and triumphant.
Jesus as the ascended one is the cosmic Christ, filling all things.

Jesus is the paradox who lays aside power and glory to embrace poverty and denigration.

The Holy Spirit is the awareness who kindles within me the fire of the Word.
The Holy Spirit is courage for my cowardice, passion for my indifference.
The Holy Spirit is the divine energy binding together all of creation.

The Holy Spirit is the playful, joyous, and poetic God who comes to us, bringing empowerment to live life as we were meant to.

And what about the church, the body of Christ, the sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ?
There many biblical images of the church.  I might add:
The church is where my faith becomes real, where it takes on flesh and blood.
The church is where I am held accountable, and where I am to hold others accountable.
The church is always on the way, but not yet reaching the goal in this life.

The church is composed of those, who as Paul says, for whom Christ has broken down the dividing wall.  We erect walls between Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, various sexual and political orientations, ethnic groups of all kind, and any number of other ways in which we substitute human distinctions for God’s.  The church humbly sets aside our ways for God’s ways, as revealed through the one who is given for the life of the world, Jesus Christ. 

The Lord is risen light forever