Monthly Archives: December 2013

A New Year’s Eve Reflection

I tend to think that most nostalgia about the past is born of poor and selective memory (we mostly only remember the good parts or remember how we imagine it was).

On the flip side there can be memories so painful we become stuck in the horror of it all, unable to imagine goodness. Such memories become too powerful and infest our minds stealing the real joy that is there.

Somewhere between these… Life is.

There will almost always be reasons for great joy and heart-wrenching anguish. There will be stories of hope and transformation amidst ongoing struggles with injustice and systems of power and abuse so deeply rooted they seem too entrenched as to be immovable. Our daily lives are a mix of wondrous mystery, dis-eased anxiety, unnoticed miracles, and unaddressed abuse to self and others.

I understand we cannot remember it all. But on a day of remembering may we seek authenticity: lament and praise. Claim hurt and hope. Notice milestones lived and paths yet untaken. May our memories of the past be whole so that our hopes for the future may be realistic, and may we avoid hyperbole – either with perfection or perdition.

Tomorrow is not a clean slate, but it is a new day where new choices and new directions may be taken (as all days are). Let us make the most of it – in deed and not words alone. Happy end of 2013 to you all, and a Happy New Year!

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Illuminating Love

Texts: Exodus 34:1, 5-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

These texts illuminate love for us, divine love.  This means we see what love is not even as we learn what love is.  This can challenge us as God doesn’t meet our expectations, but it also gives us life as God exceeds our wildest imagination.

Love isn’t placating and pleasing the other by giving them what they want (sorry Israel – no golden calf god who is willing to be less than GOD… mere ornamental jewelry).

Love isn’t restricted to only those who want to love, or who will love you back – the overarching story, to the thousandth generation no less, is the forgiveness and steadfast nature of God’s love regardless of what we do with it – we cannot be unworthy of love.

Love isn’t free from claiming us for something better, for placing before us expectations.  We are forgiven, and yet the ways we participate in thwarting God’s love will still be named and called to mind to the third and fourth generation as we seek to be more fully claimed by love.

Love is neither all about me or all about God.  Love isn’t simply just what we have been given but because of love we becoming loving.  And God does not seek to be the object of our love and devotion, in fact God IS the love.  God abides in us as we love and devote ourselves to one another: our brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.

So what is love?

Love is an action and not simply and emotion.  This is the key to incarnation.  Love cannot be done remotely or apart from tangible expression.  Love is dirty – its flesh and blood.  Love is not God sitting on God’s throne in the heavens showering some benign good will upon the world.  God’s love is revealed among us as God’s son born among us.  Similarly we cannot love the world from within a sanctuary.  We can talk about, prepare for it, and practice it: but loving our brother and sister requires sending ourselves into the world to love one another.

Love is giving.  Fear has no place in love because loving means opening oneself up fully to the other and not allowing our fear to hold us back.  Love is becoming vulnerable and open to the beloved.  The world teaches us to be turtles holding back until we trust.  God says that life lived safely without love isn’t worth living.  And God did so by loving to the point of death… and beyond.

Loving is knowing.  In love we seek to know the other, not our assumptions, not our generalities or categories.  Love is about descending into the other’s abyss and seeking to know them at the deepest level on their terms – not on ours.  God didn’t force us to come to God; God came to us.  God didn’t keep the power; God empowered us while being completely vulnerable before us.  Love is about encountering the other and seeking to make their story, our story; and making our story a part of their story.

This is the love the coming Christ illuminates for us and the constant reminder that when we abide in love – we abide in God, and God abides in us. Amen.

Bubbling Up / Flowing Out: Illuminate Joy (day 3)

Near the end of Joanna’s words yesterday she said, “Let joy bubble from your soul and flow out like a fountain to the world around you!”

That phrase really hit me.  Joy bubbles – it flows and gurgles like a fountain – joy is not yours alone but it’s shared with those around you.

This realization ask two things of me:

First, what gives me that kind of feeling?  So often we put a lot of time and energy into things that only suck every bit of life out of us.  Why do we do this?  Sometimes it’s unavoidable but often we do it out of some misplaced sense of duty and obligation.  Sometimes even from some sub-conscious place of self-abuse.  Why do we do these things to ourselves?

God wills joy for us, the advent-ure that we are on and await is meant to be a journey that includes bubbling joy.  So what gives you that kind of joy?  Where do you find that occurring in your life, and how can you re-arrange some of the furniture of your life to maximize this joy?

The second thing I think of is that our joy isn’t something that is meant to be for us alone.  As much as we like to think about what makes us happy – God is in the business of bringing “Joy to the World,” for God “so loves the world that God gave God’s only son.”  So even while we ask what brings us joy we are then asked the question: does it also bring joy to others?  God’s joy is not something that gives us joy at other’s expense but it bubbles up and flows out.  It brings us joy but in the actualizing of that joy it also lifts other’s spirits.  When we illuminate our joy we become sources of illumination and joy for others.

Where do you find such joy, and how are you a bubbling up and flowing out joy in the life of the world?

Advent: Illuminate Joy!

Yesterday we illuminated joy through music and drama – all ages gathered to tell the story of Advent and Christmas.  And, because it just happens that way, the light of Advent shone particularly well through the eyes of our children.  Children teach us much about joy.

And I’m reminded again of King David bringing the Ark back to Israel after its long time in captivity and exile (I’d love to say more about that because it’s among my favorite stories but alas it’s too off topic today).

Here is the story of the ark’s homecoming with David in 2 Samuel 6:

 

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing… David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart…20David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”21David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 

 

I think sometimes we believe worship must be refined and dignified.  It should have an element of perfection.  So we dress up in good clothes, we sing happy songs, and we wear smiles on our faces regardless of the conditions of our hearts.  We script pretty prayers and make sure all is decent and “in order.”  We worship in a way that would meet the approval of Michal.  And then David – with all his ruddy and youthful exuberance – bursts in leaping and dancing and carrying on like a common drunkard.  And we often, like Michal, look on with disdain while we miss that what David is drunk on is the joy of the God’s presence and power and steadfast love.  God doesn’t desire orderly worship so much as passionate and authentic expression of our hearts.  So we weep when we feel like weeping and sing when we feel like singing, and we stumble, and leap, and dance to the Spirit’s calling.

We make ourselves contemptible to the sensibilities of the dignified while expressing with great honesty our lives before God.  Because this is as it should be – we do not live to please the conventions and rules but the one who binds us together in loving community.  And who better to teach us that then our children.  Who better to teach us to dance to the Spirit’s call then those who have not yet been forced to conform to the social norms but are willing to fling wide the gates of their hearts in joy and sorrow before all.

This advent may our children illuminate joy for us all – for a child shall lead us!

The Cross Must Come Down!

I read this article earlier about a judge ruling that a cross as a war memorial must come down (http://huff.to/1cG6ivo) and I can imagine the outrage among some Christians about this “persecution.” As if there aren’t much greater and more horrific things for us to get un/righteously upset about.  So I had this provocative idea to add a bit of perspective to this.  You see just like the Puritans are the only people who really ever staged a war on Christmas (they actually made it illegal because they saw it detracting from faith not celebrating it) the Church also has its own history of waging a war on the cross.

That’s right: meet John Calvin.  Mostly folk love him or hate him – I have a rather nuanced appreciation for him myself and while we are quick to dismiss him it should probably be noted that Karl Barth (much more widely adored by 20th century Reformed Theologians like Presbyterians) who himself had issues with Calvin also had this to say of him.

Barth was confronted with the disturbing strangeness of Calvin’s theology. As he famously expressed in a 1922 letter to his lifelong friend, Eduard Thurneyeson:

 

Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from the Himalayas, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately….I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.

So why do I bring Calvin on the scene?  Because Calvin waged a bit of his own war on the cross.  Removed them all in fact from the sanctuaries in which he worshiped.  Of the Cross as decoration he had this to say (in the midst of larger rant about images in churches, and I added a coupe or three parenthetical thoughts of my own):

I still cannot see what benefit such images (not yet talking about crosses but about Christian works of art in worship spaces) can provide for the unlearned… except to make them into anthropomorphites, {i.e. people who humanize God}.-Indeed, brothels show harlots clad more virtuously and modestly than the churches (he doesn’t mince words does he?) show those objects which they wish to be seen as images of virgins.-But then we shall also answer that this is not the method of teaching the people of God whom the Lord will to be instructed with a far different doctrine than this trash (no he doesn’t at all).  He has set forth the preaching of His word as a common doctrine for all.-From this one word they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of either wood or stone.-Therefore, He will vindicate His majesty and glory against any who may transfer it to graven images or other things.  And not once, but against fathers, the children and the grandchildren. (1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.21)

That’s right.  John Calvin was a remover of crosses.  A remover of all religious imagery.  John Calvin was a word guy of course (and a Word guy as well).  He probably would have greatly struggled in this image driven world we live in today.  Not probably – he would have – but lucky for him he’s 500 years dead.  However…. like Barth we could use to spent some time with Calvin’s thoughts on this subject.

It is okay to be image driven – but not image fixated.  Jesus story was about the word made flesh – not the word turned into a wood/stone/metal image that does our witness for us.  Let the cross be take down – its our lives that are meant to be speaking this story.  Paul Ricoeur’s great work on symbols reminds us that they only have meaning when they are embedded in the story from which they are birthed.  A cross has no meaning by itself, and as Calvin would be quick to remind us it actually becomes but a graven image when it no longer reflects the story from which it speaks.  And so Calvin stripped the cross out of his worship – crosses that had become bereft of their deeper meaning – to get us back to the story, the good news, the word made flesh.

Jesus sits at a meal and breaks bread and says, “when you do this, remember me.”  Too often today we wish to leave our remembering, and even our doing, to static symbols, buildings, and platitudes.  In a season of Advent what I am always reminded of the most is that we are called to, awaiting, participating in an incarnational ministry.  “The word became flesh and lived among us.”  And we became the word and went into the world.

Let the crosses come down; and let us live the cross in our lives.

Water for the people of Kisima Island

Water for the people of Kisima Island

December 11, 2013 at 8:01am, by John Eckhart

In November of 2013, I travelled to Jinja, Uganda to work with International Medical Relief providing healthcare to people with no access to care whatsoever.  Twenty five of us on the team and during the week we were there  we treated over 2,000 people. 

    After a long hard day of clinic in the Luwuka District of Uganda, I was enjoying coffee with Jean Kaye and Ally Novell after the rest of the team had gone to bed. Jean was the team leader for this mission and Ally was working closely with her.  Ally was expressing her deep frustration over the phone calls she had been receiving from Pastor Kijambogo Mukisa Franco who lived on Kisiama Island out in the middle of Victoria lake. The water well that supplied water for the 1500 inhabitants of Kisima island had been out of service for seven long years. They had a small rainwater collection system, gutters that collected water from a small galvanized roof that lead to a six foot concrete tank. this kept them going except it had not rained there in a long time. The people of the island were drinking water from the lake. His people were getting sick, further deepening the problem was the latrine that the people used was completely full so that they could no longer use it. Many people on this island were sick or getting sick and their situation getting very desperate. Ally had no idea what to do for this man or his people. 

      Listening to Ally, I realized that I could fix their well. I have owned property in Idaho with several wells on it for the last 35 years. Whenever these well pumps had problems, I could never afford to pay someone to fix them so I had to educate myself about the pumps and fix them myself. 

     I told Ally and Jean that I thought that I could fix that well pump. Although this was out of the scope of what International Medical Relief usually does, they agreed to send me to the island with the natives but could not send any other team members with me. I would be missing a day of clinic with the team but if there was a chance that I could provide for this community a clean source of potable water it would be for the greater good. To prevent Illness rather than treat it. 

     Two years ago, I was a very sad man. I felt that my life had no meaning and I wanted it to change. a dear friend introduced me to Amy Jordheim and I got involved with International Medical Relief. I took a trip to Ethiopia six months ago that forever changed my outlook and my life. When I signed on for the effort in Uganda and began fundraising, I told most everyone that doing this work, for me, was like I was dying of thirst and had been given the job passing out water.  I will say that again: “I was dying of thirst and had been given the job passing out water”. 

     When I arrived in Uganda, Jean had no idea that I had been using “passing out water” as a metaphor for how my own life had changed. the first interaction that I had with her, Jean gave me the job to see to it that the team had… water. It would be my responsibility to see to it that there was an adequate water supply on the bus for team before each day of clinic and ironically, the room I stayed in while in Jinja Uganda was right off of the supply room/kitchen so every night and every morning I would lift the heavy water jugs to fill the water bottles for every member of the team. 

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     The following day as we were traveling to a small village near the border of Kenya I was reflecting on the people of Kisima island, their well, their need. Would I be able to fix their well? would I go there and fail? It was then that I remembered what I had said to so many, “I was dying of thirst and got the job passing out water”. I realized that I had been doing that very thing the entire time I had been in Uganda to that point and that I now had the opportunity to give a sustainable source of water to an entire community. I was so grateful at the thought of it that I wept.

      The next day as the team prepared for another day of clinic, I loaded the water on the bus and then prepared for my own journey. We were working in a third world country, Ally and Jean who had spent a lot of time in Jinja with their work for Help International and the Help School in Masese both told me that the village on Kisima was the poorest place they had ever seen and that I needed to prepare myself for what I would see there.  

    After the rest of the team had departed, Ally and I travelled to the fishing village in Masese, but the boat for my passage had not yet arrived so we then travelled to Jinja to obtain the tools I would need to work on the pump. There were no tools at all on the island and none to be had in Masese. I had time to consider what my minimum needs would be for this job even though I had no idea what this pump even looked like and we were able to acquire everything with little difficulty. Ally “haggled” with the merchant as though she had been doing it her whole life. the tools were all placed in a cardboard box and we headed back to the fishing village.

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    There were many boats at the fishing village but none of them would be anything close to what you would consider modern. Hand hewn wooden planks of mahogany, sealed with pitch with tin nailed over the seams. the boats all had exaggerated bows to cut through the swells of Victoria lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world that I imagine could have swells like that on the ocean.

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     The boat would twist and flex with each swell and the spray covered us as we headed towards the Island. There were several nuns on board, one a teacher, the other, a nurse. We stopped at the sister Island, Kisima 2 and dropped one of the nuns off there. she climbed over the the bow of the boat and disappeared into the brush. There was a fisherman there wearing a shirt so tattered I wonder why he even bothered to put it on. Clearly it was the only shirt this man had. Pastor Franco told me there were 600 children that lived on Kisima2 but that there were no quarters for the teachers so they would come by boat every day. 

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    We then set off for the Kisima, when we arrived, there was a woman quietly turning very small silverfish over in the sun. they were spread out on a 30 ft fine net in the sun to dry. The shore was lined with hand hewn fishing boats, several women were there filling large yellow jugs with Lake water. 

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Pastor Franco, showed me his home, a very small mud structure with a tin roof.   He then showed me his church. a ten by twelve foot building made from salvaged boat hulls.

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I met the pastors wife, Margret, his children, Mukisa Joel and Mwesigwa James, both were sick. 

As the pastor showed me around the island, children followed us, most wearing rags, some with the distended bellies of malnutrition. In Africa, white people are known as “Mzungu”. We’re viewed as saviors, caretakers and to many children, we’re ghosts. they are are once fearful of ..and drawn to the Mzungu.

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He showed me the failed latrine, long since abandoned, the stalls filled with refuse, the fiberglass panels of the roof that had been installed for light had rotted through. The steel lids covering the holding tank accesses were rusted through. The Pastor told me that the stench from this latrine had become so unbearable with it filled up and that they had filled them as much as they could with ash to try and deal with the stench. 

    I asked him, “pastor, where do your people go to relieve themselves?” He just shrugged and said, “the nearest bush”. 

 Before I journeyed to Ambo Ethiopia with IMR earlier this year, I was encouraged to read the book, “Where there is no doctor”.   I studied that book. The people Of Kisima Island and how they lived mirrored those in that book to the letter. The lack of clean water, the lack of sanitation, how necessary it was for the people to dig latrines, but more than that, how these people did not understand why it was that they were all getting sick.

   Pastor Franco showed me the well pump. It had a goat tied to it. It obviously had not produced water in a very long time. the pastor introduced me to the elders of his tribe, those responsible for the well, the latrine and the boats as well as other men from the community. With the Pastors help as interpreter, I told them all that I wanted them to help me dismantle the pump so that we, as a group, could determine why it was not working. I told them that I wanted all of them to understand how the pumped worked, how it was able to pick water up from deep in the ground and that if they understood it, then they would be able to fix the pump themselves in the future. 

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 We began taking the pump apart and I found that it was packed with debris. The lift chain rusted and seized, the lift rod was bent. We removed the well head and the attached pump handle, then working the lift rod up and down until it was free and working together we pulled its thirty foot length from the well riser. the foot valve at the bottom was completely fouled with rust and scale. 

 I showed the men there how the foot valve worked, that it would open when the handle was lifted pushing the valve deeper into the well and that it would close when the handle was pushed down thereby lifting the water in the riser. 

I showed them that the rust and scale would fall off of the pump rod and that if it fouled the valve it would no longer seal and the pump would no longer lift the water. they could then see how important it was for everything to be clean so we all scraped the rust and scale from every inch of the pumprod and footvalve. then I showed them that the small watertank at the head of the well and the water spout were both completely packed with rust, scale and sediment, so much so that no water could get though it at all. I told them everything would have to be cleaned and rinsed out but that it was very important that the well head be sealed to prevent anything from getting down in the well that might contaminate it. I asked the pastor for an old spoon that I could use to dig the rust and scale out. One of the men fetched a fork and I said that it would work if I just put a bend in it, Pastor Franco snapped it out of my hand and said, “No. please don’t ruin the fork, he will go and get you the spoon you requested” This fork was one of those cheap stamped aluminum ones you might find in an army mess kit. Yet it was so valuable to him. I was having trouble cleaning the spout and I needed a short piece of wire, I asked the pastor if he had an old coat hanger. I have improvised with old wire coat hangers in my life more times than I can count. when the man came with the coat hanger it was one that had been home made, fashioned from a piece of wire and I quickly cut it up without thinking that this was the only thing this man had to hang his coat on, later on, I felt terrible about it. I live in such abundance that I do things without thinking. I did get the spout clean. Then I had them fetch jugs of water from the lake and with the well head tightly sealed with a rag, we rinsed everything off.

Working together

 Then together we assembled the well pump. Once we were done, the Pastor himself began to pump the handle. Cheers of joy erupted as the water began to gush from the spout. They were so excited, each of them taking turns pumping the water. We placed a pan under the spout and I showed them that each time they filled it, the water would be cleaner than the time before, the rust would clear quickly. 

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Even the children wanted turns at the handle. It is written, “With joy we draw water from the wells of salvation” Dying of thirst, drawing water for these whose thirst was now over. the joy as pure as the water coming out of the ground. Water is the foundation of life and these wonderful people now had a clean sustainable source.

 The pastor said that he wanted to honor me with a meal with his people, so we went to a special hut by the water, small handmade tables were brought in, and a pan with a jug of water to wash our hands. Margret bought in Talapia, Victoria lake perch and lion fish she had prepared as well as a potato like banana. The meal was delicious! 

I had some homemade oatmeal cookies with me that my daughter in law Janine Eckhart had baked. ( I must confess here that cookies do not fare very well being carried in a pack halfway around the globe so I lovingly referred to these as Janine’s Homemade Oatmeal Uganda Cookie Crush)  I asked Pastor Franco and the tribal elders if they would like to share them with me. they were very hesitant at first but lit up as they each tasted them. 

Pastor Franco asked if his wife Margret could try them and he sent for her. She was even more hesitant than the men.  Margret doesn’t know if she wants to try this or not.

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(I love the twinkle in her eye here as she tastes this)

   After trying Janine’s cookies, Margret called for her children to share them them with us as well. 

She was laughing with joy that moment when I snapped a photo of her and her children in that little hut by Victoria Lake.  Of the 1400 pictures I took on this trip, this was the defining moment, The best photo of them all, this mother rejoicing over clean water for her children and janines home baked oatmeal cookies. 

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  It is the best photo for me because I felt that I had come full circle. You see, I had been living with this  photo posted in my home of an Ethiopian woman and her child who had fled to Somalia during the famine in the early 1980s

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  This photo haunted me for years. It looks somehow to me like the Madonna and the Christ child. The baby’s eyes are so piercing and the anguish on her face, the mother who would give anything for food for her child if only there was food to be had. I swore to myself that one day I would help. Who could have known that one day I would bring Joy, laughter, fresh water and *cookies* to this mother of sick children on the other side of the globe? 

We really can make a difference, you know?

 After dessert I settled in with the men from the village and and with Pastor Franco interpreting for me I explained Sodis to them, that if they did not have clean water, they could fill plastic water bottles with lake water and place them in the sun from morning to evening and the water would be fit for them to drink. I explained to them how the sun wold purify the water for them and that if they kept enough water bottles so that they could have a set up on the roof while they were drinking the other they would never run out of water that would not make them sick. 

 I explained to the men how the germs from the feces of their people could not help but be tracked back into their village by their people, children and animals because they were just leaving it on the ground. the feces were coming into the homes and getting into everything. I explained to them that this was what was contaminating their water and making their people sick. I explained to them how they needed to dig a latrine, that it did not have to be a big hole, just big enough to go in and that they could build a small tent over it, one they could easily move when the hole got full. I explained how important it was that the hole be filled with dirt before they moved the tent so that it was covered and nothing could get into it. I explained to them that if they followed what I taught them that their people would get well and there would not be nearly as much sickness in their village as there had been.

 We said goodbye to one another, I said goodbye to the children and climbed aboard that rickety boat and headed back to the mainland. 

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 There are no words to express my gratitude to International Medical Relief for the opportunity…. the gift really, of serving these wonderful people. There are no words to express my gratitude to all my dear friends who helped me to do this work. I took all of you with me to this wonderful place. I was asked for a special story, some singular event that was meaningful, (I apologize for the length of this ) a way that I was touched by a person or a patient in Clinic. That is difficult for me because I have been touched in every single way and profoundly so, by the entire experience. The juxtaposition of moving from the great wealth of the United States through the grueling international travel to the crushing poverty of the third world to have a malnourished, sick child take you by the hand in love, reveals in us all ….our own humanity.

–John Eckhart

Illuminating Peace (day two)

You can find the first Peace reflection by Joanna Dunn here: http://pastormomjdunn.tumblr.com/post/69525010066/illuminating-advent-peace-yesterday-we-started

Joanna challenged us to let there be peace on Earth by beginning with ourselves.  How are we agents of peace?  I have voices swirling in my head that remind me that we cannot be agents of peace if we are not at peace within ourselves.  When we are filled with anger and strife we spread those things.  In fact the monk Benedict made it a part of his monastic rule (law) that you could not leave a monastery and go to another because you were unhappy.  Why?  He said that while you may think you are leaving to get away from the problem, in fact you are simply taking the problem to a new place.  The problem resides within us.

But… I say… But it’s tempting to move on to greener pastures.  It’s easy to want to identify how others are a part of the problem.  It’s easier to see the toothpick in my neighbor’s eye (to quote Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew) than to think about my role in all of it.

For true peace to reign on earth we have to start by finding God’s peace within us.  We have to be willing to look deeply to our own soul’s discontent, unhappiness, and anger.  This is why peace is not simply the absence of war.  Peace requires to the ability to be comfortable in our own skin; comfortable with the people around us.  Peace is not subjugating our own inner turmoil and keeping it reigned in, just as peace cannot be achieved by subjecting other people to our ways and views.  This is not peace.  Peace is relieving that turmoil and letting it go.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

What burdens are you carrying?  What makes you weary?  How are we prepared to come to terms with this, to give it up, and to rest in the one who is peace that we might become agents of peace?

Advent Hope, Bubbling Up, and Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, Joanna asked us: “How do we live a hope filled life without then being one who only ‘looks through rose colored glasses’?”

It is a great question.  Is there a difference between optimism and hope?  I think we do well to remember the one who anchors our hope is Jesus Christ.  Our hope is not a general sense of goodness or well-being, or a “Don’t Worry – be Happy.” (Does anyone even remember that song?  Google it youth, you missed out on a whole phenomenon with that one.)

What does it mean to have our hope rooted in Jesus Christ?  I think it means the character of our hope ought to take on the character of the one in whom our hope rests. (Because it isn’t Pandora’s hope, after all, it is God’s hope resting in the one who is God-with-us.)

As God with us we know that Jesus sets aside glory and honor to take on flesh and blood, sin and grief.  That is to say our hope is decidedly not rose colored glasses.  It’s the opposite.  Hope takes an extra-long and very real look at suffering.  We know as well that our hope resides in one that died for us.  Our hope is not a self-serving thing of comfort, ease, and material well-being.  Our hope is rooted in the one who had nowhere to lay his head, who sought out the least and the lost, and chose as companions the ones that others had deemed unworthy.

But to come full circle this doesn’t mean our hope is less than rose colored glasses, or benign happiness.  The point is that our hope is so much more.  Our hope resides in the one who rose from the dead, who healed those left for dead, who united people across cultural and racial divides tearing down the dividing walls of hostility, the one who proclaimed along with the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) and more than proclaimed it by chapter seven when John the Baptist is wondering if Jesus is the one to come – the one in whom our hope resides – Jesus response is not to say yes or no.  But to say look what is happening in my wake?  Where I go hope rises; lives experience tangible good news.

The hope we find in Jesus is BIG.  It is world transforming.  Its aim is creation-wide.  But it’s accomplished one person at a time.  It starts at the bottom and bubbles up.  It sees the worst the world has to offer, and responds in counter-intuitive love and blessing.

You want tangible hope?  Why don’t we end this week’s reflection on hope in the most tangible and fitting manner.  With these words from Nelson Mandela who the world celebrates even as we mourn our loss in his death yesterday because his was a great spirit:

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

This is hope.

Illuminating Hope, Day 3: Pandora’s Box

(The day one reflection can be found here: https://akukla.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/illuminating-advent-hope-day-1/ and the responding reflection from Joanna Dunn here: http://pastormomjdunn.tumblr.com/post/68927576328/first-thoughts-on-advent-illuminating-hope)

 

Joanna started me on thinking about the journey of Hope when she mentioned how we see it differently at different ages.  We all probably on some level remember the story of Pandora in Greek mythology.  She is presented to Prometheus’ brother as punishment for stealing fire.  She is the first woman.  She bears a box and curiosity.  She opens it… and all manner of evil spills into the world.

What you may, or may not, recall is that one thing and only thing that does not spill out of Pandora’s “box” (actually a jar in the original Greek work by Hesiod, Works and Day), hiding just under the lip of the jar, is hope.

And even scholars of such things are undecided about what it means that she (elris is a personified spirit of hope that takes the form of a young woman) remains in the jar.  Perhaps it is that Pandora, and humanity with her, is left clinging to hope in a world gone amiss.  Perhaps it is actually meant to have a less positive reading – that the one good she had to give Pandora kept sealed away in the jar, spreading evil but not the hope to endure it.  (Because Pandora does indeed put the lid back on the jar once she sees that hope hasn’t escaped.

So what do you think?  Do we cling to hope for ourselves – do we loose it on the world?

Pandora’s name is derived from the words for all and gift.  She is the all-gifted one.  But also could be the she is the all-giving one.  Meaning she gives hope as well as ill to the world.  Regardless of the meaning of the myth the implication to me is that we each have the ability to loose pain on the world, but we also have the ability to give hope.  It is inevitable that we do the first; it would be regrettable if we do not seek to do the latter at least as much.  How are you loosing hope on the world this season, even as we await with expectations the one who is hope for all?

Illuminating Advent: Hope (day 1)

We began this week reflecting on Hope.  Each Monday of Advent our devotional will be a synopsis of the sermon from the day before and then Joanna and I will continue through the week with a conversational devotion continuing those thoughts in various trajectories.  So how does scripture illuminate hope, we asked yesterday in worship?  When we illuminate the darkness two things happen.  We being to see what something isn’t – that isn’t the bogey man under our bed, it’s my dirty clothes.  And we begin to see more clearly what something is.  So what did we see about the hope that is routed in Jesus Christ?

This hope in Jeremiah 33:14-16, Romans 8:18-25, and 1 Peter 1:3-9 wasn’t a promise that life would be easy.  Even those who have the first fruits of creation, Paul tells us, still groan in labor pains with all of creation. We are still waiting for something not yet fully realized.  Our hope is not a panacea that promises an easy journey.  Our hope also doesn’t promise an escape from this world to some idealized place removed from here.  Jeremiah reminds us that the messiah links our past, present, and future.  Hope is dirty and rooted in earth.  God intends not to redeem me – God intends to redeem (all of) creation.  Nothing is getting scrapped (God reminds God’s self of that with every rainbow).  Hope doesn’t promise us escape and it also doesn’t promise that we can just sit by as bystanders because God’s work is incarnational – God’s work is in-the-flesh – and this reminds us that God works through human agency.  God called Abraham and Moses and Ruth; God calls Mary, Peter, and Paul.  God came in flesh: rooted not just in earth but working with all creation as partners in love and care.  God calls us.

So if hope is not about ease, retreat, or having our work done for us, what is hope?  Is there anything left to make hope have substance?

I think the essence of our hope in Jesus Christ is two-fold.  It’s that God’s creation is one.  We are all inter-connected; we are all called into neighbor-love in which we understand all that exists – people, earth, stars and sea – to be our neighbor.  We are not alone, nor are the tasks before us ours alone.  Our hope lies in a God who gathers in all of creation and binds us together in love.  We are not alone.

The other aspect of this hope is that God just doesn’t give up on us.  The parable of the prodigal son gets us in touch with our own elder brother bitterness.  Why do good if even the good-for-nothing younger brother that squandered his inheritance is rewarded in the end?  This is the wrong question, an understandable one, but the wrong one.  Flip that script.  The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us.  There is nothing we can do that makes God love us less.  There is nothing we can do that puts us outside of God’s grace.  There is nothing we can do that puts us beyond the reach of hope.  God doesn’t give up.  This is our hope.

I leave you, again if you were here Sunday, with this story.  My son Warren loves playing video games (he gets that from me) and he gets extremely frustrated by them (sadly he gets that from me too).  He annoys Caroline and me to no end with his whining about them.  I take the phone away or turn off the PlayStation. I tell him to either stop letting the game bother him or stop playing.  But he won’t.  He is determined to prove his efforts to win aren’t futile.  (Subject to futility anyone?)  Staunching determined.  He just won’t admit defeat.  So there he is – in tears with puffy eyes and contorted limbs – playing.  (I’m not exaggerating here.  And this is what he does for fun?)  And then I realized there is something of God in this.  No creation isn’t a video game.  God isn’t simply controlling us like a giant APP on God’s iPhone.  But God is engaging us day after day hoping it all goes right, vexed that it doesn’t and yet unable to give up on us, unable to give up on creation, unable to imagine that it is not futile but in fact is the groaning and moaning of labor that is birthing something we cannot yet see but know to be a reality.  So day after day God engage us again. Generation after generation God – lamenting the brokenness of creation – endeavors to work it towards good.  And this – this God contorted and weeping with loving frustration is our hope, because the maker of all that exists is so determined to make it all work to good that God is not capable of giving up on anyone or anything.

We are not alone.  We are bound together.  We are the people of a God incapable of giving up on us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.