Monthly Archives: July 2014

Parenting beyond Sight: boundaries for kids outside the home

I remember quite a few years ago a co-worker mentioning that he told his son (tween to early teen age) he couldn’t go to swimming pool birthday party because he didn’t trust that family’s supervision of the kids. It was the first time it dawned on me that such things were a matter of concern. That there are some activities that require a larger degree of safety and not everyone would agree on what that level of safety was. How and where do you draw the line? It is one thing to allow a seventh grader to be home alone; it’s a whole different thing to allow a seventh grader to hang out alone with a bunch of boys and girls in an unsupervised swimming pool.

Fast-forward to yesterday when a friend of mine mentioned that she has a “gun talk” with her kids when they are going on playdates. This talk involves what to do if they find a gun in the house they are at, how to treat it, how to remove themselves from that place. Accidental shooting of kids by kids with a gun that is not properly secured isn’t just make-believe. It happens. Another friend then piped in that she asks parents of her children’s friends if they have a gun, and if so how it is secured. She said people get offended. I imagine they feel it’s none of her business. But our kids are our business – even when they are out of sight.

So this makes me ask the questions.

  • What safety boundaries are important to you?
  • What do you require to know of how those boundaries are maintained at place your children/youth are going to?
  • How do you talk to your own children and youth about those boundaries and issues and what to do when they encounter them?

I’m not asking us to debate the rightness and wrongness of each others’ boundaries – you are the only parents of your children, the boundaries you set are right for you – I’m just curious what they are and how you maintain them outside your home. Call it group think because some of us are going to better at this than others.

Please chime in because my inquiring mind wants to know!

Advertisements

Home: A Sermon on the sordid families of Abraham

From today’s sermon on Genesis 29’s story of Jacob’s brides (you got that right, more than one and double it again if we are talking mothers of his children) but really its a sermon on the repetitive story of Genesis:

Robert Frost defines home as the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in.

The family systems sickness that is passed through the generations starting with Adam and Eve (I was told later I created a new notion of original sin) and working through the generations of Abraham’s children is the belief that we are in a competition to earn God’s love. We keep defining “home” smaller and smaller so we have to let fewer people in to the circle of God’s love out of fear that there isn’t enough or that we will be out earned by the other.

The Kingdom of God, Heaven, Chosen Land, Chosen people, New Jerusalem… etc, etc are all just different words for home. And God’s home is to the ends of the earth and there is room and love enough for all. We all have a home in God’s heart. The question isn’t how do we earn it, or be worthy of it. The questions we have to answer is how do accept that we really are loved by God without need to earn it, and how are we making that same love palpable for all we meet?

You are loved; we are loved; we all are loved. Open your heart to call the world home, and let everyone in.

A Prayer – of sorts – of Lament in Search of Hope for the World

Creator? Redeemer? Sustainer?

I do not know what name to lift up to you God. Not in this moment of prayer. Not to get your attention at this time. Will a pleasant name give my plea a greater hearing?

God who is – I AM. God who claims naught but existence… and hearing – for you heard the cries of your people. God who claims naught but existence and hearing and yet also responds through broken vessels like Moses and Paul, in prophets like Elijah and Jesus, in poets and priests and prostitutes and peons and… and whatever you can lay eye on. God who is, hear our prayers – our cries – our lamentations – our bafflement and our despair, and respond. Because we need you.

“In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1)

Our world knows much of formlessness, void, and darkness. Our world – your world I might remind you – is swirling out of control. (Are there controls on this thing?) Madness seems to have taken over. We are killing each other at obsessive rates. Killing over land, over long held hatred, out of neglect, self-interest… or for no reason at all. God… we are killing. We are killing ourselves.

“Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

So much hate. I do not know what to do in the face of hate. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I do not know how to look into the eyes of one who sees another human being as unworthy of life. I do not know how to stare deeply into those eyes… with love. I do not know how to love the hate-filled other. To love them in such a way that the only death is the hate and not the other.

“Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34)

We lack the strength Lord to be a gracious people. We are consumed by a need for personal safety. We are consumed by a need to protect our own. We are consumed by our self. We are literally consuming ourselves in the name of our own glory. And the victims of our hunger are legion.

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8)

Our hearts are empty. We care not. Certainly not enough to deprive ourselves. Besides, we cannot get beyond our own hurts, for they are real and true and hardship abounds. We cannot be moved to care for another when we cannot care for ourselves. Where do we go when everyone is a patient and no doctor will come to work? Is there balm for the wounded soul?

“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)

But our children are scattered and dying. Hungry and homeless and… what future does this world hold when schools are warzones and warzones are shielded in their bodies?
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Our leaders are as scared as we are – perhaps even more because they can see farther than we can, for all their short-sightedness, from their elevated lofts of luxury. What does a disciple do when then master is aimless, absent, apathetic or amorally removed from the plight?

“I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10)

Them too – but maybe you are not hearing me, where are you, O God…. How long O Lord… if we die in this wilderness of hate and indifference who shall be left to you of your creations? My God… my GOD… why have you forgotten us… forsaken us…. Whither shall we go – shall we look to the hills? Shall we find you in the shadow of death? The demons have overturned the furniture and made a mess of the homes in our heads… the bleeding will not be stopped… the death-throws of the Beast – if death throws they are – are far too much for our little lives to stand. If you are Alpha and Omega.. we need you in the middle too – where are you, O Lord… my God?

“Be still… know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I find myself almost out of breath… that is – out of God, out of you. Molded and breathed into and given life, it is death now that I see, that I breathe, that I live. Justice isn’t rolling down, Habakkuk is no more pleased today, does he still stand his watch tower? Do I stand in his place? Do I have it in me? I am out of breath, and our world feels out of time. Oh Ancient of Days – it’s time to appear on scene. At least a little late I might say. Where do we go from here – when just to stand seem more than I am able?

“At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.” (Daniel 9:23)

That’s nice.
I was looking for a little more Revelation.
I am stirred to anger and I am ready for an angry God. We are past the point of words… we need action. Oh God – DON’T YOU SEE IT?!?!

“Hear, O Israel-” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

YOU DON’T GET IT – I’M DONE LISTENING. I NEED YOU TO FIX THIS!

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21)

I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Is that an answer? Why won’t you answer me – don’t you know I have your life in my hands…..

“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35)

I didn’t mean it, God I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated. More than a little lost. More than a little heart-sick for all those whose lives have been thrown to the wind. More than little despairing that we just can’t get this love thing. I’m tired… God knows, you must be too.

“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)

God may our hearts be broken… broken open to one another. Broken up by you and for you and with you. May our hearts be kindled and may our anger be healthy. Angry at killing, not killing angry. Angry at systems of homelessness, violence, power and dominance, ignoring the widow and orphan, at imagining there is no room in the inn… But not angry at the homeless, the violated, the least and the lost. May our hearts be kindled. May our compassion grow warm, yes, and tender. May seedlings of hope be scattered in the wilderness and the rocks and roads and the urban slums and the rooftops of palace and stable and may the sprout up. May we protect them for them are a hard won and precious gift. May we honor them for their roots go deep into the marrow of the earth connecting pole to pole – person to person, and their leaves are absorbing the starlight of different worlds and in their veins lies the life blood of heaven and hell.

“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Just help me see the hope… for all the rest is all too easy to be consumed by.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

Make it so. So be it. Amen

Don’t be the BEST, be you!

Superlatives are idols and lies and ugly task masters. But we live in a culture that convinces us they are the telos (the goal) for which we strive. The message is all around us.

It’s in beauty ads, or any ad, that pushes us to understand there is an ideal type or lifestyle or look. It’s in the drive for younger and more and more organized and more specialized competitive sports. It’s why we are told Brazil is a loser and in despair… because they didn’t end up (for one 90 minute moment in time while missing two of their best players) being the BEST team in the entire world.

It’s why we have Ivy League colleges and read about the best small college, or best sports college, or the best this that and the other way of making sure our alma mater is BEST at something. And then to procure that for the next generation we make sure they get in the BEST pre-kindergarten.

It’s why there is a whole thing called Facebragging and, what brought this to mind, its why when we take online quizzes to find out what movie we are, or character, or drink or whatever, we like what it says because it’s usually filled with superlatives and compliments (just enough to that you will resonate with a couple of them and say: that is sooo me). I have never taken a quiz that told me I was an extra in the movie that didn’t speak and ended up getting cut out of the end production to get the screen time under 2 hours. But you know what? Most often that is exactly who we are – and there is nothing wrong with that.

I just took one because I usually enjoy figuring out how they decide what result you get, and I got that I should be described as the two words: Exceptionally Bighearted. And my response was, “no I’m not.” I’ve fairly hearted… I think. In my better moments. It’s something I work at but I will never be exceptionally bighearted – its just not the glove that fits me well. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay being someone who is okay at heartedness and working to be better.

I grew up with two best friends who were much better athletes than I was. They just were better at everything. I played a lot of tennis growing up because I enjoyed it and was good at it. I remember with fondness the day my hard work at tennis overcame my friends’ natural ability. I beat them. I worked hard at it (and had they worked as hard at it as I had they would beat me… probably easily). I was never going to be great. But that was okay. I enjoyed it. I was good. And that worked for me. Had I needed to be the best I was bound for a life of disappointment and angst. It just wasn’t going to happen.

I remember several years ago my younger sister watching my young kids said, “They are just so normal.” Now that sounds like a weird thing to say. Does anyone want to be normal? But my sister’s kids – who are sweet and wonderful – were also born with a lot of developmental challenges due to a hereditary disease. My sister meant it as the height of compliments. You see – normal can be quite the blessing. And her kids are a wonderful blessing too, even if they aren’t “normal.” There are things they cannot do, there are challenges they live with (feeding tubes for instance), but that doesn’t make them “less than.” Evaluatory terms little good, better, and best are particular about a skill or attribute but they should never be understood to describe the value of a person – but they so often do, and it’s incredibly hurtful. People are not the sum of the scores on the sports scores, their grade cards, their artistic vision, and beauty pageant results. Nor should we be evaluated as successful based on the salaries we make, the size of our office, the utility of our field of work, the picture window view of our martial life, or the number of kids we have. (Or the ways they succeeded in things we wish we had.)

Chasing after superlatives, and measurables of a successful life, or uniqueness to stand out in a crowd as BEST…. These things are idols. They are ends (goals, achievements) we chase after often to the detriment of our emotional and spiritual health. They make value statements not only for us but our friends, our family, and our community.

James Bryan Smith, author of the Good and Beautiful God (and its follow up books) is fond of saying, “You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” Not because of what superlatives you can claim. You simply are because who you are is good, God loves you for all of who you are and who you are not; God delights in you with all your warts and challenges, blessings and gifts.

The value judgments of our culture (any culture) are a challenge we will always live with. There will always be voices that we cannot drown out telling us we aren’t special enough, normal enough, fast enough, pretty enough, smart enough, creative enough…. That we aren’t superlative enough. Reject the voice. You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights. Reject the voice for another. They are different than you, and Christ dwells and delights in him and her too. Reject the goal of making life a score card, an accomplishment, a grade, a value judgment. And receive the love and acceptance of God who says I have numbered the hairs on your head, I know you inside and out, I see you waking and sleeping, falling down and stumbling, overcoming and standing out. And I love you – I love all of you, for who you are right now. This day and forever.

You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights… delight in who you are as well.

The Giving Tree or The Taking Boy

Okay so now and then I let slip that I do not like The Giving Tree. People love it. I get it. So here you go, why I don’t. You will have your reasons why I’m over analyzing, but it’s what I do and… I really don’t think this is a reach but it’s right there in the story:

The message that we read in the story of the boy is that happiness is procured from money, working all the time so you have no time for play, a family (he seems to not to end up with), having a house, and going to far away places to find what you don’t have. All this at the expense of the life and vitality of your friend who appears to be codependent and lives only for the happiness of the boy who apparently has no thought of the happiness of the tree.

By the end the dead used up remains of the tree are, we are told, happy to have served the whims of the boy who appears to have never found happiness because here in the end he is sitting alone without friend or family on the stump of an old dead tree.

The end.

Yes that is harsh.  But I really do think this story is a damaging narrative cloaked as a sentimental and benign children’s tale.  So some further thought before you go to it’s defense:

Yes the tree gives. But the boy takes. This is the groundwork for almost every imperialist culture ever. Imperialists take advantage of generous people until it’s too late to change the dynamics of the relationship.

There is a reason Jesus’ death is said to be “once and for all.” It’s that we do not require sacrificial death from our neighbors in order that we might live… and yet, sadly that still isn’t true.

The hidden sadness of this book is that you cannot buy happiness. Happiness is not external and no amount of chasing after it will “find” it.

This book more than any other reminds me why I love the triune love commandment from Jesus: “love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself.” These three work in concert and balance. You can’t do one or two to the exclusion of the third if you are following in Jesus way. To love God but not neighbor? Misses the point. Self-love to the exclusion of others – no way. But also: to love neighbor without any care for self stands outside of Christ’s calling. In our care and service to one another we have to be able to care for ourselves as well. We live interconnected lives building each other up – not one at the expense of the other no matter that we claim the other “desired to make those sacrifices.” This is the way we defend imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, racism, and the subjugation of the environment, etc, etc, etc.

So there you have it, why whenever someone reads or mentions The Giving Tree, all I hear is The Taking Boy.

Living in the Tension: A Sermon on the Sacrifice of Isaac

“Don’t Mind Me While I Rip Out This Page”
Sermon by Andrew Kukla
First Presbyterian Church
Boise, ID
June 29th, 2014

Psalm 13
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Genesis 22:1-14
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

 

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

After this reading, do we say: thanks be to God?

Don’t mind me while I tear this text right out of my Bible (sound of tearing paper). Haven’t you wanted to do that before? Not just this text but lots of texts, haven’t you wanted to rip them right out and never read them again? The Bible is not a comfortable book to read. And don’t worry that was just last week’s bulletin I ripped so we’re okay.

One of the things that really scares me is that someone might preach this text nonchalantly. You know that somewhere out there at this very moment this text is being preached straight up and literally while being unassaulted by the horror of it all – as if God tests us this way, and that isn’t something we should question. That scares me. I don’t know what we do with texts like these that paint a less than stellar picture of God. A horrible picture of God. And us.

I do think that I am amazed this story, and those like it, are still in the Bible. I mean think about it, they have to be able to fix this one. The editing room floor is a good place to start. This story was passed on for centuries in oral tradition and written in scrapes and fragments and pieced together and translated and re-translated. Surely in all that re-scribing of the text we have had ample opportunity to smooth out the edges. As much as I dislike this text I have to say I am amazed by the forerunners in faith who continued to keep stories like these in the Bible, after which we do say: this is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God. There has been plenty of time to alter scripture to be more palatable, more marketable, a better story to get people on board.

Several years back – probably about 6 years now – I was watching a Chicago Bears game. I am a Chicago sports fan and no matter where I live I always will be. I’m a diehard fan of the Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Bears. So I was watching a game and Nate Vasher – who was a cornerback for the Bears and one of my favorite players at the time – intercepted a pass. I’m sure we were losing at the time; we have done that a lot. And he intercepted the pass and we all got excited and then he fumbled and lost the ball back to the other team and in my frustration I pounded my fist against the ground. What I would come to learn soon was in that moment I fractured my wrist. Now two things about such injuries when you are a preacher… first, shaking the hands of everyone after worship with a fractured wrist is really painful. It is particularly so when you have a lot of ex-Navy folk who want to make sure to give you a good firm handshake. Secondly, when you get that wristed casted you get asked A LOT what happened. And I would tell people – because I have this honest streak – that I was in this alleyway and saw a little old grandmother being mugged and I stepped in…. ok, I would tell them what really happened and – now I’m sure you’ve done this and so have I –they’d respond, “really???” And I’d want to say, “No, I just made that up because it makes me look so good.”

It occurred to me back then that I should make up a better story because people would like it better, and so would I. And I remember that every time I read a scripture story that is hard to understand, or particularly one that is violent and oppressive like this story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son at God’s command. I think of that because I realize that they could have written a better story, if this was just about what they had wanted to write. There is something deeply faithful about the sacredness with which we have held to stories of God and God’s people and in which we have been unwilling to make God or ourselves look better in the telling. As we go through Genesis this summer you will notice that the first families of faith aren’t really reputable people. Abraham’s winning and faithful characteristic is that he says yes to everything and questions nothing. In other times and places this would have made him complicit with evil (and one can and should argue that here in this particular story). Abraham, the yes-sir / yes-ma’am, is considered a hero of faith because he is on the side of God and we presume the side of God is good. Jacob lies, steals and cheats his way into the story – and does those to his own family. But we will tell his stories as our stories of faith and it is from his lineage that we get Israel and our own forerunners in faith. These aren’t lifetime movies or hallmark specials. The Bible is not a family friendly book. Do you remember last year when the History channel did the Bible miniseries? One of the early critiques I saw was that it wasn’t fit for children to watch. I remember thinking, “well duh!!” The bible has rape, murder, genocide, anger and petty jealous – this from God’s side of the story. One should not engage scripture unless you are ready to get real. Surely we are clever enough that we could have come up with a better story. But somewhere in these texts we have sensed a holy wrestling with God. Somewhere in these texts there is an unfolding story of who we are in relationship to God and who God is to us. And if we have learned nothing from these texts we ought to learn to cut ourselves a break when we get it wrong. Because the people have always gotten it wrong.

I ask one more thing of you Abraham, who I have drug all over the ancient near east. Who I have kept waiting for my promises to come true, who I have watched have his family split in two at odds with each other, who has done everything I have asked. Now I ask you to take this child, whom you love and you longed for, this child who you went through so much for, take this child and kill him as an offering to me.

I want nothing to do with that God.

I will not stand up here and tell you to believe in that kind of God. I will not stand up here and play mental gymnastics to explain how this story is okay, because it’s not. What I will do is ask a hard question of us: Is there good news in this kind of story? Is there any redeeming quality to this story?

After seminary and before I pastored my first church I felt a calling – an Abrahamic kind of journey calling – to spend an extra year as a hospital chaplain doing a chaplain residency in downtown Atlanta in a program that could have you working as many as 100 hours a week when you were the weekend chaplain. 1,000 bed hospital with 2 level one trauma centers and a children’s hospital across the street as the only chaplain on overnight shifts. It was a hard year – an emotionally difficult year. There were nights where all you did was death. I recall one weekend shift that from start to finish I walked with nine different families through the death of a loved one. Nine deaths without sleep… when you do that you begin to feel more than a little ashy.
In the midst of that journey you are doing residency work to look at yourself and your interpersonal baggage and how you work with your 6 colleagues and their baggage and that is draining as well. And in the midst of that my wife and I were in year three of trying to have our first child. Now it’s hard to feel the sting of that now because… well now we have four kids. But at that time we were doing the 28 day rollercoaster of did it happen, did it happen, no it did not. And we were in year three of this rollercoaster and like so many who have fertility challenges we had to watch other people be excited about new kids and then news stories about people who had so many kids they didn’t want and on and on and in the midst of that you wonder, “why on God’s green earth can we not have a child?” This journeying took us to doctors and eventually me to what became radically successful reproductive surgery. But I wasn’t there yet…

All three of these streams came together in Holy Week – itself an emotional time. And I remember being in the conference room with the other resident chaplains and our supervisor and we are talking about stuff and it all just broke inside me.
I started sobbing. I was experience the very real death of God for me. And I was experiencing the dilemma of what it means to be the spiritual care for people when God was dead to me. What, and how, can you mediate death with people when you yourself are feeling that God is dead? How can you provide spiritual care when you have no spirit and feel dried up inside?

And all this comes pouring out and these wonderful people who I work with who were friends and comrades in a hard journey began to utter – sorry I can’t sugar coat it – all kinds of crap. Theological platitudes. Nice sounding hallmark cards. How it was going to be okay, how it would all work out according to God’s plan… all the stuff we had been trained to never say, because there is nothing you can say in that kind of moment. And as my colleagues – who I love to this day because we went through a kind of formative hell together – because my colleagues were saying all this I was now feeling worse… its like heaping up ash on someone who is already burned up inside. And then they left…

And I said to my supervisor who was still there – and I’ll never forget this part – “Robin, they’re so unhelpful. And I’m learning how to be a better chaplain right now. And I don’t want to learn from this. I don’t want to learn like this…”
And she didn’t say a word.

I could imagine. (If I’m doing any theological gymnastics I’m warning you it’s about to happen.) I could imagine a well-meaning writer trying to get someone into the angst of that moment saying I was being tested by God.

I could imagine, because I heard and watched and participated in my colleagues who are good and faithful and caring people heap all kinds of theology onto the hell I was living on my Mt. Moriah moment, so I could imagine afterwards saying something like this is the word of the Lord… thanks be to God… and attributing all kinds of motives and causes and results from this story. I could imagine trying to tell it faithfully and mucking it all up. Because there isn’t a good way to tell those kind of stories. It is so easy to try to domesticate those kinds of stories. But we all have these kinds of stories. That’s my point here.. the point is not my story. But our stories. Because if we learn nothing from Abraham we have learned that on the 10th time and the 11th time, and I’m sure on the 12th time when it seems like we have it all together (finally) something else happens that we find ourselves tested and tried and strung out as we stumble into a Mt. Moriah hellish kind of moment. And I look back on it – on my version – and I ask, “Did God put me (do that to me) there to learn something?” And the answer, I believe, is no and the answer is yes.

Because God IS a god who unsettles us, God is a god who tries to break us out of unhealthy patterns and idolatrous myths and practices and God puts us in places to try to understand the deep resources of life in a world that has a lot of death, a lot of hurt, and a lot of harm. And sometimes that feels cruel… is cruel. And sometimes we aren’t really sure how much God is involved in all of that but we do know – on some visceral level – that God is in it all somewhere. And in this midst of that hard challenging news… I also think there is a thread of good news to this story.

The thread of good news is that when we end up in those moments – God is right there with us. You hear that in the end… and then Abraham saw a ram. The Hebrew words for saw and provide have the same root. God/Abraham saw a ram, and God has provided it. God provides a way of life. “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

We will end up in Mt. Moriah moments. We will end up in hellish places that it feels to us that God has led us to dead ends. We will end up in moments where we aren’t sure if God is worthy of our belief, and we will end up in moments where our life or the life of one that means more to us than our life is at risk, and in those moments you cannot get rid of the existential angst, the anguish, and the feeling of death. But you can hear a word that you are not alone. That God is with you working in that hell to provide a way out… a way to life.

On the mountain of the Lord, in the midst of hell, in the challenge that will come in each and every one of our lives – the Lord will provide. Amen.

–Charge and Benediction (call it addendum 1)
The Supervisor of my chaplaincy, her name was Robin, is a beautiful soul. And she would always say we have to live in the tension. Life pulls us into difficult places; we get caught between different truths, between challenge and adversity, a rock and hard place. And as chaplains, as Christians, we are called to live in the tension of those moments. We are not called to resolves the tension but in the midst of that tension to be a presence of love and care. I cannot resolve Abraham’s story. I am not called to. But we are called to enter these stories free of our go-to theological platitudes and full of love to remind ourselves, our neighbors, and the world that even in the midst of hell God is with us and that you are – we all are – the object of the greatest love that ever was, is, and ever will be. So go into the world with whatever peace you can muster. Amen.