Monthly Archives: June 2016
I have lived in the mid-west, the east, the southeast, and now the northwest. I did a tour in the Philippines for a year as well. Living in all these places has taught me that they each have their own unique flavor, but the people are the same. Everyone wants to talk about their uniqueness. “You know you live in Chicago when the weather drops 20 degrees in a single hour…” Except the weather does that everywhere. “You know that you are in the south when every conversation starts with figuring out how you are related…” Except I run into that more of that in Boise than I ever did in Georgia and Florida. I live in a state now that is so white you couldn’t imagine how difficult it is to find racial diversity… and yet I have met more refugees here than any other place I have lived, and I was standing on the sidelines before my son’s soccer game the other day talking to four other dads and I was the only person for whom English was a first language… in Boise, Idaho!
What’s my point?
On the morning after Great Britain has voted to leave the European Union I reflect on what unites and divides us. And how our pride that we are different (and better) is a religion of devastating consequences. It fueled the Hellenizing impulses of Alexander, the not-yet-over age of Imperialism, and more than one World War. It led to a “third-world” treated as the battle ground of competing imperial ideologies.
I consider that it is inevitable that we will try to unite and divide as nations and institutions. We are not a people constantly getting better. We are individually and corporately broken and seeking wholeness. But I believe in my heart in the interconnectedness of the people that populate this globe. We are one body! I believe in my heart that we are only whole when we form a chorus of diverse but same hearts. I believe that the world will be a far less gruesome place when we cease to put ourselves ahead of others… when our drive for differentness and acknowledged superior view on life ceases to become that cancer that puts us at war within our own body.
This is what I mean when I say, in hope, that love wins.
Today I sent my three older kids off on a hike with their YMCA camp. They each had a backpack, a lunch, and two water bottles (there is NO shade in this part of Idaho). At least they almost all had two water bottles. Meredith, the youngest of the three, only carried one so she didn’t get too weighed down, her backpack is almost her size after all. We told the other ones to share their water with her, we all help each other out.
Those words just echoed again in my mind. What seems so easy (well, not always actually, but more often than not) in my family becomes some hard as the “group” gets bigger. But the ethic is still the same. We are still many who belong to one human family. And we share with one another, we work together, we makes sure no-one gets left behind… even if that “costs” us.
So in the natural and inevitable squabbles that occur between siblings, and sibling nations, denominations, institutions, etc… my prayer today is that we may find ways to remember we are each a gift of diversity to each other – but not so unique and special in our selves. In fact it has always been, through spiritual story and evolutionary triumph, that we have succeed in life when we have figured out how to carry one another through the day. We all need to take turns carrying the water for each other. Because alone? Life is far more bleak.
Today I double down on love. I hope you will too. Because together? We are better.
I cannot make myself feel good today. A heavy weight just won’t let me. Our church has screaming happy kids in it for VBS… but I’m… stuck. Yesterday our world was shaken once again and I just don’t want to “move on.” I feel a need to wallow a bit. I feel a need to confess that its wrong that I can just go on while others are looking around corners and locking doors and feeling once again how unsafe their life is, unsafe because they have a big giant target on their back. And it isn’t of their making. I made it… or folk so much like me it might as well have been me. And I haven’t figured out how to get it off yet… and maybe that’s because I just haven’t tried very hard.
This is what is in my head when these words from scripture come to mind:
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke13:1-9)
What we have here is a little trinitarian moment, 3 stories and one message.
A group recounts to Jesus an act of political violence committed by Pilate. Pilate appears to have killed a group of Galileans in their place of worship. The event lacks historic attribution outside of scripture and yet many other such acts by Roman power, including Pilate, towards the Jews are elsewhere noted. We don’t hear how they present this information to Jesus but based on his response it seems that rather than defend their own they turn on them. This group that was killed must have done something bad. They want to frame this in a typical, “if they died they must have deserved it” theology that undergirds the myth of redemptive violence. Redemptive violence promotes the idea that we can fix the world’s problems by killing the people promoting the problem. If we kill enough, and threated death enough… people will be good and peace will result.
Jesus does as Jesus does: he ignores the idea of providing an answer and asks a deeper question. Do you really think those that died are any different than you? This is the type of turn I love about Jesus. Because he always makes it OUR PROBLEM. (Hold on to that thought for later.)
Jesus has been talking about judgement in the lead up to this interaction. And yet… He is unwilling to judge the Galileans. He isn’t even willing to judge Pilate. Instead he looks at those who, perhaps, sought to deflect judgement from themselves and says, “unless you repent (turn around the way you are living your life), you will perish as they did.” You will perish. Unless you change the direction we are all headed. Now I think we tend to hear this as divine redemptive violence. You will be killed for being a sinner too. But I think we read Jesus and God as issuing imperative commands where they intended indicative statements of cause and effect. In a world that promotes violent means toward the goal… we will all perish in the end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… let’s hear Jesus out.
Jesus immediately recounts another incident. The falling of a tower at Siloam. (Another incident lacking in historic reference outside of scripture… but again, the event wouldn’t have been rare. In fact ancient historians talk about the over-crowding in ancient cities that often resulted in habitations falling in on themselves under the weight of its occupants. Usually this would have been the dwellings of the urban poor… and while we don’t know anything about the tower at Siloam such a reading would make this not simply an act of random tragedy, but a consequence of economic injustice.) Again Jesus says, “did these too deserve to die? (more than you). Jesus doesn’t give an opportunity to breath… No. No they did not. But if we do not repent (turn around and change the structure of how we live together) you too will perish.
And then a parable. About a tree… because, #Jesus.
A tree that year after year doesn’t produce (doesn’t repent and change direction). A tree that is you, and a tree that is me. Because remember this is Jesus we are talking about and for with Jesus he is ALWAYS going to make this about us. People are dying. They are dying at the hands of political power, and systemic sin, and redemptive violence… people are dying and we haven’t produced any fruit to make it stop. So should the tree get cut down?
Because #grace. Because #novengence Because #noredemptiveviolence
Let me, the gardener says, work on it for another year. Give it another chance.
Actually, a group of pastor colleagues of mine (I’ll risk breaking some confidence here) recently noted what he really said was… let’s poor some shit on it. And let’s sit there in the shit for another year. And see what comes of it.
Well friends. We have shit. A lot of it. We have political violence, we have sexual violence, we have homophobic violence, we have religious violence. And far, far too often we have a belief that somehow the victims deserved it. We are as steeped in the myth of redemptive violence and victim-blaming as anything from the ancient world. And we have proved just as unproductive at turning around and bearing fruit.
Yesterday I sat thinking about the violence that tore apart Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, as many of us did. Today I’m taking my pulse… because I’m wondering how to live in its wake. Many of us are. Again. We talk about a nightclub shooting, but I heard it as a church shooting, because often enough nightclubs are the only sanctuaries our gay friends and neighbors have available to them. We have shunned them from all the more typical places to gather. We have heaped shame on their shoulders to make it hard to be who they are in public. They have needed to create and seek out their own sanctuaries. And two nights ago one such sanctuary as that was ripped apart by violence and the blood of a 100 people mixed together in their place of sanctuary. Did they deserve it?
The victims of Orlando were people of color, were gay, were seeking sanctuary and safety in a world that has denied it to them. It isn’t their fault. Its mine. Its ours. It’s the world that has shunned people and made them targets. It’s a world that has made it “ok” to treat women as sexual objects, and gay men as “outsiders and enemies to our righteousness.” It is also the fault of a world that thinks the problem is Islam, or terrorists, or mentally ill people. Rather than a world that has taught that value of redemptive violence, take what you can and if you are strong enough to hold it against others than you were meant to have it, and marginalizing certain outsider groups as easy targets to power-needy individuals and systems. Whether it is the Jews or Muslims, women and children, or gay and queer and transgender strangers we constantly put a target on someone… someone else we can blame. Someone else… so that it isn’t our problem.
I do not image that I am capable of creating a world without violence. But I certainly have proven capable of providing targets for that violence. Every time we “other” someone. Every time we set apart a group as outside our circle of care, or even welcome. We are creating targets. We are justifying that they “deserved” it more than me. So for today… for this year. My fruit is this: we need to take the targets off people. And we need to recognize that every single one of us needs to participate in the corporate act of repenting and changing our direction… or we will perish at the hands of one another.
Too many years now the tree has born no fruit. Far too many years. The gardener is weary. It is time and past time. So do not look for people to blame here. Look to yourself and ask: what can I do different, how do I need to change, what fruit can I bear that will take targets off of people. Because we are all sitting in the shadow of the tower of Siloam. We put ourselves there, we built the tower… and its up to us to put it right.
Even the only slightly biblical literate person is capable of recollecting something about building on rock versus building on sand. Context? No idea (the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount). Citation? Uh, one of the book with Jesus? (Matthew 7:24). Purpose? Well… that’s what we are going to talk about, but first a story.
This story isn’t important in and of itself. Its one of those stories whose important lay in how its representative of so many stories. I was sitting in a room of students in the Doctor of Ministry program I was in, a joint class across two different programs with students from two different seminaries. We had just finished reading books by John McCain and Barack Obama and we were having a conversation on the intersection of faith and politics and one person said, “I just can’t agree with him because of X and because that is not what scripture says is right. And I stand on the Word of God.”
That person all but quoted Matthew 7 in that moment. I’m building my house on the Word and it’s a rock, its unyielding, its absolute, its right… and everything else is wrong. But interestingly, and you likely see where this is going now, that person was in the minority opinion in that room filled with people who all: 1) love the Church, 2) work in or alongside the Church (or spiritual care community) for a living, 3) see the Bible as unique and authoritative, and 4) have at least one degree in pursuit of a another in the use of the Bible as an expression of that shared love and for the purpose of that work to which they have been called by God.
The professor engaged that person, “But can you see how someone else might read the Word and come to a different opinion about what it means that might open the door for the candidate’s sense of what is right?” The answer was no. This colleague was standing on rock, had built their house there, and could not imagine compromising… because that would be opening them up to consequence of Matthew 7: “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” And on that day I began to realize something about myself. I have built my house on sand. It is the only faithful way for me. And I don’t think that makes me a fool. Its exactly what I think Jesus’ has called me to do. So… am I not standing on the Word of God?
Let’s jump again for a moment. In fact, lets imagine this whole post is building a house and its going to stand on four beams – we have three beams so far. The first was the Matthew’s parable of rock and sand. The second is the idea that scripture has only one meaning and we cannot deviate from it. The third beam lies in the fact that Matthew isn’t the only one who tells this story. Luke also tells the story of the Sermon on the Mount… except its on the plains, its short and to the point, and it has more woe and punch. Then it too ends in this parable. But listen to this difference in what is said:
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
In this account the difference is not that one builder (the wise one) found a good solid rock surface and built there while the other (foolish) built on shifting sands. The difference is the work that went into providing a foundation. “That one… dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock… the (other) one… without a foundation.” I like to think then that both builders were stuck trying to figure out how to build on sand. The foolish builder set up a house like the one of the lazy little pigs in The Three Little Pigs… any ol’ thing will do. But the wise builder knows that sands shift and life brings the unexpected your way and so they dug down into the sands to find where there was rock and sunk a foundation down into it to anchor the house. After building they both look the same from the outside. And they are both built upon sand, but the one – the one that will stand through the floods and winds that life brings our way – is the product of deep digging and discerning work upon which we really stand. And the importance to me is that what was never true here is that there was an unambiguous space of absolute sureness upon which to build. Hard, interpretive, investigative, agile work was always going to be required to find a way to both “go with the flow” and be anchored in something deep and abiding.
Fourth beam time – bringing it all together. I always imagine it would be nice to see the world in stark black and white, and to imagine that I could always be right in how I read scripture and even how I read the lay of the land in which I live. I always imagine it would be nice too if God really did all the work for us by just telling us exactly what to do, think, and believe. But I’m either deeply unwillingly, and just not wired, to actually see that as a viable way for my life… or even the way God calls me into relationship with God. One thing that is true of both Mathew and Luke’s accounts of the Jesus’ sermon is that he describes an attitude towards life rather the prescribes an exact set of actions. Be merciful. Be hungry. Take care not to be rich! Seek Peace. Mourn. Don’t be well liked! Taste like me – don’t talk like me. Forgive. Love your enemies. Work out your faith, but not in ways that call attention to your goodness. Don’t worry and don’t judge and trust. Above all… trust. (like in something that isn’t so sure….)
These are the stones upon which our house is built. No good creeds here. No declarative statements that make life black and white and no exposition of what it means to love, of if he really means that wealth is bad, or how far exactly we have to take this whole meek thing anyway….
We are standing on sand after all. Deeply anchored… but always shifting. I can be no other – and on this “rock” I will build my house.
So yes I think I stand on the Word of God… but I don’t think it looks anything like a house built on stone. I think its shifts and moves underneath me. I think I don’t always know when I’m inbounds and out of bounds or even if there is such a thing. I think I can’t always tell what parts are even God’s words and what parts are words I put in God’s mouth. But I also feel deeply anchored in these words… the good ones and the bad ones and most particularly the hard to live with ones. And I’m standing on the sandy words of God discerning these good stone foundations upon which we may tred forward with the good news, and I am grateful and needful of all the people willing to dig and discern alongside me to find those stones together.
THIS! is the Word of the Lord, thanks (I think) be to God.