Friday, June 29, 2012

Reconciled life

Today I was reading in Romans 5. Paul wrote that because of Yahweh's great love we have been reconciled to God. Whereas we were enemies, (by our own doing), we are now friends who are saved from wrath. I began to wonder what a reconciled life might look like. If we are no longer subjected to wrath, how should we live? Honestly, I can't give a good or comprehensive answer to this. What might be evidenced in my life would be wholly inappropriate for someone else. But, I think there are some things that warrant mention.
If we live our lives with an eye to what others may think, even if it is to be a so-called "witness"; that is wrong. Jesus made it clear that any good that we do should be done for the Father alone. Yet, I've heard many good intentioned people state that we must watch ourselves and maintain some kind of piety so that others will see and desire to live in a similar fashion. So far, I've not seen the masses storming the gates to get in.
I think that a reconciled life may allow people to maintain a kind of aloofness, or detachment, from the concerns of the world system and culture. I'm amused at some people who take the markets and politics and other things so seriously. It is the end of the world as we know it now that the Supreme Court has upheld the health care act. Yet, these same people will make profit hand over fist at the expense of this act. We are not affected by this. Ours is not the way of culture and politics.  Ours is the way of reconciliation. Ours is the way of the cross.
I think that reconciled people are reattached to the very good creation. Where we were once cut off, especially in the West, we are put into a right relation with the earth and all that it contains. We experience God's shalom, or as one writer put it, the Harmony Way. According to Genesis, humans were put in here to serve and protect the earth as God's eikons. We are stewards who must answer to the Lord of the Manor. Unreconciled people view the earth as humanity's servant. Something to be used and abused to fulfill our own appetites and greed. Not so, says the scripture. We, being reconciled to God, are also reconciled to the very good creation.
I think that this is a good topic for reflection. What do reconciled people look like?  How does this affect our relationships with Yahweh; others; the cosmos? I don't know for sure, but God does. I trust that we will be led to greater clarity and understanding because of Yahweh's great love.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

36 and counting

Today my wife and I are celebrating 36 years of marriage.
Honestly, I didn't think we'd make it this far.
As much as I tried to mess it up, God's grace and my wife's
committed stubbornness kept it going.
Now, we are doing pretty well and today is a real celebration.
Maybe Carrabba's for dinner...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Advent Ministries

I don't usually plug organizations. Books, yes.
Anyway, Advent Ministries is one of those organizations that works to bring the reign of God into the lives of real people. Please visit their web site and consider either helping through donations or by purchasing one of their products.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kairos Palestine

I debated whether or not to advocate this. However, with all of the poor exegesis running around regarding Israel and its neighbors, I thought it would be good to offer a counter to some of that. Please take the time to read the post from Brian McLaren and take a look at the Kairos link.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


For any who have read some of my ramblings, I just want to say that these are mostly intended to be food for thought. Little observations and feelings that I put out here to help me think through things and find out what I really think.
With that in mind, this A.M. I found myself reflecting on failure. This lead me to the story of the garden. Now, there's a lot in the story recorded in Genesis 2 & 3. More than I care to get into now. But, one thing that did jump out at me was the idea of 'grasping.' Let's recap. Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to care for it, to cultivate it, and to serve and protect it. It would be ok to think that they, in their own way, farmed the land. We are lead to understand that the land willingly gave up its strength so that whatever crop was planted grew up healthy and full of fruit. During the times when they were acting in their role as stewards, they probably had lots of time to think and discuss their lives and relationships with the very good creation, with each other, and with God. It appears that somewhere in the course of their lives they began to speculate about how God related to the very good creation and to them, in particular. The reason I say that is because when they were confronted with the choice of following the known will of Elohim or not, they seemed to have already formed a positive opinion of God's role against a more negative view of their own. When the serpent offered his opinion that they would certainly not die if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they accepted his opinion. The text reads, "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it" (Gen. 3:6a&b, NIV2011). She saw that eating the fruit would allow one to grasp at the things, the attributes, of God. Not content to fulfill the role intended for humankind, she coveted that which was intrinsically divine.
Now, let's contrast that with another person. Yeshua ben Yosef, of questionable birth, (i.e., Yosef was not his dad), came on the scene. Throughout his life he learned a trade and he learned about Yahweh from his family and friends. He grew strong in the Spirit and was especially close to his heavenly Father. He did not need to speculate about God's role in the very good creation. He was intimately aware of it. He was also intimate with the barriers that humanity placed on one in relation to Yahweh. Of anyone in history, he was the one who could properly 'grasp' at the things that were in the purview of God. Yet, one of the earliest hymns of the fledgling ecclesia reads, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage" (Phil. 2:6). Jesus did not grasp at that which was not his to have. In this Kenotic hymn we have a glimpse into the proper position for humankind. He emptied himself and took on the form of a servant; a slave. Like the story of the garden, Jesus confronted the same temptation: to become 'like God.' In his case, he was God! But, he willingly and humbly chose not to grasp at that. He laid it down. And, in so doing has provided the example by which we, as his followers, should emulate. Yes, we are by adoption daughters and sons of God. Yes, we have rights as children and heirs. But, our place in this life is to take the form of a servant. A servant to God, to humanity, to the very good creation.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Just a couple of random thoughts...

When folks think of the eschaton, the new heaven and new earth that God will establish, they picture Jesus sitting on a throne. This throne is located in some 4-walled construct; a temple or something. Jesus, parked on this throne, awaits the arrival of people who seek his judgement and counsel. Sounds all prim and proper, yes? Today I saw a different image. When  Jesus lived among people, he really lived with them. He walked and talked with them. He ate and drank with them. He was present among them. Even after he was raised from death he sought out his disciples. He ate with them, even prepared food for them. He spent about 6 weeks present with them. I think that this will be closer to reality in the future. The Lion of Judah will be loose, not confined in some building. He will be bounding throughout God's good creation seeking out people with whom he can spend time and be present with.
As I sat to pray this A.M., there was a bird making a noisome racket outside the window. I mentioned to Yahweh that even the birds were singing to glorify God. Then, I closed the window to quiet the noise.A short time later it got pretty warm in my room. So, I opened the window again. The bird was still nearby. In fact, there seemed to be a whole herd of various voices out there. The Lord prompted me to stop and listen. Yahweh bade me to be present to the chorus of praise being raised. It was a glorious moment! We too often inject our own agenda into all aspects of our lives, including what we think we must do when present with God. I think that most of the time God would have us simply stop and be present.
A couple weeks back as I was running in a nearby park I came upon a young fawn. It was days, perhaps hours old, lying between a couple of fallen trees. As I ran past, it raised its young head to look, but did not try to get up and run. It seemed quite content to let this feeble old fart pass by. I thank Yahweh for this.
Recently, my daily prayer has included the word 'maranatha.' Maybe I'm getting old and I desire to see the culmination of history. I desire to see the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. How cool will that be?!? But, I am also prompted by something else. I feel the oppression and suffering that is present in this world. People dying from hunger and thirst in a world that has the technology to ease these things. But, because of greed and selfish desire, these things are withheld. I see people being used and abused by the rich and powerful. People stolen and sold into slavery. People murdered for a few coins that are used to feed addictions. Relationships between family members severed over perceived hurts. War. Wall Street. Insecurity. I think that if El Elohim would just stop this and let the renewal of all things come how good it will be. Order from chaos. Peace from destruction. All things in right relationship with all others. Including humankind. We would have the proper authority, not the authority that we have usurped for our own pleasure; our own destruction. Just as the oceans have boundaries that they cannot cross, humanity will live peacefully within its own boundaries. Boundaries established by Creator/Yahweh who will walk among us.

Friday, June 15, 2012

God's Relentless, All Consuming Love

As I continue to contemplate Yahweh's love for the good creation in general, and humanity in particular, I am brought back to something I began to get a glimpse of many months ago. That is, that God's desire and love for us is relentless. No matter where we wander in life's forests, deserts and meadows, Yahweh will pursue us. I caught a bit of a picture that, while imperfect, does reveal a little of how I see God's pursuit of us, God's beloved.
Presently, there are several wildfires burning out of control in Colorado and New Mexico. These fires are driven by wind and fueled by dead growth and litter. The fires are relentless in their advance. Nothing escapes the lick of the flame. All is consumed. In the process, the pine beetle that has destroyed trees is consumed. The governor of New Mexico mentioned that in some places the pine needles on the forest floor is as deep as 4 feet. This, too, is consumed opening the ground to the sun and rain. The dead wood is removed. All of this creates the possibility for new growth; new hope.
This metaphor, like all metaphors, has limitations. But, I see God's relentless, all consuming love burning in our lives. It consumes everything. The good, the bad and the ugly. Yes, some things will be caught in the process. But, the hope of new life is present in the ashes. The good and healthy seed will germinate and grow. The soil, rich with new nutrients, will be able to receive the sun and rain without the litter that has fallen to block it. Those pests and parasites will be destroyed. Those creatures that escaped will be able to return. The forest, like our life, will not be the same. Yet, God will bless. God will be present. God will continue to love us...relentlessly.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

God's Furious Love

I just finished Brennan Manning's The Furious Longing of God. I have always enjoyed reading Manning. He showed me that I am a Ragamuffin. That was a great help to me. It's amazing how that kind of insight can help to do away with pretensions.
This book had as its underlying theme a verse from Song of Songs. It reads, "I belong to my Beloved's. His desire is for me" (7:10). As I reflected on this I was taken back a few months to when I really began to realize Yahweh's relentless pursuit of me. Yet, it has been so easy for me to slip into the notion that God is enthroned in a heaven that I cannot reach. God is attentive to my prayer, but somewhat aloof. We pray for God's grace and wisdom. We pray for God to win our battles. We pray that others will see things clearly, (code for 'My Way'). But, the Lover of our souls desires us. The Creator/Yahweh has walked among us because of that desire. Jesus, the one and only Son loved enough to change water to wine and to heal lepers. He, the true Image of God, went willingly to the cross because of Yahweh's great passion for us. 
Yet, we debate about subjective genitives and whether Adam and Eve were actual people. We take the life, death, resurrection and ascension and call it 'the Christ event.' People debate about justification and sola scriptura, making these what the good news is about. We have to think and believe certain ways or else we are sliding down some slippery slope. (I don't know about you, but sled riding is Fun!)
And, all the while God is still relentlessly pursuing us. The more I consider this love of God, the more I am being convinced that this other stuff doesn't really matter. Frankly, it does not matter to me if the creation story is a factual news story or if it is Israel's story written as a result of the captivity. God loves me. I am not going to get into discussions with people who think that they understand any of the so-called laws of thermodynamics. It simply is not important when one considers that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10b). John the Elder wrote that God is love. We are under compulsion to follow Jesus' command to love one another as He has loved us. We are the recipients of Yahweh's unrestrained and furious love. The rest is just fluff.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Enter: Holy Spirit

From my last post, you can glean that I'm currently searching for somewhere to fit in. This morning I visited a local Anglican church. This is a church I've visited in the past. The rector was gracious to me while I was in seminary by granting an interview that was required in one of my pastoral care classes. Today's service was a confirmation service. There were new confirmands welcomed into membership as well as other new members being received. The diocesan bishop was there officiating. Now, I'm not usually a high-church kinda guy. Yes, I appreciate the liturgy. But, all the pomp and stuff sometimes gets in the way.
As the bishop spoke and gave the sermon, I was impressed with his attitude. He seemed to really enjoy what he was doing. Unlike some of the 'messages' that I had experienced at other churches, you know, the ones where the speaker cries or has some kind of 'hard word,' this bishop was actually happy. That was good, but I was not prepared for what came next. As the folks who were being welcomed into church membership came forward, the bishop prayed a short, pre-written prayer asking for God's blessing. This kind of thing is typical with churches that have written worship forms, like the Book of Common Prayer. After he spoke these 'proper' prayers, as he laid his hands on each person or couple, he prophesied over each. HE PROPHESIED OVER EACH PERSON!! I was not ready for a charismatic experience in this Anglican church. To make it even better, as communion was about to begin, the bishop's wife stood up and shared what most charismatics would consider a word of knowledge about healing. As the service concluded I watched the platform. Because of the special service there were several clergy present. Besides the rector and his 2 assistants, there was a minister from Kenya and and another priest that I did not hear from whence he came. They were all on the platform singing the final hymn, hands upraised, the too-big sleeves of their gowns giving one the idea of several rather large white birds getting ready for flight. The rector was swaying with song, "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise." The only word that came to me was Celebration. The entire service had been a celebration in the presence of Yahweh. I was blessed.
Does this mean that I am leaning toward this church? No, not really. I don't know enough about the Anglican tradition. I am going to visit more. As I think back on the other times that I have visited this church I have to say that each time was celebratory. Whether I find a home in this environment or not, I have seen what a Sunday gathering should be. It should be a time to raise hands, voices and hearts to the Creator/Yahweh who lives within us. We should express the joy and thanksgiving that is natural for people who have been freed from sin and death by the faithfulness of Christ. We should share in the remembrance of Christ in the koinonia of the ecclesia. It's not too far off to say that we should have fun and enjoy one another in God's presence.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Church: why don't I fit in?

One of my favorite Christmas television programs is "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." Yeah, the animation is crude, but it's a good story. I mean, who doesn't love Yukon Cornelius? Anyway, one of the themes in the story is how so-called misfits find fulfillment and a place to fit in. The songs of Herbie and Rudolph touch the hearts of many people, including me.
Herbie: Why am I such a misfit?
I am not just a nitwit.
You can't fire me I quit,
since I don't fit in.
Rudolph: Why am I such a misfit?
I am not just a nitwit.
Just because my nose glows,
why don't I fit in?
I feel this way...Why don't I fit in? I used to think that I could belong with people who were anti-everything except rock-n-roll and peace. (Ok, I'm dating myself here.) But, I found that I did not fit in with the reality of society and economics. So, I joined with those who call themselves conservative. I even had a sign in 1980 that read, "Vote Republican for a change." I set myself within the evangelical church and gave myself wholeheartedly to the white, middle-class conservative chase for the American dream. Again, I did not fit in. I led worship for many years in a church that embraced a personal relationship with God through Christ and a literal approach to the scriptures. Our Reformed theology informed our understanding of life in the Body of Christ. Don't fit there, either. I have attended liturgical churches. I really like them! The liturgies speak volumes that a church that sings some songs then has a lecture cannot. But, here again, I can't seem to fit the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us into these ecclesial boxes. And, I don't really fit all that well.
So, I have brought this to Yahweh in prayer. Where do I fit?!?! Well, God has not said, "Mike! Go there! You will fit in nicely." What I have begun to sense, however, is a need to re-imagine church. There is a lot of material in the scriptures to feed the imagination. There is also quite a lot of church history that can inform reflection. What I have been considering so far has to do with living 'abundantly.' John the Evangelist wrote in chapter 10 about Jesus, the good shepherd, coming in order to bring 'abundant life' in contrast to those who came to destroy life. There has been a lot of discussion about what this 'abundant life' looks like. Most of the talk has to do with trying to live a morally exemplary life in which God is able to bestow blessings on those practitioners. God can pour out abundance on those who follow God's law. Sorry, too much like self-works to me. This appears to be some humanly induced means to an end.
I was reading Taliesin, by Shephen Lawhead and stumbled across something that caused a spark of understanding. In the story, Elphin, the king of a tribe of Britons, has just returned with his warband from service to Rome for the last time. A great feast and celebration was ordered. In it, the
meat began to sizzle...Beer, foamy and dark, and sweet, golden mead flowed in gushing fountains from barrela and butt to horn and jar. Whole carcasses of beef, pork and mutton roasted on massive iron spits. The caer rang end to end in song, strong Celtic voices soaring like birds in wild, joyous flight.
Eventually, Hafgan the bard, stood to sing a song of might and victory. This, to me, sounded like abundant life! It was a full-blown community celebration complete with pigs & beer; stories & songs; food, fun and koinonia.
I also think of the early gatherings of the saints for meals with wine & song & Word. I think of Jesus at Cana; the Son of Man eating and drinking. I think of Boaz and the community gathered at the harvest. I imagine their joy in that culture deeply connected to God's good Earth. I remember gathering with brothers and sisters to watch a football game on the tube with chili and beer. I imagine people who live hard and love hard. I imagine Church. What would this look like fleshed out? How can people live abundantly in koinonia? I'm not sure there is a method that can be gleaned from this. No institutionalizing of this kind of living faith. But, I will continue to ruminate on it. I will continue to seek Yahweh's desires in this.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Is it Heaven, or something else?

I am currently reading from A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Today's offering was entitled "A Whole New Nature." This is an excerpt from his work, Miracles. He made the argument that, because of the physical characteristics of Jesus' body after the resurrection, a new environment was necessary. Although Jesus ate and drank with others, there was something different about his make-up, like the ability to show up in rooms behind locked doors, that necessitated a new Nature. This will presumably be the environment in which he is preparing a place for those who follow him.
This seems to agree with N. T. Wright's position as it was described in his Surprised by Hope. Rather than the blessed dead going to live in heaven, God is preparing a new Earth that will be inherited in the future resurrection. According to Wright, heaven is a place for God, the angels and other heavenly creatures. Humanity, however, is made for Earth. We should not look to some escape to heavens shores, but should be about Yahweh's work here, in the physical, earthy environment. God is  not interested in "unmaking, but of remaking." The business of living and breathing and cultivating and stewarding will be taken up in this new Nature. We should be about preparing for that business now.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Zen and the Teachings of Jesus

A friend of mine gave me a book to read this week entitled, The Zen Teachings of Jesus by Kenneth S. Leong. Those who know me know that I'm not afraid to chase the rabbit, even if it means having tea with some unusual characters. This book qualifies. The first two sentences in the Prelude states, "I left Jesus to search for the Tao when I was sixteen. Now I am forty, and I realize that I could have found the Tao in Jesus." From this point on the author attempts to paint a picture of Jesus as a Zen Master. He uses the sayings of Jesus as well as those of well-known Christian writers like C. S. Lewis to draw parallels to the sayings of the Buddha and other Taoist teachers and writers. Although I am only about half way through the book, I must say that for those who are looking for dialog with practitioners of other religions, this does supply fodder for that. He has, so far, provided some compelling observations. I have been told by many people that it is difficult for one to see one's own short comes and liabilities. Having someone on the outside who can offer a different view of one's character can be helpful in bringing about positive change and growth. This book offers a bit of that. One such observation that most Christians miss regards the supernatural events and healings that Jesus performed. We tend to emphasize the act itself and the supernatural character of it. Leong asks, rather, not did these things happen, but "what specific impact" did these deeds have on those who were present? Were they simply a sensation? Or, rather, "did they transform the lives of those who saw them?" That's an excellent question to consider and meditate on.
Now, before my Evangelical friends start to get nervous and think that I've gone quite of the pitch, let me add a few thoughts.
1. The opening statement of the prelude mentioned earlier tells me some things. Leong wrote that he left Jesus to find the Tao. I would ask how could he leave someone that he was actually never with? If he had actually had a living and real relationship with this Messiah Jesus, he would not have left it for anything. I don't want to sound superior about this, but Jesus is as far superior to the Buddha and the Tao as the Creator should be above that which is created.
2. Leong tries to make the argument that Jesus was a Zen master. I don't think that can stand. Jesus was a Jewish prophet and sage in the period of second temple Palestine. He was Semitic through and through. As such, he could not have been 'enlightened' in the way that Sidhartha Gotama, (the Buddha), was. Everything that Jesus thought and did was consistent with Jewish religious thought and practice. Now, there may have been some underlying cultural overlap. Much of second temple Judaism was influenced by their captivity in Babylon in the early to mid 1st millenium B.C.E. Who knows what kind of influence may have also flowed to the east of Babylon toward India? Also, who know what kind of common heritage was shared by some Indo-European influence? These are questions that some young Ph. D candidate can investigate. For me, it's plausible that there may have been something shared that Leong picked up on from the Eastern side of things. This is, of course, a stretch that cannot be verified.
3. Leong makes a point of the fact that Zen has no object of worship. It is a way to find Truth through experience. Jesus, and the communities of faith that surround him, i.e., Judaism and Christianity, have an object of faith. Yahweh is the Creator God who walked among us, and who transcends all other objects. Period. Yahweh is the source and sustainer of all things. This includes the Tao and Chi and any other mediary that humans can find.
There is much in this book that sounds like Leong is attempting to justify his decision to abandon Christianity. By searching for connections that would allow him to say, "See, I'm not so different from you," he can save face and put balm on any wounds that may have been opened through his journey away from the faith of kith and kin. This is only speculation on my part.
I must, however, applaud the attempt. Too many people use differences to mark the divisions between people. We use them to name "them" and to insulate "us." This is antithetical to both Christ and Zen. We should look for points for dialog. We can learn much from one another. If any of us thinks for a nano second that we have the whole take on what's true, we are deceived. Whether it's the Buddha or the Tao or the Great Spirit or nothing at all, we are a creature that inquires and searches for meaning in the Good Creation that Yahweh has provided. We can share these insights and search together as fellow travelers. Does that mean we must become universalists and give up our particularities? No. But, it does mean that we must give up our parochial and sectarian attitudes and embrace our place among the many under the reign of Yahweh.