Monday, February 28, 2011

Summit on the Summit



A retelling of Exodus 24:12-18:


God had invited His friend Moses to come to the mountain top. There he would receive from God's own hands covenantal procedures and policies  for the Hebrew Tribes. As he did more and more these last years, Moses needed his aide Joshua's assistance to climb the mountain. In the bright valley, he had directed the leaders of Israel's Tribes and Clans to wait there for him at base camp - looking over their shoulder at the looming massif, they were more than happy to oblige! Leaning on Joshua, Moses slowly labored up the loose shifting rubble. Soon the sky lowered, and they could no longer see their destination or the route before them. Only a fool would climb into the zero visibility and slippery surface when a cloud has come to roost on a mountain! Wisely, they waited for the weather to improve. A mountain has a mystical nature because it helps you see the world in a whole new way, but in such a mist you couldn't see or even hear the world at all. There was no point in proceeding. They would await God's will.

The glory of the Lord patiently settled upon Mount Sinai. After six days, it looked to Moses and his care-taker that the weather would never lift. After a fullness of time, God spoke to Moses from out of the storm. God's voice caused the rubble to shift and creak around Moses, and Joshua fearing an avalanche tried to pull him to safety. The huddled people in the valley saw all devouring flames arc crazily through the black column enshrouding the mountain's summit over and over, and heard and felt the mountain moan. It was clear to them that no one could possibly survive such an elemental onslaught, and they began to panic. Mountains have a brooding mystery of doom about them, but this dragon was beyond all ken. Their faith cracked.

Back in the mountain mist, Moses comforted his young protégé. He knew all about mountains and fire and faith. Joshua bivouacked alone, there on the shaking mountain-side in the howling wind, as Moses made the final summit push alone.

Step.

Pause.

Breathe.

Step.

Pause.

Breathe.

Stranded alone, far away from the world of man below - like Noah at sea, like a ship-wrecked alien. He was on the mountain for many, many, days and long, long, nights.







Friday, February 25, 2011

Meditation on Matthew's "Don't Worry - Be Happy"

Matthew 6:24-34 (Amplified Bible)



    24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise and be against the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (deceitful riches, money, possessions, or whatever is trusted in).

  • Am I my second master?
  • Do I serve God by serving His people and His creation for their intrinsic or their utilitarian value?


    25 Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing?

  • If life is no more than personal survival, is it worth living?
  • What if it is the lives of others that I worry about? Is this saying I shouldn't feed the hungry physical food?


    26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they?

  • Does anything else in Creation worry?
  • What does it mean to be made in His image?


    27 And who of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure (cubit) to his stature or to the span of his life?
  • Am I the sum of my worries?
  • Does the stress of worry threaten to shorten my life?


    28 And why should you be anxious about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field and learn thoroughly how they grow; they neither toil nor spin.
  • We often think of Creation's beauty as God's gift to us. Is the lily's beauty a natural characteristic and byproduct of functionality, or is it an artifice.
  • Do I worry about the designer's label and the status statement of my clothes?


    29 Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his magnificence (excellence, dignity, and grace) was not arrayed like one of these. [I Kings 10:4-7.]

  • What do I say about God's image if I'm all about the bling and gilding the lily?
  • Do I see beauty only in the sublime, or do I see it also in the subtle?


    30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and green and tomorrow is tossed into the furnace, will He not much more surely clothe you, O you of little faith?

  • God graces splendor upon the shooting star, do I enjoy the short time I have?
  • I am eternal like God. Isn't sustainable splendor greater, or do I envy beauty's grand gesture?


    31 Therefore do not worry and be anxious, saying, What are we going to have to eat? or, What are we going to have to drink? or, What are we going to have to wear?

  • Am I distracted by worry?
  • Am I stuck in a what-if loop?


    32 For the Gentiles (heathen) wish for and crave and diligently seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows well that you need them all.

  • Who knows best what I need?
  • Do I try to overcome by ignoring my needs as a human animal, or by prioritizing them?


    33 But seek aim at (and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

  • Do I become like God because of how I act? Or,
  • Do I act the way I do because I am like God?


    34 So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.

  • If I prejudge tomorrow and imbue it with worries in advance, have I created an unavoidable self-fulfilling prophesy?
  • If I am predisposed to react in a predetermined way in response to a perceived pending threat, am I less able to react nimbly to the actual threat?






Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Hidden Hearts



Pastor Paul to his congregation in Corinth, Greece:

Think of Apostles as Christ's servants; as stewards of God's Way. A steward can only be effective if he is trustworthy. Yet, how you judge my worthiness is a microscopic thing! No court of the land can rule on my worthiness of God's trust. I am not even fit to find myself worthy or not.

I try imperfectly to live my life perfectly. I'm not consciously aware of anything unworthy about myself. Yet, I know a revealed truth: I am not acquitted by my feebly fallible acts! I can neither tell you or think to myself that I am worthy, or that I am unworthy; only my Lord knows me well enough.

So hear me my sisters and brothers - stop pronouncing judgments against others or for yourselves before the ripeness of time; the full fruition of Christ's return. He will bring pure light and new vision, revealing the hidden purpose of each heart. Only then will we know real commendation or condemnation.

(Adapted from 1 Corinthians 4:1-5)








Monday, February 21, 2011

The Servant

The Lord said to His servant: For better or for worse, I have been there for you. I have loved you and nurtured you to give you to My people in fulfillment of our covenant together - to bring about the Kingdom; to establish justice. You shall call to those imprisoned by their baser selves: "Come out of your box and dwell in God's freedom." You shall soothe those lost in their dark nights: "Behold the light of a new day!"

Living water and bread you shall give them in abundance. The scorching winds of hell and the bright sun of revelation shall beat them down no more. I will turn all barriers into pathways so that they may come to Me from the ends of the world.

Sing in joyous release choir of heaven! Shout halleluiahs out-loud My people! Listen to the hymns of Creation! I AM. I am comfort. I am compassion.

And still My people say: "My God, why have You forsaken us?", or "How could You have forgotten us?"

Can a mother forget her nursing babe? Can she withhold her love and compassion for the child she brought forth? Yes, sometimes even mothers forget. Sometimes parents forget their priorities and lose their way. But I AM. I am your mother and your father. I am Abba. I am in all times in all places. I can never forget my children. Look at my hand. See! You are the life-line in My palm, and My people are My unique finger-prints.

(Retelling of Isaiah 49:8-16a)








  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Avoiding Evil



From childhood, we are told: "Just one eye for an eye lost. Only one tooth in exchange for one tooth." By this we tried to control and limit evil rather than eradicate it. But this is not the Way I teach and live.

Resist evil, but not the evil-doer. Starve evil. If someone punches you in the face, turn your head. Evil wins only if you become an evil-doer too.

If someone tries to steal your Nikes, give them your socks too. Deflate the rage. Don't escalate it.

If someone wants you to go that extra mile for their gain or amusement, go two! You take control of your own destiny that way.

Give to everyone who begs, regardless of your interpretation of their need. You are their sister or brother, not their Father.

You've also heard it from your elders: "Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy!" By this observation we have defined and limited the human condition. But this way is not the best Way.

Who could possible need prayer more than your enemies? By loving them, you show that you are indeed your Father's children. Doesn't His grace and the blessings of His creation shine upon both the good and the wicked? If you only love those who love you - so what? Even bankers, lawyers, and politicians do that! If you only reach out in hospitality and fellowship to those like yourself, how are you any more God-like than the greatest evil-doer? Don't even the damned gather together in mutual respect and fear?

Be the one you are meant to be. Your Father is perfect, and you are of His likeness.


(Retelling of Matthew 5:38-48)











Friday, February 18, 2011

In His Image?





What chin I have would not be out of place on the Simpsons. My feet are at odds with each other; the right veers off even righter. My gut's too big, but my butt's too small. Gilligan's shoulders, chicken legs and a little girl's wrists, a regular chimera.

  • What does it say about God that I am made in His image?
  • What does it say about me that I don't see the resemblance?





Thursday, February 17, 2011

How Firm the Foundation?



By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become "fools" so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

(1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23;
NIV 2010)


Elsewhere, Paul talks about planting seeds that Apollos then waters. Both analogies involve the idea of building upon the work of those that came before, and the notion that whether soil or stone - God is there both before and through the workmen. Farming and masonry are skilled crafts. Both require planning and long range foresight. Both of these descriptions then warn us from taking either the credit or the blame, and remind us of our role as stewards rather than creators.

We see that the Temple/Church is not a real building. It is us, fitted together. Scripture and life tells us that a building is only as strong as its foundation. Paul warns us that we need to be sure that our foundation is Christ-centered rather than human-centric.

I live in an old farm house. It has a limestone foundation. Over the years, it has been patched with mortar, bricks, cobbles, bricks and what-not. The same can be said for what we have done to the Church over the centuries. We have to ask ourselves:
  • Has the structure been so weakened by our patch work that it is now structurally unsound?
  • Does enough of the original foundation remains that we can restore around it?
  • If the entire foundation has been replaced stone by stone gradually overtime, aren't we more remuddled than remodeled? If we need a new foundation, do we jack the building up or do we demolish it?










Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chance or Grace?

Wow! 

It's surprising that you're still alive! Specially if you're a guy...
 
If you're anything like me, you've done some really bone-headed "hey watch me poke this here gator with a stick" kind of stuff. We are by nature risk junkies.
 
When I was young, I was hiking in the woods and came across a raccoon caught in a a leg trap. I stepped on the release lever and let it go - it bit me. Bit me good. The reckless part? I didn't bother to mention it to anyone, a little soap and my leg was good as new!
 
In college we went rock climbing and repelling. We didn't bother with any of that sissy stuff like harnesses, belays, or common sense; we climbed au naturale: sisall rope, leather gloves, and the leap of faith. Did you know that if you rappel fast enough, you can get your gloves to smolder?
 
Science has learned that the brains of youth are not fully developed in the area where risks and consequences are analyzed. "I COULD die, but I won't; what a rush!" "I'd rather die by surprise, young and alive, than gradually in a nursing home." They are dangerous.
 
You'd think that the young would have the most to lose: a richness of days to come. The old have the least to risk: life is short regardless. So if it is not the risk of death that enters into our mental decision-making equation, what is it? Could it be memories? The young have less precious memories stored up; they are hell-bent to accumulate "worthwhile" memories to sustain them in the future. The old hold their well-worn treasure-troves of memories dear.
 
When we are young, we are forward thinking - not letting an unknowable fearsome future hold us back. When we are old, we are backward thinking - letting an imagined fearful future hold us back. We morph from the low-hanging pants sans-belt of chance, to the trusty belt of belief and grace, to the belt and suspenders of ritual and works.


 
Dear Lord: Please watch over and protect the temporary simpletons. Let their risk-taking be for good more than for thrills. Give the comfortably cautious the cojones to take risks once again. Remind us that while religion is safe, true faith is risky. Amen






Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If Only


  
I would follow Your Way
If You'd only teach me how.
 
I could put my heart into it
If You only explained it to me.
 
Tear my heart away from its desires
Tell it where to find its delight.
 
Tear my eyes away from the mirror
Give me new life without self.
 
Let me see Your mark on our covenant
For I live in constant fear and want.
 
Stop me from disgracing myself
Keep my feet on Your holy Way.
 
I long to absorb Your righteousness
Breathe on me and fill me up.
 
(Adapted from Psalm 119:33-40)
















Monday, February 14, 2011

Life is a Series of Decisions



  
Our Father and Creator spoke to Moses:

"Witness to the entire congregation of believers. Teach them that they are holy because they were created in the image of My Holiness.

When you reap the harvest of your labors, don't take it all for yourself. Don't leave the fertile soil a wasteland behind you. Don't spend every penny on your own urges and fears. Be just and share with the poor and the immigrant - I AM the Lord your God.

Don't take or give away what is not yours, destroying trust and fellowship.

Don't take the power and majesty of My name and trivialize it into meaninglessness. I AM the Lord.

Don't cheat, trick or use anyone else. Invest in people and give those who work for you fair reward for their service before you pay yourself.

Don't judge, tease or impede the blind of sight or of spirit. Fear Me on this; I AM Lord.

Don't judge partially either way; neither find for the powerful because of their power nor for the weak because of their weakness. You can not avoid judging, but you can avoid using yourself as your scale.

Don't speak ill of anyone, and don't profit from their pain. I AM their Lord too.

Don't hate inside; love everyone enough to help them find and travel the Way or you too will become lost.

Don't burn for revenge or stoke a hidden grudge against someone else. Love others warts and all, just as you love your own warty self; not blindly for forgivingly. If you learn nothing else, know that I AM love."


(Retelling of Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18)















Saturday, February 12, 2011

Two Paths



Look at what I've done for you today: I've placed in front of you 
     Life and Good 
     Death and Evil.

And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess.

But I warn you: If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won't last long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, He is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; The Message)



  • Is life a simple choice?
  • Is the promised land Israel or the Kingdom?
  • What does it mean to me that God gives me a choice?
  • Is it one up-front choice or an ongoing one?
  • Why does God care what I choose?




If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
     and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. 
He has placed before you fire and water;
     stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. 
Before each person are life and death,
     and whichever one chooses will be given. 
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
     he is mighty in power and sees everything; 
     his eyes are on those who fear him,
     and he knows every human action. 
He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
     and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

(Sirach 15:15-20; NRSV)







Friday, February 11, 2011

My Sweet Chains

The oppressed cry in the night of my indifference.
The poor starve in the shadow of my needy greed.

Children are sold, women are raped on my watch.
I turn my head to preserve implausible deniabilty.
The lazy poor seek to suckle from my fat excess.
I stand righteous and self-justified before my mirror.

I wallow in the primordial sea of fears and desires.
I am a slave to limitations I place on self and others.
O my God!

Pull me from this pit.
I've dug too deep to climb back out.
Break this faulty pot.

Be my God.

Tiwago

















Thursday, February 10, 2011

Death and the Cult of Stuff



Grave-goods found in prehistoric burials are often considered fetishes or cult items: stuff imbued with something more than innate stuffness. Useful stuff for the next life. Shiny stuff. In the modern world, we have outgrown such needs. Right?
 
I recently had the mixed blessing of officiating at my grandmother's funeral. Her two daughters were glad that her hair was just so, and that her track-suit matched the vault. We have trouble visualizing an immaterial future beyond life as we know it. They live on as before in our minds.
 
Has our deepening cult of stuff insinuated itself into how we treat our dead? Spare no expense on a coffin, plot and marker. Road and curb-side shrines with stuffed animals, fake flowers, candles, and notes. Bands of blue solar-lights in cemeteries - blinged out low rider tombstones. Touch-screen headstones with missives from the dead. What better way to show your love than buying and showcasing stuff? Or do we believe that we have to make sacrifices to buy their way into heaven?
 
Grief is hard. We want to do something about it instead of sitting on the sidelines feeling powerless. We used to prepare the body ourselves. We used to dig and fill the hole ourselves. We used to have physical activities that diverted us from feeling sorry for ourselves, while giving us a necessary outlet for the urge to lovingly minister tenderness one last time. I was comforted by being able to celebrate grandma in worship and prayer. My mom and aunt were comforted by knowing that their southern belle mother would not be embarrassed by her appearance. Maybe others are comforted to know that their loved-ones have a night-light on in the scary darkness of the graveyard?
 
So maybe this stuff has a purpose; not to accompany the dead in style, but to ease the living?







Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Whom Do You Belong?



So my brothers and sisters, I couldn't talk to you as though we were all People of the Spirit, but instead we spoke as People of the Flesh - as infants. Infants in our Christ-likeness. Now you see why I couldn't feed you solid food, why I only gave you milk. You didn't have the teeth for harder fare. Even now, you still have your baby-teeth...

For you are still all about the Flesh. As long as you are jealous of each other, you're babies. As long as you quarrel with each other - babies. Like babies, you react instinctually according to the needs of the Flesh.

Whenever someone says that they "belong" to Paul, or to Apollos, to Wesley, to Calvin, whomever, aren't we just showing the simple faith of babies? Don't we belong to God instead of some fallible mortal? Who then were these saints through whom you came to believe, but servants assigned to you by God?

If then I planted seeds, didn't others water them and tend the sprouts in their tenderness? Yet even then, none of us MADE them grow! Only God can do that. The planters and the tenders have a common purpose. Each will be evaluated by their care-taking efforts - not by the size of the harvest.

For these servants are God's field-hands working together, and all of humanity is His field.

(Retelling of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9)









Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Cock's Revenge

Although I pray for the Ochoa family, he really made it hard for me not to laugh at his karma:

DELANO, California (AP) A man who was at an illegal cockfight in central California died after being stabbed in the leg by a bird that had a knife attached to its own limb, officials confirmed Monday.

Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, of Lamont, California, was declared dead at a hospital about two hours after he was injured in neighboring Tulare County on Jan. 30, the Kern County coroner said. An autopsy concluded Ochoa died of an accidental "sharp force injury" to his right calf. Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said it was unclear if a delay in seeking medical attention contributed to Ochoa's death. "I have never seen this type of incident," Sgt. Martin King, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff's department, told the Bakersfield Californian.

Ochoa and the other spectators fled when authorities arrived at the scene of the fight, King told the newspaper. Deputies found five dead roosters and other evidence of cockfighting at the location, he said. No arrests were made at the cockfight. Cockfighting is a sport, illegal in the United States, in which specially bred roosters are put into a ring and encouraged to fight until one is incapacitated or killed. According to Kern County Superior Court records, Ochoa paid $370 in fines last year after pleading no contest to one count of owning or training an animal for fighting, according to the newspaper. Attending or organizing a cockfight, or training an animal to participate in one, are all misdemeanors under California law, although a second offense is a felony.


Information from: The Bakersfield Californian, http://www.bakersfield.com/