Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Famous Sayings (That I Just Made Up); Salt n' Pepper

The Bible tells me to be salt? Many congregations are already too well preserved! I'd rather be pepper Lord, if its all the same to You...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent #Poetry Meditation; Do We Tend or Do We Rend?

God tells us to comfort His people.

To speak tenderly to everybody.

To tell them that their sentences

are up and all fines paid for them.

Grace shall double up on their sins!

God says to seek in the Wilderness.

To make their way homeward easy.

To remove stumbling stones and

their own ruts blocking their way.

Glory shall then be seen and shared!

God says to shout, so I shout "HUH?"

Our lives are grass and our passions

are beautiful flowers amongst grass.

Grass dries up, and flowers fade away.

Yet God is always home waiting for us!

God says to preach, tweet and blog.

To shout to the world the good tidings

of comfort and joy that it so thirsts for.

The Shepherd comes to feed His flock,

to carry lambs and lead their generations.

(Retelling of Isaiah 40:1-11)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Do You Howdy-do Some One?

So you've got this church in your district - a real problem church that you keep having to revisit or send letters to: how would YOU start out a letter to them?

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

(! Corinthians 1:3-9; NKJV)

Hard words that needed to be said and heard appear in the middle of the letter, but Paul starts and ends the conversation in love. How would our lives be changed if we resurrected this pattern of conversation today?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#Poetry; Get Off Your Celestial Butt!

My 500th Post:

                                                                                                             Van Gogh

Shepherd, listen to Your flock.
Stir Yourself off of Your throne.
Get down here - save us already!

Restore us to our glory.
Let us see Your glory
that we may be saved.

Lord of heaven's mighty armies,
how long will You hold a grudge
and reject our prayers and pleas?

Our communion body and blood?
The soggy bread of our own tears
and a tear-filled cup overflowing!

The world laughs at our steep fall.
Our enemies rejoice and celebrate.
Restore us into Your good graces.

You brought a vine out of exile,
cleared the field and planted it.
Deep roots in fertile soil - it grew.

It shaded even the mountain tops.
Like kudzu it covered everything,
from sea to shining sea it grew.

Why pull down the vineyard walls?
Why let aliens pick and eat our fruit?
Why let global warming threaten us?

Look! Look over here Lord!

Don't You see me waving?
Don't You remember us?
Don't You even give a damn?

They've burned Your vines!
They've hacked us down!
May Your glare incinerate them!

Touch the One on Your right hand -
the One You anointed for Yourself.
Then we will never, never, ever turn from You!

Give us rebirth - we will always call Your name!

Restore us to our glory.
Let us see Your glory
that we may be saved.

(Retelling of Psalm 80)

Monday, November 21, 2011

#Poetry; Get Your Celestial Self Down Here!

O that heaven's gate would open up
and that You would come down to us
to make the mighty mountain massifs
rise and fall like ripples upon a pond!

Like wildfire in a sap-filled pine tree.
Like the agitation of boiling waters.
Show Yourself to those who hate us
Until they all tremble before You!

Remember Your old awesomeness
and the deeds that surprised us so?
You were here among us back then!
The planet trembled under Your step!

For ages we've been exclusively Yours.
You helped those who waited for You.
You hung out with the gladly righteous,
those who didn't think themselves gods.

But You got mad
and so we sinned.
You hid from us
and so we cheated.

We have all become foul and polluted
and even our good deeds are soiled rags.
We each become dry and shriveled leaves
and the winds of our evils blow us about.

None calls Your name anymore.
No one tries to embrace You now.
You've turned Your face way away.
We've forgotten what You look like.

You've delivered us into the pit
that we ourselves so avidly dug.

Yet, we are still Your kids
and You are still our daddy!

We're the clay on Your wheel.
We're Your kiln-fired vessels!

Don't be so mad Lord.
Remember good times?
Remember Your work?
(Retelling of Isaiah 64:1-9)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Zeke's Rhapsody:

Winslow Homer

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.


20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

(Ezekiel 34:11-16 and 20-24; NIV)

For those of you long suffering souls who have been following my writings, you know that I often use poetry, modern culture or other lenses to re-imagine and re-evaluate scripture - to see the old in a new way by removing preconceptions. In this case though, I find this section from Ezekiel to be one of the most poetically resonating sections in the Bible, and I was loathe to change it.

But let's look at what the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) left out. Verses 11 to 16 imagine God's prevening grace as acts of a shepherd actively seeking out his flock, and it describes the pastoral nurturing of a loving God active in the world. Then it jumps to verses 20 to 24, where we hear of justifying grace as an act that only God is capable of doing. We read about a need for an intervention because of a failure of personal holiness and social justice among the religious and social leaders.

The omitted verses that lie in between expand upon this allusion to perfecting grace:

17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?" 

Are we losing an important aspect of God's message by leaving out this directive as to our role in His Son's ongoing ministry; including the call but omitting the response? Yes and no... Not if we don't separate it from its companion reading. The Gospel message included in this week's RCL readings provides a re-imagining of this missing section:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:31-46; NIV)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

#Poetry - Balloons:

From my Danville home
to Aunt Hula's tiny Hume,
I spent many a long hour
nodding in the back seat,
or looking for landmarks.
Ridge Farm? Half way!
A dot on Route One Fifty.
Nothing ever to see there.

Grade-school children huddle,
buffeted by cold stiff winds
blowing across the flat-land;
clutching their powder-blue
helium-filled bobbing balloons
bearing paper missives inside -
love notes to a young girl
to be set free heavenward.

Ten is too young, and yet
there is no suitable age to
take a warm soft scarf; to
tie it to a clothes-rod; to
flee the harrowing world
like an escaped balloon
rising above the grasping
conformity enforcing mob.

No safe place to regroup:
taunting in the school-yard;
mocking all the way home.
Trusted 'teachers" labeling
and school board adopting
a confining box - "tattletale".
But now her box is lowered
into rich black Illinois soil.

Think of small sweet Ashlynn
when you see a bright balloon
tangled up in a reaching tree,
or burst upon the hard ground.
Love all the unloved ones.
Pray for the legions of hate.
Listen. Listen! LISTEN!
They cry upon the winds.

~ Tiwago

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#Poetry - Make a Holy Racket!

Emil Nolde 

all nature sings with abandon/
     we love God like a small child/
          dancing up to Him and singing/
know that He made us this way/
     we're His wee skipping progeny/
          and His funny gamboling lambs/
let's enter His house with open joy/
     thanking our daddy with our smiles/
          not as a solemn penitent strangers/
lift up our hands and make some noise/
     rejoice, cuddled in goodness and love/
          unchanged throughout time and space
~ Psalm 100 (retold by Tiwago)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chicken-bone Sandwich Prayer Requests:

Back in the olden days, I used to be an archaeologist. I would travel around the state days or minutes ahead of the bulldozers building highways and airports. I slept and ate at many "interesting" places over the years. One place I ate at (I no longer remember which Illinois village it was in) had a restaurant in an old church. That sounded interesting. From the limited menu, I ordered a chicken sandwich. When it came, I sat there staring at. It was a fried breaded chicken-leg on the bone lying there proudly between two small triangles of white bread!
The waitress saw my perplexed visage and asked: "Is there somethin' a matter with yer food hun?" I pointed out that there must have been a mistake - that I had ordered a "sandwich". She calmly explained it to me: "That there meat IS chicken idn't it? And them's two pieces of bread, right? Well then, that's a sandwich!" 

I just remembered today that it was in an old church. That (potentially false I admit) memory made me think of supplicatory prayers. Some tell us that God wants us to live in abundance and that we should ask Him for "things" and money; while others say that prayer is more a conversation between friends than it is a list for Santa. Ask and you shall receive, but anyone who watched the Twilight Zone knows that you have to be careful about what you ask for! Is it OK to ask Him for favors for others but not ourselves? Is He ever annoyed by our requests? Where's my jet-pack?
I guess it all comes down to trust. I trust that God will hear my prayers and provide what He deems best for me. And if its a chicken-leg sandwich, I trust that He will have the patience to calmly explain it to me...

Friday, November 11, 2011

#OWS - Does Jesus Condone Wall Street's Ways?; Lingering With The Lectionary:

Jeff Porter

"It's also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master's investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master's money.

"After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: 'Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.'

"The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master's investment. His master commended him: 'Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.'

"The servant given one thousand said, 'Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.'

"The master was furious. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

"'Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this "play-it-safe" who won't go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.'

(Matthew 25:14-30; The Message)

  • The master makes a killing off the labor of others. The two investors are given more and the cautious one has everything taken away. Those who are rich shall be richer, and those who are poor shall be poorer! WTF?
  • A literal interpretation of this passage seems to be inconsistent with the rest of Jesus' message, yet it is frequently brought up during church stewardship meetings - why?
  • Are parables meant to be literal? Can they be sarcastic and ironic?
  • Is it the sowing parable retold for the tax collector crowd in terms they would understand?
  • If it isn't about money, what is being invested?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Living in Rotten Times; Lingering With The Lectionary:

"Joan of Arc" by Howard David Johnson

Gang, you know that things are pretty rotten right now; you don't need me to tell you that! Everything has its season, and this too will pass. In the interim, you know that the Lord could return at any moment; secretly - silent and unseen.

The world trumpets its acts to win peace and builds its exclusive fortresses of "security", yet  the birth of the new Kingdom of Godliness will come with labor pains and a rush of blood. But as His beloved children, you will not be blindsided. We live in pregnant times, and you will see it coming, for you are offspring of the Light - not Night's foul brood.

Let us then, not fall into complacency's sleepwalk, but remain vigilant and thoughtful. Let us don our shining armor: protecting our hearts with breastplates of faith in God and love towards each other; protecting our minds with helmets of hope. Our Father did not give us life just to take it from us, but so that we could take up our salvation through Jesus the Christ. The Son who willingly died in love for us, so that even if we slip and fall asleep waiting, we may still live on with Him.

So, do not tear others down or take advantage of them for your gain: encourage each other with the mercy of loving words and hugs; build each other up with the grace of aid and assistance.

(Retelling of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Monday, November 7, 2011

#Poetry #OWS - Psalm 123:

Walker Evans

From my pit I look upon heaven's throne.
As dogs look trustingly at master's hand,
We look to You for mercy, love and hope.
Have mercy Master! Have mercy on us!
We're weighed down by all the contempt.
Our souls are overflowing with scorn from
Those who know where their next meal lies;
Who tell us our poverty is our own lazy fault.
(As retold by Tiwago)

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Bachelorette Party; Lingering With the Lectionary:

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. 4 But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.  5 “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 
7 “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’  9 “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. 
11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’ 
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ 
13 “Therefore keep alert because you don’t know the day or the hour.
(Matthew 25:1-13; Common English Bible)

I don't like this parable!
  • Is there an aspect of "God helps those who help themselves" here?
  • Wouldn't it be good for the wise to share?
  • The workers who came late to the field were included, but the bridemaids who came late to the party were excluded? What's up with that?
  • Does my church act like a wise bridesmaid? If so, is that good or bad?

"I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old."   (Psalm 78:2)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Put Away Your Toys; Lingering With The Lectionary:


Joshua bar-Nun gathered all the descendents of  Jacob at the ancient sacred site of Shechem. He called forward the tribal elders, the heads of the clans and families, the judges and military officers. All appeared before God. Joshua spoke to them.

"God says: 'Long ago Abraham's family lived beyond the Euphrates and worshipped other gods until I made him Mine, took him across the river and led him throughout all the land ofCanaan and made him fruitful.' You are the fruit of Abraham - revere God! Serve Him sincerely and exclusively. Throw away the family idols that you have lugged around from beyond  the Euphrates and across the Nile. Throw them away here and now before we again walk on holy soil. If you don't know if you are willing to serve God alone or not - decide now. Decide who and what you will serve. As for me and mine, we will serve the Lord!"

The Hebrew people answered: "Heaven forbid that we should forsake our Lord and serve other things. He is our Redeemer! We have personally witnessed His mighty acts. He protected us through all our years of wandering in the wilderness. He has driven out those who would hurt us. We too then will serve the Lord for He is our God."

But Joshua shocked them by going off script: "No, you can't. He is holy and unique. You can't claim to be His if you continue to sin against Him, if you keep turning your back on Him and worship lesser things. He won't put up with it beyond this point. No matter how much good He has already done for you, He will destroy you if you try to play Him again!"

"Never!" shouted the people. "We promise - we will serve the Lord!"

Then said Joshua: "Then you shall serve as witnesses against yourselves and each other that you have chosen God alone, and that you vow to serve Him only forever."

"We so avow!"

"Then put away your false idols and shiny things and open your hard hearts to your God."

"We will obey and serve our Lord."

So the people entered into covenant that day in Shechem, and Joshua wrote it all down as laws for them.

(Retelling of Joshua 24:1-3a and 14-25)

 But then...

When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites each went to settle on their own family property in order to take possession of the land. The people served the LORD throughout the rest of Joshua’s life and throughout the next generation of elders who outlived him, those who had seen all the great things that the LORD had done for Israel. Joshua, Nun’s son and the Lord’s servant, died when he was 110 years old. They buried him within the boundaries of his family property in Timnath-heres in the highlands of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash. When that whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn’t know the LORD or the things that he had done for Israel.   Then the Israelites did things that the LORD saw as evil: 
They served the Baals...
(Judges 2:6-11; Common English Bible)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Church Caliente:

I often hear someone say that their pastor is "on fire", that a church "burns with the Spirit", or that they are "aflame for God".  A pastor prays for his "smokin' hot wife". Hot topics are no longer hot potatoes but easy fluff pieces. Church is a 57 Chevy with flames painted on the hood and fenders.

"Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them." (Acts 2:3)

Why the word "fire"? "Light" is frequently used in depicting spiritual events in the Bible - why not say a light-bulb appeared over each head? If Luke had wanted us to think of heat or growth, wouldn't he have had a sun-beam land on each? Wouldn't that be perfectly iconic? Were they hallucinating because they were burning up with fever? Why fire?

What does fire do?
  • Fire consumes. It doesn't give us a tan, it burns us totally away. A prairie fire makes way for a new generation by removing the light-depriving clutter of the past, and releases sequestered carbon and other minerals that are needed for vital re-growth.
  • Fire purifies. Fire destroys the weeds that are not adapted to fire. It evaporates the dross out of the gold or silver.
  • Fire tempers. It makes brittle steel into hard sharp iron. It toughens savanna oaks.
  • Fire strikes fear in us. We associate it with pain, death, hell and loss of property (aka idols).
  • Fire requires a trinity to combust: fuel; heat; and oxygen.
I have a confession, and I hope that I am not the only one to think this thought during a contentious church council meeting that has no problem finding money to gild the lily, but is too poor to feed the poor: "The best thing that could happen to this church would be for it to burn down; then they'd know that Church is not a building!" But watching a prescribed burn today it struck me (OK, He struck me!) - if I am the Church, shouldn't I be open to being entirely consumed, instead of just being hot under the collar? Hasn't my entire life been about avoiding getting burned? How do i learn to dance with fire?

Dear Lord: Let me be Your fuel. Lead me to the hot zones. Breathe on my cold glowing ember. Amen