imagination

change of pace 4 Comments »

Important People

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So who is the most important person in the Bible? Well, besides Him, of course — and his Son and his Spirit.

It’s a curious question really, and maybe there’s not an answer. There are definitely people highlighted more than others, though that’s not necessarily a measure of importance. Saul takes up a good chunk of chapters, but in the long run he seems to be more of an oops than important. David steps in and his branch takes over the whole story.

I don’t really even mean honored. Isaiah, for instance, resonates to our day as being a great prophet. But, in the story he’s more of an observer and color commentator. He’s vital as a narrator, but not as a player.

How about Noah? He’s important. If he didn’t have that faith which builds boats then the story suggests humanity would have been wiped out.

David and Noah are important, for the Old Testament parts. As is Moses. We can’t forget Moses. Or Abraham. Abraham is a rather vital guy for all sorts of reasons. Maybe we could throw in Paul and Peter and John for the New Testament — both because they were major players and because if not for these three we wouldn’t really have much of a New Testament. Thank God for the writers, eh?

These are people we know. So they seem especially important, and for good reasons. But I’m thinking there are others. I’m constantly struck by the character actors in the text. You know, the men and women who show up, say a line or two, and then disappear.

Take this lady, for instance:

Exodus 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

We don’t hear anything about her after this story. Her whole role is covered in this brief paragraph and yet she is eminently important. She defied the law. She had mercy on someone she shouldn’t. Yet, instead of following the law, the law of her own family even, she did what was right by a baby. She raised him up because she had pity on him. Turned out that pitiful, helpless child bloomed into the savior of the Jewish people.

Why did she do it? Was the Spirit working in her, in the whole situation? We can only surmise a yes to that. If she hadn’t found Moses, or if she followed the law, Moses would have been lost to the world. That makes this Pharoah’s daughter rather important for the story.

Another story is one which has bit me for a while–the story of Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of one the Patriarchs, Jacob. He was a guy who had dreams, and a little too much of a openness about sharing those dreams. His brothers, those who he depended on, sold him into slavery, which was in the moment a bit of kindness given their initial goal of more simply murdering him. Those who he was closest to didn’t understand him and even despised him. They abandoned him to the mercy of those who had personal care for him whatsoever. Joseph’s community abandoned him to strangers. Strangers treated him as well as could be expected.

But, he did his part and apparently even grew in his faith in God. Then he rose up and became quite an important slave, a leader among them, until he spurned his masters wife. She told lies, and Potiphar the ever-deceived, believed them. Joseph was thrown into prison for not betraying the man he depended on for his very life. Joseph was faithful and did what was right. Those he trusted to honor this faithfulness cast him out.

Likely, his sentence wasn’t specified as to a certain length of time. He was thrown into prison and there to rot. No hope. Nothing. But being who he was he did right by his situation. Yet “his feet were afflicted with fetters” and “iron entered his soul” (Ps. 105:18, literal translation). he did his part, but the weight of his crushing imprisonment did a work on him.

Throughout he seems to have maintained his faith. Otherwise he would not have been able to respond when the time came. Two men were thrown into prison with him. Rather than sharing with them his dreams, an action that got him into his first bout of trouble, he listened to their dreams. He knew how to interpret, which was a boon for one of them–the cupbearer.

“You’ll be restored,” Joseph said to him. “Remember me, won’t you?”

“Sure thing, Joe,” the cupbearer replied. “You’re my friend. We look out for each other. We’re brothers now, don’t you know? I love you, bro.”

“Thanks,” Joseph replied. When the baker was butchered and the cup bearer brought back it seemed Joseph’s intuition about the dreams was spot on. Every time the door knob turned he expected a messenger from the newly restored steward inviting him to nice servant’s post in the palace.

The cupbearer, however, found his new position to be a little more consuming, and his words of friendship to be more about the moment than about reality. Joseph was forgotten, left to rot, likely in an even deeper despair a few weeks later when he realized his discernment and insight wasn’t the ticket out of the darkness.

“I have a dream,” Pharoah said a couple years later. “I had two dreams, really. Cows and grain, thick and thin. Who among my wise people can tell me what they mean?”

“Umm,” his wise people replied. Which was more wise than making something up.

“No one?” asked Pharoah. “What good is it to have wise men if they aren’t wise. I need a drink.”

“Here you go,” the restored cupbearer says, handing him a nice frothy cup.

“Thanks,” Pharaoh replied. “At least you’re good for something, unlike the rest of these bums. And to think I almost executed you.”

“Yeah,” the cupbearer replied, suddenly remembering the fellow he met in prison. “You know, Pharaoh…”

“Yes, what is it? Quit stammering.”

“Well, there was this guy I met when I was in prison. I had a dream and he told me it meant I was going to be restored while the baker’s dream meant he was going to be killed.”

“The baker? What happened to him? I haven’t seen him around for a while.”

“He was hanged, O Mighty Pharaoh,” one of the counselor’s leaned over and said.

“Ah, right. Deserved it too,” Pharaoh replied. “When I ask for rye I don’t want pumpernickel. Now then, this fellow you met in prison interpreted your dreams correctly?”

“Yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“Uh, Joseph.”

“You don’t want him,” Potiphar, who was standing nearby, said. “He’s no good. Can’t trust him at all. Not the kind of stand up leader who would help out.”

“What do you know?” Pharaoh replied. “You can’t even run your own household. I’m gonna take advice from you? Send for this Joseph, let’s see if he can help out.”

We know from the rest of the story things worked out nicely. Joseph interpreted the dreams. Pharaoh proclaimed that the Spirit really was in this prisoner and so he should be raised to the highest rank in the land.

No word on the cupbearer after this.

But what if the cupbearer had kept his mouth shut and didn’t mention the guy he knew in prison?

The story would have turned out a good deal different. The family of Jacob likely would have starved to death because there was no food in the land. Sure, this would have meant avoiding the later slavery that sparked the Moses story but it would have also meant missing out on the stories of the Promised Land, David, and Jesus as we know him.

“Until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing Joseph. The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.” (Ps. 107:19-22)

All because the cupbearer mentioned Joseph. Which makes the cupbearer rather important really. Crucial.

All this to say that I think it interesting to see how the famous people were given a lift by these important people. These weren’t those who were close to them or otherwise would logically be the folks on whom the story depended. But that’s how God worked. Because these people did the right thing in their particular moments they participated in God’s plan of salvation.

Interesting. Even if a little inconvenient.

This is, to me, an encouragement to be a cupbearer and to expect a cupbearer. One never knows what will happen if we fulfill our roles and have others fulfill their roles for us.

see the light

personal 1 Comment »

Discover a zen like activity to soothe the soul.

Stare at the bulb. It’s a webcam from Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California.

Wait for it to go out. An arduous task indeed, as the bulb has been burning continuously since 1901.

autobiography

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Every once in a while I get in a more intense mood of self-analysis. Given my present life this is common on a certain level, but not always to such an intense degree. Nor is it always so intensely interested in wandering the trails of my past self, looping around the “what ifs” of life. This isn’t melancholy because there are highs as well as lows, hopes as well as frustrations, and as the story isn’t finished I don’t know what conclusions to draw from a wide variety of moments. But, for whatever, reason these sundry moments are pulling at me, leaving me in an odd state for the moment.

I’m thinking about my story and my present, my interests and my direction. I’m thinking about the decisions I’ve made and the decisions that have been made by others which have radically affected my life. I wonder about the small stuff that may have had a significant impact and the large stuff that may not have made nearly the difference in my life I assume.

If I were to write this story now — not that anyone would buy such a tale at this point — I think I would focus on a certain aspect of my development.

More formally, I could say this is the clearest sign that I follow the psychological path of other religiously inclined figures from history, and would fit into Erik Erikson’s model of a homo religious.  From a paper I wrote on John Wesley:

Erikson’s fifth stage, which begins with puberty, deals with Identity vs. Role Confusion. The adolescent is dealing with massive bodily changes as they begin to bridge between being a child and becoming an adult, not comfortable in either world. They are “primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are, and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the day.” Typically, this means a reworking of the previous developmental stages as the what was once in order falls into disorder, then becomes orderly again on a deeper level as the relationalities which underlie all the order become evident. In a study of John Wesley, however, it appears that one needs to take a different track with the analysis. James Loder in his chapter on adolescence speaks of “two fundamentally different ways to go through adolescence.” The first is the traditional path as previously described, the second, however, seems to occur for those whom their religiosity has become “definitive for the totality of their lives” and for whom “personal identity as a member of his society was taken over and shaped by the question of his existential identity as a human being before God.”

In his study of Martin Luther, Erikson found that young Luther simply was not asking the same questions as others his age, but rather had jumped immediately to deal with the questions that usually encompass the last stage of development, that of Integrity vs. Despair. The homo religious, as termed by Erikson, seems older when young, focusing “in a precocious way on what it takes others a lifetime to gain a mere inkling of: the question of how to escape corruption in living and how in death to give meaning to life.” This person can “permit himself to face as permanent the trust problem which drives others in whom it remains or becomes dominant into denial, despair, and psychosis.” In the Christian context this is not simply attaching certain terms to broader religious experiences, but it is indeed a prolonged act of transformation which the very Spirit of God begins to work in the life of the individual, transforming the ego from its defensive posture and opening up the soul of the individual to see Reality. As this is ultimately a question of trust, this stage is characterized in the adolescent not by seeking personal identity, or asking “who am I?”, but rather the question is “why?” and the quest will continue, prolonging this stage and the identity crisis which it entails until the Face appears, the Face that will not go away, the Face of God himself. As Loder puts it, “the Divine Spirit dramatically and powerfully penetrates and permeates the whole person so that he is consumed by the Divine Presence.”

Loder puts it well, though maybe more dramatically than seen from the inside. Even as I absolutely identify with this description, I might term in a different way. I have been distracted by God. My whole life, at each key stage of development thus far, I have stepped away from what would make sense and would bring order. On the surface a person could look and try to analyze my fears or worries or gaps of being. If they entered into my motives and thoughts, however, they would see something rather more peculiar, an unquenchable yearning to become present with God, and let go of the standard order so as to embrace the infinitely complex, chaotic order of the Three-in-One. Not that I’ve done this thoroughly or completely, which leaves me in a bit of a bind.

It’s not the fulfillment of this I see so far, it is the distraction and the constant waves of pressing spiritual perplexities that push me deeper and farther. The reasons for this haven’t become apparent, and my present worry is that my persistent tendency to be distracted by God has pushed me outside the bounds of return.

Maybe not, though. Which is why I’ve developed an accompanying yearning to discover the work of the third person, the Holy Spirit, who pulls away but also pushes towards.

Sounds grand I suppose, but at times, during seasons it leaves me particularly perplexed.

stories from juvenile hall

nature 4 Comments »

Got an email from my dad who teaches literature, and occasionally PE, at a juvenile hall:

This early AM during PE we were playing soccer . . . one of my special ed. students was taking the ball quite skillfully from center field towards the goal .. amazingly he got within fifteen feet of the goal and had an open shot . . . screaming at the top of his voice, “For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at you . . .” . . made the shot and goal yelling, . . “* I give up the spear!!” Won’t get him gainful employment . . . but, made the staff stare in amazement . . . that’s worth something in life!

*From Moby Dick

Obadiah Day

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So, I realized I haven’t been taking notice of my church calendar of late, which sort of takes away the point of a church calendar.

However, I peeked over just right now and saw that in the Eastern churches at least today is the day celebrating the Prophet Obadiah. Now, I know, I’m likely the last person to remember this, and you almost certainly have had your Obadiah decorations up for a week or more at least, and may be reading this surrounded by a house full of Obadians, dressed up in the traditional holiday garb, preparing to recite, from memory, the lines of this great prophet. So, pardon me for my late notice.

If by chance you don’t have Obadiah reciters nearby, I’d heartily encourage you to have a go at this great, if all too often ignored, prophet. It’s rather humbling really and a good caution for us still.

1 The vision of Obadiah.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom—
We have heard a message from the LORD :
An envoy was sent to the nations to say,
“Rise, and let us go against her for battle”-

2 “See, I will make you small among the nations;
you will be utterly despised.

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks
and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’

4 Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.

5 “If thieves came to you,
if robbers in the night—
Oh, what a disaster awaits you—
would they not steal only as much as they wanted?
If grape pickers came to you,
would they not leave a few grapes?

6 But how Esau will be ransacked,
his hidden treasures pillaged!

7 All your allies will force you to the border;
your friends will deceive and overpower you;
those who eat your bread will set a trap for you,
but you will not detect it.

8 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
“will I not destroy the wise men of Edom,
men of understanding in the mountains of Esau?

9 Your warriors, O Teman, will be terrified,
and everyone in Esau’s mountains
will be cut down in the slaughter.

10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob,
you will be covered with shame;
you will be destroyed forever.

11 On the day you stood aloof
while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.

12 You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
in the day of their trouble.

13 You should not march through the gates of my people
in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on them in their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
in the day of their disaster.

14 You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.

15 “The day of the LORD is near
for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head.

16 Just as you drank on my holy hill,
so all the nations will drink continually;
they will drink and drink
and be as if they had never been.

17 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance;
it will be holy,
and the house of Jacob
will possess its inheritance.

18 The house of Jacob will be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame;
the house of Esau will be stubble,
and they will set it on fire and consume it.
There will be no survivors
from the house of Esau.”
The LORD has spoken.

19 People from the Negev will occupy
the mountains of Esau,
and people from the foothills will possess
the land of the Philistines.
They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria,
and Benjamin will possess Gilead.

20 This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan
will possess the land as far as Zarephath;
the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
will possess the towns of the Negev.

21 Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion
to govern the mountains of Esau.
And the kingdom will be the LORD’s.

fear of death and of life

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The essential impediment to the charismatic experience of our potentialities for living is to be found in our passive sins, not our active ones; for the hindrance is not our despairing attempt to be ourselves, but our despairing attempt not to be ourselves, so that out of fear of life and fear of death we fall short of what our own lives could be. The charismata of the Spirit are present whenever faith in God drives out these fears of life, and whenever the hope of resurrection overcomes the fear of death.

–Jürgen Moltmann

These fears are at the root, I believe, of a great deal of our church problems. When those who believe in Christ, but do not really believe in the power of the Spirit, gather together they form defensive liturgies and systems designed, seemingly, for worship but in actuality serve to ward off the ever present fears of life and death that afflict all of humanity. Most of the set rules within our liturgies have arisen due to conflict and have sought to quell the disorder by laws and customs, which over time settle into some conception of a divine tradition.

Those who are most virulent in their defense of specific denominational customs or liturgies are caught up in fear not in hope. They seek their rules as substitutes for the living Spirit and use their liturgies to hide themselves. In doing this, whatever the context, they seek to serve Christ by quenching the work of the Holy Spirit who is our only access to Christ in this present world.

This creates a bit of a mess really.

Bathroom reading

writing 1 Comment »

More evidence the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by a bunch of Essenes.

Odd evidence.

Tabor and Joe Zias, an Israeli paleopathologist, were part of an international team that studied soil samples outside of Qumran, an ancient settlement in the West Bank.

“The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet,” Zias said in a news release, adding later, “These things had to come from human feces.”

responding to sin

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One of the things I am turning over in my head is the motivation behind sin. Talk to some people and they will bring out a well-worn harangue about calling sin a sin, and making sure folks know exactly what sins are being committed. These sorts of people are concerned that God will present them with a list of other people’s sins that weren’t properly admonished, thus losing pool privileges for a 32nd part of eternity. Or maybe such people like to be right, and want others to know that they are right, a fact that becomes even more potent when those others are wrong. It’s nice to be right when someone else is wrong, so nice that a person might feel compelled to seek out those situations if none are immediately presented. Or, more kindly, folks like to point out sins because they genuinely care for others.

Jesus was the latter sort of person on occasion. Sure, it’s hip and cool to bring out how accepting he was and how he ate with sinners and otherwise made company of those normally turned down for religious membership. Though, if you read closely, you’ll notice that he ate and chatted with the sinners mostly to have a conversation about their sin. He was very open but he was also very forthright. Jesus’ problem wasn’t that he demanded less of sinners, it’s that he demanded more of them. Rather than handing out passing judgments he actually expected people to change.

Oftentimes people actually changed.

This is curious really. Jesus who was more strict than other religious leaders on a lot of issues (don’t look at ladies, don’t be angry, be perfect, etc. and so on) was also the most willing to engage on a level that brought change. He is not known now as being judgmental even if he was exceedingly moral.

What’s the trick to that?

I think a lot of it comes in seeing sin as more than sin. Jesus did not consider mere actions to be the end of the discussion, as is the case with most moral conversations today. He was always alert to the underlying reality of the person in question. Thus, the same sort of action could have entirely different responses from Jesus. He did not see all symptoms as arising from the same disease, and as his quest was to truly heal he sought to bring to each person the particular cure. Sometimes this was kindness. Other times this was anger.

The fact is that people fall into sin for different reasons, and while all sin leads to death, the reasons for the sins can themselves be less than evil.

Throughout the Bible the worst source of sin is pride. From this particular sin arise actions that seek primacy, asserting oneself over another. We see sins of domination and power grabbing. This sin of seeking domination can be expressed in just about every form of other sin, from physical sins to emotional, passive aggressive to just plain ol’ aggressive. Sins that come from this motivation seek to depersonalize others, lowering them, defeating them, dominating them in a quest for power and sustenance off their depleting souls. This motivation is what spurred Jesus to anger–which is why he reserved his fiercest comments for the religious leaders of his day. God made humans in his image, and to dehumanize anyone is to strike against God’s very foundational work and the most anti-Spirit and anti-Christ activity possible. Those who engage in such sins, however they may be formed, have to be broken and humbled. They need to be warned and overthrown. They have to be removed from their perception of superiority and placed back within the community of their peers. They are forming their personhood on false premises and so will face the wrath of God for their dehumanizing efforts.

On the other side of sin is another sort of motivation. Here the motivation is not to dehumanize others, but rather the motivation is to find some sort of inner personal reality. It is not a seeking after dominance that motivates these people to sin, it is a seeking after purpose, a seeking after feeling, a seeking after emotional sustenance. They make missteps not because they are evil but because they are lost, yearning for a fullness of soul in whatever way presents itself. Wanting to quiet the chaos and still the storms, by whatever means necessary. Sin can go a long ways to providing temporary inner relief and can masquerade as a source of being. It is a liar, of course, but a good liar, making people not realize the effect of their indiscretions.

For the most part these people are already broken and don’t need to be broken more. They are a ruined people. Which is why out of these sorts of people can come the otherwise most compassionate and welcoming sorts of people. Broken people relate well to other broken people. They feel the judgment but are lashing in wrong ways because of their desperation. What these sorts of people need is hope. They need to know there are paths of salvation and healing that far outweigh the meager offerings of sin. They need to know they are not stuck after all, and do deserve more, and are made in the very image of God. They need to know that they are persons already.

They do not seek to dehumanize others, rather such people are desperate to humanize themselves, and in doing whatever creates a feeling of even temporary humanity, they are missing the mark. This is why Jesus ate with such people. This is why he chatted with the woman at the well, who he told clearly her missteps while following up with a messag e of total hope and light. His goal, you see, was not to be right. It was to bring real change to people’s lives.

To bring real change we have to, like Jesus, be aware of not only the sins on the surface, but also aware of the motivation beneath, responding to the motivation that may be a signal of hatred towards God or a signal of desperation for God. We have to be those who humanize others, who help remind each person we meet they truly are made in the image of God and are particularly blessed by the Holy Spirit among us. Most folks will be raised by such efforts and are to be encouraged not blasted. Others will be threatened by such words, and like the rich young ruler, will only find God by letting go of themselves.

This nuance of sin motivation is the only way I can find to explain Jesus’ varied reactions, and is certainly something I need to keep in mind whenever I am confronted by the sins of others and by my own sins.

waiting in fairyland

Scripture, theology 1 Comment »

The other day I took the dog to his groomers. Up here this means a trip to a rather magical place, seemingly out of a storybook land or fable from long ago. Those who stay near must realize this as they’ve highlighted the qualities, making waiting for my dog to be washed and trimmed a welcomed hour.

Pictures from fifteen feet away from the groomer’s front door, where large butterflies fill the trees One can almost, but not quite, hear a pan flute being played by a mischievous dryad and almost, but not quite, hear the laughter of wee fairies hiding behind the larger leaves, waiting for dusk to fall and for their dance to begin.

fairy groomer
fairy groomer
the bookstore of fairy land
fairy groomer