Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday the First Week of Lent

Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.  -- Matthew 25:46
This is verse is part of the larger passage (Matt. 25: 31-46) of separating sheep from goats and emphasizing that the way we treat the less fortunate is the way we treat Jesus.  It has frequently shown up in various ways on social media as a not-so-subtle message that U.S. border policies are not measuring up to the standard. While that is sure to set up a debate steeped in political wrangling, there are a couple of points that should be considered.  

First, in Jesus day the weight of caring for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, or in prison was not a task the government(s) felt any compunction to handle.  So, the government's approach should come as no surprise.  The Realm of God doesn't depend on government spending or taxation to bring it about.  Perhaps some of the insensitivity and even hostility directed at the less fortunate is a direct result of the Church's surrender of it's compassionate servant power to secular governmental welfare? 

Second, as the environment continues its downward spiral through lack of international cooperation the world will know millions more in all of the less fortunate categories.  Homes are already being lost to wildfires, hurricanes, rising seas. As this is being written, it's not lost on me how the anxiety level rises just mentioning it all.

What can we do?  This most important principle to hang onto as spiritual sojourners is just do your best. God knows our puniness and does not expect us to be Saviors or even be successful.  Just do your best.  Sweep your own porch - offer care where you can in whatever way(s) you feel drawn and called to plug into the great project of "Making A Difference."  There are tens of thousands of ways that we each can bring an uplifting, kinder, gentler presence to the throngs around us.  Nearly everyone has been, is, or will be in need of such a presence. Offering it, in the best way you can, is the essence of community.  It will be the world-wide community that stands in the way of Jesus and brings hope to all.

Questions for journaling or discussion:

  1. When did you feel in a "less fortunate" space?  Did a community of people surround you, or did you pull yourself out of it?
  2. What situation or who were you a friend to this week?
  3. An early possible beginning point is always praying.  Who might you invite to pray with you to hear the call in addressing any needs you know about?

Great Spirit of grace and influence, instill within us the heart for those less fortunate, and if we are the ones in need shower us with abounding love from others.  Amen.  

Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you... you shall take some of the first of all the fruit from the ground....and give it to the Lord....and celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Right off the bat we need to realize that much of the Bible is written through the paradigm of the Jewish people.  The Bible follows their story closely.  The Bible does not have the capacity to be overly introspective about all that the authors take credit for or overlook in their telling.  So one of the first realities to note is that the possession (and control) of land did not often flow easily or peacefully.  To take possession of a land "being given by God" meant taking it by bloody force. Humanity has been pursuing land acquisition for roughly 10,000 years. Since the Agricultural Revolution, land has been a key commodity that people have fought for, died for, and lost fortunes over.  Real estate has always had a significant "shady" component -- the "swampland in Florida" cliche has it's humor rooted in many a real life swindle.

So I don't hear the "gift" from this passage of scripture in the land ownership piece.  It may more powerfully be found in the giving back to God a measure of what we gain in life. Gratitude, humility, awareness of others' needs, sharing, understanding are all virtues that God has prized from the beginning long before possessing land was a thing.  They are often virtues overlooked in our times of strident wealth accumulation, obnoxious political wrangling, and winning as the only truth regardless of how it is done. 

Giving back a strong portion of what we have received to aid the less fortunate is a good way to stay in tune with the sense of lack that forms the daily reality of millions of people around the world.  Giving back helps us stay plugged into the depths of God's own compassionate giving.  It keeps us aware of others' struggles, and builds a relationship of understanding in both God and those who do not have as much as we might have.  Taking possessions for granted and ignoring mindfulness of our good fortunes leads to the craving of thinking we need more at all costs.  Keeping portions flowing back to God though, is a healthy way to remain connected with spirit and the goodness of humanity and God's creation.

Questions for Discussion and/or Journaling:

  1. In what ways do you consider yourself fortunate?
  2. If you were God, what would you want from the world's people?
  3. Notice that God didn't ask for money, but for fruits of their labor.  What fruits of your labor (skills, knowledge, products/money, time) would make a "strong portion" to return to God? 
Great Spirit, re-energize and infuse us with gratitude, humility, awareness of others' needs, sharing, and understanding.  Bountifully teach us to share.  Faithfully lead us to walk with you.  Amen

Saturday, March 9, 2019

1st Saturday of Lent

"If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?"  - Matthew 5:46
"...observe these statutes and ordinances...with all your heart and all your soul."  --Deut. 26:16

When the "statutes and ordinances" term is used most of us think of the written down laws and rules that humans created - from the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain to the mountains of growing laws added through time.  But if we pull our lens back to take in a much wider scope of history, we might be able to see that there were statutes and ordinances that our Creator laid down long before humans got in the business of law-making.  First, the Creator put into play all the laws of physics: gravity, centrifugal force, thermodynamics, etc. Because of those ordinances and statutes the universe was established and the earth hung into its space.  Laws and rules of chemistry & biology set the pace and development of life on planet earth.  Once humans were walking the planet -- made in the image of God we're told -- we  were instilled with fundamental emotions and concepts of fairness, nurture, caring, and living out concern about shared purpose and survival.  We knew and worshipped the God who loves us all.  And then, religions came and laws got made as we found more ways to be mean, cruel, and selfish.  Often Love got shoved to the sidelines.  We pejoratively think ancient peoples were "uncivilized," but the farther we've come on the human timeline, can anyone seriously argue that the genocide perpetrated on Native Americans, nuclear weapons, or the wars -- WWI, WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, Persian Gulf 1&2, Afghanistan, Iraq -- were leaps of great civilized progress in human development? 

Now our more common shared statutes and ordinances seem to revolve around decimating the planet for our personal benefit, being on the winning side while squashing the opposition, and dying with the most wealth in the bank. But the original statutes are still in place, buried in our primordial hearts.  We love because God first loved us.  We can return to the ancient Wise Ones' ways - walk tenderly on the earth and treat one another with caring, generosity, and empathy.  That approach needs to expand far and wide - way past just those living under our own roof.  We have to stop our "warring madness" and find ways to cut through the barriers we put up based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.  To our knowledge, we are the only creatures like us in the entire universe.  I use the word creature intentionally to include all the two, four, eight, and 100 legged creatures... all life on this tiny blue marble whirling through space.  We've been loved profoundly in the good fortune of embracing our life.  It is life that is shared uniquely across the planet and ages.  Let's do our part to keep it going!

Questions for Discussion and/or Journaling:

  1. In what way might Love be the most important "statute" that exists?
  2. Where do you find examples and proofs that civility is still alive?
  3. What is one way you might love the earth or her creatures this week?

Great Spirit, you have patiently brought us so far along the trail of life.  Many of us are "getting it" and beginning to coax things back toward what is more in your intent for us.  Bless and empower our small efforts.  Amen.


Friday, March 8, 2019

Walking Gently and Proudly

Is this not the fast that I choose?
To break the chains of wickedness
To untie the ropes of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free,
And to tear off every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and the homeless into your house,
to see the naked and to cover them
And not to turn away from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn
and your healing shall spring forth speedily
and your righteousness shall go before you
the glory of the Lord will be your rearguard
Then you shall call and I will answer
You shall cry and he will say, "Here I am." 

If you take away the yoke from your midst
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of wickedness
If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday sun.

And the Lord will guide you continuously
and satisfy your desire in the scorched places
and make your bones strong
and you shall be like a watered garden
like a spring of water that never fails.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Original Commands

If you obey the commandments of the Ruler of the Universe that I am commanding you this day; by loving your God, walking in God's ways, and observing the commandments, decrees, and ordinances given, then you shall live...  -- Deuteronomy 30:15-20
By the time of Moses the religion of Judaism was rapidly establishing itself as a legalistic code that operated from a place of male power.  The Agricultural Revolution had already occurred across much of the Middle East before Moses. The tribes and kingdoms were all about the wretched business of slaughter and land acquisition.  Land and the possession of it was now the most highly valued material object.  The religions served as vassal servants in supporting the aggregation of wealth into the hands of a few. The Hebrew children had left Egypt landless so they were behind in the property accrual game, but the observations and experiences with the cultures around them were not lost to them: the way to power and land that will secure your future goes through the Warrior God who would fight for them. So much of the Old Testament tells of the consuming bloodshed.

Reading the passage from that vantage point has a vastly different feel to it than the one from the vantage point of love directed at us by a God who loves us, wants a relationship with us, and desires that we love each other.  The interesting part of this section of Deuteronomy is that it is such a hodge podge of both stances happening simultaneously.  If they love God and avoid getting lead astray they will get land and the prosperity that goes with it.  At what point do they then cross over the line from loving God to loving the land?  History reveals that they fall in love with the reward rather than with the One who provides.  We are still in that life draining quest even today.

If we read scripture carefully with a discerning eye, we will find through the words and the life of Jesus Christ that God doesn't care about the land except as a sustenance to all God's people.  God doesn't care about kings or empires, doesn't care about wealth, success, or prestige/honor.  What God does care about is us staying faithful to the upholding of community and interpersonal relationships based on wholeness, healing, cooperation, and collaboration for all.  That is at the core of the commandments, decrees, and ordinances. If we follow them to care for "the least of these" we will find life.

Questions for discussion, reflection, or journaling:
Prior to the Agricultural Revolution humanity survived and thrived in small bands of 7-15 or tribes up to 30 or so.  Their focus had to be on cooperative sharing and working together to find food and shelter for each member.  

  1. In your imagination, can you see that happening in your family, church, city?  What makes that difficult?
  2. What effect might this consciousness have on the homeless?
  3. How confident do you feel in your tribe's/community's ability to manage conflict in loving ways? (You can consider your tribe/community in whatever way you choose to define it.)
Dear Love of Our Lives, bless us in our endeavors, dreams, and visions to re-imagine our world more in keeping with your original intents.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday 2019

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.  Joel 2:12
For too long -- approximately 10,000 years -- humanity has been on a wilderness march.  A wilderness marked by land grabs, dividing and conquering, oppressing the least, and profiteering off the wonders of the earth which belong to all humans. On the present trajectory the journey appears headed toward a fully scheduled rush to a horizon filled with smoke and ashes.

In Chinese medicine Five Element theory, all things arise out of water, earth, fire, metal, or wood.  As Charles A. Moss calls it: "Fire is the element associated with joy, happiness, and emotional protection of the heart. It is the energy that leads to open-heartedness, intimacy, generosity of spirit, optimism, joy, and the heart-felt expression of love."1

Love is what rises from the ash of what has been lost.  Like the mythological phoenix, love often appears to be dead and turned to ash. But love bursts into new life when we set aside our differences, our prejudices, our grudges, and our selfish attitudes to reconnect with life that is holy-grounded in the Presence of God in our physical lives.  God is not dead.  God is not ash.  God is alive in the human experiences where we seek and find intimacy, relationship, and joy. Christianity has an ancient historical connection to the earthly life cycle of death to life, winter to spring, ash to fire, absence to Presence.  

This Ash Wednesday rather than following the classical pathway of "lamenting our sinfulness and acknowledging our wretchedness" go spend sacred time in nature.  Reflect there upon what might be arising or bursting forth from the seed of love God placed in your heart at your birth.  Imagine that spark, and reach out for joy, optimism, and generosity of spirit to nurture and fan that spark into a full blown celebration of your own holy blazing display of heart-felt love.    

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going.  And soon all those around are warmed up by its glowing.  That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it. You spread God's love to everyone.  You want to pass it on." 

Questions for discussion, reflection, or journaling:

  1. What experience(s) in life have you had where it has it felt like ash that turns out to be a good thing?
  2. What do you feel when you sit quietly searching inside yourself for joy, happiness, or generosity of spirit?
  3. How many ways can you think of where you can connect yourself to love?

Prayer: God, we may be standing here with feet in the ashes of life, but we know this is not the end and from whatever place we stand love lives on, in us, through us, around us, and beside us.  Thank you.  Amen.

1. Moss, Charles A., Power of the Five Elements: The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance, c. 2010, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.