manna and muffins

Last week a friend sat in my kitchen while I cooked dinner. She lives overseas, in her husband’s home country, where they care for children from their community (among many other things). As we chatted, and I chopped, I said something about not knowing exactly how much I was fixing. “It’s okay, though,” I said. “God taught me awhile ago that no matter how many gather around the table or who shows up unexpectedly, the food will stretch. There will always be enough.”

She laughed and then her face grew serious as she told me of a conversation she’d had with a well-meaning friend not long before. “She said my husband and I had taken on too much, that we shouldn’t have taken in all the kids, that it’s too much stress on our marriage.”

I stopped chopping and looked at her. “What did you say?”

She shrugged. “I told her I didn’t think we had any more stress than any other cross-cultural marriage, and, besides, what were we supposed to do? Turn the kids away?”

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, a place God describes in the book of Jeremiah as “a land of drought and deep darkness,” they understood they were completely at the mercy of God. They had no capability of providing for themselves. He had put them in a place of utter dependence.

And God provided. Manna fell from the sky, and there was always just the right amount of it. Some gathered “more, some less. But when they measured it …, those who had gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” Those who purposely gathered extra—in case the Lord didn’t come through the next day—found their leftovers had worms, but on the Sabbath Day, when no manna fell from heaven, the amount gathered the day before was miraculously enough.

The Israelites forgot this as soon as they fell into some natural resources. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things,” God said. But in the apparent ability to nurture one’s own sustenance, to provide for oneself—they forgot God. (See Jeremiah 2:6-8)

Even the slightest bit of abundance makes us, too, forget that every meal, every resource comes from God—just as much as the manna did. There is no sufficiency outside him. ALL we have is gift, is manna, given to nourish us and given to be shared—and to miraculously multiply in the sharing. Do we believe this? Do we believe God will stretch what he’s given us when we stretch out our hand to press it into the palm of another? We have been given the privilege of witnessing, like the disciples, the loaves and fish mysteriously expanding, being enough—and MORE—for everyone, filling and overflowing needs, becoming abundance.

But this miracle of multiplication and abundance cannot be set in motion without our sharing what is perceived as “ours” (money, talents, time, resources) with others. Sometimes, though, the miracle is hidden from our sight, and we continue to worry, to wonder, “Did we give too much? Will we have enough for us?”

Oh, to realize that the answer to this question is ever and always “NO!” In and of myself I cannot provide enough. But God has and IS enough and more. If we are honest enough to ask it, the question beneath is, “Will He have enough?” but we dare not ask that question because to say it out loud seems sacrilegious, a bit blasphemous, because, after all, of course he has enough. He’s GOD!

But what are we saying when we make the question instead about our own resources? Are we suggesting we can be sufficient without him? that we’d like to make it on our own? Are we essentially saying, Thanks but no thanks, God; I’ll call out when I’m really in dire straits, but I’ve gained some independence, you know. Grown up into a responsible adult, capable, hardworking.

Oh, but God didn’t grudgingly give the manna, and he didn’t provide the land with its resources to get the Israelites off his to-do list. He longs to provide for us; he longs for us to depend on and trust him.

There is reason Jesus calls himself—in one of his many, many self-descriptions—the “bread of life,” the sustenance that takes us through our days—and not stingily. A page from Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God* comes to mind. She writes, “I once asked a circle of people from church, if Jesus is the ‘bread of life,’ what kind of bread is He? Not a one of them said, ‘He’s that small round wafer we use at Communion.’ I wrote down their answers. I think they make a good prayer:

a bagel

rye

toast with jam

morning glory muffins

chocolate tea bread

rosemary ciabatta

my grandmother’s sourdough

my grandmother’s challah

French toast

a crusty baguette

“This gorgeous list,” Winner writes, “expands our attention from the usual thought ‘if God is bread, then God meets my needs,’ to the category of delectation.” I might add, if God is “morning glory muffins”—which sound both delicious and beautiful—then he is “company bread,” meant to be shared. He is the challah made by your grandmother, a gift that begs you to gather others around your table and enjoy with you.

All—I’ll say it again, all—we have is gift and we must, as disciples, lose the stingy, grabbing mindset of the world that fears dependence and scarcity far more than it fears separation and estrangement. Mother Teresa told us “…we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Share your bread,

Learn belonging,

And discover the abundance of God.

 

 

 

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The Gifts of Epiphany

In the church calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. Depending on the particular church tradition, Epiphany celebrates both or either the visit of the wise men to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem and/or the baptism of Jesus. It commemorates the manifestation of Jesus as God, as the Son of God. Here in the West, it is more common to celebrate the coming of the wise men, and I want to share a well-known hymn that is commonly sung as a Christmas carol. We generally sing only the first stanza and refrain, which is really unfortunate because these are really setting the stage for the second through fifth stanzas, and these are amazing! The second stanza speaks about the gift of gold; the third about incense; the fourth about myrrh; and the fifth refers to the bringing together of all those gifts–that we worship a God who is “King and God and sacrifice”! Just beautiful!

We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.

2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3 Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,
worshiping God on high. [Refrain]

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain]

5 Glorious now behold him arise;
King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
*sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

*In some versions of this hymn, this last line is “earth to heaven replies” (and I particularly like that, as it looks forward to when it will be “on earth as it is in heaven“).

Note: the highlighting above is my emphasis and is not in the hymn itself.

 

our upside-down King

The children are doing the Gospel reading tomorrow, and we’ve taken Luke’s telling of the Nativity and broken it into narration and dialogue.

We practiced today, and before we began, I told them they were the perfect ones to tell this upside-down story of an upside-down King ushering in his upside-down kingdom.

Kings generally want power and riches and comfort, I said.

But Jesus, King of the universe, kept saying things like, “I came to serve” and “I offer my life,” and his first bed was a feeding trough for animals and his first sight as a human was a poor girl’s face and maybe, if any of the nativity scenes are correct, the giant nose of a cow. The fancy presents didn’t appear till later and they came just in time to fund a run-for-your-literal-life escape to Egypt.

I finished my pretty speech, and one child raised his hand.

“Yes?” I told him, and he asked, “Can I have a big part?”

And I grinned at this unabashed display of human nature, so straight-up contrary to all the words I’d just spoken—because it was oh, so honest! And oh, so real!

Then we began, and though the rehearsal was chock-full of loud boys and stumbled lines, and missed cues,

And there was no strong sense that tomorrow would go off without a hitch or three,

There were some moments of deep beauty,

And when it was over, I could tell a child, with genuine sincerity,

“You are supposed to be Elizabeth, because when you held that baby doll oh, so gently, it did something to my heart.”

I could shrug and laugh when asked, “Well, how do you think they will do tomorrow?”

Because the upside-down-ness of the Kingdom must be embraced, despite all our tendencies to do otherwise.

If we’d planned the Nativity, it certainly wouldn’t have taken place in a stable, with rough-and-tumble shepherds as its witnesses (and if God had insisted they play a large part, at least they would have bathed). We would have had the wise men come that first night to provide some glitz and sparkle—wait, we do that!—some importance and sophistication to the occasion…

It’s a challenge to stay upside-down, to say, like Mary, “Let it be … just as the Lord has said,” to be emboldened, like the shepherds with their uncultured ways and uneducated language, to share the crazy story even when it doesn’t seem like we’re the best, most polished messengers.

So read tomorrow, children.

Tell.

Proclaim.

As upside-down messengers

Of the King laid in the manger,

the King nailed to the cross.

Our right-side-up God.

 

Telling the Story to Myself

BT pic, cropped

A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

Mama

Five-month-old Ruby is a Heinz 57 mutt

With a weak bladder, a lot of energy

And a ton of affection.

Much of her puppy love is lavished on me:

She follows me everywhere,

Cries when I leave the house,

Greets me after a 10-minute absence as if I’ve been gone a week.

Why? my children ask. Why does she like you best?

After all, they complain, that’s why we got a puppy.

‘Cause Chai is clearly your dog, and we wanted a pup who’d prefer us.

Well, I tell them, I can list concrete items, like water and food and walks,  

But bottom line is,

She’s knows I’m the mama.

I’m not just playmate or pal;

I’m Mama.

I know another Ruby.

I met her nearly a year ago

When both of us stood on an L platform together.

She asked for change,

But my pockets were empty that day.

I asked her where her coat was—it was bitterly cold.

She said she was only going a couple stops—

then gonna’ get herself some food and warmth with the Catholic Sisters of Charity.

“They’re good to me there,” she told me.

I’ve run into Ruby several times in the last few months.

Right now I know where she’s sleeping, and I purposely ride my bike through her particular tunnel on my way into work.

If she’s there and awake, we greet each other.

If I have a few minutes, I stop my bike and we chat.

Ruby has what some call “issues”:

physical—many probably related to addiction;

mental/emotional—she’s still a child in many ways;

social—she compiles some interesting things in her hoard.

Ruby’s forgotten my name.

At least, I assume she’s forgotten it—

Because she calls me “Mama.”

“Mama, I’m not having such a great day today.”

“Mama, the police told me I have to clean up my stuff. They say it’s too messy.”

“Mama, I don’t wanna’ stay overnight in one of them shelters, not till it’s cold. Too many rules.”

She calls me “Mama,” and it makes me wonder if she’s ever had one.

Our Ruby pup can actually count on me to act like a “mama” for her. I make sure she’s warm enough, fed enough, exercised enough. I check on her water bowl. I train and teach her. It’s nothing compared to the “mama”ing I do for my children, but it’s still enough that Ruby pup knows she can trust me; I am a safe and dependable person for her.

Did Ruby the woman—made in the image of God, bearing the likeness of God—ever have a mama who did these things? Did she have anyone? A sister, brother, auntie, grandfather?

Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He was the first of us to abdicate responsibility for a fellow image bearer. He was speaking of an actual family member, but this thought brings me to the question: who is my brother? My sister?

Who is my neighbor?

If Jesus expected the kind of care given by the Good Samaritan for his “neighbor,” what does he expect of his followers—who are called to love so, so many as brother, as sister?

Or—I’m thinking of Ruby’s vulnerability—as child?

What does it mean to “family” each other? To extend our notion of “kin”? To accept not just the crazy uncles we must put up with because they’re biologically related but also other broken, difficult, hurting, needy people? How messy is too messy?

Is there such a thing in the family of God?

Rain, rain…

Note: This was written after last weekend, when many basements in Chicago flooded. Our plumbing is now fixed, though it might take a few rainstorms before I stop checking our drains.

Usually, I like the sound of rain at night.

The gentle shower, the drumming downpour,

The splashing gush against the concrete beneath our window.

But not right now!

Now, with our plumbing issues, even the slightest shower jolts my husband and I awake.

We spring from bed and

Descend to the basement,

To hover over the drains and watch

As water—and the body wastes we thought we’d said goodbye to with the flush of the toilet—

Seep across the floor,

Completely oblivious to our lack of welcome.

My world grows small over the next two days—

I concern myself with the weather forecast;

With the flow of water from the two hoses

Attached to the two pumps

That—hallelujah!—are keeping the water from creeping up the walls;

with emptying the trash can we have wedged under the roof downspout before it gets too heavy for me to push

(During storms, “too heavy” happens every 10 minutes, and I have to wake my husband—whose turn it is to sleep—for help).

Our conversation centers on water height and storm tracking;

We resort to “potty talk” for levity—

“Oh,” my husband says, remarking on a floaty, “Someone had corn for dinner!”—

Yet, on my watch, when I set an alarm on my phone for a twenty-minute nap—hoping the pumps will run uninterrupted till I wake up—and then lie there, wondering why I cannot sleep when my body is so, so tired,

My mind brings up images outside my own little water-washed world:

The husband and wife huddled in a freezing-cold pool in California while they watched their house burn to the ground.

The people trapped under fallen buildings in Mexico City and those working to find them.

The man in Puerto Rico drinking dangerously dirty water because he is literally dying of thirst.

Even our plumber’s other clients, some with water and sewage up to their waists in their basements.

These cross my mind slowly, one fading out as another takes its place. I do not sense that these images are meant to shame me for my own frustration at our comparatively minor troubles or even to minimize our situation.

But rather to knit my heart into solidarity with others, to properly align the walls of my world, to move me into prayer beyond myself—not just for these strangers but for family, friends, neighbors,

To move my island, awash in its individual swamp, near to someone else’s island—so that up close I discover the blue sparkly water I spied from afar is not so clear. It has floaties, too.

I am unable see others as God does: God’s light illumines all hearts; God’s mind knows all troubles; God’s spirit enters into everyone’s pain; God’s heart can somehow grieve with all who sorrow.

I have no such capacity, nor should I.

But I can ask for help in turning my telescope around. I can ask for my narrow, self-focused heart and gaze to grow, to be stretched, to see and feel pain and frustration and sorrow outside my own, beyond that of my family and friends and those with whom I identify.

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

The Good Shepherd

darkest valleyNext week I will teach preschoolers the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, incorporating Psalm 23. I will use objects and songs and movements to help these little ones remember that Jesus leads them and cares for them and finds them if they get lost.

I am meditating on Psalm 23 and John 10 as I prepare for this teaching, and the pictures that keep rising in my mind are not of green pastures and still waters but of the wolf and the dark valley. I find myself singing phrases from two songs based on Psalm 23: Audrey Assad’s “I Shall Not Want” and Marty Haugen’s “Shepherd Me O God.”

These two songs are expanding my understanding of the dark valley and the wolf.

Not long ago my youngest child and I were talking about the wolf, the evil one. My child wanted to know how the evil one feels about people, specifically about him. And we talked about a depth of hatred that is beyond what we can understand, a desire for our destruction that is so great it will not be satisfied except by the complete separation of humans from all that is good and right—from God.

We talked about the varying tactics of the evil one, how at times he appears as an angel of light—as comfort and safety and self-interest and belonging—how at others he beckons with the dark seduction of power and fame and revenge. How the effects of the evil one’s deception might be more obvious in the broken families, high drug use, and violence of at-risk neighborhoods but the complacency, independence, and aloofness of well-off neighborhoods is just as much his work.

Both distract us from our greatest, deepest need. Both blind us to the goodness of God.

This past week I told the story of the Fall in church and then taught the children to tell it. “Did God say…?” the evil one asks, casting doubt on God’s truthfulness, on God’s goodness. God has lied to you, he suggests. There is a way for you to be like God, and God, being greedy, does not want that. He wants you stupid and grateful and content in not knowing what you lack. He has tricked you.

We have believed this lie ever since. It has its many variations—for the evil one is forever subtly and craftily undermining the goodness and trustworthiness of God toward us.

In the prayer of St. Francis, these lines appear: “O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console/to be understood as to understand/to be loved as to love.” I see these same ideas in Assad’s “I Shall Not Want.”

From the love of my own comfort/From the fear of having nothing/From a life of worldly passions/Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood/And from a need to be accepted/From the fear of being lonely/Deliver me O God/Deliver me O God

From the fear of serving others/Oh, and from the fear of death or trial/And from the fear of humility/Deliver me O God/Yes, deliver me O God

The needs identified—for comfort, provision, passion, understanding, acceptance, belonging—are good. They are among our deepest desires. It is these needs the evil one taps into, magnifying and twisting them. We cannot, do not trust God to fulfill these needs. He is either not big enough to or not good enough to want to. He is not the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. So we must take matters into our own hands; we must prize our own needs above those of others; we must lose our good sense of smallness—as one among many created in the likeness and image of God, as one of many, many beloved sheep. We leave the fold and strike out on our own.

We cannot, will not trust the perfect love of God to provide our needs and wants, and, ironically, only that perfect love drives out the fear that keeps us from trusting.

And this brings me to Marty Haugen’s song “Shepherd Me O God,” with its chorus that puzzled me the first time I heard it: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears, from death into life.

Beyond the shallow wants that distract me from my deepest needs.

Beyond the fears that blind me to true goodness and faithfulness.

It is in the “beyond” that we are fully satisfied.

And it is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who takes us there.

The chorus of Assad’s song looks to this “beyond.”

And I shall not want, no, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

Our Good, Good Shepherd did not abandon us to the wolf but laid down his life for us, so we could be his own, could be his known sheep who know him, who live in his goodness and in the fullness of life.

And in this life, there is no want.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

For his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff—

They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

In the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

the power of the resurrection

396467780000-Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.59.09 AMGrant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection and look for him to come again in glory; who lives and reigns now and forever.

We stood on the shore of Lake Geneva, gathered for the baptism service of two young members of our church family—a brother and sister. Our pastor spoke of their entering the water as Christ entered death. He reminded them that in submitting to baptism, they were announcing their identity; they were renouncing darkness and entering a new life of trusting in and following Christ. They would not do this through their own strength but through the power of Christ, through the power of his resurrection.

Power implies authority. Power implies the ability to make another person do whatever the person in power wants. Even when power is used benignly, it generally carries an unspoken threat. Power separates those with it from those without it. It diminishes those who are being controlled.

Power is too often seen as Might. Force. Control. Dominance.

I thought all this as I watched our pastor bless the water of the lake—the rather large lake! I thought of the story of Jesus calming the wind and the waves. He had authority and power over the storm, power that was so evident the disciples were terrified by it. “Who is this,” they asked each other, “that even the wind and waves obey him?”

The brother and sister, pastor, and youth pastor walked out into the lake. We followed into the shallows. They went further, till the water reached their waists. Together the pastors dipped first one of them and then the other backwards into the water. I saw their bodies resist the descent. I saw their mental effort to overcome this natural resistance, to release themselves into their pastors’ arms.

Years ago I watched the movie Schindler’s List. The overarching story of the German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust has certainly stuck with me, but I can only picture a couple scenes from the film. In one of them Oskar Schindler is on a balcony with the German leader of a prison camp, a man who exults in his complete power to arbitrarily torture and kill the Jews in his camp. Schindler has a different view of power. “Power,” he says, “is when we have every justification to kill—and we don’t.”

Power, he continues, is when we instead extend mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus had power. He calmed raging waves and howling winds with the sound of his voice. He certainly could have controlled the mere men who stripped and beat his body and drove nails through his feet and wrists. Yet he submitted to them, to their assumptions of power.

Did Jesus’ body, like the bodies of our young church members, naturally resist their force? Did his knowledge that he had power—that he could have called down legions of angels, that he could have controlled the very iron of the nails—battle against his intention to submit?

I don’t know what went on inside Jesus’ soul, but I know what he did. I know the nails stayed in his wrists. I know his body remained on the cross. I know he allowed people to taunt him.

I know Jesus willingly died.

In retrospect we see the power of the resurrection fully and beautifully displayed in the crucifixion.

I can’t remember every detail of the scene with Schindler and the prison camp leader. I do remember the camp leader sitting in a chair looking out over hundreds of emaciated, broken Jews. I remember his pleasure in harming them.

In my memory his fists are clenched.

Jesus’ hands, though, were open.

Open in pain, fingers stretched wide with the suffering and brokenness of the world.

Open in pardon for those harming him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Open in compassion for his mother: “Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.”

Open in acceptance of those rightfully accused: “Today you will join me in paradise.”

The hair and clothes of the two siblings dripped with water. We waded back to shore and gathered in a circle.

Our pastor prayed, “…you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace.” He held his hands out toward us. “The peace of the Lord be always with you.”

“And also with you,” we answered. I noticed many of us mirrored the pastor’s gesture, stretching our open hands, palms up, toward the center of the circle.

This, I thought, is the power of the resurrection: the power to live against our natural tendency to resist, to close our hands in fists. Only with resurrection power can we live open-handed toward God, palms bare, willing to reveal the emptiness of our hands. willing to hold our hands out to God, open to receive everything from Him, open to receive grace.

We joined hands then, and in the gentle pressure of my neighbors’ hands in mine, I realized this, too, is done in resurrection power. The power of the resurrection enables us to live with hands outstretched to others, ready to link fingers with the reaching hands of the suffering, the broken, the oppressed, and the widow, and willing, even, to grab hold of the clenched fists of the oppressors, the accusers, the guilty and the condemned.

Grant, O Lord, that all (we) who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection…

Amen

Mixed-Race Kids, the Church, and the Blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim

Please check out not only this article but Esau McCaulley’s blog as a whole. I had the privilege earlier this summer of hearing him speak on racial reconciliation. His voice, crying out for racial reconciliation in the Church, needs to be listened to.

Thicket of the Jordan

samantha-sophia-34200

Genesis has long been at the center of Jewish and Christian reflection on what it means to be the people of God.  In the Christian tradition, much has been written about God’s declaration that he made man and woman in his image such that all people deserve to be treated with the dignity.  The Apostle Paul, in his letters to Rome and Galatia, forever solidified the importance of the Abrahamic narrative to Christian self-understanding. The story of Joseph, with its stirring saga of family betrayal and God’s faithfulness, has been fodder for many Sunday school lessons and countless sermons.

But attention wanes, and by the time we get to the end of Genesis, which recounts the blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim we are no longer concerned with the Patriarchs and their progeny.  We are ready for the Exodus. This is a mistake. I want to suggest that the blessing of…

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Blindness to God and neighbor

The story of Bartimaeus, as told in Mark 10, seems very straightforward: Jesus restores the sight of a blind man.

First, Bartimaeus calls out for Jesus to have mercy on him.

When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers, “I want to see.”

Jesus says, “Go; your faith has healed you.”

And Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus.

I love Bartimaeus’ response to Jesus (click here to read a post on that), but as I have read, listened to, and told this story several dozen times in the last several months, I have come to appreciate an irony in it.

Bartimaeus is not the only one in the story who is blind, and Jesus is doing two kinds of healing: he is restoring physical sight to Bartimaeus, and he is revealing the spiritual blindness of those who think they already see.

They have good reason to believe this; they see the sun, the sky, the trees, the grass. They see quite well the people around them who are wealthy and powerful. They see those who run in the “same circles” as they do themselves. Most of all, they see themselves.

They even, to a certain extent, see Jesus: see his miracles, see his power, see the possibilities following him might bring them.

But they are spiritually blind, and this is revealed in their response to Bartimaeus. They don’t notice him, don’t acknowledge him, don’t listen to him. They even try to shut him up when he dares to speak.

Bartimaeus, though, is named in Scripture. Though so many others are not, including those with wealth and/or status (the rich young ruler, most of the scribes and Pharisees who interacted with Jesus, the Centurion), both the personal and family names of this blind, begging man are shared. Jesus, the Son of the Creator God, filled with the Spirit of Life, hears and sees Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. He loves him.

Jesus does not want the crowds to be wowed with his miracles. He does not want them enamored with his power. He wants them to know God; he is revealing God! He wants them to understand that the God who rescued them and made them his people did not do so in order for them to become proud and separated. God did this so he could teach them to love as God loves, with heart and soul and mind, to love both God and neighbor in this full, complete way—and then to be a light to all people, being themselves a mini-revelation of this incredible God.

Bartimaeus somehow understood this, at least on some level. He was not truly blind, for when he regained his physical sight, he didn’t use it for his own purposes. He followed Jesus, and I can imagine Bartimaeus running up to downtrodden individuals all along the way, inviting them to Jesus. “Come and see,” he would say, “Come and see Jesus!”

It was the people around Bartimaeus who were actually blind. They chose not to see God as the Yahweh who had rescued and covenanted with them for no reason other than love. They chose not to see God’s love for all people, and instead they loved as the world self-servingly loves, showing attention only to those whose response might be beneficial.

All this was evident in their attitude toward Bartimaeus. “Be quiet,” the crowds around told him. “We don’t want to hear about your needs. We don’t want Jesus’ attention to be focused on you. Stay down there, on the ground.”

But Jesus stopped to listen to Bartimaeus’ cry, and he responds in an interesting way. He does not call out directly to Bartimaeus. He tells the crowd, “Call him here.” See him, Jesus is saying. Notice him, talk to him, interact with him. You are both creations of the living God. You cannot love God and refuse to love your neighbor.

In Jesus’ view, Bartimaeus already possessed sight; he had faith vision. Maybe he’d heard stories of Jesus announcing himself with Isaiah’s words and then actually doing them, preaching good news to the poor, restoring sight, pronouncing healing and freedom to the downtrodden and burdened. Bartimaeus was convinced by what he’d heard. He knew he needed Jesus; he believed Jesus would want to help him (and could!); and he cried out for help.

The crowds, however, were like the Pharisees, who saw no reason to throw themselves on God’s mercy and lovingkindness. They believed they possessed special favor, and they didn’t want God’s favor to be extended to anyone else.

In Jesus’ estimation, they were the blind.

Jesus longs to heal our blindness. He longs for us to see God more and more clearly, to love him more dearly, to follow him more nearly…

And to love our neighbors–all our neighbors!–as ourselves.

Anything less is blindness.

 

NOTE: I have been thinking about this post for a long time. I do not write it only as a response to the white supremacy march in Charlottesville this past weekend, but it is very linked in my mind. We (meaning the Church) must not ignore the spiritual blindness of racism, especially when it is held by those who say they are following Christ or doing the work of God. Christ did not keep peace with the blind; he named their blindness; he called them to admit it and turn to God. We must do the same. Here’s a blogpost by Michael Frost that is very pertinent to this. And here’s another by Jen Oshman–also excellent.