Sermons from Outside the Walls- 2

He Called Our Mother a Dog

June 5, 2018

If a sermon does nothing but make you feel good, why bother with it?

Nobody goes to a gym to sit in an easy chair, open a beer, and smoke a cigar while watching the big screen TV. No! If they want a return on their monthly fees, they want to sweat and be out of breath for an hour, then go home sore. They want to lose weight, or tone muscle, or increase the capacities of their cardiovascular system and that doesn’t happen by osmosis or being pampered. It happens with hard work- being intentionally uncomfortable for awhile, so that you can live stronger and healthier for more years than you might have lived otherwise.

The same with learning about your place in the kingdom of God. And, time out: while we’re at it, right now, let’s put that word “kingdom” aside for the rest of this series. “Kingdom” is a word which is loaded, after 20 centuries of military maneuvers, royal trappings of royal weddings, and seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” with so much gold, blood, land-grabbing, and intrigue that it is misleading to a tragic degree in imagining anything Jesus intended for it to mean when he was referring to the community God wanted for humans to live within on earth.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the word “Community.” The Community of God, as in “thy Community come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” etc. OK? “KIngdom” was only a metaphor, anyway- a word used to help humans imagine something they did not know, by comparing that something to what they did have experience with. The word “kingdom” in the year 30 would have been imagined in a very different way than we can imagine it today; therefore, let’s get it out of the way.

(If you’re stuck on thinking of Jesus as a PRINCE of Peace, like a Prince Charles or Prince Harry, remember that on Palm Sunday he came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a little three foot high donkey. In doing so, by dragging his feet on either side of that bumpy little donkey, Jesus was, if anything, demonstrating himself to be the exact opposite of anything princely, regal, or royal. He was just a guy, just like all the people, people like me and maybe like you on that road that day who were cheering his arrival even as they were thinking, “what the..?” Little did they know of the extraordinary events of the coming few days. Little did they know what Jesus would be called upon to do, or that by doing so, he would be demonstrating the extraordinary things they- we!- are also capable of doing.), back to learning about “your place in the Community of God.”

I’m going to point something out here that you might not like- not at first, anyway:

Jesus didn’t do what he did, say what he said, or go where he went for people like me, a gentile. In fact, for much of the time after we first meet him in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, he had his back to the gentiles. His message was for his people, the people of Israel- the Jewish people. If gentiles heard him, it was accidentally. For a Jewish man to have contact with gentiles was not a good thing by the Jewish standards of the day. By some of those standards, it was even a dirty thing to do, especially when it came to sick, dead, or female gentiles. Yikes!

And Jesus was, make no mistake about it, Jewish. A Jewish man. And he proves it right here:

Mark 7: 24-30 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus..went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Jesus called the gentile immigrant woman a “dog.” Try to dress that word up or soften it a little as many biblical commentators have tried to do over the centuries and it’s still a dog. It’s what a Jewish man of the year 30 or so would have called an immigrant woman. It was a default word, an unthinking but common word, a go-to word- like we might hear the words ‘wet back,’ or ‘illegal,’ or ‘hoe,’ or worse. That kind of word. You can’t soften it, it’s too sharp, and it usually leaves a scar.

This uppity gentile Greek woman was being pushy by speaking up when she had not even been invited into the room! She didn’t know her place and, indeed, there wouldn’t have been a place for her in a roomful of Jewish men! So, when Jesus was interrupted by her, when she deliberately threw herself in front of him, Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and personally upset.

syrophoenician woman“Dog!” he says, and we can only imagine the murmured agreement from others who had just witnessed this woman.

But, the woman persists! She insisted and persisted that Jesus pay attention to her. She loved her young daughter more than she cared about her own low status, so she persisted..

And Jesus’ eyes were opened. His eyes were opened by this woman in ways that revealed to him just how big this Community of God he preached about, really was. In her speaking up to him and daring to speak back to him, he heard her desperate cry of need, and he understood that God’s love did extend beyond the Jewish people “in front” of him.

There were others with ears to hear. There were others living desperately at the edges of life who also needed to know God’s love for them. In the woman’s plea, he heard for the first time, the gentiles who had, so far, been “outside” of his community. When said to her, in surprise, “Good answer!” he was, in effect, inviting her into that community. He was inviting her to stand in front of him!

But not only her. One by one, other gentiles began to come to Jesus- and were seen now by Jesus. God’s chosen people, through the example first shown by Jesus himself, were now able to witness others besides themselves hearing Jesus, being seen by Jesus, and being accepted by Jesus as people worthy of God’s love, too. No longer would “those people”  have to pick up mere crumbs!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is regarded by many as the holy Mother of us all. And she is worthy of the honor and love shown her- she raised a really good kid, after all! But for those of us who are of the gentile persuasion- and that includes everyone who is not Jewish- isn’t this unnamed, brash, pushy, but loved Syro-phoenician Greek woman our true mother in the faith?


We who were not worthy in the eyes of Jewish legalists were made worthy by invitation to join and become a part of the Community of God being gathered together by Jesus. On our part, there is room for no emotions other than humility and gratitude when we accept that invitation. There is nothing for us to brag about, or to congratulate each other about. We may lead some people within the Community, but we are not leaders of the Community.

The leader remains a man, a very Jewish man. He is an Israeli man, and our cues should always be taken from him and not from false teachers who try constantly to usurp his role or make the United States or England or any other country or culture the “shining city on a hill” Jesus referred to in his sermon on the mount.

His invitation was for the woman, and us, to stand in front of him, and then to follow him. And how close and how far are we to follow?

When Jesus was on the cross, nailed, bleeding, in pain, and suffocating, among the last persons he would have seen as his head tilted forward for the last time, were the group of gentile Roman soldiers gathered below him- the ones who had lifted him onto the cross, secured him there, threw dice for his discarded robe, and finally stuck a sword in his belly to hurry his dying. His words as he looked down on them?

“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”

How far are we to follow?

That far.

David B. Weber

syrophoenician woman

Sermons from Outside the Walls- 1

The Word of God, or..words about God?

May 29, 2018


If you want to wake up tomorrow morning thinking exactly about your faith as you do right now.. don’t read this.
If you desire for me to speak that which will affirm what you already believe, and make you feel special for believing that way.. don’t read this.
If you want a Sunday morning pick-me-up, in preparation for a rest-of-the-week beat down, or if you are expecting a mere unpacking of scriptures to be rearranged in neat little piles of homiletic insight..don’t read this- not today, not ever.
However, if you are willing to have your carefully crafted system of spiritual understandings pulled from and added to like a pile of Jenga blocks, until they fall into a pile of disappointment and confusion, proceed. Because like a petunia forcing its way upward through an inch of newly laid asphalt, the breaking of our spiritual shell casings is what allows new Light to enter our lives, and resurrected Life to emerge.
Because sermons are arranged best around scriptures, so shall it be with this one. These are the words of the Apostle of Jesus, Paul, who is writing an instructional letter to his disciple, Timothy. In the letter, Paul is telling Timothy how to be an advocate for the story of Jesus the Christ. Timothy is young and separating from Paul’s nearby presence in order to go into the mission field on his own. Paul reminds Timothy of what Paul has demonstrated him about being a missionary for Jesus.
But if and when instruction fails or is forgotten, Paul tells him, this (from 2Timothy 3: 16,17, Common English Bible):
Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.
The scripture Paul wrote of was the collection of Hebrew scripture: the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the prophets, the books of history and wisdom. Paul’s letters, other apostolic letters, and even the four gospels themselves had not yet been gathered together into the smells-good leather bound book we call the New Testament. When Paul says “scripture,” he’s talking about the collection of scrolls written on parchment in Hebrew- what is popularly called the Old Testament.
And he says those scriptures are “inspired by God.” The Greek words for “inspired of God” have been translated as “God-breathed” by countless preachers and teachers in the many centuries since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. Among many Christians, it is believed that God literally breathed the words of scripture, Old and New, through the quill pens of the men whose names are attached to or mentioned within the various biblical writings.
Believing the words to have been written that way means, to those who teach this way, that the words are infallible (i.e., without error) and interchangeable. “Interchangeable” means that what is written in one part of the Bible can support, amplify, and explain what is written in another part of the Bible. That is why we often see preachers and teachers who believe this way, flipping back and forth from front to back, from one book of the Bible to another, to formulate or give credibility to their arguments. That is a practice that can be done legitimately- Jesus himself refers often to the Old Testament prophets. There are many, many other such examples of one part of the Bible’s writings supporting other parts, as well.
But there are also weak, illogical, even silly such connections made and taught. Whole denominations exist because of some of them, and doctrine has poured like a mighty river from such oddly-contrived connections, and they continue to drown the original intentions behind the individual scriptures.
a augOne example: Augustine, a “Church father” of the fourth century CE, wrestled most of his life with a very active libido. His mother convinced him that such behavior was bad, so Augustine set about finding the biblical reasons that it was bad, so that he could (hopefully) tame those urges within himself.
Sex, Augustine determined from his mother and the fact that people throughout the Bible had babies, was not evil, but the desire for it (all the time in his case) was. He dug around, and around, and found his “Aha!” discovery in what, at the time, was regarded in Christian and “pagan” circles as an obscure, and becoming more obscure book- the first book of the Torah, Genesis.
In it was the story of Adam and Eve, first man and first woman. God, Augustine determined, had created them without evil, so procreation for them, he further determined, would not/ could not possibly involve the kind of desire he fought within himself. He determined that sex, as God created it for humans, would have been something which was merely functional, like the quick, seemingly joyless couplings of birds or turtles. But Adam and Eve went against God and discovered “evil” anyway, by biting into the forbidden fruit of the Knowledge tree.
aa Gossaert_Thyssen_Adam_and_EveHaving done so, Adam’s and Eve’s “eyes were opened” exactly as the temptor devil-serpent had told them they would be opened when it was urging them to go against God and bite the fruit. And when their eyes were opened they saw something neither Adam nor Eve had ever noticed before in their days-old lives: the other person’s genitals.
From that point on, according to Augustine, sexual desire for the other entered their lives and through them, our first parents, into all subsequent generations. It was the Original Sin which has befouled humanity since that first bite, that first glance, and that first lusting.
I’m not making this up. Augustine’s conclusions (about Original Sin and much else) were institutionalized by the growing Christian church, and have been affecting every man, woman, and child in the world since then. (Think about it: what’s the first thing missionaries the world over, throughout history, sought to do when meeting and “converting” indigenous tribes and people in Africa, the Americas, Australia, and everywhere else the merchant families of Europe sent them? They made them put on clothes!)
What Augustine did is called “cherry-picking” by detractors of the infallibility argument. I cherry-picking the Bible, one picks the best cherries for the argument being made from here and from there, from that tree and this tree, and bakes them together into one pie. Add one’s own biases, misinformation, and “druthers,’ and it becomes possible, and it has been done many times, to make almost any argument bend your way through cherry-picking the (approx.) 807,000 words of the Bible, found in its (also approx.) 31,000 verses.
All that is to say this: The Bible is not God-breathed. It is not the Word of God in the sense of “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” It didn’t blow down on us from angelic messengers, or fall down from the heavens sealed in a Baggie© for printing into all of our various languages. God didn’t cause the Bible’s many various writers to take quills in hand, fall into trances, and become divine stenographers.
When you hear anyone preface what they’re about to say with the words, “The Bible says..” then you are hearing someone who believes a form of one of the above absurdities. The Bible doesn’t speak! But individuals and communities do speak. And the collection of what many of them have had to say about their encounters with God is the Bible.
Thus, the Bible is “inspired.” People were inspired to write down in many different ways the reactions they had during encounters they believed were with God, the stories handed down to them concerning God, the meanings of historical events in the context of God, the wisdom about God they felt was vital to be preserved and passed on, and laws which they felt would honor their God and preserve their status as “chosen of God.”
Different writers did these things in different ways. Many of the stories in Genesis and Exodus are the kinds of stories passed on for generations around campfires by and for people who cannot read or write. Poetry and song- both memory triggers- were made great use of in stories of the beginnings of all things (Genesis). The story of Adam and Eve, so misused by Augustine (IMO) was, nonetheless, one the truest stories ever told about human shame, guilt, irresponsibility, and our human proclivity to blame the “other” for our own mistakes.
Other writers collected other stories thus told about the beginnings, struggles, and ultimate triumphs of their tribes- the Hebrew tribes of Israel. The Psalms honored God through song, and dance, and musical instruments, and kept the inspiring stories of King David and others alive through time. The Song of Songs must have troubled the later Augustine to no end with its erotic stories of young people in love, which were interpreted to be exactly the kind of intensive love of God for humankind. The tough-to-read histories- Kings and Judges and Chronicles- were records of what were perceived as God’s motivating touch and presence in the establishment of Israel as the home of “God’s chosen people.” And the prophets were social activists who collectively decried the idol-worshipping and poor people neglecting which they determined Israel had become as God was set on a shelf, rather than allowed to continue to inspire, as they believe God once had been allowed to do.
And those are just Old Testament examples! Stick around in coming weeks for many others from the New Testament- the gospels and letters and that so-abused book of Revelation. Those are the stories that wind around my heart and soul and indeed inspire what I write here right now and which I hope color the shade and the light of my life. But they have have been cherry-picked, too! And there are some mouthfuls of the subsequent pies which have been baked as a result of that cherry picking which should also be spat out! Quickly and forever! (Stay tuned!)
My point in all of this, and then I’m done for this week: The forest, the lush, green, vibrant, life-teeming, and deep so deep forest has been obscured by the planting of Bradford pears, kudzu, English ivy, and other invasive weeds. Ancient and very strangely born doctrines are choking the love of God from humans wanting to respond to it, able to respond to it, but thwarted from doing so because of historical and present human egos with loudspeakers set on “too loud” from pulpits raised too high.
But we don’t have to be pawns in the ecclesiastical games of anyone. We don’t have to be afraid. Our eyes are indeed able to be opened and we can help each other to see. Invasive weeds are not easy to get rid of, but in community with others dedicated to doing so, they can be eradicated.
In the meantime, hang onto this: There is more, always more to know. The path of Knowing more winds its way through Doubt sometimes, and even Fear. But it also often bumps head on with wonderful, light drenched Surprise. When it does, just sit back and simply.. behold! And let all things become new..
David B. Weber

Spiritual Mentors: Barbara Brown Taylor

aa BBT

What if the whole Bible is less a book of certainties than it is a book of encounters, in which a staggeringly long parade of people run into God, each other, life–and are never the same again?  I mean, what don’t people run into in the Bible?  Not just terrifying clouds and hair-raising voices but also crazy relatives, persistent infertility, armed enemies, and deep depression, along with life-saving strangers, miraculous children, food in the wilderness, and knee-wobbling love.

That  describes what I appreciate most about Barbara Brown Taylor: she never allows the Bible to become an idol. She reminds us that the Bible, indeed religion itself, is simply (however marvelously) a window through which the light shines in, and through which darkness at times may also be perceived.

I know the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the reality they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out since, at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to set the written world down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, the willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.” (from ‘Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith,’ Harper, 2006)

Barbara Brown Taylor was once named by Time Magazine as one of the best preachers in America. Then, after twenty years of being an Episcopal priest, she left the church for academia. She is still teaching, and is still a sought  after speaker. She now qualifies as one of the best religious writers in America.

She is a splendid crafter of words, able to turn the words about faith- a nebulous and abstract subject- into concrete images that give rise to enhanced understanding on the part of her readers and, often, real action in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Because she was a great preacher, she is now a teacher that inspires prophetically, and illuminates her instruction with the always changing, but ever-constant Light she perceives shining through the world around her. She describes believing in Jesus as leading to believing in more-than-Jesus: believing leads to seeing Jesus in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people.

Hers are eyes always opening wider, and her preaching and teaching has enabled many, many people, inside and outside of The Way, to experience that new and more Light as well.

Brown has affected how I do ministry, and I hope it shows, and if it does, I want others to know her role in it: “Too often, I believe, preachers get into the business of giving answers instead of ushering people into the presence of God who may or may not answer. We [preachers] have somehow fallen into the trap of believing we are responsible for God’s silence- that if those under our care do not have a sense of God’s presence, then it is because we have failed them somehow- failed at Bible study, failed at prayer, failed at our preaching to bring the invisible God close enough to touch. When God falls silent, we too often compensate by talking more, which may be the very worst thing we can do.” (from ‘When God is Silent,’ Cowley, 1998.
Her books are all in print. Her newest book is ‘Learning to Walk in the Darkness,’ HarperOne, 2014)

aa  BBT2

When Religion Becomes Evil

When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball, Harper-Collins, 2002

This is a very brief summary of the book which highlights the five common characteristics of many religions throughout history which have descended into evil- coercing, treacherous, murderous evil. Kimball does not focus on a particular religion, but includes examples of many. He does suggest that evil can first be spotted by, and the andidotes to evil can best be offered by the Mystery, or Wisdom traditions within each religion.

I’m listing the five characteristics here as food for constructive thought. Were someone to use the single religion they are most familiar with as their only example of evil (or good), or exclude the religion they might be most comfortable with or least comfortable with, as the characteristics are discussed, it would be to perpetuate another brand of chauvinistic evil which elevates the merits or demerits of any religion above (or below) those of another.

Interestingly, just as the characteristics are similar in every religion descending into evil, so are the solutions. It appears that evils within Islam, for instance, could readily be identified and respectfully helped to change by the Zen Buddhist. The evils that manifest within some organized Christian groups, again- for instance, would be able to be perceived by Sufi Muslims, and solutions to that waywardness could also be offered by those same Sufis (or Jewish kabbalists, or Christians of the Mystical traditions, or Zen Buddhists, etc.).

Kimball’s five evil-indicating characteristics are:

1. The religion makes claims of absolute truth. When a religion stops “seeking truth” because it has “found truth,” all there is left to do is build real and metaphorical fortresses around that truth to defend it. Because that truth, they know, will be attacked literally- with drones or suicide bombers, or with laws, doctrines, and rewritten history. Or it will be subverted by “un-truths” like those perpetuated by Galileo, Darwin, or Nietzsche.


2. The religion demands blind obedience (to a charismatic leader or a set of doctrines).


3. It establishes an Ideal Time. Beware any religion that speaks of ‘glory days’ that can be ‘brought back’ if only enough people can be made to believe our way. The reign of King David, or A Christian America, or the days of Shan-gri-la, or that time before The Great Satan appeared: all are ideal fantasies which are loaded with contradictions to that ideal time’s claimed perfections.


4. The ends justify any means. From ricin gas let loose in a Japanese subway, to Zyklon B gas blown into Nazi extermination chambers, to invocation of gods with the removed and bleeding hearts of virgins, the ends (good crops, democracy, the Kingdom of God on earth, etc.) are much more important than the means used to achieve them.


5. Religions descending into evil tend to declare Holy War, often. They declare it on aboriginal settlers like Native Americans, Palestinians, or African tribesmen. They declare war (after war) on the Great Satan, the evils of ________ (pick one), or racial impurity. A religion that is both in denial about its true nature, but has political power, is one of history’s most dangerous entities.


And a religion which is on its course toward evil, will almost always identify and kill those prophets who try to point that out. Isaiah, Amos, Jesus, Gandhi, King: the prophets, the good-inspired finger pointers, rarely make it to the end of their intended days.

The Scapegoat..forgive us our sins

Leviticus 16:6 "Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. [a] 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat…
21 [The priest] is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

I grew up at a time when there was a universally identifiable American scapegoat. International Communism was always-increasingly ready and able to reach into our churches, our schools, and into all levels of local, state, and federal government, according to everyone from the head of the F.B.I, J.Edgar Hoover to the local president of the American Legion. Our fifth grade teacher told us how Communist teachers in Russia would tell their pupils to close their eyes and pray to God for candy. When they opened their eyes, of course, there was no candy.

The Russian teacher (ugly, old, and rough) would then challenge her school children to close their eyes and silently thank Premier Khrushchev for leading the great Soviet Socialist Republic. While the Communist children had their eyes shut, the Communist teacher would distribute Communist candy to each miniature Communist.

Those kinds of stories (and there were a legion of them!) embeded themselves in the cognitive topsoil of pre-pubescent children. I am 60 years old now and I still default to some of them. I still hear the word “Communist” and I really do think first of both Khrushchev and his lackey, the teacher with candy. (Who, we also knew with 10 year old sighs of disgust, hated both God and America!)

Later, we would learn (in college while the hysterical heat was dissipating but still ever-present) about Sen.McCarthy, the House on UnAmerican Activities, and Hollywood blacklists. Simultaneously, we watched our peers leaving to fight Communism’s newest evil manifestations in Vietnam. And Cambodia, and Laos, then all of Southeast Asia, then the worllllddddd!!!!

But, just as T.S.Eliot prophesized the whole world one day ending with a whimper, thus did Soviet Communism in fact end. Spread thin around the world, the Soviet war machine led the Republic into bankruptcy, Premier Gorbachev saved face through pretended negotiations with the Americans, and Humpty-Dumpty the Empty Communist Promise fell off the Berlin Wall with a splat.

Ding dong the witch is dead! Which old witch? The Communist witch- our enemy, our evil nemesis, our scapegoat!
It is upon scapegoats that a nation, a family, a political movement, or even a group of teenaged bullies, can project their own fears about themselves, their own disappointments over their lot in life, their personal or national cowardice, their jealousies, their lusts, and their insatiable greed. That goddam Soviet Union just wanted the iron rich mountains of Eastern Europe! That National Liberation Front only wanted to control the seaports and off shore oil drilling in South Vietnam! We simply wanted to spread democracy, religion, and love, sweet love.

We had had such a good scapegoat! We could all focus on that big Red, gluttonous, ill-dressed, rough-talking sword-dragging Soviet Empire that wanted our wealth, our women, and our way of life. But now they were no more.
In fact, now we were doing business with them! We were building churches there, going to college there, drinking their vodka here!!! Our scapegoat was gone! Our great historic means of ridding ourselves of guilt, shame, lust, and unnatural sexual thoughts, was gone!

What could we find to replace it? What could we possibly find that we could hate again with patriotic zeal and God-blessed righteousness? What would give us illusionary friendship with the high and mighty of our nation, companionship with the movers and shakers of Big Business, the attention of that cute brunette in the front office at work? Who could we pile our sins on, blame for all of our personal and national failures, and send into the wilderness to experience the fear, the loneliness, the powerlessness, the fear, the fear, the fear that we so feared…?

Who? What? Tell us..lead the name of the God who looks like us, wants what we want, and will understand if throw out big chunks of Matthew and Luke for the time being and replace them with bigger portions of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the dark and disagreeable Amos. Who What will our new scapegoat be?

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil evilevilevil, whimpering cowardly posturing evil the kind of evil people not like us want to force down our throats just like the communists wanted to spill our precious bodily fluids on the battlefields of our morality..give us this day our daily bread that we have a right to, worked for, demand in the name of all that is holy for thine is the kingdom, our kingdom…


Psalm Four, Meditatio Divina

angry guy

Answer me, God!

All these other guys who are

finishing ahead of me, getting more applause than me, making more money than me, having more fun than me, feeling more important than me, and not lying awake all night worrying like me

are pricks. There’s no two ways about it!

They’ll get theirs’ in the end, right God? Right? It’s You and me, isn’t that right, Lord? Isn’t it?


Hey you,’s Me now..are you ready to do some listening?

These guys are pissing you off so you lie awake all night punishing them? You think they are more important than you so you’re angry at them all day? Did you scream at your wife because they’re having fun? Did you kick your dog because they have new cars? Exactly where, pray tell Me, did you pick up these convoluted, upside-down, masochistic responses to the convoluted, upside-down, masochistic way you see the world?

Have a glass of new wine- you don’t need any of that old stuff tonight, no matter how much you paid for it. In fact, why not just throw all that vinegar-tinged old stuff out, right now? Then, lie down. Put your feet up, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and listen to Me. I’m only going to say this once, but if you let it in, it’ll stay in you forever. Ok? You ready? I’m going to whisper it now:

I love you.

And you’re a prick, too. Which, weirdly enough, makes Me love you even more..        g’nite!

Psalm Two, Meditatio Divina

Listen to words about God

spoken by kings who have God in their wallets..or,

Listen to words about God

published by nations in the colors of their flags..or,

Listen to words about God

read by priests in the languages of fallen angels..or,


tilt your ears to the Wind,

lift your eyes to the Light,

and press your heart against the Word made flesh.

Happy are those who journey beyond the words

of others

about God,

and get close enough

and quiet enough

to listen to God

for themselves..

@David B. Weber 2009

Pondering. A Christmas Journey..

Luke 2: 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Mary had begun this adventure nine months before with words from angel Gabriel about being “highly favored” with God, and more words from cousin Elizabeth about Mary’s being “blessed..among women.” And later she heard shepherds- nobody knows how many of them- going on and on about what they had seen on their way to Bethlehem and how angels had told them that Mary’s baby was a Savior- the Messiah! Pretty heady stuff for a young girl who probably hasn’t been out very much. It the kind of stuff which would send most teenage girls’ noses into the air while dozens of other less fortunate and less blessed girls tried to friend her on Facebook.

According to Gabriel, it sounds like Mary could have called down a few dozen lesser angels on her own, and according to Elizabeth, Mary could almost certainly have set up her own little cult, replete with special gifts and favors worthy of her being blessed among other women.

But Mary did none of those things. She treasured them, to be sure, but pondered them in her heart. 

Pondering those things (pretty momentous things IMHO!) meant not making a big deal out of them..maybe not making any deal at all out of them. She would simply be the mom. She didn’t have to have others serving her for her to be able to define herself as blessed. She didn’t have to spin the wise men’s gold into showoff accessories for the Emily Strange separates which all cool mothers-of-God are wearing this year. Mary just was, because she was complete, whole, and accepting of herself, and of that angel, those shepherds, and accepting even of the craziest story this side of..well, this side of heaven.

And the really, I think, one of the main points of this whole story: Mary was chosen to do something extraordinary because she knew she could do something extraordinary. She didn’t need mall bling to prove that to herself. She didn’t need applause or 2,975 Facebook “friends” to affirm her of her worthiness. She didn’t need a posse, new tats, or paparazzi to know that she was beloved, able, and trusted by God with this fairly important task.

Which tells me (maybe you) what? That I (and maybe you) in our seeming ordinariness are capable, able, trusted, and loved enough- as we are, because of who we are not what we are- to do great things when offered the opportunity to do them. Remember, while Mary was giving birth to A Savior the Messiah in the eyes of the shepherds, in her own moments she was giving birth to a baby. Period. And that was extraordinary enough! Who could ever properly bear and raise a SaviortheMessiah? But she could, like most women, bear a child, take care of it day to day, teach him, feed him, love him, etc etc etc- all the things an even mediocre mom does well.

We don’t give birth to Messiahs. We give birth to babies.

We don’t plant gardens, we plant seeds.

We don’t live 60,70,80 years, we live one day, one hour, one tiny breathtakingly valuable second at a time.

Treasure those thoughts up and ponder them for a moment, then an hour, then a day and a lifetime..


Merry Christmas.

You can do it. Whatever it is, you can do it.

The Manger. A Christmas Journey..

We think we know the story of Jesus’ birth. Some of us were drawing pictures of what we were told had happened on Christmas Eve when we were in grade school, and almost everyone has seen creche displays in peoples’ homes or painted on store windows with 3″ brushes and poster paint (with optional blown foam snow). We could all, regardless of our personal faith traditions or non-traditions, recite the components of those nativity scenes: Mary, Joseph, Jesus-in-a-manger, wise men (3), shepherds (several, one of which is grizzled, one of which is a young boy), angels, various camels, sheep, donkeys, and cows, and a stable. Here’s an old Christmas card that captures some of those elements:


That was one of those Christmas cards from when Jesus was Norwegian. Here’s another representation of that collection of holy artifacts, a a 50% life size crèche assembled in a church:


The trouble is, even for those who believe every word of the New Testament, every jot and tittle of every verse, every comma and capital letter and space (even where none appeared in original Greek), even for those people, this conglomeration of texts, imaginations, and cutesy Hallmark artists, is not true- it’s not the way it was. The one thing we can absolutely, positively, 100% KNOW about the birth of Jesus is that none of it looked like anything like any of the above! Here’s what we DO know- literally, from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2, about the place Jesus’ birth:

5 He [Joseph] went there  [Bethlehem]to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

There is no stable, cave, barn or other outside shelter mentioned- only a manger and that could be anywhere: under a tent, in a courtyard, under an overhanging roof, in a grove of trees, or in a stable. Shepherds will show up in a few verses, in response to the sound of angelic singing. And, in the gospel of Matthew, some magi (or wise men or astrologers or scholars, depending on your translation, will follow a star and find Jesus in a house. A house, really. That’s all it says and it doesn’t say when. (Later in the chapter, there will be evidence that the wise magi astrologizing scholars visited when Jesus was about two years old.)

Almost everything we carry around in our mind’s and imagination about the birth of Jesus has been placed there by seeing old paintings, which gave birth in the late 1800s to Christmas cards. Which spawned Christian book stores. Which led to the selling of Christmas cards with glitter, and the selling of stuff like this:

The 2009 Thomas Kinkade Christmas Pocket Planner


As fanciful and silly as are the paintings of Kinkade, which always seem to feature darling thatched-roof cottages with blazing-fireplace light pouring out of every window and built (almost always) on the flood plain of a creek or river, so are the images we have of Jesus’ birth also fanciful and sometimes, just as silly.*

It leads me to wonder two things:

Why are so many people not aware of the very synthetic nature of the Christmas story as it is popularly portrayed .. syntheses which they have come to believe are historical truths?


Why is there the need by many to embellish, romanticize and ‘make pretty’ the story of Jesus’ birth?

I have opinions (of course), but I think both of those are questions which serve best as jumping off places for your thoughts. Really, whenever we ponder questions, we are led closer to the Truth. So, ponder! And, as I’ve said before, you’ll know when you’re getting near Truth, when you start seeing more questions. It’s a never-ending cycle- a conundrum some might call it. Maybe we’ll run into some of those wise men along the way..



* Apologies to those who may love Thomas Kinkade, may he rest in peace. But I just can’t stand anything about his “art”- his style, his marketing, his assembly line production of new products, nor the purchased adoration of fans. He was, once upon a time early in his career, a pretty decent painter. But…$. The rest of the story of his art manufacturing company is not one you’ll want to read if you are dedicated to really loving Kinkade’s  art.


Zachariah’s Song. A Christmas Journey..

Zachariah was a priest. Married to Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. They were childless until they, like Mary, had one of those – (pregnant pause)- visits from the angel Gabriel. Then, Elizabeth and Zachariah, at the ages of 60 or 70 or so, became the proud, however old, parents of John. John who would grow up and become known as John the Baptist.

When Mary felt Jesus kick from within, she sang a song. When Zachariah saw his son, he sang a song, too. (Which may be a lesson for new mothers: remember, while you’ve been feeling that little kicker somersaulting for months; daddy’s just now holding the child,  feeling/experiencing  him/her in extraordinarily intimate ways for the first time. Forgive dad his initial blubbering.) Anyway, here is Zach’s song (remember to put a tune behind it!).

Luke 1

76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”


St.Zachariah, as depicted on an Orthodox icon, a subject worth a whole blog’s worth of discussion some day. But here’s a preview: that is gold leaf behind St. Zach, and it has been hammered into position. Each stroke of the hammer was accompanied by a prayer, a specific prayer. Literally, sometimes prayers are the sounds of a hammer.

Note that Zachariah, as written about by Luke, is associating the story he’s become a part of to the ancient and well-known Hebrew story. Just as Mary sang of her being used to continue the covenant  between Abraham and YHWH, Zachariah’s song establishes his son John as a continuation of the prophetic  tradition in Israel- a tradition that has been silent, since the days of Malachi, for 600 years!

As all prophets do, John will be preparing the way, clearing the path, establishing a route for another who will follow- in this case, Jesus. And as all prophets also seem to do, John will die for having done a good job. John’s character will, about 1900 years after his birth, play a prominent role in the opera, “Salome,” by Richard Strauss, where he was represented, in a final shocking scene,  as a severed head.

Zachariah, though, the real subject of this piece, did his job and did it well. He would have died a happy man, having had an offspring. Thus, he had fulfilled the long-proscribed roles of husband, father, and priest very well. We are, after all, talking about him even at this moment, some 1980 years after Salome danced with his son for real!

Zachariah may have been one of the minor players in the drama of Jesus’ birth, but his presence helped establish Jesus in the Jewish mainstream, past and present. What Jesus said, did, and lived his whole life was as a Jew. He learned about his faith, as did all all Jewish children, from his parents and the other adults in his world. Cousin Zach, a priest, would certainly have been one of those persons he learned much from, and Jesus would have spent much of his growing-up years with his six month older cousin John.

It takes a village..yes?  And Jesus had one, made up of real people who cared for him as a child, son, and relative first, before they ever fully knew him as a Messiah. That “village love” would have been a huge part of his decision to accept the call on his life made by God. It had been there since before he was born, and he’d grown up surrounded by it. So it was natural that Jesus went first to a family member- John the Baptizer-when he came out of his Messiah closet.

He knew he would be accepted and safe in those first moments of his declaration. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Joseph, and Mary: what a village it was!